book reviews , different studio guests each week. Join us every Thursday between 12 and 1pm on Radio Scilly 107.9fm or log on to radioscilly.com.

Missed any programmes? See below for list of guests, books and other details discussed.

Friday, 24 October 2014

David Baldacci - The Innocent


book review written by and read out live on bookshow by Brian Lowen 23rd Oct 2014

Another really good thriller from David Baldacci.

The hero of the story is Will Robie who is a professional assassin and is given targets for elimination by the American Secret Service.

His latest mission goes wrong when he fails to kill a young mother and her baby – he feels that is too much to stomach. This leads to him being on the run and then he gets involved with a bunch of Asians who are out to get the President.

He rescues a 14 year old girl from a bus just before it blows up. Julie is a very bright kid and Will agrees to help her find the people who murdered her parents.

This is when the story starts to get rather complicated, but the action still keeps going. Will also becomes involved with a female FBI agent – Nicole Vance, which further complicates the story. Will becomes very friendly with Annie Lambert, an office worker at the White House, who lives in the same apartment block as he does, which adds further complications.

The story branches off into other sub plots but all finally comes together in a dramatic conclusion inside the White House during a Presidential reception.


A good fast paced thriller with a complicated story line, but keeps up the standard of his previous books.

Alan Titchmarsh - Bring Me Home



review written and read live on the bookshow by  Brian Lowen 23rd October 2014
I do sometimes find it quite hard to realise that the chap we see on the TV talking to us about all things concerning gardening can sit down and write such good novels. Some people may think them a bit trite but I always thoroughly enjoy them and have read every one of his books. I have noticed how the stories have got better and have more depth now than his first few books. He builds up his characters well and puts them in interesting situations.

This story involves young Charlie Stuart and his friend Gordon Mackenzie who are room-mates at Egglestone Academy, a boarding school in Scotland. Charlie is the heir to Castle Sodhail which sits on an estate bordering Loch Sodhail. Charlie’s Father is the Laird and when his wife dies suddenly, Charlie returns home to help run the estate. He invites his friend Gordon, down for the holidays and he gets quite sweet on Eleanor, Charlie’s lifelong friend from the big house on the other side of the loch. Eleanor plays along because she wants to make Charlie jealous because she loves no one but him.

Meanwhile, Charlie’s Father has married another woman – Charlotte, who turns out to be a very unsavoury character who Charlie thinks has just married him for the money and the position as the wife of the Laird.  But she soon gets fed up with living in this cold, draughty and remote castle, despite having

redecorated it to her own tastes and persuades her husband to move from the castle to a house in Edinburgh where there is more social life for her to enjoy.

This means that Charlie is now the Laird, but still only in his early twenties, and having to shoulder the burden of running the estate, organising shooting and fishing parties, and looking after the holiday lets. He has the gillie to help him, Murdo, who has been working on the estate for years, and lives with his wife in a small cottage near the castle on the side of the Loch.

It would spoil the story for the reader if I went any further, but would just say that we follow Charlie through the years, and share his joys and his heartaches.

A thoroughly good tale that should appeal to most people.

