Saturday, 14 June 2014

Review: Monarchy by David Starkey / Niedermayer and Hart by M J Johnson / The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan

Monarchy: from the Middle Ages to Modernity by David Starkey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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I remember reading Monarchy when it first was published and it is cram packed with information. However, there is so much that this second reading seven years later felt like a new book.

I like David Starkey's writing style which is often drily humorous. Having recently also read his book solely about Elizabeth I, much of the early section was familiar. However, he gives plenty of space to the shorter reigned monarchs and I was very interested in how much of the 'divine' hereditary succession was actually the result of political wrangling behind the scenes. The seemingly incessant violent disputes between the opposing Christian factions of Catholics and Protestants was in some respects hard to fathom - they're all supposed to be the same overall faith aren't they?!

As non-fiction books of this topic go, Monarchy is far more accessible than many and, as an overview or to inspire more in depth study, I'd recommend the read.

Niedermayer And Hart by M.J. Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of my Favourite Five Horror Stories for Halloween 2015 and one of my Top Ten Books for IndiePrideDay 2016.

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I went through a Dennis Wheatley phase as a teenager, but haven't really strayed near to horror fiction since so Niedermayer And Hart is a departure from the norm for my reading. The book was recommended on twitter - and very reasonably priced for kindle - so I took a chance. I'm glad I did! The subject matter is classic for a horror story but with a sharp, contemporary viewpoint that I enjoyed reading.

The story has two strands, one set in the thirteenth century and one set in the 1990s. I liked that their writing styles were markedly different and the contrast gave authenticity to each. The characters were generally well developed with both female and male being believable. A few were perhaps more caricature than character, but in the setting, this worked and did not detract from the overall narrative.
Johnson has a good eye for detail and descriptions of his creepy venues really did feel intimidating. I could see dank cellars, torchlit tunnels and snowbound landscapes. There is gore and plenty of truly horrific violence but this wasn't portrayed in such a way as to turn me off from the book which has happened with other titles. Quite the contrary! I was glued to find out where we would be led and how it would all pan out.

The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One of my WorldReads from Australia

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The Unknown Terrorist is a fairly standard thriller which employs the mass media and an unscrupulous journalist as its evil. Our supposed heroine, Gina, also named throughout as The Doll, is hounded to madness over the period of just a few days by drummed up hysteria and the cynical machinations of anonymous powerful men in suits.

I was interested in the descriptions of Sydney, having never been to Australia. However, Flanagan's vision of the city is hardly tourist friendly! I liked his frequent mentions of the various immigrant populations, showing a country made up of many layers of cultures, much like Britain, and the way this was set against rampant hostility towards Muslims was also sadly familiar as this attitude is also widespread over here. The main characters never leapt from the page for me though which made it difficult for me to really invest in their story.

I'm not sure this book had decided what it wanted to be. It doesn't have the pace-at-all-costs approach of slick American thrillers, but the occasions where it tries for literary fiction fail too because of their isolation. My audio version was nicely narrated and passed a week of bus journeys, but I had hoped for a deeper novel and was ultimately a bit disappointed.

View all my reviews on Stephanie Jane or on Goodreads

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