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David Gee (Sussex, UK)

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Sunshine Soup: Nourishing the Global Soul
Sunshine Soup: Nourishing the Global Soul
by Jo Parfitt
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Life in a forty-degree climate, 27 Aug. 2012
Maya Winter moves to Dubai with her two young sons when her pilot husband gets a job with a local airline. She is uneasy at first, feeling disconnected from her routine (and career) in the UK and self-conscious about 'her untoned thighs that resembled cold porridge', but she soon settles into the life of an expatriate mother: school runs, shopping in the souks, coffee mornings, 'ladies who lunch', Reiki treatments, a book club. She teaches her Indian housegirl to cook a la Delia Smith and starts a Blog on Cookery and Life in Dubai. Her new best friend is Barb, a Texas oilman's wife, full of good intentions and Bacardi, an ardent Republican who is duly horrified when Obama gets the keys to the White House. Barb has a son in middle school but she's still grieving for her daughter still-born seven years ago.

Thanks to Barb Maya becomes involved in a Good Cause and meets a charismatic widowed Arab who (in one of the book's most vivid chapters) shows her the dunes and wadis beyond the cranes and high-rises of downtown Dubai. Both Maya's and Barb's marriages go through a rocky patch. (This happened to many marriages when I was in the Gulf, but let's face it, it does everywhere.)

This was a delight to read, showing the sunny joys and minor discomforts of life in a forty-degree climate. The author prints 35 pages of her yummy recipes at the end. The emphasis on cooking gives the book pleasing echoes of the blog that become a book that became Nora Ephron's movie JULIE & JULIA. Perhaps Jo Parfitt will be lucky enough to see Meryl Streep in the film of her novel!

[Reviewer is the author of SHAIKH-DOWN, which offers another view of life (and revolution) in the Arab World]


The Drop
The Drop
by Michael Connelly
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Harry's house of horrors, 15 Aug. 2012
This review is from: The Drop (Hardcover)
Harry Bosch's latest 'cold case' involves a twenty-year-old unsolved rape/murder that, according to DNA evidence, was committed by an eight-year-old boy. No sooner has he started this investigation when Harry is assigned a 'hot' new case to prioritize. The son of Irvin Irving, Bosch's old Nemesis at the LAPD who is now a councilman fighting for re-election, has been found dead below a balcony at the Chateau Marmont. Did he jump or was he pushed?

Both cases are investigated with detailed analysis of evidence and witness interviews, the kind of dogged police work that gets crimes solved. Michael Connelly's great gift is to make this routine stuff as gripping as the chases and shoot-outs that are the stuff of Jason Bourne movies. Both cases have surprising outcomes. Councilman Irving looks likely to hound Harry again. The cold case leads to a true 'House of Horror' which will haunt Bosch - and the reader - for years to come.

THE DROP is a deeply satisfying read. Connelly and Bosch remain at the top of their game.

[Reviewer is the author of SHAIKH-DOWN]


The Prisoner of Heaven
The Prisoner of Heaven
by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Magic Realism? Less magic this time, 6 Aug. 2012
This review is from: The Prisoner of Heaven (Hardcover)
THE PRISONER OF HEAVEN re-introduces us to Daniel Sempere who runs a bookstore in Barcelona with his ailing father. But the main character in this sequel to both THE SHADOW OF THE WIND and THE ANGEL'S GAME is their oddball assistant Fermin who spent a few of the early Franco-era years in the city's medieval Montjuic prison. A fellow prisoner was the impoverished potboiler writer David Martin, falsely convicted because the venal prison governor wanted a captive literary 'ghost'. Fermin resolves to escape and seek vengeance for both himself and David.

Zafon always hints honestly at his sources, and references to LES MISERABLES acknowledge that this is, partially, a "hommage" to Victor Hugo. There is also another nod to GREAT EXPECTATIONS, and some riverside scenes put me in mind of Vincent Price's camp extravaganza THE THEATRE OF BLOOD!

The first 50 pages of this keenly awaited new novel suffer from an uneven pace and, for a book set in the 1930s and 50s, there are some jarringly modern words (Zafon's fault or the translator's?). An intermittently humorous tone, together with the plot emphasis on Fermin's impending wedding and David Martin's not-so-secret passion for Daniel Sempere's mother Isabella, nudge the book to the edge of romantic comedy. It's only the prison scenes that are rich in atmosphere and pop a surprise or two.

