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

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Thursday, 21 August 2014

Imogen Edwards-Jones - hotel/air/beach Babylon

review written & read live on the bookshow by Ro Bennett 21st August 2014
I’m going to review  a compilation of books: 
Hotel Babylon 2005, Air Babylon  2006 and Beach Babylon 2008 by Imogen Edwards-Jones and Anonymous. 

Starting with Air Babylon  which came out in 2006

The blurb: Heard the one about the airline that has introduced 'corpse cupboards' on new planes to cope with the number of people who die in the air? Heard the story about the First Class air hostess who got fired for sitting on the face of a passenger during a long haul flight? Heard about the amount of knickers and false teeth that are left behind in the body of the plane? Heard how pissed-off stewards put laxatives in your drinks? Heard about the pilot who ran out of runway? Heard of the disabled passengers who miraculously walk again?

Do you know the best place to have sex on a plane? Do you know how to dress for an upgrade? Do you know that one drink in the air equals three on the ground? Do you know who is checking you in? Who is checking you out? Do you know exactly what happens to your luggage once it leaves your sight? Is it secure? Are you safe? Do you really know anything about the business that you entrust your life to several times a year?

I found the book interesting and very funny in parts and it was crammed with anecdotes to shock and make you shake your head in disbelief - read about the luggage handlers and the food producers for a start… I enjoyed it, it’s a relaxing, easy read which is perfect for in between the more literary stuff. 

Next, Beach Babylon- this book takes you behind the scenes at a six-star tropical island resort on a private island somewhere in South East Asia. How does it feel to live and work in the world's most beautiful and luxurious tropical island resort, surrounded by white sandy beaches and aquamarine seas? How does it feel to be in the lap of luxury when you're thousands of miles from anywhere else? And when the guests are some of the richest and most demanding people in the world, where do you find the energy every day to smile, smile and smile again? (Sound familiar???) 

In the bestselling tradition of her previous Babylon books, Imogen Edwards-Jones investigates the rivalries and alliances between the staff at a resort where they of course have to pander to the guests' most extravagant whims. With a cast of millionaires, celebrities, hangers-on and prostitutes, Beach Babylon takes you to a world where extreme luxury is the norm and where excess somehow isn't always enough…

Here are extracts from a couple of reviews: this resort is six stars for the serious high flyers and high spenders. Decadence reigns at this resort, from personal villa attendants, yachts at the disposal of guests, barbeques on sandbars dripping with food and alcohol. A crisis is when the Cristal champagne shipment fails to arrive or there’s a Sheikh Attack (which is an unexpected arrival of a sheikh). 

Another interesting and light read and I enjoyed it.

Finally, Hotel Babylon, which is very similar in many ways.
This is the blurb: 
Something strange occurs to guests as soon as they check in. Even if in real life they are perfectly well-mannered, decent people with proper balanced relationships, as soon as they spin through the revolving hotel doors the normal rules of behaviour no longer seem to apply.’

All of the following is true.Only the names have been changed to protect the guilty. All the anecdotes, the stories, the characters, the situations, the highs, the lows, the scams, the drugs, the misery, the love, the death and the insanity are exactly as was told by Anonymous - someone who has spent his whole career working in hotels at the heart of London's luxury hotel industry. However, for legal reasons, the stories now take place in a fictitious hotel known as Hotel Babylon. More than a decade is compressed into a day. Everything else is as it should be. The rich spend money, the hotel makes money and the chambermaids still fight the bellboys over a two-pound coin. It's just another twenty-four hours in an expensive London hotel.

Here are a couple of excerpt from reviews:
A string of brilliant anecdotes ranging from big name celebrities and the Royal Family to seedy businessmen will keep you turning page after page, making this a hugely entertaining read. The picture that emerges is that the hotel industry is a bizarre microcosm of the real world. It is ruled by cash and fuelled by greed. It embraces sex, death and pretty much everything else. The more decadent and luxurious the hotel, the more extreme the experience.

The anonymous author has encountered lavish drug parties, gorgeous call girls, naked guests falling out of windows, $9,000 bottles of wine, astronomical telephone porn bills, bathtubs of Evian, and on more than one occasion, dead sheep - (these had been ritually slaughtered for rich Arab guests to eat) 

Coming from a hotel background, I can really appreciate this from one of our favourite and most successful local authors. I worked with Thistle Hotels in Central London for a few years and all the way through this book, I was nodding along and scoffing and chuckling with the main characters. Nothing surprised me and that is the problem with the industry, you have to learn to have a strong stomach and an open mind. The characters are loveable, the customers are hateful and demanding
and as an insider for many years in hospitality I think this is (albeit in its odd 24hr format) a brilliant expose that, I can assure you, not fiction in the slightest but a fantastic tell all and a must read for all reality addicts. 

