Current Affairs, Fluff

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer – 9/10

GLPPPS Written in epistolary form (new for me), this sweet novel records an unlikely correspondence and friendship struck up after a Guernsey pig-farmer buys a second-hand book once owned by a London-based authoress, and the authoress’ ensuing trip to Guernsey which rescues her from her creative doldrums.

Fittingly, I picked it up myself as a second-hand book and loved it. I thought it was beautiful, sincere, poetic and generally an excellent read.



The Watchman – Chris Ryan – 7/10

Chris Ryan Acquired in a double edition with The Kremlin Device.

Summary: Someone’s knocking off MI5’s top brass. Alex has to stop him before he completes the set. Much easier said than done. Particularly when the stroppy girlfriend and the sprightly intelligence employee are taken into consideration…

This initially made no sense to me whatsoever – we went from a prologue in northern Ireland to the jungles of somewhere hellish in Africa , and the two settings took quite a while to reunite – but as I got into it, I found it much more delicately developed than The Kremlin Device. The cast was much more disparate in nature so interpersonal conflict could develop.

Plot-wise it was a bit thin (there’s only so much pursuit around the UK that I could pay attention to), but I did not see the twist coming at all! and the epilogue was quite gratifying. There was the same colourful language as in Kremlin Device, and the relationship stuff all seemed a bit unnecessary (although had it not been in there I would have been complaining about one-dimensional women) but Alex spent so much time thinking rather than acting, that it felt like his character was actively and thoroughly developed. On reflection I’m not sure that it was, but (again, as in KD) it was certainly engaging and plenty of fun.


Fluff, Thriller

The Kremlin Device – Chris Ryan – 7/10

Chris Ryan

Summary: Geordie is officially leading a crack SAS team to Russia to teach the Russian SAS to deal with the proliferating Mafia. The trip is a cover for a far more sinister objective – which then goes disastrously wrong…

Acquired second-hand (from the condition of the spine, 20th-hand) in a double edition with The Watchman.

As ridiculous and unbelievable as the plot was (Russian Mafia? Resurgence of Cold War politics?), this was a fun romp of a read. I really liked how the plot developments were driven by the characters’ actions and mistakes, rather than all sorts of unnecessary events being introduced all over the place.

The language was pretty colourful (although, it appears, no worse than that to which one is subjected on the 22:45 from Reading to Slough…) and littered with military jargon – although the author’s/publisher’s trick of using jargon and including a glossary, rather than the hideous construction that many similar books include, of spattering jargon about the place and using up 90% of the text explaining the terminology, at least meant that the reader could slide past the acronyms fairly painlessly.

The characters were pretty one-dimensional but with a racing plot they don’t really need any more development, and the collection of similar (and therefore amalgamat-able) personalities (expert SAS types) each with one or two distinctive features of physique and character meant that a multi-faceted group personality emerged, a very effective and economical device. The hero had doubts and failings, which again was a pleasant relief from so many SAS/CIA thrillers. One token woman, but an interesting character, not just a leggy blonde.

Lots of fun!


Fluff, Historical Fiction

The Poet’s Wife – Judith Allnatt – 4/10

Poet's Wife Picked up from the library (I love living across the road from a decent-sized library!) after seeing a few recommendations around the blogosphere. This is a fictionalised biography of John Clare’s wife Patty – how she copes with his mental illness, a large family and increasing poverty.

While I enjoyed the writing, which was fluid and imaginative, I got a bit bored with the tales of country life on the poverty line. I found much of the story quite uncomfortable, because one does sympathise with the protagonist caught between her mad husband who is convinced he married his childhood sweetheart as well as her, and her philandering son-in-law.

Patty was a strong character – too strong in many ways, I wanted her to break down and scream and shout and be human. Eliza annoyed me, as did John (although the abrasive effects of his illness were the intention), I did like Parker (he reminded me of my own grandfathers), and there wasn’t really space to develop many more characters.


Fluff, Thriller

The Sky is Falling – Sidney Sheldon – 5/10

Sky is Falling Summary: Dana Evans, newscaster extraordinaire with the perfect boyfriend and an adoptee from Kosovo, stumbles onto a conspiracy to kill off a family of impeccably behaved philanthropists. Can she figure it out before the bad guys get her?

Picked up as part of a huge box lot for £60. One of the more amusing revelations from the box!

This contains so many stereotypes that it’s highly entertaining. There is a “royal family” of do-gooders who are indubitably wonderful, but actually one of them had a dark secret. Our heroine is beautiful, talented, generous. Her boyfriend doesn’t get much of a description, but his ex (who is, of course, a model) is still after him. She manages to fly all over the world at a moment’s notice chasing down leads and enlists help at the Pentagon…

Trashy it may be, but I thundered through this in about 4 Tube trips and loved it. As long as you’re accepting of the inevitable plot devices (quick trip to a nuclear plant in Russia, anyone?) and can ignore the are-they-aren’t-they bad guys issue, this has a snappy pace, plenty of twists and generally everything that you ask of something to read before 9 a.m.!



Death of a Perfect Wife – M. C. Beaton – 7/10

Summary: Hamish Macbeth is quite pleased with the quiet life of a parochial policeman… until a pushy housewife arrives from London and starts reforming the town. No wonder she turns up dead – but who did it?

This meets the definition of “cosy crime” exactly for me. A pleasant, polite, short (192 pages) murder mystery with a few personalities but no particular danger. PG-rated, for once, which was a nice change!

I was a bit disappointed by the style – it was all a bit simplistic for me. The characters were almost caricatures, because they were so lightly developed – each had one or two defining features and that was it. Everyone in the town had a motive and plenty of access to the poison, so there wasn’t really a puzzle to figure out who did it, we just had to wait for PC Macbeth to figure it out and tell us.

That said, the village depicted had some fun personalities and the murderer and his/her motive were amusing when they were revealed.


Modern Masters

Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe – 8/10

Things Fall Apart Summary: Proud clansman Okonkwo has built himself up from nothing. His exile for an accidental murder and the arrival of the white man throw his world into disorder.

This has been on reading lists since I was 9 so it’s about time I got around to reading it! It reads very much like a school set text – clear moral teachings on colonialism, pride, treatment of others, community etc. At first, the text felt quite minimalist – only the essentials of each episode were told in order to move the story along, but as we progressed to Okonkwo’s adulthood, more anecdotal episodes were thrown in, which was a pleasant development.

Similarly, only the main characters were given any time at all, but those which were developed were drawn skilfully, almost all through deeds rather than words. Every now and again there is a monologue from an older clansman, but these are well-spaced enough so as not to become tedious.

I enjoyed reading about all the customs and the beliefs etc – the book describes a fictional tribe, but Achebe presumably drew his inspiration from real-life practices. I was starting to wonder at the halfway point when things were going to fall apart, although it had been a very comfortable and entertaining read up to that point – but I did not see the major plot turns coming up! And things duly did fall apart…

While I recognise that it is a well-written text, morally clear and presumably “before its time” in terms of “colonialism bad, missionaries bad, indigenous traditions and ideas not all bad”, either I’ve missed something or the simple style has garnered a lot more critical acclaim than it deserves. I’m inclined to think the former.


Interview with the author: The New York Times