The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon

img_23671976. The longest hottest summer in living memory and Mrs Creasy is missing.
The Avenue abounds with roumors and the shimmering heat is full of half heard whispers. Has she left of her own accord? If so where is she? Or could it be that she’s buried under the patio?
As the days and weeks drag on, ten year olds Grace and Tilly decide to investigate. Baffled and bewildered by the adult’s responses to the direct nature of their questioning, one statement constantly recurs “God knows”.
Coming to a dead end Grace and Tilly conclude that if God knows, all they have to do is find God and ask him.
The book is a joy and delight, Joanna Cannon’s insight into the minds of ten year old girls is both hilarious and touching. The search for Mrs Creasy and God, by such determined sleuths, stirs up the secrets and murky pasts of the Avenue’s residents, revealing the best and worst of human nature.
Joanna manages to capture both the innocence of 1970’s childhood and the ennui of that long hot summer. Joanna’s writing is breath taking in its originality. I frequently stopped to re-read a sentence just to savour the pleasure of her quirky prose.
This is Joanna’s first novel I can’t wait to read her next
Five bites from me.

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton.
I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 – set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again.
I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I’ll read anything.

My Tutu Went AWOL by Iestyn Edwards

IMG_2482An unusual book by an unusual publisher. I came across the publishers “Unbound.com” about a year ago. Unbound is a crowdfunding book publisher. Potential authors submit an outline of their book which Unbound.com then publicise. If sufficient sponsorship is found then the author writes or finishes writing the book and it is published. Funding a book in this manner means that the publisher knows in advance that the book will be a financial success. Sponsors receive a copy of the book and all books include a tribute list showing the names of the sponsors.
“My Tutu went AWOL” was my first sponsorship with unbound. The book appealed to me as it concerned the adventures and misadventures of a cross dressing ballerina entertaining the troops in far flung and downright dangerous places, namely Iraq and Afganistan. The unlikely hero Iestyn Edwards a classically trained singer and pianist who lives in Aldeburgh. Asked to perform on board HMS Victory, for the 200th anniversary of the battle of Trafalgar. Iestyn met The First Sea Lord, who suggested that Iestyn should audition for CSE. (Combined Services Entertainment). A wonderful organisation who are responsible for entertaining our troops overseas.
Thinking that his role would be, recitals of light classics for officers mess nights at The Hilton Park Lane. Iestyn went along to the audition, only to find that he had signed up to a tour in Iraq, as his alter ego, Madame Galina the ballerina.
Iestyns writing is is camp and chatty like listening to an old friend reminiscing with an after dinner glass or two of port. I do hope they bring out an Audio version of this, narrated by Alan Carr, it would make a brilliant listen.
What I loved about the book was the way the rough, tough, battle hardened marines. Took Madame Galina under their wing. Some of them, particularly his body guard “Stacks” becoming life-long friends. The book didn’t give a description of Madame Galina’s performance which meant the reader had to stretch their imagination. I overcame this by posting “Madame Galina” into youtube and watching her act, then imagining it transported to a bomb shelter in Basra.

The book contains a lot of military slang and technical jargon. Which may be difficult for civilian readers. There is very little mention of Iestyns fellow entertainers, among them Rhod Gilbert, who might have added some of their own memories. All in all a great light hearted read.
Its four bites from me.

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton.
I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 – set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again.
I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I’ll read anything.

You Don’t Have to Live Like This by Benjamin Markovits

img_2372These cover reviews tempted me to read this book

“Exhilarating” Sunday Times
“Riveting” Daily Mail
“A Remarkable Novel” Irish Independent
“Bold and Brilliant” Prospect
“Compelling” Financial Times

I wonder if they read the same book? because my cover review would read

“Tedious patronising drivel” Jeff Short Bookeaters

It seems I’m out of step with the rest of the reviewers so I’d better state my case. The concept of the novel is great. Internet multi-billionaire decides to put something back into society. His idea is to restore abandoned and derelict suburbs of Detroit by buying up hundreds of ruined buildings and handing them over to specially selected “Settlers” who will restore them, set up cottage industries, city farms and small shops etc. A wonderful Idealistic solution to save a dying city.
Unfortunately, it is obvious from the start that the whole project is doomed to fail. The plan is to surround the city centre with leafy garden suburbs, which would be occupied by an intellectual elite. The city centre is currently home to a million of America’s poorest people, the majority of whom are black. The wonderful plan does not include integration with the existing population and creates a black ghetto, housing a resentful underclass.
It is inevitable that at some point there will be a clash between the smug, elite, settlers and the deprived blacks. The trouble is you have to read three hundred pages about these boring, white, pretentious, middle class, smug twats and their boring day to day doings, which unfortunately includes their sex lives, before the spark hits the tinderbox.
Then, on page 301 There is a fight involving a white settler and a black resident. The black guy gets a severe beating. As he is black, he is charged, found guilty and sentenced while the white guy, who handed out the beating, is not charged. This prompts three days of rioting. After which the high minded settlers pack up and go home. (Ooops! forgot to put in the spoiler alert).
Quite frankly I would have dumped this book after fifty pages, but as I was house bound with the flu I decided to battle on as I couldn’t get to the library.
One point in its favour, I can now see why Trump beat Clinton. If you want to know just go on to utube and search “Detroit devastation” There is an eight minute video that shows what has happened to Detroit and explains why it happened. You will be shocked to discover that the devastation of Detroit happened when the town was managed by Democrats.
I am so disappointed, this book could have been so good.

I promise never to read anther book that is described as “finely nuanced” which turns out to be a euphemism for crap.

It’s Nil bites from me.

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton.
I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 – set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again.
I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I’ll read anything.