Rich people behaving badly and squandering money in an obscene decadent manner, staff grovelling and being obsequious for tips and hand outs - for example one Texan handing out £50 notes to all and sundry, buying double shots of Napoleon cognac for £750 a shot for himself and two prostitutes and an Arab ordering a £5,000 bottle of Chateau Petrus and diluting it with Perrier water.

Some of the things shared will make you cackle, while others will make you despair a little for the human race

I enjoyed this book as well but despite that I do agree with a reviewer who wrote: 
After a while this formula is becoming a bit of a cliche..

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Halldor Laxness - Independent People

Review written by Alison Crane & read live on bookshow 14th august 2014
I read this book before going to Iceland - since discovered that Laxness is a national hero - he’s the only Icelandic writer to have won the Nobel prize for literature and also Iceland has more writers, more books published and more books read, per head, than anywhere else in the world. Writing and reading is sort of in their DNA as Icelanders have been telling stories since the first settlers.
I can unreservedly recommend this book - it’s long, at times challenging but hugely rewarding, very wise, it’s funny, it’s sad,  humane and thought provoking- you feel you learn something about the human condition.

Laxness wrote the story in 1934. and tells the story of an impoverished sheep farmer, Bjartur, who’s sole quest in life is to live as an independent man and be beholden to no one. His family and home live miles from anywhere in a hovel- a dark, dank, turf-roofed farmhouse on a glacial moor  = the family occupy one room and the animals live downstairs - it’s a croft that he spent 18 years scraping togtehr to buy and now he won’t accept help from anyone. Each day is a challenge to bring in enough food for the family.
He’s a fascinating flawed protagonist - at times seemingly heartless - his family go hungry as he won’t accept help from anyone,  he refuses to help his daughter out when he finds out she’s pregnant. But you know he’s got SO much love for them but he’s misguided - being beholden to no-one is his operating principle - be strong, be proud, don’t show weakness. It means that when you do see him make loving gestures (only really happens at end) it’s heartbreakingly moving.


‘Townsfolk have no conception of the peace that Mother Nature bestows…They think only of their clothes and find momentary comfort in foolish fashions and other such worthless innovations…The countryman, on the other hand, walks out to the verdant meadows, into an atmosphere clear and pure, and as he breathes it into his lungs some unknown power streams through his limbs, invigorating body and soul. In the fragrance that is bourne so sweetly to his nostrils, in the quietude that broods so blissfully round him, there is comfort and rest.’ 
The endless rain - like waterfalls between the planets
The landscape is both a thing of great beauty but also harsh and unforgiving. IT’S SO IMPORTANT 
Often Bjartur and fellow farmers chew the cud..
WW1 breaks out bringing prosperity to Iceland: ‘Each maintains that his country is in some way more holy than the other’s, though in strict reality France and Germany are both exactly the same country.’ (He’s seen pictures of them both and they look the same)
Debates whether they are meet in heaven on the day they’ve murdered each other: Do they forgive one another in heaven for having murdered one another? In the second place, do they perhaps thank one another in heaven for having murdered one another and thus helped one another on the way to heaven? Or, in the third place, do they go on fighting with undiminished imbecility in heaven? And if they murder each other afresh, where do they go then?’
There’s the old woman - ancient at start and can’t seem to die. She says she doesn’t know whether she’s alive or dead and sometimes it takes her all day to remember which one she is. She doesn’t believe the world war really exists because she doesn’t believe in the world - that there is a world outside of Iceland.
He describes her as being ‘like a candle the Lord has forgotten to snuff.’

One of the richest books I’ve read for a long time.

William Faulkner - As I Lay Dying

review written by Alsion Crane and read live on bookshow 14th August 2014

I first heard of this book through reading ‘Last Orders’ by Graham Swift - won the Booker prize in 1996  and a group of friends who go to Margate to scatter the ashes of their old friend into the sea from the pier, in accordance with his wishes. I loved this book  - cos it’s about friendships, relationships and how losing loved ones touches us, and heard there was criticism that he had ripped off the story ‘As I Lay Dying’ so I thought I’d better read that!
It is widely seen as a 20th century classic and was written in 1930. The link with Last Orders is it revolves  around the preparations for and the actual journey to bury the body of the mother of the family - she wants to be buried in her home town 40 miles away. The family are dirt poor white family from Mississippi - and story written in the vernacular of the area.
 And another parallel is each chapter is told by different characters in the novel so you’re seeing the situation from lots of different perspectives - from Addie’s husband who’s determined to carry out her final wishes even though there are lots of obstacles to doing that, there’s other villagers who think the family are completely mad,  to a pharmacist who’s visited by the 17 year old daughter who is trying to get something to end her pregnancy which her family don’t know about.

