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andrew johnstone

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Beautiful, Poignant and Deeply Satisfying.

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 24-02-2020

Aristocrat Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov survives the purges of the Bolshevik revolution by virtue of a well regarded revolutionary poem that he may or may not have authored. That said, the privilege of his birth cannot go unpunished so he sentenced to permanent house arrest.

His home is a suite in a luxurious central Moscow hotel called The Metropol but the Revolutionary courts have him moved from his suite to a small cupboard at the far reaches of the establishment........ an example must be made.

Settling into his new life the Count is determined to make the most of what life has apportioned.

Alexander Rostov is a gentleman and man of virtue, an optimist, an observant thinker, a philosopher of wine and food and his journey through the next forty years of Soviet history is filled with irony, humour, joy and lyrical sentimentality.

A Gentleman in Moscow is a wonderfully written novel filled with life affirming beauty and some delightful philosophical speculations on what it means to be Russian. As for the Count.......he is a man worth admiring. Loved this book to pieces and despite a satisfying conclusion, was sad when it ended.

Absorbing Victorian Era Styl Mystery Tale

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 16-02-2020

You'll find Clare North's books in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section but that really does her no justice at all, in fact she is more teller of 'Twilight Zone' tales than anything. Back in the Victorian age she would have been referred to as a mystery writer, the perfect fit for 'The Pursuit of William Abbey', which is absolutely a Victorian era mystery tale, both in style and content.

William Abbey is a feckless young Doctor of the Victorian age who is 'exiled' to Natal for reasons we won't go into here and as a result of an act of cowardly negligence ends up being cursed by a local. Forever more he will be the man who knows the secrets in peoples hearts, which as it turns out, is not as much fun as one imagines it might be

Though it lacks the compelling thrills and pace of her breakout novel 'The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August', It's still a terrific yarn and well worth a read for those attracted to this sort of story.

Beautiful and Inspiring

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 04-02-2020

After an attempt at the soulless hell of Salman Rushdie's new novel I decided on something with a little less intellectual weight. I recently enjoyed Merritt's delightful time travel yarn A Gift Of Time and decided to give him another spin.

An archeologist in modern day Alaska is on the trail of a European woman she believed crossed the Bering land bridge from Siberia to the America's some 60,000 years ago. It's a beautifully crafted yarn full of emotion, detail and magic, not that sort of magic...... more the sort that inspires wonder at the miracle of human creativity.

I fair ripped through it and decided that chiding myself for not being able to grasp the intellectual cleverness of Rushdie was a waste of time. To finish a book and feel joyful and inspired by the experience is about as good as it gets..... for me anyways.

Desolate, Dry, Unlikeable.

Overall
2 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 04-02-2020

Salman Rushdie is an award winning literary genius who once wrote a book based on the life of Muhammed and found himself in serious trouble with some of the more po-faced in Islam including Iranian dictator Ayatollah Khomeini who put out a contract on Rushdie's life (a fatwa). Comedian Larry David satirised the whole affair on season 9 of his show Curb Your Enthusiasm, which is kind of like winning the Man-Booker, Nobel and Pulitzer in one big package in my opinion, but I digress.

Have been meaning to read The Satanic Verses but haven't gotten around to it yet but did pick up Rushdie's latest on a whim. Quichotte is a retelling of the classic Spanish story Don Quixote and the whole point is to lift the veil on the myth of the American dream via a quest aka the Don Q. thing.

It's sharp, clever, says everything a well oiled liberal progressive might feel about the current state of the USA but jeez, try as I might I just couldn't connect with the characters. The whole thing felt dry and soulless and about half-way through I gave up and I hate being defeated after devoting so many hours to a book but defeated I was.

I checked out some proper actual reviewers and some totally loved it while others felt exactly as I did. Still going to give the fatwa book a go though.

Compelling, Compelling, Compelling.

