Secret Britain

Nice little book this. I was a little worried it would be a bit forgettable and bargain bin-like but it is actually written brilliantly. The chapters are short but concise and carry interesting titbits about all the unusual locations of clandestine goings on during the war. Most are visitable and the author puts a short section at the end of each chapter with travel directions and info. A nice touch. 

A testament to the resourcefulness of our ancestors in the face of extermination. 

My favourite locations were the woodland bunkers created for Churchill’s secret army to hide in, scattered all over the country and the huge underground oil storage facility built into a Scottish mountain. 

Dave Grohl – The Storyteller

A broad and enjoyable overview of an incredible life. An inspiring read and also triggers no small amount of nostalgia for my late teens. Makes me want to be a rock star even more but also highlights why I am not and Dave Grohl is. The Iggy Pop story is ridiculous.  

As a side note, I really like his glasses. 

The Twyford Code

I was a little cautious about this one as Janice Hallett’s first book, The Appeal, though a refreshingly original concept, didn’t quite hit the mark for me. If I’m honest, it dragged a bit and I was suspicious that this one might fall into the same bracket. However, the code element to this one (I love a good code or puzzle-type story) enticed me in for another go. 

I’m glad I returned for more because this book was much better. An adjustment to the original concept – from emails and texts from multiple different characters, to a more concise and flowing voice note transcription from one character – has made all the difference. It is more clever and well thought out. There are twists and turns and overall, a thoroughly enjoyable novel. Good for a Sunday afternoon. Would recommend. 

Madly, Deeply

I was looking forward to this as the concept seemed new to me and intriguing. The subject was similarly appealing – Rickman has always interested me.

As I began the book, I immediately became concerned that it was not going to be a good one. Diary entries in shorthand with name drops all over the place, some doubtless impressive but the majority obscure (at least to me) and often events discussed without any context. To my mind, that’s on the guy who edited it. More notes on the films or projects he was working on at the time would have been helpful.

However, as I read on, I got used to the structure and felt myself sinking into Rickman’s life. It begins in the mid 90s and so I found myself thinking about what I was doing in the moments he describes and how totally separate my life was from his. Once you get into it, it really becomes quite immersive and rather emotional considering some of the names he writes about are no longer with us.

The end became one of foreboding anticipation and sure enough it left me feeling quite emotional. Biographical accounts spanning a life-time can certainly cause one to look inwardly (Any Human Heart) and throughout the course of these diaries, I experienced a similar sort of reflection.

Ready Player Two

This book has taken me a couple of years to pick up, not in small part due to my trepidation in light of the negative reviews. Ready Player One is one of my favourite books of all time and I desperately didn’t want it ruined by reading a shoddy sequel. Having read Ernest Cline’s appalling ‘Armada’, I was worried that this would be of a similar quality. Hence its long stay on my shelf, untouched. 

However, for whatever reason I went for it and I was massively relieved to find it was actually really good. I disagree with those who say it was terrible. I thoroughly enjoyed it all the way through. Back to the same geeky adventures from the first book. It’s not as groundbreaking of course as the first book but still, I don’t think it deserved the panning it received. 

If pushed to describe in just two words… comfort read. 

 

Spooked

I thought this had the potential to be a bit of a bargain bin book but, apparently, I bought it anyway and it’s been on the ‘to-read’ pile for a while. I needed something reasonably light for this week so I picked it up and I must say it was not quite what I expected. A journalistic, well written account of the particularly interesting and significant world of the private investigator it was. A ‘read on the toilet’ stocking-filler it was not. I think perhaps they mis-sold it with the cover; it’s a tad more sophisticated than it might suggest. Either way, it reads a bit like one of those stylised expose films akin to the Big Short – one where you have to pay attention to all the players and with loads of dialogue. 

If you can get past the detail, it is actually really quite interesting and, I think, well balanced, although you can never quite tell for sure. After-all, it’s just one side of a story. Trust no one and all that. 

Ascension

A few pages into this I realised I had made the classic mistake of buying the second in a series, the first book of which I had not read. I was close to abandoning it, but it seemed to me a fairly self contained book with only passing references to the first one. Fortunately, that proved a good move I think. I might now go back and read the first as this was a thoroughly enjoyable spy book. 

It follows an agent dropped onto Ascension Island in the middle of the Atlantic to pick up where a murdered colleague left off. All while his handler deals with all the office stuff back in MI6 HQ. Think wire tapping, informants, deep cover agents and secret government organisations. 

Well crafted and detailed in the ways of spy craft with lots of internal MI6 politics, drama and an ever-expanding plot that moves at just the right pace. The setting is unique and the characters, though a little generic, are entertaining enough.

It was a little predictable towards the end but that didn’t put me off. Really enjoyed this. I’ll be looking up other stuff from this chap. 

A House of Ghosts

A good one to have read over Christmas. As one of the reviewers has put quite aptly, this is perfect fireside reading. 

Set in the early 20th Century, during WWI, it’s a classic closed setting murder mystery with a paranormal twist to it. But, unlike others that might foot that bill (I’m looking at you Stephen King), this enhances it rather than detracts from it. Furthermore, the supernatural elements are not an excuse for lazy writing (I’m looking at you Stephen King). The mystery the reader must unravel is there with or without the ghosts. The spooky haunted house feel justmeans this is a cosy read. It helps that it is written well and that it keeps you guessing. It has some good layering to the mystery behind it so is not too simplistic. 

One caveat. The ending seems to be teeing things up for an ongoing series. Not so sure that’s a good plan. This works better as a one off I think. The premise that I suspect will be the basis of the series is not the main draw. Leave it there I say. 

Walking The Amazon

Big fan of Ed Stafford. I have often watched some of his more recent TV programmes in which he attempts to live off the land with nothing more than one set of clothes (sometimes not even that). I’ve been aware of this story for a while (he sets out to walk the entire length of the Amazon from source to sea and in doing so, over the course of two years starts in the pacific and ends in the Atlantic) and have meant to read about it long before now. Only just got round to it and I’m pleased to say it’s a good read. Honest, gritty and inspiring. 

Wivenhoe

Interesting little book this. One that can be read in a morning or an afternoon (or an evening, whatever floats your boat). It paints a gentle and reflective picture of how relationships within family and community might cope under the stresses of a natural disaster (not so much a disaster in this case, more a fundamental change in the order of things due to the UK freezing over!). Didn’t bowl me over but I suppose I enjoyed it. Well written and very descriptive and assured.