As we don’t have an all knowing narrator, we’re not told anything about the characters and who they are - you just hear their voices so you have to piece together as you go who is who and how they are all related and how they feel about each other. Initially this is

a bit confusing - there are 5 children - 4 sons and a daughter and it took me a while to piece together where they were in the family. There are also certain things which are intimated - you gradually realise there are rivalries and rifts between the children, the daughter is pregnant - it becomes apparent that one of the Bundren boys was the result of an affair … but I wasn’t always sure I fully understood what was going on. I do like having to work at a novel but sometimes I felt I wanted to check …. On wikipedia a few details.
The opening is great - the mother is dying but has not quite died but her carpenter son Cash is making a coffin for her and the first chapters always in the background is the sound of sawing, which the mother presumably can hear. One of the sons is complaining that Cash is right under her window ‘hammering and sawing.‘ But Addie’s husband says it’ll make her happy that ‘it was her own blood sawed out the boards and drove the nails. She was ever one to clean up after herself.‘ and another son says - Addie Bundren could not want a better box to lie in. It will give her confidence and comfort.’  - I like the mordant humour - unsentimental.

The different chapters and voices piece together to tell us the story of this difficult journey with the coffin, and to get the mum buried.
.The journey gets increasingly difficult - they‘ve got the coffin balanced rather precariously on the back of a wagon,- the bridge where they were going to cross the river is washed away, the body is beginning to stink so they are pursued by buzzards, when they do cross the river they nearly lose the
coffin and the mulesdrown, Cash breaks his leg which the others set with concrete and one of the sons ends up being  arrested.  It’s one calamity after another.

I guess I was reading this book slightly out of a sense of duty but it did make me think!
I like the way that it is completely unsentimental - it is moving when the mother dies - the daughter and youngest son are particularly upset - but actually real grief - or wallowing in grief is a luxury beyond what these people can afford - life goes on. The husband takes the opportunity of going to Jefferson to get his teeth fixed and find a new wife. It makes you think about life and death - that’s it’s scary, weird, funny. I also really recommend Last Orders.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Gay Hendricks - The Second Rule of Ten

book review written and read live on bookshow by Ro Bennett 7th August 2014:
This is the second book in the series and I previously reviewed the first book.

This is what is referred to as the Product Description
Ex–Buddhist monk and ex–LAPD officer turned private eye Tenzing Norbu is back with another new case, a new love, and a whole new set of problems in this fresh installment in the Tenzing Norbu Mystery series.

In The Second Rule of Ten, Norbu investigates the unexplained death of his former client, Hollywood mogul Marv Rudolph and searches for the sister, lost during World War II, of wizened Los Angeles Jewish philanthropist Julius Rosen. With two cases and an unforeseen family crisis that sends him back to Tibet, Ten finds himself on the outs with his best buddy and former partner, Bill, who is heading the official police investigation into Marv’s death. Cases and crises start to collide. When Ten mistakenly ignores his second rule, he becomes entangled in an unfortunate association with a Los Angeles drug cartel. As he fights to save those he loves, and himself, from the deadly gang, he also comes face to face with his own personal demons. Working through his anger at Bill, doubts about his latest lady love, and a challenging relationship with his father, Ten learns to see the world in a new light – and realizes that in every situation the truth is sometimes buried beneath illusion.

This is from a review which explains the background: Tensing Norbu is a 30ish, half Tibetan who spent his formative years growing up in a Tibetan Buddhist Temple as an apprentice Monk. He came to America, became a detective for the LAPD, then left to start his own private-eye practice which, in this second book is still limping along. 

The main characters are the same, but we get to know more about them.  Mike, his on-call computer whiz; Bill, his former police partner and Tank, the cat who loves tuna water but won't eat tuna fish.  In this book Heather, the coroner's new resident assistant is introduced as Ten’s new love interest. 

As this second book in the series opens, Ten says "I am making a new rule for myself....I'm going to be on the lookout for unconscious beliefs, the kind I hold so closely, I mistake them for reality....As safe as they make me feel, ...they prevent me from understanding what is actually happening.

In all of the situations Ten faces in the book, he explores his unconscious beliefs about the situation and what the reality is. 

In the midst of all his investigations, Ten's intuition tells him that something is terribly wrong back home at the monastery in Dharamshala, India. This results in a 7,000 mile plane trip to visit his father, the abbot, and his childhood friends, Lama Yeshe and Lama Lobsang. 