What we expect from Senor Zafon (and Isabel Allende and Salman Rushdie) is Magic Realism. This time Zafon serves up a bit more realism and a lot less magic. From almost any other author THE PRISONER OF HEAVEN would be regarded as a considerable achievement but THE SHADOW OF THE WIND was a magnificent achievement, raising the bar for all authors, including Zafon. In THE PRISONER OF HEAVEN he seems to be "treading water". It's a good book, but it's not a great book.

[Reviewer is the author of SHAIKH-DOWN]


The Final Reckoning
The Final Reckoning
by Sam Bourne
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Better than Brown, not as good as Ludlum, 23 July 2012
This review is from: The Final Reckoning (Paperback)
A cop shoots an elderly man in the United Nations Plaza in New York, mistaking him for a terrorist. Lawyer Tom Byrne investigates the shooting and finds that the dead man, a naturalized Briton but originally a Jew from Lithuania, may not have been an innocent victim. Working alongside the Lithuanian's glamorous daughter (cue romance!), Byrne is soon on the trail of a 'cabal' that has been exacting revenge for the Holocaust since the late 1940s.

Sam Bourne is often trumpeted as one of Dan Brown's biggest rivals, but I found myself getting echoes of Robert Ludlum, the 'grand-daddy' of the modern conspiracy thriller. Bourne is a better writer than Brown but not quite in Ludlum's league. THE FINAL RECKONING has an intriguing opening and a thrilling climax back in New York, but the central section in London sags with too much talk and not enough action (a common flaw in this genre). You want something involving Nazi-hunters to be quirky like THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL or to have the breathtaking pace of Spielberg's Indiana Jones movies.

Daniel Silva remains the 'king' of the Jewish Vengeance thriller.

[Reviewer is the author of SHAIKH-DOWN]


King of the Badgers
King of the Badgers
by Philip Hensher
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Westward ho for the gay orgy!, 7 July 2012
This review is from: King of the Badgers (Paperback)
After his Sheffield saga THE NORTHERN CLEMENCY, Philip Hensher relocates to a small select township on the Bristol Channel with KING OF THE BADGERS (where does he get these weird titles from?). I'm sure many readers will take a guess at where Hanmouth is meant to be.

The book begins with the disappearance of an 8-year-old girl from the council estate on the outskirts. The case seems to fizzle out until a surprise discovery much later in the story. What Hensher concentrates on is giving a picture of the criss-crossing lives of the middle-class retirees and shop-keepers on the best street in town. Some of these are people one would be happy to have as neighbours; others are not. There are several busybodies, including the obnoxious organizer of Neighbourhood Watch (Hanmouth is heavily watched by CCTV). One couple are living way beyond their means.

Blessed are the cheese-makers! The gay proprietor of the cheese-shop and his chum host an orgy for their "Bear" friends which the author describes in choreographic rather than pornographic detail. One of the guests, the visiting son of neighbours, is a sad fat queen with a hopeless crush on a hunky Italian who's sponging off him shamelessly.

This is a big sprawling novel that often wanders into James Joyce/Virginia Woolf 'stream of consciousness' writing that I would have preferred to see less of. It's at its best as a kind of rustic soap opera, a literary street scene like a Breugel or Lowry painting brought to life. 'All human life is there.' Didn't that use to be the motto of a Sunday newspaper? I wonder what happened to it!


The Midnight Palace
The Midnight Palace
Price: £4.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Too good to be only read by the young!, 7 Jun. 2012
A ghost story Stephen King would be happy to lend his name to; a setting - Calcutta - that Salman Rushdie might have used; writing as fluid and luminous as the best of Isabel Allende: THE MIDNIGHT PALACE boasts a fine pedigree. Originally published in Spain in 1994 and only now issued in a mass-market English translation, this is one hell of a good book. It's supposedly written for Young Adults but, like a lot of YA fiction, it appeals to "grown-up" readers as well. I haven't read J.K. Rowling or the TWILIGHT tales or THE HUNGER GAMES: surely none of them can be as good as this?

