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Reviews Written by
W. Tegner "Bill" (Cheshire UK)
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The Whitehall Mandarin
The Whitehall Mandarin
Price: £4.19

3.0 out of 5 stars Quite good but a bit flawed, 16 Sep 2014
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One of the advantages of the Kindle Daily Deal is that you come across books and authors you might not have heard of. This was a case in point. It's a good spy thriller and it holds the readers' attention . There's an interesting element of history, too, including the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Profumo Affair and not least the Vietnam War, on which the author paints an interesting and vivid scenario: "America's Stalingrad".

The underlying hypothesis of the plot seems sound enough, but there are elements of it, not least the denouement towards the end, which stretch credibility.Also it's a bit stereotyped and the lead character (single, of course) does not quite ring true. There are are various minor flaws, possibly because of the author's American origins, for example about British titles. And my eyebrows rose at the assertion that, "sport is the glue that keeps Britain together" Alas, if anything that's the opposite of the truth.

This was quite a good read, but do not expect it to measure up to John le Carre.


Kidnapped (David Balfour Book 1)
Kidnapped (David Balfour Book 1)
Price: £0.00

4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting and enjoyable Classic, 1 Sep 2014
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This was a book club choice and although I might have read it over fifty years ago, I couldn't remember it. The Kindle edition starts with an odd Preface and a wordy Dedication, before the novel itself starts. But once you get into it, the book itself is quite fun, not least the (largely) archaic Scots dialect. Indeed, it's a great yarn, as good as many modern detective thrillers, if a bit ponderous. There's an interesting historical backdrop, illustrating divisions amongst the Scots during and after the '45. There's also a touch of GA Henty and John Buchan. All in all, a good adventure story.


S is for Silence (Kinsey Millhone Mystery 19)
S is for Silence (Kinsey Millhone Mystery 19)
Price: £3.32

5.0 out of 5 stars The usual high Quality, 23 Aug 2014
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Having read some fairly heavy books recently it was a real pleasure to get back to Sue Grafton, who never fails to please. She not only tells a good story, she writes well, too, not over-wordy, but with good descriptive prose. I enjoyed the way the plot moved between 1953 and 1987 (comfortably set before mobiles, text messages, e-mails and the internet intervened).

The author obviously enjoys her writing and paints a good picture of blue collar America without being unduly discursive. The book holds your attention well, with an exciting ending.


Mad Dogs And Englishmen
Mad Dogs And Englishmen
Offered by CD and DVD Outlet
Price: £5.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Pleasant background Music, 17 Aug 2014
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This review is from: Mad Dogs And Englishmen (Audio CD)
Over thirty years ago we had a Noel Coward cassette, but it's no longer with us, so we bought this (cheaply) to revive memories. It's good, light music, sung pleasantly. Hardly high brow but enjoyable.


Gideon's Spies: The Inside Story of Israel's Legendary Secret Service
Gideon's Spies: The Inside Story of Israel's Legendary Secret Service
Price: £6.00

3.0 out of 5 stars A long, ambitious Work., 10 Aug 2014
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This is quite a good book, but it is flawed in that it is too long, discursive and repetitive. It gives an interesting picture of the Mossad, but often strays off topic. Apart from Israeli and Arab leaders, the cast includes George W Bush, Tony Blair, Vladimir Putin, Robert Maxwell, Condoleezza Rice and many others. Even Jeffrey Archer gets a mention. There's plenty of conspiracy theory and various incidents are looked into in great detail: Lillehammer, Entebbe, the death of Princess Diana (twice), the attempted assassination of John Paul II, the Gulf Wars, the capture of Saddam Hussein, 9/11, the London tube bombings and the Bali bomb, for example. In many of these, Mossad was just a bit player. The book was written before the assassination of Osama bin Laden, but in time for the author to refer to the "monumental mistake(s)" of Bush and Blair.

Inevitably there are flaws. We are told that David Kimche left Oxford University with a Social Science degree in 1968, but not only would he have been thirty or more probably forty at the time, but also Oxford did not have such a degree then. In addition, we are told that he then joined Mossad, but a few pages later that turns out to have been "in the early sixties". Also, the attempted assassination of John Paul II is given a date of May 1981, but a few pages later there is a reference to "only three months before, in February 1983". And he gets the date of the collapse of the Berlin Wall wrong too (a year early).

This is a pity, because the author appears to have done a great amount of detailed research in order to produce a long, interesting and worthy volume. But he is prone to name dropping, and there even seems to be a tendency to self indulgence.


A Brief Biography of William Gladstone (Annotated)
A Brief Biography of William Gladstone (Annotated)
Price: £0.77

3.0 out of 5 stars Not what I expected but worth reading., 10 Aug 2014
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I ordered this for a short summary of the life of the Grand Old Man, but I hadn't realised that it was the work of an Irish Nationalist MP (over a hundred years ago). In fact I'm not sure if the father or the son wrote it. The style is certainly dated, but it's well presented. The author takes us through the life of Gladstone, who he clearly admired, referring to him as "one of the great historic orators of the English (sic) Parliament". He adds that "probably there is no other English minister who leaves behind him so long and so successful a record of practical legislation" and that "as a parliamentary debater he never had a superior......in the whole political history of the British Empire".

I read the book in about an hour. It is supplemented by an annexe called "A Brief Summary of the Life and Career of William Gladstone", by BM White. This adds little to the main piece of the work. There then follows an update on Irish Home Rule by WF Zimmerman. This appears to have been written in the 1920s.

