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hiker

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Ciao will "refuse products for which no merchant sends us offers in its catalogue" - this apparently includes where they already have links on site to both Foyles and Amazon... wonder what they mean by 'merchants'... the demise continues...

Reviews written

since 28/03/2003

797

Raising Steam - Terry Pratchett 29/10/2016

The Permanent Way - and the need for change

Raising Steam - Terry Pratchett Dick Simnel was ten years old, when back at the family smithy in Sheepridge, his father simply disappeared in a cloud of furnace parts and flying metal, all enveloped in a pink steam. It's the kind of thing that might turn a child to more sedate, safe, artistic endeavours. Not young Dick. He vowed to learn the controlling of the steam. His mother was a sensible woman, a midwife, they don't come much more sensible than that…and she figured that the best thing was to take him away from the workshop and any such ideas. She didn't bank on the fact that Sto Lat had a library and in the library, among all the poncy stuff, all kings and poets and lovers and battles there was also this stuff called mathematics. This was a new world to Dick and he lapped it up. He learned the numbers and mysteries of the sliding rule (which be honest, most of us never did!) and began to figure where, exactly how, his old dad had gone wrong. You can see where this is going: he goes back to the old shed, and in the way of tin-pot inventors everywhere, produces a working steam engine and the rails to run her upon. Like any self-respecting entrepreneur with a greasy rag and a grand idea that he's being totally self-deprecating about, he takes her to the big city… There he meets up with self-made millionaire with an eye to the finer things in life (as well as to the most grubby, given where his fortune came from) Harry King. King seeing something of himself in the lad, perhaps, decides to do right by ...

The Essex Serpent - Sarah Perry 16/10/2016

In Search of Freedom and Fossils

The Essex Serpent - Sarah Perry I confess to a bias…when I came across a reference to Sarah Perry's latest novel; I wanted to read it for two reasons only. She is a local writer, and the book is set in a place not too far away, but that I have yet to explore and which fascinates me: the Blackwater estuary in Essex. That's a place of the kind of wide open skies and mud creeks that you will find up much of the Norfolk and Suffolk coast as well, and a landscape type that probably only appeals to a certain type of person. This is another way of saying that I had paid little enough about the nature of the book itself to be approaching it almost blind. Sometimes that’s the best way. Naturally, as a reviewer, I shouldn't say this, but every now and again, isn't it wonderful to read a book about which you have barely the faintest notion and absolutely no preconceptions? It is a risk, to be sure, but in this case it paid off. Regular readers of my reviews will know that a bugbear of mine is the blurb. Too many publishers give away too much story. Serpent's Tail have got it right on this one. Little enough is given away to browsers…but the first comment there on the back cover might tempt you in. Quoting John Burnside, it begins ''Had Charles Dickens and Bram Stoker come together to write the great Victorian novel, I wonder if it would have surpassed the Essex Serpent…'' Just in case you're thinking that maybe one or other of those great authors already did write ''the great Victorian novel'' (which is hard to ...

Palace Council - Stephen L. Carter 15/10/2016

Not The Presidents Men

Palace Council - Stephen L. Carter A lawyer nervously attends a meeting. 'His host knew people, and the kind of people he knew, knew other people. He was also the kind of man who expected favours to be returned. A sumptuous dinner and the disclosure of a plan. A plan that the lawyer felt for all its brilliance, was evil. He'd said yes, just the same, along with all the others. His murder we're told at the end of this short prologue was still thirty months away. It's 1954, the Supreme Court has just outlawed racial segregation in public schools, but America is still a very divided country. Eddie Wesley, for all his degree and connections is on the wrong side of that divide. It doesn't help that he's determined to be a writer, and not willing to hack out those skills on a newspaper job. The connections however get him into some of the best parties. On leaving one of these he stumbles across the corpse. A white man dead in Harlem gives him pause for concern, but curiosity gets the better and he investigates closely enough to discover the strange cross the man is holding, closely enough to discover the brutal nature of his murder. That is enough to persuade Wesley to get the hell out of there. He might have forgotten all about it, but for the death of Walter White, head of the NAACP, the discovery of a black scientist working on government programmes who is unwilling to talk, but for the marriage of Aurelia, his own true love, into the influential Garland family, and more importantly but for the request to ...

