Monday, May 6, 2019

THE NAME OF THE ROSE - Umberto Eco

























This is another book I've read several times and never tire of.  It will be read several more times as well as there is so much in this as well as being a very good murder mystery.

The story is set in 1327 where Brother William of Baskerville and his novice Adso of Melk are travelling in relation to the heresies that have split the church.   William is an ex-inquisitor who is no slug intellectually.

They stop at an Abby where over the next seven days several murders occur and William is tasked to solve them by the Abbot.

As stated there is much religious philosophy, much discussion of how the church should be run, much to think about as well as a cracking mystery.

A  great book.

THE 39 STEPS - John Buchan

























This is one of the original great adventure yarns, I have no idea how many times I've read it but I take it our every few years and still get great enjoyment from it.

Richard Hannay has returned to England to retire after years in Africa.  Through circumstances he befriends a man who ends up murdered in his flat.  So begins a chase by the police and 'agents of a foreign power' across large chunks of Scotland.

Yes, there are ridiculous coincidences but who cares.  This has never been out of print since it was first published in 1915 and every couple of years you can see why.

ASHENDEN -W.Somerset Maugham

























This is a re-read, a selection of stories disguised as Maugham's own espionage work during WWI.

There is no James Bond escapades but people die and the works has a degree of risk.

I like Maugham's writing and anything he wrote is worth reading.  This is good

THE BIG HEAT - William P. McGirvern

























Why did they fear a dead man?  Dave Bannion, homicide sergeant, fought for the answer to that question.  He got it ..Then the big heat came.

The dead man was a police clerk who shot himself for no obvious reason.  That was Bannion's first judgement, until a girl named Lucy presented quiet a different picture of the dead man from the one he had shown to the world- and his fastidious glacial wife.

Published in 1952 this is very old fashioned in its language but there are several excellent surprises on the way to a resolution.

Evidently there is a very good movie starring Glen Ford made from this book which doesn't surprise as this is a very good story.

AFTER MANY A SUMMER- Aldous Huxley

























This is the story of a Hollywood millionaire who fears his impending death, Huxley has a good crack at the superficiality of Hollywood where strangely enough he was making a fortune writing for the movies.

This was strange, so strange I may have to read it again, it starts off very funny and then wanders off.  I didn't get it anyway and may have to re-visit when I'm older and a bit wiser.

BIG RED - Douglas C. Waller

























The Trident nuclear submarine is the most complex war machine the United States Navy has ever produced, a $1.8 billion marvel crammed with more modern military technology than any other vessel in the world.

The author spent a three month deployment on this sub, logistically it is an amazing bit of kit, capable of staying under water undetected for ever, its just the crew dies of old age or starvation after they run out of food.

A fascinating read but not employment I'd go looking for.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

STARS AND BARS - William Boyd

























'He loved America, but would America love him back?'  This is the dilemma facing Henderson Dores - shy, English, self conscious and nearly forty- as he stands in the middle of Park Avenue, New York City worrying.

He has come to America to work- true- but he really hopes that it is America that will work for him.

And sure enough, it does- in no uncertain way.  From New York his job takes him to the deep south, to the isolated, tiny hick town of Luxora Beach, Georgia  (or is it Alabama?).  There he encounters the bizarre millionaire Loomis Gage and his extraordinary, unreal and threatening family

This started out OK, Dores goes to the south to purchase some art work, at the beginning the absurdities were amusing but as the book wore on it ran out of steam and quickly got silly.

It the end it just got annoying for me. Boyd now has now written lots of good stuff to read before you need to get into this one.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

COLD COMFORT FARM - Stella Gibbons

























When the sukebind was in bud the orphaned Flora Poste, expensively, athletically and lengthily educated, descended on her relatives at Cold Comfort Farm. There were plenty of them- Judith, alone in her grief; Amos, called by God, Seth, smouldering with sex; Elfine, who needed a little polish;, Urk; Rennet; Harkaway; Caraway etc;  and, of course, Great Aunt Ada Doom who saw something nasty in the wood shed.  And Flora felt it incumbent upon her to bring order into chaos.

