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  • Writer's pictureMarcus Coles

Reading List - 2023

Updated: Jan 3

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.

Goddess - Anthony Summers *****

I’ve read this book before. It was about twenty-five years ago when I was a teenager and something of a Marilyn Monroe aficionado. I loved it back then and nothing’s changed. I decided to reread it to assist me in my research for a novel I am planning. This is the Marilyn biography, the one to which all others are compared and this author’s seminal work. It’s a thorough and detailed analysis of her life from cradle to grave. It’s not sycophantic or worshipful but a warts and all look at the most famous woman who’s ever lived. In many ways it’s a tragic story of a messed up, lonely woman mistreated and abused by many of those in whom she placed her trust. She longed for fame and adoration but also for genuine love and affection. She wanted family and children and right until the end, hoped that those dreams would come true. She lived in fascinating times. The stars of Hollywood shone brightest in the fifties and sixties. The charisma of JFK and the threat of nuclear war dominated the political scene and organised crime was at its zenith. Marilyn Monroe was mixed up in all three and that makes for a remarkable story. The author does a superb job of weaving it all together toward a thrilling finale. The mystery surrounding her death is just as enthralling as it was back in August 1962. Accident? Suicide? Murder? There have been numerous revelations over the years, stories have changed and lies have been exposed. I found it really fun trying to sift through all the conflicting testimonies and ultimately piece together what actually happened in the last few hours of her life. Why was there no trace of drugs in her stomach? Was Bobby Kennedy there the day she died? Why did the account of Eunice Murray keep changing? What was Ralph Greenson up to? Was there an ambulance called to her house? I love the mystery and intrigue of it all. If you’re looking for a good biography and you’re interested in not just the glitz and glamour of the sixties but also the dark and sinister side of that decade, then check it out. It’s a fascinating read. As Marilyn once said, "I am good, but not an angel. I do sin, but I am not the devil. I am just a small girl in a big world trying to find someone to love."

The Shining - Stephen King **

I’m sorry, I just don’t get it. I don’t understand how I can read something so brilliant as ‘Salem’s Lot and then be so thoroughly disappointed by the widely-regarded classics, It and now The Shining. I was just bored, plain and simple. It dragged on and on, was weird and uninteresting. I kept waiting for it to pick up, grab me and scare me but I just got more impatient and frustrated with it. Jack, his wife Mary and their son Danny make their way to the Overlook Hotel at the start of winter. Jack is to be the caretaker over the winter while the hotel is closed. Danny has a peculiar ability which allows him to see and hear things others can’t. He soon becomes aware of a sinister presence in the hotel that exerts a strange power over them. No more so than over his Dad Jack who gradually goes mad as the hotel’s evil power subsumes him completely. This is such a loved and respected book with a plethora of five star ratings but I’m not feeling it, sorry! Maybe Stephen King isn’t for me.

Death of Kings - Conn Iggulden *****

Loved it. This book is the second in the series charting the life and adventures of Julius Caesar. He is a young man, a husband, father and exalted tribune. The story has pirates, sea battles, assassinations, land battles, politics, romance, treachery and loyalty. The writer has such a relaxed and accessible style that you could sit and read it for hours. The plot is fast-paced, always interesting and full of the characters you know from Ancient Rome. Pompey, Crassus, Cato and Spartacus all feature strongly and make it a riveting read. The author flies fast and loose with the truth which might offend the historical purists out there. He does admit this at the end but to be honest, it doesn’t bother me at all. I’m not sufficiently knowledgeable to be offended by the historical inaccuracies. I loved it and look forward to reading the next instalment.

Last Bus to Woodstock - Colin Dexter ****

This is the second Inspector Morse novel I’ve read and I loved it. It is the first one of the series so it’s interesting to see the origins of the character and the dawning relationship with sergeant Lewis. They’re brilliant characters with a funny and unusual chemistry. Morse is brilliant and witty, amiable yet erratic. But he can be cantankerous and stubborn. Mild-mannered Lewis is often just trying to keep up. Sylvia Kaye is found murdered in a pub car park. She and an unknown woman hitched a ride to Woodstock but who with? And where is the other woman? Morse & Lewis track down the people involved but struggle to figure out exactly what has transpired. I found it an interesting plot and I love the author’s writing style. It’s the character of Morse that makes it such a fun read. I can’t wait to read the others.

