Monthly Archives: April 2020

the hunt for red october

The Hunt for Red October (Jack Ryan #1) by Tom Clancy

From Goodreads:

Here is the runaway bestseller that launched Tom Clancy’s phenomenal career. A military thriller so gripping in its action and so convincing in its accuracy that the author was rumored to have been debriefed by the White House. Its theme: the greatest espionage coup in history. Its story: the chase for a top secret Russian missile sub. Lauded by the Washington Post as “breathlessly exciting.” The Hunt for Red October remains a masterpiece of military fiction by one of the world’s most popular authors, a man whose shockingly realistic scenarios continue to hold us in thrall.

Somewhere under the Atlantic, a Soviet sub commander has just made a fateful decision. The Red October is heading west. The Americans want her. The Russians want her back. And the most incredible chase in history is on…

My Rating: ⭐⭐

I’m sure I’ve read a few of Tom Clancy’s books before but a long time ago. I decided to come back to them off the back of watching the TV show from Amazon. I couldn’t remember any of the story lines so not sure what it’s based on. I’ve also seen the film version of this book a couple of times so had a pretty good idea of the main characters and the storyline.

Overall I was disappointed. There is a huge amount of military jargon used in the story. Some of it is explained but there is just so much of it and so many acrynoms that I couldn’t keep track. Added to that there are an awful lot of characters, most of them minor, which makes it difficult to follow. The story skips about quite a lot which adds to this. Another reviewer described it like “bring your kid to work day” and being dragged around her Dad’s workplace meeting loads of people she didn’t know and in jobs she didn’t understand. I totally understand where she’s coming from!

What saved the book for me (apart from having loads of isolation induced time to spend reading) was the last 30%. Once the US make contact with the sub commander the story really changes. The boring, technical sub chase and evade story is finished and it becomes much more of a standard thriller type story with a military influence. This last bit of the book was enough to make me want to read more of the author and hopefully find out what makes him so popular.

cycling in lockdown

For the last three weeks Ireland has been in pretty much complete lockdown and it’s going to last for at least another two. The majority of businesses and services are closed, unless they are deemed essential, all journeys are prohibited unless they are for a selected list of essential travel reasons and although exercise is permitted we must remain within 2km of our home.

2km seems excessively restrictive at first glance but, depending where you live, this gives decent scope for walking and running. I have two 6km walking routes that stay within the 2km radius and I’ve restarted the None2Run program last week so I’ve been able to get out pretty much every day and vary my exercise to make some attempt to keep it fresh.

the obligatory n2r selfie for the facebook group

I really do miss cycling though! Within the 2km radius I have a number of road options and I have been able to put together an 11km route that I have ridden for a 50km spin and modified for a 100km spin. I didn’t really enjoy them though. The roads are a bad mix of steep hills and rough surfaces and the constant repetition gets boring very quickly. I really do miss the 2-3 hour spins with constantly changing scenery and views that these loops simply don’t provide.

I’ve also dipped my toe in the virtual indoor training world of Zwift. I’ve borrowed a trainer from a friend and have had a couple of short plays as well as completing an FTP fitness test. That was horrible! I’ve done one before based on heart rate so knew what to expect but was curious to find out what my power based training zones were. As the borrowed trainer was a smart trainer it registers power and allowed me to put myself through this form of torture. At the end of the test my FTP was 178 which equates to 2.1w/kg which is definitely towards the lower end of performance. It was a disappointing but not entirely unexpected result based on my declining levels of cycling over the last couple of years. I’ve signed up for Zwift for a month so I’ll give it a few more goes before I make up my mind on how much I like/dislike it.

indoor cycling – outdoors!

