BUMPER BUNDLE OF BOOK REVIEWS
The new book scene is vibrant at the moment with a diverse range of titles and subject matters, writes Iain Robertson, that are certain to engage with readers of all ages, style expectations and information hunger levels; this is a second batch of six.
The Indomitable Chiesa di Santa Maria
By Daniel Peltz
ISBN: 978 1 912083 77 0
Historical novels have always fascinated me, not least because I enjoy reading how an author, in this case the well-educated London gentleman, Daniel Peltz, who received recently an OBE for his philanthropic and charitable services, can contrive fiction mostly with facts. Florentine architecture has been the subject of many romantic tales and not without good reason. Most of it is stunningly beautiful and, apart from various aspects of restoration, very little of its original charm, or character, has been lost, regardless of what may have occurred in its immediate vicinity, through wars, natural disasters and religious conflicts. Hence, this tale about a church, located in Florence, that has survived for over half a Millennium, having laid its foundations in the middle of the troubled 15th Century. The vehicle chosen is that of an official guide, Molly Cavendish, an academic historian, at the museum that used to be the church, who is taking a family on a private tour around its nooks, crannies and artefacts and highlighting its phenomenal history. The text follows the story by tripping back through time to the period of the original workmanship but then following the story through various marker-posts in the building’s history, before returning to the present day. It is a wonderful story that will captivate the reader, who will be whisked past the people and issues relevant to its existence in the most colourful and engaging manner.
Flight to Destruction – Part 2 of ‘The Creators’
By J M Collin
ISBN: 978 1 76803 311 4
You may recall from a previous book section that I reviewed ‘Road to Nowhere’, Part 1 of a trilogy featuring the semi-autobiographical antics of a fictional businessman, Pete Bridford. It is very clear that the author, JM Collin, is exceptionally close to his leading character. In that first novel, ‘our hero’ started university and simultaneously took on-board the political direction that would lead him and his friends through their formative years, rightly and wrongly. Part 2 moves the timeline to July 1973, when Pete returns to the UK from Spain armed with information that both he and his friends regard as ‘priceless’. The country is in turmoil, damaged irreparably by the ‘three-day week’ and the early days of Britain’s membership of the Common Market. The group of former academics convenes and decides to call themselves ‘The Creators’, although their compelling logic is geared towards a combination of fun-seeking, self-aggrandisement and, if they play their cards right, the strong possibility of earning a fortune from their adventures. As a snap general election is called, one of the group is nominated as a potential MP and they work tirelessly to support him by whatever means are at their disposal, much of which is questionably legal. With their fortunes hanging over a precipice, somehow they manage to survive the cut and secure their positions, despite the country being left in a most precarious place. The story (so far) ends with a broader understanding of each other and their formation of a joint business venture. I have to tell you that I am hooked on this trilogy (the third part review follows) and I can not only recall some of the occurrences outlined but also many parallels currently occupying the minds of politicians and critics today.
The Turnaround – Part 3 of ‘The Creators’
By J M Collin
ISBN: 978 1 76803 313 8
Another five years has passed, since Part 2 of this trilogy, and Pete Bridford, the lead character has reached that time of his life, when he is quite restless. He has made his fortune, of that there is no doubt, but he is also inconsolably lonely. It is 1979; the Thatcher era, one of great prosperity for many, not least Pete. However, the company of one of his friends (one of ‘The Creators’) has been suffering from a series of financial irregularities and bad investments, which leads Pete into assuming a rescue mode. During this period, he becomes romantically linked to a female colleague, until one of his first flames returns to the scene and they rekindle their love for each other. While Pete takes over management of Creators Technology, he also works as a part-time industrial advisor to the government, although his girlfriend works on the opposing side of the issues, with the miners’ union. Tinged with tragedy and political shenanigans both in the UK and Spain, Pete’s relationships develop and he is provided with a level of funding that places his company on a very secure footing, after he thwarts a military coup on the Iberian peninsula. The story concludes, for the moment, in mid-1982, when Great Britain celebrated its ‘victory’ over the Argentine on the Falkland Islands. This complex and unceasingly fascinating story has been a monster to follow, not least because each of the three, connected novels is almost 500pp in length. However, they are strung together like the best episodes of ‘House of Cards’ and are every bit as beguiling to read. If some wise person does not invest in turning this trilogy into a TV series at very least, I shall be perpetually disenchanted. Fantastic reading, great value for money and thoroughly appealing.
The Old Ones Are the Best
By Mike Haskins
ISBN: 978 1 78097 974 8
Compiled originally in 2012, Mike Haskins (author) takes a wry look at humour and, especially, jokes. In fact, he even trawls back through the annals of time to Homer and Sophocles, before bringing the world of jokes (and their telling thereof) up to date. While some of the content will bring a curl to your lips, there are some side-splittingly funny jests that are sure to be memorable, because the old ones are still the best. Interjected very occasionally with some pertinent pithy comments, the bulk of this 352pp handy hardback will provide you with a wealth of one-liners and inescapably bad puns. You will discover how many men it took to change that evergreen lightbulb, as well as innumerable ailments that complete a ‘Doctor, Doctor’ section. Whether speech-writing, or just playing a competitive game at the bar, being able to remember just some of the jokes contained in this book will do either untold, or no, harm whatsoever to your reputation. Good fun and decent value for money.
Fake News – ‘Facts’ Always Trump Truth
By Baron John Barron-Miller-Barron and Professor Nicolai Dixon-Milhouse
ISBN: 978 1 85375 999 4
Reportedly (it says so on the hardback cover of this 192pp book), this is the ‘No.1 Humour Book of the Year’, a factor that you might like to take into account, along with its title. Vladimir Putin (not that one!) writes a preface that is immensely amusing, before launching into a to-and-fro series of ‘texts’ between the authors (whose names may, or may not, be false). Yet, reading between the lines of the subsequent chapters reveals a cutting wit that is both ‘Spitting Image’ and Armando Iannucci in its style and intensity. Needless to say, the POTUS (Mr Trump) does have more than a single chapter aimed at his eminence, in a book that is packed with details of how to deal with the dark arts of ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’. Naturally, if you believe it, or not, that is the criterion. Excellent fun and exceedingly witty.
Fire – from Spark to Flame
By Oivind Berg
ISBN: 978 1 78097 991 5
If you have ever read ‘Water’ by Alok Jha, or ‘Earth’ by American humourist and broadcaster, Jon Stewart, you might be relieved to discover that ‘Fire’ by Norwegian teacher and children’s author, Oivind Berg, is as specialist as its title suggests. I have not yet read a book about ‘Air’, so an opportunity does exist. As it states in its very stylish dedication, this 160pp hardback book is for ‘the keepers of the flame; those who keep the fire burning’. As a subject that has not been covered before, if you are fascinated by fire, you will love its running order, from spark to embers. Part history, part educational and mostly highly entertaining, Oivind’s story tracks the discovery, the sources and the uses of fire, including setting-up a campfire, cooking over an open flame and how fire has transformed industry. It is beautifully illustrated and impeccably laid-out, which makes it a delight for all members of the family to read and discover.