The 13 Problems - Agatha Christie *****

I love Miss Marple and this little collection has made me love her even more. She and a small group of others are congregated together in one of their homes. One of them suggests that they all tell a story of which they have personal experience. It must have an element of mystery to it that demands a solution. One by one they regale the group with their tale and one by one they all try to solve the riddle. In each and every case it is the unassuming little old lady who solves the case. This is essentially a charming collection of short stories with Miss Marple centre stage. Some Christie novels which are supposedly Marple stories aren’t really because she only ends up playing a minor role. This is different because she and her matchless understanding of human nature wins the day every time. I really loved it. My favourite was A Christmas Tragedy but I enjoyed them all.

Maiwa's Revenge - H. Rider Haggard ***

This is a short novel charting more of Allan Quartermain’s hunting adventures through the wilds of Africa. If you haven’t come across these stories before, they’re excellent fast-paced thrill-rides through the African bush. The first half of the book has Allan telling the story of his epic pursuit of three bull elephants. He encounters lions and rhinos along the way (as he does in almost every story) and proves his unmatched skill as a hunter. This conquest leads him into conflict with Wambe, a tyrannical local chief. Maiwa, the chief’s wife helps Allan lead an army against him. These stories are always a lot of fun, full of adventure, humour and derring-do. I heartily recommend them.

The Word is Murder - Anthony Horowitz ***

On the day an old woman walks into a funeral parlour to arrange her own funeral, she’s murdered. She has a famous son and a tragedy in her past that still haunts her. Hawthorne is the brilliant ex-detective and the author is his sidekick. I wondered how this would work out and it was for this reason I bought the book. I’ve never come across a novel where the author is one of the main characters and inserts himself into a murder investigation. It worked and I enjoyed it though I wouldn’t say I was really gripped by the storyline. I enjoyed the finale and the big reveal was classic for a good whodunnit. It did make me want to read more from this author who I know is very popular. In the end, a good solid whodunnit. Check it out if you’re a fan of the genre.

Dominion - Tom Holland ****

I love the history of Christianity and though this book is more than that, I was intrigued to learn how Christianity and Christian thought, transformed the world. I’m not the sharpest knife in the draw so some of the content passed me by, but I enjoyed learning how the rise and fall of Christianity shaped each and every age of western society for the last two thousand years. I particularly enjoyed the last few chapters from the nineteenth century onwards. It made me think about how, as we recoiled more and more from the values of compassion, mercy and strength in weakness, we became a more selfish, brutal and uncaring society. I appreciated how the author explained the positive and negative influences of Christian thought on the world and loved the whistle-stop tour through the centuries. An interesting and thought-provoking book. Recommended. (Listened to on Audible)

Airport - Arthur Hailey ****

I found out recently that one of the best comedies ever made (Airplane) was based on a series of films in the seventies all set in airports and on planes. This book is the novel on which those films are based. Many consider the sixties to be the golden age of the aviation industry when the excitement and glamour of air travel was in full flight. This book captures it all nicely. Mel Bakersfield is the experienced manager of Lincoln Airport and he’s going to need all that expertise to make it through the night. A fierce storm sweeping the region has dumped several feet of snow on the city and it shows no sign of stopping. An aeroplane is stuck in the snow and blocking a runway, a local residents’ group has chosen tonight to protest the hideous noise pollution the aeroplanes create and someone is trying to smuggle their way onto flights. All the while Mel’s marriage is falling apart, his brother is suicidal and his brother-in-law is the arrogant hotshot pilot in charge of Flight Two. The same flight by the way which has been targeted by a suicide bomber. Add into the mix a load of infidelity and you have the recipe for a terrific book. I loved it but I do wonder how appealing it will be with those for whom airports have lost their magic.

