The City – Dean Koontz

the-city

This book is a wonderful example of superior story telling. It’s about the life and times of Jonah Kirk, from his early childhood onwards, giving us a full picture of his family, his upbringing, his somewhat precocious interaction with the big, bad world, and his outstanding musical talent. I found the book blurb to be somewhat misleading; it’s not that it over hypes the story, but that to me it seems to describe something different from what I read. However, I was certainly not disappointed, as I raced through this in record time.

The story keeps building up the tension, gradually, towards the inevitable dramatic conclusion, with twists and spine tingling moments to keep you on your toes. There’s an almost fable element about the story telling, with the characters occasionally mouthing what may be the author’s philosophy on things like love, trust, honor, and so on. However, it all fits the plot and the setting, so while it was noticeable to me, it neither jarred nor interfered with the storytelling.

For sure, Koontz knows how to pull at the heartstrings, and sometimes doles out a touch too much saccharine in a scene or two. But the overall quality and impact of this novel is pretty damn good.

There are several reasons Koontz is one of the world’s top bestselling authors – books like this.

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Scottish Jews Through the Lens

I don’t share Judah Passow‘s optimism about the future of the Scottish Jewish community, but the feature at the Times of Israel about his photographic project – From Highlands shepherdess to Fife whiskey analyst, artist captures Scotland’s vibrant Jewish life – is well worth a read, and gives a tantalizing sample of the project’s pictures. I’d love to see the rest of the pictures. I may just have to get the book.

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What do the Palestinians want?

The answer to the question ‘What do the Palestinians want?‘ depends on who you ask. However, in general terms, you might expect the response to be something along the lines of ‘Their own Palestinian state.’ But that is not a complete answer. Does it mean a Palestinian state beside Israel, or instead of Israel?

Careful as I try to be to separate the corrupt, inept, and poisonous Palestinian leadership throughout the ages, from the people they are supposed to represent, my assessment is that if the leadership truly wanted a state beside Israel, they could have had it a long, long time ago. They may not have been able to get 100% of what they want, but if they truly valued peace, and wanted to fulfill an ambition to have their own state, they would have and could have settled for (slightly) less because that is the way of the world. So, it appears to me, that the Palestinian leadership do not want a state beside Israel; they want to replace Israel. And when Bibi says there is no partner for peace, he is right.

The announcement by the Palestinian leadership of a renewed campaign against the Balfour declaration confirms the accuracy of what is said above. As David Horovitz puts it:

“In declaring diplomatic and legal war on the Balfour Declaration, Palestinian leaders are telling the world — to their and our enduring misfortune — that nothing has changed in 100 years, that their opposition to our state in any borders remains greater than their desire for their own independent entity. A century later, they are affirming that their refusal to share any part of this land with the Jewish people remains absolute.”

In short, what do the Palestinians want? They want to destroy Israel.

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Proper journalists?

The Elder of Ziyon has a neat example (here) of how left wing (and other) demonizers of Israel do not tell a complete story when they want to stoke up hate. This is also worth noting to see how it is covered by the mainstream press; they are supposed to be proper journalists. Proper journalists would look a the sources. Proper journalists would not just recycle the hateful propaganda. But then again, are there any proper journalists out there?

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Pines – Blake Crouch

pines

Ethan Burke wakes up after a bad accident. He is a secret service agent on a mission to find other missing agents, but now he is in hospital, with no papers, money, or phone, and cannot seem to get through to the outside world. What is going on?

This was a strange book to read, but it eventually caught fire about a quarter of the way through, as the mystery began to be unveiled. It was a well told tale once it got going, and even managed a bit of a twist in the end. The setting is king, and it is well done. The characters are a bit thin, but acceptable. I do not want to say more for fear of spoiling the fun, but would recommend it.

What really puzzled me was that this is apparently the first of a trilogy. I couldn’t see where the other books would go, now that I know the underlying secret. However, I may be tempted to find these other parts.

This was made into a TV show, I am told. No idea what it is like. I would suggest you read the book before you go anywhere near the show.

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Big Maria – Johnny Shaw

big-maria
This is the story of three losers who try to become winners by following a trail to a hidden gold mine. This involves batling with medical insurers, scuba diving around an underwater town, trespassing on a military firing zone, encounters with a minefield, mad, bad, and misbehaving soldiers, a rampaging mother on the hunt for her son, and other stuff too weird to mention. It is terrific. It is fresh, full on, frantic, graphic,and chock full of equal doses of sentimental charges and stark reality. It is, in short, a cracking novel that you simply must read.

