Reviews and Comments

Paul Oldham

Joined 1 year, 5 months ago

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Nita Prose: Mystery Guest (2023, Random House Publishing Group) 5 stars

A fine follow up to "The Maid"

5 stars

"The Maid" was one of my two favourite books of 2023 and so I was worried how this would compare but it's a fine follow up with a more coherent plot, an excellent back story, and some nice touches. It also signals a possible way forward for Molly in another book if Nita Prose wants to take her that way.

Janet Evanovich: Metro girl (2004, Harpercollins) 3 stars

Alexandra (Barney) Barnaby roars onto the Miami Beach scene in hot pursuit of her missing …

Makes Stephanie Plum seem plausible

2 stars

Alex (Barney) Barnaby was a little Evanovich side project around the time Stephanie Plum reached book ten, and it's understandable that she wanted another heroine but this one is ... a bit thin to be honest. The NASCAR theme gets boring fast, there's little made made of Barney's motor skills, and the plot is flaky ... even compared to a Stephanie Plum. There was a second novel, and two graphic novels, but it ran out of steam and I'm not surprised.

John Banville: Snow (2020, Harlequin Enterprises, Limited) 5 stars

Dark murder mystery which is more about the place and time than the crime

5 stars

Despite being "A Strafford and Quirke Murder" the latter is conspicuous by his absence but this strange and haunting book is really rather fine. A plot very much of its time and place, with a lot left unsaid, and it is very dark but it's well written (and I polished it off in only two days, which is a bit of a giveaway).

Terry Pratchett: A Stroke of the Pen (Hardcover, 2023, Harper) 4 stars

These rediscovered tales were written by Terry Pratchett under a pseudonym for British newspapers during …

Entertaining early Pratchett

3 stars

A collection of serialised short stories written by pTerry in the early 70s, mainly in the 'Western Daily Press' and mainly using the name Patrick Kearns. You can see how his style is developing towards the early Discworld novels and they're an amusing read.

Molly MacRae: Last Wool And Testament (2012, Signet Book) 1 star

I'm sure there's a decent plot here struggling to get out ...

1 star

... but I struggled to find this. I got 288 pages (out of 470) into this book and finally gave up. The thing that finally put me over the edge was that the author seemed to forget one of the plot elements, without any explanation, but I was already losing interest in it. Our hero seems ... well, just unlikely. She's not thrown by things which should throw her, she accepts things at face value when she shouldn't. And this against a background cast of characters which seemed equally unlikely.

Curtis Sittenfeld: Romantic Comedy (2023, Random House Publishing Group, Random House) 3 stars

A book in three parts ...

3 stars

... quite literally. Chapter 1 is essentially "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" but viewed from a member of the writers' room and I enjoyed that. A lot. Chapter 2 is an exchange of emails and that's a writing style I've always struggled with, but at least it's fairly short. Chapter 3 is, in truth, predictable but fine.

It's chick lit, but there's nothing wrong with that from where I'm reading, it's also set, in it's second and third chapters, against the background of full on Covid and it's the first book I've read where it is a vital plot point. It's also, in truth, a bit predictable but it was fun, and it was easy to read, but I can't imagine me ever reading it again.

Cedric John Foley: Mailed Fist (2022, Imperial War Museum) 4 stars

Taking Churchill tanks through Europe

4 stars

A fictionalised memoir of a troop commander of three Churchill tanks describing their exploits in the run up to D-Day through to VE day.

It's well written and it's undramatic, but you're left with a clear impression of what it was like for the soldiers of Five Troop with, like all proper war memoirs, a lot of sitting about and only the odd skirmish.

Well worth a read.

Al Murray: Command (2023, Headline Publishing Group) 3 stars

Good in its anecdotes but all too brief

3 stars

On the cover it claims to be about "How the Allies Learned to Win the Second World War" but it's really not that.

What actually happens is that Murray picks a selection of officers, mainly pretty senior and all army, and spends a chapter on each.

Out of that comes a lot of interesting stories. For example Monty on VD is a fascinating interlude but you actually learn little about Monty in general. And that's often the way. Murray is having to pick little episodes out of each officer's life and run with that and I didn't really feel he came to any real conclusion.

But overall it works pretty well, and it certainly left me wanting to know more about some of the characters and also more about the subjects that the book wander into. So a worthwhile read.

reviewed The Picture House Murders by Fiona Veitch Smith (The Miss Clara Vale Mysteries, #1)

Fiona Veitch Smith: The Picture House Murders (Paperback, 2023, Embla Books) 3 stars

1929: Miss Clara Vale is a woman ahead of her time. Rather than attending Oxford …

An easy to read period piece

3 stars

First of a series of books introducing us to Miss Clara Vale, a very modern young woman who in 1929 is finding her way through the social morays of the era while discovering a new life as a private detective in Newcastle.

A pleasant read with a likeable central character and a good supporting cast. It's all a bit superficial, but it was enjoyable and provided an easy start to 2024.

Carl Hiaasen, Carl Hiaasen: Squeeze Me (Paperback, 2021, Sphere) 4 stars

Hiaasen back on classic form

4 stars

The king of humorous Florida crime stories is back with another excellent tale in which, inevitably, Skink makes an appearance in the end. This is recent too, being set just post Covid, and it also includes a president and first lady who, although never named, are clear loosely based on Donald and Melania Trump.

An enjoyable read and a lot of fun.

reviewed Big Trouble by Dave Barry

Dave Barry: Big Trouble (2000, Little, Brown Book Group Limited) 2 stars

A slapstick thriller set in Florida, featuring oddball characters. They include a homeless man who …

Not bad ... but not Carl Hiaasen

2 stars

There seems to be a genre of crime literature set against the background of Florida with emphasis on the colourful of its inhabitants, the creatures that dwell there and the destruction of their habitat. The heroes are generally amateurs with professional law enforcement only playing secondary roles.

I've always suspected that Carl Hiaasen is largely responsible for this genre with his excellent novels, many of which I own.

Dave Barry, who is an excellent column writer (search the Web for 'dave barry Roger and Elaine' for a classic example), pays respect to Hiassen in his introduction and it's very obvious why when you read this book as it relies heavily on Hiassen's formula. And it's ... OK ... but in truth it's not of the same quality, or indeed Les Standiford who Barry also gives a nod to in his introduction.

Not that there's anything that wrong with it. It's …

Dodie Smith: I Capture the Castle 5 stars

I Capture the Castle is the first novel of English author Dodie Smith, written during …

The best book I've read this year

5 stars

It's perhaps appropriate that it's taken until book 51 of 52 to reach the book which will really stay with me. I went to bed last night with the ending buzzing around in my head.

This is a coming of age tale written in the first person by a young girl in a somewhat unlikely setting before the second world war. The style really gets you into Cassandra's head as she's very honest as to her feelings ... even if she sometimes hides them from herself.

It's also notable for the things she's missing but you are not. I won't give away the plot but there are undercurrents in the relationships between the other characters that she simply doesn't see or comprehend.

Anyway recommended, for all sorts of reasons.

Colin Watson: One Man's Meat (The Flaxborough Novels) (Paperback, 1991, Mandarin) 4 stars

Back on form with book 9

3 stars

Still working my way through the Flaxborough novels and this is Watson back on form with a fine performance by Lucy Teatime.

(By the way if you're looking back in my reviews and wonder what became of book 8 'The Naked Nuns' I did start reading that but it's the first of the series I ever read and I've read it too many times now ... although it is a good one.)