For a quick read at a cost of 77p, this volume is quite acceptable.


Gladstone
Gladstone
Price: £5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Detailed, painstaking and scholarly., 27 July 2014
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This review is from: Gladstone (Kindle Edition)
Lord Jenkins was a highly educated man of great ability and this comes through in this scholarly volume. I was a bit daunted by is length, but I took it bit by bit. Sometimes the words were challenging: clericy, valetudinarian, cicerone and immanent I could take, but I struggled with eleemosynary and manichaean to name but two. I also wondered at an obscure reference to Winchester 'notions'. In addition, the book is very detailed and I was glad I was reading it for pleasure rather than as an undergraduate, preparing, for example, for tricky questions on the various budgets.

I am not sure that I would have liked Gladstone. He comes across as priggish, long-winded and humourless, but his long career is a fascinating one. He also had a remarkable capacity for hard work, which resulted in various achievements, varying from reform of the University of Oxford, to electoral reforms, to the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland, though the ultimate goal of Irish Home Rule of course eluded him. However, I had not realised that it was a far more complex issue than "give it them but what about the Ulster Protestants?". For example, continued representation at Westminster and what powers should be devolved were matters of considerable import. Another curiosity is that in 1886 Gladstone was elected MP for two constituencies, Leith and Midlothian.

There are one or two oddities. The author on one occasion confuses daughters in law with step daughters. Also it is surprising that there is no mention of the Chartists, because Gladstone was certainly on the political scene when they were active. And the spin-off from the 'Alabama' incident is described, but not the details of the event itself.

Apparently Roy Jenkins "condemned big books that were too heavy to hold up in bed". This is ironic, because it certainly applies to the hard back version I bought. But it has been described as "elegant" and likely to attract history students, and this is certainly the case.


Some Tame Gazelle (VMC Book 318)
Some Tame Gazelle (VMC Book 318)
Price: £5.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful, 20 July 2014
In my review of A Glass of Blessings, I said that it "was not to everyone's taste", and so it proved: it was dismissed as "chick-lit" by my (former) book group. But I have to confess a great affection for Miss Pym's books, so I was pleased to read in the first sentence of Mavis Cheek's introduction, that "from the opening line of Some Tame Gazelle you are safely and deliciously in Barbara Pym country". And so I was.

The book is set in rural (presumably southern) England, as so many books are, from Agatha Christie to MC Beaton and many others. I can remember life there in the fifties (though this book predates that) and it rings true, with horsey voices, vicarage tea parties and tweeds. Agatha Raisin and Miss Marple could well be there with their coteries, but there are no murders to keep them interested.

The Church of England was obviously far more of a presence then than now. I don't think many villages now boast an Archdeacon and a curate. And the class system was even more rigid. I noticed references to "the village people", an expression still in use, I think. And then there are people like Mrs Prior who don't quite fit in, being somewhere in the middle.

Yes, it's an interesting glimpse of another age: of boiled chicken, mutton, tinned tongue and bottled fruit, with hock to wash down the meal. And (afternoon) tea, an important event at four o'clock. And the Crown and Pinion was definitely off limits to the respectable.

Two phrases caught my attention: "the comfortable life of a spinster in a country parish", and "uneventful lives in this quiet village". But it is not a precious, rustic soliloquy of the type favoured by writers like Elizabeth Goudge. The author comes across as what she was, educated and intellectual, but also full of humour, fun and even a degree of spice. As Anne Tyler says, "she reminds us of the heartbreaking silliness of everyday life" (or life as it was, albeit in a rather niche environment). And this book contains some real gems. Altogether it's a relaxing, entertaining and enjoyable read.


Hour Game
Hour Game
Price: £3.59

3.0 out of 5 stars Too unreal, 11 July 2014
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This review is from: Hour Game (Kindle Edition)
A young, attractive, super-fit, single, female private investigator discovers a dead body when she's out running. That's nothing, of course. Rosemary and Thyme discover two a week during their gardening exploits. The rest of us never seem to, thank goodness. But at least that's the entrée to a reasonable and intriguing detective novel.

However, on occasions you do have to take a reality check, and the book is one of thousands of its genre: a mega-rich dysfunctional family, several murders, glamorous sleuths and an uncomfortable FBI-police interface. Yes, we've been there many times before.

I identified the perpetrator a quarter of the way through the book, but I was wrong because he was subsequently murdered. Indeed, so many of the characters in the book get killed that the number of suspects goes down and down. And all in a small town in rural Virginia. The complex scenario evolves and goes on for quite a long time, until you think it's finished (85% on Kindle), but then there's a long twist to the tale.

Towards the end of the book, the phrase "odds of probably a billion to one" is used, and that's quite an apt summary of the whole book.

Although I wasn't entirely sorry to finish the book, I'll probably read another one by David Baldacci, though not for a bit.


Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont (VMC Book 262)
Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont (VMC Book 262)
Price: £5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Unusual and quite enjoyable, 25 Jun 2014
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This was a book club choice and at first I thought, "oh dear, I won't enjoy it: dreary old people in a dreary hotel in a dreary part of west London". But it grows on you.

You could call the book dated but there are evocative descriptions of the London I knew as a young man. And allusions and implications that old age can be compared to school days: people being institutionalised and communing mainly with those of their own age. The descriptions of older people with their fussiness and concerns about trivia also ring true, not least their, "earliness to detect the signs of summer over", wearing winter clothes while "young girls still went.......to work bare-armed".

In summary, this book is readable, observant and thought provoking, with moments of both humour and sadness.


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