The secret agent is Mr Adolf Verloc, an odd little man who runs a porno and stationary shop in London with his wife and her brother and mother. He doesn't seem a particularly effective secret agent, reporting regularly back to his paymasters with titbits of information from his little gang of anarchist friends. He's not a particularly effective secret agent because his friends aren't particularly successful anarchists – one, nicknamed 'The Terrorist', has never engaged in any terrorism. Instead of engaging in active anarchism, they sit around talking about it. Consequently, Mr Verloc's information doesn't seem to be impressing his new master, Mr Vladimir, any more. If he wants to keep on getting paid, he's going to have to start causing the intelligence rather than just reporting it. Direct action is called for. Something to stir up London before a big conference in Milan.
Another gift left languishing on my bookshelf – this time from my brother-in-law rather than my father – since 2006. I'd been putting it off for two rAnother gift left languishing on my bookshelf – this time from my brother-in-law rather than my father – since 2006. I'd been putting it off for two reasons. Firstly, I have a lot of other books to read, and secondly, a biography of a cyclist that I didn't really know a lot about failing to break the hour record didn't exactly sound like a riveting read. However, I was assured that it was good, and as my brother-in-law had gone to the trouble of getting it personally signed to me for my birthday it seemed churlish to wait much longer than six years to read it.
Once they realised I was actually reading the book (finally), there was an admission that my brother-in-law features in the book (pages 44-52 in my edition if you wanted to check). The scene is set, Hutchinson has decided to attempt the hour record, but realises he doesn't have a suitable bike (due to various reasons of over-achieving administration only bikes that cyclists no longer use are deemed suitable for the hour record). Luckily, he remembers an old friend from university, a friend who won't ask too many questions – like why would a professional cyclist want to borrow my old track bike – our hero, Lemanski, who lends the author an old orange track bike for his early track tests.
It seems so uniquely British to write a book about failing to do something. Other people celebrate their successes, only we feel the need to proudly display our efforts and shortcomings. Although Hutchinson is from Northern Ireland he's obviously embraced this part of his personality, having decided to write a book about failing to beat the hour record. Twice.
Luckily, that's not all the book is. Yes, in part, it's the story of Hutchinson's idea to attempt the record, his preparation – the trials that befell him and the mistakes that he made – as well as the attempt itself at the Manchester Velodrome. But, it's also the story of the hour record as the blue riband event of cycling. The history, the previous winners, the rivalry between Boardman and Obree, the short-sightedness and ridiculous officiousness of the sport's governing body, the UCI. Interwoven with the story of Hutchinson's own attempt. Despite the fact that he's ultimately describing something that he failed to achieve, his passion for the record shines through. As does his humour, the book is amusingly written throughout, making it a book not just for cycling aficionados, but sports fans in general....more
Sweeney and Wheeler, two detectives who couldn't be more different yet seem to compliment each other perfectly. One a northern ex-cop, the other a souSweeney and Wheeler, two detectives who couldn't be more different yet seem to compliment each other perfectly. One a northern ex-cop, the other a southern ex-journalist. Together they tease and taunt each other through the exceedingly random series of cases they get. While Joop Wheeler is easily my favourite of the two characters, Greg manages to write them both as unique, credible and likeable characters. Each case is enjoyable, not only to find out how the case is resolved (and there are twists, don't worry) but to enjoy how they get there.
It seems obvious that Greg enjoys writing these characters, and that feeling rubs off onto the reader. Hopefully his other Sweeney and Wheeler novel will get a rerelease......more
There can be few better recommendations for any book than that you continuously feel the need to read excepts out to those around you, no matter whatThere can be few better recommendations for any book than that you continuously feel the need to read excepts out to those around you, no matter what they are doing (or what else they are trying to read themselves). "Oh, this one is great."; "Just this one and I'll stop."; "Ah, wait, this one is really good too.". I've only felt the need to do this with two books this year — this one because I was really enjoying it, the other because it was just so ridiculous in places.