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The Crossing – Michael Connelly

the-crossing

Harry Bosch, former LAPD detective, is thinking about crossing over to the other side by taking up the role of investigator for someone accused of murder, to see if he can find the evidence to establish the man’s innocence. Of course, Bosch wouldn’t consider this for just anyone, and it is his half-brother, the Lincoln Lawyer Micky Haller who is the defense attorney.

The journey that Bosch goes on, as he is drawn into the complex criminal undertaking that is hiding behind the murder, is the usual Connelly fare – it is well told, well paced, exciting, and full of little surprises. Bosch is an exquisite character. Haller is also a good foil, but he gets less exposure here, and is truly a hook to justify Bosch taking center stage.

The story is a solid police procedural one, with nothing that really makes it stand out from any of Connelly’s other work. So, it is good, but not brilliant, and certainly not his best. While there was a certain advantage in taking Bosch out of his comfort zone, it did not seem to be enough to give the story a special kick. However, if Bosch continues in this way, perhaps there will be a fresh impetus and a renewed energy in the storytelling.

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The Dreaming Void – Peter F. Hamilton

dreaming-void

I thoroughly enjoyed this author’s Night’s Dawn trilogy (The Reality Dysfunction, The Neutronium Alchemist, and The Naked God), but stumbled at the first fence with Pandora’s Star, the first book of his Commonwealth trilogy. This was me trying out another trilogy, to see if I could recapture the Night’s Dawn experience. In short, I couldn’t.

On the plus side, this is big – and I mean really big – space opera, with an enormously wide canvas, telling a monster of a story from multiple perspectives. There are ideas – new technologies, cultures, customs, and just stuff – popping up in almost every paragraph. OK, that last bit is a little exaggerated, but not by too much. This book is jam packed with ideas.

Also on the plus side, the story is interesting: the followers of one religion want to take a pilgrimage to the Void. The Void, it appears, is a huge closed universe that may well expand and eat everything else in its way if that pilgrimage gores ahead. Cue conflicting factions trying to get their own way.

Also on the plus side, the action fairly rattles along. It is a page turner.

However…

I felt that much of the book’s heft was back story that I did not need. The author seems to take a chapter to make a point, whereas many readers would have been happy with the single paragraph or sentence that it could have been done in. In other words, the plot is horrendously overwritten.

At the end, I enjoyed what I had read in the main, but was not enthused enough to keep reading. Too much effort for the return.

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Tatiana – Martin Cruz Smith

tatiana

The last of the currently available Renko books, I read this in almost a single session, and loved every bit of it.

It begins with three deaths. First, an international translator is killed in Russia. His notes of the last (secret) meeting he attended, are in his own graphical code, and seemingly impossible to crack. Then a young reporter apparently commits suicide by jumping off her balcony. Finally, Russian oligarch Grisha Grigorenko is assassinated. Enter Renko…

This time around, Renko ends up in Kaliningrad (formerly Konigsberg), as he continues his crusade against the massed ranks of criminals that seem to populate modern Russia. This particular Renko story is shorter than the rest (as I recall) and fairly rattles along.

Another finely crafted novel, and a superb example of economical prose delivering a complete character, world, and adventure. Great stuff.

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Rose tinted spectacles?

So, I eventually break out of my Sukkot slumber, and see an interview of The (British) Board of Deputies head, Jonathan Arkush at the Times of Israel. The title is:

UK’s Jewish leader on Labour anti-Semitism: Jeremy Corbyn is incapable of shifting his irrational prejudices

No argument from me there.

Next up, is this:

Board of Deputies head Jonathan Arkush explains the far-left’s problem with Jews, reveals his outreach visits to mosques, says a royal visit to Israel may be imminent, and argues that, overall, things are pretty bright for British Jews

Pretty bright? That’s not what I see (and have seen) there. Is Mr Arkush deluding himself, or does he have a better, more objective perspective?

What he appears to be saying is:

Yes, one of the two major political parties has a problem with antisemitism.

Yes, the leader of that party has some irrational prejudices against Jews.

Yes, the leader of the NUS has made some antisemitic statements, and has some ugly views and prejudices against Jews.

Yes, there is a lot of ‘low level’ antisemitic abuse in Britain. (I think low level abuse is when someone throws a stone at a Jew, but misses. Ahem.)

Yes, ‘certain elements’ in the Muslim community of Britain are antisemitic.

But, I am doing interfaith work at grassroots level with Muslim communities, some people are standing up publicly to antisemitism, and there may even be an official Royal visit to Israel.

Mr Arkush is clearly doing some good, hard work, and I commend him for that.

Read the whole thing (here) and tell me if you are convinced. I’m not, but I hope he is right and I am wrong.

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