Maeve Haran - THE TIME OF THEIR LIVES

book review written & read live on the bookshow by Babs Simpson 23rd October 2014
AS IT SAYS ON THE COVER - THIS IS A NOVEL FOR ANYONE WHO WASN'T BORN YESTERDAY AND I CERTAINLY FALL INTO THIS CATEGORY.
IT TELLS THE STORIES OF FOUR FRIENDS, CLAUDIA, ELLA, SAL AND LAURA WHO MEET UP EVERY MONTH TO CELEBRATE THEIR 4OYR FRIENDSHIP.
SAL IS SINGLE AND A SUCCESSFUL CAREER WOMAN EDITING A MAGAZINE.  SHE;S VERY INDEPENDENT AND EVEN WHEN FACED WITH A TERRIBLE CHALLENGE, HER INSTINCT IS TO COPE ALONE RATHER THAN INVOLVE HER CLOSE FRIENDS.
CLAUDIA IS MARRIED TO DON AND THEY HAVE TWO DAUGHTERS.  CLAUDIA LOVES HER LONDON LIFE BUT DON RECENTLY RETIRED, HANKERS FOR A MORE RURAL EXISTENCE.  SHE IS VERY ANTI UNTIL PROBLEMS WITH HER VERY ACTIVE BUT ELDERLY PARENTS BEGIN TO THROW UP WORRIES.  PERHAPS IT WOULD MAKE SENSE TO MOVE CLOSER TO THEM.
ELLA IS A WIDOW.  SHE HAS TWO DAUGHTERS - JULIA WHO IS MARRIED AND GABY WHO IS NOT - AND STILL LIVES IN THE BIG FAMILY HOME SHE SHARED WITH HER BELOVED HUSBAND.  HER ELDER DAUGHTER IS DOING HER BEST TO MAKE ELLA SELL THE HOME AND SHARE THE PROFITS WITH HER GIRLS BUT ELLA CANNOT CONTEMPLATE LEAVING THE PLACE WHERE SHE HAS BEEN SO HAPPY.
LAURA IS BLISSFULLY HAPPY WITH SIMON.  THEY HAVE TWO CHILDREN - BELLA AND SAM.  IT'S THEIR 25TH ANNIVERSARY AND LAURA PLANS A ROMANTIC SURPRISE BUT THINGS GO HORRIBLY WRONG.#SO THE VARIOUS SCENES ARE SET FOR A LONG AND VERY ENJOYABLE NOVEL OF MODERN LIFE IN WHICH THE READER GETS TOTALLY INVOLVED.  THE CHARACTERS ARE ALL VERY REAL, THE SITUATION TOTALLY BELIEVABLE AND THE FINAL CHAPTER AT A WEDDING IAS IMMENSELY SATISFACTORY.
MAEVE H IS A GREAT AUTHOR AND THIS BOOK IS ONE OF HER VERY BEST.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Tom Sharpe - Wilt in Nowhere

review written by Brian Lowen & read on the bookshow 2014
 
I thought that I had read all of Tom Sharpe’s hilarious books but was pleased to find this one in the charity shop recently which I hadn’t read.
Other famous books of his include Porterhouse Blue and Blot on the Landscape, both of which have been made into films.

This book features Henry Wilt, a schoolteacher who is the central person in several other books.  Henry is married to a large lady and has four girls – quads in fact, named Samantha, Penelope, Josephine and Emmeline.

Their Uncle Wally and Auntie Joan who live in Wilma, Tennessee, invite them all over to America for the summer holidays, with all expenses paid by Wally, who is the head of a large company and is very rich with private jet and boats and a large mansion plus a summer retreat up in the mountains.

Wally does not have any relatives and Eva, Henry’s wife is hoping that Wally might leave some of his fortune to the quads in his will. Henry, however, detests Wally who is a typical brash rich Yank, always deriding Henry for his lack of enthusiasm for life and his relatively poor standard of living.

Henry therefore thinks up an excuse not to go. He waves his family off at the airport and immediately sets off on a country

trek. He packs a haversack and plans to just keep walking without planning any route but just enjoying the countryside, stopping at pubs for meals and a pint and sleeping in B & Bs.  His idyllic plans soon come tumbling down though as he gets caught in a thunderstorm in the middle of nowhere and gets into all manner of scrapes including being suspected of burning down a large house.

Eva and the girls, meanwhile, are enjoying themselves in the luxurious surroundings of Wally’s mansion. Wally soon tires of the girl’s personal questions regarding his love life and the conditions of his employees, which the girls are investigating for their projects back at school. He takes them all off to his country house to get their minds off these subjects but of course they cause him even greater embarrassment there.

Unbeknown to the family, the FBI suspect Eva of bringing drugs into the country and when they start their surveillance chaos reigns as the quads start causing mayhem for Wally and Joan and soon get packed off home with their Mother.

If you don’t laugh out loud at some of the situations Tom Sharpe dreams up for Wilt’s family then I shall be very surprised. An hilarious tale which I am pleased to recommend as a good tonic to cheer up anyone.

Simon Hall - The Shadows of Justice

review written by Brian Lowen & read on the bookshow 2014 



 Simon Hall is the BBC reporter who is often on Spotlight and he writes a very good story.

This is his sixth book and I think they just keep getting better.

Each book features Dan Groves (obviously based on Simon Hall himself) and his unusual and probably extremely unlikely involvement with Detective Chief Inspector Adam Breen of the Plymouth Police Force in helping to solve various crimes.

Dan works for Wessex Tonight, a TV programme based on Spotlight, and all the stories are set in the Plymouth area.

