Monday, 12 November 2018

"Notes for a Memoir: On Isaac Asimov, Life, and Writing" by Janet Jeppson Asimov

Publisher:Amherst, N.Y. : Prometheus Books, 2006.
ISBN: 9781591024057
Characteristics: 207 pages, 4 unnumbered pages of plates :,illustrations, portraits ;,24 cm

I grew up reading the works of Isaac Asimov, and I've come to  believe that he along with Robert A. Heinlein, and to some extent Arthur C. Clarke are somewhat responsible for my outlook on life.

This book is a glimpse into the life of Isaac Asimov and his wife Janet Jeppson Asimov. The story is told through a series of stories, and musings about their life together. It touches on their thoughts on imagination, identity, and his compulsion to write. Dr. Janet Asimov also talks about various topics such as religion, sex, politics, history, philosophy, mortality and how she has coped with the loss of her husband.

If you haven't read any of Isaac Asimov's works then you are missing out on one of the great storytellers of the modern age. Janet Asimov (a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst) give great insight into how Isaac Asimov's mind worked, and gives the reader a feeling for what it might have been like to sit down and chat with them for an evening.

Also included are a number of short stories by Janet Asimov that have previously been published in various magazines.

A very good read, that I recommend to all.

Monday, 5 November 2018

"Signal Red" by Robert Ryan

Publisher: London : Headline Review, 2010.
Copyright 2010
ISBN: 9780755358205
Characteristics: 593 pages.

The fictionalized tale of the greatest train robbery of modern times. In August of 1963 a gang of unarmed men led by Bruce Reynolds holds up the Royal Mail Train, which is carrying millions of pounds in bills that are destined to be taken out of circulation.

This novel goes into great depth on the planning, and execution of the robbery as well as the investigation and subsequent capture of the gang by Scotland Yard. The gang had gotten away will virtually all the money, and had gone to ground in a nearby farmhouse. They are eventually spooked out of their hiding place, and leave many clues behind for the then new science of forensics to get their hands on.

While this novel is long at almost 600 pages, it is well worth the read as the amount of research that Mr. Ryan had to concerning the real robbery is astounding, and definitely gives the reader the ability to be in the thick of the action.

In addition to being a great novel, it inspired the 2014 double movie "The Great Train Robbery" starring Luke Evans, Martin Compston, Jim Broadbent, and James Fox. I say double movie, as that is what it is you get one from the robber's point of view and another from the police's. An excellent way of telling the tale.

Monday, 29 October 2018

"Magic Born" by Rayanne Haines

Publisher: Macedon, New York : Soul Mate Publishing, [2018]
Copyright Date: ©2018
ISBN: 9781682916759
Characteristics: 249 pages.

This is the second book of the Guardian Series (I reviewed the first - Magic Born last week). This novel is once again classified as romance, and I'm still no closer to figuring out what this really means, so I'll continue to call it a fantasy novel. This story was also well written, but I don't believe it is quite as good as the first, as the storyline is somewhat more confusing, and a number of additional characters are introduced that are both temporary and in my opinion not really crucial to the story.

This instalment revolves around the life of Maria Del Voscova who is a powerful witch, and during the story her past life is revealed to the others (Alex, Collum, Neeren and others) whether she likes it or not. Her life is quite messed up, as is her family, and her adventures reveal this throughout the book. In some ways though I felt that the strangeness of her family was a bit too much, and that this made the plot suffer a little in that it was presented too quickly.

The third book in the series "Air Born" has yet to be released.

Monday, 22 October 2018

"Fire Born" by Rayanne Haines

Publisher:Macedon, New York : Soul Mate Publishing, [2017]
Copyright Date:©2017
Characteristics: 249 pages ;,21 cm

According to the book jacket this novel is classified as a romance, I'm not exactly sure how they came up with this as I would have put it squarely into the fantasy genre. But it doesn't really matter what you classify it as, as it is a very well written story that definitely keeps you turning the pages.

The story revolves around a young lady Alex Taleisin who as it turns out has the rather spectacular power of being able to control fire, in fact she is a fire elemental. In addition she is the long-lost daughter of a fierce female warrior, is protected by a dragon, and aided by a witch who dresses in clothes (from Holt Renfrew) that make all the men's heads turn.

There are quite a number of funny moments in this book when you consider the interactions between the various characters, but there is also a fair bit of stress as not only is Alex falling in love with her dragon guardian (he shape shifts in case you are wondering), but she also meets up with her grandfather who depending on how you look at things may be the wisest of them all, or a few cards short of a full deck.

All in all a very good story, and I'm looking forward to the second book in the series "Magic Born".

Monday, 15 October 2018

"The Light of Day" by Eric Amber (1909-1998)

Publisher:New York: A. Knopf [1962]
Copyright Date:©1962
Characteristics: 219 pages: maps

This novel is one of many by Eric Ambler who was a celebrated suspense novelist, and tells the tale of a jewelry heist from the National Museum in Istanbul in Turkey. In it not only do you get a well rounded story, but a bit of a history lesson as well, which was another of Mr. Ambler's trademarks as he was known for do a lot of research forms books (most of it in person from what I understand).

