Saturday, March 28, 2009

Historical adventure - Bernard Cornwell's Agincourt

I didn't think I'd find myself so enamoured of English history, but after my spate of reading covering different periods from Napolonic to Elizabethean period, I find myself reading Cornwell's latest book, Agincourt.

Cornwell's book is a fictional account of one of most dramatic victories in British history:King Henry V and the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.
It focuses how the English archers proved decisive in delivering battlefield victories over much larger and better equipped French legions.

I found the description of the archers and their professional standing among the army fascinating. The battle scenes, sieges of Harfleur and Soissons, are well drawn.

However, some parts of it are quite overblown, particularly the revenge story line and I would have liked some more subtley and nuance.

But overall a rollicking good read.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Totally Addicted to Thomas Perry's Jane Whitefield Series

I am totally addicted to Thomas Perry’s Jane Whitefield series of books, having just finished Dance for the Dead (Book 2) and Shadow Woman (Book 3) over the weekend.

Jane Whitefield is a “guide” who helps people who are in trouble and danger ‘disappear’. She often ends up playing a game of ‘cat and mouse’ with the dangerous people who are after the person she is protecting.

Here are some things I love about this series, and why you should definitely check it out:
  • the writing is short, sharp and drives the narrative brilliantly
  • the characters are all well developed and behave like ‘real’ people in all their moral complexity
  • Jane’s Native American background adds a fascinating element and depth to these stories, enabling Perry to delve into mythology and history
  • the various twist and turns where the roles of hunter and hunted are always changing
  • the banter between Jane and her love interest, the fabulously named, Dr Carey McKinnon, is clever, sexy and witty
  • the exploration of the human psychology of taking on new identity.
Here's the full series, as you can see I'm making my way to the latest release this year:
  • Vanishing Act (1995)
  • Dance for the Dead (1996)
  • Shadow Woman (1997)
  • The Face-Changers (1998)
  • Blood Money (1999)
  • Runner (2009)
As you can see there is a 10 year gap between the last two novels! Here's what Perry wrote in this website about the returning to writing about Jane:

"I've missed Jane, and I've found that going back to write about her after a few years of writing stand-alone books about other characters was a pleasure. I believe it was Ezra Pound who said that great literature is "always news." I think that any book we expect readers to enjoy had better be news too. Runner catches us up with what Jane's been up to and how she's changed, and gives us an inkling of how she's going to be in the future."

Here's Perry talking about the Runner:

I can't wait to get to The Runner!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Book Buying Spree

I'm a big borrower rather than buyer of books. I think it's a hangover from my not too recent student days when I didn't have much money.

Plus my local library carries a great fiction range and regularly gets most bestsellers. It's a two dollar charge to reserve them, which is I think is a great deal.

But in the last week I've been on a bit of book buying spree!

Granted it is because I can't get these books from my library or even Borders! I recently got a borders gift voucher for a present, and literally every book I wanted was not stocked in Australia.

So my recent purchases - awaiting delivery:

  • Celia Friedman, Wings of Wrath (Book 2 of Magister Trilogy)
  • Celia Friedman, Black Sun Rising (Book 1 of Coldfire Trilogy)
  • Thomas Perry, Vanishing Act (Book 1 ofJane Whitefield series)
  • Thomas Perry, The Face-Changers (Book 4 of Jane Whitefield series

Because of the dip of the Aussie dollar against US, I haven't been going through Amazon but a great Australian online bookstore called The range is pretty impressive and so are the prices, especially for paperbacks. For example, I picked up Thomas Perry's Vanishing Act in paper back for $13.97.

Now that is a good deal for these tough GFC times!!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Mid-book Rave - Thomas Perry's The Butcher Boy

I have found a thriller writer as satisfying as Frederick Forsyth!

Mid-way through Thomas Perry's first book The Butcher Boy and it is brillant! I can't put it down, the writing is short, sharp and suspenseful. Like Forsyth, the story telling is masterly, with two intersecting storylines slowly drawing closer and closer together.

The book follows the an un-named hitman, "Butcher Boy" who is double crossed by the mob after he completes a contract killing work for them. It also tells the story of the Department of Justice field agent, Elizabeth Waring, who is trying to tie all the killings together.

It was first published in 1982, but am reading the republished 2007 version. The intro by Michael Connolly describes the book in one word "relentless". So true.

Luckily I'm on holidays and able to read until 2am without having to worry about dragging myself up for work. Bliss.

First came across Butcher Boy after reading a review of Perry's latest book, Runner, which is part of his Jane Whitefield series. Needless to say, I'm tracking down this series already and have just got hold of books 2 & 3: Dance for the Dead & Shadow Woman. Can't find the first book in my library so looks like I'm going to have to make a purchase!

So excited as Perry has quite an extensive bibliography!!!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Second Time Round - Feast of Souls

It is rare for me to read a book twice, but I have with Celia Friedman's fantasy novel Feast of Souls.

This is the first book in Friedman’s ‘Magister Trilogy’, and it is an absolutely thrilling and captivating read. Second time round did not dampen my enthusiasm for this book.I had to reread it because the second book in the trilogy, Wings of Wrath has just come out.

Feast of Souls is set in a kingdom ruled by King Danton Aurelius, whose youngest son is dying from an unknown illness. Magisters (otherwise known as magicians) are gathered around in a special meeting to work out what to do. Meanwhile a young female, Kamala, is set to become the first woman to transition to a magister and shock the patriarchal world of magisters.

I'm not going to give anything else more away - but needless to say there is magic, sorcery, battles, kings, queens and princes involved!

Friedman introduces an interesting moral and ethical element into her story as magisters get their power and immortality from feeding off human’s souls – their consorts. Humans are denied the knowledge of this truth.

There are several narratives at play, but they are intertwined seamlessly. The characters are fully developed and the narrative drives a page turning pace.

It is a standout read and I am eagerly awaiting my copy of Wings of Wrath to arrive. Disappointly my library does not have the second book or actually any of Friedman's other novels. I even checked Borders and they didn’t stock it!

Thank god for the internet - I ordered my book of, a great site I've used before to get hard to find books.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Spy thriller - Ghost War by Alex Berenson

A while ago I read a good review by my book bible, New York Times online, of Alex Berenson’s thriller: The Faithful Spy. I managed to pick up the second book in the series, The Ghost War, from my library.

It was a good read, if a little formulaic in narrative and characterisation. The main character of John Wells is of the same psychological makeup as Lee Child’s Jack Reacher. You know the loner/muscle bound action hero type. The part where we find out how much of daredevil/death wish John Wells has by riding his motorbike like, really, really fast is just a bit predictable.

Though no where near of course the hyper-masculinity of Jack Reacher. But this kinda what makes the Reacher novels so much fun too!

When I read these spy thrillers I think it would be nice to be surprised by a different kind of action hero. While reading this book I keep going back to the fact that no-one does spy thrillers and actual characters like Frederick Forsyth.

Everyone else seems so lightweight, unsophisticated and dare I say it, very American.

But it is good to roll up in bed with a fun ‘rushing to save the world’ thriller. Actually, I've got The Faithful Spy on bookshelf right now!