This is genuinely funny, so often you see  " comic novel " and  are disappointed but this lives up to its description.

The entire book is a satire on the "orphan having to live with the relatives" trope except the Jane Austen device is turned on its head here and hilarity ensues.

Great fun to read with fantastic characters.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL - Baroness Orczy

























The English gentleman, the master of disguise , who is recusing French nobles form the guillotine, tricking the French Government  in the time of "the Terror".

This is fantastic  lightweight hokey, holes in the plot the size of the sun but just total escapism and I loved every page.

Its a shame Hilary Mantel didn't read the story and enjoy it for what it is.  Her very waspish "Introduction" is just very unfair.  For people to try and place 'mores' from this day and age onto an author publishing in 1902 is not justifiable.

So, we will ignore Ms Mantel and say this is great rollicking yarn, not literature, just a great fun read.

Monday, April 15, 2019

SHORT STORIES - Anton Chekhov

























This is the first time I've sat and read an entire collection altogether rather than just dipping in to a couple of other collections I have of Chekhov's writing.  This is been an error , these are brilliant and after reading thirty four stories consecutively I understand why he is regarded as the greatest short story writer of them all.

My favourite, " No Comment" , about the monk's who after centuries of living in isolation are told about the world and all the sins of the flesh by a member who ventured to town and has returned disgusted with the sinning.The teller of the tales goes to bed but wakes in the morning to discover all the others in the monastery have taken off to town to do some testing in the bars and brothels they have been told about.

Fantastic stories, some very funny, some very sad but all completely enjoyable

Monday, April 8, 2019

EVERY KIND OF WEATHER - Bruce Mason edited by David Dowling

























This is a collection of letters, reviews and criticisms lifted from over thirty years of writings.

Some I found interesting, some I found dull but it is a great social history of New Zealand in a time when it was all very regulated, regulations that didn't come off until the Lange Government of 1984.

Mason had some great battles with people all played out in letters to the newspapers, naturally these played out over many days, whereas these days there'd be a Twitter argument and its done and dusted in an hour.

Great pub trivia fact, Mason had a brother who was an All Black. 

All in all an interesting collection





















Tuesday, March 26, 2019

THE WANNSEE CONFERENCE AND THE FINAL SOLUTION- Mark Roseman

























This book is about persons who took part in the discussion about the final solution of the Jewish question that took place in Berlin, 56-58 Am Grossen Wannsee, on 20 January 1942.

At the beginning of the discussion, chief of the Security Police and the SD, SS--Obergruppenfuhrer Heydrich reported the Reich Marshal had delegated to him the preparations for the final solution of the Jewish question in Europe and this discussion has been called for the purpose of clarifying fundamental questions.

Fifteen men got together to organise the eradication of millions of humans.  Reading the protocol itself is chilling as it is so matter of fact.

Personally I'm still undecided who of the Nazi top brass was the most evil, its a tight run thing between Himmler and Heydrich.  Heydrich would have won in a canter if he hadn't been assassinated in 1942 so didn't reach his full 'potential'.  Both totally inhuman.

This is an interesting book, one I never knew existed, bless secondhand book dealers.


Monday, March 11, 2019

THE HEART GOES LAST - Margaret Atwood

























Stan and Charmaine are a married couple trying to stay afloat in the midst of economic an socail collapse.  Living in their car, surviving on tips from Charmaine's job at a dive bar, they're increasingly vulnerable to roving gangs, and in a desperate state.  So when they see an advertisement for the Positron Project in the town of Conslience - a 'socail experiment ' offering stable jobs and a home of their own- they sign up immediately.  All they have to do in return for this suburban paradise is give up their freedom every second month, swapping their home for a prison cell.