Tell No One - Harlan Coben ***

These books are so full of twists and turns that it’s difficult to keep track of them all. The author is known for these twisty and suspenseful thrillers that keep you guessing until the final page. Dr. Stephen Beck is a happily married, successful doctor when on one tragic evening his world gets turned upside down. He and his wife get attached, he is left for dead while she is kidnapped and murdered. Or is she? Years later when three bodies are dug up in remote woodland, the case gets reopened and Beck finds himself under suspicion. When he receives an anonymous and mysterious email suggesting his wife is alive and kicking, he goes in pursuit of her and the truth. Hunted by the police and a nefarious criminal, bankrolled by a famous billionaire, Beck is looking over his shoulder. This is standard fare for a Coban novel. He keeps you guessing until the very last page.

Mythos - Stephen Fry *****

I have always been interested in but known very little about Greek mythology. I loved this retelling of some of the tales of those ghastly gods and goddesses and the funny, shocking and tragic ways in which they dealt with us mortals. From the creation of everything out of chaos, through the terrific encounters between the titans, gods and their offspring, to the tragic stories of mortal men and women who fell foul of their divine overlords, this book had it all. I was riveted by the capricious gods, their cunning ploys, tricks and revenge missions. I felt for those who suffered at their hands such as Prometheus, Midas and Arachne. I loved how the author consistently told me how many of our current words derive from these tales. I listened to the audible version of this book which was read by Stephen Fry himself. He did a great job.

The Death of Hitler - Robert J. Hutchinson ***

I enjoyed this book despite it not being quite what I expected. I thought there might be a thorough study of all the weird and wacky theories about what happened to Hitler in those final days in the bunker and maybe even a new and fantastical conspiracy theory. Alas, not. The first half of the book has nothing to do with Hitler’s death. There’s a brief history of his early life and the main turning points of the war. An astonishing number of pages is devoted to the Stauffenberg Plot: I’m not sure why. Finally, toward the end, the author turns his attention to Hitler’s death. The well-known conspiracy theories of how Hitler escaped Berlin and fled to Argentina, where he lived happily into old age are given short shrift. The author clearly thinks such nonsense is beneath him. The standard account that everyone knows is dealt with in some detail in the closing chapters. What I did find interesting was the renewed attempts to determine the veracity of the Russian claims they have Hitler’s jawbone. Although I feel like I haven’t learned anything new, all in all it was an interesting read, though not the sensational revelations I was hoping for.

The Amityville Horror - Jay Anson ***

This is your classic (and supposedly true) account of a haunted house. Billed as non-fiction and according to the author, so widely corroborated by independent sources that it must be true, it has everything you’d expect if your familiar with the genre. George and Kathy Lutz buy a house on Longisland New York that’s way cheaper than it should be. When they learn the reason for that is a horrific multiple murder, they’re not bothered because it’s such a killer deal. What follows is a checklist of the horror / haunted house genre that you’ll be familiar with if you’re a connoisseur of such things. I’m not, but found myself on familiar territory nonetheless. Ghosts, spirits, demons, levitation, green slime, footprints, strange illnesses, objects moving and cold chills. It was all there and more. It’s veracity has long since been debunked but I don’t think that matters. If you like all this stuff or are looking for a gateway into the horror genre then my guess is this is just what you’re looking for.

A Game of Thrones - George R. R. Martin *****

Brilliant. I was late to the tv series and usually like to read something before I watch it but in this case I think it helped me to watch the show first. Because it’s a multi character, multi storyline epic novel, it probably made it easier for me tracking who everyone was and what they were doing as I could picture them in my head. It’s a bit like how I always picture the muppets while reading A Christmas Carol! The Seven Kingdoms are unstable with rival factions and warring families all eager to claim the Iron Throne. There’s war and murder aplenty as well as adventure, politics and deceit. I loved the book and thoroughly enjoyed every minute reading it. The characters are great, the storyline gripping and you really get immersed in the world of Westeros. I suppose it may spoil it a bit that I know what’s going to happen but I don’t think it stopped me enjoying the characters and their adventures. From the noble Eddard Stark and his sons Jon and Robb through the trials and mishaps of the witty Tyrion the Imp to the dastardly plots of the evil Lannisters, this book has a tonne of interesting people to root for and revile. I didn’t like the grotesque sex and nudity of the series so I was very pleased to discover that it’s nowhere near as graphic in the book. It’s not often I find a book I can sit down and read for a long while. I could with this one and I look forward to the next in the series.

Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter - Seth Grahame-Smith ****

I admire the imagination and creativity of an author who can spin such an entertaining tale from such a well-known historical figure. I love history and am becoming more interested in tales of fantasy and the supernatural. What better to read then than this book, revealing America’s most beloved President as a formidable conqueror of vampires? I’ve read books about Lincoln before and so am somewhat familiar with his life story. It was masterful how the author was able to weave into Lincoln’s story the secret history of his vampire-slaying endeavours. It was an easy, fun, lighthearted read unlike any other book I’ve read. Entertaining throughout, I was so impressed with the skill and imagination of the author to weave such an original tale. Much of the book is based on Lincoln’s secret diary in which he detailed his quest to rid America of the vampire scourge. It appears that the nefarious and sinister needs of the vampire were behind the longevity of that great evil slavery and the terrible destruction of the American Civil War. This was a really fun book to read and one which I would heartily recommend.

The 39 Steps - John Buchan ****

By Gad Sir I was in the soup until I found this rollicking good yarn! This classic English adventure is what many consider to be one of the earliest spy novels. It was turned into a classic Hitchcock film in 1935 and is a stalwart of must-read lists. Richard Hannay learns of a dastardly plot that will affect the whole of Europe. When the stranger who divulges this message is murdered, Hannay is forced to go on the run. He is pursued through the English and Scottish countryside by the police and a shadowy organisation who mean him harm. It’s a short fast-paced novel full of old-English wit and charm. It was published in 1915 and has the feel and vibe of the era, which I love. Check it out old man, you won’t regret it!

Cards on the Table - Agatha Christie *****

Another classic Christie. I was going to give this book a solid four stars but then the author did what she so often does and throws in a twist in the last few pages that took me completely by surprise. A number of guests are invited to the home of the eccentric Mr. Shaitana. As four of them are playing bridge, their host is surreptitiously stabbed through the heart. It has to be one of the four, but who? Unfortunately for the murderer, also invited to the party is the famous sleuth Hercule Poirot. He solves the case in customary fashion and delivers the big reveal in the final few pages. Another wonderfully satisfactory murder-mystery from the all-time Queen of Crime.

Mr. Murder - Dean Koontz ***

The best thing about this book for me was that I had no idea what was going to happen next. Many novels are quite formulaic and you know what’s coming, but not this one. What would happen if you met your doppelgänger and that person turned out to be a deranged and delusional psychopathic killer? Marty Stillwater is a successful author who experiences sudden and terrifying blackouts. Alfie is a mindless killer who believes Marty has stolen his life and family. What ensues is violent and chaotic as the family are pursued by an enemy with superhuman abilities. A thriller with a touch of sci-fi. Exactly what you’d expect from this author and a fun ride.

U.S. Presidents for Dummies - Marcus A. Stadelmann *****

I’ve always had a keen interest in the American Presidents and while I know a lot about some I know little or nothing about many others. This was the perfect book for me to get a good overview of them all and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Each chapter was broken down into organised chunks as with all books in this series. It was very easy to follow and gave an excellent snapshot into the lives of these famous men. I particularly enjoyed the chapters on Teddy Roosevelt and Richard Nixon. I shall endeavour to find a biography on the former because he sounds like a very interesting person. Obviously due to the nature of the book it doesn’t go into any depth on any of the presidents. If you’re looking for a summary of them all, this is a perfect place to start.

L.A. Noir - John Buntin *****

I was initially drawn to this book because I thought it would help me with a book I’m currently writing. It has been some help but I found myself really drawn in by the history of LA and fascinated by the lives of the big characters on both sides of the law that have shaped the city and it’s history. Mobster Mickey Cohen and Chief of Police William Parker are the main stars but there are a host of others from the worlds of crime, politics and the movies. Mobsters like Frank Dragna, Bugsy Siegel and Johnny Rosseli make an appearance alongside a host of politicians such as the Kennedys and movie stars such as Lana Turner and Marilyn Monroe. At one time the corruption in the LAPD was legendary with seemingly countless cops willing to look the other way when the mob was up to its neck in racketeering, bootlegging, narcotics, prostitution, gambling and organised killing. Especially during the days of Prohibition, crime was rampant in LA and the cops were often in on it. My favourite line in the book was when the author described most of the police at this time as low-grade mental defectives. The book charts the rise and fall of Cohen and Parker and it’s an enthralling story. I highly recommend this book if you’re interested in the history of organised crime or the history of Los Angeles. A cracking read.

