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The President Is Missing

The President Is Missing
Published: 6/4/2018
President Bill Clinton and bestselling novelist James Patterson have written a spellbinding thriller, The President is Missing. As the novel opens, a threat looms. Enemies are planning an attack of unprecedented scale on America. Uncertainty and fear grip Washington. There are whispers of cyberterror and espionage and a traitor in the cabinet. The President himself becomes a suspect, and then goes missing... Set in real time, over the course of three days, The President Is…

I don't remember having read lots of Patterson's books before but I am sure that I will in the future considering how much I enjoyed this one. This book, while in many ways a typical thriller, is fast-paced (a lot of people criticize Patterson for his short chapters but it didn't bother me) and unusual in the way that you definitely hear Clinton's voice through. Sure, the president character is very idealistic and for us non-Americans the book sometimes veers too much into "America - we're number one!", but it certainly shouldn't be a surprise that a book told in first person by "the president" would be very America-centric.

I found both the cybercrime and political aspects very believable and there were enough plot twists (although some were a bit predictable) to keep the story interesting.

Read: June 2018
Recommended: yes, if you like thrillers.
Buy The President is Missing here

Secret Lives of Great Composers: What Your Teachers Never Told You about the World’s Musical Masters

Secret Lives of Great Composers: What Your Teachers Never Told You About the World's Musical Masters
Publisher:
Published: 8/1/2009
True tales of murder, riots, heartbreak, and great music. With outrageous anecdotes about everyone from Gioachino Rossini (draft-dodging womanizer) to Johann Sebastian Bach (jailbird) to Richard Wagner (alleged cross-dresser), Secret Lives of Great Composers recounts the seamy, steamy, and gritty history behind the great masters of international music. You’ll learn that Edward Elgar dabbled with explosives; that John Cage was obsessed with fungus; that Berlioz plotted murder; and that Giacomo Puccini stole his church’s organ…

Although this book doesn't quite live up to its promise of "outrageous anecdotes", it's really quite entertaining and I certainly learned a lot about many of the world's favorite composers. The book includes stories about everyone's favorites: Vivaldi, Handel, Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Rossini, Berlioz, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, Wagner, Verdi, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, Elgar, Puccini, Mahler, Debussy, Strauss, Rachmaninoff, Schoenberg, Ives, Ravel, Stravinsky, Gershwin, Copland, Shostakovich, Barber, Cage, Bernstein and Glass, all in convenient chronological order.

I was aware of some of the stories beforehand, but there's still incredibly interesting stuff in there. My favorite strange stories were about Berlioz (clearly a certifiable nutcase) and Puccini (clearly a full-blown criminal in his youth). The fungus story about Cage and Elgar's explosive back-yard shed were also very interesting.

The illustrations are beautiful (and unusual) - you might want to read this book on a colour device, as opposed to the black-and-white Kindle that I read the first half on. I actually switched to an iPad half-way through so that I could properly enjoy the illustrations.

Read: June 2018
Recommended: Definitely!
Buy Secret Lives of Great Composers here

The Ben Hope Collection (Ben Hope #1- #6)

The Ben Hope Collection (Ben Hope #1- #6)
Series:
Publisher:
Published: 5/24/2012
Contains the first six Ben Hope novels, together for the very first time: The Alchemist’s Secret The Mozart Conspiracy The Doomsday Prophecy The Heretic’s Treasure The Shadow Project The Lost Relic

Book series are quite an interesting phenomenon in that if the author manages to make you care about the characters in the first book, you will want to continue to the next one to see how the characters and their relationships develop.

In January 2018 my wife bought me a book called "The Bach Manuscript", knowing I'd find the historical connection interesting.  When I was a few pages in, I realized that this was part of a series (as The Bach Manuscript was clearly referencing something from the character's past) and decided that it was interesting enough that I should first check out the rest of the series. I found out that The Bach Manuscript was actually book number 16 in this series but still decided to go back to the beginning to see if I would find it interesting enough. I started with this pack that I am linking to here, which conveniently contains the first six books in the series.

