Lovely ***** review of ‘Wonders will never cease’

April 5, 2018

Wonders will never cease by [Moore, Judi]

Reviewed By Grant Leishman for Readers’ Favorite

Dr Fergus Girvan is your archetypal British university professor; learned, scholarly, loves the young girls and his many bottles of good plonk. In Wonders Will Never Cease by Judi Moore, we meet Fergus, who is suffering a bit of a mid to late life crisis as he realizes his chances of finally gaining a “chair” at Ariel University may be fading. The young women he surrounds himself with have suddenly become less interesting and decidedly duller, although still wonderful for his ego and libido. His new found relationship with his high-school aged daughter is tested when he discovers that Andy has fallen in love with a middle-aged Lothario who bears no small resemblance, in both morals and motivation, to Fergus himself. Suddenly Fergus finds himself having to ally with Mary, his daughter’s mother and a woman he tries to avoid like the plague, to try to save their beloved daughter from the letch’s grasp. Throw in a supporting cast of characters that could have come out of any British sitcom and you have the makings of a funny, quirky and typically British story. Fergus bumbles his way through the situations that present themselves as he begins to realize what is actually important in his life and what he should be focusing on.

I’ve always been a big fan of good British humour, the darker the better, and Judi Moore has brought us a story in Wonders Will Never Cease that absolutely fits that mould. When I was reading the book, and especially the wonderful, bumbling, but earnest portrayal of Fergus, I couldn’t help but think of those many wonderful sitcoms produced by the British, (Black Books comes to mind here), with their self-deprecating humour and the stuffy, class-ridden characters that inhabit them. I felt Moore perfectly portrayed the sometimes senseless and rarefied, ivory-tower atmosphere that is academia the world over, but more especially so in the British system. I particularly enjoyed the age-old debate of the importance of the classics and humanities in the university system, as opposed to science and business, something that was such a hot topic in the Thatcher Britain era when this book is set. Comedy and humour is hard to write and good comedy, when discovered, should be cherished and held up for all to see. Moore clearly has her finger on the pulse of what is comedy, and this book certainly encourages me, as a reader, to seek out more of this author’s work.


Hooray for Weymouth library

March 25, 2018

The libraries round here are jolly good. Not least because they now have all four of my titles available to borrow. Huzzah. You can get them from any Dorset library, I understand.

Below is a link to Weymouth library (don’t say I don’t look after you):

I appear just behind Judi Dench.

This is my usual position.


Review: ‘Thirty Poets Go to the Gym by George Szirtes’ (Candlewick Press, 2018)

March 19, 2018

There are three reasons for getting hold of this delightful little volume.

The first is to enjoy thirty completely fresh, amuse-bouche of George Szirtes’ poetry. His facility with words, rhyme, metre, cadence, assonance, consonance is masterful. This is always so with his poetry. But for this collection he is speaking with the voices of others – and he captures those others beautifully.

Which leads on to reason the second: if there are poets amongst those treated in this book that you do not know, this little volume will introduce you to them most engagingly. I had never come across George Herbert before so was particularly entranced by the concrete example (a poem created in the shape of a pair of barbells – a recurrent image in the collection, unsurprisingly) of his seventeenth century style.

I particularly liked the e.e. cummings and the Emily Dickinson pastiches (being both poets that I much enjoy, but occasionally feel are a teensy bit pretentious too): both had me laughing out loud. To name but a few of the others treated, Sylvia Plath and Rainer Maria Rilke are here; also Dante and William McGonagall. But my personal favourite is the Edith Sitwell. If you have never heard William Walton’s Façade, with Sitwell bellowing her poems through a megaphone over the music, then you really, really must remedy that. In the meantime treat yourself to this Sitwell-ese. If possible, bellow it – through a megaphone is ideal (it brings out the rhythm). There isn’t a dud in this collection. And there is even an engaging little coda.

Oh, wait – I said there were three reasons for getting hold of this collection. The third is the completely gorgeous little book in which the poems are contained. The paper is thick and creamy, the cover feels delightful in the hand. The design is restrained and classy. It begs to be given as a gift.