Beginning in 1916, the story mostly takes place over 4 days and nights in 1932. 16-year-old Ben is about to leave the orphanage he was given to under mysterious circumstances in infancy. Reunited with a twin sister he didn't know he had, he - and six other teenagers - confront the demonic creature from whom Ben and Sheere barely escaped as babies. The demon rides a ghostly train full of dead children out of a burnt-out railway station that was built by the twins' father.

THE MIDNIGHT PALACE has a thundering plot, well-developed characters and - this really sets it apart - a prose style that is nothing less than exquisite. Like most English readers I came to Zafon through THE SHADOW OF THE WIND, which I rate among the most perfect novels written in my lifetime. In THE MIDNIGHT PALACE it is possible to see themes and ideas developing that will find full 'fruition' in SHADOW.

This is a near-flawless gem of a book. Anyone who reads this - young or old - will be exposed to story-telling of the very highest calibre.

[Reviewer is the author of SHAIKH-DOWN]


Smut: Two Unseemly Stories
Smut: Two Unseemly Stories
by Alan Bennett
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £8.43

5.0 out of 5 stars The milk of human unkindness: MUST be dramatized!, 23 May 2012
Subtitled "two unseemly stories", SMUT is only a little bit ruder than Mr Bennett's usual output and just a little bit - deliciously - crude here and there. THE GREENING OF MRS DONALDSON finds the newly widowed Mrs D. topping up her pension by 'performing' as a pretend patient at the local medical school. She also takes in a pair of co-habiting lodgers who find an imaginative way of settling the arrears on their rent.

We tend to identify Bennett's characters with the actors who've portrayed them on-screen and it's easy to Picture Mrs Donaldson being (beautifully) played by Penelope Wilton or Maggie Smith. Her life is the author's usual rich mix of comedy and tragedy. He manages to work in a few topical gripes about how today's over-stretched and under-motivated doctors and nurses rarely find time to be compassionate or even kind to patients. The story, 100 pages long, is more like a novella and, disappointingly, stops just as Mrs Donaldson is about to take on a new lease of life.

In THE SHIELDING OF MRS FORBES it's Patricia Routledge (in Hyacinth Bucket mode) who comes to mind. The chief protagonist is her gorgeous but confused son Graham who marries plain but resourceful Betty and then gets into a bit of bother to which his wife and his mother, separately, find a solution. This story has as many twists as a soap opera plot; it must surely be dramatized for stage or television.

Both tales are filled with the wry observations about the human condition that are Bennett's very distinctive 'trademark'. Being free to use the electric carving knife is for Mrs Donaldson "one of the several joys of bereavement". Mr Forbes worried that his son might be gay because "he had an umbrella at a very early age".

These two stories are, like everything else Mr Bennett puts our way, a joy to read, full of sly humour and the occasional dollop of the milk of human unkindness.

[Reviewer is the author of SHAIKH-DOWN]


Now And Then
Now And Then
by William Corlett
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Puppy love" - all pain, not much pleasure, 24 April 2012
This review is from: Now And Then (Paperback)
It's always a joy to come upon a novel of real quality that you missed out on years ago. NOW AND THEN, published in 1995, is one of those. The NOW is 1987, when Christopher Metcalfe, a 50-year-old publishing editor, is drawn back into family life following the death of his father. Christopher's bachelor existence is like a Terence Rattigan play: lunches with authors, drunken dinners with a platonic ladyfriend with boyfriend problems, fractious relations with his catty sister and her boorish husband. He loves his mother but they don't understand each other; Christopher is gay and still locked in the closet.

The THEN is the 1950s when as a Fifth Former at a minor Public School in East Anglia he was seduced by Stephen Walker, one of the Prefects. The 1950s was a time when homosexuality, at school and in the outside world, was still very much a "love that dare not speak its name". Christopher, like Leo in THE GO-BETWEEN, has been shaped - mis-shaped - by this schoolboy romance which has made him fearful of loving anyone ever again. At 50 he is lonely and desperate. He found no other lover after Stephen and does not have a sex life. He decides to try and find Stephen through the school's Old Boys' network.

