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robtwinem

runner

I live in Bristol UK literary fiction and crime are my books of choice and when not reading I like to run

Not for the faint hearted

Filth - Irvine Welsh

If you indulge in Irvine Welsh then expect to be shocked, his writing and his descriptions are at times excruciatingly painful to read. Sergeant Bruce Robertson is a typical Welsh character, he takes what he wants lives life to access and does not care if his actions harm or destroy anyone in the process. He is at heart a narcissist possessing an inflated sense of his own importance involved in numerous female liasions with little or no empathy for others. However underneath this facade is a very troubled possibly suicidal man, and the author uses a very clever way to disclose this to the reader. Robertson's use of alcohol and recreational drugs, with little or no intake of nutrition, have caused a deterioration in his health and he appears to be harboring an intestinal worm. This parasite becomes the main source of information for the detectives's increasingly bizarre behaviour, a very original and highly entertaining element in a narration not for the faint hearted.

I loved every word

Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall - Kazuo Ishiguro

A truly delightful story. Imagine sipping a cool lager on a sunny afternoon or slipping away on a cloud of your dreams. Japanese storytelling is written in a clear and direct language, so easy to follow and engage with. Locations often range from the atmosphere of cocktail bars to the sleepy world of jazz music. Nocturnes by the wonderful Kazuo Ishiguro has as its theme love and music from the sights and sounds of an always romantic Venice to the picturesque quintessentially English Malvern Hills. It comprises 4 stories, loosely connected, cleverley presented, lovingly told….Highly, highly recommended.

Delightful story

Before the Coffee Gets Cold - Toshikazu Kawaguchi, Geoffrey Trousselot In a little back alley in downtown Tokyo lies a small cafe and for the price of a cup of hot coffee you the customer can be transported back (or forward) in time. You may select this occasion to see a loved one, or revisit an event of your choosing. Told in the free flowing style reminiscent of such esteemed Japanese authors as Murakami and Ishiguro, Before the coffee get cold, is a delightful little story that will make you smile. Many thanks to the good people of netgalley for a gratis copy in exchange for an honest review and that is what I have written.

The friendship bird

The Penguin Lessons - Tom Mitchell

On holiday and on a beach in Uruguay Tom Mitchell rescues a lone penguin from many thousands who have died due to oil polution. From this tragedy, perpetrated by arguably the penguins greatest enemy...humans, comes a novel of friendship, love and sadness as we laugh and cry at the survival of Juan Salvador (the penguin!) and the wonderful and lasting affect he has on all those who come into contact with him. Highly recommended!

A sobering account

Dresden - Sinclair McKay

Full of controversy this powerful novel explores and examines the carpet bombing of Dresden, an outstanding medieval German city almost totally annihilated by the British and American bomber crews under the auspices of Arthur “bomber” Harris. It examines the events of that cold February night in 1945 from the accounts of not only the survivors on the ground but the bomber crews tasked with this mission of what could only be described as an operation of annihilation. The heart of this superbly researched book is the question...can such death and destruction ever be considered as acceptable behaviour whatever the cause or purpose?

Wonderful read

By Ian McEwan The Children Act - Ian McEwan

Fiona Maye and husband Jack live a life of relative luxury in Grays Inn London. She is a high court judge as well as an aspiring concert pianist. One morning Jack decides to find himself a younger lover as Fiona it would appear is not sympathetic to his needs, and so departs the family home. This does little to comfort a lady who is aware of the march of time, the unflattering affect and the cost that must be paid as the human body ages….”...her body looked foolish in the full-length mirror. Miraculously shrunken in some parts, bloated in others. Bottom heavy. A ridiculous package. Fragile, This Way up. Why would anyone not leave her?....” At work in the law court “my lady Fiona” is presented with a very difficult case and her decision will prove to have very far reaching and lasting consequences on all parties involved. A 17 year old boy is desperately ill in hospital and is refusing a blood transfusion which could ultimately save his life. His religious beliefs and that of his parents is viewed by the family as more important than life saving intervention…..”Religions, moral systems, her own included, were like peaks in a dense mountain range seen from a great distance, none obviously higher, more important, truer than another. What was to judge?...”