I was going to give Zwift another go this morning but really wanted to feel the breeze and that I was out of the house. I didn’t fancy the previous loops as I didn’t want either the hills or the rough surface so I decided to try repeats of the better stretch of road between Crossroads village and Meenlougher which are the two furthest points of this road within the 2km circle and 3km apart. While far from ideal it gave me a short interval route with the breeze against me one way and with me the other. There are a couple of small climbs that can be made more challenging by over-gearing and the surface is OK. I figured that 50km would have led to a repeat of the boredom of my first lockdown route so I kept it to just over the hour and 32.5km in total.

click the image to view on strava

It was about as enjoyable as I could make it but more importantly the sun was shining, I was able to get out in short sleeves and shorts for the first time this year and I was riding my bike 😊

assassin’s quest

Assassin’s Quest (Farseer Trilogy #3) by Robin Hobb

From Goodreads:

King Shrewd is dead at the hands of his son Regal. As is Fitz—or so his enemies and friends believe. But with the help of his allies and his beast magic, he emerges from the grave, deeply scarred in body and soul. The kingdom also teeters toward ruin: Regal has plundered and abandoned the capital, while the rightful heir, Prince Verity, is lost to his mad quest—perhaps to death. Only Verity’s return—or the heir his princess carries—can save the Six Duchies.
But Fitz will not wait. Driven by loss and bitter memories, he undertakes a quest: to kill Regal. The journey casts him into deep waters, as he discovers wild currents of magic within him—currents that will either drown him or make him something more than he was.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This is a complex book to review. It’s very powerfully written but in many ways it’s a difficult read. Some elements of it could do with improvement (Fitz journey to Tradeford being a prime example) and our “hero” Fitz really doesn’t have the happy ending he deserves.

I found the journey through the mountains and the scenes in the quarry (especially the creation of the dragon) difficult to get through. They were slow and full of far too much introspection to make them enjoyable. Fitz suffered through this time and it comes through in the writing which makes it hard to experience.

A few old characters are pretty much dropped from the story. While Burrich is there at the beginning and we see a huge development in the relationship between him and Fitz, he is only a minor player in the second and third sections of the book. Chade pops up now and again but is barely more than a minor character while Molly is pretty much relegated to the background and Patience only gets passing mentions.

A few new characters are introduced. Some of the minor ones are poorly structured constructs for Fitz’s story and quite disappointing. The minstrels on the way to Tradeford and the young girl from the travelling actors on the way to Blue Lake being the worst of all.

Some others are much more interesting, Kettle being the best of them. I’ve seen other reviewers criticise how the author deals with her and her vague warnings to Fitz but it’s obvious to the reader who she is. Her gradual and then reluctant full reveal is very well handled and left me wanting to read more about her back story.

Starling is the other interesting character. She is a deeply wounded person and has become desperate to secure a future for herself by writing the song that will get her a home to grow old in. She flip flops through the story between betrayal and use of Fitz for her own ends to being his friend and supporter. She’s not a nice person overall but, like Fitz, I couldn’t help but warm to her. The author returns to Fitz in future stories and I hope to see more of Starling.

The Fool is back! As well as bringing in new characters the author takes some old, existing characters and makes them the star. Although Fitz is definitely the focus of the trilogy he couldn’t be Fitz without the Fool. The development of their relationship and the growth of the Fool’s character is wonderfully well written and is one of the main strengths of this book. There are so many facets to the character of the Fool that make him so likeable but I won’t go into any of them here as they would all be spoilers.

Finally, the only true friend that Fitz has is Nighteyes. He is his constant and his saviour. One of the discussions Fitz has is concerns about how Nighteyes is developing human characteristics but Nighteyes brushes it off and comments that it is the same for Fitz who has become wolf like in many ways. The power of the bond between them is never ending and becomes stronger all through the book. Although the story starts with how Fitz owes his physical life to Nighteyes it’s clear that he also owes his mental health to him. Nighteyes is the most fascinating and likeable character through all 3 books and even more so in this final installment.

I would like to see the author develop some of the smaller stories into a compilation of short stories or novellas. Kettle and Starling’s back stories and Nighteyes time with the wolf pack would be my Top 3 requests so far, closely followed by the briefly mentioned time with Rolf learning about the Old Blood.

Fitz’s story is definitely not finished, there are two more trilogies to come, but this story is finished. So many books try and drag on their stories and end up killing them but this is a satisfying end with the scope of more to come satisfying everyone. I’m very glad I returned to this trilogy after having read it many years ago.