At first, all is well.  But slowly, unknown to each other, Stan and Charmaine develope a passionate obsession with their counterparts, the couple that occupy their home  when they are in prison.  Soon the pressure of conformity, mistrust guilt and sexual desire take over, and Positron looks less like a prayer answered and more like a chilling prophecy fulfilled.

Forty odd pages into this I was wondering where this story could go and was getting a bit disheartened, then 'boom' the genius known as Margaret Atwood kicked in and I was enthralled.

This is seriously funny, the imagination that has come with his story and put it down on paper is a one off. 

A excellent read.




Thursday, March 7, 2019

AN INNKEEPERS DIARY - John Fothergill

























This is laugh out loud funny.  Fothergill owned and ran the Spread Eagle Hotel from 1922 until it closed in 1931 and was a real life Basil Fawlty.  Fools were not tolerated  neither were whinging guests.

There is anecdote after anecdote of guests and dining parties that did not pass the Fothergill test as the "right type of people".  needless to say they are all amusing and at times the author felt a small amount of guilt about his behaviour but he had standards and if you failed the test you were generally gone.

Fothergill was an interesting man in own right, he knew Oscar Wilde and the likes of Evelyn Waugh were guests.

This is a great bath book, you can dip in , have a laugh and put it away or just read it right through.

Not as funny as 'Three Men in a Boat" but not far behind.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

ANY HUMAN HEART - William Boyd

























Every life is both ordinary and extraordinary, but Logan Mountstuart's - lived from the beginning to the end of the twentieth century- contains more than its fair share of both.  As a writer who finds inspiration in Paris and London, as a spy betrayed in the war and as an art-dealer in the 60's in New York, Logan mixes with the movers and shakers of his times.  But as  son, friend, lover and husband, he makes the same mistakes we all do in our search for happiness.

This is very good, very entertaining and has good social history and as the blurb states, Logan mixes with painters, writers and royalty.  The only problem I have with this is three weeks ago I read Boyd's 'The New Confessions" a book with an identical conceit:

Beginning with his bizarre boyhood and schooldays in Scotland we move on to his incredible experiences of the First World War , and from there we follow his fretful progress through the Berlin of the Twenties, Mexico in 1939 and the Allied invasion of St Tropez and Los Angeles of the McCarthy era.


This problem is mine, just my bad luck to have picked up both books within a month but it was a distraction.

As I said its interesting, and moves along nicely.  It's a better book than 'Confessions'  which is to be expected given the author had a further 15 years experience before writing this.

Recommended as a novel and of course this is the book that gave the world CAUC. ( Look it up )

Saturday, March 2, 2019

ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE - Ian Fleming

























Ernst Stravo Blofeld, head of the terrorist organization SPECTRE, is holed up in his Alpine base, conducting research into a terrifying biological weapon.

007's mission is to gain access to Blofeld's hideout and gather information vital to guaranteeing world safety.

This is one of the better Bond book's, there is almost some character development,  but its a Bond, I love reading most of them but here Fleming made an effort.

The only anomaly with it is Bond, with his licence to kill, locates Blofeld, who has been searching the planet for but then doesn't kill him when he has several dozen opportunities!

Still not a bad read, the movie of this book is one of the better ones as well, it just gets bad press because George Lazenby was drafted in for Connery who the world had got used to.

Not literature just good escapism,no apologies ever for reading Fleming.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

NOTHING TO BE FRIGHTENED OF - Julian Barnes

























'I don't believe in God, but I miss Him.' Julian Barnes' new book is, among many things, a family memoir, an exchange with his philosopher brother, a meditation on morality and the fear of death, a celebration of art, an argument with and about God, and a homage to the French writer Jules Renard.

This is a two hundred and forty five page essay about death, it is al of the things mentioned in the cover blurb above but it is about death.  The writing is fantastic, its very funny and Barnes raises many points.  He's not an atheist like his brother , I feel he holds out a wee hope that there might be something in the great beyond even though his intelligence tells him he's being 'silly'.

