Profile for Frank P. Ryan > Reviews

Personal Profile

Content by Frank P. Ryan
Top Reviewer Ranking: 157,533
Helpful Votes: 26

Learn more about Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
Frank P. Ryan "Frank Ryan - author" (Sheffield, South Yorks United Kingdom)

Show:  
Page: 1 | 2 | 3
pixel
Dark Fire (The Shardlake Series)
Dark Fire (The Shardlake Series)
by C. J. Sansom
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

4.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating Journey into Historical Mystery, 17 Nov. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Background is often key to a writer who produces an unusual and bestselling series of books.

This is the second book in C.J. Sansom’s excellent medieval mystery series, after Dissolution, which dealt with the selfish despoliation and destruction of the monasteries. It might help prospective readers to realise that Sansom was educated at Birmingham University (UK) and then took a PhD in history. Add this to some professional training as a solicitor (lawyer) and he practiced law in Sussex for a while before becoming a full time writer.

All of this tells us that Sansom is an intelligent, knowledgeable and educated man. It more particularly tells us that he is interested and knowledgeable about history and about law. That gives him a pretty useful head start for a writer setting out to write a series of mystery crime thrillers based in medieval England!

Moreover, he chooses as his time-frame medieval England at a time of great civil and social unrest, soon after King Henry VIII had spurned the country’s former Catholicism – Henry had even received the Fid Def (defender of the faith – and still produced on British coins) honour from the Pope Clement VII before he turned on Pope and Catholicism to jettison wife no 1, Catherine of Aragon, because she had failed to give him a male heir. He then had his Chief Minister, Oliver Cromwell, together with his Archbishop Cranmer, arrange his marriage to Anne Boleyn, who, alas, still failed to father a living son . . . and so we enter the dark and terrifying times of medieval England when, from year to year, you could be burnt alive for professing anti-Catholic reformist Protestant opinions, or, as the wind changed, more extreme protestant affirmations.

We won’t go into the illogic of a King who decides that English monarchs from this day forward will be automatically head of the Church of England – in this secular age, how can you guarantee a future monarch won’t be an atheist? Be that as it may . . .
A dangerous place and dangerous times then, when, during the hottest summer of the sixteenth century, Matthew Shardlake, somewhere between modern day lawyer and barrister, finds himself emotionally drawn into a case of an eighteen year old woman accused of the most brutal murder of a middle class boy, whose body, with a broken neck, is dumped at the bottom of her uncle’s well. All may not be as it seems, since the girl refuses to speak in her defence. Criminal cases involving the non-gentry are given short shrift and the girl is to be compelled to speak, or die, by having her arms and legs manacled, a sharp stone put in the middle of her back and heavy weights placed on her chest, the weight increasing day by day. It is unlikely she would survive such torture, innocent or guilty. Meanwhile lawyer Shardlake has been summoned to Thomas Cromwell, Chief Minister for the King, to solve a bizarre mystery involving a weapon that dates back to Byzantine times, Greek Fire, which is also known as Dark Fire, might save Cromwell’s skin with the King. As a sweetener, Cromwell, who doesn’t really give a damn about the young woman, innocent or not, delays her torture to put Matthew under even more pressure to solve his own dilemma. Not only is Shardlake, whose life is already vulnerable in an age that despises handicap, by having a hunchback; but he is now thrown into a cruel and brutal struggle for power in which his own life, and even the life of his employer, the all-powerful Thomas Cromwell, is at razor sharp risk.
In this way, Sansom constructs an unputdownable labyrinthine thriller in which the many desperate strands all fit, in the end, with known history. This is quite an achievement.

The mystery aspects are well played out, but to be honest it’s their placing in such an accurate and utterly fascinating montage of medieval England and London, with its muck filled streets and polluted shores, that many of us, and it includes me, enjoy even more. We are intrigued to glimpse how people lived and survived during such calamitous times – times that created the present. For me it makes this, and the previous book, exceptionally interesting.


Rachmaninov: Symphonies Nos. 1 - 3 / Orchestral Works
Rachmaninov: Symphonies Nos. 1 - 3 / Orchestral Works
Price: £9.08

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent and inspiring music, 9 Nov. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Excellent and inspiring music - I loved Isle of the Dead in particular. Not too long - just the right length for this frantic world.


