Wednesday, 29 September 2010

The Sword-Edged Blonde

An excellent fantasy novel.  I was intrigued by the title (I'm still not entirely certain how it relates to the book), and discovered a fantastically realised world, and character within the world.  An intriguing plot, involving goddesses, the main character's uneasy past, and a brilliant mass of sub-plots.

One of the things I particularly liked was the way the swords used by the mercenary problem solver Eddie LaCrosse had brand names, like guns.  There were fantastic action scenes, intense emotional sections, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Can't wait to find the sequel.

Redeeming Love

Wow.  I read this book last night when I couldn't sleep (I'm nervous about going to uni, and no matter how much I logically know that there's no reason for me to be this nervous and there's not exactly much I can do about it, it doesn't seem to make any difference to the fact that I'm struggling to sleep), and I was seriously impressed.  I don't often read romances (ie, almost never unless I have no other choice), but I got this one for my birthday so I thought I'd better read it.  And wow.  What a story.  Powerful, moving, and intense, it's one of those books that will stick with you forever.

Set in Gold Rush California, it is, in effect, a modern retelling of the story of Hosea.  For those of you not familiar with the story: God told Hosea to marry a prostitute and love her, because He loved Israel but Israel was acting like a prostitute, running off and being besotted with other gods instead of following God.  But this story looks at the more personal consequences, for both the man, Michael Hosea, the prostitute, Angel, and others who interact with them.  Stunningly well told, with gripping and intriguing characters, from the quiet strength--and sometimes angry passion--of Michael Hosea, to the bubbly Miriam, the initially aloof and scarred Angel, and the pimps, fellow prostitutes and a whole host of excellent supporting characters.  Wow is about all I can say to sum it up.  Even if you're not much into romances or historical novels, this is well worth a read.  It's incredibly powerful, incredibly gripping, incredibly moving.  I had tears in my eyes several times over, and am really glad I was given it--I doubt I would have read it otherwise.

I can't recommend this book enough.  An excellent story from start to finish.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Red Alert

Another of the excellent UNACO series, written by Alastair MacNeill, based on the outlines for films (never filmed as far as I know) by Alastair MacLean.  If it sounds like a somewhat improbable provenance, especially as Alastair MacNeill hasn't written anything outside this series, I gotta confess I felt the same until I started reading the series.

It's excellent.  Great characters, particularly Sabrina and Mike.  And yes, this is a thriller where there's a male and female character who don't fall hopelessly in love, and Sabrina is actually pretty independent and a great character in her own right!  Amazing.  And the plot is fantastic, lots of nice twists and turns, action, excitement.  I reckon this is one of my favourites from the series.  The Red Brigades in Italy have got hold of a deadly virus in a raid on a plant.  They call it 'sleeping gas', and there's a power struggle amongst the leadership, meaning that nobody actually seems to know where the virus is--including the leaders of the Red Brigades, who decide to work alongside the police in order to get the virus back from the rogue cell.  But all is not as it seems.  Need I say more?  All the excitement and plot twists you'd expect from an Alastair MacLean, but the characters are slightly more developed in this series and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Dust to Dust

I've rather enjoyed the Stephen Dunbar thrillers up til now.  They've had interesting plots, and even if the romance element has followed exactly the same pattern throughout, they've shown good variety in terms of the main plot.  And the science has always been fascinating.  But this one, the latest (and given events in the book, presumably the last in the series) was really disappointing.  The plot revolved around a cure for AIDS, which was kinda interesting and (apparently) a viable if somewhat risky bit of science.  And also a murdered soldier.  Well, not really murdered.  But sorta murdered.  But sorta just killed accidentally.  But...  Yeh, you get the picture.  Fair enough to show that I guess, but the problem was that the mysterious 'patient x' who was getting the cure wasn't ever named, although was supposedly an important public figure.  Member of the royal family I guess, but it never actually said.  Which was annoying, because I was expecting there to be a bit of a scandal at the end.  But no.  Just a long drawn out plot, not as much excitement or interest as there usually is, a typically pathetic female character (seriously, I don't think it'd be such a problem that he has a dangerous job, I mean, let's face it, people do marry soldiers...  But Ken McClure seems under the impression that every single woman would dump his main character in the end (as in, about the end of the book, so that he can introduce a new woman and do the same romance plot again) rather than stick with him...).