Predator (Kay Scarpetta #14) by Patricia Cornwell

From Goodreads:

Scarpetta, now freelancing with the National Forensic Academy in Florida, digs into a case more bizarre than any she has ever faced, one that has produced not only unusual physical evidence, but also tantalizing clues about the inner workings of an extremely cunning and criminal mind.

She and her team — Pete Marino, Benton Wesley, and her niece, Lucy — track the odd connections between several horrific crimes and the people who are the likely suspects. As one psychopath, safely behind bars and the subject of a classified scientific study at a Harvard-affiliated psychiatric hospital, teases Scarpetta with tips that could be fact — or fantasy — the number of killers on the loose seems to multiply. Are these events related or merely random? And what can the study of one man’s brain tell them about the methods of a psychopath still lurking in the shadows?

My Rating: ⭐ ⭐

I can’t say I hated this book but I really did dislike a lot about it. Once again it feels badly written. The story has a lot of promise to it, the concept is really good and the killer’s true nature is a good reveal at the end but the author simply develops it badly.

The story starts with a big jump from where the last one left off and there’s no explanation how everyone got to where they did. Marino has turned back into a hateful arsehole and Lucy is off the rails. At least Lucy’s behaviour is explained but that just creates another melodramatic showdown between Kay and Benson that fizzles out before being ignored.

There’s a good buildup in the third quarter of the book that feels like it’s finally going to be a good story but then too much happens too quickly and too many reveals happen too easily with no explanation. With the way Basil’s story was chopped off at the end I’m really struggling to understand the point of his character at all. All the scenes between himself and Benton are simply a waste of the reader’s time.

Some of the investigative sections, particularly with Kay, are really well written and I wish the author would go back to that and forget all the other stuff that she doesn’t seem to be particularly good at.

In my review of Blow Fly #12 I said the following and it pretty much applies here too:

The ending though is terrible! Another reviewer described it as if the author had to go home early and asked her secretary to finish it off for her which is exactly what it feels like – rushed and incomplete and completely unfulfilling.

I have a feeling this may be the end of the road for me with this series.

war of the wolf

War of The Wolf (Last Kingdom #11) by Bernard Cornwell

From Goodreads:

While Uhtred might have regained his family’s fortress, it seems that a peaceful life is not to be – as he is under threat from both an old enemy and a new foe. The old enemy comes from Wessex where a dynastic struggle will determine who will be the next king.  And the new foe is Sköll, a Norseman, whose ambition is to be King of Northumbria and who leads a frightening army of wolf-warriors, men who fight half-crazed in the belief that they are indeed wolves. Uhtred, believing he is cursed, must fend off one enemy while he tries to destroy the other. In this new chapter of the Saxon Tales series—a rousing adventure of courage, treachery, duty, devotion, majesty, love and battle, as seen through the eyes of a warrior straddling two worlds—Uhtred returns to fight once again for the destiny of England.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

I dithered about this rating. I did really enjoy it and it’s definitely better than 3 stars but not quite good enough to get 4. It could be that the series had now been going so long that it’s hard to do anything different with Uhtred and his story.

There is a lot of good in this book. The writing, as ever, is excellent and the historical connections really interesting to the point that I’d often divert to Google to learn more about the background and surrounding stories. I particularly liked the political machinations of this book. There’s a lot of twisting and turning as the main characters try to use and manipulate each other for their own good and to see both the successes and failures of these plans.

I also really like how the author is allowing the characters to get older. Although this means he is limiting the length of the story it does create a new perspective as the series develops. I particularly liked how he described the changes in battle for Uhtred, how he struggled to accept his limits and how those around him helped and supported but also restricted him when he was getting carried away.

I am disappointed with two aspects of the story. I thought there was much more scope for Sigtrygger and Stiora’s story and the feeling throughout this book is that they are now relegated to very minor characters. At the end of the book I got the feeling that their stories are both pretty much over.

I am also disappointed with the Bebbanburg element. So much has been invested in securing Uhtred’s family home to have it pretty much disregarded in this chapter. Maybe the author has other plans, possibly involving Sigtrygger, but I haven’t read any future synopsis yet so I’m not sure.