So once you can get over this strange liaison, the stories are actually very good. This one concerns a young little rich girl who is kidnapped while out on the streets late at night helping the homeless by giving out bowls of soup. There are several suspects and Dan is brought in to help with the investigation on the understanding that he will get an exclusive for his nightly programme. His boss at the TV centre, Lizzie, is a demanding witch, never satisfied with Dan’s reports and always wanting more.
If Dan’s story is ‘not bad’ then that is praise indeed! 

Dan lives on his own with a large Alsatian dog called Rutherford and the love interest is provided by his on/off girlfriend Claire, also a detective with the Plymouth Police. The romance is off at the moment because she is suspicious of Dan’s involvement with Katrina, a beautiful blond detective, a specialist on kidnappings who has been seconded onto the team.

I cannot give too many details of the story as that would spoil it for the readers, but just when you think the case is solved, it is not, and the story carries on with many more twists to the tale.

Good descriptions, with good characters who you feel involved with. Thoroughly enjoyable and I look forward to his next one.

Stephen Booth - Black Dog

review written by Brian Lowen & read on the bookshow 2014 


This is the first novel that SB wrote back in the year 2000 and since then I see he has written a dozen more books. I would describe his books as good detective mysteries, rather similar to Val McDermid’s books.

Smart, sexy teenager, Laura Vernon goes missing during a long hot summer in the Peak District. Her body is found by Harry Dickinson, an elderly retired lead miner, while out for a walk with his dog. Harry is one of three old blokes who have known each other all their lives and regularly meet up either on the farm or in the pub.

Ben Cooper, a young Detective Constable has known the villages all his life but his instinctive feelings about the case are challenged by the arrival of Diane Fry, a ruthlessly ambitious detective from another division who is tasked to work with Ben on the case. Ben is keen to follow his instincts and not worry too much about proper procedures and so clashes with Diane who is ruthlessly efficient and does everything by the book to get herself noticed and climb up the career ladder.

It is obvious to Ben that the three old boys are holding something back when they are interviewed and so we follow the investigation as several red herrings are thrown up as other suspects are found, including the girl’s parents, a rich couple

living in the local manor house and renowned for the wild parties that are held there.

A good story. The characters are built up slowly and become believable and I enjoyed it. It did not become boring as I have found some detective novels can be.

Jung Chang - Empress Dowager Cixi



 
review written by Brian Lowen & read on the bookshow 2014

This is the story of Cixi who rose from being a lowly concubine in the Emperor’s harem in his palace in Beijing to become the virtual ruler of all China, from 1861 to 1908.

She was lucky in being the first concubine to produce a healthy son for the Emperor, which dramatically raised her status.

Emperor Xianfeng hated foreigners and kept China’s borders and ports closed to visiting traders from other nations, but after losing the Opium Wars with Britain and France he was forced to open up some ports to trade and this was when Britain acquired the deserted and desolate island of Hong Kong as a port for her ships.

On the death of the Emperor, Cixi led a coup to gain power from the eight Regents appointed under the Emperor’s will until Cixi’s son was old enough to take power. She gained the confidence of one of the Princes and reigned with the Emperor’s widow, the Dowager. Cixi was also made a Dowager and so China was effectively ruled by two Empress Dowagers behind the front of Prince Gong and his Council of Advisors. All edicts issued were not legal unless they bore the seal of the two Empress Dowagers. Empress Dowager Zhen did all the administration and was content to let Cixzi make the policy. 

When her son was made Emperor at the age of sixteen he was a disappointment – more interested in having fun than ruling the country. He was content to let his Mother continue to do all the work with him as the figurehead. When he died prematurely young the way was open for Cixi to continue her modernisation plans, after a suitable period of mourning.
She sent envoys to many western countries and then introduced the telegraph system, coal mining and railways, to which there was much opposition as it was feared that the trains would disturb the dead in their graves.

She appointed another young child as Emperor and she continued to rule for forty years until she died in 1908, when Mao seized power, assisted by Russia. She was a remarkable woman who survived several assassination attempts and the Boxer revolution, plus wars with Britain, Germany, Russia and Japan.

She brought modernity to China and set a standard that has not been matched. Under her leadership China began to acquire all the attributes of a modern state.

A truly remarkable women which makes a great read. Very interesting as she is virtually unknown in today’s world.