Saturday, January 03, 2015

Books read in January 2015

1. Five Dead Canaries  by Edward Marston

Set in Hayes during WWI this story involves the killing of five female munitions workers, blown up while celebrating a birthday. The era and the characters are well drawn. The reader really has no chance of solving the mystery until all is revealed at the end. An average who dunnit which I did not find really gripping. I was unaware that female football was so popular 100 years ago.

2. Truth or Dare by Tania Carver

A gripping page turner of a thriller set in Birmingham and Essex. The sixth in a series but the first I have read. It will not be the last. The action comes from an unrelated couple of homicidal psychopaths. One is still on the run at the end so I expect more of her in future books. The violence is extreme at times but well related. I do wonder if the story is rather far fetched but one tends to have some sympathy with the aims if not the methods of a vigilante killer.  

3. Fall From Grace by Tim Weaver

This is a detective thriller which keeps the reader gripped. It has more twists than a mountain road so there is no way the reader will work out the solution to the mystery of a disappeared retired detective. It is a tale with a moral. Lying and cheating will be uncovered.

4. Bedford Park by Bryan Appleyard 

I read this as I live not far from the suburb of the title. About half way through I could stand it no more. It was going nowhere as a novel. It failed to hold my attention. No more Appleyard for me.

5. Flying Free by Nigel Farage

Garage and Boris seem to be the two real characters in contemporary English politics. Both are from upper middle class backgrounds. Farage had an alcoholic stockbroker father and Farage's parents divorced when Nigel was very young. An individualistic boy he did well in sport at Dulwich college but was no academic. He preferred to enter the City not university. He did well as a metal trader until his career was interrupted, a drunken man walking out in front of a VW Beetle. He spent months in plaster, married a nurse and went back to the city where he prospered eventually founding his own futures firm. In politics he was libertarian and found a home in what developed into UKIP. Here is where this review dropped a star. The internal wrangling of UKIP are a rather sordid story of self-agrandising would be politicians, most high on ego and many low on loyalty. This continues when the party starts to have European electoral success. The worst individual example appears to be prima donna Kilroy-Silk. Elected an MEP Farage relates at length the waste, profligacy and general non-democratic nature of the EU. This goes on and on to the point of boredom but it is the EU's history. One thing sadly lacking are references to the sources of quotes. There is one absolutely damning one where Arnold Toynbee openly states it is necessary to mislead the electorate for his European dream to come true. It the workings of the EU are boring the book comes back to lefe when for a second time Farage narrowly escapes death, this time in a plane crash. This is really gripping writing. Nigel survives but his pilot suffers terrible mental scars. This brings us up to the date of publication. There follows some policy views. The is but one brief paragraph on immigration and no indication of any racism, in fact just the opposite right back to the author's schooldays. He says his big passion is not primarily to get out of the EU but to see the UK great again. He favours a federal UK while loathing all things in a federal EU. He has plenty of good reasons for the latter. I think Nigel and Boris are men to watch.

6. Mind Over Mood: Change How You Feel By Changing the Way You Think by Aaron T Beck Dennis Greenberger 

This is an excellent DIY introduction to CBT. It is clearly written with practical exercises well suited to those suffering from depression, anxiety, anger, shame etc. I have received some CBT for depression and found it of some value. I think one may well need help in utilising the practical exercises in this book. It certainly should give hope to those battling adverse moods. They can be changed. You can learn how.

7.  Islam Under Siege: Living Dangerously in a Post-honor World by Akbar S. Ahmed 

Written within two years of 9/11 this is somewhat dated but still relevant. The author is a Pakistani anthropologist, an expatriate academic with a US university chair. He was formerly a diplomat. His own Islamic faith seems to be liberal, inclusive with a sufi background. He is critical of exclusive, intolerant and violent Muslims regarding them as an aberration from proper Islam. He is critical of the West, particularly of the Bush response to 9/11 with its war on terror. He seems to sympathies with the popular Muslim view that this was war on Islam by a new crusader. He is all for interfaith dialogue and has faced criticism by Muslims for his openness.  His analysis is based on Ibn Khaldun's theory of social cohesion and how it has broken down in the Muslim world only to be replaced by a siege mentality. Unlike many analyses he does have some prescriptions for the future health of relations between the Islamic and the unbelieving world. He wants social cohesion in a global society. He wants a spiritual unity among different faiths. I am afraid his is but another utopian pipe dream. The years since publication have not seen the world move in this direction.  He shows more hope than realism. Here is a man who admits that Muslim scholars have more freedom outside of Muslim countries. Yet he cannot see the problems are inherent in Islam. Hoping for democracy in Muslim countries is like expecting his tea from a chocolate teapot.

8. Home by Marilynne Robinson

Home is a very slow paced novel set in a rural Iowa town in the fifties. It all takes place in the home of Reverend Broughton, a retired Presbyterian minister in failing health. His daughter Glory has returned home to care for her father leaving a fiance who has defrauded her during a long engagement. She is a schoolteacher with regrets. But her father is cheered by a letter from Jack, black sheep eldest son who ran off twenty years ago leaving a local girl pregnant. Jack was a petty thief. In the intervening years he has become an alcoholic. But his father shows Jack grace and unconditional love. Sadly, though Jack regrets hurting his father, he can find no salvation in a loving home. He cannot trust himself to remain upright. Jack is a character who remains an enigma. His relationship with his father, sister, younger brother and Ames, the local Congregational minister are described in detail. Christian themes are strong. There is even a discussion on predestination. But despite all the love and grace shown to him, Jack seems unable to find the saving grace of Christian faith for himself. I think this slow story is deep water.

9. The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul by Deborah Rodriguez

This is basically a romantic novel set in a brutal place, Kabul before 2011, post-Taliban but still very dangerous under Karzai. The story concerns five women, two Afghan, three expatriate, living in Kabul. Three work in the coffee house, two are among the expatriate customers. Kabul still has bombings. It is not a safe place for expatriates to go unaccompanied or on foot. An armed guard is at the door of the coffee house. The atmosphere of the city is well portrayed. The horrific way Afghan society treats many of its women is shockingly related. I do though wonder if Afghan romantic love does find Koranic or Hadith origins. What is certain is they produce a most unattractive shame and honour culture which is totally male chauvinist. Romance with a happy ending in Kabul? Doubtful but a good story.

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