Oceanic Luxury Apartments, Falmouth 08/10/2016

Oceanic luxury

Oceanic Luxury Apartments, Falmouth Where and why Having decided to invest some time and money in catching up on something I've always wanted to do (i.e. study law) I found myself just a tad over-committed stress-wise. There were to be all sorts of consequences on that decision but the immediate one was that I would limit my adrenalin rushes by not also planning a far-flung holiday trekking to who knows where, for the duration of the study years. So, for this year, I booked two weeks off work and looked for somewhere coastal, where I could just 'chill out' for one of them. I wasn't going abroad, and money wasn't the point of that decision, so I was prepared to be a little indulgent. My only other consideration was it had to be on the coast. I can't remember why I chose Falmouth – beyond a recollection of having loved the place last time I was there. Last time, might has well have been in another life. I do not remember the place at all, it transpires. The castle is no longer a youth hostel. I can't remember exactly what route I took the night I was so late back (missed trains, a long story) that I fretted they'd have locked the doors, and they very nearly had. Breaking out of Walmer Castle was to become a close call many years later, the idea of breaking into Pendennis wasn't something even my other half would have considered. Falmouth it was to be however. So then to narrow down the search. I'd like to offer up my scientific process for this, but there wasn't one. At one point I was looking for a hotel ...

Thief of Time - Terry Pratchett 30/05/2016

About Time

Thief of Time - Terry Pratchett I really want to have a favourite Discworld novel, but I struggle even to come up with a favourite character. I utterly respect the Witches: especially Granny W (who'd dare not to do so) but also Margrat and Agnes for daring to be themselves and stand up to the old biddies. The Watch amuse me. I always had Vimes down as being played by Clint Eastwood but now I'm thinking that maybe Mark Harmon should be next in line, though to be fair Paul Darrow did it proud on stage. Rincewind you have to want to love, but might just fail to do so. DEATH is simply an icon! (Don't tell him / it / her that I said that). The Patrician clearly influenced Keith Allen's take on the Sheriff of Nottingham – or maybe the other way about – whichever, utterly, evilly, delightful! Then there's Lady Sybil and the dragons, not to mention the gargoyles, and Leonard of Quirm busying away in the cellars. But no... Maybe it's my love of all things oriental that draws me inexorably towards the tourist, Twoflower, who appeared really early on in the series… and through him to Wen the eternally surprised and the history monks. I haven't got a favourite story, because every time I come back to any one of them they delight me anew. There's always something I'd forgotten about. This one comes close though. This is a story about history…which may or may not be the same as a story about what actually happened. Pratchett starts his story thusly: For something to exist it has to be observed. For ...

The Killing of Polly Carter - Robert Thorogood 13/03/2016

It's Not The Parrot That's Dead

The Killing of Polly Carter - Robert Thorogood I'm a fan of old-school murder mysteries…think Agatha Chrisite, think Majory Allingham, Dorothy Sayers… These are stories as games. Usually on the very edge of plausibility, gruesomeness kept to a minimum, police procedure trodden all over in hobnailed enthusiasm of insight and flashes of inspiration. So it follows that I enjoy TV series in the same vein: Midsommer Murders, Poirot… and Death in Paradise. It was because my enjoyment of that last-named series was known that The Killing of Polly Carter was sent my way. For those who don't know the series – and haven't come across Thorogood's books (this is the second) – the Paradise in question is the Caribbean Island of Saint Marie. It is everything a certain type of Brit would want a Caribbean island to be: hot, steamy, sort of French-African in atmosphere, but an outpost of the British Commonwealth such that for some reason we're responsible for policing it. Ok, it's got a murder rate that might put you off visiting - per capita it's got to be higher than Morse's Oxford or Rankin's Edinburgh - but generally neither the murderers nor the victims are locals. So that's alright then. In a way the island stands in for the English Country House in the Christie genre. They're not exactly locked-room mysteries, but not far from. No apologies for talking about the TV series because that's where the books originate. Thorogood is the show's creator so it is all his own work, and maybe therefore he's allowed to back-track in the ...

