Bridgey's 2018 Reading
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Another year and my 8th on Librarything. :)
As before I will keep a running book total at the top and add review posts as and when I find the time.
I have been struggling to find the time to read lately, but going to try and get 50 in this year. Fingers crossed and all that..... Feel free to leave me a message and a link to your own 2018 list
1 - Dry Guillotine - Rene Belbenoit ****
2 - Wreckers Must Breathe - Hammond Innes ****
3 - To Open the Sky - Robert Silverberg ****
4 - Collar for the Killer - Herbert Brean ****
5 - Dark Moon - David Gemmell ****
6 - Scavenger - David Morrell ***
7 - Last Bus to Woodstock - Colin Dexter *****
8 - Night Probe! - Clive Cussler *****
9 - The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams **
10 - Into the Wild - Jon Krakauer ***
11 - Landslide - Desmond Bagley *****
12 - Last of the Summer Wine (Coronet Books) - Roy Clarke *
13 - Rendevous South Atlantic - Douglas Reeman *****
14 - The Heart of the Valley - Nigel Hinton ***
15 - First Blood - David Morrell ****
16 - The Hopkins Conundrum - Simon Edge
17 - The Great Zoo of China - Matthew Reilly *
18 - The Island - T M Wright ***
19 - Ghosts - Ed McBain ****
20 - Dog Blood - David Moody ***
21 - The Penal Colony - Richard Herley *****
22 - Red Dragon - Thomas Harris *****
23 - The Fall and Rise of Gordon Coppinger - David Nobbs
I have just read your review of It in your 2017 thread and thought I might just as well react here. Although I have read many of King's novels I have to admit that I have never read It. After your review it will go right on my list, though. I challenged myself to read a book with more than 1,000 pages so It will go on the list of possible candidates.
I hope you like IT if you get around to reading it. I haven't read that many books of over a thousand pages, but if I had to pick one that stood out it would be The Stand (the uncut edition).
Dry Guillotine - Rene Belbenoit ****
My favourite book of all time is Papillon, but there has always been the question of whether or not it a factual or fictional account of life in the French penal colony (or something of a mixture). One of the people cited as a source of inspiration/material has been Rene Belbenoit, interestingly he also wrote a biography about his time there called Dry Guillotine (the nickname given to the islands by prisoners). It seems that at the time of publication in 1938 it was a fairly popular book, but these days it is quite difficult to get hold of a hard copy.
Belbenoit was arrested and sentenced to penal servitude after a number of theft convictions, during these years he kept a journal that amazingly survived his various escapes and ocean dunking’s due to being wrapped in an oilcloth. We learn of the hardships and the really awful conditions that prisoners had to endure, with many not surviving to see freedom again. However, as with all situations there is always an opportunity for the crafty to survive and Belbenoit is no exception. He is always on the lookout for the next escape and in between makes sure that he ingratiates himself with the right people. Interestingly his relationship with the author Blair Niles really stood out for me, and she actually incorporated his experiences in her novel called Condemned to Devil's Island: The Biography of an Unknown Convict, it just seems unimaginable that she was able to arrange meetings with him during his imprisonment, and actually played an indirect part in a number of the escape attempts. Expect to hear about men at the very end of their tether, where a person who finds himself dying in his ramshackle bed suddenly becomes surrounded by convicts waiting to lay claim to his worn out boots and lice ridden blanket.
I suppose that this book may be more factually accurate than others from the same period, but we will never really know whether or not Papillon was totally truthful, but because of the inevitable comparison this book seems a little tame and repetitive at times. Well worth a read though, even if just to acquaint yourself with a darker side of the French judicial system of the early 20th century.
Wreckers Must Breathe - Hammond Innes ****
For me, Innes is one of the greatest adventure writers of the last century, it’s a shame that he seems to be largely forgotten in the 21st century and must surely be due some sort of resurgence. Wreckers Must Breathe (Trapped in the USA) was published in 1940 when tensions of a possible invasion at the start of the Second World War in 1940 were running high. Innes is a rarity in as much as he can write just as an exciting plot based around the jagged coastline of Britain as when he sets it his novel in far flung exotic locations.
Wreckers Must Breathe is set in the South West of Britain, the author seems to have a soft spot for the Cornish coast and you can tell just how much he respects and loves the landscape and it crops up in a number of his works. The plot follows a journalist called Walter Craig who happens to be holidaying in the area when he makes the startling discovery that the German navy may be spying in the area. Not one to let a potential story pass by he decides to investigate further but soon becomes embroiled in an undercover mission that could lead to the invasion of mainland Britain. We encounter the full force of the German navy and the U Boats that patrolled the waters and Innes really captures the desperation of the times. Ok, the plot may at times seem a little implausible, maybe even a little stiff, but it should be read in the context of the time it was written and to be fair I think it has weathered the last 70+ years well. The action scenes are well described and the twists of the plot are still fairly hard to second guess, the author also splits the book into 3 sections where each is written different to the one before which allows the reader to have additional information not known to main protagonist(s).
This is really a type of ‘boys own’ adventure novel, but unlike many other authors leading men, Walter is no James Bond type figure and is just as fallible as the rest of us, and this is what makes Innes books so compelling. They really make you believe that these types of adventures could happen during our boring daily routine. Definitely not his strongest book, but it is no let down either and well worth a look.
To Open the Sky - Robert Silverberg ****
Robert Silverberg is one of the authors I usually turn to when I am in the mood for a bit of science fiction, the only problem is that I find him a really marmite author. I either really love his books (Tower of Glass) or hate them (Son of Man), it is really rare I find an author where I have such an extreme variation, but the books I enjoy are more than enough to keep me interested and dip into him now and again.