The Etymologicon is a book of words. Well, technically all books are books of words (except picture books), but this one is about words, words and phrases. The origins of words more specifically. Each chapter digs into the origin of a word or phrase, starting with the phrase "a turn up for the books", and exploring it's meaning, it's origin, other words or phrases that share the same origins and wandering around in a sort of a rambling conversation that is interesting, funny, and by chance also educational. Somehow, like that word game in the newspaper, Forsyth starts the chapter with one word and manages to wind the conversation through to end on another, explaining his train of thought as he goes. This final word, then becomes the starting word for the next chapter.
Some of the chapters about two-thirds of the way through feel a little short and rushed, but in the main each chapter gave me something to annoy Louise with. The final chapter contains the clever twist-in-the-tail, ending as it does with the start phrase of the first chapter. Neatly closing the loop.
A short review, because I really can't think of much I didn't like about this book, so my complaints are minimal. Absolutely recommended even if you have only ever had a passing wonder about language and where some of our more esoteric parts of that language come from....more
I'd never really been a Star Wars fan. Obviously, as a child, I went to see the three original movies with my dad. I mean, everybody went to first thrI'd never really been a Star Wars fan. Obviously, as a child, I went to see the three original movies with my dad. I mean, everybody went to first three movies. But unlike other people, they didn't really stay with me into my adult life. I didn't bother to see the second three movies. I'd never read any of the novels nor did I have any real desire to. Instead, I'd always rather enjoyed the quote from Harrison Ford: "George, you can type this shit, but you can't say it!" So when I saw this book on NetGalley it seemed an unlikely choice. That was until I saw the name James S.A. Corey emblazoned across the cover and I was immediately hooked. While it wasn't the first NetGalley title I was offered, it was damn well going to be the first one I read.
James S.A. Corey is the pen-name of double-act Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham – you may have previously read of him in the 'franckly' excellent Expanse series – and I was eager to find out how they'd handle a novel in such a huge existing franchise. Set about a year after the events of the first film, the rebels are trying to find a new planet to act as a base of operations while they repair their fleet and lick their wounds. Luke is sent to scout some of the planets, which is a good thing as it keeps him pretty much out of the whole novel except for some other-end-of-the-radio conversations and a group hug at the end of the book. This is a very good thing, Luke is easily my least favourite Star Wars character. Leia is heading off to a conference – it seems weird to think that rebel forces go to conferences, wouldn't the Empire get to hear about that kind of thing? And Han and Chewbacca are asked to head into Empire controlled space to rescue a rebel spy, Scarlet Hark. This is where the meat of the novel is. The friendship and rapport between Han and Chewie, the sarcastic dialogue is wittily handled. And much as the brash Han ended up getting bossed around by Leia, he now finds himself in the same situation with Scarlet – she fancies him too though, he's sure of that...
It's a fairly traditional science fiction adventure story, told in the Star Wars universe. The characters all seem very true to the originals. Although you could argue that Leia is a lot more likeable in this than she ever was in the films – I don't think anybody could really rescue Luke's character though. It's deftly told, excellently paced, with lots of twists and turns, double-crosses and triple-crosses. Lots of references to the wider history with mentions of key events, planets, Jabba and a very funny reference to always remembering to tip your barman after any 'incident'. Even as a non-Star Wars fan I recognised and enjoyed the ones I found. I assume there were others that I missed.
There's really not much to like about the novel. It's flaws are more the restrictions placed upon it than anything that Corey fails to do. Any novel set in such an already widely written history (past and future) is limited in what it can do, where it can go, or what it can introduce. Characters can't diverge too far from the expected behaviours, but more frustratingly, nothing can happen that might change that long sticky-taped together history. From the moment the novel starts to really kick in, you already know that it's going to have be, somehow, nullified by the end of the novel. You can't introduce a new technology or society into a universe when none of the later novels have referenced it. Which is a shame, because Corey's idea was a pretty cool one. In fact, it may just have converted me: I've already added a few older Star Wars novels to my to-read list......more
A recommendation from a colleague. And at only 86p it's hard not to try it. A community of humans trying to survive as the first Venusian colony creatA recommendation from a colleague. And at only 86p it's hard not to try it. A community of humans trying to survive as the first Venusian colony create a second generation of colonists when they realise they have enough oxygen to support 100 more people. As these 100 colonists mature and are integrated into the larger group - taking work and starting relationships of their own - one of them starts to realise that their lives on the colony are not as simplistic as they had been led to believe.