The Truth - Terry Pratchett 08/03/2016

Pulling Its Boots On

The Truth - Terry Pratchett Author's Note Sometimes a fantasy author has to point out the strangeness of reality. The way Ankh-Morpork dealt with its flood problems…is curiously similar to that adopted by the city of Seattle, Washington, towards the end of the nineteenth century. Really. Go and see. Try the clam chowder while you're there. Oh I am so tempted… Meanwhile, back in Ankh-Morpork… The rumour is that the Dwarfs have beaten the Alchemists to it and found a way to turn lead into gold. In fact, what they've really found is a way to turn lead into a serious form of debt in the medium term, but for now they've decided to ignore all unspoken injunctions to the contrary and adopt the movable type printing press. This isn't a new invention on the Disc, but the power of the Guild of Engravers has ensured that it has never taken hold in the City. There are rumours from faraway places however: it may only be a matter of time. Sir William De Worde makes a kind of living dealing with faraway places. He's sends a newsletter once a month back to Uberwald (Lady Margolotta paid him five dollars for it). The rest of the time, he wrote letters for other people. Or them to recipients who couldn't do so for themselves. It wasn't a particularly lucrative business, but then William had grown up with lucrative and he didn't like it much. William was the second son. His brother would inherit the family estates, which was fine by him, but he himself wasn't particularly suited to the normal occupations for spare ...

The Fifth Elephant - Terry Pratchett 07/03/2016

Diplomatically Speaking

The Fifth Elephant - Terry Pratchett The Discworld is supported by the four elephants who ride the back of the great space turtle. It is said that in times gone by there was a fifth elephant, an elephant less sure of foot that fell off the turtle and that (by some bizarre aspect of physics, possibly quantum) managed to land on the Disc. A giant elephant of even 1/5 of a planet bearing capability landing on said planet was bound to have made quite a dent. In fact it would have been bound to have caused all sorts of other planet wide effects, most of which have been lost to myth over time. The myth that survives is that over time the elephant sank down and was covered by the earth (sorry, Disc) where huge pressures compressed its body, and its bones and veins became seams of metallic ore intensely valuable and mined by the dwarfs… and its fat, became, well, remained, fat or at least wax – also mined by the dwarfs (who, let's face it will mine anything likely to be capable of being turned into gold if it doesn't start out that way). The Schmalzberg mines produce candle wax of the finest quality. They also happen to be part of Überwald, which is where the vampires live (kind of) and the werewolves and where the "old ways" are very much still held to. The elephant bit isn't important. The story would have played out much the same, one feels. Also not particularly important except in the context of character sketches for those who're coming in part way through the series is the fact that Nobby and Colon of the ...

A Notable Woman - Jean Lucey Pratt 06/03/2016

A Quiet Life - somewhat regretted

A Notable Woman - Jean Lucey Pratt We come to books by many routes, some more serendipitous than others. Some we have no expectations of, some fail to live up to our expectations and some… some prove to be exactly what we'd hoped, when we deliberately decided that this was one to seek out. A Notable Woman is in the last category. I stumbled Jean Pratt's story via a review in the Sunday Observer. It was one of the rare ones that made me actually want to go out and buy the book. But, well, Christmas was coming… and so, I duly started to read it over breakfast on Boxing Day. To be fair, I found it less of an easy read than I expected, more though-provoking. Plus it's chunkier than I expected… though quite why I might have expected sixty years' worth of diaries to have been edited down into anything less than the seven hundred or so pages we have here is anybody's guess. The net result was that (in and around life in general) this one took me all of January to read. Perhaps it was the fact that I did linger over it so much, that I enjoyed it so much, that Jean did start to emerge as the real person she actually was, that, ultimately, I decided I really didn't like her very much. That's a very personal statement, and we're not expected to like everyone who crosses our path, but I also want to say that despite that value-judgement on the individual (for which I make no excuses) I am still truly pleased that she did cross my path. Her life's work ~ for that was how she viewed her journaling ~ does have the ...