Yeh, wasn't impressed.  Enjoyed the rest of the series, but this was a really feeble ending.  Sorta spoilt the rest of the series for me too.  Ah well.  Don't bother reading it.


I am packing, honest.  I've packed my books (get the most important things sorted first...), I've got some other stuff packed or dumped in the spare room to be packed, and I'm starting a packing list.  But honestly, when did it get so hard to work out what I need to take with me?  How many books?  Glasses case, must remember that.  And pyjamas, given that I have a talent for forgetting pyjamas.  Alarm clock, need one of them.  Notebooks, pens...  It feels like I'm going away for years almost--although it's only two months.  And I want to take loads of books but my mum's persuaded me not to.  Well, told me not to more like.

I'm guessing I'll take too much stuff this time and then next time I go I'll have a better idea of what I need.  I'm just worried that I'll get there and realise I need my bike (which I've decided not to take this time), or I'll have forgotten something vital, like my timetable for fresher's week or something important like that.  Hopefully I won't.  We'll just have to see I guess.  So next week, you get to find out whether I remembered everything or not (lucky you!)

I'm kinda excited, but also getting a bit nervous.  At least I know a couple of people at the church I'll be going to in Cambridge.  Well, know them vaguely.  Don't know anyone who's going to be at Cambridge with me though.  Never mind.  I might get there and discover someone I know who I didn't know was going.  Failing that, I guess I just have to make new friends.  Not like I haven't done that before, what with moving to the States and back again...  Well, I've had a lot of prayer, and I know people will be thinking of me in Cambridge, so I'll just have to trust that God shows me the right people to be friends with when I get there.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Born Again

I promised at the top of this blog that there would be music reviews.  I think you'll find one or maybe two at most.  Well, I'm doing a music review now.

The Newsboys Album Born Again features a new lead singer, Michael Tait (formerly DC Talk).  It also includes a remix of the classic 'Jesus Freak', and the album has been, in my opinion, unfairly criticised for this.  Okay, so it's perhaps not the same as the original, but actually, the words are clearer in parts on the new version.  And while I do love the original, it's never been one of my favourites.  At least part of the reason it's not been loved, I reckon, is simply because it's a bit different.  The other cover version on the album (or at least on the download from Amazon one--it doesn't seem to be on the one on itunes), is a cover of Mighty To Save.  Now this is one of my favourite songs, and I already have four other versions of it.  It's a little bizarre in that it feels like it starts in the middle, but other than that I do love this version.  It's a bit different, it's got great guitar in the background, and I particularly like the section (incidentally, it's playing right now), that goes 'My Saviour, you can move the mountains, you are mighty to save', addressing God directly rather than talking about Him in the third person.

Yes, it's not hugely similar to their previous album In the Hands of God, but I don't see why that's a bad thing.  Isn't a vibrant, changing band much more interesting than one that stays pretty static?  I don't know about you, but I like a bit of variety in the music I listen to.  Someone was saying the other day that they reckoned the band should have a new name because nobody from the original line up is there.  However, if you ever listen to some of Delirious' early stuff compared to their last album (well, last 'proper' album Kingdom of Comfort', I don't know about the Best Of album), there's a huge difference.

An excellent collection of music.  I particularly love 'Build us Back' and 'When the Boys Light Up'.  Great lyrics to all the songs, lyrics that you can sing along to without wondering 'what the heck am I singing about'.  Very glad I decided to download this album after hearing one or two songs on CrossRhythms.  Love it.  'Born Again' is also great, and I sincerely hope they come to this country on tour and I can see them live.  The album has real 'live show' potential in my humble opinion (and I've not exactly been to many live shows...  In fact, I've been to one--saw Delirious on the Kingdom of Comfort tour).  Even if you're not enamoured with the two cover versions, the rest of the album is excellent, leaving you with 10 brilliant songs if you decide to delete the covers.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

The Age of Zeus

An interesting concept for certain.  The gods have moved down to earth, to sort out human behaviour for us because we can't seem to stop fighting with ourselves.  Trouble is, these gods are a mite too powerful, and who watches the watchers?  Well, maybe the Titans.  Made powerful by incredible suits of armour, the titans are the only people who have a hope of taking on the new Greek Gods.

