Chris Wakling has the essential skill of the thriller writer in his ability to construct a plot that manages to surprise the reader with its unpredict...moreChris Wakling has the essential skill of the thriller writer in his ability to construct a plot that manages to surprise the reader with its unpredictability without irritating in its unbelievability. The denouement of The Devil's Mask arrives unexpected but is wholly satisfying because it is rooted in the story and in retrospect has an inevitability about it.
Add to that an engaging hero-narrator in the shape of lawyer's clerk Inigo Bright, whose sense of humour and self-deprecation suffuses the voice of the book, and an atmospheric setting in the port of Bristol in the immediate aftermath of the abolition of the slave trade, and you have a highly entertaining combination. The slave trade theme provides a backbone of serious subject matter - racism and prejudice and the cruelty to which they lead - and the book makes the reader think. But primarily The Devil's Mask is highly enjoyable, well written, and beautifully constructed. Highly recommended.(less)
The Peregrine is an extraordinary book. In form it is the diary of a birdwatcher who follows peregrines in a small area of coastal Essex almost daily...moreThe Peregrine is an extraordinary book. In form it is the diary of a birdwatcher who follows peregrines in a small area of coastal Essex almost daily between one October and April in the mid-1960s. The detail of JA Baker's observation of nature and the poetically concentrated language in which it is expressed would on its own make his book exceptional. Baker's use of familiar words in unfamiliar ways -nouns as verbs, verbs as adjectives, always apt, never pretentious - reaches levels of genius. But the book goes much further than being a brilliant birdwatcher's chronicle. Baker's dedication to his task is obsessive. Something at his core seems broken; he almost metamorphoses into one of the falcons he follows. His book has a metaphysical quality which touches on the point or pointlessness of nature whilst highlighting its beauty. And for today's reader there is a bitter sadness in the decline from the abundance of wildlife described by Baker. Baker was born in 1926, but the date of his death is unknown - an unjust epitaph for a great writer but somehow also appropriate.(less)
The Toucan Feather tells the story of Miago, a fifteen year old boy who lives in a primitive tropical world. As his ‘coming of age’ ceremony approache...moreThe Toucan Feather tells the story of Miago, a fifteen year old boy who lives in a primitive tropical world. As his ‘coming of age’ ceremony approaches, and he has to make his choice about which role to take in society – worker, thinker or believer –, he begins to question the rules set for his tribe by the Men of Knowledge. Nicholas Stafford-Deitsch has written a captivating and original book. Like the best fables, it is both simple and complex. The world that Miago inhabits is both realistic and magical. Reading the author’s elegant prose, you can almost taste the saltwater, feel the sand between your toes, hear the birds in the jungle and smell the warm, damp earth. But there is also something strange, otherworldly, about it. You warm quickly to Miago and want to hear his story. The rest of the characters are drawn with vivid economy – T’lu-i, the girl he might want to marry, her greedy money-making father Market Man, the mysterious stranger known as the Maker, the village’s non-conformist, Monkey Blood – and a few pages into the book you feel as if you know these characters well and more. Partly because it is clear that something strange is going on from the start, the book is gripping. The book addresses the big issues – organised religion, war, conformism, oppression, how to live in harmony with nature – but these seem a natural part of the exciting story. As with all great fables, the morality, and moral, is an integral part of the story. To cap it all, the book is laced with Nicholas Stafford-Deitsch’s extraordinary and beautiful black and white illustrations, which catch the spirit of the words and underscore the strangeness of this very real land. The only book that I have read which in places has a similar feel to The Toucan Feather is The Story Teller by the great Mario Vargas Llosa. I cannot think of any higher praise than that. I cannot recommend The Toucan Feather more highly. (less)
David Soskin knows not only how to succeed in digital business, but also how to succeed in writing a book about it. Net Profit manages to be both info...moreDavid Soskin knows not only how to succeed in digital business, but also how to succeed in writing a book about it. Net Profit manages to be both informative and entertaining. From this combination you get the sense that Soskin finds a way to combine success and enjoyment in his life as a digital entrepreneur, which, of course, is the whole point.
I worked as a venture capital investor for 25 years, backing many of the types of business that Soskin describes. If I had read Net Profit 25 years ago, I would have avoided making many mistakes. Like most 'hands-on', early stage venture capital investors, I prided myself on my ability to 'add value' to the companies in which I invested. I could have done a lot worse than hand out a copy of Net Profit to each entrepreneur and then just not turn up at board meetings. It is hard not to disagree with the practical, common sense, experience-based advice that it contains. Most of it I would claim to have known already but much of that I learnt the hard way, and there were plenty of interesting titbits, especially about other internet businesses and how they developed, of which I was unaware.
I read Ancient Evenings whilst on holiday in Egypt, where it is set. It tells the story of Menenhetet, who is reincarnated three times from the reign...moreI read Ancient Evenings whilst on holiday in Egypt, where it is set. It tells the story of Menenhetet, who is reincarnated three times from the reign of Ramses II onwards and recounts his story to the Pharoah during the Night of the Pig. Parts of the book are brilliant and create a highly believable picture of ancient Egypt. The account of the Battle of Kadesh fought by Ramses II against the Hittites, where Menenhetet is the Pharoah's chief charioteer, and of the events leading up to it, is very exciting. Much of the rest of the book is hard work (I nearly dropped it after 60 pages when the narrator's 'Ba' (soul) is still trying to come to terms with leaving his tomb before launching on the story proper), and rather repetitive (especially the graphic and sometimes violent sex). It is far too long, at over 600 pages, and should have been vigorously edited. Menehetet's other three lives are skated over in much less detail than his time with Ramses, and bits of the plot do not hang together, suggesting both that Mailer wrote it over a long period of time, and that he may have become bored with it and gave up some of his original intentions. With a bit more care and discipline the book could have been a masterpiece, principally because of the imaginative way in which Mailer creates an authentic ancient Egyptian world which fitted with everything I saw up and down the Nile. (less)