Tartan times

18 11 2017

A Time of Love and Tartan by Alexander McCall Smith

 

If only Pat Macgregor had an inkling of the embarrassment romantic, professional, even aesthetic that flowed from accepting narcissistic ex-boyfriend Bruce Anderson’s invitation for coffee, she would never have said yes. And if only Matthew, her boss at the art gallery, hadn’t wandered into his local bookshop and picked up a particular book at a particular time, he would never have knocked over his former English teacher or attracted the attentions of the police.

Whether caused by small things such as a cup of coffee and a book, or major events such as Stuart’s application for promotion and his wife Irene’s decision to go off and study for a PhD in Aberdeen, change is coming to serial fiction’s favourite street. But for three seven-year-old boys Bertie Pollock, Ranald Braveheart Macpherson, and Big Lou’s foster son Finlay – it also means a getting a glimpse of perfect happiness.

 

Delightful, understated and charming comedy as ever, the wonderful Scotland Street tales continue. It really is hard not to enjoy these great characters and their daily travails and if you haven’t ever tried one of these episodic yarns then they really are worth a go.

 

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“I lost my heart to a starship trooper…”

11 11 2017

Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein

In Robert A. Heinlein’s controversial bestseller, a recruit of the future goes through the toughest boot camp in the Universe—and into battle against mankind’s most alarming enemy.

JOIN THE ARMY AND SEE THE UNIVERSE

The historians can’t seem to settle whether to call this one “The Third Space War” (or the fourth), or whether “The First Interstellar War” fits it better. The soldiers just call it “The Bug War.” Everything up to then and still later were “incidents,” “patrols,” or “police actions.”

In the Mobile Infantry, everybody fights. But you’re just as dead if you buy the farm in an “incident” as you are if you buy it in a declared war…

I first read this as a teenager and loved it as pure scifi brilliance. Returning to it more recently I wondered if that magic would still be there and what other dimensions there would be. Well, I still enjoyed it as a classic space opera but must admit to finding the political context a bit more unsettling. First the idea that citizenship could only be achieved through military service or equivalent and secondly the brutality of the whole interstellar combat experience. Overall though it remains a compelling and rather dark tale, one which focuses on the strange individual life of the ordinary soldier and raises some interesting questions about a highly militaristic society which are rather different from those around when it was written. The Verhoeven movie really doesn’t do it any justice (crudely entertaining though it is) and as for that Sarah Brightman song…





The old devil

4 11 2017

Rather Be the Devil by Ian Rankin

A CASE THAT WON’T DIE

John Rebus can’t close the door on the death of glamorous socialite Maria Turquand. Brutally murdered in her hotel room forty years ago, her killer has never been found.

Meanwhile, Edinburgh’s dark heart is up for grabs. Young pretender Darryl Christie may have staked his claim on the city’s underworld – but has criminal mastermind and Rebus’ long-time adversary, Big Ger Cafferty, really settled down to a quiet retirement? Or is he hiding in the shadows until Edinburgh is once more ripe for the picking?

Old Enemies. New Crimes. Rebus may be off the force, but he certainly isn’t off the case.

Rebus just never actually retires. And he never seems to forget about any of his old cases either. But who would not want him on their side when Big Ger is around. It’s the usual cracking read from Rankin and let’s hope there are still more to come from everyone’s favourite old devil.

 

four stars





Constancy

30 09 2017

The Constant Gardener

Tessa Quayle has been horribly murdered on the shores of Lake Turkana in Northern Kenya, the birthplace of mankind. Her putative African lover, a doctor with one of the aid agencies, has disappeared.

Her husband, Justin, a career diplomat and amateur gardener at the British High Commission in Nairobi, sets out on a personal odyssey in pursuit of the killers and their motive. His quest takes him to the Foreign Office in London, across Europe and Canada and back to Africa, to the depths of South Sudan, and finally to the very spot where Tessa died.

On his way Justin meets terror, violence, laughter, conspiracy and knowledge. But his greatest discovery is the woman he barely had time to love.

An intelligent and astute thriller which is also subtle, nuanced and insightful. Balancing the very human stories of the protagonists with critique of the colonial legacy and big pharma it is a thoroughly good read. Impressive work by Le Carre.

 

four stars

 





President gas

16 09 2017

To Kill the President by Sam Bourne

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The unthinkable has happened…

The United States has elected a volatile demagogue as president, backed by his ruthless chief strategist, Crawford ‘Mac’ McNamara.

When a war of words with the North Korean regime spirals out of control and the President comes perilously close to launching a nuclear attack, it’s clear someone has to act, or the world will be reduced to ashes.

Soon Maggie Costello, a seasoned Washington operator and stubbornly principled, discovers an inside plot to kill the President – and faces the ultimate moral dilemma. Should she save the President and leave the free world at the mercy of an increasingly crazed would-be tyrant – or commit treason against her Commander in Chief and risk plunging the country into a civil war?

Not remotely unthinkable, unfortunately. There are so many parallels with current events it’s frightening but this is a genuinely gripping and fast-moving thriller. Intelligently written and with plenty of twists and turns it is just all too believable. Well worth a read.

four stars

 





Endless days

9 09 2017

Days without end by Sebastian Barry

After signing up for the US army in the 1850s, aged barely seventeen, Thomas McNulty and his brother-in-arms, John Cole, fight in the Indian Wars and the Civil War. Having both fled terrible hardships, their days are now vivid and filled with wonder, despite the horrors they both see and are complicit in. Then when a young Indian girl crosses their path, the possibility of lasting happiness seems within reach, if only they can survive.

It’s an extraordinary tale and beautifully written. Captures the hardships and horrors exceptionally well and with a distinctive  angle. Highly recommended.

four stars





It can’t, can it?

2 09 2017

It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

A vain, outlandish, anti-immigrant, fearmongering demagogue runs for President of the United States – and wins. Sinclair Lewis’s chilling 1935 bestseller is the story of Buzz Windrip, ‘Professional Common Man’, who promises poor, angry voters that he will make America proud and prosperous once more, but takes the country down a far darker path. As the new regime slides into authoritarianism, newspaper editor Doremus Jessup can’t believe it will last – but is he right? This cautionary tale of liberal complacency in the face of populist tyranny shows it really can happen here.

As the Guardian described it, “eerily prescient,” and it certainly is. The parallels with the ascendancy and electoral success of Trump are striking. What happens afterwards though is much, much worse. But then we are only just at the beginning. Well worth reading.

 








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