Tag: Bloomsbury

Young Philby by Robert Littell

Posted February 12, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Thriller / 0 Comments

Young Philby by Robert LittellTitle: Young Philby (Goodreads)
Author: Robert Littell
Published: Bloomsbury, 2013
Pages: 261
Genres: Thriller
My Copy: ARC from Publisher

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Kim Philby could possibly be the most notorious double agent in espionage history. Recruited by the Secret Intelligent Service during World War II, he began spying for the Russians on the British intelligence service. Robert Littell’s Young Philby follows what little we know about his early years up till what made him a great double (or should we say triple?) agent.

Kim Philby was a real high-ranking British intelligence officer who worked as a double agent serving as both an NKVD and KGB operative. Robert Littell takes what little we know about this famous spy and tries to recount a fictionalised version of his life, but does it really cover the truth? It’s hard to recount a story when you don’t know the real thoughts that went through the person’s head and I think this was the one major thing that was lacking. I can understand, being a fictionalised version of his life, the author didn’t want to speculate on his motivations, but I really wanted more on his psychological profile.

As an espionage novel goes, this is no John le Carré; there is a sense of complexity with the double agent idea but I found it really easy to follow. I love le Carré’s ability to write these massively complex espionage novels that really take you on a journey of the unexpected and I would have liked a bit more of that from Robert Littell but he was probably confined to the facts. This was a compelling read and I love a good spy story but I think the narrative did need a little more work to put it among the great espionage novels.

Fast pacedand shifting perspectives really helped driving this novel and the cover alone makes this book worth purchasing. If you don’t know much about the life of Kim Philby, this would be a good place to start; learn about the Cambridge Five, the defection to Russia or just explore a good cold war spy story. I’m glad I got a chance to read Young Philby; I didn’t know much about the man but he did have an interesting life. These fictionalised accounts of history may not be 100% accurate but they do make it easier to get a sense of what happened.

San Miguel by T.C. Boyle

Posted December 18, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction / 0 Comments

San Miguel by T.C. BoyleTitle: San Miguel (Goodreads)
Author: T.C. Boyle
Published: Bloomsbury, 2012
Pages: 384
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: ARC from Publisher

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

T.C. Boyle tells us the story of a family on the San Miguel Island. The desolate island makes for a backdrop for the trials and tribulations of family. Boyle takes us on a vivid join of hard living and stubborn people in a novel of love and hate.

I’ve never actually read a T.C. Boyle novel before but I’ve heard he is a great storyteller, so I was excited to read this novel. This is a book of major family drama, I get the feeling that being stuck on a desolate island off the coast of California isn’t really helping the situation at all. The feeling of isolation is almost like having a cabin fever effect at times and this makes for highly emotional situations.

San Miguel follows the point of views of two different characters, giving us an insight of their inner thoughts and desires. Inspired by historical records, Boyle blends the facts with his own take of the story to bring us a character driven novel of the trials of this family. While at times I found this a highly emotional and somewhat endearing novel, I found myself thinking about novels like Shipping News and remembering just how that was a similar type of novel, only better. It is hard to immerse myself in a novel when I’m too busy comparing it to better novels and I truly think if I was in the right state of mind, this book would have been more enjoyable (perhaps enough to warrant 4 stars).

The characters within this novel are just wonderful; Boyle really knows how to write personalities, desires and inner thoughts, giving them real depth. Marantha and Elizabeth are great protagonists and the isolated location was the perfect backdrop for this story. But I never connected fully with the story, and I think it left too many questions unanswered.

T.C. Boyle is a great storyteller; I will be checking out some more of his work in the future, I’m hoping I can connect with them more than I did with San Miguel. It really didn’t help my enjoyment of this book. So I hope people who decide to give this novel a go, find themselves enjoying the characters and the trials that come there way.

Shadow of the Rock by Thomas Mogford

Posted December 14, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Crime, Thriller / 0 Comments

Shadow of the Rock by Thomas MogfordTitle: Shadow of the Rock (Goodreads)
Author: Thomas Mogford
Series: Spike Sanguinetti #1
Published: Bloomsbury, 2012
Pages: 272
Genres: Crime, Thriller
My Copy: ARC from Publisher

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Spike Sanguinetti arrives home to Gibraltar only to find Solomon Hassan waiting from him. Solomon is on the run, a Spanish girl was found with her throat cut on the beach in Tangiers and he is being accused of the murder. Spike travels to Morocco to try and delay the extradition, where he meets a woman investigating the disappearance of her father, which is also is leading back to Solomon being involved.

Shadow of the Rock seems to be book one of a newly planned series by Thomas Mogfold. Not only is there a real sense of mystery, but also the protagonist finds himself questioning just how much he knows his friend. Two different situations has put Solomon in a world of suspicion. Spike Sanguinetti is a tax lawyer, a job that for me seem very boring, and now he is thrown into this huge adventure, really putting him out of his comfort zone. With all the excitement, I did feel like the book lacked any real character development; sure I learned about the protagonist and support cast, but it felt like very broad strokes of development. This might be the plan, as a series the writer needs to save some development for the other books. But for me the character development was underdone and too sloppy.