The Loney - Andrew Michael Hurley 06/03/2016

Loney-ness

The Loney - Andrew Michael Hurley It's always a privilege when you're given an advance reading copy of something – and a real 'block' when you read the small print that says 'not for resale or quotation'. Fair comment on the resale bit, but when you get something as brilliant as ''The Loney'' being required not to quote is just plain unfair. So when I originally reviewed this for thebookbag.co.uk I had to apologise to the author, and break the rules. To be fair I think we got the publisher's sanction to do so, and in so doing I hope a played a small part in getting this wonderful book the attention it deserves: it went on to win the Costa First Novel Award 2015. The point was: I finished this book with so many corners turned down, places where passages or phrases delighted me enough to know I'd want to go back to them, how can my words possibly sell it better than Hurley's… Starting near the beginning If it had another name, I never knew, but the locals called it The Loney – that strange nowhere between the Wyre and the Lune where Hanny and I went every Easter time with Mummer, Farther, Mr and Mrs Belderboss and Father Wilfred, the parish priest. Those Easter trips weren't a holiday. They were a week of penitence and prayer and a chance to look for God in the emerging springtime, that, when it came, was hardly a spring at all; nothing so vibrant and effusive. It was more the soggy afterbirth of winter. The book opens, not in Springtime, but in the aftermatch of an Autumn storm, where a sudden landslide ...

I Am Malala - Malala Yousafzai, Patricia McCormick 05/03/2016

Because She Is A Girl

I Am Malala - Malala Yousafzai, Patricia McCormick ''She's a phenomenon'' is my OH's response to any mention of Malala. I can't disagree on some level, but what this book proves is that on another she is just a girl. One voice among many. It's just that she decided to speak louder than most. We know about Malala because she got lucky. She got lucky because when she got shot by the Taliban there were people nearby, doctors who got her to a hospital, and then luckier still because when her condition worsened, nearby there were western doctors with access to western facilities and she was flown to the UK for treatment. And that's when life changed for ever for Malala. It wasn't the day she was shot. Many have been shot and killed (or worse) by the Taliban for speaking out. It was the day the news of her being airlifted to Birmingham went around the world. That was what changed everything, because that was what brought this extraordinary young woman to the attention of the world's (rather than just Pakistan's) media and gave her the opportunity to ''really'' do, what she'd set out to do. Make no bones about it, Malala might be just a girl (or a young woman by now), but by no stretch of the imagination is she ordinary. You know that Twelfth Night quote to the effect that ''some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them''? Well, Malala is one of the first kind. She is what my mother would have called ''an old soul''. We don't believe in reincarnation in my family, but my mother would have ...

The Spectre Trilogy - Ian Fleming 28/02/2016

No, Mr Bond...

The Spectre Trilogy - Ian Fleming With the new Spectre film in the cinema, it was time to revisit the original stories… what exactly is SPECTRE, who is Blofeld… and how exactly does 007 come into the picture? Vintage have repackaged the original SPECTRE stories into a single chunky volume, with a simple black cover whose only artwork (typesetting aside) is a letter O morphing into a gun barrel, with rising smoke.. a nod perhaps to the now classic title sequence of all the Bond movies. Another nod to the movies, which have no doubt kept the myth of Bond alive in a way that might not have happened on the back of the books alone, is a short introduction by Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, stepson & daughter to "Cubby" and current producers of the cinema franchise. Acknowledging the debt to the movie-makers, I now want you to forget everything you have ever seen… I say this as someone who holds all the films (even the cheesiest of them) in great affection and who feels that strangely those most recently made and based on nothing that Fleming ever wrote possibly come closer to his 007, than anything produced in his lifetime. I also say it, knowing that you won't – as I couldn't when writing about it. When you come to read the books, you'll see that the 'real' James Bond is little like some of his portrayals… but you'll also get an inkling as to why that is. Much of what is in the words would not work so well on screen – at least not without turning a 'thriller' into something entirely different. ...

