Saturday, 22 October 2011

The Eurozone

So, I confess to being something of a 'Euro-sceptic', even (or perhaps especially) after having studied how it came about last year while I was looking at modern Europe.  But what I would like to point out before I throw my own two penneth into the ring of the debate, is that really, I'm not an economist or an economic historian.  I'm just offering some musings.

The Eurozone is a bit of a weird thing, really.  It's basically a band of countries saying 'we'll become one in currency, but not one in policy'.  Now, that's bound to cause problems.  Let's face it, we're having enough trouble in Britain dealing with the economic crisis (don't get me started on the Conservatives...), but while we're sort of four countries the countries have been largely united.  In Europe, it's different.  Whilst all the members of the Eurozone have to take the same knocks to the same currency, they don't have to respond to the crisis in the same way.  I dare say doing something utterly wrong but at least all the same would be better than everyone pulling in different directions.  The trouble is, through monetary union, the countries of the Eurozone have become one in practice, if not in fact.  It's a little like England and Scotland when James I came to the throne.  He couldn't get people to agree to a union, but he could drop trade barriers and deal with cross-border raiding.  So that's what he did.  And just over a hundred years  later, you end up with the Act of Union, incorporating Scotland and England together.

Whenever you look into how the EU has progressed (ie, from all the bazillion acronyms with E and usually one or two Cs, and perhaps one or two other letters, to a slightly different set of a bazillion acronyms), perhaps the most striking thing is how the EU has grown and developed.  From something which the Brits initially saw as a good way of making France and Germany never fight each other again, it's progressed to a sprawling empire of 'Eurocrats' and little real democracy.  But the roots remain.  Common Agricultural Policy, and the skewed balance of contributions from Germany (which was understandably keen to get involved in the first instance so that it was no longer a 'leper' country) still underlie the EU, together with disproportionate influence for France and Germany.  And what of poor Italy?  A founding member, arguably throwing a last desparate grasp at world power status, and now relegated somewhat to the sidelines, save for occaisional worried glances at the Italian economy and fearful noises being made.

The EU needs shaking up and refounding on a firmer, more democratic footing if it's going to make real progress into the future, and if people aren't going to remain sceptical.  Sure, there were elections to the EU Parliament, but when does that ever make the news?  The only thing that headlined for so far as I could see was that a couple of BNP members made it in.  And let's face it, that's gotta be a measure of how unseriously people take the thing.  If people had confidence in the institutions of the EU, we would be more willing to contribute to it, to allow for the fact that all member states are in this together.

That said, it will be pretty hard to dismember now that countries have switched to single currency.  What they going to do, dig up their old currencies?  Or have the same ones, but just differentiate based on area of issue?  That'd cause chaos and no mistake...

Thursday, 13 October 2011

The Priest

Like I said, yesterday was hard work.  So I decided to take the afternoon off doing uni work and just enjoy myself reading fiction instead.  Sometimes, you just need some fun books :)  Not that Bede isn't really interesting, but some of the books about Bede...

So, The Priest is a fairly standard crime thriller, with a freaky serial killer, excitable Spanish diplomats, and a cop with family trouble/girlfriend trouble (she's a journalist).  It's also well-written and gripping, so maybe not too standard.  Not entirely sure what else to say.  Sorry.  Feeling a bit tired, think I might go read some more fiction...  Well, it's that or continue making notes on Eddius Stephanus' 'Life of Bishop Wilfrid', which is interesting, but I think I'd rather read fantasy or something a bit less demanding of brain power.

I could put this to post tomorrow.  But then it won't make sense of the yesterday comment...  Maybe though, I will start doing the 'Schedule' thing.  That would be cool, right?  And maybe demonstrate that I am technically competent and can do exciting things, rather than just write four book reviews at once (okay, not quite four today, but sometimes...) and then abandon the blog for a week.  I could even start using pictures.  But I don't see how a blog that's primarily about reviewing books actually needs pictures.  The book cover, maybe?  Then I could use one of the new blogger view options, and people could scroll by book cover.  That might be interesting, but it'd take forever for me to add the pictures to all previous posts...

At the end of that ramble, let me sum up.  The Priest is a pretty good book, with a rather sinister serial killer and a rather interesting detective tracking him down.  Since I've come to the conclusion crime in particular stands or falls based on the characters, this one ones a pretty good job of 'standing'.  You do feel a little terrified when...  But you can read it and find out about that bit :)

Raising the Past

For a great book to read to just relax, forget about a supervision that was definitely not the best I've ever had, and generally avoid thinking about the fact that I was feeling somewhat ill, Raising the Past is one to pick.

There's a buried woolly mammoth, there's an interesting main character who saw a previous expedition he led get destroyed by drug runners, and now he's up in the Arctic again.  There're also aliens.  Great fun.  I mean, the Arctic plus aliens plus interesting characters, what more can you want?  And it does have a plot (of the, 'oh heck, we need to save the world, forget the woolly mammoth that we were going to clone' variety, admittedly, but that's still a perfectly valid plot).  It has plenty of action too, and it keeps you on your toes, keeps you interested.  So while it might not make the BBC 100 Greatest Books due to some sort of intellectual snobbery, it's actually highly enjoyable.

Speaking of those 100 Greatest Books lists, you'd think, given how much I read, that I'd come out as pretty well read on them.  But they're a bit skewed towards boring classics.  Or you get each Harry Potter book listed separately.  Haven't read Harry Potter, actually.  Feel like I'm probably too old to enjoy it now--especially having analysed a couple of scenes in English Language.  The general point of this paragraph is, I think, that I'm not 'officially' all that well read.  Unless I'm allowed to tick books which I started, found incredibly dull/annoying and wondered why anyone ever put them on a 'books to read or you will die' list, and gave up on.

Anyway, Raising the Past is good fun, a great escapist novel.  Really enjoyed it.

Saturday, 8 October 2011


I've not been very good at keeping this up to date lately.  In fact, I believe since I last wrote about my own writing, I've finished two novels.  I say this because I don't quite remember when I last said anything on the topic.  At any rate, I've now written twenty novels (some of them rather bad, some of them perhaps quite reasonable, none published).  Which I reckon's a reasonable achievement given I'm only nineteen :)

The Game Layer was the second most recent that I finished.  It was inspired by an article on the BBC about an app called Scvngr, and a few words in a long-distance conversation with another writer over facebook.  He said something about me being able to mark books on goodreads with whether I owned them or had just read them, so that I don't end up buying multiple copies.  To which I replied that I didn't have a smart phone (I believe my phone is probably the antithesis of a smart phone, as it doesn't even have a colour screen, and as it works without any problems...).  Scvngr, I should perhaps add, is an app which lets you get offers by doing real world challenges.  Using the new (or maybe just one I've never before used) button above, I shall now add a link to the very article which inspired this novel, isn't that exciting!  Probably not, but I'll do it anyway... .  There, see.  A link.  So, that got me thinking about a future in which those with smart phones are able to get progressively richer and those without become progressively excluded as they cannot access the offers and challenges that people with them have.  Then, just to make life more interesting, I altered the smart phone aspect to be in people's heads.  After all, some people are so dependent on smart phones and the internet that they might as well have them surgically attached.  From there, I just chucked in a crime/plot to dominate the world, and a bit of history leading up to the point at which the novel took place, and added a few characters.  Basically, the games were being used to make people murder.  And my main character had to figure out who was behind it.

Thorn at Kettree (not quite sure whether I'll stick with that title or not) is another sci-fi crime.  Or at least, it was meant to be, but Thorn decided that overthrowing a dictatorship would be much more fun than solving the crime I'd decided I was going to use for this story.  I plan on writing a sequel with the crime he was meant to solve put back in.  Anyway, it's in a totally different 'world'.  Humanity has spread to the universe, so there're lots of human settlements on a variety of roids and planets.  Thorn gets sent to Kettree to act as a representative of a new UN-type body for the universe that focusses more on crime than anything else, along with Lady Veronica.  He's somewhat appalled by the fact that despite the war which was meant to make the universe safe for democracy, Kettree's governor is effectively a dictator.  And that's the basics of that story :)

Maybe one day I'll get them published.  That'd be quite cool :)  Then people can come look at this post and go 'hey, this is where the idea for that novel came from' and nobody will have to make random guesses like we sometimes do in English Lit.  And I bet we always ascribe far more intricate and noble motives to writers than they actually had.  I reckon Shakespeare's Tempest is full of magic purely because he wanted to write a big spectacular, I don't know that looking for meaning is always that useful.  The meaning's probably there accidentally anyway.

Some musings on the new blogger

I'm guessing that people who read this (does anyone read this?!) don't necessarily have blogger.  But it's recently changed it's interface and it's very...  White.  Uncluttered.  Minimalist.  And I'm not quite convinced I like it in terms of the whiteness and lack of anything to click on.  All the post settings are now at the side (which probably makes no sense, but basically the options where I choose things like labels aren't beneath the post any more).  And there's a huge bit underneath where I'm typing this that's completely unused.  Maybe it's so it can be used on a phone?  But what about us users who happen to have a rather large screen?

It looks a lot more like a text editor now than it did before.  Which I guess is nice in that it makes it a lot more obvious to use for new people.  And I never really used the HTML stuff anyway, so that's not a problem.  I believe there are now more fonts and colours and things, but as I've never had reason to use different fonts and colours and things and don't know that I necessarily ever will, that's not that exciting.  There are buttons to add videos.  Maybe one day I will add a video.

It's gone a lot more icon based, especially on the dashboard.  I wonder if one day historians will look at screen shots of old computer programmes and try to extrapolate symbolic meanings.  And will they compare the different symbols which do the same things?  I wonder what you could learn from, for example, comparing the things that office, google, mac and open office use for functions within their documents.  Probably nothing, to be honest.  Which won't stop somebody trying, I'm sure.