A good book, well written, but the clues are all there if you're looking for them and I'd second guessed almost every twist before it happened....more
Nathaniel wanted uncle James to read him his new library book – Tiddler. The story is about Tiddler, a small fish who is always late for class. He makNathaniel wanted uncle James to read him his new library book – Tiddler. The story is about Tiddler, a small fish who is always late for class. He makes up increasingly tall tales to explain his lateness. Nobody believes him but his stories start to spread throughout the fish world. Sort of a Nemo who cried wolf story. Of course, eventually Tiddler is properly late and uses his previous stories to return home safely....more
Another perfect book for the English language aficionado (or pedant). Fowler and Fowler present their definitive guide for the aspiring early-20th-cenAnother perfect book for the English language aficionado (or pedant). Fowler and Fowler present their definitive guide for the aspiring early-20th-century writer wanting to ensure the correctitude (or not) of their prose. The King's English is not a guide for learning how to write though, Fowler and Fowler don't spend much time explaining the correct usage at all, instead it's a list of examples of, and corrections for, mistakes – common and uncommon – in grammar, syntax, vocabulary, etc. While Dickens and Charlotte Brontë come in for regular criticism, it seems that newspapers are generally held up as the worst examples of almost all faults.
The book is split into two parts. Part one contains chapters on misuse of vocabulary, syntax, airs and graces (showing off), and punctuation. Each is treated thoroughly, and surprisingly wittily for a grammar book. Much of the advice is slightly dated now – the Kings referenced by the title are Edward the VII (for the first edition) and George V (for the third edition) – unsurprisingly, English as a language has moved on somewhat in those intervening years. The Fowlers are even keen to point this out themselves – unlike German and French, English is a loosely proscribed language, a hybrid language where only common usage is a requirement for it to change: "the only question about any particular word ... is whether the vox populi has yet declared for it; when it has, there is no more to be said; but when it has not, the process should be resisted as long as possible".
Most of the chapters I liked or loved. Only the chapter on syntax I found so impenetrable as to be unreadable. My Comprehensive education was anything but, and my lack of Grammar education leaves me with very little reference point for the grammar terms bandied about throughout that chapter. There was only so many times I could remind myself of what a subjunctive or a participle is before I just gave up and started skimming the chapter, hoping that the next one would be better. Equally, part two just feels rushed. In the introduction the Fowlers state that part two is mostly just lists of examples with little exposition, they claim due to lack of space. However, it seems to me that slightly fewer examples could have left room for more exposition, and failing that a second volume would have allowed them to really go to town. Perhaps they'd just become bored by this point, certainly part two mostly bored me....more
The tale of young Ned Boulting. Fresh-faced and innocent as he joins the ITV Tour de France coverage team in 2003. Transferred in from other, lesser,The tale of young Ned Boulting. Fresh-faced and innocent as he joins the ITV Tour de France coverage team in 2003. Transferred in from other, lesser, sports Ned is completely green in the ways of cycling – as the description of Gary Imlach quizzing him demonstrates. "They have teams? I didn't know that." But, being on that journey with Ned is part of the joy of this book. He knows he knows nothing, but he's going to have a crack at it anyway. And on the way he'll learn (hopefully in time so he doesn't completely mess it up).
While I didn't learn much about cycling as a sport, I learnt a lot about the behind the scenes action. Just how off the cuff some of those interviews are. Just how randomly some of the ideas are generated (Ned's suggestion to film a night camping out with the fans for example). And much, as both a journalist and a fan, he can be there every day and yet still seem part of a totally parallel organisation from the race itself. I don't think I ever imagined that the racers and the journalists were best friends, but the almost adversarial distinction between the two groups was a surprise. I'd always kinda assumed that the British journalists, at least, were more matey with the British riders than this tale suggests.