The Leaving by Tara Altebrando

the-leavingAt the tender age of seventy five, I have become a Young Adult genre enthusiast, maybe my mental age is really fifteen. I picked this book up in my local library as I was intrigued by the plot synopsis on the cover. I’m so glad I did, what a treat an amazing thought provoking story which moves along at a cracking pace with an almost endless series of twists and turns.
Eleven years ago, six kindergarten schoolchildren went missing without a trace. After all that time, the people they left behind moved on, or tried to.
Then today, five of those kids return. They’re sixteen, and they are . . . fine. Except they can’t remember where they have been, who abducted them or what has happened to them. Scarlett comes home and finds a mom she barely recognizes, and doesn’t really recognize the person she’s supposed to be, either. But she thinks she remembers Lucas. Lucas remembers Scarlett, too, except they’re entirely unable to recall where they’ve been or what happened to them. Neither of them remember the sixth victim, Max–the only one who hasn’t come back. Which leaves Max’s sister, Avery, wanting answers. She wants to find her brother–dead or alive–and isn’t buying this whole memory-loss story. But as details of the disappearance begin to unfold, no one is prepared for the truth.
This unforgettable novel–with its rich characters, high stakes, and plot twists–will leave readers breathless.
I loved the typography. That’s not a phrase you will see very often in a review. On social media CAPITALS indicate shouting. Altebrando takes this much, much further. For example: Whispering is indicated by a tiny pale grey font. Tsunami is written in in a wave like shape. Memories lost are indicated with / .Memory flashbacks appear as White Capitals in a black text box, and so on. This may sound irritating but I found it enhanced my enjoyment and made me wonder if for the first time in hundreds of years the alphabet is going to move on from five vowels and twenty one consonants to a more flexible and expressive form.
The other odd thing about this book was that there was no biography of the Author. I found her web site on Google. She’s a very smart cookie, graduated with honours from Harvard and this is her tenth book. (But she’s never had a proper job).
An engrossing mystery and a meditation on memory. “What are we without our memories?”
Five bites from me.

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton.
I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 – set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again.
I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I’ll read anything.

Maestra by L S Hilton

maestra_book_coverIt was bound to happen one day, a best seller written to a computer designed recipe. That’s how L.S Hiltons Maestra “The most shocking thriller of the year” comes across.

The recipe:-
Take lots of kinky sex, add copious amounts of designer shopping, half a dozen over ripe billionaire playgrounds, blend with super yachts, power and money. spice with murder and major art fraud, add a pinch of humour. Leave in a warm place to rise. If it doesn’t rise add more sex and a hedge fund or two.

The computer also says that you must grab the reader’s attention by getting in a torrid sex scene within the first fifty pages. The plot of Maestra didn’t allow for this, so instead the publishers put in a prologue which described three characters involved in a bizarre sex act. This prologue was so badly written that it was impossible to understand who was doing what, to whom and why. This seemingly irrelevant prologue turned out to be an extract from a sex scene which appeared later in the book. After reading it for a second time I was still none the wiser.

All novels are published with the intention of making money and it comes as no surprise that someone came up with the idea that “Fifty Shades of Grey”, but this time instead of EL James it should be written by a gifted and intelligent author, This would surely be a best seller. The author L.S Hilton fits the bill, formerly an historical biographer she is both gifted and intelligent, her writing (apart from the sex scenes) is often beautiful and the plot, involving the art world and money laundering, was well researched. Her knowlege of Italian art was impressive. As an artist myself, I was fascinated to learn about Agnolo Bronzino and Artemesia Gentileschi (I had to put the book down to look them up on Wikipedia).

The clever and convoluted plot moved along at a cracking pace. I read it in a day. Maestra has been described as a bonkbuster and as romp. To me it didn’t fit into either category, it was simply too dark, the anti-heroine Judith Rashleigh was too cold, calculating and cynical to earn any affection. Frankly I couldn’t have cared less if she lived or died.

The recipe lacked a few ounces of warmth and humour, they would have made all the difference. As it was I felt that Maestra was half baked.

Three Bites from me.

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton.
I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 – set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again.
I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I’ll read anything.

Paper Butterflies by Lisa Heathfield

paerA word to the wise, although Paper butterflies is categorised as Young Adult (My local library classified it as YA Romance). I would not recommend it for anyone under fifteen unless they have a remarkably strong and well balanced mental constitution. This book is about mental and physical child abuse and is guaranteed to bring even the most emotionally deficient to tears. By the time I finished reading it I was heart-broken and drained of both emotion and tears. To say it is harrowing does not do it justice.

The principal character June is a ten year old, mixed race girl, who lost her mother two years earlier when she was found drowned in the local river. Since then her dad has remarried to Kathleen, along with her new stepmother, June now has a new sister, Megan. Rather than a blessing, Kathleen and Megan turn out to be the new family from hell. The Step mother in particular dishes out subtle mental cruelties and sadistic physical punishments that leave no physical trace.

June is literally begging to be saved. She begs her teachers, her doctor, her counsellor, her dad. No one will listen, no one believes her as far as they are concerned she’s just a young girl grieving over the death of her mother and resenting having to share her father with his new family.

Then a ray of hope comes into June’s life in the form of Blister. A boy she meets at the abandoned caravan park while out riding her bike. He sees her without the taint she’s been given at school and home. He loves her frizzy hair and the caramel skin she’s inherited from her mum. He listens to June and more importantly he actually hears her. Her times with Blister are the only times she feels happy, and she wants those times to be untainted by her other life at school and home.
As they become closer and the friendship blossoms June opens up more and more to Blister, revealing to him the extent of her unhappiness, with him she can let it all out. Well, most of it. He tells her that it won’t be forever, that one day she’ll be old enough to escape and that in the meantime he and his huge adopted family will be there to give her life a semblance of normality.

Paper Butterflies makes compulsive reading, like a motorway car crash, you cannot help but slow down and stare at the wreckage. I read this in a single session, with the aid of a box on man sized tissues. Lisa Heathfield’s writing is spare there is no overblown hyperbole, this gave me no time to recover from one horror before the next was upon me. It was three weeks after I read the book that I felt mentally strong enough to review it. With the benefit of hindsight I can see that there are a couple of minor glitches but to mention them might spoil it for you. So read it yourself, it is a fantastic read.

Why is a seventy four year old reading YA books? I have a golden rule when I go to the library I always take out one book that is outside my comfort zone.
Sometimes it pays off big time, it certainly did with Paper Butterflies. I give it five bites.

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton.
I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 – set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again.
I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I’ll read anything.

City of Angels, Then and Now.