‘Nothe Fort and beyond: in defence of Weymouth & Portland’, (2017) by Susan Hogben

March 19, 2018

Weymouth loves its local history. Books about aspects of it abound. I reviewed another of them recently (Philip Browne’s The Unfortunate Captain Peirce …). Those I have read are characterised by meticulous research and a love of quirky detail. So it is with this book on the creation of Nothe Fort.

The author, Susan Hogben claims this is ‘history that’s not just for historians’, which I think is bang on. Although these days woe betide the historian who attempts to get away with a dry book! Hogben has done the hard work (the research) so you don’t have to. And the result is anything but dry. She has immense affection for the area in general and Nothe Fort in particular. She has a goodly knack for seeing parallels between the era in which it was built and the present day (such as escalating costs, grumbling locals, lack of amenities for summer visitors, bust-ups in the Council chamber) which all sound very familiar.

Hogben has delved into all manner of public and private records for her story and tells it with enthusiasm, interesting segues, vignettes of human suffering and achievement, and plenty of amusing asides. Hogben’s knowledge is worn lightly and the writing style is popular: the saga gallops along (rather more quickly than the construction of the Fort, it must be said).

There is some colourful preamble to the building of the Victorian fort, which skips through the episodes of pirates and privateers, the Civil War, George III’s love of Weymouth and its resultant popularity. Then we arrive at the original reason for south-facing coastal defences being deemed A Good Idea: the French. Relations between France and the United Kingdom blew hot and cold long after Napoleon’s final defeat.

Hogben explains the prodigious role of the Royal Engineers in the construction of the fort. Nothe headland and its adjacent coasts are soft and prone to land slips. Trying to create a fort which would stay where it was put (on top of the cliff) and be strong enough to mount a shore-based battery of guns, which kept increasing in size as technology improved, was no easy task. And became increasingly expensive. That Victorian engineers were able, in the end, to build a thing of strength and beauty on the site and enable local folk to continue to use it for pleasure, piloting and weather watching, is a testament to common sense and co-operation.

Because of the ongoing building works undertaken by the army, there was a constant coming and going of soldiers during the years of the fort’s construction. In the main Weymouth’s citizens were glad of them. They provided husbands, a steady income for publicans, entertaining military bands and an extraordinary number of amateur dramatic shows. I have often been heard to mutter ‘what is it with British men and cross-dressing?’ when confronted with Monty Python, Dick Emery, Les Dawson et al. I believe Hogben has the answer: military amdram. Many soldiers stationed in Weymouth were or became skilled performers. In periods of idleness for the military (of which there were a surprising number) occupation of this kind was encouraged. And, of course, only one gender was available to take part. I understand now where that peculiarly unlovely, generic type of shrew was born which insisted, ‘he’s not the Messiah. He’s a very naughty boy’ …

The story so far ends with ‘Palmerston’s Follies’ considered obsolete following the defeat of France in 1871. But Nothe Fort and its sister, Verne Citadel, on Portland do come into their own. That story is, I understand, to be told in a second volume, to which I look forward very much.

I was provided with a proof copy for the purpose of this review. It contains a number of typos, occasional inaccuracies and some malaprops. Hopefully these have been rectified in the published edition.

You can obtain a copy of the book here: Nothe Fort and Beyond


‘Books for older readers’

February 28, 2018

My new novel is listed on this website :

As my protagonist and I are both over 50 it seemed appropriate.

He and I both espouse the idea of skidding into our final resting places, whooping like crazy people and shouting ‘wow, what a ride!’

If you are also a not-yet-dead-Fred give it a whirl, why not?

‘A different kind of urban’

February 27, 2018

Here’s a link to the illustrated recording I made of the long poem which was part of the Open University Choir’s commission to celebrate MK50.

‘The Unfortunate Captain Peirce and the Wreck of the Halsewell, East Indiaman, 1786’ by Philip Browne

February 26, 2018

I have been in thrall to this book since the beginning of the year, having borrowed it from Weymouth library (several times). I can’t remember what led me to it as, to the best of my knowledge, the local libraries don’t have a ‘local authors’ section (I have asked, as I would like to be in it, if it existed).

