Quick Review: IMPERIAL TWILIGHT by Stephen R. Platt (Knopf/Atlantic Books)

PlattSR-ImperialTwilightUSA fascinating re-examination of the causes and consequences of the Opium War

As China reclaims its position as a world power, Imperial Twilight looks back to tell the story of the country’s last age of ascendance and how it came to an end in the nineteenth-century Opium War.

As one of the most potent turning points in the country’s modern history, the Opium War has since come to stand for everything that today’s China seeks to put behind it. In this dramatic, epic story, award-winning historian Stephen Platt sheds new light on the early attempts by Western traders and missionaries to “open” China even as China’s imperial rulers were struggling to manage their country’s decline and Confucian scholars grappled with how to use foreign trade to China’s advantage. The book paints an enduring portrait of an immensely profitable — and mostly peaceful — meeting of civilizations that was destined to be shattered by one of the most shockingly unjust wars in the annals of imperial history. Brimming with a fascinating cast of British, Chinese, and American characters, this riveting narrative of relations between China and the West has important implications for today’s uncertain and ever-changing political climate.

Stephen R. Platt’s Imperial Twilight is a substantial, highly readable history of the causes and consequences of the Opium War. This is an extremely fine history: exhaustive, fascinating, and engaging from beginning to end. Continue reading

Books on Film: THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB by

It’s been quite some time since the excellent The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo movie, starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara. This November, the long-awaited next instalment in the movie series, The Girl in the Spider’s Web will arrive in theatres. This time, though, there’s a new cast (perhaps Craig and Mara were too expensive by this point, or at least maybe their schedules just couldn’t work). This time, Claire Foy (The Crown) picks up the leathers and knives of Lisbeth Salander, and Sverrir Gudnason plays Mikael Blomkvist. The movie also stars Stephen Merchant, Sylvia Hoeks, and Lakeith Stanfield.

LarssonLagercrantz-M4-GirlInTheSpidersWebUKBased on the fourth novel in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series, written by David Lagercrantz, here’s the synopsis:

Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist have not been in touch for some time.

Then Blomkvist is contacted by renowned Swedish scientist Professor Balder. Warned that his life is in danger, but more concerned for his son’s well-being, Balder wants Millennium to publish his story — and it is a terrifying one.

More interesting to Blomkvist than Balder’s world-leading advances in Artificial Intelligence, is his connection with a certain female superhacker.

It seems that Salander, like Balder, is a target of ruthless cyber gangsters – and a violent criminal conspiracy that will very soon bring terror to the snowbound streets of Stockholm, to the Millennium team, and to Blomkvist and Salander themselves.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web is published in the UK by Quercus, and in North America by Vintage Crime/Black Lizard.

Books on Film: THE WIFE by Meg Wolitzer

Later this year (August), Sony Pictures will release the film adaptation of Meg Wolitzer’s The Wife. Directed by Björn Runge, screenplay by Jane Anderson, and starring Glenn Close, Christian Slater and Jonathan Pryce, it looks interesting.

Wolitzer’s novel is published by Scribner in North America and Vintage in the UK (at the time of writing, the novel is a Kindle Monthly Deal in the UK, too). Here’s the synopsis:

A provocative story about the evolution of a marriage, the nature of partnership, the question of a male or female sensibility, and the place for an ambitious woman in a man’s world.

The moment Joan Castleman decides to leave her husband, they are thirty-five thousand feet above the ocean on a flight to Helsinki. Joan’s husband, Joseph, is one of America’s preeminent novelists, about to receive a prestigious international award, and Joan, who has spent forty years subjugating her own literary talents to fan the flames of his career, has finally decided to stop. From this gripping opening, Meg Wolitzer flashes back to 1950s Smith College and Greenwich Village and follows the course of the marriage that has brought the couple to this breaking point — one that results in a shocking revelation.

With her skillful storytelling and pitch-perfect observations, Wolitzer has crafted a wise and candid look at the choices all men and women make — in marriage, work, and life.

WolitzerM-Wife

Meg Wolitzer’s latest novel, The Female Persuasion is out now, published by Riverhead in North America (out now) and Chatto & Windus in the UK (to be published in June).

