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My Book Reading

The Border - Don Winslow

Metropolis - Philip Kerr

The Paris Diversion - Chris Pavone

The Network - Jason Elliott

Our Man Down In Havana - Christopher Hull

Mission To Paris - Alan Furst

A Dangerous Man - Robert Crais

Resurrections - Jeffrey Meyers

Spy Games - Adam Brookes

Podcast Favorites

https://player.fm/series/simon-mayos-books-of-the-year/lee-child

   In this episode of the entertraining Books of the Year podcast, Simon Mayo and Matt Williams ask Lee Child about his legendary coffee consumption, at my request. 

@booksoftheyear, @simonmayo

https://soundcloud.com/markbellspowerproject/20180525-layne-norton-audio-sc

I'll listen to Layne Norton discuss and argue passionately about nutrition any day. Mark Bell does a great job moderating an engaging conversation between Norton and Shawn Baker about health, fitness, food and nutrition. Science wins! @marksmellybell, @BioLane

http://spybrary.com/tag/charles-cumming/

Shane Whaley and David Craggs talk spy and espionage fiction, writing, politics and books with the outspoken, brilliant writer, Charles Cumming.

@Spybrary, @CharlesCumming

 

http://revisionisthistory.com/episodes/30-analysis-parapraxis-elvis

Malcolm Gladwell digs deep into the one song Elvis Presley couldn't consistently sing, "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" This episode is a gripping, utterly fascinating discussion of how Elvis recorded, sang live, and interpreted his life through music. @Gladwell

Entries in @harperbooks (8)

Wednesday
Oct312018

War of the Wolf by Bernard Cornwell

I’ll begin with a declarative sentence: War of the Wolf may be Bernard Cornwell’s finest novel.

Some may think I’m stretching, but I don’t think so. I’ve been reading Cornwell for years, dating back to his Richard Sharpe series. Since then the prolific author has penned some standalone novels, and the wonderful Shakespearean Fools and Mortals, but his concentration has been the ongoing 9th Century Saxon Tales series, of which War of the Wolf is the eleventh entry.

This time period, critical to the formation of civilization and society in the British Isles, the age of Alfred the Great, vividly comes alive in the stories and through the life of Uhtred of Bebbanburg. In War of the Wolf readers find Uhtred at the old age  of 64 (ancient in the 9th century). He’s lord of Bebbanburg, still respected and very much a regional decision-maker, but peace among the Danes, Scots, and Saxons is always a tenuous prospect. Alliances are fluid. At the heart of matters is the divide between Christians and pagans. Lord Uhtred is a proud pagan, but lives, fights and respects Christians and everyone alike (or not). 

The Norseman Skoll becomes Uhtred’s foe, after his Vikings invade, with designs on Uhtred’s lands and fortresses. King Alfred has left a leadership void, he’s aging badly, and Skoll tries to take advantage, waging war on Uhtred and his allies. Not only are Skoll and his allies are eventually done away with, and Uhtred gains revenge of sorts for his daughter’s death at Skoll’s hand. 

Along the way is an engaging wild-goose-chase. Uhtred is led astray by wily maneuvers on the part of his foes. For a while he’s even unsure who is behind some of the moves being made; it’s as if the British Isles are a big, rugged chess board. Uhtred may be one of the most important players, but at times he can’t even see his opponent’s pieces.

Lord Uhtred exemplifies loyalty, honor of a sort, dedication to his craft and his friends, family and his word. A commitment made by Uhtred carries weight, as do oaths of loyalty. These high standards play a significant role in the storyline of War of the Wolf.

Those unfamiliar with Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Tales series need not worry they have to read these books in publication order. Yes, Uhtred and his family and King Alfred and the era are consistent, yet each book stands well alone. Within every set of covers is an adventure tale full of action, emotions of every stripe; history brought alive.

Cornwell writes stirring, crisply detailed and moving action scenes. Going into battle with Uhtred, as a reader, is exciting. Often I find myself re-reading pages. As acclaimed as Cornwell is for his battle scenes, he should receive similar acclaim for dialogue. Conversation between Uhtred and his officers is amusing and poignant, notably before and after battle. It’s even better when he comes across an old soldier who served with him earlier in life; their retrospective comments are admission-worthy.