Doctor No. - Ian Fleming ****

I was curious to see how the Bond of the books compare to the Bond of the films we all know and love. I was pleasantly surprised to read that he’s more sympathetic, compassionate and thoughtful. He’s not the lustful womaniser we see on the screen but still has the charm, wit and smooth-style debonair spirit we’ve come to expect. And yes, I did find myself imagining Sean Connery while I was reading it. This adventure is set in Jamaica, or rather an island close-by where the sinister and mysterious Dr. No is up to no good. Soon Bond is on his tail with the lovely Honey Rider in tow. I love a good thriller and a spy novel too so it was only a matter of time before I dipped my toe in the literary world of 007. I loved it and will definitely be coming back for more.

Five Weeks in a Balloon - Jules Verne ***

Have you ever imagined yourself soaring across Africa in a hot air balloon? Well, if you ever wondered what it would be like to do so - and in the middle of the nineteenth century - then this is the book for you. I have read a few of the adventures of Jules Verne (Around the World in Eighty Days is my absolute favourite) and have enjoyed all of them. This one didn’t grip me as much as the others but it still had all the science and adventure you would expect from this author. I wondered beforehand how it would compare to the sensational adventures of Allan Quatermain and his escapades through the wilds of Africa. I love those Rider Haggard novels because the Dark Continent provides such a rich environment for danger and adventure. This novel didn’t quite reach those heights for me but it was still a satisfying read. There are wild animals, hostile tribes, challenging terrain and lots of balloon-related tomfoolery to keep the reader entertained. Not the author’s best work in my opinion but still worth a look.

Golden Lion - Wilbur Smith ****

Another cracking adventure on the high seas. Hal Courtney is the captain of the Golden Bough, and is known around the coasts of Africa for his indefatigable courage in the face of danger. His old enemy, The Buzzard, once thought dead, is now a hideously deformed creature bent on revenge. This is the second book in the long-running Courtney series and it had everything you’d expect from a Wilbur Smith adventure. Sea battles, pirates, slave markets, duels, romance and betrayal as well as rhinos and sharks. Set in the seventeenth century, it is an absorbing adventure with honourable goodies and dastardly baddies. My one halfhearted complaint is that the last 150 pages seemed awfully rushed. It felt as though the author was in danger of missing a deadline so rushed it through as quickly as he could to get it over and done with. The last portion of the book didn’t feel like it had been given the same time, care and attention that the author had devoted to the first part. Otherwise it was another really fun read and I would definitely recommend it to those of you who like your historical adventure.

The Queen: Her Life - Andrew Morton ****

At once the most famous woman in the world and longest serving British monarch, there’s a wealth of stories to explore about our late queen. It wasn’t as detailed as I expected as the author has seemingly gone for breadth rather than depth but nevertheless I still learned a lot about Elizabeth II. It also became apparent very quickly that this was not going to be an impartial critique of her life and reign. Bordering on the sycophantic, it was repeatedly obvious that the author holds the Queen in high regard and that this admiration also extends to the rest of the family including misfits Andrew and Harry. I was most interested in what she was like behind closed doors, with her nearest and dearest. Her popularity and esteem has fluctuated wildly over the years that I can remember and she came to the throne more than two decades before I was born. I can remember for example how deeply unpopular she was after the death of Diana and how the Royal family as a whole had a torrid few years. The last few years she seems to have been regarded as the best thing since sliced bread but it wasn’t always so. The author gives scant acknowledgment to her faults, failings and negative public perceptions. That said, it was a good, brief overview of the main storylines of her life, ending just after the death of her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh. Overall, an interesting and enjoyable read despite the author’s obvious love of royalty.

The Invisible Man - H. G. Wells ****

A sci-fi classic from one of the fathers of the genre. It’s a short read but a really fun one. A scientist discovers how to make himself invisible but quickly discovers a myriad of problems and challenges that make his life a misery. He wraps himself up, sleeps in department stores and relies on the kindness of incredulous but believing strangers. One of the most interesting aspects of the book is the invisible man’s descent into madness. No spoilers, but the nightmare of being invisible takes its toll on his mental state and he loses it. It’s my second H. G. Wells story and I’m definitely a fan.