William Corlett writes with elegance and economy. He captures vividly the painful intensity of first love, "puppy love" - all that longing, not much fulfilment. The bitterness of Christopher's middle age is also sharply evoked - waspish exchanges with his ladyfriend and his bitch of a sister, the void in his mother's life after losing a husband at the end of a hollow marriage. This sad tale is enlivened by some sharp humour and a few spicy teenage sex scenes. The ending, in the beautiful city of Granada, is perfectly judged and will have you falling under its spell!

[Reviewer is the author of SHAIKH-DOWN]


Agent 6 (Child 44 Trilogy 3)
Agent 6 (Child 44 Trilogy 3)
by Tom Rob Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The new Le Carre, the new Hammond Innes, 17 April 2012
Concluding the trilogy that began with the heart-stopping CHILD 44, Tom Rob Smith takes us back into the murky Cold-War world of KGB agent Leo Demidov. The double murder at the heart of this story takes place in New York and involves Leo's own family and an eminent Negro singer who has been persecuted in the US for his ideological commitment to Communism. Yes, Smith is revisiting the McCarthy era, modern America's first long dark night of the soul. Dreaming of a better world was not without its dangers, the author sagely reminds us at one point.

It will be fifteen years before Leo is able to get to the truth of what happened in New York. He is posted to Afghanistan in the 1980s in the early days of the Soviet occupation of that benighted land. Against a background of Russian atrocities and harsh mujahedin reprisals, Leo's already strained loyalty to his masters is tested beyond endurance. His delayed quest to unravel the tragic events of 1965 finally takes him to New York, where his unhappy story ends with both a bang and a whimper.

AGENT 6 is as densely plotted and elegantly written as any of Le Carre's towering George Smiley spy stories. There's a scene in the Khyber Pass in a hailstorm that chills the reader to the marrow, a trick that was memorably pulled off in several tales by the late great Hammond Innes who was very fond of pitting his heroes against the elements! Tom Rob Smith is emerging - with great confidence and enormous promise - from the shadow of some of our greatest thriller writers.

[Reviewer is the author of SHAIKH-DOWN]


The Widows of Eastwick
The Widows of Eastwick
by John Updike
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Literature's high table, 29 Mar. 2012
This review is from: The Widows of Eastwick (Paperback)
Unless his publishers get him writing from the grave (as has happened to Robert Ludlum!) this will be the last novel we see from John Updike, one of the greatest writers of his generation - maybe the greatest. A sequel (obviously) to THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK, it's a little bit disappointing, but only a little.

Alexandra, Jane and Sukie went their separate ways after their gothic encounter with Darryl Van Horne in Eastwick in the 1970s. Now, thirty-odd years later, all widowed from long second marriages, they rent an apartment together in what was the hot-tub room (scene of many a happy orgy!) in Darryl's mansion, now broken into smaller units. Eastwick is not happy to see them back and one figure from their previous sorcery returns to dispense some rough justice.

These are three wonderful characters, and it's a joy to be back in their company. Unfortunately, it takes Updike 100 pages to get them to Rhode Island (100 pages of mostly 'travelogue': Canada, Egypt, China) and another 100 before the witchcraft - the magic - resumes. The final 100 pages are almost as enjoyable as the first novel was, although the male protagonist is not as charismatic as Darryl (his charisma greatly amplified by Jack Nicholson's performance in the movie version!). There's more sex talk than sex action: two of these dear ladies are now in their 70s, but Sukie, the youngest, is still 'hot to trot'. Not many authors write sex as memorably and as whimsically as Updike.

It's not just Darryl's 'avenger' casting a shadow over our heroines' lives; there's a lot of talk about Death. Perhaps Updike sensed that the Grim Reaper was waiting to pounce on the author. He died in 2009, a year after WIDOWS was published.

A bit slow and short on storyline, The WIDOWS OF EASTWICK is beautifully written: a good book, if not quite a great one. VILLAGES (2004), Updike's third-from-last book, was his last masterpiece - the last of at least a dozen outstanding novels from a truly outstanding chronicler of the morals and mores of 20th-century Middle America.

The EASTWICK books are about witchcraft. You read them at the peril of your immortal soul, supping with the Devil! But to read John Updike is to dine at the high table of literature.

(Reviewer is the author of SHAIKHDOWN)


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