Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Book review/catch up..

The thing about holidays (for me at least ) is that I end up reading a quite astonishing number of books - far more than the little grommets to the left (the "currently reading"/"just read" boxes) can easily cope with... I'd be updating them daily... so in order to bring you up to speed the following have been finished since my last review ("Freedom Trap" by Desmond Bagley).....

First off the chocks was this one by Berwick Coates - now I've not read any of his books before but will happily read any more that he writes (there is one out set in the same period titled "The Last Viking" which I'm guessing is about Harold Hardrada and the Battle of Stamford Bridge). This one is set round the Battle of Hastings campaign..

The author writes grittily, not sparing the mud and the squalor that was an integral part of the age, his cast of characters is huge, but both Norman and Saxon, rich and poor. I guess that the central character is probably Gilbert, a novice scout in William the Conquerors army. We follow the campaign primarily through his story and how he interacts with other characters on both sides of the fight - the story culminates in the battle and I for one had no idea how close the battle actually was at the end, and what a gamble it was for William....  

I enjoyed this, and like the best military fiction I understood a little more about the subject at the end than I did at the beginning as the author includes some notes - 8/10

This holiday (I decided) was going to be a feast of 70's thrillers - so I'd downloaded some more Bagley but also this - which I last read years ago...

Wilbur Smith is a bit of an acquired taste as all the blokes in his books are usually a cross between St Francis, Adonis and Einstein, and his heroine's tend to be a cross between Mother Theresa, Sophie Marceau and Nigella Lawson - paragons of physical beauty and brains...  and completely unbelievable....   When he gets away from this formula though, he's very entertaining, and I think this, along with Eye of the Tiger [clicky] are two of his best..  the characters are well rounded and believable, the setting is superb, and the story is interesting...  for those who haven't read it, it is set in East Africa at the start of WWI, so we have Askaris, elephants, crocodiles, gun running, ivory poaching and the ensuing war between Germany and Portugal in East Africa... add in an early aircraft and the destruction of a German commerce raider, and there's more than enough grist here to start a wargame period! This one gets 9/10 (and if you haven't seen it I also wholeheartedly recommend the film which had Lee Marvin, Roger Moore  and the delectable Barbara Parkins!)

Continuing the 70's thriller theme we then had..

So who else but Alistair Maclean of course... I'd recently read Guns of Navarone, so this was my other "must read"..  the story of a raid on the Bavarian Headquarters of the Gestapo to rescue an American general carrying secret details of the proposed Normandy landings..

If anyone has seen the film, then the book is going to have no surprises, it reads like a script of the film - nothing in the book is not in the film and vice versa..   but if anything it just goes to show what a consummate actor Burton was as his character in the film is an absolute mirror of the character in the book...

For all that though I have to say that this one of those all too rare cases where the film pips the book, as I thought the book was a little...  flat...but that may well be because I've seen the film too many times! This one gets 7/10

Time for a step back into the 21st Century at this point I thought, and so next we had..

Not sure how well known this guy [clicky] will be to my usual reader, but I stumbled across him a few years ago when I read his first book "Driving over Lemons" which was the story of how he and his wife bought a run down farm on the wrong side of a river, high in the mountains of southern Spain...  since then he's also written "Parrot in a Pepper Tree", and this is the third in that series... his claim to fame (apart from the books) is that he was Genesis's first drummer for a short while..

What you get with his books is pure unadulterated (and very refreshing) whimsy..  he describes his life on the farm, the characters he meets and lives with, and what he gets up to (highlights in this book were cooking for TV chef Rick Stein, gorging on plate after plate of tuna for a food competition he was conned into judging, and going to see a barefoot healer about a very personal problem )

I love the books, and recommend them completely..  this one gets an 8 out of 10

Last of all in the catch up we have...

Which was recommended to me by my mate Rod the Mod on this years Jolly Boys Outing [clicky] and I confirm that it was a good call..

Like the Coates book this gave me a far better view of an episode of French history that up until then I had only vaguely been aware of. The book is basically a fictionalised diary of the actual French officer (Georges Picquart [clicky]) who lead the (re)investigation into the arrest of Dreyfus [clicky for Wiki article on the Dreyfus Affair], who was the French army artillery officer arrested on false claims of having been spying for Germany at the end of the 19th Century.

Robert Harris is a cracking writer who manages to describe what itr was like to live in turn of the 20th Century France beautifully...  Picquart is a likeable character, who decides that he cannot stand by in the face of new evidence that Dreyfuss is not guilty of spying, and in spite of warning from all his superiors he goes ahead and ends up being punished, imprisoned, and finally ejected from the army as a result of his push for the truth...  the French army (fresh from their punishment in the Franco Prussian War) is inward looking, secretive, and most of all looking for a quiet life - French society is divided between radical and Catholic/conservative, the political landscape is in upheaval (it reminded me of the books I read on 1940 in France - plus ca change as they say)..  anti--semitic feeling is high...  I didn't know that the French re-opened Devils Island just for Dreyfus - he was the only prisoner...  in the end of course Dreyfus is exonerated and allowed back in the army, as is Picquart...  but the path to that point is extremely rocky, and Harris has written a right page tuner..  very good...  8/10..


  1. Interesting selection - thanks for the tips.
    I'll be checking the Coasts book out for sure

    1. Paul - I don't think you'll be disappointed...

  2. Shout at the Devil and the Blue Max were my top two books in the 70's!!!

    1. Matt - I'd forgotten the Blue Max and I have it in my bookshelves somewhere... right... that goes on the list!

  3. So who else but Alistair Maclean of course ---------- The best books by writers who are long since dead --- more the pity I think these classics have been lost with so many others ---- Like Trevanian and the other Florida private eye author John D MacDonald I believe?