Although it was interesting, and mostly well written, I didn't quite finish it.  It got a little bit tedious and felt somewhat drawn out, and the interest of finding out whether or not one of my favourite characters survived gradually waned.  So I gave it up and took it back to the library.

There was an intersting twist in where the gods came from, yes, but it seemed to be somewhat laboured.  In fact, the whole thing seemed to be drawn out far more than necessary.  So although it could have been quite enjoyable, and a pretty powerful comment on genetics etc, it became a little tedious and started to feel more like a project to wade through than an interesting fiction read.  If you've more patience than I have with slower paced novels then you'll probably enjoy it--like I said, it was an interesting concept.  It just wasn't written in a particularly exciting manner.


Pretty average sci-fi really.  Well, maybe better than average actually.  I enjoyed it.  The one thing that did niggle at me was after Bandie gave the new alien characters names that were pronounceable, the author subsequently used the 'proper' name so although Deeeeeeeaaaaabbb (or some other number of ees, aas and bbs might have been used) was called Deep in dialogue with Bandie, it was spelt out fully all the rest of the time.  Which was kinda annoying.  And I wasn't entirely convinced by the use of little *s before sun names.  Didn't seem necessary.  Plus there was an additional plot on Saturn (or a moon of Saturn, it wasn't all that clear), involving Bandie's ex-girlfriend, which seemed kinda unnecessary.  There was more than enough plot for the novel with the main plot involving a mysterious alien technology that was steadily murdering stars for purposes (initially) unknown.

The translater stones were pretty interesting, particularly as they were, in effect, an intelligent life form that took the form of a pair of stones embedded in all the main characters.  Maybe a bit similar to the bable fish in Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy, although I don't think they ever couldn't translate anything, got infected, or had personalities.  I've not read the whole series though.  Anyway, this was a book four, so it's fair to assume that a bit of character development at least will have taken place in previous books rather than this one.  As a result, the only characters who seemed more than two dimensional or plot enablers were Bandie, the female alien who he was in love with (and whose name escapes me--surely there's a case for writing a sci-fi with names that are actually memorable!), and the robots were reasonably well developed.  But there were another two members to the 'team', and they seemed more there to fill up numbers than because they were all that interesting as characters.

However, it was a good story, and there was a reasonable amount of action.  The plot was also (apart from the slightly dodgy subplot on earth, which might have made more of an impact if I'd read the first three?) pretty good.  So I enjoyed it and I'll keep an eye out for the others, but I won't be rushing out to buy it.

Changeling: Dark Moon

Not overly memorable in terms of plot--I was half way through before I was definitely sure I hadn't read this one before--but still pretty interesting.  Basically, it was a good book while I was reading it, but now it's finished I'm not sure I could tell you with any degree of certainty what went on in that one as opposed to in the other Changeling books.

Basically a teenage werewolf/vampire/sorcerer story.  Not a romance, although there's a half hearted romance plot (half hearted in that it's got the potential to turn up but neither character is pushing it at the moment, not in that it's no good).  An interesting bit of action, some teenagey angsty issues (is that the right way of putting it?).  I mean, being a teenager isn't all that easy, but being a teenager who could potentially turn into a humongous werewolf that everyone's terrified of when you get a bit mad or on the night of the full moon has gotta make things more difficult.

Well, it was enjoyable enough to read.  Not the best thing ever, and I actually think the first one in the series has a bit more of an interesting plot, but it's not bad.  I've read worse.

Hmm, having fun with the new buttons

Hello.  I am now going to try out every single one of the new buttons on the Compose side of the new blogger.  Or at least, some of them.

I like love Crossrhythms.  The link is:  Ooh, that was exciting. I got to test the link out.  There are also lots of colours, more than I expected.  And the flashy bit changes colour depending on which colour I've decided to use.  Now, what happens if I do this...  Hmm, that.  I don't have any pictures or videos I feel like inserting. 