Crime The Good and the Bad

I’ve been a fan of crime novels for longer than I care to remember but have never given any consideration to the ethnic origin of the writers. When asked to write this feature I did a quick review of my reading over the last year or two and found to my dismay that there was not a single black crime writer on my reading list. To rectify this I went on to Amazon and searched for Crime/Black Authors there are quite a few, but nothing like as many as I expected. I selected two novels, based on them both having great reviews, both featured black detectives based in LA. The first of these was

Trail of Echoes by Rachel Howzell Hall.
img_2277This novel was about a feisty wise-cracking, black female LAPD homicide detective, Lou Norton. If there were any wisecracks I failed to spot them and as for being feisty, when reprimanded by her boss for something that was not her fault, she went to the ladies and cried and cried until she threw up. How feisty is that? The plot was the usual “Serial killer must be stopped before he strikes again” which has been flogged to death in recent years. The serial killer taunts the police with coded messages, once again a well-worn story-line.
Nevertheless I persevered, after all it had enjoyed rave reviews but things didn’t get any better. The publishers blurb made much of the relationship between Lou and her partner Detective Taggert (Yes, Taggert). However, Lou treated him like an office boy, his character was one dimensional and he played no part in solving the crime, which begs the question “What relationship?”
Set in one of the most deprived areas of LA much of the dialogue was written in the local argot which was fine, but when words like “Cuz” slipped over into the narrative I found it irritating. I was left with the impression that Ms Howzell Hall had churned out a potboiler in the hope that it would be made into a TV movie. The main problem with this book was that the principal character was not the least bit likable and the rest of the characters were mere cyphers.

My second choice was Charcoal Joe by Walter Mosley.
img_2278This is a masterpiece of crime fiction. The plot is original, set in 1968 a bright young black guy with a master’s degree and studying for a doctorate is falsely accused of murder. Private detective Easy Rawlins is asked to help prove his innocence. Walter Mosley has a gift for characterisation, after only a few pages you know that Easy is a nice guy, and an honourable man. (As far as circumstances will allow a black man to be honorable in 1968 LA). The plot is multi layered and the cast of characters is huge, but Mosley’s quick sketches of each character make it simple to remember who’s who. There are Good men who are capable of violence, there are gangsters and petty criminals, beautiful women, liars, cheats and cowards, shades of Damon Runyan. The prose is sparse and leads the story on at a cracking pace.
Running through the book is the casual racism of LA society and the police. (The book is set just after the Watts Riots). Simple statements such as: Easy cannot be seen with a white female passenger in his car otherwise he will be pulled over, the falsely accused boy is black. Therefore, he is guilty, really bring home the insidious racism. Despite the racism Walter Moley imbues the black community with a sense of hope and optimism. Optimism that is misplaced, as Rachel Howzell Hall paints a far darker picture in 2015 Los Angeles, where racism is endemic and hope is replaced by despair.
I loved this book I will definitely be reading more of the Easy Rawlins novels’. Charcoal Joe was a masterclass in how to write I crime novel. I liked the characters, even some of the bad guys, I enjoyed the wisecracks, I cared about Easy and Feather Sure there were a couple of flaws but I simply didn’t care about them as I was too busy rooting for the good guys and enjoying the story.
Black crime writers, just like white crime writers some are good, some are not. Why are there not more black authors writing crime fiction? I don’t know.

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton.
I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 – set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again.
I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I’ll read anything.

The Judgement by D W Buffa

41I1nGRMQqL._SX290_BO1,204,203,200_I’ve just had the pleasure of reading this for the third time and I loved it as much as I did the first time. D W Buffa, pronounced Boofah, is the absolute undisputed master of the legal thriller. He stands head and shoulders above John Grisham and I say that as a dedicated John Grisham fan.
When Judge Calvin Jeffries becomes the first sitting judge to be murdered whilst serving in office, charismatic criminal defence attorney Joseph Antonelli, a man fiercely dedicated to justice and the rule of law, finds himself in the middle of a baffling case. As he unravels the intricacies of a murder, audacious enough to strike at the heart of the judicial system, the ensuing investigation and trial reveal a deadly trail of evil, greed, jealousy, and lust for power that shatters lives.

The story is littered with twists and turns some so baffling you find yourself having to put the book down and spend a few minutes trying to absorb the implications of the latest plot twist.
The Judgement is not just an unrelenting catalogue of the worst side of human behaviour. D W Buffa manages to relieve the grim and gritty aspect of the story by including warm caring characters who do the right thing without counting the cost. There is a moving sub plot of lost love re-discovered and the problems of loving someone who has mental health issues.

We all love a novel with a twist in the tale, and the twist is usually revealed about ten pages from the end. It takes the genius of D W Buffa to put the twist into the very last sentence, and it leaves you gasping for breath.
I cannot rate this highly enough, if you like courtroom dramas and John Grisham you will love this.
Its five bites from me.

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton.
I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 – set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again.
I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I’ll read anything.

The First Bad Man by Miranda July

41NNlH5CFML._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_I read this Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller because the blurb on the cover made it sound like the greatest book ever to come out of The Los Angeles film and liberal arts community. It was only after reading it that I found that all the fabulous reviews came from personal friends of the author, herself a film maker, and member of that exclusive clique.
The story is a first person narrative of Cheryl Glickman a middle aged spinster, rejected by a man 22 years her senior who spurns her in favour of a sixteen year old. This involves paedophilia and child abuse which Cheryl tacitly condones. By way of distraction she spends her days masturbating up to fifteen times a day while fantasising about him having sex with other women. (Shades of Portnoy’s Complaint).
Her bosses pressurise her into letting their 19 year old daughter to stay with her. The daughter Clee is the teenager from hell, unemployed, lazy, rude, selfish, slovenly and with person hygiene problems. Attempts to persuade this Cuckoo to leave the nest result in a fist fight. Weirdly they both seem to enjoy this and the narrative descends into farce with daily fistfights. (Inspector Clouseau and Kato spring to mind). Teenager becomes pregnant, father unknown. Cheryl falls in love with the idea of becoming a surrogate mother and the relationship with Clee becomes sexual, although Cheryl has to fantasise that she is a man when having lesbian sex. My God! this author is so trendy, so liberal, what on earth will she come up with next.
Clee falls in love with another woman and leaves Cheryl holding the baby. For the first time the novel actually strikes a note of realism with Cheryl’s fierce love for the sickly child becoming the overriding concern of her life. Then for no good reason she gets back together with her aged paedophile, who turns out to be the unknown father, she has weird sex with him. (Don’t ask it’s too ridiculous to contemplate).

At this point the author, Miranda July, got bored with the whole thing so wrote an epilogue giving a happy ending.
There was not a single character in this book that was likable. All were selfish and pretentious. If this is LA culture let’s hope it stays in LA.

