The Cold War

I picked this up at Dover castle with all the historical enthusiasm of the day still racing through my veins. Since then, it has sat on my book shelf with a foreboding air about it. Before I read it, I worried that I’d gone and picked a stuffy inaccesible and out of date and therefore obselete tome. 

This was written in 2005 and rather than detract from the experience, it actually gave an excellent and unbiased history of the cold war up until its supposed end without the potentially altering context of recent history. The declaration in the prologue that all its troubles were long gone was particularly eye opening and interesting. While the author got that wrong, the rest of it is exceptionally well written. I had braced myself for a rather boring and overly detailed account. Quite the opposite. It is not too long and gives some excellent concise insights into the main events of the cold war, along with some more far reaching observations about how we deal with significant events that we live through.

If you know nothing about the cold war, probably not for you, but if you know the basics, then it builds and adds depth to the whole debacle. A really good read.

Die Trying

This is the second Reacher novel. Having resisted for a long time, I think I’m sold on this franchise now. Its a ridiculous romp that reads like a no nonsense 90s action thriller. Yes in places it is far fetched and the Jack Reacher worship is a bit over the top, but then again, that’s part of the fun. This guy is just perfect and invincible and that’s fine. After a certain point, I found myself just smashing through it (like Reacher smashes through bad guys or mental arithmatic) until I finished it. If this is not the definition of a page turner, then I don’t know what is.

Tomb Raider

While the picture I’ve got here suggests I’m writing about the original version of Tomb Raider, the one I’ve just played was the remastered version on the PS5. In essence though, it is the same game. You can even press the start button and the graphics immediately shift into the more pixelated world of the original.

I played this game back in the day, and playing it now evokes a strange sort of nostalgia. Even though Tomb Raider has become an enormous story telling franchise, the game really doesn’t tell much of a story at all. It is all gameplay.

Even though now it can seem a bit tedious and clunky compared to the slicker, more conveniently set up games we play now, it is still a cracking game. The puzzles are decent, though not a hair on the ones from games like resident evil. Without this, we wouldn’t have games like Uncharted. 

It’s just a mindless, meditation of a game that carries a huge amount of nostalgia with it and although I was happy to finish it by the end, I had fun. And that’s the whole point at the end of the day.

White Bicycles

I dived into this without any prior knowledge of  Joe Boyd. I quickly learnt that he variously promoted and produced an intersting mix of music, managed bands and ran a popular club in London during the 60s and 70s. The book itself is his account of his movements throughout that period. It is written in a sort of quick fire, matter of fact style reminiscent of Jack Carouac. I have found that sort of thing hard to get into in the past. It isn’t helped in this case by an avalanche of name drops, most of whom I have never heard of. This did make things a little confusing and at times it felt as if he just started to refer random individuals who he had not previously mentioned, as if that person and the reader were old mates.

While paragraphs could often be open-ended and not necessarily flowing from one to the next, the prose within is clearly written by an intelligent individual. His wisdom and experience shine through and more to the point, by the end, he was able to paint a picture of an era long before my time that gives me perspective on music as a whole. It was an era that really was revolutionary and although the Beatles are not front and centre in this book, it does make me realise more and more just how important their influence was.

But it is the smaller artists surrounding the main stream that shine through here and give the reader an insight into the old guard of deep southern blues and jazz and their influence on the cultural and musical changes that began to emerge around that time. In doing so, it makes one thing about how different our current music is changing and evolving – for better or for worse.

A book that would be an absolute gem for someone that lived through that era and the hippy scene of the 60s. For others, an interesting read that gets better as it goes on.

 

Hogwarts Legacy

This is a big game. It’s a game built upon a franchise that weilds tremendous power. And the concept of the game is ambitious – an open world Harry Potter RPG. And yet, I have heard relatively little talk over it. Hence the reason I was tentative in giving it a go in case it bitterly disappointed.

It did not disappoint. In fact I was genuinely surprised at how good it is. One of my main concerns was that it would be too cosmetic, without much depth. In fact it is incredibly varied and thoughtful with huge detail and practical texture to the world in which your character moves about. For example, the various puzzle side quests are fun and provide a distraction from the main quests that are just far removed enough to provide something interesting.