Black Moon - Kenneth Calhoun 27/02/2016

Sleepless

Black Moon - Kenneth Calhoun Do you ever have those nights when you hear every chime of the clock, when you watch the shadows move round the room painfully slowly as the moon crosses the sky? Thankfully I have very few of those. I know that the thing most likely to keep you awake is the worrying about the fact that you're not asleep, and I have distraction mechanisms for when I need them. I can sleep just about anywhere and through most kinds of noise. I find the engine noise and motion and passing lights of a motor car journey in the dark as soporific as a lullaby. I have had strangers wake me to up to tell me this train isn't going any further. It is hard, therefore, for me to understand an inability to sleep. But because I generally sleep well and long, I am dependent upon it. Tiredness is not a state that I experience a great deal. I go from "fine" straight into sleep deprivation: that inability to focus enough to string a sentence together – words get slurred, syntax mangled, gobbledygook spoken as though it has some real significance. I have heard myself doing all these things. I get "twitchy". I cannot sit still, a feeling of all the tiny internal muscles repeatedly cramping and relaxing, needing to be moved. And I get angry. I will snap at the slightest thing. Irrational. It is very easy, therefore, for me to understand what an epidemic of sleeplessness might do to a population. Such an epidemic is occurring in Calhoun's debut novel. Something unexplained has happened, or is ...

Carpe Jugulum - Terry Pratchett 22/02/2016

The Problem With Magpie Rhymes...

Carpe Jugulum - Terry Pratchett The problem with magpie rhymes is that they are all wrong, for the simple reason that none of them are the ones that the Magpies themselves know. The magpies in this case are not always birds. If you've been keeping up with my re-reading of the whole Discworld canon, then you'll probably know that one of the witches had gone off to be Queen when she married the jester. (Or something like that). That meant that the coven was one short – as you know witches always come in threes. There is always the Maiden, the Mother, and the…other one. The problem seemed to be solved when Agnes Nitt decided she was better off as Agnes and gave in to her natural witchiness (which meant subduing her inner Perdita and any desire to be an Opera singer) and moved into Magrat's old cottage. So far so Discian. Discish? Anyway… the Queen has had a baby, which means two things: firstly she is now a mother. You and I might say "obviously" but when you think about the threesome, if she wants to step back into witching, it could get complicated. One will have to step down, and one will have to step, possibly, sideways. Secondly, there has to be a naming ceremony ~ which is always an excuse for a big party, to which absolutely everybody must be invited. Clearly top of the list of everybody is Granny Weatherwax. Only she doesn't seem to have got her invitation, and she's the first one to have made the 'mother' connection. Mistake number two, is that so far as King Verence is concerned ...

The Last Continent - Terry Pratchett 21/02/2016

EcksEcksEcksEcks

The Last Continent - Terry Pratchett It's nearly a year since Sir Terry slipped away from us, and I am barely half-way through my re(read) in honour of his memory. I can't help thinking that by the time I get to the end, it may be time to start over again. Meanwhile, back on the Disc, riding as ever through space supported by the four elephants astride the great space-turtle A'tuin… there is an unknown land: a lost continent, fabled in myth and legend. Or at least rumoured about in some of the less salubrious taverns. If you've come this far through my journeying on the Disc it will not take you long to work out that if we're in a vast expanse of red hot desert, watching red earth being thrown out of a deep hole by a muttering soul in search of grub, the soul concerned is likely to be our old unfortunate friend Rincewind: a wizard of poor spelling (in both senses) and appalling but somehow redemptive luck. It might not be entirely clear how he got here, but the locals know why. Time is all wrong, and there's been no Wet for years, and the pictures are stepping out of the rocks and well, strewth mate, someone's got to put it all back the way it should be. As if that wasn't enough, he's lost his luggage! If you've met the Luggage, then you can see that this might just be a blessing in disguise. If you've been in the desert for weeks with no clean underwear, maybe not so much. If you've been "rescued" (I use the term loosely) from the desert have started to discover the roaring nightlife of places ...
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