Luckily, To Open the Sky is one of his books that I really enjoyed, and even though it was published in 1967 it still seems fresh and innovative today. Written as 5 separate novellas, each section is linked to the others by a number of central characters and written in chronological order that details the development of a new religion on an Earth that is bursting to the seams. At first the religious group (known as Vorsters that worship the energy of the atom) are a small bundle of dedicated followers, but soon the momentum grows and it attracts people from right across the spectrum. As with nearly all religions across the world the cult soon has a breakaway faction (Harmonists) that interpret the founder’s words in a different way and hostilities increase across the timeline. With the Vorster’s seemingly offering immortality on an already crowded planet, mankind must reach out to inhabit Earth’s neighbours and Venus and Mars soon have a colony on their surface, but Venus has an atmosphere that isn’t compatible with man, and to survive there you need to be surgically altered. The main body of Vorsters stay on earth whilst the Harmonists live on Venus, both sides over the decades have developed techniques that can help mankind reach even further into the galaxy, the Vorsters have developed a way that allows the human body to become rejuvenated, offering an extended life with the ultimate goal of immortality, whereas the Harmonists have ESPers whose mental abilities allow them to propel matter through space in a way that resembles teleportation. If these two factions could be brought back together then mankind could be almost unstoppable in his quest to explore the universe, but can their differences be put aside for the greater good? And when the Harmonists seemingly lost prophet Lazarus returns will the religion survive or will it be strengthened?
This isn’t your average science fiction book; in the 222 pages an awful lot of content regarding the big questions of spirituality and man’s limits are explored. When this book was released in 1964, Scientology was around a decade old and just starting to gain recognition in the world, looking back over 5 decades later it is easy to speculate where Silverberg may have gained the inspiration for the novel. I loved the way that Silverberg is unafraid to tackle the big questions that many other authors in the same genre seem unwilling to touch and it really does make you think about what the future has in store and more importantly how our civilisation has been shaped over the millennia by religion.
Although not as strong as some of his other books this is definitely worth a look for anyone interested in 60’s sci-fi or as an introduction to the author. A solid 4 stars.
Collar for the Killer - Herbert Brean ****
This was one of those books where I saw the cover and thought it looked interesting, put it in my bookshelf, forgot about it for a couple of years, picked it up and wished I had read it earlier. The author wasn’t someone I had ever heard of, and trying to buy any of the eight novels he wrote is a fairly difficult task, it just seems I was lucky to come across this in a second hand book store. Published in 1956 (under the name ‘A Matter of Fact’ in the US) it was written when the world was still enjoying the Noir type thriller so brilliantly made popular by James M Cain, so it is no surprise that Brean has followed in the same footsteps. Collar for a killer may not be as sparse in its language or as hard boiled but you can definitely see where the author’s inspiration lay.
The plot is fairly straight forward; Jablonski is nearing retirement and with a fairly undistinguished career is placed with a rooky partner called Ryan when a murder is committed on their patch. Sighting a well-known petty criminal called Derby in the area they both come to the conclusion that he is responsible and put a plan in place to nab him. The arrest is made and both officers receive great acclaim in both the force and the press, but then something happens that makes the rooky question both the morality of their actions and the guilt of the prisoner, so he decides to investigate further under his own steam. Jablonski has other plans and is happy for Derby to face the chair regardless and wants to retire on a high and is furious at having a seemingly resolved case looked into again. This is made this more than apparent to Ryan and he continually trys to undermine him with his replies becoming more and more threatening. Will Ryan risk his career before it has even barely began? Will he risk tarnishing his partner’s lengthy service? And even more importantly, will he allow a man that may be innocent get fried in the chair?
This book really has it all, gritty action scenes, beautiful women and a fairly intricate plot. Brean really creates the atmosphere of the time and you can imagine yourself sat in those smoky bars amongst the night time drinkers in the city’s murky underbelly. The plot moves quickly enough, but not so quickly that you glance over the clues Brean scatters throughout the novel, although more than once I thought I had the ending sown up only to find how wrong I was.
I will definitely be looking out for his other novels, and surprisingly he also wrote a few self-help books on quitting drinking and smoking, but they do seem to be a scarcity these days. Hopefully someday a publisher will reissue his entire catalogue because they really do deserve to be read again with a new audience.
I enjoyed your reviews. I had never heard of To open the sky, but then Silverberg wrote many books. It has been years since I've read a book by him.
Dark Moon - David Gemmell ****
After Tolkien, Gemmell is my author of choice for fantasy. I have read a number of his books and rarely been let down. Dark Moon was no exception and anyone that is familiar with the author will know what to expect. The basic storyline follows a fantastical world that once inhabited 3 races, Oltor (healers and poets), Eldarin (peaceful nonviolent race) & the Daroth (think evil, sadistic and strong). Today though is primarily the time of man, and the ancient races existence has almost lapsed into mythology… as usual man is at war with himself and the world is divided into sectors, the latest conflict is named ‘The War of the Pearl’ and finds opposing armies nearing depletion, in a last ditch attempt at victory Sirano of Romark tries to harness the power of the mysterious Eldarin pearl, but in doing so summons a force from the past that could destroy all civilisation. It is left to three heroes to try and save the world Karis, a female warrior with a major lust for the men ; Tarantio, the deadliest swordsman of the age; and Duvodas who is able to heal through his music. Expect plenty of action and for those that like bloodshed, there is more than enough gore to go around.
As always with Gemmell the characters are far from 1 dimensional and each has their own personality and quirks that really draw the reader into another world. I think his strength as a writer is that even though his stories are set in lifetimes and worlds so far removed from our own he still manages to make the characters human enough that you feel as if you could also be living in that existence. Although not my favourite novel by him, this is still is a really good read with a few unexpected twists. Unusually for many of his books, this is a standalone novel, and is as good an introduction to the author and his worlds as any.
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