I'm also most impressed with the 'send feedback' thing.  I thought I'd mention the large empty space that could quite easily be used for something (what?  I don't know, I'm not a software designer.  Maybe just have the compose box take up the whole space to start with, instead of it jumping to the bigger size only when you reach the bottom.)  So there was this button to highlight things using click and drag, and then you type the problem into the text box that pops up in the bottom corner of the screen.  I wonder if there's some way of making this a bit more colourful.  I miss the colourfulness.

So there you go, a nice random post as I procrastinate doing anything particularly productive on the conversion of the English.  Maybe I'll tell you a bit about that topic in a future post, once I've got my head round (or got my head as far round as possible) what actually happened.  Or what probably happened.  It was a long time ago, and it seems nobody's entirely sure of the details.  But that ramble doesn't belong in this post...

The Good Thief's Guide to Paris

Okay, so I picked this up at the library the other day because it looked interesting.  I nearly gave up part way through (it didn't have quite as much action as I was hoping for) but didn't because the library was closed and I hadn't really anything else to read.

It's quite a fun idea.  Also somewhat complicated.  The main character is talking in first person and is a thief who writes books 'pretending' to be a thief.  There might be another layer of pretending to be a thief in there, somewhere, but I'm pretty sure I got them all.  Just to make life a little more unusual, said thief (as in, the main character of the actual book, rather than the main character occaisionally mentioned in the book within the book) has early-onset arthritis.

The main character is pretty fun, as are the various characters in the somewhat eccentric bookshop.  The plot is pretty good too.  I think it was more of a personal taste issue--I suspect I would've rather read the book within the book with implausible action scenes and so on--but I did find it a little slow-going in parts.

In conclusion: an interesting idea, a fairly good book.  I'll probably read the others, if I spot them (especially as I seem to be having one of my periodic running out of interesting things to read issues), but it's not competing to go on my list of favourites.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

So, I've read another Robin Hood book.  I'm rather fond of Robin Hood, and it's really interesting to look at all the different varieties of stories there are about him.  I love how he, and other central characters, can be subtly or significantly recast, depending on the author, and how the incidents chosen and the era used to set the story in all alter the books to make many of them quite distinct.

This one, by Simon Green, is definitely one of the better versions I've read.  I like the opening, with Robin in prison in the Holy Land, breaking out with the aid of a Saracen, only to return home and find his father executed for devil worship and his house burned down.  I'm not entirely sure whether there was still much paganism in England at this point, but it does make a good addition to the story, and unlike in Angus MacDonald's 'Outlaw', Robin isn't involved in it at all.

All the characters you'd expect are there, from the evil Sheriff to Robin, Friar Tuck, Little John (in this one married and with children, which I don't recall seeing in the others, or at least, not as a major plot point), and with the addition of Azeem the Saracen who's vowed to remain by Robin's side until he can save his life and thus redeem himself of that debt.  Azeem may be in one of the other versions I've read, but not as a major character like in this one.

It's a good read, there's plenty of action, stirring defences of liberty, and of course the romance between Robin Hood and Maid Marion, which isn't made a great deal of.  Also, Maid Marion is nice and competent, which is always good :)

My only criticism is that it felt a bit short, and the ending almost read as if the author had been ordered to keep it under a certain word count, and had to rapidly cram in the last few bits of action in order to meet the target.  Other than that, it was certainly an enjoyable version of the legend.

Dragon Haven

(Slight note, unrelated: I've just started using the new interface, not entirely convinced by it.  So if this post doesn't work/looks weird/does strange things, that's why...)

This is the second book in Robin Hobb's most recent trilogy, and it's really good.  Meant I did absolutely no work for an entire day as I just lay on my bed and read this book.  I blame the person who kindly leant it to me.  I was meant to be doing uni work.  Actually, I'm meant to be doing uni work now as well, but as you can see, that's not happening.

While I've read a lot of fantasy since I first started reading Robin Hobb, I think her novels remain my favourite fantasy.  They're just so rich and detailed, so intensely real and so magically other.

Dragon Haven continues the tale of the crippled dragons and their keepers as they hunt for the mythical city the dragons sort of remember.  Romance, intrigue and the struggle to survive all give the novel depth, coupled by the wonderful missives by carrier pigeon that appear at the start of each new section, giving you character by proxy.  I love those bits, it's a really intriguing idea, to show how much (and how little) you can discover about these two characters by the notes on the edges of official post.

The dragons go stronger as they travel, and the people, cast-offs for the most part, along with a silent liveship and his tough captain, a trader lady indulging her dream of learning about the dragons and her attendant who doesn't want to be there, also grow and develop.  It's a brilliant cast, and you find yourself caring intensely about the characters.  Loved it, from start to finish.

This is definitely a recommended read, though it's worth reading the first, Dragon Keeper, first (and preferably sooner before this than I did), and you'll need plenty of time to set aside because you won't be able to put it down.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

The Last Christian

When the daughter of a missionary couple emerges from the jungle, her entire village dead, it is to find a totally different world to that her parents told her about.  America has become completely secularised--preaching any sort of religion is seen as a hate crime, nobody seems to believe in God any more.  Not only that, but people have implants in their brain, and the first brain transfusions, replacing the human brain with an artificial one, apparently identical, are just beginning.  Abby receives a message from her grandparents: both of them dreamt that she would be the one to reintroduce Christianity to America.  But it seems an impossible task.

Invited to appear on a well-watched morning tv show, Abby speaks out about her faith, and then receives numerous threats, and will be prosecuted for inciting hatred unless she leaves the country.  But she's determined not to give up her mission, and a social historian, Deighton, decides that he'll help.  She is, after all, a fascinating cultural specimen, a survival from a past world.  Finding out what makes her tick could give him a huge insight into the 'religionists'.  Trouble is, there's a problem with brain transplants, and Abby has been given a clue to it.

Great characters, and an intriguing take on the future, this is a brilliant sci-fi/thriller novel.  I've passed it on to my mum to enjoy.  And even if you don't care about God, you have to admit that the potential to live forever would change everything.  If humans no longer die, there is no need for an afterlife.  But how would society adapt to an eternal population?


I was browsing through Fantastic Fiction, looking at new authors (as you do, when you really can't face doing any more uni work and it's the holiday so there's not a whole lot to do), and happened to spot this one.  The cover, I confess, grabbed my attention.  Let's face it, we all judge books by their covers, or you'd never be able to make a decision about what you wanted to read.  Anyway, clicking on it, I discovered that this was based on an old English legend I'd never heard of...  Well, as a great lover of Robin Hood (I'm up to six different interpretations of it at the moment, with another on the way from ebay), I thought it was well worth a go.

Ah, before I go any further, I should perhaps say this version is by James Wilde, and should be easy enough to distinguish from others as it seems to be the only recent one.

Anyway, this is a fascinating read.  I'm going to be doing the period in which it's set next year at uni (and I can't wait!), so it was interesting from that perspective.  The sources from that period are so scanty that you can basically make up what you will, but it did feel fairly solidly based.  I'm not an expert yet, probably never will be an expert expert, but I would hope I'll know a bit more this time next year.

Hereward is a brilliant hero, though not without his flaws and darker side, and I love the monk, Alric, who becomes his constant companion after a chance meeting.  Alric is also portrayed very sympathetically, which often isn't the case with churchmen in historical novels (you only have to look at Angus Donald's version of Robin Hood, called Outlaw, which has a horrendous priest).  Mind, the early church is not completely safe from attack.  A rich cast of characters, and a great 'feel' to the story keep it compelling, along with some great sword play and action scenes.  I'll definitely be keeping my eye out not just for anything else by James Wilde (this is a debut novel, but he's definitely left space for a sequel--perhaps a Hereward trilogy is in the making?) but also anything else about Hereward.  The story's brilliant, and I love the fact that Hereward isn't portrayed as perfect, and also the way the story manages to cover a fairly long time span without feeling contrived.

This is a fantastic book, I thoroughly recommend it.  Rescues a great hero from obscurity (or reinvents a great hero), and provides a brilliant adventure/historical novel too.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Halo: The Flood

Okay, so I read a book based on an Xbox game.  And I've also read Contact Harvest in the same series.  But guess what?  They're actually pretty decent.  Okay, so there's not that much character development, save for the Master Chief and the AI Cortana which are developed somewhat (although most of the characters mentioned get a kind of brief personality).  But it's very exciting.  If you like Matthew Reilly, you'll probably like these--they're basically non-stop action thrillers with a lot of fighting aliens.  And I mean a lot.  The whole book is basically a single campaign.

If you've ever seen the Halo games, I have to say they do seem to match with the books.  From the book, you can kinda tell that there's only one major character (ie the Master Chief) and that it's a fighting game.  But I don't know that there's anything hugely wrong with that.  It's a good book to sit and read when you just want a bit of entertainment, aren't too bothered about the characters, and would like to enjoy a well thought through alien culture as the enemy and some pretty impressive action scenes.  I guess the fact that it's based on a game has given it advantages on the world-building side.

If you want a book that doesn't require much thought and is just a fast-paced, enjoyable read, this is for you.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

10th Anniversary

I'm not sure why I read this.  And when I started, I thought my post would go something along the lines of 'I'm not sure why I bothered even trying to read this, it was rubbish'.  But actually, this brings the Women's Murder Club back to being a great series.  So if you read 1-4, skip a lot (don't worry about missing stuff, there's nothing majorly interesting, just a long drawn out side plot involving complicated romances) and carry on with 10, you'll probably think this is great.

