Thursday, 31 July 2014


Please note: This review does contain spoilers of the plot.

The new Brooke Kinley adventure by AS Bond is a rip roaring page turner which is a thriller in the mode of a B movie picture with A class ideals and intrigue. Remember the film Eagle Eye which had a great cast yet got seemingly lost in the shuffle and you forgot about it until I just mentioned it again, starting Shia Lebeouf, Michelle Monaghan and Michael Chilikis.  That film focused on an elaborate assassination attempt using people who became mere pawns in the hands of someone else's larger plans.

In this post 9/11 world, Patriot makes us realise that America's greatest threat may come within as it uses the trope of a non-nuclear bomb with an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) as the trigger, similar to the pinch in the 2001 version of Oceans Eleven.  The plan by the terrorists is to send America back to the dark ages, and have the contracts to rebuild the nation.

What begins as a journalistic investigation by our protagonist Brooke, soon descends into a paranoid thriller in the vein of the 1970s The Parallex View and Days of the Condor.  Kinley finds herself in the wilderness of Canada where she encounters pilot Dex who himself is looking for a missing brother.  Their crossed paths means they must help each other to their eventual outcome.

Helping Brooke out along through all this is Department of Defence employee, Scott Jensen, who in some respects is the better protagonist considering he is the more active out of him and Brooke, and he fact that Brooke is unconscious for a good few chapters.

Scott is reminiscent of Jack Reacher, whilst smaller in stature, he is however a man who thinks on his feet and chivalrous to the end.  Scott attempts that which anyone would do in any of he situations encounters. Scott's patriotism and conduct becoming of a white knight is telling when you realise that AS Byatt is a female, her ideal of a man is clear.

Whilst this reader found Scott a more engaging character, it is still Brooke who has the curtain call with a crowning moment of journalistic triumph.

Byatt writes with a briskness and ease which makes the book so winning, although I found the inevitable coupling of Brooke and Dex a little underwhelming, not to say the writer cannot write romance, the action and intrigue were far more convincing.

However, Patriot, should still garner your attention and the pay off is both entertaining and satisfying if you stick with it.

Patriot is out now on Amazon kindle for £1.79 and is published by Castle Books.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Brian and Johnny - Football Conundrum

The Cleveland Browns are in an enviable position at this moment in time in the AFC North Division of the NFL. They are a young team that has struggled for several years and ended up 4-12 last season. They were not helped by the injury sustained to quarterback Brian Hoyer when he showed maturity and much needed stability for a side that suffered with Brandon Weeden as a starting QB the season previously.

Yet during the 2014 draft they hit the jackpot so to speak by grabbing vaunted draft prospect and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel in the first round. Questions then began to circulate that would Johnny Football be the starter for the Browns.

Critics and pundits have long had an opinion that Manziel whilst talented will not be able to translate to the professional level due to his size and lack of arm strength.  Yet Manziel does win football matches as his play in the Bowl victory versus Duke can testify.  However, will Manziel have the same protection as he was afforded at Texas A&M.

The opinion after four days of training camp appears to be that Brian Hoyer will hold onto the starting job following his recovery from a season ending knee injury.  Hoyer is a game manager and a good reader of pressure from defence and rushing linebackers.

The reason we mention about game management is because the Browns are in a position where for once they have to think long term instead of a short term failure.  The AFC North is in a state of flux currently, the Ravens are still suffering a Super Bowl hangover and are now crippled by the max contract they gave to Joe Flacco as well as the suspension given to Ray Rice. The Pittsburgh Steelers are relying on their defence to make plays whilst Big Ben learns Todd Haley's comet of a play book. And the Cincinnati Bengals who have been to he playoffs for three consecutive years remain an uninspiring bunch.

Looking at the schedule the Browns have to play, six games versus those division rivals, they also face the AFC South, NFC South and two very winnable games versus the Oakland Raiders at home and the Buffalo Bills away. They probably get the four better teams at home; New Orleans, Tampa, Indy and Houston, a fortuitous slice of luck from the scheduling computer. They could easily be 5-3 or 4-4 after the first eight games which would be good progress as they would have more wins or as many as last year.

To achieve this they need to give Hoyer the keys; he has greater accuracy with his arm, shows composure in the pocket and is not afraid to use his feet if necessary.  The reason to utilise Manziel is due to his mobility and capability of running plays as the running backs of the Browns depth chart does not inspire confidence.  Yet if Hoyer is making first downs and the play calling for Ben Tate or Chris Ogbonnaya is correct, then things may happen.

In spite of the Josh Gordon suspension hanging over the team, there is talent at their disposal.  Tight end Jordan Cameron is a stud in waiting and made some big plays throughout the season, though petered out near the end of his rookie season. Yet three wide receivers in Miles Austin, Travis Benjamin and Nate Burleson are no slouches at all.