The combat is fun although my only criticisms would be the fact it can get a tad repetitive and is a bit easy. I had to set it to hard mode quite early which I pretty much never do!

I liked the way they used the spells and the broomstick is fun to pilot around the well-realised Hogwarts area. Hogwarts itself is the real highlight and it is vast, with nooks and crannies that still pop up on you even late in the game.

This is a really good solid game. If I had to put my finger on why it isn’t shouted from the rooftops ad finitum, I would struggle to be specific. Only that the story and the characters within just don’t quite hit the mark. The story is alright but nothing special. As such, the world just doesn’t seem quite as magical and enthralling as it might do. In retrospect, the developers might have opted for a set main character rather than a customisable one. I called mine Twisty McNobbins, so perhaps some of the fault lies with me, but still.

This is Your Brain on Music

This is a book about the neurological basis for our understanding, enjoyment and ability in playing and listening to music. The author is a neuroscientist with a past in music production so is probably as well placed as anyone to write something like this.
There were parts of it that I found interesting but it was extremely technical in places and a little dry. Not quite what I was after. There are, I’m certain, dryer and more techinical books out there, but even so I was a little disappointed. More to the point, I’m not certain I really actually learnt much in reading it. Yes, there were a few interesting sections on perfect pitch and how musicians tend to respond to the unexpected but he does go round the houses on subjects at times and writes in too much detail on paths already fairly well trodden. And it also seems to double as a fairly in-depth music theory text book which was a bit tiresome if I’m honest. I think perhaps it lost its sense of purpose and direction at points.

Not the worst book on music I’ve read, but certainly nowhere near the best.

The Lost City of Z

This sort of thing is my bag. Late 19th Century, early 20th Century. Explorers going to places yet to exist on maps. Mystery. Intrigue. A hint of conspiracy. It’s got all of the above.

This is a journalist tale of the so-called ‘last of the Victorian explorers’ and charts the escapades of Percy Fawcett who held an obsession for finding evidence of a lost civilisation deep within the Amazon. If you’ve been following archeological news recently, you’ll know how timely this read was. Either way, it’s a superbly written account of the life and times surrounding this interesting character.

They made a film which I have thus far avoided so as not to ruin the experience of the book. Its author, David Grann, went on to write Killers of the Flower Moon and The Wager, both of which you can expect to pop up on this blog sooner or later. I will be rationing them as this is a writer who does books well and seems to pick topics on which I have a particular interest.

Kennedy 35

I thoroughly enjoyed the other two books in this slick spy procedural. Its USP is the split time line, splicing events between the younger days of its protagonsit Lochlan Kite (a cool name) and his more experienced self in the present day. It makes for all sophisticated and interesting story in an ocean of spy novels. The meticulous and functional brevity of Charles Cumming’s  writing style oozes proficiency and mirrors the slick style of his characters. Although the over-arching concept of a secret spy agency above even MI6 and the CIA is a bit far-fetched and fantastical (maybe even a bit juvenile!) but he somehow manages to pull it off and it makes for a really good read in my opinion.

 

Wolf Pack

The next in the enjoyable Tuva Moodyson series. A fast-paced scandi mystery with the local reporter of a town deep in a Swedish forest becoming embroiled in yet another murder. It’s the Midsummer of Sweden. He’s missed a trick there actually. Could have called it Midsommar Murders. Anyway. I like this series and it’s a quick chilled out read.

Unruly

Unruly is a cleverly titled, gag-filled journey through the monarchs of the middle ages. It’s still a history book though, filled with all the necessary information. Just with added irreverent observation and an honesty of opinion that one would not usually find in a normal history book. All of which makes it an enjoyable read. Initially I was concerned that it might be a bit too much and a bit too off piste, but it doesn’t take too long for Mitchell to get things on an even keel and the majority of this book is just pure fun. Interesting fun.

Hopefully he’ll do some sort of sequel.