Did I enjoy it? NO. Would I recommend it? A resounding NO.
I’ll give it one bite for the chapters on mother love.

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton.
I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 – set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again.
I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I’ll read anything.

The Tasty Recipe for a Christopher Brookmyer Novel

Christopher Brookmyre. Scotlands Answer to Carl Haissen.

The recipe for a Christopher Brookmyre novel is as follows:
Take the following Ingredients:

Murder, (the larger the body count the better)
Mayhem
Mystery
Laugh a minute dialog
Bumbling bad guys
Hapless heroes
Evil establishment figures (Church, Politicians and big business)

Mix together with an ingenious plot, add a generous helping of the rampant, surreal and cynical imagination of Christopher Brookmyre. Switch off your phone and TV, settle down with a glass of wine in front of the fire and loose yourself, for this is escapism in it’s purest form.

Forty seven year old Brookmyre was born in Glasgow, went to school at Barr Head and then to Glasgow University. To date has published nineteen novels and has collected too many crime fiction awards to list. It is hardly surprising that he became a writer as his mother, an English teacher said “Kids who read don’t need to be taught English and kids that don’t can’t be”.

Christopher BrookmyreI discovered Christopher’s books six months ago and to date have read just nine of them. I have loved them from the word go. Christoper adores the idea of a character who cheerfully wanders into enormously dangerous situations and effortlessly makes them worse. The first thing that catches your eye are the titles of his novels “All Fun and Games Until Someone Loses an Eye”, “One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night”, “A Tale Etched in Blood and Hard Black Pencil”, to name but three. I particularly love the vernacular dialog, the one liners are brilliantly funny, although Brookmyre admits that as a writer he has the advantage of the ‘Spirit of the staircase’ (A french saying that means you only think of the most cutting response to an argument as you walk away down the stairs) He has the time to hone the wittiest put downs and this he does to perfection. Warning, don’t read these in public as you will frighten people with your sudden outbursts of manic laughter.

I have listened to these on audio and my enjoyment has been enhanced by the narration of Angus King, a talented young actor who effortlessly switches accents and dialects between different characters so the listener is never in doubt as to who is speaking.

Despite the blood and gore, or perhaps because of it, after all said and done as children we all enjoyed a bit of blood and gore and I’m no different now I’m all grown up. I can’t wait to listen to the next ten

I enjoy Christopher Brookmyres writing, his talent, beliefs , warmth and humour, makes him come across as someone I would love to have as a drinking buddy.

By the way, if ya dinna like strong language, dinna buy the fuckin’ books..

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton.
I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 – set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again.
I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I’ll read anything.

Beyond the Call by Lee Trimble and Jeremy Dronfield

51paidKFfJL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_“What did you do in the war Dad?” Lee Trimble knew his 86 year old father had flown daylight bombing missions from Debach airfield near Woodbridge, and felt that a record should be made of his wartime experiences and achievements.

After many hours of sitting with his father Captain Robert M Trimble recording the details of his 35 mission tour Lee felt he had reached the end of his father’s story, just as he was about to leave his father said “When I got back from Russia I was a mess”. That statement stopped Lee in his tracks. “Russia? What the hell were you doing in Russia?” What follows is one of the most amazing and incredible stories I’ve ever read.
The winter of 1945 saw the Red Army rampaging through Eastern Europe in an unstoppable march on Berlin, leaving in their wake the detritus of war. Not just in shattered equipment and devastated towns, but also hundreds of thousands of displaced people and ex-prisoners of war.
The Red Army had neither the will, nor the facilities, to feed or care for these freezing, starving and desperate people. The Red Army’s simple solution was to shoot German POWs. Red Army POWs, were also shot on the basis that, as they had surrendered to the Germans they were traitors and deserved to die. Among the thousands of liberated POWS were hundreds of Americans, British, Canadian and other allied troops. The Red Army’s policy towards these starving men was simply to set them free, without food or transport in the most bitterly cold winter that Europe had ever known, leaving them to find their own way home.
On completion of his 35 mission tour Robert Trimble was due to be sent home on leave, but was tricked into volunteering for a safe job that would mean no further bombing missions. The safe job was to oversee the recovery of downed American aircraft and aircrew that had crash landed behind Red Army lines after bombing missions to eastern Germany. Arriving in Russia he found that he had been conned, not once but twice, for his real mission was to rescue American ex-prisoners of War.
This was the ultimate “Mission Impossible”. (A mission on this scale might have been achievable with a team of 40 or 50 trained men and the resources to back them up). Nevertheless, Robert Trimble alone, unaided, and untrained in covert operations managed to save the lives of over a thousand people.
The barbarity and casual savagery of the Red Army in general and the NKVD in particular, combined with the betrayal of their own people by the United States Government, in their futile attempts to appease Stalin, left Robert Trimble a damaged man.
This is a must read book for the generations that have never known war. I give it five bites.

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton.
I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 – set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again.
I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I’ll read anything.

Bad Analysis by Colin Knight

41aL2YZ5p8L._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_When invited to review this novel, my immediate reaction on seeing the cover was one of disappointment, it looked like a “Penny Dreadful” and the plot summary seemed “far-fetched” .

I was wrong, totally and utterly wrong. I made the fundamental error of judging a book by its cover, at my age I should have known better.
The plot summary is: A wealthy, racist, British, aristocrat, with the help of friends in high places, plans to rid Britain of its Muslim population. There are two stages to the plan: First, to secretly fund a massive recruiting drive for the English Defence League, allowing them to become a political force to be reckoned with. Stage two of the plan is to commit a massive act of terrorism that will kill thousands more innocent people than ever before. A carefully laid trail of convincing clues will lead the anti- terrorist squad to a UK based Islamic fundamentalist terrorist cell. The EDL’s calls for mass deportation of Muslims will then have to be taken seriously by the British government.
Yes, it does require a stretch of the imagination to make the plot plausible. But life can be stranger than fiction, who would have thought that terrorists would hijack four commercial airliners and fly them into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon?
Bad Analysis is a brilliant book, superbly written, gripping and fast paced. The hero Craig Wilson is not a macho James Bond type in fact he is a very ordinary family man working as a crypto analysist with The Canadian anti-terrorism squad. He has a gift for interpreting intercepted phone calls and emails. Unfortunately his superiors are bureaucrats, more concerned with office politics than acting on the flights of fancy of their senior analysts. And time is running out.
Colin Knight writes with first-hand knowledge and experience of how anti-terrorist operations work having spent many years in senior positions in the Canadian Police and Security Services. This insider knowledge gives the book the authenticity of LeCarre’s “Tinker Tailor, Soldier, Spy”. I loved it.
Five bites from me (But I still think the cover is rubbish).

