Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Fatherland, Robert Harris

Publishers: Arrow Books

Pages: 383 (Paperback 2009)

Main Characters:

Xavier March, Charlie Maguire

Fatherland is the brilliant historical murder mystery thriller from Robert Harris. Set in an Alternative history, Fatherland is based in Berlin 1964 which is ruled by the German Third Reich after their glorious victory over the War Time Alliance in 1945.
The story follows Xavier March, a Kriminalpolizei inspector set with the task of solving the mystery behind the murder of a high classed Nazi Party leader. During the search for the murderer, March stumbles across a conspiracy hidden from the German people. With the help of an American journalist ‘Charlie’ Maguire, March tries to bring this terrible conspiracy to the surface which could result in the end of the German Third Reich. However this all happens within one week of Adolf Hitler’s 75th Birthday and the Gestapo are on the look for anything that may disrupt the birthday celebrations. Unfortunately for March, they are on his case.
This was a great book. Harris gave a very good account of what he thought 1960’s Berlin might have been like if Hitler had won. Harris explains how the Germans won the war in a very plausible way. It was packed full of historical detail which makes the novel seem much more believable. The story behind the conspiracy is really sinister making you want to get inter-twined with the characters and the mystery. You also really feel for March. He is stuck in a world that is totally authoritarian where not conforming to the system my lead to torture or death.
 All in all this was a great read; I would suggest it to anyone who likes Robert Harris and also to anyone how like 1984 by George Orwell. It is quite similar in the way that both the main characters live in a society which they don’t want to conform to.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Gallows Thief, Bernard Cornwell

Publishers: Harper Collins

Pages:  416 (Paperback 2002)

Main Characters:
Rider Sandman, Sir Henry Forrest, Eleanor Forrest,
 Sam Berrigan

Gallows Thief is a murder mystery novel written by my favourite author Bernard Cornwell. The novel is set in London in the 1820’s, just after the Napoleonic Wars. The story is based around a decommissioned solider, Rider Sandman, who is a young gentlemen from a rich aristocratic family. Sandman is down on his luck.
 After leaving the army at the end of the Wars, Sandman finds that his father has spent the family’s wealth and shamed them by committing suicide. It falls on Rider to find work of a gentlemen’s nature to pay for the upkeep of his Mother and Sister. Sandman hopes of marriage are also dashed by his father’s death.  His proposed marriage to Eleanor Forrest is ended by her mother, as she sees Sandman as not now been socially worthy enough for an Alderman of London’s daughter. Eleanor’s father, Sir Henry Forrest gives Sandman a chance to redeem his family honour and earn some money by gaining the confession of a convicted murderer Charles Corday. Over the next few days however, Sandman finds new evidence which shows Corday may not have been the murderer. This leaves Sandman in a rush to prove his innocence as Corday hangs in one week.
For me this was a very different book than the ones I am used to reading by Cornwell. Normally Cornwell writes historical fiction that sees the characters going through a quest or a journey which co-insides with historical events. This was the first book of Cornwell’s that I have read that is a murder mystery. I thought it made a nice change. It is very gripping, because you want to find who the murderer is and Gallows Thief is only a single novel, so it makes a good quick read because there are no sequels.
However there are still some trademark Cornwell techniques in the book that make it familiar to avid Cornwell fans.  Examples would be that the main character becomes a hero by the end of the book. Sandman starts off as a lowly character with a disgraced family but by the end he saves a man’s life and wins the respect of his peers. Like all of his books, Cornwell puts a lot of historical detail into Gallows Thief. He really shows what London was like after the Napoleonic Wars with its high unemployment rate and the effect all the decommissioned soldiers had on the city.
All in all this was a good book. I bit different to most of Cornwell’s other books, but it made a refreshing difference. I’d suggest this book to any Cornwell fan, as well as anyone who was interested in the Napoleonic Wars or capital punishment in the 19th Century.
Link tp author's offical web-site:

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

How To Be Good, Nick Hornby

Publishers: Penguin Books

Pages: 245 (Paperback 2001)

Main Characters:

