Thursday, July 23, 2009

Summer Reading - The Solitary Man by Stephen Leather

I would probably never have read this for idly browsing books in Tesco’s and a two for a fiver deal. And I love reading books I would not ordinarily have read.

The Solitary Man is Hutch and he is a man that will run from any confrontation. He will run until there is nowhere to run and then he will come at you fighting. Having escaped from a high security prison in England he has run to Hong Kong where he has spent six years anonymous and building a successful business. Now his past has caught up with him and blackmailed into helping a member of the IRA escape from a Bangkok prison, Hutch finds himself a pawn. Not only in helping with the escape but in the DEA’s war on the trafficking of drugs from Burma.

In a world where every thriller now seems to feature the war on terror, Islam and some devious mob trying to undermine western governments (as if our governments need any help doing that), this book was a welcome change. But that is probably because it was first published in 1997 when the war was about drugs and the IRA.

While the characters are sometimes plucked from cliché Hutch is original and dogged and has stayed with me well after the last page of this great, twisting and turning story. Which takes us from Hampshire, England to the clamour and smog of Thailand to the dense jungles of Burma.

Two downsides. Probably the best character besides Hutch is Jennifer Leigh, a balls to the wall reporter who is instantly likeable but sadly gets trapped in a dead end story thread. And during the first half of the book I often found myself lost as the multiple story threads were concocted without context to each other. This was not a problem during the second half or as we neared the rollercoaster end, which was page turning.

In summary, twelve years after first being published this is a great summer read in the style of Frederick Forsyth and for me, earlier Tom Clancy stories.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Summer Reading - Twilight - Stehenie Meyer

It seems everyone these days is reading Twilight or one of its three sequels which are also now making it into the movie format. I had originally put off reading the series because of wide reports they are essentially Christian analogies for morality, sex and marriage. Which Twilight certainly is but it is also a lot more.

Bella is seventeen and has moved to live with her dad in the cloud covered, lush and rain sodden town of Forks. She very quickly falls for the god like Edward and a love affair unfolds. The problem being Edward is immortal and a vampire and also wants to eat her(cue analogies).

At over 400 pages this is written from Bella’s viewpoint and for almost 200 pages it is nothing other than charming. But then Edward and Bella realise their love and quite literally spend the rest of the book staring moodily into each others eyes or breathless waiting for the next time they will meet, while imagining moodily looking into each others eyes.

There are a few story points, a bit of backstory on the nature of these vampires (Edward lives with a family of vampires that have integrated with the local community and don’t eat humans and eat animals instead) and there is some attempt at drama towards the end, but it is glossed over as almost a second thought so we can get back to more staring moodily into each others eyes.

This story has a great concept with classic themes that women of all ages seem to love, although I should mention it is specifically marketed at young adults. The characters have a certain charm that lingers and as a bloke it is an interesting insight into what’s going through my wife’s mind when she looks at me doe eyed.

If you are female of any age then this is recommended reading, if you are male trying to work out the enigma of woman then this is definitely worth a read. If the enigma of woman is already known to you or you are not bothered then skip to the movie, it condenses the moody looking into each others eyes to a ten minute segment and adds drama and tension towards the end.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Summer Reading - Brute Force - Andy Mcnab

Andy McNab revolutionised men’s fiction, being the first author that made action fiction feel real and raw. Mostly because his writing was largely based on reality. His first fictional book was called Remote Control and remains to this day one of the best books I have ever read. But that was in 1997.

Brute Force sets Nick Stone in familiar territory. Starting with the premise of an idyllic Christmas with a beautiful woman and her young stepdaughter. Of course this is Nick Stone and that lasts no time at all. He survives an attempt on his life and begins a search for his would be killers, going from Ireland to England, to Europe and beyond.

Having finished the story and looking back on what happened it did contain a lot of what I love about these books, but cannot escape from the fact I found it verging on tedious a great deal of the time. It was a book I got through and not a story that pulled me through the pages.

The problem being, there is nothing between the beginning and end that gives us any feeling that we are doing anything other than heading towards the next step that will inevitably take us to the showdown where Stone will confront the bad guy, and survive. At no time is there any sense of mystery, threat or urgency to anyone we care about in the story.

That said, the second half was by far better than the first. It is also written in the first perspective and Nick Stone’s dry outlook on the world is often very amusing, particularly at the beginning of this novel.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Summer Reading List

If only Wimbledon’s centre court had a roof years ago, just imagine how rain free all those summers would have been. Which reminds me, anticipation and humidity linger in the air – it is that time of year when we pack up families and jet to sunnier climbs in the expectation of sitting around tables and doing much as we would in our own back gardens.

Cunningly I have managed to avoid such things by sidestepping flippant friendships and not having any children. My family is also very small (in numbers) and aged (and don't travel). So Prideesh and I never feel obliged to go anywhere on holiday with anyone but ourselves. And because of all the above, holidays tend to be about packing a rucksack full of books and throwing in a couple t-shirts and shorts. Well, that’s me anyway. For Prideesh it’s roughly the same except a much smaller bag for books and twelve times the number of shorts and shoes and tops etc.

The key though for this little nugget of non-fiction is the bag full of books. Holiday books are a special kind of beast. They are often not the kind of book you would read while commuting or propped up in bed of a night, or sitting in the conservatory during wet and balmy weekends. Holiday books are like holidays, they are always there tempting you with the promise of something wonderful and different. Sometimes they live upto that promise.

I am a slow reader, which means my record for a single weeks holiday is four books and that was a week in Assos spent entirely on the apartment balcony or seated in a waterfront bar. The downside is my rucksack holds roughly twelve books, which means I have accrued a bit of a backlog of reading material over the past few years.