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton.
I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 – set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again.
I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I’ll read anything.

Do No Harm by Henry Marsh

61AMLS2iXgL._SX312_BO1,204,203,200_I read this heartwarming, funny and heartbreaking book three weeks ago and I can’t stop thinking about it. I delayed writing the review as I was so blown away by this wonderful book that I felt it would be impossible to write an objective review whilst still under the influence. Here I am three weeks and six books later and I still think it’s one of my all time top ten. My initial reaction on seeing the cover was not to read it, because of the sub title “ Stories of life, death and brain surgery”. It’s probably one of the most off putting (yet accurate) sub titles and for this reason the book is unlikely to reach it’s well deserved place at the top of the best sellers list, unless we make it a ‘Word of mouth hit’.

Henry Marsh is one of the UK’s leading neurosurgeons and has been the subject of two award-winning TV programmes. Medicine was not his first career choice, he read Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford, then held down a series of mundane jobs before deciding to become a doctor. This superb, compelling book tells what it is like to be a surgeon working in a profession where every day he is required to make agonizing and heartbreaking decisions, and where even the most minor error can have catastrophic life changing consequences.

What makes “Do no Harm” so special is that Henry is such a deeply compassionate and caring man, who through the initial consultation, diagnosis, pre and post operative care gets to know and like his patients, which makes his job all the more difficult when making life or death decisions. You’ll need a large box of tissues for every chapter tells a story. The happy endings will have you in tears…. The others will have you openly weeping along with Henry. Despite the emotional content there is plenty of laughter. Henry (Victor Meldrew), has a lot to say about the chaos caused by Government directives and hospital bureaucrats and has a way of writing about it that will make you laugh out loud. Some of his experiences working in Ukraine beggar belief.

Henry Marsh is due to retire soon, despite his somewhat irascible nature, his sensitivity, gentleness and surgical skills will be sorely missed by our NHS. Please read “Do no Harm” we might make a best seller of it yet.

Five bites +++

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton.
I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 – set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again.
I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I’ll read anything.

Jobsworth by Malcolm Phillips

JobsworthI can’t believe I fell for it again. Looking for a light read after a series of heavy tomes I came across Jobsworth (confessions of the man from the council).

The prologue read: After a delightful dinner where one too many bottles of wine were consumed, I was reminiscing with one of my old friends about the hilarious times I had enjoyed when working as a civil servant for the County Council. My friend said “You should write a book Malcolm”. Whoever that friend was, he should be taken out and shot. It’s one thing try to shut up a crushing bore but never, ever do so by suggesting that his stories are funny or that he should write a book, because he might just do it.
You may wonder why I read this tedious drivel right through to the end, there were three reasons for this.
First: For two weeks my phone line was out of action, I had no internet connection, no phone calls, no emails, no facebook. Nothing else to do but catch up with my reading.

Second: I assumed from the prologue that it was going to be similar to the plot lines of “Yes Minister”, which would be a rich vein to mine and could indeed have produced hilarious stories. Unfortunately in Malcolm Phillips’s case one or two of his stories were mildly amusing, the rest without exception were an infantile ode to tedium. To make matters worse the author has no writing talent whatsoever. I assume that comes from thirty years of writing inter departmental memos.

Third: I’m an optimist, I was convinced that there must be something funny somewhere in this dire piece of drivel, so I stuck it out to the bitter end, and no, not once did I laugh.

The reason I said “I can’t believe I fell for it again” is that over the last few years I’ve twice read similar prologues that ended with the words “Your stories are so funny you should write a book” in both cases they were dreadful dross.

Bookeaters beware, when you read a prologue such as this it is a warning that the writer is a humourless bore, with an inflated ego intent upon inflicting his pathetic aspirations upon the long suffering reader.

No bites from me.

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton.
I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 – set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again.
I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I’ll read anything.

Follow Me by Angela Clarke

imageAngela Clarke is a chocolate biscuit and social media fanatic, her novel “Follow Me” is as up to the minute as it’s possible to be. The only surprise is that it’s taken crime writers so long to realise that the world of social media is a whole new genre waiting to be exploited.
The plot positively crackles with excitement and carries the readers along with Freddie, an aspiring journalist, as she pits her social media skills against a psychopathic serial killer ‘The Hashtag Murderer’ whose cryptic clues, tweeted on twitter, point to his next victim, taunt the police, and grip the imagination of press and public alike. As the number of the killers followers rises, so does the body count.
Freddie, is down on her luck and forced to work on ‘zero hours’ contract at a fast food outlet, to supplement her virtually non-existent freelance journalism income. She seizes the opportunity to gatecrash a murder scene, in an attempt to make her name with a major scoop. She then finds herself co-opted on to the murder squad, who are in dire need of someone with her social media skills. Freddie finds herself working alongside her childhood best friend Nasreen, now an ambitious police officer. Thrown together in a desperate struggle to catch this social media savvy serial killer, but always one step behind. Can they catch up with him? And can they escape their own dark past? Fast paced, witty and with a convoluted plot this is a book that’s difficult to put down.
Angela Clarke has created a complex and compelling heroine, fascinating but flawed. Freddie is a more believable character than most of the macho males that dominate the word of crime fiction. I will definitely be buying the follow up “Are you Awake?” which is due to be published in 2016
‘Follow Me’ is destined to be the biggest best seller since ‘Girl on a Train’ and in my opinion is in a class above. I would have given this five bites but for the depressing and relentless stereotyping. It would appear that the fashion industry is entirely populated by child molesting coke addicts. that Journalists are all morally bankrupt and the police are, without exception, male chauvinist. If this is a true picture of life in London in the 21st century then it’s not a place I would want to live.
It’s four bites from me.

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton.
I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 – set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again.
I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I’ll read anything.