I decided, since I ordered it before Varsity messed me around (I was going to write book reviews for them, after agreeing, they then abruptly decided they didn't actually want me to do that after all), and since I wasn't entirely sure how to cancel ordering the book from the library, that I'd better read it.  And, um, it was pretty good.  Not fantastic, but pretty good.  My main criticism is that the story started breaking up towards the end.  There were too many plot threads, and some of them felt like they'd been thrown in and then James Patterson decided he didn't actually like those threads but couldn't be bothered to remove them and so finished it off abruptly.  Lindsay's boss going out with Yuki, for example.  Lindsay goes 'wait, he's married', which could have caused some really interesting stuff.  But then the boss, when confronted, says 'oh, we've been separated for about a year, I'm just waiting for the divorce to come through' and it's all fine.  Might as well not have been there, in my opinion.

Lindsay and Joe finally get married (how long did that take?!) and Cindy is going out with Lindsay's partner (as in cop partner).  Relationships look a little messy to be honest, but I guess it keeps the characters smaller in number.  Also, not to sound a complete pessimist (and I don't think I'm really spoiling anything), but the story ends with Lindsay pregnant.  I highly doubt the baby is going to survive, but that's just me.  Also, I wonder why we never meet Claire's husband...

So yeh, that was 10th Anniversary.  It's probably worth a read if you see it around.  Don't get too excited, it's not brilliant, but the characters are good--Lindsay's a favourite character of mine since I've followed the series pretty much from the start--and there's several interesting crimes/murders woven together.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The Bride Collector

Okay, seriously, why has nobody told me about this author before?  This book was AMAZING.  Literally couldn't put it down, and hence am a weeny bit tired this morning (thankfully, I started it just before 8 and it wasn't too long, or I'd still be reading it now...)  Talk about a brilliant crime novel, which completely underlines the fact to me that a crime novel stands or falls on its characters.  Not necessarily the main characters who're chasing the 'bad guys' either, but the assorted victims, relatives and so on.  That's what makes a truly great crime novel.  And this one had interesting characters in abundance, particularly the cast from the Centre for Well Being and Intelligence, but I have to say I also loved the main character, special agent Brad Raines.

To be quite frank, I don't want to tell you what happens.  Just that you'll adore Roudi (a wanna be Sherlock Holmes), Paradise (just an incredibly human, incredibly moving character), Cass (short for Cassanova, need I say more?) and Andrea.

Who's sane?  Who's insane?  And where do you draw the line?

Fascinating, gripping, it takes you right into the heart of mental health issues and their treatment.  Plus there's a serial killer to catch.  As an added bonus, I don't think there's any bad language (not noticeable at any rate), and the author doesn't have this strange belief that just because it's a thriller there have to be male and female characters leaping into bed with each other!

I can't recommend this book enough, and I can't wait to get hold of any other books by Ted Dekker.

Monday, 2 May 2011

61 Hours

So, it's one of the more recent Jack Reacher books, the second most recent I think.  I had a bit of a phase of reading loads of these all in one go, gave up for a while, and when I saw this in the library figured I should read it.

It's a pleasant enough way of spending an afternoon.  I read it all in one go, which perhaps argues for it being a good book.  Although I've recently realised that a better mark is being forced to stop and then launching yourself straight back at the book as soon as you've done whatever interrupted you.

I found the constant references to how many hours there were left somewhat irritating.  A good way of keeping a sense of chronology perhaps, but not necessary.  Especially as I couldn't tell you with any degree of certainty what the countdown was actually to.  Was it the lady being attacked or the escape or when the lady was meant to be attacked or what?

The ending was a little bit like the one at the end of Six Sacred Stones, in that it's vaguely cliff-hangerry.  You know he survives, because there's another book.  It's just a case of working out how (I'm proud to say I was almost right with Six Ancient Stones).  But that was good because it was guessable.  I'm not seeing any way out based on the text so far, which would mean there's probably some loophole which enables Reacher to escape.  Of course, I might just be being ignorant, in which case I'll hold up my hands and say okay, that works.  Which I guess means I have to read the next one.

One thing I will say is that it doesn't particularly matter if this is the first one you start with.  I presume there's a gradual chronological moving forward, but as Reacher just sort of drifts across America with no personal belongings and as each of the incidents described occur in a different place across America with little tying them together, it doesn't really matter.  The only constant figure is Reacher, who according to one of those little sloganny bits you get on books all women are meant to fancy.  I'm not quite convinced, but there you are.  He's a great character in many ways, and it basically means the author gets to create loads of new characters for every book, which can be as fun as it can be hard work.  (Personally, I find surnames hardest.  They usually all need to be different, and while you can nab character traits and forenames of real people you know, surnames are a little more personal...). 

At any rate, it's a decent enough book, albeit nothing spectacular.  If you like crime with a slightly unusual main character, this is a series you'll undoubtedly enjoy.  Although at times Reacher comes across a bit Sherlock Holmesy, if you know what I mean :)

Osama Bin Laden and 'Justice'

I know I don't normally make political comments, but this is all over the news at the moment for obvious reasons, and I think it's worth making a few points.

While what has happened is almost certainly positive--and I certainly don't want to demean those who killed him--it's not justice.  Justice would be putting him through the law courts, following due process, and then legally executing him.  A comparison can probably be made with resisting arrest, in which case it's fair enough that he was shot.  But again, not justice.  Also, while I presume the burying him at sea was in order that his body doesn't become a rallying point, it does seem a little odd.  Or is it only me that finds it strange that the body has been disposed of so rapidly?  Again, I'm not trying to make up some wild conspiracy theory that the Americans either didn't find him or shot him without cause, but it does look odd.

I suppose we were all wondering just how quickly the Royal Wedding would be displaced from the news.  Whilst media coverage did seem OTT (and in particular the idea that we need a bank holiday just before May Bank every year...), at least it was something positive in the news for a change.  Now there seems to be a bit of a gore fest going on, and everyone's leaping in and this is dominating the news even more than the Wedding.  What happened to balance?  The Libyan ambassador to the UK was kicked out today (it kinda surprised me that hadn't happened weeks ago), there were a large number of tornadoes in Alabama, and I have no doubt that more things have happened that I haven't seen on the news.  All of a sudden, nobody cares that Kate and William postponed their honeymoon for security reasons, and we're all panicking about revenge attacks.

I suppose the fear of revenge attacks is a big factor against having a 'proper' trial, not that we'd be in any doubt as to the outcome.  But if that's a motive for making a mockery of justice, then surely the terrorists are winning by subverting exactly what makes 'us' different from what 'they' want.

At the end of the day, a certain part of me is glad that Bin Laden is gone.  But surely we should be celebrating more in terms of attacks he now cannot organise, rather than fearing those his supporters might.  And it's certainly not 'justice'.  Call it revenge, call it the end of a man hunt, but I don't see how it can be rightly called justice.

Friday, 29 April 2011


I read this after my younger brother.  He insisted it was great, I felt somewhat dubious based on the fact that it had a highly improbable plot (sixteen-year-old  Tom Harvey has iPhone fall on his head and gains magical powers).  After he read it in two days, and it took more effort to prise him away from it than it normally would to get him to stop playing on a game, I figured there had to be something to it.  I was expecting to write a review that said it would be great for a younger audience.  Actually, I think it was just generally pretty great.

I swear as you're reading the plot makes perfect sense.  The 'powers' are all logical extensions of what an iPhone can do, and once you've suspended disbelief enough to get started it rapidly becomes so intriguing and enjoyable that you forget that this is based on a rather dubious premise.

Tom's close friend Lucy was raped at the same time he had a phone dropped on his head, and her brother was beaten up.  Now that he has powers, he can seek revenge against the gangs who rule the estate he lives on, but how far is too far to go?  And is there any point when nothing can change what happened to Lucy?

As iBoy, moreover, Tom starts up a MySpace page and starts chatting to Lucy.  When she subsequently sees him outside her door, stopping the gangs from scrawling lewd graffiti on it, she realises iBoy on MySpace is her real world protector.  And starts talking to Tom about it, creating an interesting conflict between the real Tom and the iBoy Tom.

As a book, I guess it raises all sorts of 'issues'.  But it's also a really good read, half way between a superhero novel and 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time'.  The characters are convincingly portrayed, and you find yourself developing quite significant attachments to them.  It's also, like the other Kevin Brooks books I've read, one of those that I suspect will stay with me in some form or other for a long time.

Half of me would like to see a sequel, half of me will be happy if there isn't.  There's something quite conclusive about the ending but which still leaves unresolved the issue of what Tom will continue to do with his newfound 'powers' and how he adapts to being back at school again with the ability to access wikipedia instantly in lessons.  I wonder if there's any fanfiction out there...

In short, don't be put off by the blurb.  I nearly was, and I nearly missed out on a brilliant read.

Sunday, 24 April 2011


I haven't said anything about my writing for a while.  In fact, I didn't even mention on here that I finished another novel the other week.  It's provisionally titled Shrike, but I think it will eventually end up as Two For Joy.  Took a fair while to get there, and I hadn't finished anything for a while (done plenty of writing, just on bits and pieces going nowhere, rather than concentrating and getting things done).  Any rate, I've finished another novel :)

It's a sci-fi/crime novel (yes, that's definitely a genre, even if I've only ever read one that I would put in that genre...).  Anyway, there's a Birdie police officer, because I like flying things/flying people, called Ash.  There's a serial killer.  There's a lot of prejudice against Ash because he's a Birdie.  He's fighting for equality.  What else can I say?  It's not all typed up yet, so even if you wanted to I can't tell you to read it.  And it needs editing too.  And also means I have to edit the other stuff in the series I've written to take account of  the fact that Ash as a character has developed somewhat.