I preferred this to the first book which I thought became a bit like a gung ho  action melodrama at the end. It’s an excellent read, a page turner, the pace flows incredibly well, and all the pieces fit together like a detailed puzzle, plus the feel good factor which means I highly recommend it.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Val McDermid - Trick of the Dark

review by showhost
I never thought I would say this about this author but I got to page 122 and gave up!  It was going nowhere very slowly.  Was this really the same author who wrote 'Place of Execution, Mermaid Singing, Wire in the Blood etc'?
So, what had we learnt by page 122 - most of the characters, so far, are lesbian, fine I've got nothing against that, but lets get on with the story!  At this point it was reading almost Mills & Boonish which isn't my cuppa tea.
Charlie is living with her girlfriend partner of 7 years but she has developed a 'love at first sight' yearning for Lisa, who is filling her waking day thoughts.  Charlie has blotted her copybook at work, a forensic psychologist, and is now on simple duties until her hearing.
Charlie receives an anonymous envelope in the post with newspaper cuttings of a murder case which is about to be wrapped up.  The victim was killed on his wedding day.  the bereaved bride, Magda, was known to Charlie, she babysat for her family when she was studying at Oxford.  The sender is Magda's mother, Corinna, who was one of Charlies lecturers and friend from her Oxford uni days.  Corinna believes that the couple who are about to be sentenced for the bridegrooms murder are innocent.  she believes the real murderer is Jay, the lesbian lover of her daughter Magda, the recent widow.
So thats it for 122 pages of reading out of 450 something.
It's almost like VM wants to promote the lesbian theme, as she herself is, but she is doing it in a very corny way with very cliched plots.  I don't care if she or her heroines are lesbian but lets get the plot moving, lets get some real twists and turns in the book before the reader (me) falls asleep after 3 pages each night; then have to re-read next day because I couldn't remember what had happened or who was who.  
Very disappointed.

M.L. Stedman - The Light Between Oceans

review written and read live on show by Maggie Perkovic 31st July 2014.
This is a brilliant book.  Starting in `1918 with an ex soldier moving to an outpost in
Australia to run the lighthouse. Gettng to meet the people in the small town he
sees a place devasted by the loss of their young men in   W.w.1
He meets the daughter of the Headmaster and when they fall in love she
joins him on the Lighthouse. A future of happiness with lots and lots of
children, so she hopes, but tragically as she is still mourning yet another loss,
a small boat with a dead man and a live baby inside washes up on the tiny
island and so starts a mystery. Somewhere may be a mother is looking for
her baby, or is she too dead???The baby is alive and bellowing for food, so
she and her husband look after her until they decide what to do. Their leave is
not due for a while, it is three months before the supply boat calls, so decisions
must be made.   This is a book which will break your hearts (as the blurb says)
and they are not kidding. Totally recommended, but take a hanky for the final
result!!!!Maggie Perkovic.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Matthew Reilly - Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves

 review written and read live on the show by Brian Lowen 24th July 2014
This book is out of this world – a cross between Clive Cussler, James Patterson and Ian Fleming. You have to forget anything about common sense when you read it and just take it for what it is: complete escapism.

Our hero is Shane Schofield, a top flight US Marine who has just returned from an exhausting mission which finished with a bounty being placed on his head by the French Government. Several French assassins have tried to finish him off without success.

To get him away from this danger he is sent off to a remote area on the arctic pack ice to test some new weapons and equipment to see how they stand up to the extreme cold.

Meanwhile our villain, Marius Calderon with a small army of murderous villains has captured a remote island in the arctic that had been a testing site for Russian weapons and is busily laying plans to annihilate China and northern Europe by releasing a cloud of deadly inflammable gas that will be carried around the world on the Jetstream. The plan is that Russia will get the blame and the Americas will reign supreme.

When the president of the USA gets wind of what is happening on Dragon Island he contacts Schofield, code name Scarecrow, and
sends him off to stop this cloud of gas being ignited by a nuclear missile fired from the island, which happens to be quite close to the testing site where Schofield and his team are working. And so Scarecrow and his small band of marines and scientists set out across the pack ice to save the world.

The island is deemed impregnable with many sophisticated defence systems. A further complication occurs when a French submarine pops up through the ice and disgorges Veronique Champion and a bunch of assassins out to get Schofield. He rescues them from an attack by the island army and persuades them to join him in the fight against Calderon and his army and so save the world.

This is when you have to forget about picking holes in all the actions as not being possible and just sit back and let yourself be carried along with this completely improbable story.

Good escapism, but not for the squeamish or faint hearted. You just have to remember that it is all fiction.