For me the highlight of this book was Gibraltar and Morocco as the backdrops for the danger Spike surely  finds himself in. I’ve not been to either places but I have very fond memories of Spain and imagine the atmosphere and the culture would be similar. It was so great to read a book set in an unusual location. As far as the mystery of this book, it was very generic; it ticks all the right boxes for a formulaic best seller thriller series and I truly hope Thomas Mogfold has a huge success with Spike Sanguinetti.

I just feel this series has a lot of great potential and I’m curious to see if book two turns out to be something more developed. I can see myself either loving this series or really hating it depending on which path the author takes; the formulaic thriller route in the hope to become a best selling crime writer or the well-developed character route. I will be checking out book two but if it fails to show any improvement I plan to abandon this series. Spike has so much to offer so we will wait to see what happens next.

Abdication by Juliet Nicolson

Posted November 10, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction / 0 Comments

Abdication by Juliet NicolsonTitle: Abdication (Goodreads)
Author: Juliet Nicolson
Published: Bloomsbury, 2012
Pages: 344
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: ARC from Publisher

Buy: Book Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

England, 1936.  The beloved king has died and a charismatic new monarch has been crowned; he is young, sympathetic to the needs of the working class, glamorous and single. By the end of the year England will be surprised to see him give up the throne for love and the lead up to World War II. Abdication follows the story of May Thomas, a wise-beyond-her-nineteen-year old who secures a position as secretary and driver to Sir Philip Blunt. This opens her eyes to British high society and falling in love with a man well beyond her reach.

I’m always interested in the time period from the 1920’s to the 1960’s, but I think that was my love for hard boiled crime novels and Mad Men. But a book about high society in the 1930’s England sounded really interesting. Abdication by Juliet Nicolson started off as a slow burn; developing characters, showing how they fit with the history at the time but I never really felt like the book took off in any way. I was waiting to be engaged with the story but it never really happened.

It is possible the author really stuck to one story arc and this book could have really benefited with some more characters to keep the book interesting. Some witting and exciting characters to spice things up would have helped as well. This book just felt slow moving and in the end boring; the character development was decent but there weren’t enough interesting characters to push me through this book.

Also the prose in the novel were only average, there was no beauty or elegance in the writing or the scenery. It was just focused on one element, which it did a decent job with but one decent element does not make a great read. Abdication just ended up being a non-fiction writer trying to attempt fiction.

 Juliet Nicolson knows her history and she managed to fit fictional characters in with historical characters but I think she is trying to do what Hilary Mantel did with Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies. While this period of time was interesting, (I think The Kings Speech did a decent job telling us about this period of history) Abdication just ended up feeling like another attempt at the same formula. This was a big disappointment for me, I really wanted to like this book but I didn’t.

Guest Review: A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar

Posted September 21, 2012 by jus_de_fruit in Contemporary, Guest Posts / 0 Comments

Guest Review: A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to KashgarTitle: A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar (Goodreads)
Author: Suzanne Joinson
Published: Bloomsbury, 2012
Pages: 384
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: ARC from Publisher

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Last month, I was walking past our local indie bookshop, and outside they had a blackboard that listed some of the new releases they had in stock.  A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar was one of those, and the title drew me in. I had no idea what it was about and had heard nothing about it leading up to the release, but perhaps it was the mention of some foreign city that I’ll never likely experience myself.  I went in to try and find a copy to learn more about it, but I couldn’t find it, and then got distracted looking at other things.  Then it showed up at our house in one of those parcels of books my husband regularly receives, so I knew I had to read it.

A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar tells the story of a couple of people. In 1923, it tells the story of Evangeline English who arrives in Kashgar in disguise as a Christian missionary, as a way to protect her sister who had decided to become an evangelist. Inspired by the travels of Richard Burton, she decides to write a similar book, of which the title of this book comes from. With her bicycle as her own real sense of freedom, the reality of living in Kashgar never seems to meet the romanticised adventure in her mind. Her relationship with her sister changes, as Evangline tries to guard her from things that Lizzie doesn’t want to avoid.

In the present day, we have Frieda, who is at her crossroads in her life. Her job working with Islamic youth in various Middle Eastern countries causes her to be out of town a lot so her friendships have withered. She’s in a dead end relationship with a married man.  She then gets a letter saying an old woman has died and she’s the next of kin and she should come clear the house. Tayab is a refugee from Yemen, living in England with an expired visa and is on the run.  Their encounter of each other lead their lives on a new course, both having to confront some major issues in their lives.

Suzanne Joinson’s debut novel alternates between 1923 and the present day. Each time, I felt like I was longing to find out what was happening in the other story. As the story comes together, you realise that both the stories are connected and it left me thinking about how the actions of people in generations before mine have affected the choices I may make now without me even knowing. There is no real way to know how the lives of people we’ve never met unconsciously affect our decision making today.

As a Christian, I found the missionary aspect interesting. Full of people filled with faults, which I suppose is an accurate reflection of any church. Some trying to do the right thing, some trying to make amends for their own wrongs, and some on power trips trying to control others, whatever the risk. It seemed to be written very matter-of-factly and I don’t think it was in a pro- or anti-Christian way. I appreciated that.

I enjoyed this book; the story was beautifully written and can take you to a time and place not normally experienced by us.

This is a guest post by Mary; not only is she my wonderful wife, she is also my editor and helps moderate the Literary Exploration group on Goodreads. Big thanks to her for this post and everything she does to help me with this blog.