Tuesday, 15 December 2015

2015 Reading No.5

It's not been a great year for reading books - more a year for fiddling on computers and tablets instead of reading. That has worked some sort of wonders for this blog if you look at annual numbers of articles published (and I'm presuming in my own immodest way that I've maintained the quality of my writing!).

Certainly I'm only referring to quantity when saying it's been a bad year for reading, because the books themselves have mostly been excellent. I just haven't done as much reading from the printed page this year as I have in the past. Now I'm retired there are no more nights alone in hotels all over the UK!

A while ago I decided to read the Dennis Wheatley series based around the character Roger Brook who acts as an agent for William Pitt the Younger in the period leading to and during the French Revolution and the ensuing wars. This is the second in the series and sees Roger playing a dangerous game in Russia. Trapped into marriage with a sadistic Russian beauty he becomes involved in passing information and trying to prevent war between Russia and the Scandinavian countries. Lots of historical detail and deeds both daring and dastardly and with plenty of action this was an excellent book. Once more - because I've been trying to find second-hand books to get through this series - it was a book I read in parts that once read, fell off the spine of the book bit by bit... That particular copy will never be read again!

One of several older science fiction books that came from the second-hand book store on the Promenade at Morecambe, Between Planets comes from that master of sci-fi writing, Robert Heinlein. It concerns a young man, Don Harvey, born on a space ship with a "nationality" nominally that of Venus, who gets caught up in an outbreak of war between Earth and Mars. The human settlers of Venus, together with a sentient native species pre-empt events against the superior military power of Earth as a delaying tactic whilst they decode information that Don has brought with him. I always tend to think that Heinlein's books can be thought of as morality tales, though some of his views would not sit easily with the predominant views of these days.

My first reading of this Alistair MacLean World War II tale of resistance and partisans. A typical MacLean mix of twists and turns and surprises where you spend some time doubting even the hero. Cracking stuff!

The eleventh outing of our medieval sleuth, Matthew Bartholomew from Susanna Gregory. The only thing stopping me from reading these one after the other is that I would get through them far too quickly (really? This year???) and then be shivering and shaking, waiting for another one to come out. Riots in Oxford have driven some of that city's academics to take refuge in Cambridge, yet Matthew and Brother Michael fear that elements amongst them want the same thing to happen to Cambridge. Michael has appointed beadles to help him and as they run about the town it leaves him putting even more weight on which in turn leads to great danger for Matthew - how? You'll have to read it to find out!

And here we are. At the very last Famous Five book after four years of occasionally slotting one of these in. At least it was only four years. In real terms Enid Blyton wrote the first one in 1942 and ended the series with this in 1963. Like it's predecessor, Five Have A Mystery To Solve, there is a great element of "we have seen this before" in this book, which involves the five going off by themselves. Julian, Dick and Anne's parents are abroad on holiday (with their kids at boarding school and them away every holiday they didn't really know their children anyway!) and George's parents are quarantined due to their cook's illness. There's a travelling fair (but sadly no Jo the gypsy girl) and a tower built by a scientist - all of which have featured in previous books in the series. And this one has a chimp doing burglary - shades of The Rilloby Fair Mystery from the Barney series...

"Well thank God, that's over!" said Anne, unwinding the sheet from around her chest and allowing her never-before-seen cleavage a bit of freedom. Dick leant over to pat the tiny figure of Timmy. Timmy the fifth was a yorkshire terrier. Two Timmys had actually eaten poisoned meat and succumbed, one had fallen from Kirrin Island's tallest cliff whilst leaping at a baddie who dodged at the last moment and Timmy the first had in actual fact sunk and been drowned in the marshes off Smuggler's Top...

"Absolutely!" agreed Julian. "I was twelve in the first adventure and I'm 33 now by my reckoning. I'm looking forward to my first pair of long pants!"
"I'm not being a boy any more either!" said George fiercely. "I'm Georgina now for good and I'm going to find some boy and shag him to within an inch of his life!"

Dick sniffed sadly. The others looked guilty and exchanged awkward glances. In real life Dick had married Jo the gypsy girl and they had a son. However, unable to adjust to living in a house, Jo had left suddenly and had taken little Barnabas with her. None of them knew what had become of either of them...

This Tom Sharpe book is my final offering for this time - and possibly the last for 2015. With 16 days to go to the end of the year, it is possible I might finish another book and if I do I might give it an entry to itself. I seem to remember cocking up last year and forgetting to include a book from 2014!

In this totally unlikely but very amusing book, there's murder, sex and violence in abundance, authority ignored and authorities both perplexed and out-manoeuvred, four people going through two marriages to join just two families, an old man stuffed by a taxidermist and an entire street driven out of their houses in a series of hilarious exploits.

Happy reading folks!

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