Under The Skin
Under The Skin
by Michel Faber
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

4.0 out of 5 stars It isn’t only beauty that is skin deep, 30 Oct. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Under The Skin (Paperback)
We are familiar with serial killers, usually males, preying upon unfortunate and innocent females. This book, which has been made into a motion picture starring Scarlet Johansson, reverses this – and how. The heroine, Isserley – if it is in any way appropriate a description of the major character – is at least a female, of sorts, who is a serial hunter of males. As we journey into this distinctly strange odyssey, we discover by degrees that when Isserley describes a male or a female as human she means something quite different to what you and I might mean by “human”. She includes herself, of course, and her male companions who work the “farm”. But human in her orbit involves fur, very large eyes and a balancing tail, embodiments that distinguish her and her fellow species from the “animals” she hunts. I guess that you are beginning to get the picture. Her prey are also distinguished by being exclusively male and chosen for their “meatiness”. She has some even more endearing qualities. She is hardworking to an irritating fault – and she is also very proficient at her job. Add to the melange, her suffering. This unfortunate female has been compelled to suffer cosmetic surgery to make her more attractive to the male – not her fellow species males, but the male of the hunted species. This latter is the least thought out part of her disguise – and the author’s construction – and, frankly, neither she, nor the author’s construction, wouldn’t convince an inebriated bagman after two or three bottles of hard liquor of her supposed attractiveness. Even the most stupid male of the species knows a woman when he sees her. We are expected to accept that this is ameliorated by the fact that the author has quite a different and deeper theme. It would be a spoiler to explain this, so I won’t.

It’s a first novel, so perhaps we should make allowances. I did not enjoy reading this book. Although the narrative is somewhat variable in terms of literary quality, and there were oversimplifications that I intensely disliked, I can’t but admire the deeper theme, and the haunting quality by which this beguiles the reader. Indeed this makes it compulsively readable – as I would expect the film will also prove to be.


Rich Hall with Special Guest Otis Lee Crenshaw And The Honky Tonk A**holes - Hell No I Ain't Happy Live at The Apollo [DVD]
Rich Hall with Special Guest Otis Lee Crenshaw And The Honky Tonk A**holes - Hell No I Ain't Happy Live at The Apollo [DVD]
Price: £5.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Hilarious comedy, 21 Oct. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
What can one say about Rich Hall -- other than that he's hilarious.


The Life and Times of Athena Aerosmith Private Eye
The Life and Times of Athena Aerosmith Private Eye
Price: £7.19

4.0 out of 5 stars An almanac of stories blended with real figures from scientific history, 21 Oct. 2014
This is a very unusual book which brings together a series of fictional anecdotes with actual famous figures from the history of science. I wouldn't even attempt to summarise the story since it comprises many linked stories within an overall narrative kind of album, stretching from childhood to adulthood. But the important thing is that I enjoyed the stories so much I took them with me as my favourite travel reading, particularly making journeys (the characters seem to make a lot of journeys) by train.


(Swan Song) By McCammon, Robert (Author) Paperback on 10-Nov-2009
(Swan Song) By McCammon, Robert (Author) Paperback on 10-Nov-2009
by Robert McCammon
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Unusual post-apocalyptic horror, 29 Aug. 2014
This book had a somewhat old-fashioned feel to it, horror fiction, but mitigated by the human pathos sewn into characterisation and plot. The setting is a post-apocalyptic world, devastated by nuclear Armageddon. A small group of survivors are forced to flee across America, searching for food, clean water and shelter. They are pursued by a demonic figure, whose face slips and develops mouths in the wrong places. I found the latter implausibly over the top. There are similarities in overall plotting to Stephen King's The Stand - so much so that I took the trouble of checking the first publication dates of the two books to confirm that King's was published some nine years earlier than McCammon's. In fact King's book has also retained a modern freshness, and his typical dark humour, while McCammon's has no humour whatsoever.

The strength of the book is McCammon's ability to make you care for the characters and his construction of plausible twists and turns that keep you gripped for all 956 pages - yes, 956. Another strength is McCannon's ability to create believable and interesting older characters.

It is a book worth considering if you have a yen for horror and post-apocalyptic horror in particular.


The Incredible Human Journey
The Incredible Human Journey
by Alice Roberts
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A journey well worth undertaking, 7 Aug. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This book, by anatomist and television personality, Alice Roberts tells the story of our human journey from our evolutionary origins in east Africa, roughly 200,000 years ago, to our global diversity today. Roberts is unsparing on herself, travelling to a huge variety of actual locations where the various chapters of exploration take place, from the African and Australian bush, to the freezing reindeer territory of Siberia, living with the people she describes, sharing their food and habitation. Her bubbly sense of humour is here on the printed page, much as we find it in her television series. I was particularly impressed with her ability to cover quite complex ideas, ranging from genetics, palaeontology, anthropology, and medicine, all with effortless simplicity and ease. I was also impressed with her ability to bring the story alive, diving into interesting diversions of anecdote, or curious ways of making a living, all the while weaving a fascinating and informative narrative.

