Quick Review: THE MAN BETWEEN by Charles Cumming (Harper Collins)

CummingC-ManBetweenUKA spy novelist finds himself recruited into the world of espionage…

He risked it all to become a spy. Now he must pay the price.

One simple task for British Intelligence takes him into a world of danger.

Successful novelist Kit Carradine has grown restless. So when British Intelligence invites him to enter the secret world of espionage, he willingly takes a leap into the unknown.

But the glamour of being a spy is soon tainted by fear and betrayal, as Carradine finds himself in Morocco on the trail of Lara Bartok a mysterious fugitive with links to international terrorism.

Bartok is a leading figure in Resurrection, a violent revolutionary movement whose brutal attacks on prominent right-wing politicians have spread hatred and violence throughout the West.

As the coils of a ruthless plot tighten around him, Carradine finds himself drawn to Lara. Caught between competing intelligence services who want her dead, he soon faces an awful choice: to abandon Lara to her fate or to risk everything trying to save her.

Charles Cumming is one of my favourite thriller authors. It’s becoming almost cliché to compare him to le Carré, but he remains the best comparator. Cumming writes intelligent, engaging and interesting espionage thrillers. In his latest novel — The Man Between in the UK, and The Moroccan Girl in North America — he takes a premise that is very interesting and possibly something many thriller authors think/fantasize about frequently: what if an author of the genre was recruited by a secret service to aid them in an investigation? I really enjoyed this novel. Continue reading

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Quick Review: LEADERSHIP by Doris Kearns Goodwin (Simon & Schuster)

GoodwinDK-LeadershipUSAn excellent examination of four presidents, their development into leaders, and how they overcame the challenges they faced

Are leaders born or made? Where does ambition come from? How does adversity affect the growth of leadership? Does the leader make the times or do the times make the leader?

In Leadership, Goodwin draws upon the four presidents she has studied most closely — Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson (in civil rights) — to show how they recognized leadership qualities within themselves and were recognized as leaders by others. By looking back to their first entries into public life, we encounter them at a time when their paths were filled with confusion, fear, and hope.

Leadership tells the story of how they all collided with dramatic reversals that disrupted their lives and threatened to shatter forever their ambitions. Nonetheless, they all emerged fitted to confront the contours and dilemmas of their times.

No common pattern describes the trajectory of leadership. Although set apart in background, abilities, and temperament, these men shared a fierce ambition and a deep-seated resilience that enabled them to surmount uncommon hardships. At their best, all four were guided by a sense of moral purpose. At moments of great challenge, they were able to summon their talents to enlarge the opportunities and lives of others.

This seminal work provides an accessible and essential road map for aspiring and established leaders in every field. In today’s polarized world, these stories of authentic leadership in times of apprehension and fracture take on a singular urgency.

Doris Kearns Goodwin is one of the best presidential historians working today. Best known for her superb, exhaustive biography of Abraham Lincoln’s Cabinet and presidency, Team of Rivals, Goodwin has also written substantial biographies of Lyndon B. Johnson (who she worked for), Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. In Leadership, she examines how Lincoln, Johnson, FDR and TR developed into the leadership roles they inhabited. It is an excellent distillation of her previous scholarship with that specific question in mind. Engaging, rigorous, and illuminating, this is an excellent history. Continue reading

Quick Review: EXIT STRATEGY by Martha Wells (Tor.com)

WellsM-MB4-ExitStrategyAn antisocial AI learning to care, in the fourth Murderbot Diaries novella

Murderbot wasn’t programmed to care. So, its decision to help the only human who ever showed it respect must be a system glitch, right?

Having traveled the width of the galaxy to unearth details of its own murderous transgressions, as well as those of the GrayCris Corporation, Murderbot is heading home to help Dr. Mensah — its former owner (protector? friend?) — submit evidence that could prevent GrayCris from destroying more colonists in its never-ending quest for profit.

But who’s going to believe a SecUnit gone rogue?

And what will become of it when it’s caught?

I blitzed through the first three novellas in this series. The main character is endearing and amusing, and the story is engaging and often thought-provoking. Exit Strategy, the final novella in the series, is another excellent addition to the series. Fans of the first three will, no doubt, love this one as well. Continue reading

Quick Review: OHIO by Stephen Markley (Simon & Schuster)

MarkleyS-OhioUSA gripping debut novel about a town in decay, and the inhabitants swept up in the crises of modern America

The debut of a major talent; a lyrical and emotional novel set in an archetypal small town in northeastern Ohio — a region ravaged by the Great Recession, an opioid crisis, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — depicting one feverish, fateful summer night in 2013 when four former classmates converge on their hometown, each with a mission, all haunted by the ghosts of their shared histories.

Since the turn of the century, a generation has come of age knowing only war, recession, political gridlock, racial hostility, and a simmering fear of environmental calamity. In the country’s forgotten pockets, where industry long ago fled, where foreclosures, Walmarts, and opiates riddle the land, death rates for rural whites have skyrocketed, fueled by suicide, addiction and a rampant sense of marginalization and disillusionment. This is the world the characters in Stephen Markley’s brilliant debut novel, Ohio, inherit. This is New Canaan.

On one fateful summer night in 2013, four former classmates converge on the rust belt town where they grew up, each of them with a mission, all of them haunted by regrets, secrets, lost loves. There’s Bill Ashcraft, an alcoholic, drug-abusing activist, whose fruitless ambitions have taken him from Cambodia to Zuccotti Park to New Orleans, and now back to “The Cane” with a mysterious package strapped to the underside of his truck; Stacey Moore, a doctoral candidate reluctantly confronting the mother of her former lover; Dan Eaton, a shy veteran of three tours in Iraq, home for a dinner date with the high school sweetheart he’s tried to forget; and the beautiful, fragile Tina Ross, whose rendezvous with the captain of the football team triggers the novel’s shocking climax.

At once a murder mystery and a social critique, Ohio ingeniously captures the fractured zeitgeist of a nation through the viewfinder of an embattled Midwestern town and offers a prescient vision for America at the dawn of a turbulent new age.

Before reading Ohio, I was familiar with some of Markley’s excellent non-fiction, which reminded me of some of Matt Taibbi’s earlier work (although, perhaps more polished). Slightly off-kilter, but sharp and amusing, his style was immediately attractive and interesting. I therefore came to Ohio with pretty high expectations. I’m happy to report that I was not at all disappointed: this is a fantastic novel, one that straddles Richard Russo-esque examination of struggling America and small town mystery/crime. Continue reading

Review: WASHINGTON BLACK by Esi Edugyan (Harper Collins/Knopf/Serpent’s Tail)

EdugyanE-WashingtonBlackCAA gripping, beautifully written story about freedom, science, and finding one’s place in a hostile world

When two English brothers arrive at a Barbados sugar plantation, they bring with them a darkness beyond what the slaves have already known. Washington Black – an eleven year-old field slave – is horrified to find himself chosen to live in the quarters of one of these men. But the man is not as Washington expects him to be. His new master is the eccentric Christopher Wilde – naturalist, explorer, inventor and abolitionist – whose obsession to perfect a winged flying machine disturbs all who know him. Washington is initiated into a world of wonder: a world where the night sea is set alight with fields of jellyfish, where a simple cloth canopy can propel a man across the sky, where even a boy born in chains may embrace a life of dignity and meaning – and where two people, separated by an impossible divide, can begin to see each other as human.

But when a man is killed one fateful night, Washington is left to the mercy of his new masters. Christopher Wilde must choose between family ties and young Washington’s life. What follows is a flight along the eastern coast of America, as the men attempt to elude the bounty that has been placed on Washington’s head. Their journey opens them up to the extraordinary: to a dark encounter with a necropsicist, a scholar of the flesh; to a voyage aboard a vessel captained by a hunter of a different kind; to a glimpse through an unexpected portal into the Underground Railroad. This is a novel of fraught bonds and betrayal. What brings Wilde and Washington together ultimately tears them apart, leaving Washington to seek his true self in a world that denies his very existence.

From the blistering cane fields of Barbados to the icy plains of the Canadian Arctic, from the mud-drowned streets of London to the eerie deserts of Morocco, Washington Black teems with all the strangeness of life. This inventive, electrifying novel asks, What is Freedom? And can a life salvaged from the ashes ever be made whole?

I first learned of Esi Edugyan’s latest novel when the Man Booker Long-list was announced. I was surprised that a novel that wasn’t even out yet would be on the long-list, but it led me to try to hunt down a copy. Harper Collins Canada was very kind in supplying me with an ARC, and I started reading it the weekend before it was published. I really enjoyed reading this novel. Continue reading

Quick Review: SLAVES TO DARKNESS by John French (Black Library)

FrenchJ-HH51-SlavesToDarknessThe traitors gather for their final push towards Terra…

After a long and gruelling conflict, the traitors at last close upon Terra. But time is dwindling for an attack. Both Guilliman and the Lion are returning with all haste, and their armies could turn the tide. The hosts of the Warmaster must unite, for only then can they attack the Throneworld itself. While Mortarion is sent on ahead as the fleet’s vanguard, it falls to Lorgar and Perturabo to marshal Fulgrim and Angron, both now elevated to daemonhood and perhaps beyond even the will of the Warmaster to command. But Horus lies wounded and as the greatest battle the galaxy has ever know looms, it is up to Maloghurst to hold his fractious Legion together and to wrench Horus himself from the edge of oblivion.

The Traitor legions are preparing for their final push to Terra. At least, that is the plan. After the events of Wolfsbane, Horus is grappling with the wound he received from the Emperor’s Spear, wielded by his loyalist brother Leman Russ. The time has nevertheless come to assemble the Traitor legions and bring the campaign to a close. However, this is easier said than done: all is not well among the Traitors, and with Horus’s status unclear, stresses and fractures appear not only between the legions, but also amongst Horus’s closest aides and commanders… Continue reading

Quick Review: WAR CRY by Brian McClellan (Tor.com)

McClellanB-WarCryAn intriguing, entertaining new novella from the author of the Powder Mage series: a new universe, new armies, and new monsters…

Teado is a Changer, a shape-shifting military asset trained to win wars. His platoon has been stationed in the Bavares high plains for years, stranded. As they ration supplies and scan the airwaves for news, any news, their numbers dwindle. He’s not sure how much time they have left.

Desperate and starving, armed with aging, faulting equipment, the team jumps at the chance for a risky resupply mission, even if it means not all of them might come. What they discover could change the course of the war.

Despite falling behind on his ‘main’ fantasy series, the Powder Mage trilogy and the new Gods of Blood and Powder, McClellan is one of my favourite (fantasy) author working today. When I heard that he had a novella on the way from Tor.com, I immediately put it on my must-read list. Due out in a couple of weeks, War Cry lived up to my expectations: it’s really good. Continue reading