I'm currently working on another sci-fi/crime novel, which I'm hoping to work on until I finish it, rather than getting distracted and meandering off chasing other bits of novels.  I'm having fun at the moment with it at any rate.  One thing I have noticed is that I find it hard to cover longer time-spans in my own work.  So far, I'm on Chapter 5 and it's covered a couple of hours.  I'm working on it :)

I think that's about it in terms of writing.  Just thought I'd tell the whole world about what I'm up to :)


I believe I've mentioned (several times...) before that I have a bit of a thing for Robin Hood.  I actually intend at some point to write my own version set in a different era to usual (I think Robin Hood would make a good Digger :), and he could be loyal to the 'true king').  At any rate, that was why I finally decided that although the blurb wasn't hugely attractive (I'd rather read about Robin Hood the hero than Robin Hood the terrible bandit, the 'godfather of Sherwood forest') I'd give it a go.

I enjoyed it, but throughout there was a niggling sense that there was something just a little off.  There was nothing really that I could put my finger on and say, no, this is definitely not right, this isn't how people would have acted, but it just didn't quite feel right.  I think part of the problem was the pagan ceremony (unlikely in that period, as the author does acknowledge at the end), and the distaste for the church that seemed to be a common element of every outlaw apart from Tuck (although even he didn't seem hugely enamoured of it).  I'm not saying the church was necessarily perfect, nor am I suggesting that everybody loved it wholeheartedly, but I don't think anti-clericalism was as prominent as what was suggested.  Or perhaps more that where there was criticism of the people of the church, that it would be directed towards individual abusers of the power rather than the church in general.

I rather liked the ending, and the idea that Robin then went onto crusade (which is apparently the subject of a sequel).  It's set in the reign of Henry II--Richard the Lionheart's father.  I'd like to know more about the period.  I think of the different versions I've read, there are two particular 'bits' that stand out to me.  One is the idea of Robin as a rebel against the usurper John rather than Richard.  The other is the tale of Robin's death, where he shoots an arrow and asks to be buried where it lands.

Oh, there was one bit that I wasn't convinced by.  When the queen was referred to as reaching sixty, which was a huge age to live to, I wasn't sure whether that's entirely accurate.  I don't know that we have a lot of information for the period, I do know that the previous conceptions of everyone dying young in the early modern period are somewhat flawed.  Everyone either died very young or tended to live into their fifties/sixties.  But I'm not an expert, so that might be quite accurate.

In short, it's not bad.  But I think the perspective it takes makes it more of a teenage rather than an adult book (although there's some bad language and bits of quite graphic violence).  Because it's from the perspective of a younger lad though, Alan Dale, who joins the band after having been a thief, and it basically charts his growing up against the background of Robin Hood, I would've put it as a teenage one.  There's no reason why adults shouldn't read it (and technically, I'm both an adult and a teenager :) ), and I'd say that readers should probably be about 15 or so before I'd start recommending it (obviously that varies depending on an individual, but I wouldn't have a problem recommending it to my brother who's fifteen if I thought he'd actually read it).

I'll probably read the next one too, when I spot it.  On the other hand, I won't be hunting about for it.  It's a good book, I love Robin Hood (and he's interestingly enough portrayed in this version, though not in a great deal of depth I wouldn't say), and if you see it in a library it's probably worth your time to have a read.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

The Seventeenth Century

For a book on the Seventeenth Century, I thought it ended rather early...  What happened to the last twelve years?  What happened to the Glorious Revolution?  Surely it would make more sense to have it in a book on the seventeenth century, so that you can get a sense of where it came from, rather than a book on the eigtheenth (I presume it does make it into the one in the series on the eighteenth century, but I haven't read it so I can't say).  That apart, I did think this was really good.

Unlike the one on the sixteenth century in the same Oxford Short History of Britain series, it gave a pretty good sense of chronology.  There were several chapters on the political 'story' as it were, explaining the early Stuarts, Civil War, Interregnum, and finishing up with the latter Stuarts.  James II was barely covered, possibly he gets more space in the next one in the series. 

It's a series of essays, rather than a single text, which I think works really well in this book.  The one on culture was particularly interesting, as it made only passing reference to Shakespeare and instead focussed on other elements and writers, and paid particular attention to the development of theatre from the Court Masque.

I was surprised at how good a sense of chronology there was, and it managed to be clear about the various rulers.  The Interregnum wasn't perhaps covered as well as it might have been, but it's hard to criticise when those twenty years were so confusing it must be incredibly difficult to structure them in a coherent manner.  What else?  Well, aside from a rather disappointing end (seriously, I really want to know about the Glorious Revolution, when can I do it?!) it was really good.  Certainly, it proved readable and engrossing, as well as being clear.  I really am turning into an early modernist though...  Never mind.  I'm sure it's curable.  If not, well, I'll have to add portraits of Cromwell and Charles I to my noticeboards along with all the aeroplane posters...

Tudor England

This is the one by John Guy, just so you know :)  (I imagine there are a fair few out there with the same/similar title).

It started off a lot better than it finished.  The Tudor Kings were discussed really well, there was a clear layout to the structure (mostly political, followed by mostly religious).  Where it fell down was when it reached Mary and Elizabeth.  Mary because she was skimmed over in what I thought was far too brief an analysis (okay, so she didn't reign for long, but she should still get something of a mention!).  And then probably half the book focussed upon Elizabeth.  Unfortunately, this disproportionate (or at least, what felt as I was reading rather disproportionate) focus didn't lead to greater clarity.  The latter part of Elizabeth's reign was divorced from the beginning with some rather muddled chapters on culture and religion and social stuff.  Maybe it was to avoid the charge that he'd just lumped all the 'unimportant extra bits' on at the end.  I hasten to add that I am not implying that social, economic, or any other bits of history are unimportant.  Just that the book said in the intro it was going to focus on politics, I was hoping for a book that focussed on politics, and that is what I mostly got.  After the narrative had been hopelessly interrupted, became more than a little confused, and the Spanish Armada had been briefly dealt with. 

If you want to know about the Tudors up til Edward VI, then it's great.  Really well written, really interesting.  Unless you already know a reasonable amount of the chronology and fancy untangling a rather awkward mess, avoid the stuff on Elizabeth.  It's not worth the confusion.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The Golden Gate

This is an Alistair MacLean I've had sat on my shelf for quite a long while, without me realising that besides being one I had, it was also one I hadn't read.  There's a lot of others with similar titles (The Golden Rendezvous, The Golden Keel...) and Goodbye California is also set in California.  Anyway, I realised I hadn't read it and decided it might be a good idea to do so, rather than having it sat there gathering dust.

It's a good one.  In fact, it's one of his better ones, made all the better because I didn't know where the story was going.  Not quite as many twists, perhaps, but fast-paced and your standard Alistair MacLean character.  Undercover police officer, doesn't really care much about following orders, smart, tough...  You get the picture :)  Also the usual falling in love with somewhat hapless woman.  Actually, the hapless woman in this case did have a bit more of a personality than normal.  It sounds like I didn't like it that much, reading it over, but I did.  It was definitely a good set up.

A determined thief has kidnapped the president of America and two oil barons.  They were in a presidential coach (I want one of those!  They sound really awesome!), with two other coaches on the route too.  When they pulled onto the Golden Gate bridge, the thief struck.  Actually, the villain in this piece was pretty interesting.  Had a thing about not killing people, wasn't just a villain, more of a brainy thief who found having a real job too boring to bother with it.  The American government has to pay up, three hundred million dollars for the president and the oil barons, two hundred million more for the bridge.  And to keep himself safe afterwards, he demands a presidential pardon.  Looks like he's got it all figured out (and if you want to know quite how the security was breached, it's really rather interesting).  Unfortunately, in amongst the journalists who he's kept on the bridge in order to tell the world what he's up to, there's an FBI agent, who's determined to see the bridge remains intact and the money in Fort Knox.

I really rather enjoyed it.  I still think Fear is the Key is his best (what a twist!) but it's definitely one of the great ones.  Well worth keeping an eye out for.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Some Musings on Shakespeare

Why does everyone revere the works of Shakespeare? Is he really a genius, more of a genius than any other poet, playwright or author England has ever produced, or is it merely a reputation? Certainly, one disgruntled Amazon customer was less than impressed with the complete works of Shakespeare...

I quote: 'Having read some of this mans works I have to say I'm thoroughly dissapointed. Considering most of his works have been made into blockbuster films I think it's important to note that this really is a case of the films being better than the books (in all cases). The language used is outdated and terrible for most people to understand. I'm surprised this man has become as sucessful as he is and I think he is massively overrated. Many of the plots have been done before or just been copied from history. Let's just hope he doesn't write anymore of this crap! Don't waste your money.'
Serious (which would be worrying) or not, is it time for Shakespeare to be replaced by someone more... modern? Here, I hide to avoid all the pens, probably quill pens, which are launched at my head by angry English Lit students.

I rather like Shakespeare, I have to say. I have voluntarily read a number of his plays (not all, though slowly getting there), and thoroughly enjoyed studying 'The Tempest' and the Scottish Play (seeing as I've annoyed the Lit students, I should probably avoid getting in the bad books of thesps too!). On the other hand, I also thoroughly enjoyed 'The Shakespeare Secret' by J L Carroll, which is unlikely to ever make it onto the reading lists of... Well, anyone apart from those like me who just enjoy a good read, whether it comes in mass market paperback form sold at Asda or not. Speaking of which, does anyone else find it amusing that with all the scorn for mass market paperbacks, most of the 'classics' have been reprinted cheaply in precisely that form? Ah well. I've digressed. Where was I? Whilst Shakespeare is a staple, some books are banned from use in A-level coursework, such as 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time'. What's wrong with that book? Is it merely that it was published in the last twenty years (bear with me while I check that... ah, last ten years, it's a modern imposter, only came out in 2003 so can't possibly be any good). Or is it that it was published as a children's book? Or... Who knows? But you cannot deny that it deals with 'issues' and is written in a distinctive style.

