Ready Player One – Ernest Cline

This is the book on which Spielberg’s film of the same name is based. It’s a post environmental apocalyptic world where the poor are poorer and the rich and richer. Most people escape reality by spending all their time in a virtual reality. One of the founders of that virtual reality (VR) has died, and left a will that passes on control of the VR and immense wealth to the first to find their way to where he has hidden a series of three keys and one door. Our hero is one of the many trying to secure that prize against big corporate baddies.

The book is jam packed of 70s and 80s cultural references – pop music, TV, and – of course – video games. You don’t need to get these references, but for sure it helps.

The writing doesn’t get in the way of the story, and there are enough twists and turns to keep your interest up. In short, very enjoyable, but not everyone’s cup of tea.

Incidentally, I have read the book and seen the film. Thankfully, I read the book first. Why? The film is awful. I would never have bothered with the book based on the film.

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Sirens – Joseph Knox

Modern British crime novel set in Manchester, looking at the drug scene and some of the city’s less attractive features, areas, and characters.

The hero is Aidan Waits, a loose cannon of a policeman who oversteps the law and falls into the clutches of a superior officer determined to send him into deep undercover. There, he is tasked with collecting evidence against a local drug boss, one of whose girlfriends disappeared without a trace ten years ago. At the same time, a member of parliament has a wayward daughter who has done a runner and is enmeshed in the dark underbelly of that city.

Waits is a compelling enough character to keep the reader’s interest up. The backdrop is done reasonably well, but I thought the critics were way over the top in suggesting it was outstanding. (That Observer quote on the cover is ridiculous. A friend of the author perhaps?)

The supporting characters are a believable lot, though I would have liked to seen more attention paid to some of them. The main baddie, for example, kind of makes guest appearances only, popping up from time to time to no great effect.

The closing chapters are a step up from some of the middle where the fizz went out of the tension at times. Overall, pretty good stuff.

There is more to come from Waits and here’s hoping this reasonably promising start is a true hint of better things ahead.

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A Feast of Spenser

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So, here are books seven to thirteen to in the Spenser series by Robert B Parker which I recently finished reading. For reviews of the first six, see: The Godwulf Manuscript God Save the Child Mortal Stakes Promised Land The … Continue reading

The Two of Swords – K J Parker

I finished the second and third volumes of this fantasy tale with mixed feelings. The central story is a war between two counties that seems not be to either’s advantage. The narrative is largely told through the eyes of individual contributors to the action – soldier, spy, diplomat, and so on – giving some finely observed detail to add to the sweeping grand maneuvers.

The author is a great storyteller, and the book is jam packed with twists, turns, action, and adventure. It’s also an exceedingly complex plot where, at times, it can be hard to work out if a character’s motivation is all that it seems to be. Subterfuge, deception, and treachery are ever present. But, was it worth it? Was the book too rich for my tastes?

Originally, the three books were actually a series (19 I think) of novellas that you subscribed to, and the author released to a monthly schedule. I cannot help wondering if the cramped nature of the book, especially in the closing stages, was the result of writing to a deadline and a formula.

The books are good, but not great. I don’t think the format allowed Parker to be at his best. It was a worthwhile experience, and I am glad I read it, but I hope the next book by the author follows a more traditional route.

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Love Like Blood –

Tom Thorne may be a retired detective, but the author clearly cannot let go of the character, so once again he pops up in an unofficial capacity, becoming central to the story. In this case, matters start with the murder of Detective Inspector Nicola Tanner’s partner, in what seems to have been an attack meant to silence Tanner, working on several ‘honor’ killings. Tanner is taken out of the firing line, but she is not convinced anyone will do enough to find the killer, and she persuades Thorne to get involved. From this point on, the roller coaster ride begins.

Thorne and Tanner are comprehensive and believable characters, and their interaction and involvement are key to the success of the novel. However, the supporting cast are not always mere fillers, and the overall impression is of a well constructed, realistic, gritty crime novel. In other words, a damn fine read.

The honor killing part is handled without sensationalizing this difficult cultural issue. I did, however, think there was a degree of political correctness on show with the attempt at evenhandedly apportioning the sources of such crimes across multiple religions. That was the only very minor criticism I would make.

It’s best to read the Thorne books in order, but if you prefer just to dive in here, you will not lessen the enjoyment too much. It is a solid standalone tale.

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True Blue – David Baldacci

True Blue is a typical Baldacci tale with twists and turns, complex intertwined stories, and some great ideas.

The main character comes with an enticing setup: Mason Perry is an ex policewoman who was framed for a crime she did not commit. Released from prison, she is out to get to the truth, but there’s a US district attorney eager to see her back in prison. Matters are slightly complicated by Mason’s sister being the chief of police. It’s a recipe for conflict of interest and loyalties, and Baldacci duly goes to town.

In addition, there’s Roy Kingman, the lawyer who finds the body of one of his partners at his office. Kingman and Perry are, inevitably, drawn together as the plot threads become entangled.

Unfortunately, I found the character portrayal of both sisters less than realistic. With that fundamental flaw, for me the book did not work. The Kingman character was a bit better, but not Baldacci’s best.

As usual, the plot is well constructed, and the pace of the action is relentless. But with my lack of empathy for the Perry characters, I was less than enthralled.

Not recommended.

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The Norman Geras Reader

Norman Geras was a Zimbabwean born political thinker, a Marxist by belief, and a Jew by birth. A Professor Emeritus of Politics at Manchester University, he was a prime mover behind the Euston Manifesto.

I came across him late on in his life, courtesy of his blog. The posts there reflected not only his wide interests (including a love of cricket) but showcased the continually high quality of his writing. Generally, he was clear and to the point. And sometimes that point was the one on which he skewered antisemites with his razor sharp keyboard. For example, see here.

While my political beliefs are not those of the late Mr Geras, I admired his writing so much that I had to buy this selection of his output. Although I have read some before on his blog, it was good to refresh the experience. I don’t normally mention the non-fiction books I read, but I wanted to make this an exception. While there are some passages that only hard-boiled academics and Marxist thinkers will follow, there is an abundance of other, solid, thoughtful material. Geras’ death was a real loss. This reader is a good way to remember and honor him.

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American Gods – Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is a highly acclaimed writer. American Gods is one of his top rated books. I hated it.

The fantastic elements did not trouble me, but neither did they excite or even interest me. The characters did not spark any empathy in me, and I cared not one jot what happened to them. The plot, when it appeared, was a mish-mash of nonsense that took itself too seriously, but lacked the gravitas to carry it off. And, it was slow. Slow as in too slow, too lacking in urgency, and requiring more suspension of disbelief than was worthwhile.

It is a book touted as being a wonderful new, fresh perspective on America. That’s not how I see it. It’s a new perspective on marketing over substance.

In short, a dud.

If the rest of Neil Gaiman’s output is like this, I’ll not be bothering with it.

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