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Wednesday, 16 August 2017

The Looking Glass War by John Le Carre (My Goodreads Review)

The Looking Glass War: A George Smiley Novel (George Smiley Novels Book 4)The Looking Glass War: A George Smiley Novel by John le Carré
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another Cold War story from John Le Carre. It takes place just after his Spy Who Came in from the Cold. It is now 1965 and there is another British Intelligence department gathering dust and virtually inactive since its heydey during the war. They are resentful of the Circus where George Smiley and Control seem to get all the action against the Communist block countries. This other obscure intelligence gathering office is simply known as The Department. They are eager to get into the tussle of the Cold War and win some results of their own. Since the Second World War, they have been cut back and lack any clear direction. Some of the senior administrators have been there since the last war and long for the good old days.

While scratching about, they uncover some information or rumours of Soviet ballistic missiles being set up in East Germany close to the West German border. They employ a foreign airline pilot to stray off course and try to obtain photographs of the area. These photos are passed on but due to an accident in Finland, the photos do not get back to The Department. Anxious to continue with this fact finding mission they get the support of a senior political minister to grant them the right to send an agent into East Germany.

They need advice from the bigger organisation (The Circus) where the notorious and polite George Smiley works. The Department wants to keep the operation strictly under their control. The Circus readily agree and offer what support is required.

So the Department set up a team under the guise of a training exercise. The head of this is Leclerc and he chooses two men from his group to supervise the mission. One is Haldane the other is called Avery.

Haldane is a well-polished man from the war days about the mid to late forties while Avery is relatively new to the Department. He is thirty-two years of age.

They recruit a Polish man who was with the Department back in the war days. He is on the books but has not been contacted since the end of the war in 1945. Twenty years later he is tracked down and asked to do the mission for the Department. The Pole has no idea that the Department is run on a shoe string budget and is kidded up that is still as big and grand as it used to be.

I particularly enjoyed the character of Haldane in this story. He starts off as a very articulate yet negative man with a dislike for most around him. When he speaks he is precise and clear yet he is negative towards his work colleagues. As though he does not have much faith in them. Despite my dislike of Haldane at first, there is a certain reliability about the man. It is not necessary to like him. However, as the story develops and the mission preparations get under way, I think every reader would come to rather like the gloomy Haldane. There is a dependability about him and an honesty.

George Smiley has appearances like in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, but his coming and going is important to the plot. If you like good old Cold War Spy stories, then I would highly recommend this splendid John Le Carre novel.

The Black and Tan Summer: Ireland's Turbulent Year of 1920

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Shadows Against the Empire by Ralph E. Vaughan (My Goodreads Review)

Shadows Against the Empire (Folkestone & Hand, #1)Shadows Against the Empire by Ralph E. Vaughan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Great Steampunk adventure set in an alternative British Empire with advanced steam driven machinery and airships. We follow the adventures of Captain Folkestone and his Martian accomplice, Sergeant Felix Hand. The British Empire is policing colonies on Mars and Venus in the year of 1882. It's a wonderfully weird and wacky adventure of a retro sci-fi world from our past. An alternative British Empire in a bizarre space age. The image of Victorian machinery (iron and steam) in a space age dreamed of by people with futuristic imaginations of the late 19th and early 20th Century. H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burrows type Sci-Fi. A story of ancient Dark Gods known to Martians and Venusians from their entwined pasts yet not to Humans who are new comers building empires and colonies upon both planets. The restless natives of these colonised worlds are resurrecting taboo old Gods. Those that must not be spoken of. Their aim (The Dark Gods) to destroy the alternative British Empire of 1882 and bring vengeance upon humanity. Only the dashing Captain Folkestone and Sergeant Hand can thwart the evil as they travel on a quest from Mars to Venus following leads where humanoid and reptilian Venusians live. Plus some work back on Earth, in London, by Scotland Yard’s Chief Inspector Ethan Slaughter as he searches among London's immigrant population of Chinese, Laskers, Martians and Venusian workers in a quest for secrets of the Dark Gods too.

Great adventure for all fans of Steampunk Sci-Fi where even Victorian London's back streets are awash with inter-planetary multi-culturalism. The whole story moves well with its wonderful alternative Victorian feel combined with retro steam-powered machinery from a mythical, dreamed of, age.

The Last Days of Thunder Child

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Monday, 7 August 2017

Thunder Child Stands Defiant!


Prepare for the voyage of HMS Thunder Child as she cruises towards her destiny.

Victorian Britain is in chaos as the Martian fighting machines roam the land.

HMS Thunder Child will make a defiant stand.


Sunday, 6 August 2017

Call for the Dead by John le Carre (My Goodreads Review)

Call for the Dead

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was the first of the George Smiley stories, set in Britain during the late 50s I would imagine. When talking in money terms, it is old pounds and shillings. It also has a wonderfully atmospheric feel of Retro London and a good old foggy pea souper.

I had read the Karla trilogy of George Smiley which takes place in the 1970s. I also read The Spy Who Came in from the Cold in which George Smiley has a minor role. That is set in the 60s. Therefore, I was compelled to learn more of this wonderful character called George Smiley - a cultured and, perhaps, rather snobby English gentleman who works in the British Secret Service.

George Smiley is given a fine introduction in the first chapter, allowing the reader to know all about his beginnings and how he is a rather reserved yet intelligent man - quiet and polite with a softly spoken educated English manner. In some ways, most people might find George Smiley boring – a short tubby man with white hair and glasses when the story actually begins. He is middle aged and has been taken for a ride by his estranged and beautiful wife. No one who knew the Smileys could understand how such a marriage union could have happened in the first place.