Hitler's U-Boat War: The Hunters

Well, if you're looking for a comprehensive book on the u-boat war in all theatres during WWII, this is it. If you're looking for a humongous doorstopper to hold up your desk, it'll serve that purpose too. I got about half way through before the detail threatened to make my head explode and I started to lose the thread of the overall campaign. I was also slightly disappointed because my history teacher used a quote from Clay Blair that implied he thought the u-boat war was never particularly dangerous, but although you do get the impression it could've been a lot worse, what happened seems bad enough to me.

An exhaustive (and exhausting to read) catalogue of every u-boat action, and every attempted u-boat action, along with great technical detail about the u-boats themselves and the convoy system and the commanders and...  Yeh, you get the picture.  I suspect it's the biggest book I've ever seen, except maybe the Bible (which, admittedly, I have read all the way through twice over now, including once in 90 days which was pretty fun), and this was only part one.

I don't think it was meant to be read all the way through.  In fact, although it starts off feeling pretty readable, the sheer quantity of information and detail just makes it impossible to read right through.  As a reference, I suspect it's incomparable, with a heck of a lot of detailed research work going in to work out exactly which sub sunk which ship and when torpedoes malfunctioned and which ship was doing weather reports when.  So if you fancy having a reference to every u-boat operation during WWII, and a nice and to be fair rather interesting, chunk at the beginning about the development of the u-boat arm and the specifications of the ship, this is the book to get.

One other thing I will mention that struck me was the sheer number of times the German torpedoes malfunctioned.  Although the Battle of the Atlantic initially went rather disastrously for Britain, the number of ships saved by the torpedoes failing to detonate, or because the magnetic torpedoes which would 'kill' a ship with one torpedo rather than the contact pistols which usually needed two or three torpedoes per ship were utterly useless is quite astounding.  In the end, the Germans resorted to copying British torpedoes which kept depth far better.  So we were better with them at some things...

An interesting book then, if you've got a lot of time to read it or if you want to use it as a reference.

The Galleon's Grave

This is the third Martin Stephen book (it's starting to look like I'm gonna read the series backwards, but never mind, it still makes sense). Oh, never mind. I've just had a look at the bibliography on Fantastic Fiction (great resource if you've never looked it up before) and it appears that they've not been published in chronological order anyway. That discussion aside, this is a fantastic book. Erroneously marked 'Historical Romance' by the library, there is a romantic plot in there but only as a sub plot. There's plenty of action though, more than enough to satsify. And twists and turns worty of an Alaistar MacLean novel too! Highly enjoyable, particularly in terms of the historical context. Martin Sephens really captures the feel of the era (or at least, he does it convincingly enough that if I read any books suggesting that the Elizabethan period felt any different I'd find myself seriously doubting the credibility of the latter). I loved it, can't wait to find the rest of the series. And regardless of whether I'll actaully manage to fit them anywhere, I think I might have to start hunting down my own copies. I'm going to uni soon, so that should relieve my bookcases on the basis that some of my books will have to come to Cambridge with me so the rest can have a little more space.

Henry Gresham is a believable and interesting character, and there's a bit more of his personal life showing through in this one than was evidenced in Rebel Heart. A spy for Queen Elizabeth, he finds himself caught up in a multi-layered intrigue, which leads to him sailing to England... with the Spanish Armada! Gripping and fascinating, this is a real page-turner, a read in one go sort of novel. Tense and exciting, well written and plausible. What more can you ask for in a novel?

The Hunt for Atlantis

I'm sure I must have reviewed this before. It must be the third or fourth time I've read it, if not the fifth or sixth. There's an awful lot of books on discovering Atlantis, and I've read quite a few of them, but this one remains my favourite. An excellent fast paced thriller, with enough historical context to add interest but not so much you get drowned in hypotheticals and start feeling like you're reading a text book. The characters are engaging, particularly Eddie Chase and Nina Wilde, and the plot is, if somewhat grand in scale, at least plausible. And the action is great. And there's a lot of it. Exploding helicopters, jumbo jets, corrupt soldiers, exploding trains... Yeh, you get the picture. Lots of bad guys, lots of action and excitement, a great escapist read. One of my favourite books (although I think the most recent one in the same series is perhaps even more my favourite...).