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-02-2020

Here is what the NY Times reviewer said about it:

'Let's get a little loud. Peter Guralnick's two-volume life of Elvis Aron Presley is not simply the finest rock-and-roll biography ever written. It must be ranked among the most ambitious and crucial biographical undertakings yet devoted to a major American figure of the second half of the 20th century'.
- Gerald Marzorati

Oh yeah, and I wasn't even really a fan........ but what a a story and what food for thought. As I worked may way through the increasingly brutal and bizarre final years I wondered about the affect great wealth and privilege has on the psyche, the much abused mythology of the American Dream and then there is the very fine dividing line between native genius and madness.

Presley's story is the story of Hank Williams, Prince, George Michael, Michael Jackson and so many others seduced and swallowed up by the vagaries of fame. It is also an ordinary story of common human dysfunction played out on a grand scale.

As Hank Williams so aptly said, "You'll never get out of this world alive." Well ok, some stars do, many don't, Presley included. And as for that fan thing, I started out this adventure as a non-fan, became a fan then slipped into a kind of daze as I watched a fundamentally decent man dissolve under the weight of his own legend.

As for the book itself, compelling, compelling, compelling. And astounding. Guralnick is a fine storyteller and a super talented music writer. His thoughts and descriptions of Presley's music made it into something vital and important and made me listen in ways I never had before.

Humane and Exciting Time Travel Yarn

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 21-01-2020

Despite his worldly success Micajah Fenton has lived a life unfulfilled. After the tragic loss of his little brother in the sunrise of his youth he has struggled to make meaningful connections and now aged 80 has decided to end it all. A chance encounter with a time travelling alien offers an opportunity for redemption, which he grasps for all he's worth.

Author Merritt reads like the great writers of science fictions golden age, notably Robert A Heinlein and Clifford D Simak. Mixing some of the latter bucolic pastoralism with the formers daring repartee, A Gift of Time combines solid speculative science with a rip roaring tale that delves deeply into the human condition. There is also a nod to southern gothic with some of the coming of age styles of Stephen King aka 'The Body' (later adapted into the film Stand By Me).

Fans of Heinlein's masterpiece time travel narrative Doorway Into Summer will be especially taken with A Gift Of Time. Merritt has borrowed gratuitously, cat and all, and not in a bad way. He's a fan and has done what fans have done forever, made glorious tribute to that which has inspired.

I love a good time travel yarn and A Gift Of Time was an absolute delight in every way.

Awesome.

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 21-01-2020

Lying sick in bed and in need of distraction I stumbled across this book and decided to give it go, thinking I probably wouldn't get too far.

So.....Harry August is born, lives and dies in his 70s from some sort of bone cancer. He is born again in exactly the same circumstance and at the age of three the memory of his previous life comes flooding back in perfect detail. It is more than he can bear and at age six throws himself off a tall building. He is born again and at age three the memory of his previous two lives comes back again. This time he handles it a bit better, lives his life, dies and 'hey presto', all over again. Eventually he learns he is Kalachakra, one destined to live the same life over and over and over without end.

We never learn what the Kalachakra are, even they don't know, but they have their ways and means and do their thing in complete secret as they navigate the world of the 'linear's', what they call us ordinary mortals. As Harry gets to grips with his life he learns that he is not trapped by destiny, rather a student of it. With experience he enables an ever evolving and richer life experience.

On his deathbed for the umpteenth time, he is visited by a six year old girl, a Kalachakra from a later time frame. She tells him that the future is changing and that the world is coming to an end prematurely. He must find out why and stop it. The why, it turns out, is a Kalachakra called Vincent, a wild genius determined to understand what it means to be Kalachakra. Over multiple life times he is building a Quantum Mirror, a device they will allow him ultimate knowledge, but it comes with a cost, the planet and all who inhabit it, past and present.

The battle begins, Harry Vs Vincent. It's a cosmic chess match and Vincent is well ahead in points but Harry is in for the long game.

A rousing and rather gripping work of speculative/fantastical sci-fi, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August surpassed my expectations, and despite my own doubts, it ended up that I couldn't put it down. Feverishly good escapist entertainment for those with a sci-fi bent and highly recommended with it. Also thoroughly well written. Claire North is a pseudonym of prolific British writer Catherine Webb. Looking forward to reading more of her work, there is lots of it.

Has Its Moments.