With bookshelves bulging I have come upon a rather novel idea, why not just read the books and not wait for the holiday? I know, genius! So we come to the purpose of this text, the agenda. The books listed below are a combination of those that have travelled on holidays but have never been plucked from the rucksack or those that have been recommended by friends that I have not yet got around to reading.

The mission is to read them in the listed order, being their current order in my bookcase. The blurb here is nota review, just a taster as to how the book came to be on the list. Once each book has been completed it will be reviewed and that review posted here. I hope you will be at least mildly entertained

Brute Force – Andy McNab
Andy McNab’s Remote Control is still one of the best books I have ever read. He has fallen off the pace over the past few years, to the point I stopped reading his books. So I thought I would check up on this his most recent offering.

Twilight – Stephanie Meyer
Parent’s love it because the story analogises morality and sex with marriage. Kids love it because Harry Potter is now over and they need something interesting to read. Looking forward to reading this.

The Solitary Man – Stephen Leather
Picked this up in Tesco’s in a two for a fiver deal. It seems to be a story along the lines of Batman without the bats or Bruce Wayne. But it starts in a prison and the main character breaks out and all sorts of mayhem ensues, allegedly.

Diaries Into Politics – Alan Clark
I read the first of these diaries back in 2004 and loved it and I mean it was just fantastic considering I have no time for politics or politicians. Alan Clark is just a great diarist with a devious mind. Had been almost afraid to read this sequel just in case I am disappointed.

Slaughterhouse 5 – Kurt Vonnegut
I am not sure whether my colleague Jan is German or Dutch or something between But that is his name and he recommended this to me, this being a fictional account of a man’s experience of the Dresden bombings by the allies at the end of WWII. The tatty copy Jan held in is hand had Vintage Classics written on the cover so I guess it’s considered to have some worth.

Deadly Intent – Lynda La Plante
I know the author is a bit of a legend but have never read any of her books before. That is going to change this summer it would seem. The blurb on the back mentions a fatal shooting, drugs and a female Detective Inspector.

Summer Things – Joseph Connelly
I picked this off a table in Waterstones a good five years ago with the ideal of finding out all those things trendy people get upto in the summer. But then when I got it home I saw the picture of Joseph Connelly on the back with big bushy beard and smile that spoke of pompous. I might be wrong, we will soon find out.

Excession – Iain M. Banks
I do not ordinarily read Sci Fi but this comes highly recommended by another colleague and I have learned that reading outside of comfort zones can be hugely rewarding.

The Man in the High Castle – Philip K. Dick
Another recommendation from a guy at work, this one South African but without the guttural accent. I think he said he moved away when he was young. Mr Dick (author) will be well known to many people as someone who’s books subsequently become movies. Sadly for him not while he was alive. This book is a fictional look at a world where the German’s won WWII and share America with the Japanese. The story being about characters that theorise what it would have been like if the English and American’s had won the war. So I am told.

Absolute Friends – John Le Carre
Just before Bush Junior got elected the second time I watched an interview with John Le Carre where he stated Bush getting elected a second time would be a very bad thing for the world. But if he did we should try our best to retain some kind of world dignity. I somehow believed this book was on that theme and immediately brought it, but, recall reading the back made me think it might not be. Guess I am about to find out.

Dark Horse – Tami Hoag
Another Tesco’s two for a fiver special. This about a washed up female cop that befriends a child in need. I love contrasted stereotypes, so this looks promising.

The boy in stripped pyjamas – John Boyne
I love friend recommendations and this is another one, from my bestest friend. I always thought of this as one of those books people say they own but can never actually tell you what it is about. A bit like Time Travellers Wife. In my defence I found Time Travellers wife overwritten and I only brought boy in pyjamas June this year.

Lord of Misrule – Christopher Lee
I quite admire Christopher Lee from what I have seen and heard of him. Brought this in 2005 because someone also said it was brilliant.

Scarred Hearts – Max Blecher
Brought this while looking for an insight into sanatorium life and promptly forgot all about it because my focus shifted.

The Watchman – Robert Crais
Tesco’s special with a cool title. All that was needed for it to land in my basket.

ILIUM – Dan Simmons
Supposed to be a re-telling in Sci Fi terms of a Greek classic. We will see.

No peace for the wicked – Adrian Magson
Got this at the same time as Boy in Pyjamas. This was recommended by a guy in Waterstones Birmingham. It’s got a cover that looks like it might be self published (i.e. simple and pretty rubbish) but it might not be.

Blood Brothers – JA Kerley
Got this via Amazon’s Vine program early 2008, read the first five pages and thought it cliché and popped it back on the shelf. Then Dexter came along and this book became popular. I believe it is based on a similar theme to Dexter.

Schools Out – Christophe Dufosse
Picked this up because European authors tend to be more liberal with their analysis of childhood innocence. And innocence is something I have a particular interest in, in literary terms of course. This is the english translation.

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
One of those books I read at school and loved and meant to read again during each of the twenty six years since.

Snatched – Mandasue Heller
Tesco’s special on a theme close to my heart, despite the authors first name sounding like a computer username.

Sinai – William Smethurst
In 2002 I almost got a job working for the UN based in Sinai supporting their technologies while they monitored the Isreali and Palestinian conflict. I brought this at a jumble sale while on standby in case the guy they chose decided it was not for him (you spend two years on base). They never called much to my huge disappointment.

The Notebook – Nicholas Sparks
This is supposed to be a great love story and I have aspirations of writing a great love story one day.

Life of PI – Yann Martel
Recommended to me in a pub almost a year ago and then found it on my desk at work the next day. No idea who recommended it or who left it on my desk. Keep waiting for someone to ask for it back and thought it about time I read it.