Finally I found the culmination of the battle with Sköll very clumsy. It was a real Hollywood ending and just felt very unrealistic. It was as if the author had painted himself into a corner and created such an insurmountable task that he needed this unbelievable stroke of luck to save our hero. It just didn’t sit right with me, especially as Uhtred is a wiley enough warrior by now to have avoided it all.

I am very much looking forward to the next installment. Hopefully back to Bebbanburg but I feel that time is now running short for Uhtred as he gets older and Saxon Englaland grows in power and turns its eyes towards Northumbria which has now become “The Last Kingdom“.

round and round and round they go

In January I did my metric century almost by mistake. In February I squeezed it in before going to Switzerland. This month we’re in lockdown so March was going to be a bit difficult.

On Saturday I managed a 51km cycle without leaving the 2km distance from home that we’re now limited to under the latest Irish government lockdown restrictions.

Tempocyclist suggested in a comment that I should ride that loop as a “keep it local” 100km. It was already at the back of my mind but a couple of things were putting me off:

  • My motivation took a nosedive at the weekend. After two weeks the confinement was finally getting to me.
  • I was supposed to be back at work on Monday and the lack of social contact and money concerns sent me into a bit of a funk.
  • I was concerned that I would be in breach of the spirit of the restrictions by doing way more than “brief exercise, no more than 2km from your home”

Monday evening I read on the Audax Ireland WhatsApp group where one of the members was stopped by the Gardai while doing local loops, was challenged for being out cycling and given the all clear when he explained where he lived and what he was doing. I thought fuck it and fuck feeling sorry for myself. I lubed up my chain, charged my Garmin, filled my water bottle and left my kit ready for the morning.

I set an alarm for Tuesday to give me a kick start. I figured if I lay on I’d get lazy and talk myself out of it again. A hearty breakfast and a shower to waken me and I was on the road by 10am (I know, it hardly qualifies as early!). I rode a slightly modified version of Saturday’s loop. It involved riding shorter 5km mini loops with a more gradual 60m elevation increase in the middle of the larger loop. I didn’t fancy riding that big hill 9 times in the one day.

Even with this modification it was tough! It was almost 1300m total elevation which is probably the most climbing I’ve done on that distance. The roads are partly secondary R roads but mostly rural L roads with poor surfaces, almost constant bumps and rattles and two short sections with large portholes and gravel on lots of corners.

With all the physical challenges this was also a big mental challenge. The reason I cycle is at least partly to enjoy the scenery and I love riding new routes and roads. This was the complete opposite, riding a remarkably uninteresting and difficult route over and over with no opportunity to relax concentration and being close enough to home to throw the head and pack it all in at any time.

The one advantage of riding so close to home is the ability to ride “light“. No rain gear, no extra clothes, no food, no tools, spare tubes, CO2 or pump and only one water bottle. Everything was <2km away if the weather changed or I got a puncture and the plan was to break about halfway at home for food and a water refill.

In the end I didn’t break until just over 72km. My breakfast carried me farther than I thought and I became concerned that stopping too early would make it difficult to restart. I was aiming for 75km as that would bring out my stubborn streak to finish and would involve only one final climb of the big hill.

I had no problem restarting after a short break but the last 28km was really hard. I was tired, my lower back was starting to spasm, my ass and shoulders were feeling the near constant road vibration and I was finding concentration difficult to maintain. I made two mistakes on the spin, one almost going into the ditch when I looked away from the road to check my speed on a fast narrow descent at about 60km and the second in the last 15km when I went wide to take a corner without checking over my shoulder when an unexpected van was overtaking me. Both were lack of concentration due to tiredness.

I eventually finished after 4.5hrs with 1287m in 101km and an average speed of 22.6km/h. I would love to say I finished with a sense of achievement but it was more like relief. I don’t think I enjoyed a single minute of the full ride and I really hope I have another option when it comes to April. I am glad I did it though and managed to keep my metric streak running.

click the image to view on strava