And that's what put me off English Lit, why, in the final analysis, I realised I was a historian. Does this sound hopelessly bizarre, that I'm a historian because I prefer modern books and so couldn't face doing English Lit? It sometimes feels that way to me. Especially as I have a long running love for Robin Hood, partially because of a wonderful computer game I played years ago. So what do I do? Not decide that I want to study the books I love, but decide that I'd much rather take the 'Robin Hood' paper in history... At any rate, I don't think Robin Hood makes it onto the curriculum. Well, the ballads might, but I doubt the rather interesting version (well, sequel) by Anthony Horowitz would make it.

Why is it that the idea of a modern version of Shakespeare throws up such horror? Is it because the genius is in the language of the plays, rather than the actual ideas? Well to be quite honest, what really fascinates me about the plays is the multiple stories, the relationships between the characters, the very human emotions evoked. And let's face it, Shakespeare was the mass market fiction of his day. I pause here to duck flying feather quills once more. But Shakespeare wrote for a popular audience. He wrote works that were performed in bawdy theatre houses, before an audience that was predominately made up of normal men and women who crammed into the pit to see his plays. So why can't we appreciate, just as much as Shakespeare, the works of authors like Frederick E Smith (633 Squadron series, I love 'em!), Matthew Reilly (fast paced thrillers, such as Seven Ancient Wonders), or Robin Hobb (best fantasy I've ever read, personal favourite is probably the Farseer Trilogy)? 633 Squadron does a wonderful job of exploring human relationships, and that's why I love it. Matthew Reilly... Well, apparently someone said of him that his books lack character development because they never live long enough to develop. But isn't a brilliant, fast-paced action scene that gets your pulse racing just what sword fights on stage are meant to deliver? As for Robin Hobb, well, if you want descriptive writing at its best, I doubt you could beat the Soldier Son trilogy. But for an exploration of what it means to be human, what it is to love and fear, to be discriminated against for something beyond your control, and, okay, some pretty ace sword fights, magic, and an intriguing take on dragons, I reckon the Farseer Trilogy beats all comers. And I'm sure there's excellent romantic fiction out there too, but that's not really my thing. And hey, was it really Shakespeare's thing either? I mean, even Romeo and Juliet has poison, feuding and death.

Maybe the best thing about Shakespeare is that it's convenient. After all, there are whole libraries out there of fiction to choose from, and sometimes you pick up a book and you wonder how it ever got published, before quickly putting it down again/tossing it across the floor in disgust. But Shakespeare is old, has a pedigree of being good, and you can't complain about him in quite the same way as you can for other books, as the reviewer on Amazon discovered. I bet you could go criticise any of my three examples (please don't, they're rather wonderful) and get barely a twitch of the eyebrow. But Shakespeare is defensible. Plus, he's written a variety of genres, so you don't have to worry that you can't just study thrillers, romances, or fantasy. I imagine Shakespeare will remain the most revered English writer. But perhaps it's time to make a little more space on the pedestal. If all the world's a stage, let's remember the bit players from time to time.

Zero Hour

Slightly confused as to how this blurb: 'A terrorist group is on the brink of obtaining a code that will jam every item of military hardware from Washington to Kabul. Jets and helicopters will fall from the sky. Communications and weapons systems will fail. The West will be brought to its knees. Only one man can find and stop the perpetrator -- but for the first time in his life Nick Stone doesn't want to play ball.', fits with this book.  I think Fantastic Fiction may have got an earlier version of the blurb...  The only thing that is vaguely the same is the last sentence, which is in the blurb on the actual book.  Just thought I'd make that observation, seeing as the book has very little to do with that, and is actually about a kidnapping and child trafficking (although I can see where the original blurb comes from, as there are aspects of it in the book, ish).

Right.  That out the way (I was only looking to check I had the title right), I'll get on with reviewing the actual book :).  I really enjoyed it.  Like all the Nick Stone books, it's a fast paced thriller with a main character who's a little deeper than he seems than first glance, but I think this one is really really good in terms of character development.  Unfortunately, I suspect it's going to be the last one, unless there's a sort of new phase in the series as it were.  Although it is a strong ending, I've really enjoyed these books.  They're fast paced, there're plenty of twists (particularly in this particular one), and they're incredibly realistic.

If you're looking for a fast paced thriller, that doesn't just offer guns and explosions but also a lot of depth both to the situation (rather than just having an excuse for plenty of action) and to the characters.  Very enjoyable read, and they're highly addictive.  Whilst not necessarily ones you'd read over and over again, whilst you are reading them they're all but impossible to put down (as my parents discovered when trying to get me to come for dinner yesterday...).

A great book.

Monday, 11 April 2011

The Conscience of the King

Fancy an intriguing Shakespeare conspiracy, set, unlike the other two I've read, in the Jacobean era?  This is a brilliant book, I couldn't put it down.  Intrigue, action, and the question: could Shakespeare really have written what he wrote?  The answer, at the end?  I'm not going to tell you :p  You'll have to read it and find out for yourself.

Wonderfully evocative, with an intriguing plot, fast-paced action, and a brilliant hero.  I love these books :)  Can you tell?  From what I've seen, there are only four (although there is a mysterious book mentioned in the historical notes at the end of this one, which suggests a fifth one that google hasn't turned up, so perhaps it's not been published yet), two in the Jacobean period, two under Elizabeth, all fascinating and full of rich detail about court, country, and life.  As well as, and this is a particular favourite for me, details about Cambridge at that time, well recreated.  And this one even contains a wonderful scene in King's College Chapel.  When I'm down in Cambridge, I walk past there every day :)  Shame my college never got a mention (Christ's, if you're wondering).

I don't know what else to say really, save that these are definitely books to grab as soon as you see them.  Took me long enough to find copies of this one and the one I reviewed yesterday.  I don't see why they aren't more popular, to be perfectly honest.  So yeh, read them :)

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Imagined Communities

I thought I should probably read this, seeing as the people leading my History of Collecting seminar group always seem to be going on about it.  And it was interesting, and mostly well-written.  It was just quite pompous in parts, and there were occasions when it felt like the author had been ordered to liven up his text a little, and had complied by throwing in the odd exclamation mark where it wasn't really needed.

That said, I thought the link between 'print capitalism' (yeh, does that give you the idea of how the thing was staged) and nationalism was well documented and explored.  And the point that it's something we blame for things but don't often look at in any great depth is also a good one.

One other stylistic point that really, really annoyed me.  I've gone to great length to learn how to do footnotes properly (footnotes and I had a long battle during my first term, a battle which was decisively solved in my favour when I discovered that most supervisors don't insist upon them), and got told off for putting in discursive footnotes.  I complained that I was just copying what I'd seen done by other authors, which didn't really hold weight, and was told that footnotes are not the place to bung in additional information that kinda supports your argument.  Be that as it may, Benedict Anderson was using them as though he got a bonus point for every footnote.  I wonder why the blogger spelling checker doesn't like the word footnote, or at least, doesn't like it in some circumstances but is quite happy with it in others...  Sorry, random aside :)

Right, well, aside from being somewhat pompous in parts and having these terrible discursive footnotes that we history students must not in any circumstances allow ourselves to use, (oh for goodness sake, what's wrong with ourselves?!) it's actually pretty interesting.  And I guess it's one of those books that you bandy about to make the point that you are learned and all those wonderful things (now it's going after things, seriously, I think the blogger spellchecker machine has issues...  just going to turn it off, there, obtrusive yellow highlighting which has enabled me to double the length of this otherwise rather humdrum review has been vanquished).  I'm not sounding very positive, am I?  I actually enjoyed the book, though was irritated by the number of words I didn't know.  I do have a pretty reasonable vocabulary, and there wasn't a convenient dictionary while I was reading.  Meh.  Also, some of the illustrations used assumed knowledge I didn't have, and there was an assumed knowledge of language (one rather long paragraph in French had the attached footnote that the translation suchabody had done was unsatisfactory, without giving any sense of what the French bit actually said...  My French was just about good enough to figure what it was probably saying, but it was irritating).

The way he studied the growth of nationalism was interesting, the reasons given for its arrival in the New World before the old convincing.  It's quite an interesting book, and it's probably worth reading.  I read it in two days, so it was certainly an interesting one.  I still have Fritz Fischer's War of Illusions staring at me menacingly from under my desk with a bookmark maybe a quarter of the way through, and it's been there maybe two, three weeks.  It's not a perfect book (is there such a thing?), but it's interesting.

The Desperate Remedy

Quite simply, it's brilliant.  An evocative rendering of the early years of James I/VI, an intense thriller, a gripping read.  What amazes me is that the author, Martin Stephen, doesn't seem to be on any recommended reading lists, or not ones that I've seen.  I don't normally go in for historical fiction, but I picked up one of his books before and was, quite frankly, hooked.

I have one quibble with the series, and it's this: what order are these books supposed to go in?!  I'm sure that The Desparate Remedy is the first that was published (one sec, checking Fantastic Fiction... Yep, it is).  But it seems to be the last chronologically.  Also, according to the same source, the most recent was back in 2006.  I hope there's more, I've nearly run out, I managed to find an omnibus in a charity shop today which had the only two I hadn't read.

