Over 550 book reviews with full author links

19 September 2015

Paula McLain: Circling the Sun: A Novel

A remarkable tale about a remarkable woman
Paula McLain's story revisits the scene of Out of Africa with a fictional biography of the life of Beryl Markham, a record-setting female aviator who was the first person to fly solo from east to west across the Atlantic from Europe to America.

Beryl was born in England but brought to Kenya by her parents as a child. Abandoned by her mother who returns to England, Beryl grows up in a wild environment of Kenya, playing with the local natives. As she matures her unconventional upbringing and love of horses sets her on a path to become the first woman in Kenya to qualify as a horse trainer.

Financial and personal problems thrust Beryl into a loveless marriage and she only discovers herself when she is able to break out of that arrangement. This is all set amid the background of the frequently decadent life of English ex patriots living in Kenya in the 1920's. She meets with Karen Blixen (who as Isak Dinesen wrote the classic tale Out of Africa) and is attracted to Karen's lover, safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton, She not only discovers the personal love of her eventful life but also her long-term love for flying.

The book is set against the magnificent wild country of 1920's Africa, and the growth of Nairobi into a major city. It is a powerful and frequently emotional tale of historical fiction about an amazing independent woman who was really ahead of her time. This is an extraordinary story that I would strongly recommend to the most discerning reader of historical fiction.

Pat Conroy: Prince of Tides

Superb emotional story by Pat Conroy
Many of you will have seen the Oscar winning movie of Prince of Tides with Barbra Streisand and Nick Nolte. It was a great movie but you are really missing something of this great emotional story if you don't read the book as well.

Pat Conroy is one of my favourite contemporary American authors. His prose is almost poetic and his love for his the beauty of South Carolina's low country stuns the imagination.

Prince of Tides is the story of the Wingo family living in comfortable poverty on a small island of the South Carolina coast. It is the turbulent story of Tom Wingo and his supremely talented but very troubled twin sister Savannah as they come to grips with the legacy of their extraordinary family and the dark things that happen to them during their childhood. It is also the story of their elder brother Luke, a Vietnam War hero with dreams of how his home country should remain.

A lot of the story is set in New York where Savannah is recovering from yet another suicide attempt. Tom, now an unemployed English teacher and football coach, leaves his family and travels to NY (which he hates) to help Savannah, now a renowned poet telling the world about the Carolinas. To help Savannah he must tell her psychiatrist, the beautiful but enigmatic Dr Susan Lowenstein, things about his family history that he and Savannah have repressed to try to keep their sanity.

While the story is really about the Wingos, the sub-story about Tom's relationship with "Lowenstein" is also laced with psychiatric and romantic undertones as Tom and Susan discover how to help one another.

This wonderful book is arguably Conroy's most acclaimed and well-known novel. While I have seen the movie several times I am so pleased that I chose to read the novel as an audiobook narrated by the late Frank Muller. In his introduction to the audiobook Pat Conroy said that Muller "gave me ... a work of art". I totally agree as it took me into the dark world of the Wingos and the strange relationship between Tom and Lowenstein in a way that would not have been possible reading the book myself.

Joel Goldman & Lisa Klink: All In

A great high-stakes romp
Cassie Ireland and Jake Carter have the same objective but totally different reasons to take down Alan Kendrick, an unscrupulous billionaire hedge fund manager. Cassie is a bit of a modern-day Robyn Hood recovering assets from people who think they are above the law. Carter is a high-rolling gambler who travels the world trying to win fortunes off mega-rich but less skillful gamblers.

Cassie plans to be a cat-burglar and overcome Kendrick's extreme security system using information obtained by befriending his disenchanted wife. Carter has got to know Kendrick around the poker table, winning some and losing some and is patiently waiting for the opportunity to pounce and use his skills take him out for megabucks.

Cassie and Jake just happen to live in the same exclusive apartment block where Kendrick owns the penthouse. Things fizzle when they meet but they don't spark because it would spoil their individual plays with Kendrick. Cassie gets in first and the feathers start to fly and Kendrick plans his revenge.

While waiting for the big coup with Kendrick, Jake defeats and humiliates Theo Kalogrides, another mega-rich gambler who is "blessed with his father's money but none of his brains or charm". Theo accuses Jake of cheating. While this is a normal risk for Jake the loser is a dangerous man, verging on the psychotic, who will not give in until he recovers the money he has lost.

This is a fast moving romp through the world of the megarich and international poker on the high seas with the strange pair working together and against one another to protect their lives.

Joel Goldman & Lisa Klink have collaborated seamlessly in producing a fast paced, easily readible escapist thriller. Well done - highly recommended to those looking for something fairly light,  different and enjoyable. 4.5 stars.

18 September 2015

Lee Child: Small Wars

A great short dose of Reacher at his peak
This is one of the best e-singles that I have read. Many authors write a poor short story as a promo for their next book which is invariably better. In this case the short story is great but the next book (Make Me) was a bit of a disappointment.

In this short story Child takes us back to the days of Major Jack Reacher MP at the peak of his investigatory powers. By chance Reacher has to fill in for someone else and is asked to look into the murder of a female Colonel on a remote forest road in Georgia. What makes the situation interesting is that the Colonel used to be with the elite War Plans area of the Pentagon. She seems to be on a fast track to higher rank, apparently wealthy because she drives a Porsche sports car. She was shot professional assassination style - two shots in the chest and one in the head.

This is Reacher at his best as he quickly works out a possible scenario and killer. A couple of phone calls to his brother Joe, also a Colonel at the Pentagon, tells him more about the victim's background and possible motives.

It was great to see Lee Child at his best writing a very good short story. IMHO the Reacher series is starting to run out of steam and Make Me was pretty repetitious with a similar plot and formula to many other books in the series.