These are some of the books I've been reading and recommend.
I only include books that I think are worth 3 stars or more. If you want copies of any or all of my reviews email me through the Contact page.
Silk Road by Colin Falconer
(reviewed Feb 2021)
Josseran Sarrazini is a Templar Knight, trained for war but haunted by guilt from a sordid episode in his past. As the Christian garrisons in the Holy Land begin to fall to the Saracen, he must embark upon a mission of peace to the golden palaces at Xanadu to seek an alliance with Kubilai Khan, ruler of the greatest empire in history and commander of the invincible Mongol horde. He is accompanied by a narrow-minded priest who believes he has been sent by God to convert the Mongols to Christianity.
The journey takes the pair along the Silk Route to China, across some of the harshest landscapes on the planet. On the way they are faced with hunger, cold, thirst, exhaustion, and the ever present prospect of death. When they meet with the Tatars they find they are not the savages that they had been led to expect. As they seek to forge an alliance with a people who do not honour their cause or their God, Josseran's mind is opened and he starts to doubt his faith. He becomes fascinated by a Mongol princess, who turns out to be like no one he has ever met before.
The book is very well researched and contains fascinating information about the lives of the Tatars and the politics of the times. It introduces debates about religion which are conveyed in a telling and compelling fashion. In Josseran we see a man who is a warrior whose values are more sound than those of the intolerant priest who is his companion.
I thought at one point that the narrative was heading towards a glib and easy ending, but Falconer avoids the temptation to take this route and the book has a more satisfying shape. The characters are convincing, and the historical context and geographical locations are detailed and well drawn. Like many others, I'm fascinated by the knights templars, and I found this a great read.
Turtles All The Way Down by John Green (reviewed Jan 2021)
Age-wise I'm about as far away from John Green's characters it's possible to get. Nevertheless, I'm a huge fan of his YA fiction. I looked forward to reading this book and it didn't disappoint.
Aza Holmes is a 16-year-old who struggles with OCD, the most obvious effect of which is a fear of infection through contact. This shows in her repeatedly opening a callus on her finger in an effort to drain out what she believes are pathogens, with the result that it never heals. Not surprisingly, this makes her hard to deal with! Aza's best friend is Daisy, who writes Star Wars fan fiction. This is very popular, but is at first ignored by Aza.
One day Daisy learns that Russell Pickett, a billionaire construction magnate and the father of one of Aza's old friends, Davis Pickett, has gone missing. She is tempted by the reward of $100,000 for information leading to Pickett's arrest, and takes Aza on a search for the missing billionaire.
In the course of the investigation they renew acquaintance with an old friend, Russell's son, Davis. He wants them to stop their search, and gives Aza $100,000, which she splits with Daisy. Davis and Aza begin a relationship but Aza comes to believe that she cannot overcome her anxiety, preventing her from ever having a normal relationship with Davis.Aza reads Daisy's fan fiction for the first time and discovers that Daisy has been using it as a vent for her frustrations with Aza. This leads to a row while Aza is driving that results in a car accident. In hospital Aza's problems get worse, and in an attempt to cleanse herself she drinks hand sanitiser, with almost fatal results. Eventually Aza and Daisy locate Russell's body and finally solve the mystery of his death, and Aza and Davis part.I know few authors who manage to capture the mood of mid and later adolescence as well as Green. He's able to convey the complications of that time, the mixture of exploration, yearning, experimentation, and the atmosphere of that strange void between childhood and the world of adults, and what it means to be there. One of my own novels tries to convey the thoughts and emotions of a teenage girl suffering from mental problems, and I salute someone who does it so well.