The novel was the winner of the Edgar Award in 1964 and tells the story of one Arthur Simpson an out-of-luck con man, who is hired to drive a car across the Turkish border from Greece. Seems quite a simple job, but unbeknownst to him the car is being used to smuggle weapons. This story is told in first person by Simpson who upon discovery of the weapons becomes an unwilling "agent" for the Turkish Secret Police - a role he was forced into due to various circumstances and subsequently an even more unwilling accomplice in the robbery.

This book inspired the 1964 movie "Topkapi" which starred Peter Ustinov, Maximilian Schell & Melina Mercouri and unlike many movie adaptions, this one actually stays quite close to the story as Mr. Ambler wrote it. True they did change some things, but not nearly as much as they do now-a-days.

The characters in the movie are fairly true to those in the book as well, but not as close as they could be which is somewhat typical of Hollywood (even in the 60's). The Arthur Simpson character as played by Peter Ustinov is a lot of fun to watch, and could considered to be one of his better performances (at least in my opinion).

Monday, 8 October 2018

"Loot for the Taking" by Don Levers

Publisher:[Victoria, British Columbia] : Tellwell, [2017]
Copyright Date:©2017
ISBN: 9781773027142
Characteristics: 297 pages

"Loot for the Taking" revolves around the real life robbery in 1977 of the Vancouver Safety Deposit Vault in Vancouver, British Columbia. It tells the tale of four average friends who decide to rob the vault of a fortune in money, jewels, and bonds.

The author has produced a cohesive story that is extremely well written, and keeps you reading to the very end. The characters are intricately developed, and their motivations are believable. The explaination of how the robbery was carried out is very detailed, and gives the story a life of it own that keeps you turning the pages.

Historical fiction is a growing genre, that more authors should investigate, as the rewards are substantial. These include such a thing as a targeted audience, which is something very few other genres can boast. On the down side of this genre there is the research that the author has to do to support the story, which most authors are unwilling or unable to do. Mr. Levers has definitely succeeded in this and has produced a story that should delight all readers. In addition, his interweaving of the dream sequences was an interesting plot twist that definitely kept me interested.

The only thing I found missing in this novel - and it's a minor thing that likely only matters to very few readers - is the lack of a bibliography. As an author myself, when I read a historical fiction piece I frequently like to read more on the subject, and would have appreciated the reference material.

I'm very much looking forward to the next book by this author.

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

"Don't Know Much About Mythology" by Kenneth C. Davis

ISBN: 9780060194604

This was an absolutely fascinating book that goes into a lot of detail about the world's various mythologies. What I found most interesting was that it didn't deal simply with the Greeks and Romans myths but also included the Egyptians, Mesopotamians, Celts & Norse, India, China & Japan, African, and finally the America's & Pacific Islands.

What most people either purposefully ignore, or fail to realize is that these myths were historically  the religions of these various civilizations, just as other myths are the basis of today's religions: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and others. Most people are only taught the about the Greeks and Romans in school, and if they are very lucky might hear something about the Norse. But the rest are rarely if every taught in any grade school. When I had the opportunity to teach a class on Norse mythology, the students were quite fascinated, as it was something they'd never heard before.

Why don't they teach this? Who knows! My guess would be that it is because these mythologies are never taught in a University's Education faculty (or at least I never encountered them), or possibly because a given teacher believes they are simply stories, or don't want to offend someone. Mind you I can't totally blame teacher training, as I was never introduced to much of this even when taking anthropology courses either.

In any case this book is highly recommended, and should be in all school libraries.

Monday, 17 September 2018

"Our Kind of Traitor" by John Le Carré

Publisher:Toronto : Viking Canada, 2010.
ISBN: 9780670064786
General fiction L PBK
Characteristics: 305 pages ;,24 cm

A very interesting book, that gives a different twist to the spy novel. In this story a Russian mafioso who wishes to defect, and move his family to England. It explores the intrigue involved when the various spy agencies, and some well-meaning bystanders/helpless pawns are brought into the game.

The story follows a vacationing English couple in Antigua, who meet a Russian businessmen Dima  who initially seems only to want to play tennis. When the couple return to England after being entertained by Dima, meeting his family, etc. they are subjected to interrogation by the British Secret Service, who need their help.

For those readers who are familiar with Le Carré's works featuring George Smiley, this novel is comparable to how his other stories approach the whole spy business and the games the various agencies play for and against each other, which makes it seem very realistic.

I was somewhat disappointed in the very ending, as I would have liked to have read what happened to some of the other characters, but overall it was a very well written and enjoyable book to read.

"Notes for a Memoir: On Isaac Asimov, Life, and Writing" by Janet Jeppson Asimov

Publisher:Amherst, N.Y. : Prometheus Books, 2006. ISBN: 9781591024057 Characteristics: 207 pages, 4 unnumbered pages of plates :,illus...