Sunday, 5 December 2010

Just finished and currently reading

Time for a quick update on where I am with my current reading.

Just Finished

Excellent well-paced historical mystery
 Last time I updated this, I was in the middle of a mystery and an old favourite.

C.J. Sansom's Dark Fire is the second in his Matthew Shardlake mysteries. The setting of this story is 1540 and the hottest summer of the 16th century. Matthew Shardlake, who has been out of favour with Henry VIII's chief minister Thomas Cromwell since the first story, has been trying to maintain his legal practice in London. His involvement in a murder case defending a young girl accused of murdering her cousin once again brings him into contact with Cromwell.

An official of the Court of Augmentation has discovered the ancient secret of Greek Fire in a dissolved London monastery. Shardlake is sent to obtain it but instead finds the official and his alchemist brother murdered. And the formula has disappeared. Shardlake must now search for the secret formula and at the same time try and save the young girl from execution.

I enjoyed this story very much. While I liked the first in the series, Dissolution, as well, I found this one much more readable. C.J. Sansom seems to have found his pace with this second story. The story moves very well, the characters are well developed and the plot is very interesting. Matthew Shardlake, the hunch-backed lawyer, is much more appealing in this story, maybe because of his disillusionment with the Reformation. This seems to make him more grounded, less rigid in his beliefs. It was nice to have his friend Joseph the Moorish pharmacist in this story; he is a very sympathetic character. As well, we are introduced to Cromwell's investigator, Barak, who is assigned by Cromwell to assist Shardlake in his investigations. Barak is a mysterious individual, whose character develops nicely through this story.

If you like a historical novel, combined with an excellent mystery, you'll enjoy Dark Fire. The third book in the series is Sovereign. I'm already looking forward to reading it.

A primer on foreign policy
The second book on my just finished list is one I'd read many years ago when I was still in junior high school. William Lederer and Eugene Burdick published The Ugly American. in 1958. This particular edition was published in September 1969. There was a follow-up book to this one, simply entitled Sarkhan, which came out in 1966.

I remember enjoying this book quite a bit when I first read it. In fact it made me find Sarkhan and read that one as well. Having read it again, I still find it very interesting, but I also found it more preachy this time.

The Ugly American is a fictionalized account of American foreign policies in South-East Asia, you could call it a primer on the best way to compete against the Communists for the hearts of these under-developed countries. The novel takes place in the fictionalized country of Sarkhan and covers the dealings of the new US ambassador as he tries to discover the best way of dealing with the people of the country. This involves travelling to other countries, such as Viet Nam, still under the rule of the French and meeting with many other US citizens who each have their own ways of spreading the message. The book was still very interesting; probably not all that current anymore. However, the message still remains quite valid; if you want to be successful dealing with other countries, you have to understand the values and customs of those people, not just ram your own values down their throats.

Now Reading

Atwood's latest futuristic novel
 I have two new books on the go at the moment; both well under way and both interesting.

Canadian writer, Margaret Atwood, is a prolific writer who has developed her own view point on the 'end of the world' novel. She does not write only in this genre, but the novels she has produced have all been very interesting. Besides The Year of the Flood, which I'm currently reading, she also wrote The Handmaid's Tale, a personal favourite of mine, and Oryx and Crake, also set in the hopefully distant future.

The Year of the Flood is her latest novel, which came out in 2009. The story revolves around two women, Toby and Ren. In this story, the uncontrolled development of new, gene-spliced life forms, has resulted in a man-made pandemic which appears to have obliterated human life. Toby and Ren are survivors, isolated from each other. Toby has barricaded herself in a luxurious spa and Ren is locked inside a high-end sex club, Scales.

So far the story is developing quite nicely. It tells each woman's life as it leads up to the events of the Flood and also deals with the present time, as they wait and try to survive. Atwood appears true to form and so far I'm enjoying the story very much.

Five Ages of History and their Impact
The second book I have on the go at the moment is a non-fiction, historical novel by Max Boot. Boot is an American novelist and military historian. I am reading his most recent book, War Made New; Weapons, Warriors and the Making of the Modern World. I received this book for my birthday in November and it looked interesting right away.

So far the book has not disappointed. As described, it is a sweeping, epic history that ranges from the defeat of the Spanish Armada to the current war on terrorism. The author explores how advances in weaponry and technology transformed how wars were fought but also shaped our society and human events.

The story deals with what he calls the five great revolutions in military technology and how those nations that best mastered these new technologies held sway during those specific periods of history. To highlight his ideas, Boot covers specific battles in each period and analyzes the specific events and how the technologies were utilized to impact the results.

I am about 20% into the novel, finishing of the first period, The Gunpowder Revolution. Max Boot has a nice way with his story telling; the events unfold easily and his analysis of both the historical events and the impacts of the various technologies are told in such a way to keep the pages turning. I am enjoying very much so far and at present rank it up with other histories I've read, such as The Guns of August  and Paris 1919. I hope it keeps flowing as nicely.

Keep on reading!

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