The more I learn about Elizabethan and Jacobean England, the more intrigued I become, and the more convinced that these books are excellent portrayals of that period.  Intrigue, spying, enough action to satisfy anyone who loves a good thriller (or three), mixed with a wonderful rendering of the period.  The famous names are in there, and in this novel Henry Grisham, the main character, deals with the gunpowder plot.  Apart from the main character and his two associates, I think all the others are real, historical figures, and from what I've seen the books tend to play around the gaps in the historical record and give a slant on what we know (or think we know) about the period.  I confess I don't yet know huge amounts about the period, but these are certainly fascinating, and a much funner way of getting to the heart of the period than reading endless scholarly tomes (not, I hasten to add, that there isn't a place for such scholarly tomes, just that they can be a little drab and tend to rob the period of its drama and adventure).

I like the characters, I like the plot and the counter plot, and there's plenty of action.  Real depth to the characters too, as well as to the periodisation.  It's just so well brought out!  If I were to learn something next month that flatly contradicted what I've read here, I'd be more inclined to believe these books than the contradiction...  However, I suspect Martin Stephen has studied the period extensively, it certainly feels real.

If you're not sure whether you'd particularly like historical fiction, these books are a perfect method of convincing you that really, it's quite fantastic.  Certainly they've shown me that romance doesn't have a monopoly on historical fiction (although there's certainly some of that in the book).

Friday, 8 April 2011

The Sixteenth Century

On the basis that there might be a couple called this, it's a collection of essays by various people but the name on the front/spine is Patrick Collinson.  Actually, if I'm being really exact, it's just Collinson.  Because we historians clearly don't do such vulgar things as putting our names, let alone nicknames, on the title page of a book.  (Can I count myself as a historian yet?  I'm studying... reading... it, and I do try to pick up the attributes of a historian while I write, but apparently my essays are littered with colloquialisms and end up far too vivid in parts.)  Anyway.  Long introduction cut short, The Sixteenth Century, compiled/edited by Patrick Collinson.

As I said at the start, it's a collection of essays, which cover social, political, constitutional etc history.  Not desparately integrated, but at least it's better than those surveys of social history 1500-1750 or whatever intermediate dates they pick that don't given any idea that there was a Civil War right slap bang in the middle of that, combined with plenty of religious and other upheaval.  Ah yes, there's a bit on religious history too.

Really enjoyed it, have to say.  It was odd to read about the social history with the arbitrary, in terms of social history, cut of point of 1600.  For social history, it seems to make more sense to use the Civil War as a cut off point, or simply to blather on about how nothing really changes and so it doesn't really need a cut off point.  Okay, not quite, but you get the picture :)  But in terms of political history, it makes sense to go with the 'long' sixteenth century--in other words, to cover the reign of the Tudors.

There wasn't really any overview of who was ruling when and what the differences were, which was a shame, because I only just feel like I've got them straight in my head.  Henry VIII, Edward VI (think it was VI at any rate), then Mary, and finally Elizabeth.  Please correct me if I'm wrong, preferably before I go back to uni and make a fool of myself getting them in the wrong order or with the wrong numbers.  After Edward (he might have been V, come to think of it), there was James VI / I (sixth of Scotland, first of England), Charles I, the interregnum/commonwealth/whatever you want to call it, Charles II, James II, and then the 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688 and William and Mary (dual monarchy, so you have to say both).  I hope I have not just given you utterly incorrect information there!

I think the religious chapter in particular suffered because it pretty much skipped over Mary (as in Mary Tudor).  Admittedly, she didn't rule that long, but I thought the changes in her reign were pretty dramatic and therefore probably worth giving more than a glancing reference too.

The book did, however, do a pretty good job of taking into account Scotland and Ireland, which was nice, as well as an interesting section on foreign policy.  But I think the strongest chapter was probably the one on 'The Limits of Power', which was particularly good at looking at the way the Tudor monarchs actually exercised power and how far they were able to do so, and took into account the differences between different regions as well as looking a bit at Scotland and Ireland.  Also, the chapter on the Renaissance was fascinating, thoroughly enjoyed reading about that.  Especially about the mixing of culture and how Shakespeare was criticised for mingling tragedy and comedy, like many English playwrites.

It's a great introductory book, none too long, and generally fascinating.  Sums things up nicely, and I particularly enjoyed the treatment of the social/economic side in the first chapter, which I thought was brilliant at summing up everything I learnt in my first term.  Or at least, a good portion of it.

The Hidden Oaisis

Yay, a new author that was brilliant :)  Okay, so he's apparently been around for a while, and this is his third book, but new to me.  And utterly gripping.  Also, the whole can't put it down thing is not helped by the fact that there are no chapters!  I didn't realise this until part way through when I realised I should go do something else and decided to follow my usual expedient of forcing myself to stop reading by putting in my bookmark at the start of the next chapter.  On some books, this doesn't work anyway, but it certainly wouldn't have worked here!

I'm not sure where I stand on not chaptering.  I've tried it myself, but the book was tremendously complicated and I had to colour code it to make it comprehensible to myself, so I certainly hope no one decides to publish it posthumously!  That said, it worked with this book, and natural breaks in the text were provided by scene shifts.

I liked the characters.  I liked them a lot, in fact.  Especially Flin, obsessed Egyptologist trying to come to terms with his past and hunting down a lost oasis.  Nice bit of magical/booby trap stuff in there at the end, and plenty of action.  Really enjoyed it, and I've got another of Paul Sussman's books out already.  I imagine these are going to be books that end up on my bookcase (although I am having major running out space issues at the moment!  Might need to find somewhere to put another bookcase, though where on earth I could fit one is another matter altogether...).

I guess it's your standard archaeological thriller, which is definitely a legitimate category of books.  It has to be, there's loads of them!  And it makes a nice change from Atlantis books (although as long as they're well written, I have no problem with a plethora of Atlantis books, as my bookshelves will bear witness...  I believe I have three with Atlantis in the title).

At any rate, it's well written and I struggled to put it down.  Well worth keeping an eye out for it!

9th Judgement

Meh.  I saw it in the library and thought, hey, new Women's Murder Club, I might as well see if it's any good (this is now, I realise, the second most recent to come out).  In about half an hour I'd read the first hundred or so pages, thanks to James Patterson's short chapters, which make the book look far fatter than it actually is, and to be honest I wasn't gripped, and decided to take it back to the next library we went to.  So it didn't even make it home with me (okay, here I pause for an explanation: I went out to visit a handful of libraries in East Lancs with my mum, as we're trying to visit all the libraries in Lancashire, and some of them are closed at lunch time, so while we were waiting for the next library to open we started reading the books we'd already got out, hence the book not making it home from the library).

Is it just me, or are James Patterson's books getting worse and worse?  Or did I just have a fit of enthusiasm for a new author and am only now realising...  But I'm sure the earlier ones are actually pretty good, pretty thrilling.  It's just the more recent ones (okay, scratch that, from Women's Murder Club I wouldn't rate any from about book 5 onwards, though I've read all of them up til half the 9th) that have descended into not that greatness.  I suppose my taste in books may have changed.  But one of the more recent Alex Cross books (not Cross Country cringes) was really good.  Double Cross maybe?  And I nearly didn't read it.

At any rate, if you're not totally fed up of this series by now, it might be worth having a look.  It did, after all, hold my attention for half an hour and I'm more likley to give up a book within a few pages than within a hundred (though given the chapter length, I probably read as much as if it had been a few pages...)

On a related note, the most recent Maximum Ride appears to be terrible.  I'm afraid I didn't get past the first chapter ie, the first three pages, before I wanted to slap Max!  And she was one of my absolute favourite characters at one point, and in terms of inspiring my own writing probably a close second to Holly Short from Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl (you should know that!!!).  I would also include in the list of inspiring characters Sean Dillon from the series by Jack Higgins, and Jack Howard from the series by Alan Gibbins.  Oh, and also Jack West Jr from the Seven Ancient Wonders etc series by Matthew Reilly.  Interestingly, apart from Artemis Fowl which is as good/better than ever with each new book, and Jack West which is probably as good, the other series have all had dodgy books.  I didn't finish the most recent Sean Dillon either, got fed up half way through because I swear I'd read either that plot, or practically that plot, before.

Digression over.  I probably wouldn't bother with 9th Judgement.  Well, I kinda didn't, and I doubt I'll bother trying the 10th whatever unless it ends up on a library shelf in front of my nose.  Which is a shame, because I really enjoyed the earlier ones in the series, but such is life.


This is the second E-force book.  I reviewed the first one when that first came out, as it looked like good fun, and I believe I said something along the lines of it's a series with great potential but was slightly let down by mediocre writing, and that I had high hopes for a sequel or three.

Well, this is the sequel, and it was definitely better written than the first.  Bits still felt a little awkward (especially at the start), and the characters still weren't fantastically developed in terms of the members of E-force (I still get a few of them mixed up), but the supporting characters who were trying to survive the disaster were pretty well evoked, though there were rather a lot of them involved!

The action was great.  Plenty of it, and once it really got started, say from about the third chapter or so, it really was quite well written and engaging.  Took no small effort to tear myself away from it for tea.

I think this is a series that (please!) might turn out to be something like the Dirk Pitt books--a long-running series with a core of central characters and then supporting cast brought in as needed.  But the closest thing to compare it to would have to be Thunderbirds.  In fact, it practically is Thunderbirds, brought into the 21st Century and in adult book form (there is some swearing--though less than many thrillers--and not everyone makes it).  So I was amused by the Stingray reference--I imagine that like the character who had watched every episode of Stingray obsessively, the author Sam Fisher has probably watched every episode of Thunderbirds, maybe several times over.  Like my brother really.  And by extension, myself.  I think I've seen most/all of the original Thunderbirds, the new one two or three times, and then a handful of Stingrays and Captain Scarlets.