The book's chapters are a little all over the place. I don't think a single one stays in the same year for the whole chapter. But this allows Ned to bring us even more into his journey from complete beginner in 2003 through to a seasoned professional in 2010. However, as the book was written in 2011, nearly two years before I read it, time (and some of the cast) have moved on. Interestingly, especially given very recent events, are the three chapters devoted to one Lance Armstrong (former Tour de France champion and now disgraced drugs cheat). At first, you have the expected Lance-appreciation chapter. Armstrong was coming to the end of his first career our young hero starts his story, and it's clear that as pretty much the only cyclist he'd heard of before he's pretty much in awe of the Texan. He goes so far as to describe his retirement as leaving the Tour "diminished by his absence". But this was a journalist still, presumably, unversed in the darker underbelly of cycling. Yet somehow, he manages to reconcile this with his clear description of Lance's, and the peloton's, disgraceful treatment of Filippo Simeoni.
His chapter on Richard Virenque leaves us in little doubt as to the distaste that his fall from grace left in the sport. But the two later Armstrong chapters start to reveal the slow realisation that Ned went through. Written between 2010 and 2011, he obviously doesn't have all the latest revelations to call upon, but it's clear that Ned has transitioned from a Lance fanboy to a much more cynical position. While this is sad in a way, it's much more honest with the reader than the entrenched positions that Messrs Liggett and Sherwen have taken.
As with the doping, a writer always risks getting caught out by things moving on after the book is written. In that case, the march of time hasn't made Ned look foolish. However, it was amusing to read him talk, with sadness, about Wiggins's Tour in 2010 as he totally failed to live up to Sky's expectation. Perhaps, he muses, Sky's plan will need to be about somebody other that Wiggins. Some younger, fresh, talent. Waiting to come through. Ahh, if only he could have had a rewrite in 2012!
Bookended with an only tenuously related tale of Ned waking up in Lewisham hospital after a cycling accident of his own after his first Tour de France. While not necessarily what readers are looking for in this memoir, it's inclusion is worthwhile for the punchline that it ends the book on alone. Overall it's a delightful story of somebody coming to both discover and love the sport of cycling, from the inside. It's hard not be charmed by the tale.
My 2012 edition came with an extra bonus of How Cav Won the Green Jersey tacked on the end. A much shorter tale of his attendance at the 2011 Tour de France, where after Cav pointed out how worthless the Green Jersey was because nobody ever remembers who won it, he went on to win it. Self-referentially, it includes an anecdote where Ned gives Cav a copy of this book How I Won the Yellow Jumper, and Cav asks him to sign it, as well as a terrible photograph of Cav holding the book and looking very shocked....more
The second book in the Louise Recommends challenge – where Louise gets to force a book on me every three months. She said Donna Tartt's The Secret HiThe second book in the Louise Recommends challenge – where Louise gets to force a book on me every three months. She said Donna Tartt's The Secret History was her favourite book – of all time – what if I didn't like it? So determined was she that, having misplaced her own copy, she went out and bought a new one just so I would have no excuse. Reading the sleeve notes it's a novel about a bunch of kids studying classics at university. Sounded pretty dull. I saved it up for a nice long flight to Boston (I hate that the flight attendants get totally overworked about reading a Kindle during take-off and landing, so now I just take at least two big paperbacks with me as well – this trip I took five, but those reviews will hopefully come later) and read pretty much three-quarters of it on that flight. The remaining chapters I raced through in the next two days inbetween exploring beautiful autumnal Boston.
Luckily, it's not dull. Far from it. It's not even really that much about kids studying classics. Instead what it actually is, is a tightly crafted murder mystery. Although without much of the mystery – we know that Bunny is going to die pretty much from the first page; and we know that the rest of the group are all party to the murder. But we don't know how it's going to happen and we don't know when. Even more confusingly, Tartt continues to break with agreed murder-mystery traditions by having the murder, that we already know about, take place slap-bang in the middle of the book. Suddenly you're left wondering what the remaining 324 pages are going to be about. But, don't worry, it's all perfectly handled. The two halves of the book are like the two sides of a hill. The first half takes us into the cast, the situation and the build up to the murder – the reasons why the characters believe the murder has to happen – then the second half is the fall-out, the repercussions (and there are always repercussions even if there's no Poirot character to sort the whole mess out with his little grey cells) and the recriminations as the group tries to come to terms with what it's done.