It's now June and I've made it through books 1-15 in the series so the next one to read is finally The Bach Manuscript - at least now I'll know the back story!

Ben Hope is an ex SAS specialist and as such basically knows how to kill a man with only a toothpick and some tabasco sauce. He's a specialist in finding missing people and throughout the series ends up in battles with some pretty serious characters, often at the cost of his personal relationships with family, friends and the ladies.

The underlying mysteries in each book are quite well researched, whether it's ancient Babylonian treasures or mysterious letters from Mozart. Sometimes the books veer a little too much into shootouts and car chases but at least Mariani writes those very well. The characters, Ben and his friends, are interesting enough to keep you coming back to follow along in their lives.

It also helps that each book is quite inexpensive, so you can read an entire series for what a high-profile book or two would have cost you.

Read: Jan-June 2018
Recommended: Yes, if you like manly action stuff with a historical twist
Buy The Ben Hope Collection (first six books) here

A Man Called Ove

En man som heter Ove
Publisher:
Published: 7/15/2014
A grumpy yet loveable man finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door. Meet Ove. He's a curmudgeon, the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him the bitter neighbor from hell, but must Ove be bitter just because he doesn't walk…

Fredrik Backman seems to have a special knack for getting into the minds of characters who are different from most others, both in this book and also Britt-Marie Was Here.

Ove somehow manages to be both at times an incredibly annoying character and an incredibly charming and likable one. His life-long feud with his neighbour about what would seem to most of us as complete nonsense also keeps them together as friends. His love for his wife, now recently passed away, drives him and his actions and is a beautiful part of the story. This is a very unusual story with very unique characters. Ove is one of those characters you simply won't forget.

Read: March 2017
Recommended: Yes
Buy Fredrik Backman's A Man Called Ove here

Artemis

Artemis
Author:
Publisher:
Published: 11/14/2017
Jazz Bashara is a criminal. Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you're not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you've got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent. Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward…

I had read several rather scathing reviews of this book before I read it. I don't agree at all. Maybe it's because Weir's first book, The Martian, was so universally liked that people expected his next one to be more of the same - I don't know. I felt that his near-future scenario was believable enough and I actually liked the main character (although several female reviewers have pointed out that Weir should get assistance with writing his female characters as they are apparently very unbelievable to female readers) and the bit of science (much less than in The Martian) also was logical enough for me to believe in it.  Definitely a much "lighter" read than The Martian but still very enjoyable for me.

Read: November 2017
Recommended: Yes
Buy Andy Weir's Artemis here

Dragon Teeth

Dragon Teeth
Published: 6/1/2017
Michael Crichton's recently discovered novel—an adventure set in the Wild West during the golden age of fossil hunting. The year is 1876. Warring Indian tribes still populate America’s western territories even as lawless gold-rush towns begin to mark the landscape. In much of the country it is still illegal to espouse evolution. Against this backdrop two monomaniacal paleontologists pillage the Wild West, hunting for dinosaur fossils, while surveilling, deceiving and sabotaging each other in a…

I thought I had read all the Michael Chrichton books and then my wife discovered this one. As is the case with all his books, this one seems to be very well researched. In addition, this one is in large part based on a true story. The storyline and characters are very interesting and the setting in some ways familiar (Wild West) and other ways unusual (archeological digs in hostile Native-American territory).  I'd say "one of his best stories" but then again I've loved all his books.

Read: January 2018
Recommended: Yes
Buy Michael Chrichton's Dragon Teeth here

Us Conductors

Us Conductors
Publisher:
Published: 6/10/2014
The New Face of Fiction for 2014, Us Conductors is a beautiful, haunting, brilliant novel inspired by the true life and loves of the Russian scientist, inventor and spy Lev Termen--creator of the theremin. In a finely woven series of flashbacks and correspondence, Us Conductors takes us from the glitz and glam of New York in the 1930s to the gulags and scientific camps of the Soviet Union. Lev Termen is imprisoned on a ship…

I loved this book. Lev Termen (Léon Theremin in the USA) was one of the 20th century’s most important inventors, especially for electronic music but also for various other categories, including ingenious Soviet spying equipment. To say that he had a difficult life would be an understatement and although this novel certainly takes some liberties with the truth, it’s a great way to learn more about this fascinating man.