So if you're looking for a fast paced, gripping thriller, you need look no further. And the best part is, it's the start of a series that just gets better and better, and has yet to fail to deliver an interesting historical mystery combined with plenty of action. I can't wait for the newest one to come out :)

Dead Lock

The library had labelled it with a gun on the side. It wasn't a label I'd seen before, so I picked it up in an attempt to see what the gun sticker meant. Yes, that's how I've resorted to picking books--look at the stickers the library's put on and trust that they've done it accurately (which they haven't always... I read a thriller with a historical romance sticker, although I suppose there was a tiny bit of historical romance involved). Anyway. I presume the gun sticker means a thriller and they run out of the man running in cross hairs ones.

It's actually a similar idea to the Cherub book Maximum Security. I don't know that there's any actual link there though...

Basically, a leader from the Aryan Brotherhood has agreed to testify against fellow members with regard to the brutal murder of an undercover agent. The catch: he wants releasing into the general prison population, despite the fact that the Aryan Brotherhood will know he's a snitch, and go after him. So he has to be kept alive for a week, until he can testify. Enter Ryan Lock, an ex-military bodyguard, and close friend of the murdered undercover agent. Trouble is, keeping Reaper alive becomes the least of his worries, because Reaper has plans of his own. And they don't involve staying in the general prison population for long. In fact, they involve something more like the end of America...

An gripping read with plenty of twists and action. As good as the cover makes it look. I'll have to keep an eye out for the others (well, other--I've read the second, according to fantastic fiction there's one before it and one due to be released in 2011).

Monday, 20 September 2010

Rebel Heart

I'm not entirely sure why I picked this book and decided to read it. There was a spy on the spine, I was getting pretty desparate to find a book--any book--to read because I've read all the ones I could find from authors I've previously enjoyed, I read the blurb and it didn't put me off completely. So I got it out the library, despite the fact I don't generally read historical fiction, and I've never thought of reading anything about Elizabethan England. Well, I was quite surprised to discover both how much I enjoyed it and how interesting the background was.

The Court was well created, the historical background seemed plausible (I can't say more than that, because to be quite frank I know absolutely nothing about it), and it was well-evoked. There were twists and turns worthy of a great spy novel, action worthy of a great thriller, and a little sprinkling of romance that added to the plot rather than being thrown in just because. In short, it was a great novel. Couldn't put it down (which meant reading til early in the morning... again), and instantly set out to find the rest of the series. Unfortunately, this was the fourth and there don't seem to be more planned--although just because there's not a new one shown on Fantastic Fiction doesn't mean there isn't another planned. However, that does mean another three books to find and enjoy. Shame there's not more, but I guess you can't have everything.

An enjoyable and gripping read, that catapulted you back to the Elizabethan court, mapping intrigues and plots, along with a good sprinkling of action.

24 Declassified: Veto Power

Okay, so books based on TV series aren't always that great, but so far all the 24 Declassified books I've read have been gripping thrillers with plenty of action. I do wonder though, whether this might be one of the cases where the TV series is better than the books... Usually I'm a huge fan of books, even if they didn't come first (provided they're well written). However, I think something is lost from the fact that on the TV series it's one show per hour, whereas in the book it's one chapter per hour and, quite frankly, I reckon you can fit more into one hour of TV than one chapter of book. But having never actually seen the TV series, I'm not in the best position to judge that.

It's well written, it's got plenty of action. The characters are reasonably well developed, although with the exception of Jack Bauer, not brilliantly so. I certainly enjoyed reading it, and I'm keeping my eye out for the others (although they all seem to have been done by different authors so it's not all that easy to find them in the library). I think there's a case here for putting books from the same series but by different authors together.

An enjoyable thriller. Plenty of action, a pretty decent plot, and... plenty of action.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Fool's Errand

I was something of a fool for starting to read this book in the evening. In fact, very much a fool. Despite the fact that I've read it once before, I was still compelled to read it all the way through in one go. Which with a book that comes in at 660 pages is quite a lot of book to read all in one go. Worth being knackered in the morning though.

Fitz, now calling himself Tom Badgerlock, reckons he's earned his retirement, even if he does miss some of those at the court. But he's got Nighteyes, his faithful wolf and Wit partner, he's got Hap, an orphan who he took on, and he's got Starling when she flits into his life to share his bed. Until Chade comes to visit, his old mentor, the man who does the quiet work for the throne. And then, shortly after Chade, the Fool. Times are changing, the Fool needs his Catalyst back. The prince has gone missing.