Not a light read and I admit there are parts that flew straight over my head but interesting as he approaches an age where he realizes  that .....somewhere in the not too distance future there are not too many football seasons left....

Thursday, February 21, 2019

12 BOOKS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD - Melvyn Bragg

























The author is at pains to state this is not a about "The 12 Books.."  just 12 books in his opinion that have changed the world we live in.  The Magna Carta isn't really a book but he puts this in because he can its his book and he mounts an argument for inclusion.

Also "On the Abolition of Slavery "  was a speech in Parliament that was subsequently published. and there is a patent application as well, but its all very interesting.

I'll never read any of these books but its fascinating reading about them and what their publication resulted in.

The 12:

Principia Mathematica -    by Issac Newton

Married Love  -    by Marie Stopes

Magna Carta -   by Members of the English Ruling Class

The Rule Book of Association Football -  by a Group of Former Public School Men

On the Origin of the Species  -   by Charles Darwin

On the Abolition of the Slave Trade   -  by William Wilberforce in Parliament

A Vindication of the Rights of Women  -   by Mary Wollstonecraft

Experimental Researches in Electricity  -   by Michael Faraday

Patent Specification for Arkwright's Spinning Machine  -   by Richard Arkwright.

The King James Bible  -   by  William Tyndale and Fifty Four Scholars Appointed by the King

An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations  -   by Adam Smith

The First Folio  -   by  William Shakespeare







Monday, February 18, 2019

ALWAYS LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE OF LIFE - Eric Idle

























Great fun from from Mr idle, lots of laughs and some serious name dropping for which he is unapologetic.  This man is seriously famous so when Mick Jagger and David Bowie come to your wedding you can name drop like a big name dropping thing.

Some good insight about Python and about his friendship with George Harrison. My favourite anecdote was when a British ship was sinking during the Falklands war and the crew sat on the deck waiting to be rescued singing "Always Look On The Bright Side of Life"- this is confirmed by my present employer who was serving on the rescue ship during this incident.

This book is similar to others by the Pythons in that it shows these guys still work incredibly hard.  Goes to show talents one thing but if you don't put in the yards the jobs only half done. The surviving Pythons are now all in their mid to late 70's and they are still doing projects.

Again, great fun, a light read, three hours with cups of teas will see it off on a Sunday afternoon.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

THE NEW CONFESSIONS - William Boyd

























The New Confessions, the extraordinary, candid story of John James Todd, a Scotsman born in 1899 and one of the great self appointed  geniuses of the 20th century.  His is an astonishingly rich and diverse career, with remarkable success and equally dramatic failures.  Told from the vantage point of not-so-serene old age and self imposed exile.  Todd lets us in on the secrets of his fraught and intriguing life. 

Beginning with his bizarre boyhood and schooldays in Scotland we move on to his incredible experiences of the First World War , and from there we follow his fretful progress through the Berlin of the Twenties, Mexico in 1939 and the Allied invasion of St Tropez and Los Angeles of the McCarthy era.

John James Todd , charming and exasperating, shrewd and unbelievably foolish, vain and disarmingly straight forward.

This is a  very good read, it takes us through interesting times with a man who may not always be telling us the truth, but the interest of the reader never drops off.

William Boyd in my opinion is at the very top of contemporary British novelists, always readable, always interesting.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

CHRONICLES OF WASTED TIME The Green Stick- Malcolm Muggeridge

























This is the first memoir of Muggeridge, there is a second but a proposed third never eventuated.

This is the first time I've read this in about 15 years and it is still  some of the best writing you will ever come across.

Muggeridge may have been a A class hypocrite in his espousing of 'christian' values  all the while being an inveterate toucher of women.  Staff at the BBC had an acronym for him " NSIT" - Not Safe In Taxis, a title befitting a serial groper.  But this aside he was a brilliant user of the English language and this is a wonderful read.

Any aspiring communist out there should read this, have a think and then read it again.  Here is a man raised in a extreme left wing household.  The Webbs were family friends.  This is a man who with his wife actually sold up in England and moved to Russia, the workers paradise, and there he saw the friends 'disappearing' ,the machine at work. This experience turned him in to a right wing christian.

So, there is two excellent reason to read this, one, great writing, two, a time line on left wing disillusionment .  Recommended

Sunday, February 3, 2019

THE RISE AND FALL OF THE THIRD REICH - William L. Shirer

























This is an amazing read covers from family history of Hitler through to Goebbels's family suicide.

Its a big book, literally, the first 950 pages are the rise and the last 200 are the fall, which when it came arrived fast.  The seeds for it, however, were sown at  El Alamein and Stalingrad, two huge defeats and Hitler becoming more and more unraveled.

I'm still astonished how nearly a hundred years after the fact a group of gangsters were able to take over a country and cause the deaths of millions. Chamberlain was weak and naive but at the end of the day it was the citizens of Germany who voted these monsters into power.

You have to ask the question, what is it with this country? Two world wars in the 20th century, common denominator, Germany.

History must never forget what Germany has done, from the stupid Nazi follower to the I.G Farben's who profited mightily from evil.

This is a book that should be taught right through the education system so every generation can see what politicians are capable of.


Sunday, January 13, 2019

UNACKNOWLEDGED LEGISLATION - Christopher Hitchens

























Unacknowledged Legislation is a celebration of Percy Shelleys's assertion that 'poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world'.  In over thirty magnificent essays on writers from Oscar Wilde to Salman Rushdie, and with his trademark wit, rigour and flair, master critic Christopher Hitchens dispels the myth of politics as a stone tied to the neck of literature.  Instead, Hitchens argues that when all parties in the state are agreed on a matter, it was the individual pens that created space for a true moral argument.

A great collection of essays and he doesn't even go full 'Hitch' on Tom Clancy.  My only problem reading Hitchens is that I don't have the vocabulary to read him without constantly referring to a dictionary, I learn but taking a big Websters to bed gets complaints from the other occupant

Any time reading Hitchens is time well spent, get amongst it.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

THE MASTERS - C.P. Snow

























In the Lodge of a Cambridge college the old Master is dying.  He knows , and his thirteen colleagues know, that shortly they will elect his successor.  It will be one of their own number, and the rival candidates are Paul Jago, warm and sympathetic, but given to extravagant moods, and handicapped by a wife, who, his opponents say, would be disastrous in the Lodge, and Crawford, a solid man with half Jago's human gifts but shrewd, cautious , and reliable.

This is politics in a very small insular world, in fact there is no real mention of any life away from the college.  The author lived in this world and I imagine this is very close to being a memoir.  The machinations of those involved in the election are fascinating and very interesting.

The only fault with this is its very very slow, 300 pages over this one election, very interesting but it did get hard as what was going to happen became obvious. 

This is part of Snow's series , Strangers and Brothers, which runs to eleven novel and the second one I've read.  This is evidently the best but it became a slog for me due to the small world it inhabits.

Politics really is loathsome.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

THE CONFIDENTIAL AGENT - Graham Greene

























A continental government with a civil war on its hands sends D., a former lecturer in romance languages, to England to buy coal... at almost any price.  Failure means defeat.  But D. has hardly landed before force, corruption, and treachery gather round him;  he is pursued by both the English Police and the rebels' agents.

This is a good intelligent thriller with some very droll humour.  No James Bond moments but there is a tension that is maintained from the beginning of the story aboard a ship sailing to England through to the conclusion.

I did find it annoying that the agent D. is referred to as simply D., all through the book, no idea why this was done.

This is one of the books that Greene referred to as an 'entertainment' seemingly to place them on a lower tier than his big novels. There is no drop in standard and for a Greene the ending is almost happy.