The illustrations are beautiful, including maps, colour photographs and - a delightful discovery - pencil drawings by Roberts herself of interesting little observational vignettes. She's quite a decent artist.

I would recommend this book without reservations for any reader who is interested in our human story.


Sword and Citadel: The Second Half of the Book of the New Sun
Sword and Citadel: The Second Half of the Book of the New Sun
by Gene Wolfe
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars genuine masterpiece of epic fantasy, 30 Jun. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I was a little critical of this series after reading Book One, The Shadow of the Torturer, and the Claw of the Conciliator, finding the narrative rather circumambulatory. But this is clarified in this, the second book, as the extraordinary true nature of Severian, the torturer, as narrator and the equally extraordinary true nature of the narrative is revealed. The quality of the writing, as before, is transcendent. Perhaps the most poetic I have come across in epic fantasy. You all too frequently are confronted by cover blurbs describing books as masterpieces only to discover they are not quite as advertised. But this book, and now the series, which actually amounts to four books in two volumes, really is a fantasy masterpiece. It would be very difficult to describe the plot in detail, since it really is circumambulatory and exceedingly complex, with pay on the meaning of time, morality, and universal cycles.

I won't spoil the discovery of its central theme for other readers but rather would strongly recommend that people read the series for themselves. I would place it up there with Lord of the Rings, but in this case a true fantasy classic aimed more at the adult reader.

It's so incredibly rich in narrative detail that I can see why some readers would want to read it through more than once to fully savour its delights.


Shovel Ready (Spademan 1)
Shovel Ready (Spademan 1)
by Adam Sternbergh
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.32

5.0 out of 5 stars Sizzling Debut of Future Noir, 3 April 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Welcome to the inner landscape of Mac the Knife. Or rather Spademan the box-cutter. Sternbergh is to be congratulated on this pioneering first novel. Future noir science fiction is a bit of an understatement. Like discovering a firework that has found its way into your imagination and you know it will never stops fizzing and sparkling until the bitter end.

First person narration helps to create immediacy of content. So does the pared down writing. Did I say “pared down”? Change that to cut to the bone. The narrator is a hardboiled hit man who wants to know nothing personal about the hit. Just keep to the bare essentials. Who do you want dead? Don’t bother to tell me the why and wherefore. “Think of me as a bullet”. Male or female, just dandy. But there is one exception – no kids. Takes a different kind of psycho.

There are reasons, as one gradually gets to know our narrator, why he has chosen this particular life style. But no cringing conscience. No expectation of mitigation. Our narrator doesn’t give a damn what you think of him. “Don’t get me wrong. I went to Sunday school for ten minutes as a kid. Didn’t take. Not the important stuff anyway. The core beliefs. Right, wrong, etcetera.”
If there is a second player here it is the setting – a sardonically dystopic vision of a future New York after a dirty bomb hit. Vicious, bloody, but leavened with dead-pan humour sharp as a raptor’s claw.


Life at the Speed of Light: From the Double Helix to the Dawn of Digital Life
Life at the Speed of Light: From the Double Helix to the Dawn of Digital Life
by J. Craig Venter
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The long awaited companion piece to The Double Helix, 25 Feb. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Craig Venter led one of the two organisations that gave us the first full draft of the human genome in 2001. But he has achieved much more than this. A PhD graduate himself, he also has that rare entrepreunarial genius that brought together his love of science, and in particular genetic science, with the ability to promote his own ideas and attract commercial and non-commercial support and funding to bring his ideas into fruition as world level pioneering research. The book has all the hall marks of a brilliant autobiography. It lucidly explains complex scientific facts, methodologies and the inner working of genomes in a way that an ordinary reader can readily grasp.

Beginning with the story of Nobel Prize winning physicist, Erwin Schroedinger, who inspired Watson and Crick to looking for the double helix of DNA, he moves on to his own pioneering research in producing the first complete bacterial genome, the first archael genome, and then the extraordinary, controversy-laden epic of setting up the company, Celera, which invented major new methodologies to make possible the deciphering of the complexities of the entire human genome. This utterly changed the research approaches to the modern world of genomics.

Venter continues to hit the cusp of exploration, producing the first bacterial form with a deliberately determined genome that aimed at discovering the basic genes required for the simplest cellular form of life.

One wonders what he will take on next - the first true artificially created life form using entirely novel genes?


Page: 1 | 2 | 3