We have this boring reserved man (George Smiley) whose wife has run off with a dashing Latin lover. This adventurous lover drives motor racing cars and lives in Cuba. Yet despite all of this, somehow this hopelessly smitten man (George Smiley) is our great hero with a modesty and vulnerability that makes him appear hopelessly week. He is a contradictory type of hero with a certain type of negative view of the world. He trusts virtually no one and has a gift for seeing deep inside people and the ability to keep everything to himself. When he does pick friends or confidants they are rare but usually well chosen. He works in an old and drab London office among clerical staff that all seem equally as cheerless. However, once the story gets going, these dull grey offices and the dreary corridors fade into obscurity. Suddenly, the dower and softly spoken English gentleman will become anything but monotonous.

George Smiley is an absolute peach of a British Agent who can decipher and adapt to his opponents well - very well indeed. In this wonderful story, we are introduced to Smiley for the first time as he tackles the suicide of a colleague and the subsequent involvement of East German field agents. Our little tubby man investigates and unravels with great aplomb. This is an absolute peach of a read and I would highly recommend this first George Smiley story.

The Black and Tan Summer: Ireland's Turbulent Year of 1920

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Friday, 4 August 2017

The Volunteers by Douglas Reeman (My Goodreads Review)

The Volunteers

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In my mind’s eye, I could see this as something like a black and white matinee flick that one might have seen in the fifties. The story takes place from 1943 to 1944 with an epilogue etc in 1945.

Three men decided to put in for a marine service special ops group. They are on MTB and MGB boats doing missions or raids upon enemy occupied territory at various locations. One is a Canadian from the Atlantic convoys who is called Frazer, another is an English bomb disposal man (Allenby) and the final is an east end policeman. (Ives) They are recruited to replace others that have been killed in action.

As the saga develops we are introduced to some excellent characters and two wrens that are love interests to Frazer and Allenby. There are some great action scenes throughout the story as the fast patrol boats confront the enemy. The way the book is written gives a feeling of actually being there in those times of WWII when the people were said to be at their finest.

Great action and lots of wonderful characters – a read that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys Naval stories and WWII based thriller.

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Tuesday, 1 August 2017

The Bees Are Doing Their Bee Thing with Flowers.

Just sitting in the garden watching the bees doing their thing with the flowers. Then I stray and look about the garden and watch all the other visitors over the fence and in the surrounding trees etc. 

Of course, the Sparrowhawk puts in a brief appearance but the fledgelings are no more. They have moved on into the big world. Perhaps they’ll return next year?

I sit here for a few hours sipping tea, reading a book and then pick up the camera to catch the odd interesting shot of the garden in bloom.

Moving the Bird Box for Next Year.

The bird box was visited by a little Jenny Wren a few weeks ago. It was male and he seemed to be layering the bird box with feathers. I got a photo shot of the bird coming and going and did a blog of this. Sadly, the bird box was not chosen by the Jenny Wren female. Her partner will make a number of nests and she will choose the one she thinks is the most appropriate. On this occasion, my bird box did not pass the test.

Therefore, I decided on a new plan of action for next year. The bird box was too exposed and the Jenny Wren likes to be more concealed. Also, I was told the box was a little too high. I have now moved the box by a trellis with Jasmin growing up and gradually covering the potential nest. It is also lower. The Sparrowhawk would have definitely discovered their exposed nest as it is still visiting all the gardens on a daily basis. It seems to hunt for the fledgelings. 

A Frog Moves into the New Garden Pond.

A Frog Moves into the Pond.

Our little garden pond is coming along nicely. We added some pond plants and they have taken very well. The fish are swimming around contently and the little waterfall that works via the filter pump is trickling along nicely. We get a regular visitor who is a male blackbird. He loves to bath in the waterfall most days. He seems to have got used to us watching him from the decking where we sit.

To my delight, a Frog has moved in too. I knew it would not take long and do hope it will find a partner for the next spring so that the frog spawn will come about. Then we will have tadpoles and such. Perhaps newts too.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Death To The French by C. S. Forester. (My Goodreads Review)

Death to the French

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The story is set during the Peninsular War in Portugal. The British Army under the Duke of Wellington is retreating behind the Lines of Torres Vedras during the French 1810 offensive. A rifleman (Matthew Dodd) of the 95th Regiment of Foot is caught behind the retreat and is cut off in the wilderness. With the help of some Portuguese guerrillas, Dodd wages a small campaign against the Napoleonic French forces as they try to manoeuvre through the mountain passes to lay siege to the Lines of Torres Vedras.

This is a most enjoyable story as Dodd and crew fight the occupying French forces waiting for the British counter offensive to come. I read it many years ago, but remember the schoolboy enjoyment I got from the novel. Well worth reading, especially if you enjoy Napoleonic history.

The Last Days of Thunder Child

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The Pearl by John Steinbeck (My Goodreads Review)

The Pearl

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Kino is a poor man who scrapes a living by diving for pearls somewhere in Mexico. One day, he finds the perfect pearl of his dreams. It is the answer to all his needs. He can make enough money for his wife and baby son to live happily ever after. They would want for nothing and can afford doctors that would not look down on him or his family's low station in life.

The pearl brings Kino more trouble than he could ever have envisaged. The auctioneers try to con him but he refuses to sell and decides upon a better market inland and into the mountains. meanwhile, those who covet the pearl are bent upon devious methods to obtain the prize from Kino.

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