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

Books on Film: THE SNOWMAN by Jo Nesbø

I haven’t read any of Jo Nesbø’s novels, yet — I did pick up Blood on Snow and Midnight Sun not so long ago, and I think I bought the first Harry Hole novel (The Bat) when it was a Kindle Daily Deal quite some time ago. Anyway, I saw the trailer for this movie, based on the seventh Harry Hole novel, and thought it looked excellent.

NesboJ-HH07-Snowman

Here’s the official book synopsis:

Soon the first snow will come

A young boy wakes to find his mother missing. Outside, he sees her favourite scarf – wrapped around the neck of a snowman.

And then he will appear again

Detective Harry Hole soon discovers that an alarming number of wives and mothers have gone missing over the years.

And when the snow is gone…

When a second woman disappears, Harry’s worst suspicion is confirmed: a serial killer is operating on his home turf.

… he will have taken someone else

Jo Nesbø’s The Snowman is published by Vintage in the UK and US.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads

Quick Review: MONSTER by John Gregory Dunne (Vintage)

DunneJG-MonsterUSAn entertaining, engaging memoir of screenwriting

In Hollywood, screenwriters are a curse to be borne, and beating up on them is an industry blood sport. But in this ferociously funny and accurate account of life on the Hollywood food chain, it’s a screenwriter who gets the last murderous laugh. That may be because the writer is John Gregory Dunne, who has written screenplays, along with novels and non-fiction, for thirty years. In 1988 Dunne and his wife, Joan Didion, were asked to write a screenplay about the dark and complicated life of the late TV anchorwoman Jessica Savitch. Eight years and twenty-seven drafts later, this script was made into the fairy tale “Up Close and Personal” starring Robert Redford and Michelle Pfeiffer. Detailing the meetings, rewrites, fights, firings, and distractions attendant to the making of a single picture, Monster illuminates the process with sagacity and raucous wit.

This is a fascinating, unreserved memoir of John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion’s long, often frustrating experiences writing Up Close & Personal. It’s engaging, entertaining and illuminating. Continue reading

Quick Review: THE NIX by Nathan Hill (Vintage)

HillN-NixUSA compelling, engrossing story of a son’s quest to learn the truth about his mother

It’s 2011, and Samuel Andresen-Anderson hasn’t seen his mother, Faye, in decades — not since she abandoned the family when he was a boy. Now she’s reappeared, having committed an absurd crime that electrifies the nightly news and inflames a politically divided country. The media paints Faye as a radical hippie with a sordid past, but as far as Samuel knows, his mother was an ordinary girl who married her high-school sweetheart. Which version of his mother is true? Two facts are certain: she’s facing some serious charges, and she needs Samuel’s help.

To save her, Samuel will have to embark on his own journey, uncovering long-buried secrets about the woman he thought he knew, secrets that stretch across generations and have their origin all the way back in Norway, home of the mysterious Nix. As he does so, Samuel will confront not only Faye’s losses but also his own lost love, and will relearn everything he thought he knew about his mother, and himself.

It took me a long time to read this, but I’m very glad I finally did: Hill is definitely a new author to watch, and I can’t wait to read his next book. The Nix is the story of Samuel’s quest to learn the truth about his mother, who abandoned him when he was still a child. The novel has so much going on, it’s difficult to encapsulate it in just a few sentences. It’s not perfect, but it is excellent. Continue reading

Quick Review: VANISHING GAMES by Roger Hobbs (Corgi/Knopf)

HobbsR-G2-VanishingGamesUKPBThe Ghostman returns, to save his mentor…

I work alone. 

I may be the best thief in the world but no one will ever know a single thing about me. Well, almost no one. 

A lifetime ago I had a mentor, Angela. She taught me how to be a criminal, how to run a heist. 

And now, six years after she vanished and left me high and dry on a job in Kuala Lumpur, she’s sent me an SOS.

Or at least I think it’s her. If it is, then I’ve got to go. I owe her that much.

So soon I’ll be on a plane to Macau, either to see a friend or walk into a trap. Or both. 

But that’s the way I like it. Sometimes the only thing that makes me happy is risking my life. 

Time to go.

I very much enjoyed Roger Hobbs’s debut, Ghostman: it was fast-paced, entertaining and offered an interesting twist on the international, high-tech thief genre. In this sequel, Hobbs gives readers more of the same. For the main, this is a very good thing, and I blitzed through Vanishing Games. Continue reading