Which means that Fitz is launched once again into adventure and intrigue, with a gripping plot, fascinating characters, and a briliantly imagined and evoked world. I'm not entirely sure how best to describe this book, other than to say that by my reckoning Robin Hobb is the best fantasy author I've ever read.

Read it. Just don't start reading it in the evening or when you haven't much time. It's one of those books you can't put down no matter how smart it would be and how much you're yawning at half two in the morning...

Bloody Passage

There's nothing particularly special about this book. By Jack Higgins, it seems to draw rather heavily on other works of his (or they draw on this). The main character is roughly the same as Sean Dillon or Martin Fallon, although ex-Special Forces rather than ex-IRA. Blind sister pops up, remarkably similar to a character in Prayer for the Dying. As is the hard man that goes along to keep Major Oliver Grant in line. Bit of a twist in the ending, although not entirely unexpected. Oh, and of course, a pretty girl who betrays him but doesn't really want to. In fact, the more I think about it, the more Bloody Passage and Prayer for the Dying are alike... And I think Prayer for the Dying has the edge--there's a lot more passion in it. Or maybe I just think it's better because I read it first so the ideas were newer. Given that I keep re-reading it though...

However, there are some very good action scenes that leave you breathless, which is something that Jack Higgins rarely disappoints on. In fact, I can't think of a single book where I've been disappointed with the quality of the action. Just occaisionally find that the plots have been somewhat recycled and regurgitated.

Still, for all that, it's not a bad book, it's an enjoyable read if not spectacular, and a great one for reading when you can't sleep. Well, maybe not so great because I couldn't put it down, but it's not too long so that didn't really matter, unlike some books that you can't put down...

I, Alex Cross

Well, I'm perhaps not in the best position to judge this book as I didn't actually read all of it. In fact, I got to about chapter 12 (which if you've ever read a James Patterson book, means I really didn't get that far) before I gave up on it and decided that I could find better things to read. I used to be a huge James Patterson fan, but his writing's getting worse. Or maybe that's just me.

I didn't enjoy the previous Alex Cross book at all. I made it all the way through, but had serious reservations about the way the 'natives' had been treated--you rather get the impression the author has never been to Africa. Which made the whole plot fall rather flat, and to be perfectly honest, the plot itself appeared to have been contrived primarily to send Alex Cross to Africa--presumably so the author could explore 'deep issues' (like he did with Maximum Ride four which utterly ruined the book).

This one had a somewhat interesting start. Woman running away, shot in the back. Staggers to a road, gets picked up after being nearly run over. It was the man from the White House. Which man? The President? Why? Well, when it turns out that this woman who was killed is a) Alex Cross' niece (who incidentally, was somewhat estranged and he hasn't seen her for 20 odd years... so let's face it may as well be anyone) and b) a prostitute. And that latter fact was what decided me that I didn't want to keep reading. Don't get me wrong, I don't have an issue with reading books which touch on the darker side of life. I've just thoroughly enjoyed one in Ex-Kop. But James Patterson has a thing for writing... Well, I'll call it dodgy stuff, and leave it at that. As for the scandal, well, I was left thinking, so what? Killer above the law; read it quite a few times now.

So to be quite honest, the new Alex Cross book didn't interest me at all. I picked it up from the library because some of them have been very good, but when it all seemed a bit dull, contrived, and not really all that well-written, I gave up and it's going back to the library tomorrow. I've still not read the most recent Maximum Ride book either. To be fair, Max was reasonable, even if not up to the standards of the first three. I've just lost interest in James Patterson's writing because so much of it has been utter rubbish recently. Especially the Women's Murder Club, which was a series I thoroughly enjoyed.


I've been reading quite a bit recently, so I'm way behind with reviewing stuff. However, I've just finished reading this book, so I figure I'll just get on and review it now.

