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.