As the Dorset coast is spattered with wrecks one comes across references to books about them quite often. The title of this one immediately piques interest. Why should Captain Peirce be any more unfortunate than any other captain who has experienced shipwreck? The cover gives a clue – in the facsimile of a contemporary painting he is clutching a brace of young girls to his bosom. For this reason the shipwreck became a cause célèbre for several years after it happened. The cover is a reproduction of one of the paintings about the disaster which appeared soon after the event. The young ladies in various states of distress in the painting are mainly daughters and nieces of Captain Peirce. Everyone in the painting died.

However, this is much more than a book about a disaster. Philip Browne has been forensic in mining contemporary records for information about the life of Captain Peirce, his connections, the East India Company and the faraway places it sent its ships to. When Browne says ‘it is likely that …’ one feels confident that he is right. This is a man steeped in the time and places of his book, who probably knows Captain Peirce, and his wife, better than their own family did.

The book begins with Captain Peirce’s first command of a ship. It follows him around the globe, eastwards, then westwards, on each voyage, showing his growing skill as a sailor and navigator, the profits he made, his rise in the world, and not forgetting the baby he gave his wife each time he returned home!

But the disaster looms. As with the movie ‘Titanic’ one knows the ending from the outset. But when it comes one immediately understands why Captain Peirce was designated ‘the Unfortunate’ from the day the Halsewell struck.

I went to hear him talk about how he did his research at Weymouth library on Saturday. Actually, the talk wasn’t about that. Nor did it cover the projected title showing on the day. He spoke, with great enthusiasm, on yet a third variant of his theme – how the ship got into difficulties in the English Channel, which compounded until …

I discovered then that the research took him five years, took him into the bowels of the British Library and other archives (including those of the East India Company), to the Netherlands, and all the way to India. The wreck is his passion.

Browne wears his learning lightly and has written a pacy saga, almost as if it were a novel of the eighteenth century on the high seas and in fashionable society. It is a rare achievement and I commend him highly for it. He has a real talent for turning research into a proper, rollicking, story. Enjoy.

NB If you are local to Weymouth – I have now returned their copy. 😊

Review: The Little Yarnmouth Abduction by Tim Van Minton

February 13, 2018

**Originally written for “BigAl’s Books and Pals” book blog. Received a free review copy.**

The Little Yarnmouth Abduction by [Van Minton, Tim]

Genre: YA/future fiction

Description: the story is set in the far north of Scotland after climate change has melted the great ice sheets. Little Yarnmouth inhabitants have disappeared because of nefarious plans laid by powerful persons living in Middle Langton, across the bay. The kidnapping is performed by members of tribes roving further south than hitherto because of the thaw. The protagonists are two teenagers, Evan and Nira. They are helped by a middle-aged eccentric who lives very comfortably in the sewers beneath Middle Langton; his regular companions are Corporal Punishment and a very large rat.

Author: Tim Van Minton ‘loves cold places and warm people’. Thereafter, different sources give different information. At the end of the book he says he lives in a boat on the north coast of Scotland with two dogs, finishing his next novel; on Goodreads he says he lives mostly in New York with his wife, son and cat. Van Minton plans a trilogy of which The Little Yarnmouth Abduction is the first book. Meanwhile he has written and published St Georges P.R.S. which is another YA book, with leanings towards the paranormal.

Appraisal: When I was a teenager (back when gin was tuppence a tot) there were no books aimed at teenagers. Once one had consumed the contents of the children’s shelves at the library it was on to Mills & Boon and Zane Grey. This may explain why I enjoy the genre now. And what a rich genre it is for writers!

The book’s premise is intriguing. How will people living near what used to be ice sheets fare when those ice sheets are gone? It makes a nice change from witches, wizards, vampires, werewolves and other urban fantasy tropes.

It is when dealing with boats that the story is strongest; be it a dinghy with an outboard, a power launch, a dilapidated coaster, a tug, a mistreated hover craft or a well-maintained patrol vessel, each vessel is lovingly created and completely credible and pertinent to the story. Van Minton loves his boats. As do I. Everyone in the story has recourse to boats as their primary means of transport. The constant threat to water travel from ice bergs is nicely drawn. There are a few references to how the lost ice impacts the world in other ways.

The plot proceeds briskly. Occasionally elements of it feel a bit as if they have been randomly generated. There is a mushroom fight which is an original idea, but stretches credulity. From time to time the suspension of disbelief is difficult to maintain; for example, at one point three people hide behind adjacent, floor-length curtains and are not discovered.

