Quick Review: BOX 88 by Charles Cumming (Harper)

196232-1_BOX 88_HB_REV_ii.inddAn excellent espionage thriller

An organisation that doesn’t exist.

A spy that can’t be caught.

Years ago, a spy was born…

1989: The Cold War will soon be over, but for BOX 88, a top secret spying agency, the espionage game is heating up. Lachlan Kite, recruited from an elite boarding school, is sent to France, tasked with gathering intelligence on an enigmatic Iranian businessman implicated in the Lockerbie bombing. But what Kite uncovers is more terrifying than anyone expected…

Now he faces the deadliest decision of his life…

2020: MI5 hear rumours of BOX 88’s existence and go after Kite – but Iranian intelligence have got to him first. Taken captive and brutally tortured, Kite has a choice: reveal the truth about what happened in France thirty years earlier – or watch his family die.

In a battle unlike anything he has faced before, Kite must use all his skills to stay alive.

Long time readers of CR will know that I am a big fan of Charles Cumming’s spy thrillers. Ever since Typhoon, I’ve eagerly anticipated each new novel from the author. Box 88 was no different, and I’m very happy to report that it lived up to my high expectations. Really enjoyed this. Continue reading

Quick Review: THE SIXTH MAN by Andre Iguodala & Carvell Wallace (Blue Rider Press)

IguodalaA-SixthManUSPBA superb memoir that is also a passionate, engaging meditation on race in America

Andre Iguodala is one of the most admired players in the NBA. And fresh off the Warriors’ fifth Finals appearance in five years, his game has never been stronger.

Off the court, Iguodala has earned respect, too — for his successful tech investments, his philanthropy, and increasingly for his contributions to the conversation about race in America. It is no surprise, then, that in his first book, Andre, with his cowriter Carvell Wallace, has pushed himself to go further than he ever has before about his life, not only as an athlete but about what makes him who he is at his core.

The Sixth Man traces Andre’s journey from childhood in his Illinois hometown to his Bay Area home court today. Basketball has always been there. But this is the story, too, of his experience of the conflict and racial tension always at hand in a professional league made up largely of African American men; of whether and why the athlete owes the total sacrifice of his body; of the relationship between competition and brotherhood among the players of one of history’s most glorious championship teams. And of what motivates an athlete to keep striving for more once they’ve already achieved the highest level of play they could have dreamed.

On drive, on leadership, on pain, on accomplishment, on the shame of being given a role, and the glory of taking a role on: This is a powerful memoir of life and basketball that reveals new depths to the superstar athlete, and offers tremendous insight into most urgent stories being told in American society today.

I’ve been on a bit of a basketball kick, recently. The NBA’s restart in Orlando has been playing in the background since it began (except for Raptors games, which I give the games my full attention). I decided that it was time to read The Sixth Man, Andre Iguodala’s acclaimed memoir. Co-authored by journalist Carvell Wallace, I had pretty high expectations. The book completely blew these expectations out of the water, and I blitzed through it. A superb book about basketball, life and race in America. Continue reading

Quick Review: TO START A WAR by Robert Draper (Penguin Press)

DraperR-ToStartAWarUSAn interesting, well-written, and extensive investigation into what the US went to war with Iraq

Even now, after more than fifteen years, it is hard to see the invasion of Iraq through the cool, considered gaze of history. For too many people, the damage is still too palpable, and still unfolding. Most of the major players in that decision are still with us, and few of them are not haunted by it, in one way or another. Perhaps it’s that combination, the passage of the years and the still unresolved trauma, that explains why so many protagonists opened up so fully for the first time to Robert Draper.

Draper’s prodigious reporting has yielded scores of consequential new revelations, from the important to the merely absurd. As a whole, the book paints a vivid and indelible picture of a decision-making process that was fatally compromised by a combination of post-9/11 fear and paranoia, rank naïveté, craven groupthink, and a set of actors with idées fixes who gamed the process relentlessly. Everything was believed; nothing was true. The intelligence failure was comprehensive. Draper’s fair-mindedness and deep understanding of the principal actors suffuse his account, as does a storytelling genius that is close to sorcery. There are no cheap shots here, which makes the ultimate conclusion all the more damning.

In the spirit of Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August and Marc Bloch’s Strange Defeat, To Start A War will stand as the definitive account of a collective process that arrived at evidence that would prove to be not just dubious but entirely false, driven by imagination rather than a quest for truth — evidence that was then used to justify a verdict that led to hundreds of thousands of deaths and a flood tide of chaos in the Middle East that shows no signs of ebbing.

“Why did Bush et al shift their focus from Afghanistan and al Qaeda to Saddam and Iraq?” This is a question that many have been trying to answer, with varying degrees of success ever since the shift happened. In his latest book, Draper presents an account of how the United States ended up in Iraq. It’s an interesting, wide-ranging investigation. Continue reading

Quick Review: BUT WHAT I REALLY WANT TO DO IS DIRECT by Ken Kwapis (St. Martin’s Griffin)

KwapisK-ButWhatIReallyWantToDoIsDirectUSAn interesting blend of memoir and advice for budding directors

For over three decades, director Ken Kwapis has charted a career full of exceptional movies and television, from seminal shows like The Office to beloved films like He’s Just Not That Into You.

He is among the most respected directors in show business, but getting there wasn’t easy. He struggled just like everyone else. With each triumph came the occasional faceplant. Using his background and inside knowledge, But What I Really Want To Do is Direct tackles Hollywood myths through Ken’s highly entertaining experiences. It’s a rollercoaster ride fueled by brawls with the top brass, clashes over budgets, and the passion that makes it all worthwhile.

This humorous and refreshingly personal memoir is filled with inspiring instruction, behind-the-scenes hilarity, and unabashed joy. It’s a celebration of the director’s craft, and what it takes to succeed in show business on your own terms.

In But What I Really Want to Do is Direct, Ken Kwapis draws on decades of experience as a director of television and movies, sharing what he’s learned behind the camera and also some interesting and often amusing experiences and stories. Continue reading

Very Quick Review: SWEET HARMONY by Claire North (Orbit)

NorthC-SweetHarmonyAn unnerving, sharply observed and altogether too plausible novella

Harmony is tired. Tired of working so hard, tired of the way she looks, tired of being average. But all that changes when she decides to splash out and upgrade her nanos.

And why not? Everyone’s doing it now. With a simple in-app purchase, you can update the tech in your bloodstream to transform yourself — get enhanced brain power, the perfect body or a dazzling smile.

Suddenly, everything starts going right for Harmony. She’s finally becoming the person she always wanted to be. But when she ends up running too many upgrades on her body all at once, the effects will be more catastrophic than she could have imagined.

A sharply observed, albeit depressing vision of the future that is all too plausible. Another very good novella from North, one of the best and most interesting authors writing today. Continue reading

New Books (August)

NewBooks-20200906

Featuring: Joe Abercrombie, Luke Arnold, Hari Conner, Alan Davies, Laurie Elizabeth Flynn, Guy Haley, Clive Hamilton, Kristin Hannah, Essa Hansen, James Hibberd, Darius Hinks, Iris Johansen, Laura Lam, John Lanchester, Jessica J. Lee, Katie Lowe, Elizabeth May, Elizabeth McCracken, Claire North, Mareike Ohlberg, Kim Stanley Robinson, Simon Stephenson, Christina Sweeney-Baird, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Vendela Vida, K.S. Villoso, Dawnie Walton, Aliya Whiteley (x2)

Continue reading

Upcoming: IN THE QUICK by Kate Hope Day (Random House)

DayKH-InTheQuickUSPitched as a novel ‘in the tradition of Station Eleven and The Martian‘ (both novels I really enjoyed), Kate Hope Day‘s upcoming novel In the Quick caught my attention. Not only does it have a striking cover (not sure I’ve seen many astronauts with a pink background), but the synopsis also makes it sound really interesting:

A young, ambitious female astronaut’s life is upended by a fiery love affair that threatens the rescue of a lost crew…

June is a brilliant but difficult girl with a gift for mechanical invention, who leaves home to begin a grueling astronaut training program. Six years later, she has gained a coveted post as an engineer on a space station, but is haunted by the mystery of Inquiry, a revolutionary spacecraft powered by her beloved late uncle’s fuel cells. The spacecraft went missing when June was twelve years old, and while the rest of the world has forgotten them, June alone has evidence that makes her believe the crew is still alive.

She seeks out James, her uncle’s former protégée, also brilliant, also difficult, who has been trying to discover why Inquiry’s fuel cells failed. James and June forge an intense intellectual bond that becomes an electric attraction. But the love that develops between them as they work to solve the fuel cell’s fatal flaw threatens to destroy everything they’ve worked so hard to create — and any chance of bringing the Inquiry crew home alive.

Equal parts gripping narrative of scientific discovery and charged love story, In the Quick is an exploration of the strengths and limits of human ability in the face of hardship and the costs of human ingenuity. At its beating heart are June and James, whose love for each other is eclipsed only by their drive to conquer the challenges of space travel.

In the Quick is due to be published by Random House in North America, on March 2nd, 2021. (At the time of writing, I couldn’t find any UK-specific release information.) In the meantime, if you’re interested in reading more by the author, check out her debut, If, Then.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

Interview with ALICE JAMES

JamesA-AuthorPicLet’s start with an introduction: Who is Alice James?

Well, it’s not a pseudonym, though I was meant to be called Ruth. Apparently after 52 hours of labour, when I finally deigned to pop out, my mother decided I looked like an Alice. Very kind of her because at that point I would have come up with something less flattering.

But I’m digressing, my all-time favourite hobby after touching my face. I’m a maths graduate who trained as a COBOL programmer who threw it all away to become a writer and editor. I somehow got stuck in finance and worked for Bloomberg, The Sunday Times, the FT, investment magazines, banks, fund managers… you name it. I don’t know quite how that happened, but I met some interesting people on the way. I began writing novels just recently and can’t see me stopping. Continue reading

Quick Review: LOVE AND THEFT by Stan Parish (Faber/Doubleday)

ParishS-LoveAndTheftUKA chance encounter, a new chance for a real life, forced into one last job…

What price would you put on a second chance?

When Alex Cassidy and Diane Alison meet by chance at a party in Princeton, New Jersey, there are instant sparks. Both are single parents living in wealthy suburbia, independent, highly competent and seemingly settled in their lives. She runs a successful catering business. He’s part of a crew that robs banks, casinos and jewellery stores around the world. Neither realises initially that their lives have overlapped before, or that their shared history and burgeoning relationship will come to threaten everything they love. As Alex prepares for one final, daunting job, he discovers that he’s not the only one with secrets — and that both of them are playing for the highest stakes imaginable.

Love and Theft is a very good crime novel. Complete with exciting heists and elaborate operations, it is populated by interesting and well-rounded characters. I really enjoyed this. Continue reading

Quick Review: BLACKTOP WASTELAND by S.A. Cosby (Flatiron Books)

CosbySA-BlacktopWastelandUSA superb crime debut

A husband, a father, a son, a business owner…And the best getaway driver east of the Mississippi.

Beauregard “Bug” Montage is an honest mechanic, a loving husband, and a hard-working dad. Bug knows there’s no future in the man he used to be: known from the hills of North Carolina to the beaches of Florida as the best wheelman on the East Coast.

He thought he’d left all that behind him, but as his carefully built new life begins to crumble, he finds himself drawn inexorably back into a world of blood and bullets. When a smooth-talking former associate comes calling with a can’t-miss jewelry store heist, Bug feels he has no choice but to get back in the driver’s seat. And Bug is at his best where the scent of gasoline mixes with the smell of fear.

Haunted by the ghost of who he used to be and the father who disappeared when he needed him most, Bug must find a way to navigate this blacktop wasteland… or die trying.

Cosby’s debut, Blacktop Wasteland has been getting a lot of positive attention since it was published. A perfect blend of heist story and character study, I’m very happy to report that this buzz is entirely justified. This is an excellent novel, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Continue reading