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  • Writer's pictureMarcus Coles

Reading List - 2023

River God - Wilbur Smith ****

I have only recently discovered this author and am glad to have done so. River God is one of his most acclaimed and I can understand why. Taita is a genius poet, musician, politician, engineer, architect, artist and military strategist. He is also a eunuch and a slave. When the daughter of his master Lord Intef marries Pharaoh, Taita follows and soon becomes embroiled in baby an adventure. There are many great characters in the book such as Lostris, Tanus, Kratas and Memnon. The book contains murders, attempted assassinations, romance, war, spirituality, bucket loads of politics and adventure. The fact that it is all set in 1700 BC makes the whole story exotic and intriguing. It is the beginning of his epic Egyptian series and well worth a read. I am no Egyptologist but I know the author is known for his expertise and thorough research. If you’re looking for an epic adventure up and down the great river Nile, then this is the novel for you.

The Haunting of Hill House - Shirley Jackson ***

Meh. I think I must have missed something or else was too detached while reading it. I’m aware of the book’s reputation and so actively sought it out in my endeavours to widen the scope of books I read. It started well and I was intrigued to read on but then never really felt like the book gripped me in a way it has so many others. Four strangers agree to spend a few days in a notoriously haunted house. Various frightening things occur which lead at least one of them to the brink of madness. I found parts of it interesting but not scary, and as an amateur writer myself, was keen to see how the author instils fear into her readers. On that score I don’t feel any further forward. For large parts of the story, the characters themselves didn’t seem to be scared and so I wonder whether their objective and distanced view of things affected me too. I can’t help but feel disappointed that I didn’t feel absorbed in the book or experience the terror of Hill House. Is it possible to be scared by a book? The search goes on.

The Kennedy Brothers - Richard D. Mahoney ****

The Kennedys are the royal family of the American political establishment. John was the charming and charismatic hero of WW2 who ascended the presidency at the tender age of 43. Bobby was the bulldog, the warrior, the one who faced down the mob and the unions. The sixties was such a fascinating decade when politics, Hollywood and organised crime all got entwined together. The Kennedy brothers were intimately acquainted with all three. John rubbed shoulders with the royalty of Tinsel Town from Marilyn Monroe to Frank Sinatra. The mob played a huge part in securing him the votes he needed to win the presidency. Their ire was understandable therefore when he appointed Bobby to be his Attorney General. He went after them with an intensity and conviction that put both brothers in the crosshairs of some very dangerous and angry men. No more so than Fidel Castro, the President of Cuba and staunch communist. Much of the book centres on events in Cuba, from the calamitous Bay of Pigs invasion to the Cuban missile crisis when the world teetered on the edge of nuclear war. That small country, ninety miles off the coast of Florida had such a huge impact on the lives of both men. I found Bobby to be the more interesting of the two. It seems clear to me that John wouldn’t have accomplished anything without his little brother. I may in the future read more about RFK. The author’s father was a friend of the Kennedys so you have to accept a certain level of subjectivity. Overall though I thought it was a balanced, interesting read. It wasn’t long winded or boring though I would have liked more info on the salacious endeavours of the brothers. I imagine there is a whole body of work out there on these two giants of American politics. If you’re looking for one, this is as good a place to start as any.

Bombshell - Mike Rothmiller ****

Marilyn Monroe, The Kennedys, Frank Sinatra, organised crime, politics, Hollywood, corruption and murder! It’s easy to see why the 1960s continues to fascinate. I haven’t read a book about Marilyn for 20 years but even so, lots of the story was familiar. In many ways her whole life was a tragedy but the events surrounding her death characterise so much of what was abhorrent about the world in which she lived. The book does a good job of offering a concise summary of her life and describes in detail the sordid private life of JFK. I found some of it a bit flat and repetitive. The first 60 pages were a slog and the denouement was anti-climactic. I thought the sequencing could have been better and the writing wasn’t always easy to follow (some very long sentences I had to read multiple times). The story of what happened on the run up to the murder and the murder itself were engaging. I couldn’t put the book down at this point. There was probably more info about the LAPD and the cover-up than about Marilyn and RFK though which got a little tiresome. I think most people will find this an interesting read and for all the Marilyn fans out there, this will be a valuable addition to the collection. I am interested in conspiracy theories in general but I don’t go along with them. In this case though I am inclined to believe that Marilyn was murdered. This book provided a compelling argument.

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