My wife and I actually own one of Termen's most famous inventions, the Theremin instrument. It's devilishly difficult to play but a wonderful challenge.

Read: December 2017
Recommended: Yes
Buy Sean Michaels' Us Conductors here

The Quality of Silence

The Quality of Silence
Publisher:
Published: 2/16/2016
On 24 November Yasmin and her ten-year-old daughter Ruby set off on a journey across Northern Alaska. They're searching for Ruby's father, missing in the arctic wilderness. More isolated with each frozen mile they cover, they travel deeper into an endless night. And Ruby, deaf since birth, must brave the darkness where sight cannot guide her. She won't abandon her father. But winter has tightened its grip, and there is somebody out there who wants…

My wife strongly recommended this book to me, as she read it earlier this year and told me is was a very unusual and interesting book. I couldn't agree more. The main storyteller is a young deaf girl who finds a communication outlet through Twitter, describing to the world what words she cannot hear feel like to her.  Most of the story revolves around her and her mother traveling through Alaska and dealing with its incredibly harsh winters, the people they meet on the way, and the girl's relationship with her parents.  A beautiful story, beautifully told, including an unusual "who-dunnit" aspect.

Read: May 2018
Recommended: Yes
Buy Rosamund Lupton's The Quality of Silence here

I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death

I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death
Published: 2/6/2018
We are never closer to life than when we brush up against the possibility of death. I Am, I Am, I Am is Maggie O'Farrell's astonishing memoir of the near-death experiences that have punctuated and defined her life. The childhood illness that left her bedridden for a year, which she was not expected to survive. A teenage yearning to escape that nearly ended in disaster. An encounter with a disturbed man on a remote path.…

I heard about this unusual book on the radio the other day and the short description caught my interest enough to want to read it. O'Farrell has certainly had an unusual life and has found quite a unique way to tell her life story. I am not sure why she chose to tell the different stories out of chronological order, but it doesn't distract too much from the story. The book is well-written and never goes into the "I feel sorry for myself" category, even though this woman certainly has overcome challenges many of us wouldn't even dream of.

Read: June 2018
Recommended: Yes
Buy Maggie O'Farrell's I am I am I am here

Sick Puppy

Sick Puppy
Author:
Series:
Published: 4/12/2005
Independently wealthy eco-terrorist Twilly Spree teaches a flagrant litterbug a lesson--and leaves the offender's precious Range Rover swarming with hungry dung beetles. When he discovers the litterer is one of the most powerful political fixers in Florida, the real Hiaasen-style fun begins.

I downloaded this book on a recommendation from a friend. Not exactly the biggest page-turner, it took me a few days to finish and it was... ok. Many of the characters are quite over-the-top but still reasonably believable. I do like that one of them is a bit of a nature-terrorist, in that he terrorizes people who, in his opinion, have damaged nature in some way. Completely unstable and a bit scary, but somehow also likeable because he's doing it all for a good cause.  I mean, who of you doesn't occasionally want to follow someone home who threw their McDonalds box out the car window and torch their house?

I for one didn't know that there are also major lobbyists working in local government in the USA - I always thought it was just a Washington thing, so I got educated on that front. One thing I did absolutely love about the book is that (and I didn't know this before I started reading) most of it takes place in and around Tallahassee, where I lived from 2002 to 2004, so most of the locations are quite familiar to me.

This is apparently the fourth book in a series but that made no negative impact on my reading experience.

Read: June 2018
Recommended: Yes, if you like slightly weird light reading.
Buy Carl Hiaasen's Sick Puppy here