Our narrator is Richard Papen and, while the story revolves entirely around his experiences, he seems somewhat unreliable. He lies quite openly during his story on several occasions, sometimes drawing attention to it in his narration, sometimes just letting us spot the lies for what they are. Obviously that throws the rest of his story into some doubt, and while that's not really a problem, it does potentially add another layer of confusion. Richard is a young lad struggling to find his place at college, when he decides to apply to transfer to Hampden College: a university in Vermont. Here his need to be accepted by peer groups takes on a new life. Or two new lives to more specific. In one he's living the shallow university dream of booze, drugs, girls and hangovers, and not really enjoying it too much. In the other he attaches himself to a very select teaching group of misfit students – Henry, Bunny, Camilla, Charles and Francis – and their teacher Julian Morrow. This is the only group he teaches and his condition is that he is the only teacher they have. An already perfectly formed clique that Richard is desperate to be a part of. Actually, the whole cast of the novel are misfits, from the students, to the teachers, and even further out to the families and parents. There's barely a likeable character in the book. Yet somehow, Tartt manages to make this weird sounding book about a bunch of pretty unlikeable classics nerds who commit a murder of one of their own, and where the murder is clearly explained on page one, and has happened by the middle of the book, totally gripping. I had to put the book down frequently during those two days because I was on holiday and supposed to be out doing stuff, but I didn't want to....more
Because Neil Cross is turning out to be such a slacker in producing the, much anticipated, sequel to Luther (currently holding the unimaginative titlBecause Neil Cross is turning out to be such a slacker in producing the, much anticipated, sequel to Luther (currently holding the unimaginative title of Untitled and delayed, again, until Spring 2014) I ended up grabbing another one of his books from Louise's bookshelf to fill the wait. Captured is the fascinating tale of a rather sad and pathetic protagonist, Kenny, who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Instead of telling his ex-wife and friends and living out his remaining days he decides to track down a number of people from his life who he feels he's wronged or mistreated in some way. Sort of like the 8th step of the AA programme meets the My Name is Earl TV show – depending on your personal background. Most of these people are easy to track down and apologise to – although they all seem a little bemused by the experience. Only one, Callie Barton, a girl he knew at school, who was nice to him when nobody else was and he felt he should have shown more gratitude to, has disappeared.
Cross's background in TV screenplays seems a little too apparent (as with Luther) where his prose is more direct and functional than you might hope for. More of a tell rather than show style. But what he maybe lacks in style and characterisation he surely makes up for in spades with ideas, plot and more twists than you can shake a twisty stick at. The journey of Kenny as he finds out that Callie really is missing, digs up the old police investigation and starts his own investigation and interrogation of Callie's husband, Jonathan, is horrific to follow. As the pathetic cancer patient at the start of the novel transforms into an avenging angel of destruction by the end. Cross is clever and keeps you guessing all the way – what has happened to Callie; what was Jonathan's involvement in her disappearance; and just how far will Kenny go to find out?
Again, this book has the same things I loved and the same things that irritated me with Luther. The blunt prose and the shallow characterisations (like he expects the actors to take up some of that slack) are overshadowed by the clever premise, the unique twists and turns of the story and just the general darkness of Cross's brain of incredible ideas....more
An odd ensemble cast production and not my normal type of novel at all. Faulks has brought together a list of almost entirely unlikeable characters --An odd ensemble cast production and not my normal type of novel at all. Faulks has brought together a list of almost entirely unlikeable characters -- Veals the amoral banker, happily crashing a bank filled with old folk's pensions while ignoring his 'chilly' wife and their poorly parented son who's busy smoking his way into a psychiatric ward. Trantor (RT) the failed author, taking out his bitterness on those authors who are actually writing novels. He tears anything modern apart. The barely two-dimensional MP, Lance. The caricature immigrant lime-pickle magnate, so poorly educated that he struggles to read, which in turn causes him to obsess that everybody he views as his better sits around all the time discussing books he hasn't read. Only Jenny the train driver and Gabriel the failing barrister seem genuinely likeable, and even they somehow seem to lack any real depth of character.