Klop by Peter Day

imageKlop Ustinov (Father of film star and raconteur Peter Ustinov), was Britain’s most ingenious secret agent. A real life spy with more lovers than James Bond. Like 007 he was a man who appreciated fine food and wine but he was no licensed to kill action hero. His battlegrounds were the social salons of Europe and with his talent to entertain, beguile and amuse he bluffed his way into the confidence of everyone from Soviet commissars to the head of the Gestapo.

The author Peter Day has forty years experience in journalism including over a decade as a senior reporter and news-desk executive for the Mail on Sunday. Since turning freelance he has specialised in archive research, breaking exclusive stories on politics, royalty, military history and espionage.

With the combination of a fabulous and previously untold story, plus Peter Days incredible diligence in his archival research this should been an amazing read. It wasn’t I struggled on as best I could against the turgid prose, but this was a battle I was destined to lose. A double disappointment for me a military history is my favourite subject.

To be fair, it was a difficult story to tell, as Klop Ustinov knew everyone that was anyone in pre- world war II Europe. Peter Day mentions them all in his narrative (There are 1080 names in the index and only three hundred pages in the book). You only have to do the math to realise that this means there are an average 3.8 new characters introduced on each page. Thanks to Day’s obsessive research he tries to give a potted biography of the two hundred or so main characters. It would have been more fun reading the telephone directory or a pre-war copy of Who’s Who.

To compound the problem, the story lacked any coherence, by that I mean that after a paragraph or two about Klop, a new character would be introduced, complete with potted biography. This meant that the story of Klop had reached say 1936 and Peter Day is describing events involving the new character that happened in 1938 or 1942. The chaotic format and endless new characters made this a bewildering and ultimately unreadable book.

To see how a Biography of a spy should be written I recommend Ben MacIntyre “Agent Zig Zag”

Message to Biteback Publishing you need a ruthless editor and I’m available.

One bite from me and thats for the diligent research.

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton.
I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 – set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again.
I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I’ll read anything.

The Hanging Shed by Gordon Ferris

imageIt’s rare that I read a book for a second time but “The Hanging Shed” is superbly written, and beautifully paced . Gordon Ferris has the ability to capture the atmosphere and bleak grimness of Glasgow’s immediate post world war II austerity. Combine this with a clever plot numerous twists and turns, a believable and likable hero and you have yourself a cracking good crime novel.
Glasgow 1946. Everyone thought Donovan was dead, shot down in the war. Perhaps it would have been kinder if he had been killed. Instead he was unrecognizable, mutilated and horribly burned. Donovan keeps his own company, only venturing out of his cold cheerless tenement flat to score heroin to deaden the pain of his wounds. When a local boy is found raped and murdered there is only one suspect.
Despite the hideousness of the crime, recently de-mobbed soldier and pre-war policeman Douglas Brodie, now a struggling freelance journalist, and former school friend, feels compelled to answer Donovan’s plea for help. Despite the overwhelming evidence Brodie becomes convinced that Donovan has been framed, and if Donovan is innocent, then who is the real pedophile and murderer?
As the plot unfolds it becomes clear that there is far more to this vile crime than meets the eye. Why are the police reluctant to investigate every aspect of the case? What have the legal establishment got to hide? Why is the church playing a double game? All this against a background of poverty, violence and Glasgow’s Razor Gang wars and the IRA.
I enjoyed the fact that this is written in the first person, this gives the novel a sense of immediacy and urgency. There are some amusing touches: Who has ever read of a car chase where the hero is worried he may not have enough petrol coupons to carry on the chase? There is also a nice little romantic sub plot to lighten matters when the bleakness looks set to become overwhelming, after all this novel is set in 1946 and death by hanging was still the penalty for murder.

Five bites again

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton.
I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 – set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again.
I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I’ll read anything.

One Night in Winter by Simon Sebag Montifiore

imageSet in Stalin’s Russia in 1945, the Soviets are celebrating their victory over the Nazis. A victory that has come at a horrendous cost, thirty million Russians have died, Moscow itself is bomb damaged bleak and cheerless, poverty and hunger are a fact of life for the survivors. Yet amidst the suffering a gilded elite lead pampered lives, with beautiful homes, servants, chauffeur driven cars, weekend Dachas and special schools for their children.
For the Bolshevik elite life should have been wonderful, but the privileges came at a price. To become one of the elite it was necessary to become one of Stalin’s favorites and the closer the favorite the greater the danger, for Stalin was a ruthless murderer, anyone who fell from grace would be shot and their wives and children killed or sent to the Gulags.
In this novel Simon Sebag Montifiore (Author of Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar) paints a graphic picture of life under Stalin. Cosseted children of the elite, blissfully unaware of the day to day fear endured by their parents, form a secret society to celebrate the works of Pushkin. After the official victory parade they try to re-enact the duel from Eugene Onegin. Things go horribly wrong and two children die. The subsequent investigation turns up a school notebook containing notes that could be interpreted as anti-communist. The KGB, themselves fearful of Stalin, chose to interpret these notes as a plot against Stalin. The children, one only six years old, are arrested, thrown into The Lubianka and tortured. Their parents are helpless to intervene, as to do so would make them suspect of plotting against Stalin. The interrogations throw up all manner of family secrets which the KGB can hold against the parents either now or in the future. Increasing their fear to near intolerable levels.
The story is beautifully written, despite the background of almost tangible fear, it’s a story of love, adultery, family ties, friendship, youth and optimism and so much more. The writing is a joy, short sentences that flow with an easy rhythm that make it difficult to put down.
One teeny weeny niggle…. Why is it titled “One Night in Winter”? when the action takes place after the victory parade and that was at the end of May 1945.
Its five bites from me.

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton.
I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 – set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again.
I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I’ll read anything.

A Danger to God Himself by John Draper

imageLooking for something light to read I was attracted to this novel by three things. First the fact that it was a comedy. Secondly that it was based on the thankless task of Mormon missionaries, a field as yet unexplored in the comedy genre. Thirdly I liked the cover (I know, I know never judge a book by its cover). The story follows Elder Kenny a half hearted missionary at best, coerced into the mission by his stepfather, he is joined by Elder Jared who like Kenny has been pushed into the mission by his family. They are a likable duo, livening up the depressing business of knocking on doors with wise cracking humour. Regretfully there are only two or three good wisecracks before the story turns into a theological debate.

