Saturday, 29 April 2017

The Collectors by Philip Pullman


The Collectors by Philip Pullman
Audiobook narrated by Bill Nighy published by Audible Studios on the 10th December 2014.

Where to buy this book:
Buy the audio download from Audible via Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk

How I got this book:
Downloaded from Audible

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"But the thing is," said Horley, "they didn't know each other at all. Never heard of each other. It wasn't about the makers. Only about the works."
On a dark winter's night in 1970, Horley and Grinstead huddle for warmth in the Senior Common Room of a college in Oxford. Conversation turns to the two impressive works of art that Horley has recently added to his collection. What the two men don't know is that these pieces are connected in mysterious and improbable ways; and they are about to be caught in the cross-fire of a story which has travelled time and worlds.

The Collectors in an audio version read by Bill Nighy was Audible's gift to its members for Christmas 2014 and I enjoyed Nighy's narration of the tale. It is a short story at only just over thirty minutes so there isn't much time for character development, but the language Pullman uses means that we do get amazingly detailed portrayals of people and places. His expert use of few words, perfectly chosen, is practically a masterclass! The suspense builds nicely and I liked the knowing nod to Lyra's alternate universe from the Dark Materials trilogy. The ending is expectedly bizarre for a seasonal horror tale, but I didn't really buy into it, hence the drop in stars. However this book was a fun listen all the same.


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Books by Philip Pullman / Horror fiction / Books from England

Friday, 28 April 2017

The Exiles by Iain Crichton Smith


The Exiles by Iain Crichton Smith
First published by Carcanet Press and Raven Arts in England and Ireland respectively in 1984.

Where to buy this book:
Buy from independent booksellers via Alibris
Buy the paperback from Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk

Buy my paperback copy on eBay

How I got this book:
Swapped for at the Visto Lounge book exchange in Torquay

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Twenty years ago, Iain Crichton Smith said of his work on a BBC programme: 'I have always believed in a poetry which contains fighting tensions and not in a poetry of statement.' This remains the case with his most recent work. The tensions are constant: between English and Gaelic, between mind and body, between his native Lewis and the Highlands where he spent many years, between expectation and reality. He is not a 'nature poet', perhaps - as he himself suggests - 'because I was brought up in close hard contact with it.' The focus is on people, his primary subject.
The Exiles is his first Carcanet collection. The title defines his primary theme, one that obsesses him as it does many others; and though the occasion for many of these poems is exile from a particular place and a particular community, the theme is universal in application and resonance. Here there is imposed and elected exile, with the losses entailed both to the land and to the individual. Another aspect of the theme is 'inner exile', the man who through his vocation or expectations is exiled from his community even as he lives in it.

In a time of great uncertainty and debate about immigration to the UK I am pleased to have found this slim poetry volume examining the emotional issue from the points of view of Scots exiled overseas. Crichton Smith's poems recount and imagine the experiences of elderly men who will never return home, women whose children are far away, and people meeting again after decades apart. The collection depicts sorrow and longing, sometimes almost overwhelmingly so, and I found the tiniest details to be the most poignant. One poem describes a return to a village that has changed almost beyond recognition; in another a man talks of the loneliness of always being the foreigner no matter how long one might have lived in one's adopted home. The forty poems in The Exiles are beautiful and powerful while also being, mostly, easily accessible. Written over thirty years ago, they are a reminder of the timelessness of memories and the universal human experience of longing for home.


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Books by Iain Crichton Smith / Poetry / Books from Scotland

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Traveller Inceptio by Rob Shackleford


Traveller Inceptio by Rob Shackleford
Self-published in February 2017.

Where to buy this book:
Buy the ebook from Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk
Buy the ebook from Smashwords

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the author

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you were sent 1000 years into the past, would you survive?
Traveller - Inceptio describes how the Transporter is accidentally invented and becomes public knowledge when it sends a subject 1000 years into the past. A Special Forces team of Travellers is then selected and trained with the intent to send them to Saxon England to explore what could be a very dangerous period of history. From the beaches of Australia to the forests of Saxon England, Traveller - Inceptio reveals how Travellers discover they need a lot more than technology to survive the trials of early Eleventh Century life.

I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed Traveller Inceptio throughout the whole book. It clocks in at over 800 pages which is far longer than my usual book choices so I admit that I expected my interest to flag. Instead the combination of superb historical research, an engaging tale and strong characters kept me hooked. The book is a dual-timeline science fiction story in which a time machine is accidentally invented. Its capabilities are limited in that it can only move subjects 1000 years in time, but this results in Shackleford creating a richly detailed portrayal of Saxon Aengland, a time when the Germanic peoples who became the Anglo-Saxon English were struggling for survival against attacks from Danish Vikings. We meet monks and villagers, see authentic daily life in rural communities and in the first tiny towns, and witness how verdant the countryside was before people completely dominated the land. Traveller Inceptio is written with alternate chapters jumping between the historic and present-day storylines, a good device which allows the reader to recognise how different and how similar our cultures are. An Australian author, Shackleford takes the opportunity to leap back in time in Australia as well as England. I loved the vibrancy of Shackleford's writing. History really does come alive in this book!