A lot better than I anticipated. I was expecting a mediocre sci-fi, just picked it up at the library because the sci-fi section is somewhat limitted. Instead of finding, well, basically a 'trashy' sci-fi with plenty of action and not much plot, I discovered a gritty, intense novel that I couldn't put down, with flawed, all-too-human characters. The sci-fi element was more a background, an enabler for the plot, than what you might call 'true' sci-fi. Yeh, it was set on another planet, in the future, with high tech holograms and all that sort of stuff. But that wasn't the heart of the book, and the heart of the book was a gripping central character, an ex police officer, corrupt as they come, finger in every pie to control the crime on his planet. Well, in his city, even if the drug lords have taken over the areas outside the city. It perhaps belonged more in the crime section, where I could thoroughly recommend it as a great read, a crime novel set in an impoverished country. Instead, it took the guise of sci-fi and certainly surprised me when I realised this was no run of the mill space battle story.

My only disappointment is that it's a sequel and I haven't read the first. It is generally better to read books in the right order... However, the Harris being what it is, you can rarely if ever find the first book in a series.

If you're a crime fan who's bored of standard detective novels, this is certainly worth checking out. The nearest author I can think of would be Nick Stone, also with a flawed cop, not above twisting the law, as the central character. Or perhaps the novel Bait, can't remember who it was by. Thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking.

Monday, 13 September 2010

The Battle of Britain

Well worth reading. Oh, just to clarify, this is the one that's just come out by James Holland. Not perfect, perhaps, but incredibly wide-ranging. To be honest, calling it a book on the Battle of Britain is a bit of a misnomer. It starts with the invasion of France and the Low Countries, it ends in October with the beginning of the Blitz. It doesn't just cover the air-fighting, but instead the war at sea, the war in France, the politics, the attempts to draw in America, the beginning of Lend-Lease, and, of course, the dog-fighting over England. Also gives brief mention to E-boats and the British bombing campaign. In short, a wide-ranging book, which perhaps isn't as detailed on the air-fighting as some books I've read but that's hardly to be expected when it covers such a vast swathe of the conflict. Oh, and covers the invasion planning, the Home Guard, Churchill's consolidation of power, supply and maintenance, and a myriad of related topics, also including the morale of pilots.

It's not overburdened with statistics and diagrams, it's not full of complex explanations of exactly how each aircraft works, and it's not narrowly focussed, although at the end it does seem to drop the story of the E-boats and doesn't give as much detail to the Battle of the Atlantic as perhaps it could, focussing instead on the air fighting. Uses a lot of first hand accounts, and well written enough that I quite happily sat in a library and read it for well over two hours without moving (other than to turn the pages). It is a big book, and I found the section on the Fall of France very interesting as it's not something that's all that easy to find books on.

On the other hand, I didn't agree with some of the analysis of why Britain won. Well, more specifically, I don't agree that the Me-109 (oh, and I've finally found out why it's alternately the Me or the Bf, it actually depends on when the aircraft was produced as the factory was initially called Bayerische Flugzeugwerke and later the name was changed to that of the chief designer, becoming Messerschmitt) was better than the Spitfire. It was interesting that apparently British pilots were more wary of pushing the Spitfire to the edge than the German pilots were of pushing the Me-109, but surely it's better to have an aircraft that can be flown well by everyone rather than an aircraft that can be flown reasonably by most and excellently by a few. The trouble is, while the Messerschmitt was faster and had a better rate of climb, it didn't have as good a turning circle. And in a dogfight, a turning circle was needed, and because of the way the fighters were being used as escorts for the bombers, dogfights were inevitable. Ideally, the Me-109 should have been flown in from the sun, drop down on an unsuspecting Spitfire or Hurricane, shoot it down, climb out the way and scoot off. But radar could be used to estimate heights and as the battle progressed they could be estimated quite accurately by increasingly experienced operators, the Germans did not then have the element of surprise that they had in France. So because of the way the aircraft were being used, the Spitfire was probably the better fighter.

That out the way, I was pleased to see that Holland didn't just say that because the numbers of fighter aircraft were equal that made it much easier for the British than previously assumed. Ah, not quite. Cos they did still have to shoot the bombers down, couldn't just let them meander off over England. It was the bombers that they had to focus on, truth be told, because it was the bombers that could do the damage. The fighters could only damage other fighters; if it was just fighter sweeps coming over England there'd be little point in meeting them.

