5 Days in May – Andrew Adonis

When the general election in 2010 returned no overall control, Adonis had a pivotal role in trying to negotiate Labour into coalition. This looks at how the pieces fell, and what influence the Lib Dems had in the coalition was shaped.

Adonis writes well, giving a fast-paced book that contains depth and interest in what could otherwise be a very dry and dull set of negotiations. Then as he felt unable to publish at the time due to his political position, he takes the opportunity to include an epilogue as to how the coalition worked in reality.

An interesting read for anyone who wants an insight into contemporary politics.

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The Spy Who Came In From The Cold – John le Carré

Although spy novels are not usually my thing, after reading The Witch Who Came In From The Cold, I felt that I should read the straightforward novel which the title was taken from. One library reservation later, and I picked up a book that didn’t look anything like my usual taste.

I was pleasantly surprised by this, a layered, complex plot, Alec’s motivation  at least conflicted between personal pride, nationalism and romantic desires. Control, the guiding mind behind this mission, is also opaque in his objectives, and much of Alec’s focus in the later half of the book is on unpicking why he is on this mission.

Of course his downfall is a woman, one who he doesn’t entrust with his position and therefore is made vulnerable to the maneuverings of the agencies. However this book is in a way a period piece, first published in 1964, so the lack of capable female characters is in a way understandable, even if it is one of the things my expectation was that the book would lack.

However this is a genre-defining book, and I am glad to have read it.

Blue Dog – Louis de Bernières

More of a novelette than a full novel (and therefore far less intimidating than Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, which I have had unread for years), the afterword informed me that Blue Dog had been aimed at the young adult market. However I enjoyed it from an adult perpective.

Mick has been sent to live with his Granpa in the outback, and Blue Dog is about how, with the aid of the puppy, Blue, who he rescues, he adapts to this life. How he makes friends, and develops into a promising young man, despite the shadow of the tragedy that saw him sent from his family.

It includes the typical stage of self-discovery, as he discovers attraction to the only woman who comes into their lives, and the thrill of motorbike riding, along with the gaining of responsibility.

One nice touch is the flip-chart on the corner of the page, with the dog setting off to run away.

Damiano – R. A. MacAvoy

I didn’t enjoy Damiano as much as Tea with the Black Dragon, with the characters being less compelling and the setup being odder.

I think the hero already being on first name terms with the Archangel Raphael actually made him less appealing to me, as from there he could only fall. It would have been better in my view if the first book had been Damiano’s father’s death, and he had come into his powers and artistic ability within the story.

Of course it is not all fall, and ultimately he does choose the course of action of maximum growth towards the end. But that the start of the book is just a long drift downwards without much sympathy-building does not help the plot.

Its a shame, because this is well-written and an interesting idea for a plot.

Tea with the Black Dragon – R.A. MacAvoy

Tea with the Black Dragon opens in California, with Martha Macnamara having travelled to town to try to assist her estranged daughter. But we swiftly move into crime novel territory, as the daughter fails to appear.

She doesn’t have to struggle through this alone however, as Mayland Long appears as a mystery man, hinting at having an ancient nature. As they work together to find Martha’s daughter, love quietly blooms between them.

The crime itself is revealed to be one of the modern era, with cruel and cunning players on the criminal side. Things quickly get dark and violent, even if Mayland’s level of control and power projects confidence that all will end well.

This is another Humble Bundle ebook, and I was shocked to learn that this is book is from the 1980s, it seems more contemporary. Although on reflection, the absence of the internet or mobile phones when they would have helped with the plot should have been a clue to its age. Although the writing was good, the poor quality of the typesetting did detract from the reading. The solution to this: I have ordered a paperback copy of Twisting the Rope.

The Witch Who Came in From the Cold – Various

I supported this year’s Super Nebula Author Showcase Humble Bundle, so my ereader is now full of sci fi. Quite a few are from Serial Box, presumably for business reasons (get the audience hooked on season one…), and this was my first exploration of this style of storytelling. Although I’m not sure I’ll get an episode subscription (partly because they only seem to have an Apple app, not Android), I can see how the model works.