I wasn't so entranced by the military training storyline although I understand that this aspect is integral to the story. I thought these scenes slowed the overall pace excessively as I wanted to get back to the past! Traveller Inceptio is also let down by hit-and-miss proofreading which is a real shame as errors such as missing words detract from the atmosphere. Overall though, I was able to look past that and to appreciate this novel as wonderfully immersive historical fiction.


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Books by Rob Shackleford / Science fiction / Books from Australia

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Engadine Aerie by Bluette Matthey


Engadine Aerie by Bluette Matthey
First published in America by Blue Shutter Publishing today, the 26th April 2017.

Where to buy this book:
Buy from independent booksellers via Abebooks
Buy the ebook from Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk
Buy the ebook from Smashwords
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the author

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In Bluette Matthey’s latest book, Engadine Aerie, protagonist Hardy Durkin heads to St. Moritz and the stunning Engadine Valley in Switzerland’s Alps for the annual Skimarathon. What could possibly go wrong? Lots, if you’re Hardy Durkin. Murder, an illicit arms deal, attempted murder, and running aground of a seasoned professional poisoner.

I was attracted to Engadine Aerie by the positive reviews of earlier books in the series (this is the fifth Hardy Durkin Travel Mystery) which praised Matthey's detailed portrayals of her locations. Engadine is a perhaps lesser known area of Switzerland, certainly somewhere I have not yet visited, so I was interested especially in this aspect of the story. Engadine does sound stunningly beautiful - as long as one can visit away from Skimarathon time when there would be just too many people to see past! Matthey also includes lengthy history digressions I found appealing in their own right, but I could not always understand the necessity of such great detail to our story as these interludes completely arrest the story's pace.

Hardy Durkin, as we are often told, is an amateur at crime detection and resolution yet has a preternatural ability to be just in the right pace at the right time for trouble! I presume his character was more fully established in earlier books as in this one we hit the ground running with limited time to really get to know our protagonists. I won't say too much about the plotlines so you will have the excitement of discovering for yourselves. However Hardy must unravel an obscured web of international terrorism that stretches across many countries.


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Books by Bluette Matthey / Thrillers / Books from America

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Hitler Is No Fool by Karl Billinger


Hitler Is No Fool by Karl Billinger
First published in America in 1939. ForgottenBooks publication in the UK in 2015.

Where to buy this book:
Buy from independent booksellers via Abebooks
Buy the paperback from Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk
Buy the ebook from ForgottenBooks
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository

How I got this book:
Downloaded from ForgottenBooks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Today, after more than six years of feverish activities, Nazi Germany is still a mystery to the man in the streets of America. To him the Third Reich appears as a one-man show. He resents a social order built upon terror and fear and is indignant when he reads about Jewish pogroms, threats of invasion, and conquests of weak countries. But he is at an utter loss to explain the miraculous career of the "Austrian housepainter." He might, perhaps, pity the German people. But the longer he sees them ruled by a "fool" or a "madman," the more will his pity change into contempt, the more will his feeling grow that the Germans, after all, deserve a Government which they apparently are not able or even willing to overthrow.
For this man in the street the present book is written. It wants to acquaint him with the chief exponent of German fascism, with his ideas and plans and, moreover, with the forces he represents. The best way of doing it might still be to go back to the most authoritative source, Hitler's own book. The world would have been spared much guessing about the essence and aims of the National Socialist regime had it taken the trouble to study the Fuehrer's work carefully. History has seldom offered the opportunity of learning from a dictator himself his most guarded designs before he has been able to carry them out. But how are we to know that Hitler who has told so many lies, broken so many promises, and violated so many solemn treaties did not veil and distort the truth in his book?

I was pleasantly surprised by how accessible Hitler Is No Fool is. I have often found vintage books written for 'the man in the street' to be overly dry and scholarly by present-day standards, but this book is certainly an exception to that rule. Billinger takes Hitler's epic two-volume work, Mein Kampf, as his starting point and has essentially read it so that we don't have to! He distills the main ideas into easily comprehensible chapters, also exploring aspects of Hitler's life that are likely to have inspired the policies and explaining in chilling detail how so many thousands of the German people were persuaded to also adopt these ideas.