That said, unlikeable though most of the characters are, none of them are truly dislikeable. Even Veals and RT, who are probably the least likeable, somehow seem to engender pity more than disgust or distaste. Neither of them really seem to engage in their vices with enough real vigour to cause any real dislike in the reader. And, I think that's the major problem with this book. The characters are too two-dimensional, too forgettable, too shallow. There is, of course, no real plot to speak of (this isn't genre fiction after all), instead the characters all move around each other, seemingly driven by coincidence only. They visit the same places as each other, interact with the same products and companies, yet rarely actually meet or have any meaningful interactions. Maybe that's the point of the novel though, the characters are drifting through their lives unaware of the coincidence, the brushes with excitement and change that they miss.
The novel itself is set over a seven day period, with each chapter dedicated to a single day. The week climaxes for each character differently -- a dinner party being the main shared experience that many of the characters move towards. For others it's a new relationship, a self-realisation, or a religious epiphany. You follow each of the main characters in their journey through this week. About half-way through the novel you start to get a suggestion that they may be some big climax at the end, some life changing experience. The repeated occurrence of the mystery cyclist provide a strong sense of a thriller. Yet pretty soon it dawns on you that isn't going to happen. The cyclist is another example of the mundane appearing connected to us, the reader, because we see the whole picture. To each character their lives are more solitary and unconnected.
In spite of the things that I didn't really get about the novel, and the things that annoyed me (the obviously made up company and product names for a start), Faulks seems to have pulled together a novel that I still thoroughly enjoyed reading. At no point was it a struggle or a chore, it just left me at the end wondering quite what it was all about, and suspecting that I'll forget it all pretty soon......more
The third book in the Louise's picks arrangement – (view spoiler)[every quarter I get to pick a book she has to read and she gets to pick a book I havThe third book in the Louise's picks arrangement – (view spoiler)[every quarter I get to pick a book she has to read and she gets to pick a book I have to read – Mutually Assured Reading (hide spoiler)]. Again, she's chosen to introduce me to an author that I've not read before: Ian McEwan. I knew almost nothing about this novel before starting it, except that I'd seen about 10 minutes of the film (starring Daniel Craig) so I knew it featured a balloon, a stalker and a homosexual obsession – none of these four being key things I generally looked for in a novel.
Straight off the writing grabs you, more so than the plot. It's almost poetry rather than prose. Each sentence is so skilfully constructed, with absolutely no wasted exposition or descriptions. That's not to say the plot isn't also good – who wouldn't get hooked by a story about a group of people who try to avert a ballooning disaster only for one of them to develop a religious/homosexual fixation on another. The real dynamic of the story is the two relationships our main character, Joe, is trying to balance. The one he doesn't want, with Jed, but he can't seem to work out how to convince Jed of that – against the one with Clarissa, his partner, which he's struggling to hold together as a result of the pressure of Jed's presence. Pulled in two different directions, by two different changing relationship, he just wants the stability of the way things were, but he's unable to make either relationship be the way he really wants it to.
Not only was this a Louise recommendation, but it's also listed in the 1,1001 Books to Read Before You Die collection, so expectations were high. And, based on the beautiful writing and the first two-thirds of the novel this was a clear winner of a book. But, the longer the story went on, the more I was being led down a path of expecting something special at the end, (view spoiler)[after all nobody apart from Joe had even seen Jed (hide spoiler)], and the more I worried that I was going to feel let down. And, let down I felt. The ending, just wasn't one. It kind of just fizzled out leaving me feel a little bit cheated.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I probably didn't do this book any favours reading it in two sittings with such a big gap in between. However, I still enjoyed it. The biographical seI probably didn't do this book any favours reading it in two sittings with such a big gap in between. However, I still enjoyed it. The biographical sections are a little dry and functional - you get a strong sense of what he did and how he developed as a photographer, but not a great sense of what it was actually like for him. I guess in part he doesn't come across as the kind of person who necessarily would care about documenting that side of his life.
The photographs however, are beautiful as you would expect. Foggy scenes of Prague, lovely panoramas and more photographs of glasses of water on his window sill than you deserve. The photo that introduced me to Sudek, back in 2006, when Greg Fallis wrote his article on Sudek was a plate in front of the window. I can't believe it took me this long to finally read this book!...more