War Of the Wolf is exciting ancient military history, engaging adventure, woven together with superior dialogue and writing.

@Harperbooks, @BernardCornwell, #warofthewolf

 

Saturday
Jul282018

Forever And A Day by Anthony Horowitz

Forever And A Day is a fine, spirited, easy to read and enjoy James Bond “continuation” novel. It’s Anthony Horowitz’ second Bond novel (Trigger Mortis in 2015 was his first), and in the long canon of non-Ian Fleming Bond literature, one of the better entries. Horowitz is a fine novelist, notably his Sherlock Holmes work (my personal favorite).

Writing a new James Bond novel is complicated. So much more comes into play than just imagining and executing a damn good spy/adventure thriller. In the case of Forever And A Day, Horowitz was hired by the Fleming estate, had access to his papers, and was working from a partial, unfinished script or story. On the other hand, someone in the family is going to be reading and passing approval on the writing. 

Another significant factor must be the era. Bond’s adventures and professional life as 007 take place in the 1950s. Sex was mostly hinted at in popular fiction, rather than dramatized. Attitudes about women and race and politics were often looked at differently. Horowitz has to take all this into account, pen an exciting spy tale worthy of James Bond, be true to the spirit and means of the1950s, yet make sure his new work doesn’t feel and sound outdated. 

Considering the complicated task on his hands, Horowitz did a damn fine job. Forever And A Day is an interesting prequel to the James Bond of Ian Fleming; he becomes Agent 007 in this tale. Scipio makes a fine bad guy. I certainly disliked him and silently urged Bond on in his mission. Where he’ll fall in the pantheon of villains in Bond novels remains to be seen, but he’s loathsome here. Of course he’s duped others to assist him in his plans, and Bond has to navigate all that. Along the way is a beautiful woman (surprise!), named Sixtine. Their relationship starts off rocky, but takes a non-surprising road for Bond fans. 

Sixtine is a strong woman, a well-drawn character, an effective foil for Bond and a major player in the story. I think Horowitz did a good job with her. If the author has any drawbacks it’s developing the personal relationship, notably sex scenes (spoiler alert: James Bond goes to bed with a woman). In this case, his description is two sentences long and could be read aloud to school children.

I’m picking at little things. If you want to hear knowledgeable James Bond fans detail the details, listen to David Craggs on the Spybrary podcast celebrating the publication of Forever And A Day. It’s a fun episode, full of the charm and pointed knowledge of Craggs and host Shane Whaley.

Forever And A Day is a very good James Bond novel. I’ve not read every continuation effort since Fleming died, but in my estimation this is in the Top Five. I found the opening chapters superior to the middle, and the final pieces to move a bit too quickly for me. Horowitz is a good caretaker of the Bond franchise.

I bought and read the Jonathan Cape UK edition. Forever And A Day won’t be published in the United States until November, by Harper, with a different cover.

@harperbooks, #foreverandaday, @AnthonyHorowitz, @spybrary, @jonathancape

Sunday
Jul082018

The Man Between by Charles Cumming

Novelist Kit Carradine is fascinated with spies. His father worked for British Intelligence; of course Kit doesn’t know much of what his duties or experiences were, but it gives context to his interest. Carradine writes spy and espionage thrillers, and is successful, to a point. His life is comfortable, but lately he's found himself musing about what’s possibly missing in life, and he procrastinates actually writing ‘cause he’s bored with his routine.

Abruptly, Carradine’s dreams are seemingly realized when British Intelligence reaches out, asking him to take on a simple task. The agent presents this like it's not even a real mission, just a favor the writer is happily positioned for. Of course Carradine is excited, and jumps in without asking too many questions. 

The Man Between moves swiftly after this. In short order Kit finds himself in Morocco, on the trail of international fugitive Lara Bartok. Attempting to put into play the expertise he thinks he has, learned while sitting at a desk online, doesn’t play out as he’d hoped. Quickly he’s out of his depth, involved with Russian agents, British and American spies, and the violent revolutionary group Resurrection. 