Katie Carr, David Grant, DJ Goodnews,

How to be Good was a very funny book. Set around the character Katie Carr, a doctor, a mother of two and wife to David. It follows her through a sort of mid-life crisis that sees her having an affair. The resulting affair sees her husband David change from been a cynical, negative person to becoming a ‘do gooder’ with the help of his spiritual leader DJ Goodnews. The good deeds that David and Goodnews do see Katie’s children’s toys been given away, the whole street taking in a young homeless person and David writing a book titled ‘How to be Good’. The humour comes from the frustration Katie feels at the total change in her husband (even though she wanted a change) because of his new friend Goodnews.
This book was a good read. It was something different to what I normally read and it made a refreshing change. As I said above, it is very funny because you witness these events happen to a person that was so cynical and the local angry man. I would suggest this book to anyone who has read or is a fan of Mark Haddon and his book A Spot of bother. Like A Spot of Bother it follows a family as the patriarch goes through a mid-life crisis and it is also very funny.
Link to author’s official web-site:

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The Fear Index, Robert Harris

Publisher: Hutchinson

Pages: 223 (Hardback 2011)

Main Characters:

Alexander Hoffmann,

The Fear Index is the latest novel from the amazing thriller writer Robert Harris. The Fear Index follows a day in the life of Alexander Hoffmann, a rich, American, Physicist and owner of one of Europe’s biggest hedge fund companies. Hoffmann is a computer genius. The reason behind his company’s wealth and prestige is a financial algorithm which Hoffmann designs himself. The algorithm is known as VIXAL-4. It uses patterns and trends from previous years to guess which stock to buy and sell in the market, so far been correct giving its shareholders an 83% return on their investments.
Life seems to be going well for the American business man. Hoffmann believes himself to be worth around one billion dollars, has a $60 million dollar house in Geneva’s most wealthy area and a loving wife Gabrielle. However all of this changes after the suspicious delivery of On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. The emergence of this book sets of a domino effect of events that has Hoffmann doubting his sanity. Whilst also triggering the uncontrolled destruction of his creation VIXAL-4, as it appears to be gambling all of Hoffmann’s hedge fund money on one sale of shares, risking bankruptcy.
The Fear Index was a great book. From the very first chapter it had me gripped and I managed to read the whole book in 48 hours. The mystery behind all of the events has you believe that someone very close to Hoffmann is trying to sabotage him and his business. The story follows Hoffmann over 24 hours as he tries to find who is destroying him. However, these events are been triggered by e-mails coming from Hoffmann’s computer, which makes him start to doubt his sanity as he has had previous mental breakdowns.
This book is based around the financial market. I think Harris does a great job of explaining the basics of the stock market in this book. I know nothing about economics, but Harries explains it in a simple way which makes this book much better to read. This is because you have a small understanding of how the stock market works which helps you understand the events in the book even better.
This was a great book and I would recommend it to anyone who likes any of Robert Harris’s other books, anyone who has an interest in economics or the Stock exchange, or anyone who enjoys modern thrillers.

Monday, 21 November 2011

The Children of Hurin, J. R. R. Tolkien and Christopher Tolkien

Publisher: HarperCollins

Pages: 336

Main Characters:

Hurin, Turin, Nienor, Morgoth,

The Children of Hurin is one of J. R. R. Tolkien’s less known works. Parts of the manuscript for the book were written in the 1910’s by Tolkien, but the story of the Children of Hurin was never published as a book in its own right before Tolkien’s death. However in 2007 his son Christopher finished the story by using Tolkien’s original notes and with illustrations by Alan Lee, the artist form  other famous Tolkien book such as The Lord of the Rings.

The novel follows the story of Turin Turamber, the heir of House Hador. Turin’s life is ruled by a curse put on his father by the evil lord Morgoth. The curse sees Turin's life change from been an heir to a noble House, to becoming an Elven Prince to finally an outlaw. It sees him change from a small boy, to a man, a murderer and a warrior, whilst seeing him love and grieve. The novel is set in Middle-Earth thousands of years before the War of the Ring. The North is ruled by Morgoth and his Orcs, whilst in the South Men and Elves alike try to stop his evil spreading.
For me this book is like Tolkien’s Romeo and Juliet.  The book is a tragedy, following two people who are deeply in love but have no right to be. It is a brilliant book to read. The story of Hurin’s family is heart wrenching. All the way through the book you see the curse becoming worse and worse for Turin, but he believes his life is getting better. The ending is also a shock, all the way through the book you know something terrible will happen, but I did not expect what happens in the end. Unlike some other Tolkien books it is also not hard to understand which I think makes it a perfect first time Tolkien read for younger people. I read it for the first time when I was fifteen and found it brilliant.
The book is also great for Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit fans. It gives a great look into the way Middle-Earth was before the War of the Ring and helps give a background and history to the Lord of the Rings. It is a great read, with brilliant illustrations by Alan Lee and would be a perfect book for any Lord of the Rings fans.
For Link to author’s web-site:

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Azincourt, Bernard Cornwell

Publishers: HarperCollins

Pages: 542 (Paperback 2009)

Main Characters:

Nicholas Hook,

Azincourt is a one off novel from the historical author Bernard Cornwell. It tells the tale of the English invasion of France in 1415, looking through the eyes of a humble English archer Nicholas (Nick) Hook. The novel follows the English army from its departure, to the gruelling siege at Harfleur, through its march up to Calais and the final battle at Agincourt. It sees Nick turn into a hero and sees him help win the Battle of Agincourt with the help of his faith in the Saints Crispin and Crispinian.

This book was a great read and was the first book that really got me into historical fiction. It is very well written with a very accurate account of the English campaign of 1415. The part I like most about this book was that many of the characters were all real people and Cornwell uses them in the right historical context. Cornwell’s descriptions of the battles at Harfleur and Agincourt similarly make the book a brilliant read. Again keeping to the historical context, Cornwell describes the battles as if you were actually there and looking through Nick Hook’s eyes.  As well as describing how the battle happened, Cornwell’s description of how the archers are used makes this book even better to read. I think it would have been easy for him to over exaggerate the role the archers played in the Battle of Agincourt. For example, having them lead a charge for dramatic purposes or been great swordsmen who could fight the French Knights. But Cornwell doesn’t. He explains the actions of the archers correctly, (firing volleys of arrows and then finishing off the dying French Knights).  Cornwell makes this book great because he sticks to the historical evidence and context, making the book much more realistic and much better to read.

Nick Hook’s story is also a great asset to this book. Like many of Cornwell’s books, its sees unlikely people become the hero. It takes Hook from the atrocities of the siege of Soissons, to becoming an archer in Henry V’s army and finally a leader of his group of archers. Where he experiences romance, death, disease and the other factors life in a fifth-teenth century army brings. 

The book is well written and full of action and is very historically accurate. I would suggest that anyone interested in the Hundred Years War, archery or Bernard Cornwell read this book.  It certainly got me into the all of these and is a good book to start if wanting to read any of Bernard's  other novels!

Link to Bernard Cornwell’s Official site:

Thursday, 17 November 2011

A Dance With Dragons, George R.R. Martin

Publishers: Harper Voyager

Pages: 959 (Hardback 2011)

Main Characters:

Tyrion, Jon, Daenerys, Cersi, Araya, Jaime,

This is the fifth book of the A Song of Ice and Fire series. Many people believe that it is the last novel in the series but it isn’t, it is just the latest book published so far. The novel picks up after A Storm of Swords 2: Blood and Gold. The three main story lines in the book are that of Tyrion Lannister, Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryean. Tyrion’s story picks up after his escape from Kings Landing, follows his attempts to reach the Dragon Queen. Jon’s story sees him as Lord Commander of the Nights Watch after the defeat of the Wildings at the Wall. It sees Jon make decisions on what to do with the thousands of Wildlings left after their defeat, and the growing defence of the Wall against the Others. Daenerys story sees her becoming Queen of the ex-slave city of Meeran. Following Daenerys in her attempt to gain peace in the city, with the growing threat of war.

This book was brilliant. It was all I wanted A Feast for Crows to be. It brings us right back to the tempo at the end of Blood and Gold and keeps that tempo throughout the book. There are also so many twists to the plot in this book. As in previous books Martin makes you think the story line is going one way and then adds a character who we thought was long dead, or has a character who we thought would go on through all the books killed. It makes for brilliant reading and keeps the story fresh because we are not just reading over the same old characters all the time. Also keeping us on our toes because he keeps killing off characters who I thought would have massive story lines in the next few books. The ending is also brilliant. It left me just wanting to go on and read the next book straight away and really shows us that one story line is ending and another is just going to begin. Again I tip my hat to the detail Martin adds to the book, which makes his world that much realer. It was a brilliant book and a great way to leave the series, can’t wait for the next book ‘The Winds of Winter’.