The answer should be an obvious one, let the veteran guide the ship and if he finds it hard to stay afloat let the young whippersnapper off his leash.  Perhaps Manziel could be the first substitution QB the guy who comes on in last quarter to make big plays, stretch defences and cause panic.  Hoyer has to be used as the man to keep games close, as people forget the Browns defence is better than their record suggests.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

England Cricket in Crisis

Following the embarrassing 2nd test defeat at Lords yesterday, it seems it cannot get any lower for the England cricket team.  Having now gone 10 test matches without a victory, there seems to be more and more questions without any hint of an answer coming from within the England Cricket Board.

Yet how has it got this bad? Following the 5-0 whitewash in Australia, the decision was made to keep   Alastair Cook and remove the combustible Kevin Pietersen.  Rest was the order of the day for many senior players who missed the Caribbean one day series before the T20 World Cup in Bangladesh.  Yet the results have not improved. A test defeat to Sri Lanka has been followed by inept cricket in two tests thus far versus an equally inept Indian side.

What is the solution? Do England make wholesale changes? Do they remove the senior players for a new zest of youth and form players. In this test series only four players can be picked on form; Gary Ballance, Joe Root, Moeen Ali and Liam Plunkett.  Tellingly there is only one bowler in my list, and he was nowhere near the Ashes squad in November.  It seems that Jimmy Anderson has got slower, Stuart Broad is again injured and Ben Stokes' poor batting form is affecting his batting.  Plunkett, meanwhile, has transferred his early season county form for Yorkshire to the test arena.

Therein is an answer. Plunkett played domestic first class cricket and his batting has been useful also. However, Anderson and Broad had torrid winters and Stokes lost to a locker room door in a straight fight.  Dropping Chris Jordan sent out the wrong message, he has youth and pace on his side as well as a desire to succeed and achieve.

Perhaps too many of these senior players have achieved too much and now want to gain riches of the IPL, where is there short term and long term targets now.  Matt Prior has removed himself from selection for the remainder of the summer and probably played his last game for England, his fitness issues were too much to overcome.  Yet the decision to play him despite being less than 100% fit was indicative of Cook wanting seniority instead of form, when Jos Buttler's one day form was screaming for selection for first test versus Sri Lanka.

Yet the in house hegemony of the England cricket team which is very cliquey and looking after their own is doing a disservice to the players who are and are not picked.  Look at how James Taylor was treated after he played two tests and did nothing wrong, supposedly dropped at the behest of Pietersen who did not rate him. Even the call back of Simon Kerrigan of Lancashire, who was coached by Peter Moores last season is a fair form of nepotism or naivety in not knowing who else is available.

England need to pick players in form. Players like Daryl Mitchell of Worcestershire, Ravi Bopara of Essex, Adam Lyth of Yorkshire and his team-mate Jack Brooks, the bowler. This is unlikely however as England do not pick players or from winning counties. They ignored Mark Alleyne when Gloucestershire was winning every one day competition; have any Lancashire player been selected after they won the domestic title, Glen Chapple remains the best county bowler not to earn an England test cap.

Yet I feel they need to change the order and ask Moeen Ali to open the batting as he does for Worcestershire with Mitchell. Then have Ballance at three, Root at four with Bell at five or six.  England need to have a long look for themselves and if players are not fit then they need to do the honourable thing and stand aside as Prior has done.

It seems England have been more worries about selecting eleven players who will fit the ethos and mindset of a supposed identity, yet when the results are not happening you go back to picking players who will create results and from there a new ethos can be ushered in.

There are many dilemmas to be addressed but only the coach, Moores and the captain, Cook, who should both remain can supply them.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

The Best Thing That Never Happened To Me

Laura Tait and Jimmy Rice have known each other since they were at university. Today they have written a novel together incorporating influences ranging from David Nicholls to the romantic comedy of Richard Curtis.

The novel, tells the on and off again romance between Alex and Holly from their days as teenagers in Yorkshire in 1999 to the present day in London. Holly is a PA sleeping with her boss and in love, whilst Alex moves down to the big smoke as a teacher.

Holly is settled and happy with her boss Richard, yet the arrival of Alex on the scene creates more intrigue.

Using the narrative device of each writer taking their same gender voice, it offers differing perspectives and both sides of the story.  Whilst it could be considered a gimmick the surprising aspect is how similar in voice both Holly and Alex are, they sound a lot like each other and perhaps that is a way of convincing us they are meant to be together.

The flipping of narrative time from present day to 1999 is reminiscent of Nicholls' One Day but whereas Nicholls afforded his characters fifteen years to grow, here you feel Holly and Alex are very much different from their teenage selves, with the past merely a means of showing what might have been.

Book lovers of Lisa Jewell and Mike Gayle as well as those who actually like Love Actually will no doubt read this book in one sitting. The book has a great tempo and feel to it that can withstand a typical Curtis happy ending which although generic is nevertheless successful.

The Best Thing That Never Happened To Me by Laura Tait and Jimmy Rice is out now in paperback from Random House for £6.99

Follow the authors on twitter @LauraAndJimmy