The Witch Who Came in From the Cold is set in 1970 in Cold War Prague. Two superpowers are grappling to gain the upper hand in an international war. And then there is the secondary plot where the USA and USSR are playing power games.

The play for power for the occultorganisations thrives in the spy world, where the small key cast all have at least two loyalties to play with, and are torn between these. And of course, as in straight forward spy fiction, all the players are somewhat scarred from earlier missions, but continue playing their games.

I was surprised by how well the large writer team pulled together a coherent narrative, which flowed well and both reached resolution and set up a good cliffhanger for season two.

 

Confessions from Correspondentland – Nick Bryant

Bryant has had an interesting career, shuttling between war zones and first world politics, filing regular reports with the BBC the whole way. He’s been on the sidelines through lots of key events through the last couple of decades, and spends much of this book discussing American policy: from his position as a Washington correspondent, then a war correspondent during the War on Terror.

Although Bryant is a good writer, his style is (probably unsurprisingly) fairly episodic. He writes a few pages of absorbing text, but then that section is wrapped up neatly without a strong “hook” to the next section. This continues for 400 pages.

This disjointedness is worth enduring through however. We see people’s lives close up as wars progress, and the interplay between correspondents and the rest of their teams.

An enlightening book

The Library of Unrequited Love – Sophie Divry

The librarian is a lonely, frustrated woman, who one day finds a reader who has been locked in her library overnight. She gradually reveals her thoughts on the library system, people and her crush.

Unfortunately, although her insights are sharp, the device that she has an imprisoned audience who she forces to listen to her innermost thoughts without any indication that he finds this anything other than uncomfortable. Divry also delivers the whole book as a single paragraph, which does reflect will the stream of consciousness, but remains deeply irritating to read.

Her ending is also very much unfinished, but this is acceptable on a book of novella weight.

A Woman’s Work – Harriet Harman

I’ve never actually had all that much patience for Harriet Harman, seeing her as yet another New Labour architect. But in A Woman’s Work, she takes the opportunity to set out her case, and highlight the compromises she took that in her belief improved the world around her.

Her memoirs run from the heartbreaking of struggling against the establishment during the Thatcher era, through to the ridiculous of Robin Cook’s assumption that she was having an affair, when in truth she had kept a promise to her son about a day out. Her lessons from this are:

Firstly, while children will never forget a broken promise, there’s always someone who can stand in for you at work. And secondly, that while it would, in the eyes of my colleagues, have been beyond the pale for me to be absent because of my children, falling down in my duties because of an affair was not only understood by my male colleagues but thoroughly approved of.

But throughout the strong clear message is that compromises are not ideal, but they are worth it if it means that Labour can get into power and start making changes for the betterment of society. When she unexpectedly finds herself as acting leader after Brown’s resignation, her speech is that

….we should be proud of our legacy and that it would endure.

We also get a ringside seat for the Blair/Brown troubles from a woman who was close friends with both, which provides valuable insight to how the power struggle there started, and how it would end. She is also how Ed Milliband first enters politics, along with providing mentoring support to so many of the women who are now household names.

But above all else she is in politics for feminism. To promote equal rights and be a leader who facilitates other women’s liberation. Her use of her whole career to this arena is impressive, and despite her claims that too little progress has been made, to see how much can be attributed to Harman directly or indirectly is inspiring.

The Elements of Style – William Strunk Jr and E. B. White

The Elements of Sytle is a classic writing style guide, referenced by The Sense of Style, and then again mentioned in an edition of Slightly Foxed.

Not a book for a single reading, this is full of advice on how to write – from how to structure writings through to specific grammar rules and full of examples. The advice is good, however after reading Strunk’s guidelines to omit needless words, it is hard to write at length about this tiny little guide.