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Mr. Andrew Dennis "andrewdennis3" (London)
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The Thirteenth Apostle
The Thirteenth Apostle
by Michel Benoit
Edition: Paperback

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Could have been good, was in parts, but ultimately poor, 9 Nov 2007
This review is from: The Thirteenth Apostle (Paperback)
The cover notes drew favourable comparisons between this book and the works of Umberto Eco which is why, rushing through the airport without a book in my hand luggage, I picked up this novel. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but more or less everything about this book dissappointed me. To give Benoit the benefit of the doubt, I suspect the translation wasn't up to much. This is no excuse though - there are plenty of authors (Eco for one) whose works have been translated into English but retained their fantastic prose. The writing in this book doesn't flow well at all. One finds oneself re-reading sections in order to get a sense of what's going on. The author also is very repetitive and the translation also has a rather annoying habit of putting rhetorical thought in quote marks which often makes it difficult in dialogue scences to differentiate between what is being thought by a character or said by him. The plotline is unremarkable: There's a secret about the life of Jesus that is covered up by the Catholic Church (or at least the "nasty" bit of its heirarchy). Stumbling upon this secret proves terminal for a scholastic monk and highly dangerous for his friend Nil who takes over his researches. As his researches develop in Rome he is in the middle of conspiracies by a dark Vatican secret society and the creepy Cardinal Catzinger (please!). These various intertwined factions employ members of Mossad and Hammas to do their dirty work (no - really!). Oh yes, as with any of this genre of book, the Templars put in a cameo appearance. The only things that are vaguely interesting are the "flashback" scenes to the life of Jesus and his apostles - centring around the mysterious but ultimately benign 13th apostle.

The plot would have been just about bearable if the prose wasn't so clunking. Although the premise of the book is slightly more credible and ultimately uplifting I suspect this is very much a genre novel. My advice would be to leave a bit more time after checking in to buy a better book.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 15, 2009 9:26 AM BST


Agincourt: The King, the Campaign, the Battle
Agincourt: The King, the Campaign, the Battle
by Juliet Barker
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb - the best history book I've read in ages, 22 Feb 2007
One of the cover endorsements says something like: "If you read only one history book this year, make it this one". I'd totally agree. Everyone thinks they know something about Agincourt, but the more one reads the more one realises how little on knew. The anglo / french geopolotics leading to the battle are byzantine and fascinating. The author lucidly outlines the lead-up to the campaigne and contextualises in a way that is easy to understand without trivialisation. The narrative zooms in from the "big picture" to some of the real and personal experiences of players (noble and otherwise) on both sides. Can't wait to see what she tackles next.


The Grenadillo Box
The Grenadillo Box
by Janet Gleeson
Edition: Paperback

5 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Pulp detective novel in badly fitting 18thC costume, 18 Aug 2005
This review is from: The Grenadillo Box (Paperback)
This is a very ordinary detective novel first and foremost. The plot, transposed into 20th / 21st would probably not make it past the publisher's in-tray. The fact that its shoe-horned into Georgian England doesn't make it much better in my view. What I found most disappointing was the flipping between 18th century speech patterns and more modern ones. Its the prose equivalent of a 18th Century character in a film listening to their iPod on screen. I didn't find any of the characterisations to be believable. I thought the narrative was inelegant. If you like authors like Griffin and Palliser you should steer well clear of this.


In the Kingdom of Air
In the Kingdom of Air
by Tim Binding
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.00

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Dark, deep and depressing, 19 May 2004
This review is from: In the Kingdom of Air (Paperback)
I've read a couple of other Binding books (Perfect Execution and Island Madness) and was pleased to have been bought this as a present. I confess that, when I opened the book, I didn't realise that it was written before his other novels (it may even have been his debut). Reading the book, however, one quickly senses that this is an author who, while talented, has not yet got the gauge of his abilities. Its a bit like an adolescent boy who has just put on a growth spurt - all the parts are there but they their owner is not quite sure how to use them. The style is undoubtedly identifiable as that which is later used in his other books. The storyline is just as bleak - dealing with fantasy, betrayal and secrets. I have to say, however, that it was not a book that brought me much joy. None of the characters have many redeeming features - least of all the central character. Giles, the "hero" is a pretty unpleasant piece of work. His exploration into the rather wierd events of his adolescence are set against the backdrop of the great storm of 1987. I guess this must be a symbolic sub-plot or something (I'll leave that to the Eng Lit guys to categorize). His childhood included growing up in a tightly repressed family in a tightly repressed street in what appears to be a tightly repressed Rochester in the late 60s / early 70s. This repression takes its toll on Giles. He rebels in small ways. The disapperance of his neighbour / girlfriend / partner in rebellion leads to him be suspected of comlicity. He knows a little about her disapperance, and the repression of this information has a profound effect on his psyche. It certainly helps turn him into a rather nasty adult. Anyway, the novel deals with his attempts to solve the mystery of the disappearance almost as a cathartic cure for his adult problems. Dark stuff.