The E-boat sections were fascinating, I would've liked to see a bit more made of that side of the story. However, I suspect that space was getting limited (as in, 600 pages full of words already and maybe not so great to put that many more pages in). And the politics was well told too, on both the British and German sides and in terms of relations between Britain and America. I think the point could have been made that although Beaverbrook did kick British aircraft production up the bum so to speak, he did so at the cost of various longer term projects, including four-engine bombers, and that there's no way he can be totally responsible for results coming in by the end of the week in which he was appointed. Further, what he did was a short term solution--people can't work the hours he was insisting on long term, not without burning out and starting to make mistakes.

In short, this was a thoroughly enjoyable book and I'm sure it will become a recommended read for anyone studying WWII. It wasn't quite as balanced as it could have been between the different aspects of the campaign--there was little on the British bomber campaign although to be fair it did get a mention which is unusual. And it is, as far as I'm aware, the first time the 'story's' been told like this, in such a wide-ranging interpretation of the Battle of Britain.

Definitely recommend it, might actually buy a copy when it comes out in paperback (borrowed it out the library--hardback history books are pretty expensive to buy loads without any real idea of whether they'll be all that great). So if you see one floating around at the library (although if the queue's anything like it was at mine to get hold of it, as in, about seven more people waiting after me and I thought I'd had to wait a long time for it you might not see it for a while), it's definitely worth taking the time to read it.

The Battle of the Atlantic

How many books have I read with this title now?! This is the one by Marc Milner. And it's pretty reasonable, although I wasn't as impressed as I thought I'd be from reading the blurb. I thought it was going to say much more exciting things, but for the most part it just followed pretty standard lines. Was well written, did make some interesting points though, I'm inclined to recommend this as a good book to read on the Atlantic Campaign as it did cover the whole thing, and there was a good sense of perspective in terms of the air support and the shore based institutions, along with the politics that influenced the battle and the actual convoy battles. Made a very good point at the beginning that yeh, Germany's u-boat arm was dangerous and yeh, Britian didn't have much in the way of ships to fight it, but ships to fight u-boats were much easier to produce in war time under crash programmes than battleships and carriers, which were needed to effectively counter the German surface fleet--which was Raeder's priority before the war.

What else? Well, for a book that according to the blurb was gonna show that Enigma wasn't such a war winner as other things, it sure gave a lot of credit to Enigma and the ability to re-route convoys initially to avoid wolf packs and then to find them so that the u-boats could be fought and destroyed once effective means of fighting them had been found. Did go into the aircraft side of things, which seemed to be, at least according to this guy, the main reason the Battle was won, as it removed the u-boats ability to stay on the surface and re-charge batteries. In turn, that was only effective once decent radar was found to fit to the aircraft so that they could actually find the u-boats. Interesting, if not particularly new, documentation of all stages of the battle. Well written.

I guess the main reason I was a little disappointed in this book was because I've already read a fair bit on the Battle of the Atlantic and the blurb led me to think it was gonna be quite revisionist with a totally different take on things to usual. That wasn't really the case, but it was a pretty decent book.

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Hilariously brilliant. The only way of describing it would be slightly off beat. Nothing, it seems, is what you would quite expect. And every time you think you've got a handle on the wildly engrossing plot, something shows up that screws up all pre-conceived ideas of what exactly is going on.

Marvin the paranoid android returns, miserable as ever. Talking psychic lifts, stupid sentient tanks, the Total Perspective Vortex, the somewhat ridiculous Beeblebrox who's President of the universe and currently on the run after stealing a ship he was meant to launch... And how could I forget? The Restaurant at the End of the Universe itself, an intriguing idea for the ultimate dining experience, that costs only a penny because you put it in a bank account and leave it and the interest allows you to pay for the meal. Whilst the universe ends outside. Sheer brilliance. I'm not entirely sure how you review a book with a plot that, quite frankly, can't be described without writing an essay. Makes it clear why The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy series is a classic. And one that, unlike Jane Eyre, is still a brilliantly enjoyable classic today. And retains its originality. I wonder if you can still get the radio series on tape... Or CD I guess. Either would work (actually, maybe CD would be better as my tape/CD/radio has gone kaput so I don't have anything to play a tape on).

Read it.