Whilst being a Thunderbirds fan, or vague appreciator as in my case, is probably not necessary, I imagine it's a bonus.  The craft used are effectively Thunderbirds craft, with a few added extras, and rather than a philanthropic family there's instead a group of dedicated rescue personelle with little/no ties to the outside world and thus forming a tight-knit team within E-force.

I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Could have been better than it was if the main characters had perhaps been developed a little more--though by the end they were becoming more distinct entities than the Tracy brothers in the original Thunderbirds ever really were--and I think there was a definite improvement in writing style/quality as the book progressed.  So I have high hopes for the future of this series.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

The English Civil Wars, 1640-1660

Okay, so I'm behind (again...), and I make no promises about my ability to catch up with all the books I've read and not reviewed over the past few weeks, but I shall try.  It seems that every term, life starts to get on top of me, I don't post for a while, and then it feels like such an effort to catch up that I decide I don't have time.  Anyway.  For now, here goes  :)

On the basis that there are probably a fair few books out there entitled The English Civil Wars, this is the one by Blair Wordon.  It's a good introduction to the topic.  That, it makes plain in the introduction to the book, is its sole aim in life, so I suppose it succeeds.  I thought a little bit more on the military side of things--the experience of those who fought in particular--would have been good.  I mean, it says in the introduction that approximately 1 in 10 people probably fought, and that casualties were probably higher than those caused to Britain by the First World War, but it says very little about battlefield conditions.  I accept that not much is known, but a little bit would've been nice.

It covers the whole period, from the causes (starting with the reign Charles I), right through to the Restoration and why there was a Restoration.  So in that respect, it's not so much on the English Civil War as I expected.  It's also distinctly English in its treatment of the topic--whilst acknowledging the influence of events in the rest of the country at various points, they are not the main focus or even much of a peripheral focus in this book.

However, those criticisms out the way (and here I add one other, more stylistic point: I thought the chapters were too long), it is a good introduction.  So if you haven't got a clue what happened 1640-1660 and you want to know what Cromwell got up to, why England briefly had a republic, and why we decided that republics were a bad idea and we were better off with a monarch, this is a good book to start with.  It's pretty well written, and the topic itself is (well, in my opinion at any rate) fascinating.  Hopefully, if you enjoy this, you'd go on to read some more detailed studies of various aspects of the period, or even bigger books with a similar title (this one is 165 pages, pretty short for a history book you have to agree).  And when you do read those bigger books, you won't find yourself utterly lost, as I, admittedly was with the whole of the early modern period until about half way through my first term when it all started to make a bit more sense and I realised that Mary Tudor and Mary Queen of Scots were different people...  Hey, I'd never studied the period before ever, I figure it's fair enough that I didn't realise things like that :)

So, in short, it's good as an introduction, and as that is all it makes a claim to be, I figure it fulfils its purpose in life pretty well.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

The Lost Relic

I was so chuffed when I spotted this at the library.  And my excitement was not displaced.  This is a gripping next instalment in the Ben Hope trilogy, this time involving art thieves and much excitement.  Well, the much excitement is pretty well a given in these books.  Also, a brilliant side plot (but not resolved!), involving Ben's ongoing relationship with his girlfriend and issues therein.

Well written, gripping, and they feel authentic too (in spite of the fact that, as far as I can see, the author has no real experience in the military...  Do correct me if that's wrong). 

I'm not quite sure what else to say.  It's worth keeping an eye out for certainly, and I'll probably get myself a copy as soon as I see it second hand (this is nothing against the book, I'm a student--there are only a handful of books I'd buy new as soon as they come out).  Also, space limitations at home mean this is probably a pretty good indication.  I'm not sure where I'd fit it if I got a copy...  I'm sure I'll manage somehow.  I'm going to have a college and a home collection of books I think.  Being a fast reader, who enjoys rereading, has disadvantages.

To conclude: read it!

Polar Quest

I am now more confused than ever about what sort of order (if any) Tom Grace's series is meant to go in.  Certainly, they don't seem to have been published in anything vaguely resembling chronological order.  That said...

It's brilliant.  Quite similar to the Ben Hope series (temporarily forgotten author's name, but I've reviewed loads of them), though with more of a science/technology base rather than a more historical one.  Lots of action, and a decent plot that's sufficient to support it without it seeming like gratuitous violence/action.  There's not, perhaps, much character development in this book, but the supporting characters are well evoked, some familiar faces (Grin) return, and Nolan Kilkenny (the hero, if that's not too old-fashioned a word to use to describe him :) ) is convincing enough.  There's just not a lot of inter-character relationship going on, but I guess that's somewhat inevitable if you want to have space for a tight, gripping thriller.

I have to recommend it.  Don't bother reading the series in any order, since it hasn't been published, as far as I can tell, in any real order, but do read them whenever you spot 'em.  Great fun, and I certainly hope there's more.  At the moment, my mental classification scheme puts Tom Grace as: brilliant writer of  small number of thrillers, and he fits next to Scott Mariani (Ben Hope series, just remembered!) and James Twinning (the ones about the ex-thief).  I'd like to see more, from all those authors in fact, and most definitely from Tom Grace :)

Monday, 28 February 2011

A Great Deliverance

This is the first book in the Inspector Lynley series.  I got into the series after discovering that the TV series which mum and I had been watching on DVD was actually based on a book.  After a few that were great, and one that really wasn't great, I gave up on the series for a while, but I've returned to reading the ones they have in my current local library (I was starting to run out of ideas...).  And actually, this first one is brilliant.

The conflict between Havers and Lynley is well, and sympathetically, set out.  It also opens out a lot of the personal relationships that are mentioned briefly in later books, which helped explain a lot.  And the case itself is fascinating--and frightening in many respects.

The atmosphere is great, and I love the two main characters (especially Barbara Havers, she's fantastic :) ).  I thoroughly recommend this to any crime lovers.  A great novel, and it sheds a whole new light on the later books.


It's ages since I last read a Redwall book, but I felt like being nostalgic yesterday and so when I went to the library I picked this one up.  As one of the more recent ones, it's one I haven't read as often as some of the earlier ones (all the ones before Rakkety Tam I've probably read at least 6/7 times, and Taggerung and Outcast of Redwall I reckon I've read somewhere between 15 and 20 times...), I couldn't really remember what happens.  I worried as I determined on this course that I would discover that Redwall just isn't as great as I remember it being, and that I would lose a piece of childhood nostalgia by realising it wasn't actually that great.  But it was still great.

There's something uplifting about a good vs evil book, where you know that good will win but you don't know how yet--or whether those who are 'goodies' will all survive.  With the Redwall series being about the inhabitants of a place, rather than a specific character Brian Jacques had (he sadly died a few weeks ago) the freedom to kill off characters without jeopardising the future of the series.  Unlike books set around a single character/characters (like the Dirk Pitt books, for example), you can't be sure that the main characters will survive.  Which has led, I might add, to a good deal of sobbing on my part.  Especially in Martin the Warrior.

Riddles, feasts, fighting, and a wonderful cast of characters, including a brilliant hare, plus a whole host of mice, squirrels, and a new Gousim tribe, plus the Gonfellin tribe, makes this a brilliantly woven tale.  I thoroughly enjoyed it--couldn't put it down.  And that's despite having read it before :)  It's inspired me to go read the rest of the Redwall books, and I can't wait to get my hands on the most recent one (just come out in paperback, so I think amazon is called for as they seem impossible to find in most bookshops).  It might be a children's series, but it's uplifting and exciting in equal measures.


I really enjoyed this.  It's a black and white, silent movie from 1927, and they recently found a few more bits of it and added them in (the new bits were lower quality in terms of the actual film, but added a lot to the story).  I was surprised at how complex the plot was and the fact that it was comprehensible, and that despite the fact that there weren't all that many dialogue screens.

I suppose it's strictly speaking dystopian science fiction, and it's really good.  The graphics still look good, and it was apparently the most expensive silent film ever made.  There are some brilliant bits with the machinery, and it's intriguing to see one of the ways the future was envisaged in 1927.

Some bits were unintentionally amusing.  There was a lot of clutching at hearts, and hugging, but most of it was excellent.  I can well understand why Empire film magazine rated it 12th of 100 best films of world cinema last year.  Well worth a watch.  The soundtrack is also really good, and it gives a totally different viewing experience to a 'normal' film with words.


Well, it wasn't a total waste of time.  The characters were, for the most part, really good.  There just wasn't much substance.  It had a lot of potential, but it felt like they'd cut a bunch of scenes out, realised they'd cut too much, and then decided to simply stretch the ones they had left.  Not much really happens.  And some bits are decidedly random--the beginning and the ending, mostly.  By the fourth time the car went round the race track, everyone was giggling, and I was waiting for a car crash so that the main character could break his arm in an exciting way.  But nothing happened.  He eventually stopped driving round in circles, randomly got out the car, and then the scene faded.  (He broke his arm falling down stairs instead).  Also, at the end, he's driving off into the distance, stops for no apparent reason, and gets off to walk into the sunset.  Hmm.

Like I said though, the characters were good, and there were one or two gems in there.  They were just few and far between.  It's a relaxing film though, doesn't take much effort or energy to watch, and was a pretty good film for me to watch whilst knackered.  Although perhaps I should have saved my 4 film ticket for another one (Nowhere Boy this week, and The Tourist next week, both of which look very interesting).