World War Z - Max Brooks ****

I try and read a variety of books and genres so was interested to read this, my first zombie novel. Except it’s not a novel in the classic sense. The author travels all over the world interviewing people about their experiences during mankind’s great war against the zombie horde. Humanity is on its knees following a worldwide onslaught of the undead. I know nothing about zombies so found this really interesting, the author painting a very vivid picture of what the zombie apocalypse might look like. It was fun, thought-provoking and consistently entertaining. It left me wanting to know more about zombies but also thoroughly prepared should the dead rise soon…

Orphan X - Gregg Hurwitz ***

This book is very much in the mould of the Jack Reacher series whom I decided a while ago I no longer like. This book was well-written, fast-paced and had a few good twists and turns. The plot and main character are pretty standard and what you would expect from this kind of book. The hero is a highly-trained tough guy with a heart of gold. He’s made it his mission to help people but ends up getting embroiled in people’s personal lives despite his best intentions. It’s got tonnes of action, violence, thriller-type-stuff and a little smidge of romance. If you like Reacher, Bourne etc then you’ll love this.

Death on the Nile - Agatha Christie *****

For many years I have been waiting for the right time to read this classic book by my favourite author. The 1978 adaptation of it is one of my favourite films. You should definitely check it out if you want a classic murder mystery with a genuine all-star cast. My intimate acquaintance with the book would mean there would be no surprises for me. Alas, there weren’t but I loved it nonetheless. How I envy those reading it with fresh eyes. As you’d expect, there were some differences between book and film but nothing major. There are aspects of the film I prefer. An assortment of characters are cruising down the Nile visiting some of Egypt’s greatest treasures. Among them is Linnet Ridgeway, a fabulously wealthy and beautiful newlywed. Every other passenger on the boat has reason to hate her, especially Jacqueline de Bellefort who was previously betrothed to Linnet’s new husband, Simon Doyle. Jackie follows them on their honeymoon, persecuting them for their treachery, even going so far as to threaten murder. Others do too though such as a dastardly uncle, a has been writer, a wealthy socialite, a violent visionary and a German doctor! When the killer strikes, it seems the most obvious suspect has a cast-iron alibi so attention turns to the other passengers. Unfortunately for the assassin, also on board is the world-famous detective, Hercule Poirot. As you’d expect from an Agatha Christie yarn, the characters are brilliant and the plot is ingenious. Another barn-stormer from the Queen of Crime and as I’m writing this from Egypt, the perfect moment arose as to when to read it.

Execution - S. J. Parris ****

There are many novels of historical fiction that immerse you in the world of Tudor England. Few do it better than S. J. Parris and her series starring Giordano Bruno, a Neapolitan heretic who finds himself working for Francis Walsingham, the man in charge of keeping Queen Elizabeth safe. This book follows a similar pattern to the others: Bruno has to split his time between finding a murderer and solving a mystery or dastardly plot that threatens the great and the good. There are interesting characters and plenty of twists and turns. So much so that I found myself getting lost in places. The author expertly weaves it all together though and you feel throughout that you’re fully immersed in Elizabethan England. The plot of this book centres on Mary Queen of Scots and her involvement in the Babington Plot. I love these books and definitely recommend them to lovers of historical fiction and the Tudor period in particular.

Absolute Power - David Baldacci ****

As thrillers go this is a tour-de-force and the novel that launched the author’s career. He has written many since, his books selling in the hundreds of millions and consistently appearing on the best-seller lists. When an old burglar breaks into the remote home of a billionaire, he witnesses a sordid encounter between the billionaire’s wife and the most powerful man in the world. An elaborate coverup ensues that ensnares the Chief of Staff and the Secret Service. Struggling to uncover the truth is a diligent detective and a young hot-shot lawyer. It’s a fast-paced, action-packed political thriller with lots of intriguing twists and turns. The film adaptation is well-known, starring Clint Eastwood and Gene Hackman. I’ll have to dig it out and watch it again now that I’ve read the book. I suspect they’ll be very different. If you’re looking for a good thriller with political undertones, this might just be what you’re looking for.

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