A growing relationship with Bartok, dawning realization that few people are who they present themselves as, and a whirlwind of events push Carradine to decisions and dangerous situations he never dreamed possible.

Cumming wraps his complex and imaginative plot with taut political commentary. His awareness of the divisions in society today, and how they may be playing out in the intelligence world, reads true to me. I was captivated through my entire read of The Man Between, couldn’t wait to turn the page. 

This book is an example my passion for reading; I couldn’t put it down. Charles Cumming and The Man Between trailed me everywhere in my home. I couldn’t shake them. When I find myself brushing my teeth and balancing a hardcover book on the sink, I’m in deeply. Even hiding the book in my beloved Tom Bihn laptop bag didn’t help.  

Kit Carradine, Lara Bartok, and a couple of the spooks with significant roles become fully realized people. Spycraft is integral to the plot. Treachery and double agents abound. Tension builds chapter by chapter. 

Replaying plot high points of The Man Between does it no justice. Charles Cumming is writing novels featuring spies and espionage as well as anyone alive today. His grasp of current political currents is clear, yet never a hammer blow to the story.

I cannot recommend The Man Between more highly. It’s a fine thriller, laced with spies, espionage and vivid characters. 

 

@CharlesCumming, @HarperBooks, @HarperCollinsUK, @Spybrary

 

Wednesday
Jul042018

The Other Woman by Daniel Silva

Do you seek adventure and tension in the novels you read? What about highly intelligent dialogue and deeply-drawn characters - will that work? How about plots veering dangerously close to contemporary events? Are you able to handle all this in one beautifully-written book?

 

Daniel Silva has you covered with The Other Woman. I found myself immediately drawn deeply to the story and people and issues. I found myself carrying the book around the house, reading a few pages here and there at each opportunity. Forget about eight hours of sleep once you crack open Silva’s 21st novel - it’s not happening.

Silva writes spy novels, worthy of standing on their own without needless comparisons to LeCarre or Deighton. After many years of writing, with a large, impressive body of work to his name, Daniel Silva’s stories and characters inhabit a clearly developed, exciting and interesting world. It’s often dangerously close to the one readers inhabit. The Other Woman neatly drives that point home.

Spy and espionage fans should find the Kim Philby connections and threads throughout The Other Woman fascinating. I found Silva’s integrating Philby into a story set in today’s espionage world  cleverly done. Israeli spy Gabriel Allon finds himself in the midst of a complex conspiracy puzzle involving the Russian KGB, a deeply buried double agent, and espionage history coming to life around him. Much of the book takes place in the richly appropriate spy setting of Vienna.

Daniel Silva writes with elegance. He knows how to weave a complex plot in compelling fashion, and brings elements together to construct a winning, exciting novel. The Other Woman is drama-filled, exciting and satisfying.

@DanielSilvaBook, @HarperBooks, #theotherwoman, #danielsilva

 

Thursday
May172018

The Word Is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

The Word Is Murder brilliantly pulls off a dangerous concept. Initially I was puzzled and a bit put off by Horowitz inserting himself into this murder mystery as a principal character, side by side with police detective Daniel Hawthorne. He is telling the story, as himself. Horowitz sets himself up as a journalist in an unlikely pairing with the seemingly disgraced, difficult ex-police detective, called in to assist the local law enforcement in a puzzling murder investigation. 

The particulars of the actual story hold less interest for me than how real author Horowitz put this together. He in effect becomes a Dr. Watson-inspired principal in the narrative, taking notes and recording witness interviews as background for the book on the case Hawthorne has convinced him to write. At the same time, fictional Horowitz doesn’t like Hawthorne, considers him a bit of a bumbler, and merely someone to be used to possibly shape this book project. 

The further I got into the pages, the greater my enjoyment of The Word Is Murder. Set up as a classic British mystery, with nods to Agatha Christie and Conan Doyle and even Columbo, the fictional Horowitz experiences several unexpected life lessons, the plot of course tangles ‘round and ‘round, until we arrive together at a most satisfying and exciting conclusion. 

I closed the covers to The Word Is Murder wholly satisfied with an excellent murder mystery, well done in classic style with unexpected twists. 

 

@harperbooks, #thewordismurder, @AnthonyHorowitz