The similarities between 1930s Germany and the 2010s fascist resurgence have been frequently noted recently, but in reading this book I was shocked at the extent in which history is repeating itself. It's not just a question of substituting the word Muslim for the word Jew although directing public blame and dissatisfaction towards an easily visually identifiable minority group as a distraction tactic is the most obvious example. Having the majority of the country's media controlled by a single tycoon is also a repeat - indispensable for propaganda purposes - as is gaining the support of the big businesses who will benefit from drastically increased profit margins by the stripping back of workers rights and freedoms. Hitler Is No Fool is a scarily familiar portrayal of how simply a nation can be convinced to act totally against their own long-term interests. I would highly recommend it as essential reading, especially in the run-up to June's General Election.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Karl Billinger / Politics / Books from Germany

Monday, 24 April 2017

The Shell House by Linda Newbery


The Shell House by Linda Newbery
First published by David Fickling in July 2002.
I registered my copy of this book on BookCrossing

Where to buy this book:
Buy from independent booksellers via Abebooks
Buy the book from Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk
Buy the paperback from Speedyhen
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository

How I got this book:
Swapped for in the book exchange at Serro da Bica campsite, Ourique, Portugal

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Shell House is a beautifully-written and sensitive portrayal of love, sexuality and spirituality over two generations. Greg’s casual interest in the history of a ruined mansion becomes more personal as he slowly discovers the tragic events that overwhelmed its last inhabitants. Set against a background of the modern day and the first World War, Greg’s contemporary beliefs become intertwined with those of Edmund, a foot soldier whose confusion about his sexuality and identity mirrors Greg’s own feelings of insecurity. This is a complex and thought-provoking book, written with elegance and subtlety. It will change the way you think.

I thought that The Shell House had a good premise for a novel and the device of modern teenagers coming of age juxtaposed against their First World War contemporaries worked well. The novel mainly discusses themes of homosexuality and Christianity and, while it is to be applauded for doing so openly and seemingly without judgement, I thought that this was also its weakest point because Newbury does go on, and on, and on. I found the discussions that her protagonists have to be generic with no real sense of genuine teenage speech. Mostly however, I disliked the abrupt ending. While I can understand perhaps why Newbury might have wanted to leave so much up to her readers' imaginations, for me after having read all that philosophising, to be left without a strong sense of a conclusion felt like being cheated!


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Linda Newbery / Historical fiction / Books from England

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Othello by William Shakespeare


Othello by William Shakespeare
Believed written and first performed in England in 1604. BBC audiobook of the Northern Broadsides production published in 2010.

Where to buy this book:
Buy the audiobook download of this production from Audible via Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk
Buy a CD audiobook via Abebooks
Buy a CD audiobook from Speedyhen
Buy a CD audiobook from The Book Depository

How I got this book:
Bought from Audible

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This BBC Radio production stars much-loved actor and comedian Lenny Henry, who won the Evening Standard's Best Newcomer Award for his stunning performance as the tortured Moor. First performed at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, it subsequently toured the country before arriving in London's West End where Henry received rave reviews.
Featuring the cast from the acclaimed West End production and with original music from Conrad Nelson, who also plays Iago, this mesmerising radio drama grips the listener from start to tragic finish.
Love, racism, jealousy and desire are at the emotional core of Shakespeare's monumental tragedy, a tender love story shattered by one man's obsessive hatred of another. Othello is noble, brave and victorious. Iago, passed over for a position in the army, fuels his diabolical revenge with hatred and snarling racism. Poignant, intense and heartbreaking, Othello mercilessly explores every inch of the human condition.

Penguin kindly offered me an advance copy of Tracy Chevalier's latest book, New Boy, recently which I am excited to read soon. You will be able to read my review of that in May, but, as New Boy is based on the plot of Othello, I thought I should revisit the original play first. I metaphorically dusted off my Audible download of the excellent Northern Broadsides production that starred Lenny Henry and am I am blogging my review today to celebrate Shakespeare Day!

Having never actually seen, heard or read any other Othellos, I can't compare this audio version to any other production. However I can say that the play is gripping throughout and, other than the very first few lines where the dialogue speed seems inordinately fast, I was easily able to keep up with the action and to differentiate voices so I generally knew who was speaking (except when minor characters suddenly appear!) Lenny Henry is convincing as Othello and my favourite character has to be the villainous Iago. He is utterly self-serving and wonderfully two-faced! I didn't think the other characters had the depth of Iago or Othello, Desdemona seeming particularly flat to me, although I did appreciate Emilia's Elizabethan-style feminist outburst.

The storyline is moral lesson in not believing everything one is told, even if the news source has been reliable in the past - so Othello is relevant for 2017! Shakespeare illustrates the racism of the early 1600s and it is depressing to think that such attitudes still prevail four centuries later. While I could see how Othello was so easily led by Iago, on reflection I did find the ending stretched believability too far for my tastes. Overall I enjoyed the play though and would certainly listen to it again - or even go to see a live performance.


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Books by William Shakespeare / Plays / Books from England