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
3 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 21-01-2020

Was aware of this novel and had always intended to read it but it had drifted from my radar until Jenji Kohan mentioned it while being interviewed by Kim Hill (Radio New Zealand) recently.

Kohan, the writer producer of Orange is the New Black, has it under development for a TV series.

Anyways...... David Eagleman is a celebrity neuroscientist. This could be construed as a putdown, it's not. He is a first rate speculative thinker and scientist.

As for Sum.........taken literally, as I took it for the first two stories, I was thinking mediocre. I had made the same mistake so many christians do when approaching the bible. Sum is to be taken as a metaphor and is filled with myriad and wonderful philosophical musings about human nature, like that other aforementioned book.

Mostly provocative, beautifully composed and from my perspective, worthwhile. Fans of speculative science fiction will probably appreciate, literal biblical christians won't.

Lots of Thrills and Fun

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 21-01-2020

Espionage thrillers are not my first genre choice, not even my second or third but there I was out on the road living in motels and bored of an evening. Somewhere I happened across Shibumi and I listlessly flicked my eyes over the first few pages and before I knew it I was hook, lined and sinkered. It got me through another tedious month of selling pies.

Shibumi, the tale of an assassin with a sideline in esoteric mysticism, was my kind of book. Dense and detailed characterisation leavened with ample thrills some some decent intellectual diversion, Shibumi was the work of Trevanian, the pseudonym for an academic (Rodney Whitaker) who had a talent for writing million sellers across a variety of genres.

This was many years ago now and I tried a few others in the genre but nothing came close....... until now. I Am Pilgrim is the work of Aussie Terry Hayes and is cut from exactly the same cloth as Shibumi, dense and detailed with plenty of philosophical undertone.

First released in 2013 I came across a re-release in a Cambridge bookshop a few weeks back and the superlative reviews all across the front and back covers convinced me to give it go. So glad I did.

Basically a super skilled US agent is on the hunt for a lone wolf Islamic terrorist in possession of a weapon of mass destruction. That's actually the least interesting aspect of a tale awash with sub-plot and character backstory. Oh yes, and it's often a thrill ride.

Absorbing, Rip-Roaring and Fascinating.

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 21-01-2020

"It's a rip roaring page turner," said the RNZ (Radio New Zealand) reviewer before adding the magic words, "time travel/alternate history". Being something of a fan of this genre I was in.

It goes like this: Iraq army officer is displaced by the war on terror and becomes ever more disaffected. Eventually radicalised he joins ISIS and becomes a specialist in torture and interrogation.

A hapless Syrian antiquities expert is captured and under duress gives up a closely guarded secret. Many years earlier while evacuating a temple in the ancient city of Palmira he uncovers an incantation that opens the doors to time, past and future. He understands the dangers and tells no one until he finds himself being tortured for no other reason than he is an academic and thereby an enemy of the ideology of ignorance expounded by ISIS.

Ayman Rasheed (the torturer) is by his own account an extremely erudite intellect and decides that Allah has chosen him (because of this quality) to set things right. He uses the incantation to further the cause of Islam by changing history. He picks a moment in time, develops a plan and lets loose a radically different future.

Fast forward to now. The West does not exist, Europe is Islamic and ruled by a oppressive Ottoman emperor from his palace in Istanbul. Rasheed is well pleased with the success of his plan but when he travels into the future to get treatment for a heart ailment he inadvertently lets slip his secret to his Dr whose wife is an activist lawyer fighting the dark oppressive rule that hallmarks European life.

Dumbfounded by this information she wrestles it into submission and decides to return history back onto to its natural course. Aided by her brother in law, a highly trained police operative, they charge across time battling the manipulative and somewhat psychopathic Rasheed in their quest for justice.

Khoury's book is, as the RNZ reviewer said, a thrilling page turner but he also manages some decent and biting commentary about the current state of the Islamic world and the patriarchal conceits that are handicapping Islamic society. Turkish president Erdogan comes in for some especially virulent criticism as does Trump, the confidence trickster (Khoury's words) that America elected to the Presidency. All in all an absorbing and informative read (the historical element is fascinating)