Debate is probably the wrong word as the Author makes it very clear from the outset that he is not a believer in Mormonism or any other established religion and spends nearly half the book demolishing religion in all its many and varied guises. Far to long and very tedious. John Draper could have stated his position in one paragraph and then got on with the story.

There is some rather heavy handed satirical humour at the expense of several of the characters who are religious leaders, have no belief in God, yet continue to exercise power, as they love the trappings of authority. There is also a bit of slapstick thrown in for good measure.

As the story progresses Jared’s humour becomes more and more bizarre until it reaches the point that Kenny begins to believe that Jared has mental health issues. In fact Jared is suffering from Paranoid Schizophrenia. The story then takes a serious turn, no longer a comedy but a battle against an incurable disease, where the treatment is often worse than the disease itself.

Basically there are three sections:
First: The half hearted missionaries on a mission doomed to failure.
Second: A theological debate.
Third: A tale of love, family and friendship fighting a losing battle against a terrible disease.

In my opinion the author would have been wiser to have made this into two books, one about the hapless missionaries which could have been made into something really funny by deleting the interminable theological claptrap and adding a more humour. Then the story of Jared and his friends and family and their battle with Schizophrenia, which was truly moving, beautifully written and terribly sad, on its own this would be a best seller.

Difficult to rate this, as a humorous novel 2 Bites, as a story of love, friendship and death 4 bites. Put them together and it makes an average of 3 bites.

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton.
I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 – set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again.
I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I’ll read anything.

Dictator by Robert Harris

imageTen years after the publication of “Imperium” the first of the Cicero trilogy, the final book is published and it’s been worth the wait. My thesaurus contains over one hundred and fifty superlatives and that’s not enough to do justice to this stunning work of historical semi-fiction.
The plot outline was written 2000 years ago, leaving Robert Harris to flesh out the characters and fill in gaps in the continuity. All the characters, including Cicero are presented “Warts and All” and although Cicero was a great man championing a just cause, his shortcomings are not glazed over. Cicero is portrayed as a complex man, sometimes brave sometimes cowardly, sometimes arrogant, sometimes modest, often curmudgeonly, others times full of pithy humour.
The portraits of the other characters are also quite remarkable. This is particularly the case of the skillful and utterly ruthless Caesar, with his winning charm hiding his cold mind. Also young Octavius/Caesar whom Cicero did both mortally offend and grossly underestimate, and that of the ageing Pompey whose military talent was largely in his qualities as a first class organiser and expert in logistics. Even Mark Antony is portrayed as no mean orator himself and quite capable of hitting back and hurting Cicero through a public speech of his own. The most sympathetic character is Tiro, Cicero’s secretary and slave, who narrates the book.
The final volume follows the disintegration of the Roman Republic. The speed of that collapse still horrifies, as the mob factions of this or that scurrilous politician terrorize Rome. making it increasingly unsafe to vote and allowing demagogues and dictators to change the course of history after five hundred years of Republican Rome, Cicero can only be a tragic bystander, helpless in the face of titanic forces tearing the Republic apart, in the end he must try to protect his family from danger and ends up losing them all. Only Tiro, his faithful secretary, survives to help his friend in what seems like a fearsome rollercoaster ride through history. The murder of Pompey, the assassination of Caesar, the rise of Marc Antony and the teenage autocrat who would, most ruthlessly, become Caesar Augustus and pretend that the corpse of the Republic still lived.
There is a sense that after two thousand years, nothing has changed. Despots and dictators still abound and coups, revolutions and civil war often result in making life worse for the people they promise to save. The Arab Spring could be a carbon copy of events that took place in Cicero’s time.
Towards the end I started to read slower and slower as I did not want the book to end.

Five bites and then some.

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton.
I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 – set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again.
I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I’ll read anything.

The Burning Air by Erin Kelly

the burning airIt’s a long standing family tradition that The McBrides, a well to do, rather self satisfied, middle class family, spend bonfire night at their holiday home in Devon. This year the youngest son Felix, has for the first time, bought a girlfriend with him.

The girl, Kerry, seems very quiet and a little odd in a way that no one can quite put their finger on. However she seems to be very good with children and is left to babysit Sophie’s baby. On their return from their bonfire celebrations, the family discover both Kerry and the baby have disappeared.
A blistering start to this chilling psychological thriller. A gripping mystery that tells a dark tale of obsession, delusion, and revenge. The McBrides have a sense of privilege and entitlement, he is Headmaster of an excellent private school, his wife a JP. They are considered pillars of the community, though perhaps a little smug, they are nevertheless a likeable family. Hooked from the word go I simply had to read on, thank goodness for these long, dark winter evenings.

The Burning Air is Erin’s third novel. Her first The Poison Tree was a Richard and Judy Selection and a major ITV drama. This plot is narrated by four different characters, so the reader experiences the story from different perspectives. We get to know the characters, their history and motivations. This narrative structure, coupled with the plot twists and turns makes this mystery a truly great psychological thriller.
It would have been a “five bite” but for two things: With eight principal family members to be introduced at the start, characterizations are, of necessity, a bit sparse. I found that in the early chapters, I kept having to pause to work out who was who. However, the characters are well and truly fleshed out as the novel progresses.

The other problem was with the second narrator, Darcy. I read several chapters before I realized that Darcy was a male, I blame Darcy Bushell for this! Memo to writers: ensure your characters do not have ambiguous names it confuses the elderly reviewer!
I’m going to be reading more Erin Kelly and give The Burning Air four and a half bites,

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton.
I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 – set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again.
I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I’ll read anything.

The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks

imageI love a book with a ‘hook’. The best ‘hook’ I ever came across was thirty years ago. Sadly I can’t remember the title or author… (It’s an age thing) but, I’ll never forget the ‘hook’. A man wakes up in a hotel room, befuddled, cannot think how he came to be there, goes to bathroom, looks in mirror only to see someone else’s face looking back at him”. Impossible not to read on, there are so many questions that need to be answered.
Kevin Brooks has created a magnificent ‘hook’. In the opening paragraph you discover that Linus Weems a sixteen year old runaway living rough on the streets of London has been abducted, drugged and held captive in a concrete underground bunker. Why? Why him? Why now? Can he escape this seemingly impregnable prison? It is a compulsive read that is genuinely unputdownable. I started reading it at lunchtime and found it so compelling that I read it in one session.
It is difficult to review this novel without letting slip any spoilers, the last thing you need is a spoiler, the less you know about the plot the more you will enjoy it. The writing is mesmerizing, as a reader you feel you are on a non-stop roller coaster between hope and despair. After six hours of reading, I felt drained, totally exhausted as if I had experienced a six hour emotional battering.
It was only after I finished reading that I found that The Bunker Diary was written for the young adult market (although there is nothing on the jacket to indicate this). I would not recommend this to anyone under fifteen years old, it would give them enduring nightmares.
I also discovered that this book by Kevin Brooks was the Cilip Carnegie Medal winner in 2014. I’ll give myself a week or so to recover then, I’ll have a have a crack at another of Kevin’s books.
This is my first ever five bite review and I would have given more if it were possible.

