“Hurricane Gold” by Charlie Higson

Hurricane Gold is the latest in Charlie Higson’s Young Bond series. On the criminal haven on the Caribbean island of Lagrimas Negras, a deadly game is played out for those who break the rules. Meanwhile, James is with his aunt recouperating from the injuries sustained in his last escapade, when during a tropical storm the children of the family he is staying with are kidnapped and he gives chase to try and save them.

Charlie Higson has created a great series of books based on the life of a young James Bond. Using the adult James Bond as the blueprint, Higson writes tales that show how the experiences of childhood developed this famous character, whilst always being cracking adventure stories. A genuine page turner, I loved reading this book, and I finished in a single sitting as I couldn’t bear to put it down. The plot twists and turns from one explosive incident to the next, with the requisite amount of violence and death required of a good Bond story, and the excellent climax is fantastically exciting and full of suspense.

If you like the Young Bond series, and haven’t tried the Anthony Horowitz Alex Rider series, I would strongly recommend them.

“How To Talk To A Widower” by Jonathan Tropper

Doug Parker has been widowed for a year, and is consumed by self pity and alcohol. When he met Hailey he was a young, carefree bachelor with a Manhattan lifestyle and she was ten years his senior. After their wedding he moved to the suburbs to live with her and her teenage son, but three years later, Hailey has died in an air-crash, Russ has moved back with his father and Doug’s family think it’s time he got his life back together.

Claire – Doug’s twin sister – has left her husband and moved in with Doug, while Russ is struggling to deal with both his mothers death and living with his father, and is getting into all sorts of trouble, resulting in trips to the guidance counsellor. Doug’s mother is also worried about him, on top of the fact that she’s having to deal with her husband’s brain damage following a stroke, and his younger sister Debbie is trying to prepare for her wedding to one of Doug’s ex-friends.

Trying to make sure his writing career doesn’t fail completely, Doug’s been writing articles about dealing with his loss, which to his chagrin are very successful, and his agent is trying to broker a publishing deal based on them. Doug is totally against profiting from his experience, and doesn’t want to be a poster boy for bereavement, so has to find other ways to try and rebuild his life and move on.

This is a moving and funny story, whilst also being true to life. I’m quite a cry-baby and it was very emotional and I don’t mind admitting to tears running down my face quite a few times throughout the book. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, as it will bring a smile as well as a tear to the eye, and was a great, relaxing holiday read.

“Hoot” by Carl Hiaasen

Being beaten up by the school bully on the bus, Roy has his face squashed up against the window when he spots a barefoot boy running away through the neighbourhood, and is intrigued to find out where is he going and why he is running barefoot.

Roy’s family is used to moving around the country, and having come from the mountains to the everglades is a big change for Roy. Further investigations into the mystery runner leads Roy to the conflict between a young eco-warrier and a national chain of pancake houses, and their development of a site which is home to a colony of small burrowing owls.

Carl Hiaasen’s love of Florida shines through this novel, and it’s a great way for youngsters to be introduced to environmental conflicts and issues, with warmth, humour and intelligence. I really enjoyed it, even though I’m not strictly the correct demographic!

“Half of a Yellow Sun” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This book tells the individual stories of three people living through the Nigerian-Biafran war in the 1960’s. Ugwu’s family have found him the position of houseboy with Odenigbo, a university professor, with outspoken views on politics who not only employs Ugwu, but also arranges for his education. Ugwu is enchanted with his new master and in awe of the debates he overhears in the house, discussing the political, sociological and philosophical state of their country. Keen to impress, he undertakes his duties and his schooling with equal vigour, always looking out for his masters best interests. Odenigbo’s girlfriend, Olanna, soon moves in with him, and on a visit to her family home, we learn about her parents and her twin sister, Kainene, and the expectations placed on both daughters by their parents. They are an affluent family and Olanna is expected to use her beauty and position to improve the family business and their social and political connections, a situation Olanna finds distasteful. Kainene, meanwhile, accepts that whilst they are twins, they are not identical, and without Olanna’s beauty, she has to use her head to make her way in the family business, but for Richard, an English writer who is on an extended trip to Nigeria to research his next work, she is completely captivating, and their relationship brings him into the lives of Olanna and Ugwu through the social gatherings at Odenigbo’s house.

The novel continues to tell their stories, and part two of the book moves us forward to the late 1960’s at the start of the Nigerian-Biafran war, and chronicles how the lives of the three people are impacted by the atrocities they experience and are witness to. The book then jumps back to where part one left off, and we are back in the early sixties. Finally the books moves back to where part three finished during the late sixties and the end of the war, and we discover three very different people from those we started out with.

This book took me a long time to read. I’m usually a fast reader and would have expected this book to take me probably three days, but no more than a week, yet for some reason, I found it difficult to keep concentrating long enough to carry on reading, and it actually took me three weeks to finish. The main characters were interesting, but not compelling; the story was also interesting, but not engrossing. Although I realise the book was set around the three main protagonists, I felt that Odenigbo and Kainene were so integral to the plot, but they were underwritten and not developed enough. I also did not like the device of moving back to the early sixties in part three, and then returning to the late sixties later on. I didn’t feel it added anything to how the characters developed, and while it filled in details to plot lines during the missing years between part one and two that I think we were made to have the wrong assumptions about, I don’t feel it added to the plot, and it actually annoyed me slightly.

For me, it didn’t work. The main characters were well written and I liked the narrative switching between each one in turn, but I didn’t like the style or the choices about the secondary character development, and although it was interesting to read about a savage war I knew nothing about, I just didn’t find it compelling, and a struggle to finish.

“Attention All Shipping” by Charlie Connelly

For many people in the UK, the shipping forecast is an enigmatic yet comforting piece of radio programming, with unfathomable but melodic words flowing over the airwaves. The familiar names of the sea areas, Dogger, North Utsire, South Utsire, etc., evoke romantic notions of a byegone era, seemingly unchanged since the programme was first broadcast in the 1920s. The programme itself has been the inspiration for poems, novels and songs, and gives both valuable information to the nations seafarers, but also a comforting nostalgia for its many other listeners. Charlie Connelly sets out on a journey to visit all the shipping areas listed in the shipping forecast, and this book is the tale of his travels.

After reading the back cover of this book, I was looking forward to a humorous romp through the various areas of the shipping forecast, but I unfortunately I didn’t get it. The book felt disjointed, with each chapter feeling that time passes between trips without this coming across in the narrative. It feels as though it should have been a single journey, similar to Tony Hawks “Around Ireland With A Fridge” so you had a continuous travelogue of the journey, but instead it was part local history, part a guided tour of bad hotels and part an attempt at colourful humour about the local people of each area. For me, it was too disjointed and lacked the continuous story that kept me turning each page of Tony Hawks book in anticipation of the next story. I found I was easily distracted while reading the book, and it was actually a bit of a chore to finish it.