I wondered, almost from the outset (and before I checked) whether the author was American, rather than Scottish – and so it proved. I didn’t get a feel of Scottishness from the story (despite attempts at dialect): rather a sensation of the Pacific Northwest in the USA. Tribes emerging out of the disappearing pack ice, with strangely Native American names such as Conkwoyoto, might have been more believable in that location.

FYI: When the great ice sheets melt, oceans will rise. Substantially. The book does not deal with that at all. I wondered, as I read it, how come the rise in sea level had made no difference to the island on which Yarnmouth and Middle Langton stand: how had it not flooded the sewers, submerged the quays, driven the population to live on the hills? What about the Faroe Islands (which figure in the story): would they not be drowned? Positing little or no rise in sea levels as the Earth warms up flies in the face of current credible scholarship and feels misleading to me.

Format/Typo Issues:  the book would benefit from a thorough edit. Punctuation and spelling aren’t as reliable as they should be. The odd authorial idiosyncrasy  becomes trying. For example, characters ‘cry’ things to each other frequently, often when they have just been shushing each other because people wishing them harm are in close proximity.

Rating: ***

Page length:  206 pp approx


Review: Mona Lisa’s Secret by Phil Phillips

February 13, 2018

**Originally written for “BigAl’s Books and Pals” book blog. Received a free review copy.**

Mona Lisa's Secret: A Historical Fiction Mystery & Suspense Novel by [Philips, Phil]

Genre: History and mystery

Description: This book is described on Kindle as ‘A Historical Fiction Mystery & Suspense Novel Da Vinci Code meets Indiana Jones!’. There is plenty of room for good books in the ‘history and mystery’ genre. It gives nothing away to say that we are revisiting that most complex of Renaissance men, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Priory of Sion who are both guarding and leaving clues to an ancient secret.

Author: here is a link to the website of our Phil Phillips. (There is another Phil Phillips who writes for children: he is not our Phil Phillips). Our Phil Phillips lives in Sydney, Australia and his background is in digital graphic design. He considers himself a modern Renaissance man having an interest in ‘anything and everything’. He strives to create art in everything he does, be it a magazine layout, a painting in oils or writing a thriller. His writing style has, apparently, been compared to James Patterson and Matthew Reilly. He has published two books. Mona Lisa’s Secret is his second. The protagonist – Joey Peruggia – also carries the first book, but this book stands alone just fine.

Appraisal: the book follows Dan Brownian paths. There is plenty of violence (although fortunately nobody loses body parts: I parted company with Dan Brown at that point in The Lost Symbol). There is plenty of historical stitching holding the story together (the Mona Lisa really was stolen in 1911): familiarity with Dan Brown’s tropes is taken as read, but is easy enough to catch up with should you be a history and mystery fan who has never read Dan Brown (you may be the only one …). The action moves from luxury in Los Angeles, to Paris, to the Jura mountains to Cyprus and back to Paris: the author has been to these places and takes pains to spice his scenes with local flavour.

There is plenty of meat to the plot, which is based on some fascinating historical facts with some whopping great ‘what ifs’ added. Who does not enjoy a good ‘what if’? The bigger the better!

There are a few unfocussed and/or unnecessary descriptive passages; the violence becomes a little wearying for this reader (although the hero’s escapes are most inventive); and a number of small tautologies (eg ‘the sink basin’) irritate slightly. There are a couple of plot holes. And I can just imagine what my Cypriot friends would say if they heard Cyprus described as ‘a small Greek island’ (we Europeans view the Med rather differently).

Despite the occasional fuzzy focus, the book gallops along like a horse just on the right side of bolting.

FYI: a fair amount of swearing.

Rating: ****

Approximate page count: 374pp

(for some reason I’m having trouble inserting Amazon links. I’ll let you know when that’s sorted out.)





February 11, 2018

This evening, for at least half an hour, my new book Wonders will never cease  made it into Amazon’s Kindle top 100 satirical novels (soixante neuf, since you ask) one ahead of Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman. Now that’s posh company to be in! It is a teeny tiny,  specialised, list I grant you – but my first.


Wonders will never cease

%d bloggers like this: