Book Review: The Fens by Francis Pryor

This book proved to be something of a disappointment. The first half covers the prehistory of the Fens, the second half is a travelers guide to pubs, cafes, and churches.

There’s also a lot of inconsistency: for example, in the half about prehistory, there’s a section break and a new section about Pryor visiting a local aviation museum, which was completely out of place. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of that occurring in this book.

I really enjoyed Pryor’s books “Britain BC” and “Home”, but this book suffers from lack of structure. I’m easily given the impression that the publisher gave Pryor a wordcount that he struggled to make.

Either way, am still happy to read his other works – just be warned that this book is more a love letter about the place into modern times rather than the prehistoric periods Pryor’s other books cover.

Available from Amazon.


Book Review: The Neolithic of Britain and Ireland by Vicki Cummings

Cummings provides a good, broad introduction to the Neolithic period in Britain and Ireland, that makes for accessible reading for a general interested audience as well as students looking to familiarize themselves better with the period. Although the focus is on the Neolithic, Cummings does cover the end of the Mesolithic and the start of the Bronze Age for context.

Each chapter opens with an introduction to the specific subject to follow, then goes into specific examples and trends, before providing a concluding summary and further reading.

Unlike some other books, Cummings doesn’t simply focus on the “stones and bones” of material culture and instead makes some effort to think about the people and their practices, and how these relate to what material culture is covered. If there’s a weakness in the book, it’s Cumming’s hesitancy to touch on wider issues, especially when there is much more that can be said on language and beliefs, and even DNA analysis of populations.

However, this does make for a good read and general overview, with other books filling the gaps – there are plenty recommended.

Overall, a decent broad introduction of the Neolithic period that aims to be reasonably comprehensive about key ideas and themes, but without becoming bogged down in simply describing every aspect of material culture as some others do. The only real negative is that I made so many notes that I exceeded the publishers limit for exporting them from my Kindle!

The Neolithic of Britain and Ireland by Vicki Cummings is available on Amazon.


Book Review: A Rain of Fire by Ralph Kern

A Rain of Fire effectively re-imagines Dunkirk in a space setting, in which the Hegemony has invaded a planet of the Republic, and the Kingdom needs to retrieve its expeditionary force from one of the continents. The story is told from a handful of characters: a private on the frontline, a battleship captain, an admiral, fighter pilot, and mech warrior.

Kern’s prose is fluid and easy to read, and makes for an exciting story. However, by the end there’s plenty of pathos to underline importance of Dunkirk in history.

The biggest potential criticism is that the setting follows Dunkirk so closely that really just names have been swapped out, when the world-building could have been developed more uniquely. However, there’s a good counter argument that this would have been disrespectful and undermine the purpose of the book.

Overall, this is a great book that is four stars most of the way through, but is raised to five by the end, and I’m looking forward to picking up the next in this series.

A Rain of Fire by Ralph Kern is available on Amazon.


Book Review: Dark Moon by David Gemmell

Didn’t enjoy this book as much as other David Gemmell novels. The story began interestingly enough, but as it progressed it seemed to increasingly lose focus. The opening character, Tarantio/Dace seemed to drift away from his own story and end up with nothing resolved. Instead, other characters were introduced who spent a lot of time talking about themselves, and talking about other characters, then talking about logistics, then more about other characters. It was hard not to imagine that the publisher had told Gemmell to pad the story with an extra twenty thousand words, just for the sake of wordcount.

There was a lot of promise and potential in the story, but by the end I felt as though it just fizzled out with the same lack of focus it suffered from early on. By all means, there are the classic siege and morality relativity typical of Gemmell’s work, but in this instance it just didn’t really come together very well for me. Not a terrible book, but pretty average fantasy fare and below average for Gemmell.

2.5 stars.

Available from Amazon.


Book Review: Echoes of the Great Song by David Gemmell

The intense moral relativity in this novel is surprising – most every character begins as morally reprehensible and at odds with one another, but over the course of the story they recognize their flaws and try to work together, and become willing to sacrifice themselves for each other if required.

Yet it manages to remain a very enjoyable fantasy novel, filled with all the determined heroism and desperate struggles we’d expect from a Gemmell novel.

What I found interesting is that the first time I read this I presumed it was set in the future – but re-reading it now I’m more inclined to think of it as more akin to an Atlantean pre-history of Gemmell’s world.

Overall, another great Gemmell book that is perhaps unfairly over-shadowed by being a standalone by comparison to his series.

Available at Amazon.


Book Review: Making Money by Terry Pratchett

After Going Postal I had high expectations for Making Money, but ended up disappointed. Whereas Moist von Lipwig had driven the story in the previous book, in this one he simply gets dragged into one situation after another where he doesn’t really do anything.

The first 25% is mainly him being told to run a bank and then touring it. There are also a number of secondary characters who are introduced who don’t actually do anything for the plot. In the end, Lipwig arranges the printing of paper money and that’s it.

For me, Going Postal represents Pratchett at his creative peak, but by the time we get to Making Money we’re well on the downslope from that. While it makes for an OK read, it doesn’t make for a particularly great or engaging one.

Available at Amazon


Book Review: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Re-read this, and it was interesting to see how strong the emotional stakes were from the start. As a story I thought it good and strong with the caveat that I never believed the kids seemed as young as they were – or why it had to be children in this war.

However, although I thought the story well-written, I didn’t totally enjoy it – at it’s heart it’s about the emotional abuse of children, and in the end that soured something of my reading.

A classic science fiction book that’s worth picking up, but one perhaps appreciated more than enjoyed.

Available at Amazon:


Book Review: Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

When I originally read Terry Pratchett, I remembered Going Postal and Making Money as the author at the height of his creative powers. After some disappointment with recent Pratchett books I wasn’t sure what to expect. However, Going Postal still delivers.

What we have is a tightly-written story with a very interesting character who constantly pushes the plot forward. This isn’t the case of a character ambling through events like in Small Gods, but instead of cleverly and creatively moving things forward at every turn.

For most of the book I would have given it four stars, but the end climax really is clever and well-thought out.

Overall, this is one of Pratchett’s best, and it still holds up well after all this time.

Available at Amazon


Orkney: A Historical Guide by Caroline Wickham-Jones

A good introduction to the archaeology and history of Orkney. Different chapters provide a general overview of each historical period of Orkney, followed by sites and excavations to illustrate them.

Recommended not just for those with an interest in the history of Orkney, but also for those with an interest in prehistory – especially considering the extensive and unique archaeological sites on the islands, which can provide a rich regional context to wider reading.

Available at Amazon