If somebody sticks it on in front of your nose, and you're feeling not particularly energetic, it's a reasonable film.  But don't go getting all excited about it.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Blue Gold

I recently traded in pretty much all my Clive Cussler books, but up til now had only read the Dirk Pitt ones and one of the Oregon files (was not that impressed with the Oregon files ones, the Dirk Pitt ones were good but I figured I probably wouldn't re-read them).  Blue Gold was one that I picked up in Cambridge last term, didn't get round to reading, and so left here to enjoy when I got back.  And I did enjoy it.  I was quite surprised, in fact.

Blue Gold is one of the Kurt Austin books, set in the same world as the Dirk Pitt ones (indeed, in the other Kurt Austin book I've now read, Pitt makes a passing appearance).  It's an adventure story, based loosely around the ocean, and it's certainly an entertaining enough way of passing the time.  The character description sometimes felt a bit forced (particularly the bit about the jazz)--reminded me of my English Lit teachers rule of 'show, don't tell' when it comes to characters.  But other than that, there was a reasonable amount of action, there was a reasonable plot, the science was, well, maybe a little exaggerated, but potentially plausible.  Also, very amused by the giant woman.

In short, Blue Gold is pretty much what you'd expect from a Clive Cussler book.  There's action, beautiful women, a hero and his sidekick...  The Kurt Austin books could, in fact, almost be Dirk Pitt ones, save for a few little details about the two main characters.  So if you're a fan, and you've run out of Dirk Pitt books (although to be fair, there are twenty-odd of them, so you'd have to be an obsessive reader like me for that to happen quickly...) these are just as good.

Final Theory

It says on the book something along the lines of 'The Da Vinci Code, but with science'.  Actually, I've never read the Da Vinci Code, so I can't tell you how accurate that is, but from what I know of it I dare say it's pretty close to the mark.  It's a science based thriller, it seemed pretty plausible to me, but I'll hold my hands up now and admit that while I have at least a passing interest in science I'm no expert.  And the science was explained well enough that it's reasonably comprehensible.

The basic premise?  Einstein came up with a unified theory of everything (this sort of idea also features in a book by Tom Grace, I believe it's the one called Quantum), which could prove even more dangerous to humanity than the nuclear bomb.  An interesting enough main character, who's actually a professor of the history of science (is that the right way of putting it?) and a pretty good cast of supporting characters, including the 'bad guy'.

At any rate, I enjoyed it enough to have a look for other books by that author.  Unfortunately, there aren't any.  Ah, actually, take that back.  I've just looked on Fantastic Fiction, and there is!  And it follows on in the same series.  Bonus :)  I shall certainly be keeping my eye out for that at the library (I have to be seriously strict on myself in terms of actually buying books now I'm afraid.  All my bookcases at home are crammed to bursting, and I have maybe a dozen books here in Cambridge as well, so how they're gonna fit when I go back is beyond me...  And I seem to have a thing for still ending up with more books!  Ah well.  I'll be keeping an eye out at the library, as I said.)

Final Theory is worth a read.  It's maybe not the greatest thriller of the year, but it's certainly a solid book that's by no stretch of the imagination a waste of time to read.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Despicable Me

I decided to be cultured this term, and watch more films.  Despicable Me perhaps doesn't fit the bill of 'high' culture, but it was certainly enjoyable.  A superhero movie with a difference, Despicable Me is, strictly speaking I suppose, a supervillain movie.

Gru is a supervillain who's never quite made it to the big time.  He and his army of minions have managed to steal the Statue of Liberty... The small one from Las Vegas.  With a new villain on the scene, Gru is determined to regain some prestiege, and so hatches an audacious plot to steal the moon.  Dogged every step of the way by his tenacious rival, he finds himself adopting three young girls who turn his life inside out, and make him question what's really the most important part of his life.

Brilliantly hilarious (I especially love the Bank of Evil...  Formerly Lehman Brothers), with a heart-warming ending, this is definitely a film to watch.  It might be animated, it might have a plot that borders on the utterly ridiculous at times with shrink rays, sharks, and squid guns, but it's a great film.

Monday, 24 January 2011

The Social Network

I really enjoyed this film.  I've decided to be a bit more 'cultural' this term and try to actually go to the extra stuff that's on, especially films as I don't watch many and my college has its own cinema (ish).

Anyway, The Social Network charts the development of Facebook, in a non-boring way.  Geeks, parties, law suits and... um... geeks again? provide a great plot full of human interest.  And lots of laughs.  It's really interesting to see how Facebook developed, and to consider that there was a point in my life when I *gasp!* didn't have Facebook.  Indeed, I remember dial up, the early days of the internet, the start of personal computers.  It constantly amazes me when I stop to think about it how much technology has moved on.  For example, when I was last babysitting, I had a go on my next door neighbour's Playstation 3 Kinnect thing (is that what it's called?), and while the game was actually very similar to one of the first ones I ever played on, it's a totally different experience in many respects, to be waving about the controller in thin air and watching things happen on the screen.

That digression on the progress of technology aside, the characters are (mostly) portrayed sympathetically, and interestingly.  I found the scene with the contest to get a job as an intern at Facebook absolutely hilarious--particularly in the explanation.  Every ten lines of code, you have to drink a shot.  Every three minutes you have to drink a shot.  Every... etc.  Very amusing.

If you get the chance to see it, it's well worth a watch.  Startling to think how recently and how small Facebook started, and how big it's become.

Friday, 21 January 2011

The Budapest Protocol

Wow.  A gripping and just downright fantastic book, The Budapest Protocol revolves around a conspiracy at the heart of the EU--the continuation of the Nazi regime through peace, rather than war.  A fascinating historical background (the Nazis did try and create a united Europe, and the document at the heart of the book is based off a real document included in the appendix) mingles with a gripping character-orientated narrative to create a book I struggled to put down for dinner (and subsequently read until about 11 in order to finish it off...).

Budapest is created convincingly--I confess I haven't been there so I can't say for certain how accurate it was but it felt good--and the characters were equally well crafted.  I love the mingling snapshots of the past--both of the grandfather through the diary, and the main character's flashbacks to episodes in his career as war reporter. 

In short, I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I don't know, to be quite honest, what else there is to say.  The concepts behind it, including the Gypsy holocaust, were plausible, the political struggles felt real, it's a great book.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011


The United States of Europe has arrived, and with it, dozens of new laws every day.  Things are becoming illegal so quickly, the jails have to be constantly deepened as more and more of Europe's citizens become inadvertent criminals.  Furthermore, it is now illegal to fire someone for incompetence--indeed, it seems like only the incompetent are ever promoted.

A brilliant thriller venturing across Europe, the investigator hampered by people and police who should probably be described as criminally insane.  An amusing, engrossing read with scatterings of brilliant characters, from the 'large' main character, through to the constantly angry Italian police chief, a forensic scientist who rearranges the dead bodies he's given as a hobby, a young woman with Sexually Inappropriate Response syndrome, and a dozen other hilarious characters and places--such as the train station where no train has ever stopped.

In style, it's probably closest to G K Chesterton or Douglas Adams, permeated with the same slightly wacky, off-beat humour, though with more of a plot than any of the Hitchiker books seem to have mustered...  There is a definite chase after a serial killer, on the trail of a dead agent.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book, really glad I happened to pick it up in a charity shop :)  Well worth keeping an eye out for--I hope there's more.

Monday, 17 January 2011

The First Great Air War

I probably shouldn't be fussy, since  books about First World War aviation aren't always that easy to find (unless you happen to be near Cambridge University Library, in which case a little digging unearths a reasonable number).  However, this book wasn't all that great to be honest.  There was a lot about the pilots, and it was, in effect, a conglomeration of stories about individual pilots.  There was a lot said about how the observers and the gunners and the pilots of reconnaisance aircraft deserved more recognition, but not a lot about those individuals.  Most of the people followed were fighter pilots, generally aces (and often the more famous, high-scoring aces).

The first few chapters were very good, with some interesting stories about the early days of the Royal Flying Corps.  Tortoise races, anyone?  (Fly in a wind speed higher than your aircraft's top speed.  The person who gets blown backwards the furthest is the winner!).  However, the balance of the book wasn't great.  1916 and 1917 got the lions share of the book, with only two short chapters on 1918, despite the fact that there was a lot of fighting in 1918 and it was most of the year before the armistice was signed.  There was a definite bias towards the Western Front and the RFC, with a handful of German pilots, a few French and American, an even smaller handful of Italian pilots (and the pilots of the RFC who went to Italy), and pretty much nothing about the Eastern Front, or the Austrian side of the fighting in Italy.  In fact, it could probably have been improved by explicitly focussing on just the Western Front, rather than giving the lives of two or three Italian pilots, with a focus primarily on one of them.  There were a lot of comparisons to the Second World War, and I'm not convinced they really helped explain anything.

That said, some of the personal stories were interesting.  The Red Baron was described as a rabid dog who should've been shot, and there was a big emphasis on the fact that the war in the air wasn't chivalrous, but was really rather nasty and that even if they were knights of the air, knights weren't very nice when they were in battle.  Wasn't entirely convinced by the description of the Red Baron to be perfectly honest, but there you go.  There were some very amusing tales of various things that went on in the air, and some more poignant ones.

On the whole, it was pretty mediocre.  If it weren't for the fact that it's quite difficult to find books on this topic, I'd probably say don't bother.  It doesn't say anything particularly special, and you can probably find the amusing stories in just about any account of WWI aviation--there were some rather bizarre occurrences.  I also felt that it was overly critical of Trenchard and his tactics.  If you have an interest in the topic, it's reasonable.  If you're not desperately interested, don't bother.

(Just realised: I should probably tell you who the author is.  It's the one by Richard Townsend Bickers, published 1988)