 

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton.
I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 – set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again.
I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I’ll read anything.

The Damascus Cover by Howard Kaplan

image

First published in 1977 and re-published as an e-book in 2014.

Burned out after 30 years in the service Mossad agent Ari Ben Sion is manoeuvred into volunteering for a secret mission to liberate Jewish children held in Damascus.

The plot line is a good as they get. The stakes couldn’t be higher, one mistake and the small Jewish community trapped in Syria could be wiped out. Hardly surprising then, that there are roumours that The Damascus Cover will be made into a movie in the near future (Hence the release of the e-book). The plot is fast paced with innumerable twists and turns that leave you guessing right to the end.

Howard Kaplan’s thriller reflects the mood of the mid seventies, when many regarded ‘plucky little Israel’ as the underdog and therefore the good guys. At the same time Mossad was widely regarded as the most effective espionage organization in the world.

On the basis of what I’ve written so far you would think that this was going to be a rave review but sadly no. Despite the great plot the fast pace, and the atmospheric descriptions of Damascus, our hero Ari Ben Sion is more Mr Bean than Mr Bond. Every time I started to enjoy the story Mr Bean would do, or say, something so stupid it would stop me in my tracks, and I’d have to put the book down.

To give just two examples:

On hearing that his girl friend wants to become a war photographer he replies
“Photographs never stopped a war”. (For those to young to remember, the Vietnam War had just come to an end, largely due to two photos. First: the naked little girl running from the napalm, with her back on fire. Second: the Saigon police chief executing a VC suspect on the street. These shocking photos did much to bring a change to America’s attitude to the war and hastened an end to hostilities).

Stupid mistake number two “He grabbed her by the throat just above her Adam’s apple”

There were several other Mr Bean moments, so regretfully is just three bites from me.

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton.
I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 – set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again.
I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I’ll read anything.

The Strasbourg Legacy by William Craig

imageDecades after the defeat of the Third Reich, the SS rears its sinister head in this thriller from the bestselling author of Enemy at the Gates and The Fall of Japan

In the chaos of defeat, the senior members of Hitler’s inner circle and the SS tried to disappear. Many of the most notorious Nazis escaped, including Josef Mengele and Adolf Eichmann. Martin Bormann, the Fuehrer’s private secretary, was rumored to be living everywhere from the Soviet Union to South America.

Almost three decades later, CIA agent Matt Corcoran is sent to Bad Nauheim to investigate possible Soviet involvement in the theft of US Army munitions. He hears whispers of German Reds blowing up NATO ammo dumps, neo-Nazis aiding the Arab cause against Israel, and a plot to assassinate the German chancellor. Willie Brandt. Corcoran soon begins to suspect that behind the turmoil is an organization as diabolical as it is improbable: a cadre of loyal Nazi officers, under the command of Bormann, are bent on bringing about the Fourth Reich.

Unfortunately improbable is the operative word. The Third Reich was spawned in the poverty and grotesque inflation of the 1920’s and 30’s. in the 1970’s Germany was the prosperous powerhouse of Europe and the premise that the Nazi’s could return to power by the bomb and bullet rather than the ballot box was frankly ludicrous.
Much of the Politics and scandals of 1970’s Germany are mentioned in passing and without explanation which must render much of the plot meaningless to anyone under 60 years of age, some judicious editing was needed before republishing.
Compared to Le Carre and Forsyth, who were contemporaries of the author William Craig, this novel was distinctly third rate. On the plus side at 186 pages it was mercifully brief.
I was particularly disappointed by William Craig’s venture into thriller writing as I consider his “Enemy at the Gates” to be one of the finest military histories ever, certainly a cut above Anthony Beavors “Stalingrad”
I enjoy a good mystery but to me the biggest mystery is why, forty years after the book was originally published, did they decided to re-publish it?

Its one bite from me

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton.
I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 – set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again.
I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I’ll read anything.

The Girl Who Went Missing by Ace Varkey

imageAmerican girl June, having recently been jilted, feels the need to get away from things and accepts her younger sister, Thalia’s, invitation to join her in Mumbai for a holiday. Thalia is there on a Fulbright scholarship, studying for a post graduate thesis on ancient Indian temples. June expects to be met at the airport by her sister but on her arrival there is no sign of Thalia. A great start to a novel – I was immediately hooked.

Unfortunately, from there on in it’s downhill all the way. The editing is poor (Numerous spelling errors) the writing is stilted (I wondered if English was Ace Varkey’s second language). I felt that an opportunity was missed, Mumbai is a fabulous backdrop for a crime novel. But somehow the book failed to get across the steaming anthill that is Mumbai, seventeen million people packed into an area one third the size of London, the ever present stink of humanity, the crumbling and inadequate infrastructure, extremes of wealth and poverty side by side and people, people, people.. everywhere you look, people and more people. A crime writers heaven.

On the plus side the story bought home very forcefully just how dangerous India can be for women. The attitudes of many Indian men are firmly locked into a past where women were little more than chattles, to be used and abused with impunity. The plot line dealt with the abduction, enslavement and trafficking of poor uneducated country girls, a serious subject and very topical, in view of the recent world headlines about the Mumbai gang rape.

I felt the writer failed to capitalise on the great location and “up to the minute” subject by her weak characterisation, and “Boys Own” adventure plot line (Good guys arrive in the nick of time fell the bad guys with a single blow). This,along with the fact that the hero is The Commissioner of Police himself, in charge of a force of 55,000. Yet has the time to get involved in the case, stretches credibility beyond belief.

Just two bites from me.

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton.
I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 – set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again.
I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I’ll read anything.