A Short History Of Nearly Everything
A Short History Of Nearly Everything
by Bill Bryson
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Accessible, witty and not a little scary, 28 July 2003
It seems that countries and continents are not enough and now Bryson has turned his attention to, well, virtually everything. With a title like that I guess that the first page must have been tough to write. Thank goodness he wrote it and kept going. This book traces the origins of the universe and our understanding of it, then goes on to look at the development of our planet and finally the evolution of life on it. In particular, it looks at how our understanding of these processes has altered over history. The pattern seems to be that our beliefs were primitive early on, developed into organised and systematic models towards the beginning of the 20th century and then our understanding became a bit wooly. In fact, at the end of each section there seems to be quite a bit of confusion about what we do know and what we don't. In most cases it looks as though we aren't quite as smart as we think we are (surprise surprise).
Any book that tries to tackle topics of this magnitude in an accessible way is liable to being accused of trivialism, especially by specialists. Equally, there appears to be a lot of contraversy in the scientific community over some pretty important stuff. Bryson handles this, in my view, with a good degree of equanimity - not really going for one side or the other. What, for the lay reader, is scary is that there are so many gulfs in opinion amongst the scientific community. Indeed Bryson uses his formidable wit effectively in highlighting this.
Bryson's real strength is his light touch. He uses this deftly to make subjects that would otherwise be pretty impeneterable far more accessible to the lay reader. At the end of the book one feels both informed and (possibly more importantly) entertained. There's plenty of source material in the bibliography for anyone who wants to explore particular areas in greater depth.
This is definitely a good holiday read.


A Very English Agent
A Very English Agent
by Julian Rathbone
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quirky, fascinating, gripping and funny, 28 July 2003
This review is from: A Very English Agent (Hardcover)
If you are looking for a tense historic novel, then this is probably not for you. If you have read and enjoyed Rathbone's other work, particularly Joseph, then stop reading now and just buy the book. Rathbone's approach to history is, in my experience, unique. He takes the skeleton (muscle and sinew) of real events and adds to them a flesh of characters that are both fascinating and believable. What I particularly like about the main character in this work is his irredeemable and overriding self interest - a self interest that allows him to break moral convention without pricking his conscience even slightly. A more deeply flawed but frustratingly likeable hero you will be hard put to find. The plot moves fast and is reasonably episodic in nature. There is plenty of switching back and forth from first to third person, enough to mean you have to keep your wits about you, but this adds to the overall texture of the work.


Twelve Bar Blues
Twelve Bar Blues
by Patrick Neate
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.99

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incomparably superb, 20 May 2003
This review is from: Twelve Bar Blues (Paperback)
This is a fabulous book. Neate has a gift for storytelling that is shared by few other contemporary writers. His balance and use of prose is fantastic and his characterisation superb. The characters are big, bold and believable. His skill in intertwining the storyline is fabulous. I would strongly recommend any lover of contemporary literature to give this novel a spin.


Dr Johnson's London: Everyday Life in London in the Mid 18th Century
Dr Johnson's London: Everyday Life in London in the Mid 18th Century
by Liza Picard
Edition: Paperback

19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Engaging, but ultimately lightweight, 20 May 2003
I was looking forward to this book and, to some extent, enjoyed reading it. However, I've a few criticisms. Firstly, it seemed to be drawn from a relatively limited number of souces. Whilst books like this all tend to lack true scholarly rigour, this one was really quite thinly researched. Secondly, and as a result no doubt, there was plenty of repetition in it. The same stories appeared several times to illustrate similar points. Finally, the writing style was a little stilted at times.
Althogether a bit disappointing, although a tolerable read.


As Meat Loves Salt
As Meat Loves Salt
by Maria McCann
Edition: Paperback

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Superbly written, accurate, grimy and depressing, 21 Jan 2003
This review is from: As Meat Loves Salt (Paperback)
Firstly, this is a superbly written piece of historical fiction. Everything seems to be accurate from the period backdrop to the dialogue. The setting is entirely believeable and the characterisations are more or less perfect. Our "hero", Jacob Cullen, is about as dysfunctional as its possible to get. He lurches around the book focusing his particular variety of malignant obsesssion on other characters. His obsession, mainly sexual, leads to frequent loss of reason which tends to manifest itself in violence. In essence, he destroys everything he loves.
This is a superb book, but not an uplifting experience. If you're like me you will find its bleak background and irredeemable subject depressing. However, its compelling and you should find yourself dragged back for a bit more every time you pick the book up. I can't wait to see what's next (the ending seems to lay itself open to a continuation).


The Music of the Spheres
The Music of the Spheres
by Elizabeth Redfern
Edition: Paperback

18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic - well researched & stunning plot, 6 Dec 2002
Hitorical fiction is a genre with a few gems and a lot of dross. What characterises the bad books is bad research and, often, gross historical inaccuracy. What characterises the good books is historic fidelity. Of course, the great books have a cracking story too. This, in my view, is a great book. The plot twists and turns - with the themes of treachery, spying, murder and astronomy set against the backdrop of England in the aftermath of the French Revolution. The characterisations are exceptionally strong and it is easy to develop a strong identity with each of the main players - albeit that they range from the mad to the bad to the sad.
This is a tale of people following their consciences or personal quests who are manipulated by cynical puppetmasters. If there is one criticism, albeit a moderate one, it is the dialogue. It is very 20th/21st Century - and it leads one to look at the situations in the book from a relatively modern perspective. This does not spoil the read as an experience (maybe it knocks one of the points off the 5 star rating). What is clear is that the author has put a phenomenal amount of effort into getting this book just right and she has succeeded in doing so with distinction. I can't wait to see what comes from her pen next.


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