Link to George R. R. Martin’s Official site:

A Feast of Crows, George R. R. Martin

Publishers: Voyager

Pages: 976 (Paperback 2011)

Main Characters:

Cersi, Jaime, Araya, Sansa, Brienne,

This is the fourth book of George R. R. Martin’s fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire. A Feast for Crows is mostly set around the Lannisters and their attempts to secure the throne for their King, Tommen. The book follows Cersi as she tries to stamp her authority as Queen Regent and show everyone that she is Tywin Lannisters daughter. The story also follows Jaime as he travels around Westeros trying to mop up the remaining strongholds still loyal to House Stark. It also tells the tale of how Jaime comes to terms with losing is sword hand, as well as him trying to show that he is Tywin Lannisters son. Other tales that are in the book include Brienne’s, as she is set a quest by Jaime Lannister to find Sansa Stark. Whilst also finding out what happens to Sansa after the death of King Joffrey. We are kept up to date with Araya, as she becomes a servant to the God of many faces in Bravos.

For me this was my least favourite book of the series. As Martin says in his acknowledgements, it was a ‘bitch’ to right, and I thought it was a ‘bitch’ to read.  After Blood and Gold I thought that this book was abit of a let-down. I wanted to know what had happened to Tyrion and how Catelyn had been brought back into the story. I wanted to know how was Daenerys going to minister her new Kingdom and how would Jon control the Nights Watch? This book does not answer any of these questions. Instead it focuses on the Lannisters and their attempts to regain power. I think a lot of the content in this book did need to addressed, so that we understood how the realm was been run after Joffrey’s death. But I just thought that that’s all the entire book seemed to be about. If Martin had answered one of the questions I wanted answering, I would have thought this book was much better. However, it seems that from out of nowhere there is a great ending. It took me totally un-aware and made the last one hundred pages much easier to read. This did make the book a little bit better because it was such a shock.
Again like all the books in the series the detail is brilliant, especially Martin’s description towards the religion in Westeros. All in all, the book was ok. Most of the content did need to be addressed at some point but I wish it didn’t all come in this one book. The ending though is great so you should defiantly read it.
Link to George R. R. Martin’s Official site:

A Storm of Swords 2: Blood and Gold, George R.R. Martin

Publisher: Harper Voyager 2000

Pages: 554 (Paperback 2003)

Main Characters:

 Daenerys, Arya, Tyrion, Samwell, Catelyn, Sansa, Jon

 Blood and Gold is part two of the third novel in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. It picks up where the last book left off, in the middle of a civil war. The book is split into three main story lines, the first follows the events of the ‘War of Five Kings’, following Robb Stark, Stannis Baratheon, Balon Greyjoy and King Joffrey. The second story trails Jon Snow as he lives with the Wildlings. It sees him fall in love and question the sacred vow he took. The final story in this book is that of Daenerys Targaryean. Daenerys story sees her become a Queen and conqueror, as she calves out her own Kingdom in Slaver’s Bay.   
This book is part two of the third book A Storm of Swords and to be fair, by far the better of the two and possibly the best book of the series so far. Martin again never fears to totally disrupt the status quo of the goodies winning and the badies loosing. This of course is brilliant for the reader. In Blood and Gold Martin lulls you into believing that everything is going to be alright and that Westeros will live happily ever after. Then you are flung into a shocking, unexpected twist, where again Martin does not fear to kill off characters which I did not expect and honestly did not want to die. This made the last three hundred pages of the book absolutely fly by, keeping me in a state where I did not know what was going to happen. With fighting all over Westeros, love, betrayal and a lot of murder. Blood and Gold kept me on the edge of my seat, making me just want to read on and on.

 The detail Martin puts into this book is also astounding. Like the other books in the series the description of the history of Westeros and each leading dynasties makes  you almost believe that this series is based on a real place with its own history. The extent of detail on the previous Kings if Westeros makes them as familiar as previous Kings of England. Martin makes them very distant, but distinct enough to know what their famous deeds were, which only makes Blood and Gold better. The amount of detail is only seconded by Tolkien and his histories of middle-earth.
This book also thickens the plot of the series. It sets out how the next few books will be written, moving the focus away from some of the characters from the first two and a half books and introducing new ones and new places. I would suggest people read the first two and a half books just to get to this one, it is brilliant and I can’t wait to start the next one.

 Link to George R. R. Martin’s Official site:

A Storm of Swords 1: Steel and Snow, George R.R. Martin

Publisher: Voyager 2000

Pages: 603 (paperback 2003)

Main Characters:

Jon, Tyrion, Arya, Catelyn, Samwell, Jaime,

 Sansa, Davos, Daenerys

 A Storm of Swords1: Steel and Snow is the third book of George R.R. Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire. The book is split into two novels, Steel and Snow and Blood and Gold. The main reason for this is that as one whole book it would be well over a thousand pages long, which might put some readers off. The book follows the story of the ‘War of Five Kings’, giving accounts of the candidates to the Iron throne.  It also tells the tale of the growing threat at the North of Westeros. Picking up the story of Jon Snow and the trails he faces at ‘the Wall’. A seven hundred foot wall of ice that protects the civilised realm from the barbarous Wildlings. Whilst finally, keeping us up to date with the Queen across the Water, Daenerys Targaryean and her Westward movements towards Westeros.
When I first came to review this book I recalled it as been very slow and abit boring. However I think this is because I have compared it to the sheer magnitude of the next book Blood and Gold. Now looking back over Steel and Snow I remember how good a book it was. There are some very important parts to the book which widens the plot from just the Stark family. Introducing us to new stories and characters we have not yet become familiar with such as Samwell and Jaime Lannister. The book also answers many of questions left at the end of A Clash of Kings.  Questions like what will happen to Sansa now that she will not be Queen, whilst filling us in with Bran’s story and his quest for the three eyed crow. This book prepares us for the path the rest of the series takes and is very good at joining the first two books with the last two and a half books (so far) in the series.

As I said before, Steel and Snow was not as pulse racing as Blood and Gold, but it was still a really good read. I remember from the time thinking it was a lot better than A Clash of Kings because it introduced us to new characters and there was a lot more action. As usual Martin makes the ending to the book great making you just want to read on and on. Like all the books in the series the detail in Steel and Snow is amazing, really bringing Martin’s world alive. For me it was a good read and extremely well written, better than its predecessor and a good foundation for Blood and Gold and the rest of the series.

Link to George R. R. Martin’s Official site:

A Clash of Kings, George R. R. Martin

Publisher: Voyager

Pages: 752 (Paperback 2011)

Main Characters:

Davos, Sansa, Araya, Jon, Catelyn, Tyrion, Daenerys,

A Clash of Kings is the second book in George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire. It follows the hugely popular book A Game of Thrones and is set in the seven kingdoms of Westeros.  Like the first book, A Clash of Kings follows three story lines. The first is the story of the civil war that breaks Westeros into five kingdoms. It tells the tales of the five different kings, Robb, Stannis, Renly, Balon and Joffrey and their struggles to gain the Iron Throne. The second story is that of Jon Snow and his story at the Wall. It follows him as he marches north of the Wall to find the reason why all the Wildlings have disappeared. As well as having to make a difficult decision when the Wildlings are found. The final tale in the book is that of Daenerys, as we follow her East after her husband Khal Drogo’s death and the birth of her three dragons.

As usual, A Clash of Kings was a good book. However I did feel that it was slow to get started, especially after the ending of A Game of Thrones. Nevertheless Martin turned out good. The story is filled with battles, love, betrayal and murder which made it a very entertaining book. Again it was extremely well written and Martins detail was amazing which only made the book that much better to read. I would say that I did not find it as good as A Game of Thrones, but I think that is because a lot of the less entertaining parts of the book, such as the council meetings, needed to be put in otherwise the plot for the next few books would not have worked. All in all it was still a good read and really sets you up for the next book, A Storm of Swords.

Link to George R. R. Martin’s Official site:

A Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin

Publisher: Voyager
Pages: 864 (Paperback 2011)
Main Characters:
Tyrion, Jon, Catelyn, Arya, Sansa, Daenerys

Before my review I would like to take the time to tell you where I stand on reading books that have become films or TV series. I always prefer to watch the film or TV series first. I think it helps give me a clear idea of what the characters in the book look and sound like. I know some people may totally disagree with me, saying the film or TV series does not totally follow the book or is overly dramatized or sexed up to gain TV viewers. However in the case of A Game of Thrones, I thought the TV series did the book justice and kept as true as to the novel as possible. This is because the book is written in a way that each chapter is like a scene in a film. It switches between characters and places and is why I think A Game of Thrones TV series worked so well. The TV series even uses most of the dialogue of the book, plus the actors in the show are so well suited to their roles, especially Sean Bean as Ned Stark.
Ok, so that’s my stand on whether to read the book first or watch the TV series. A Game of Thrones is the first book of George R. R. Martins A Song of Ice and Fire series. The book itself follows three different story lines. First it follows the story of the Stark family and their lives in Kings Landing and the rest of Westeros. This branch of the book follows Eddard Stark as he becomes the King’s Hand, whilst also following the tales of his two daughters Arya and Sansa.  The second story follows Jon Snow, a bastard born son of Eddard Stark. Jon’s story sees him becoming a member of the Nights Watch, an ancient brotherhood that guards the Kingdom of Westeros from the barbaric Wildings. The third story is of Daenerys Targaryean. It follows her through the Nine Free Cities and her marriage to Drogo, the Khal of the Dothraki. It starts the campaign of Daenerys and her attempts to regain the Iron Throne in Westeros.
As I said above, the chapters in the book are written like scenes of a film. Each chapter is specific to a character in the book which makes the book very exciting to read. This is because once you finish a chapter on one character you just want to read on until you get back to a chapter on them again. For me this was the story of Daenerys, but all of the characters stories are equally exciting and brilliantly crafted by Martin. Martin’s detail in the book is extraordinary.  His history of Westeros can be followed back for thousands of years and helps bring his world to life. It makes you believe that Westeros could have been a real place somewhere in the world because its history and characters are so detailed. However, in some parts of the book this does get confusing. Especially when characters have the same or similar names. It is confusing because you’re not sure if the story is about the present character or the one in the past.  But all in all, the detail does really benefit the book and brings it to life.
Martin’s style is also very refreshing. Many books I’ve read have been very predictable and follow set lines where the goodies always win. However this is not so in A Game of Thrones. Martin coaxes you into believing that you know where the story will go. Then totally slaps you in the face with a death or a betrayal. Again this makes the book brilliant to read because you don’t know what could happen next. It keeps you on the edge of your seat because it is totally different to any other books with typical foundations. For me it was a great read and I would recommend it to anyone who is in to fantasy books like the Lord of the Rings. I’d also say that even if you have watched the TV series still read this book because it is that good and it is a joy to read.

Link to George R. R. Martin’s Official site:

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

My First Post: About Me

I have always had a love for books and  it has come to the point where I can’t remember the plots of every novel I have ever read. Therefore, I've started  a blog as an archive to remind me of my initial impressions.  I hope this blog will help people choose books they could read in the future and introduce them to a new genre.

I study history at university and this passion has influenced the genre I read. I love to read historical fiction by authors such as Bernard Cornwell, Simon Scarrow, Conn Iggulden and David Gemmell. Their ability to bring historical facts to life using heroes, villains, love and tragedy, mixed together with brilliant storytelling creates amazing books based around historical events. Most of my reviews will be on historical fiction, however I will diversify the books I read so as not to bore everyone with history (look out for a few swerve balls throughout my reviews!).  My reviews will give some information on the book highlighting the basic plot (not too much!), give you a context to the author whilst sharing other reviews and give my own honest opinions. I’ll aim to tell you which parts I liked or loved and my dislikes, giving reasons of explanation. I am a fan of reading whole series and whenever I do so, I will review each book separately and in chronological order.

I hope you enjoy reading my reviews as much as I do writing them, feel free to leave any feedback or questions.  Enough about me, let’s get onto the books. Thanks for taking the time to visit my site.
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