 

Written in the delightful prose of Ian McEwan, one of England’s greatest living authors, The Children Act is mesmerizing. The writer captures beautifully the everyday life and the important work of the English High Court and through the eyes of Fiona Maye we begin to understand difficult decisions that must be made and consequences thereof. A wonderful book which I devoured in one sitting full of insight, understanding and profound observation….”Didn’t you tell me that couples in long marriages aspire to the condition of siblings? We’ve arrived Fiona. I’ve become your brother…”
Highly highly recommended.

Enjoyable read

The Last Good Man - Thomas McMullan

Duncan Peck is visiting his childhood friend James Hale, in a small village, a rural retreat. At the outskirts of the village there is positioned, rather mysteriously, a large wall. It would appear the wall is used as a means for the villagers to communicate between themselves or more particularly to accuse fellow citizens of wrongdoing and ultimately decide and carry out appropriate punishment. A sudden dark unexpected incident results in accusations being directed towards Peck who quickly understands that departure may be the most attractive option.

 

As well as being a good novel The Last good man reminded me of the writing style of Bernard Taylor. There are elements of horror and a very uneasy at times frightening storyline. I thought the closing chapters were very neatly structured and the fate of Duncan Peck was not quite what I expected and a great credit to the author’s undoubted writing ability. Many thanks to the good people at netgalley for a gratis copy in exchange for an honest review and that is what I have written.

Brutal

Feebleminded - Ariana Harwicz A short intense brutal story of the relationship between a mother and her daughter. Feebleminded explores issues of need, dependency, and love in a language and style that is ferocious in its execution leaving the reader drained by this assault on his senses that has just taken place.

The spirit of man

Into the Silence The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest by Davis, Wade [Knopf,2011] (Hardcover) - aa

“...caught on the barbed wire, drowned in mud, choked by the oily slime of gas, reduced to a spray of red mist quartered limbs hanging from shattered branches of burnt trees, bodies swollen and blackened with flies, skulls gnawed by rats, corpses stuck in the sides of trenches that aged with each day into the colours of the dead”............”This was not war he wrote; it was the monstrous inversion of civilization. To call it war was to imply that something of the sun remained, when in fact all that existed was a bruised sky in a bitter night of cobalt rain”......”Not a village had been taken, nor a single major objective achieved. Machine guns cut the men down like scythes slicing through grass”....

 

And so starts this epic novel of human endurance and human spirit told against the backdrop of the senseless slaughter of WW1 and the cold unforgiving heights of a treacherous Mt Everest. Before George Mallory embarked on his third, and what was to tragically prove his final attempt at ascending this great mountain, he was asked what was the purpose of conquering such a merciless foe he simply replied….because it is there. Yet such a simple response hides the enormity of the task that faced Mallory and Irvine as they  set about vanquishing all their fears and summit this frozen mountainous landscape, many years removed from the mud and blood of never to be forgotten names...Ypres, Verdun, Somme (the Somme in particular accounting for more than a million men from all sides killed wounded or captured, British casualties on the first day alone amounting to over 57,000) It is perhaps of little wonder that the men who had survived the battle fields embraced with such passion a need to climb, a need to cleanse their souls, find some meaning in wasted lives, sacrifice, and perhaps by reaching out they might touch the hand of God…

 

Into the silence is a large novel that requires some perseverance and dedicated reading time to fully appreciate what is being described to the reader. I felt that the earlier part of the book with its gory WW1 imagery was some of the most disturbing I have ever encountered. The preparation for and the 3 ascensions of Everest were a little too detailed giving at times overlong historical and geographical descriptions as various permissions were sought and the lower reaches of Everest constantly surveyed in an attempt to select the best and most practical route for a successful ascent. This however is a minor criticism and for the most part I was enthralled by this boy's own adventure unfolding before me, where amongst other noteworthy facts oxygen was used for the first time. If we also appreciate how simplistic the standard of equipment was compared to the present then the achievements of these earlier innovators is outstanding. Many years were to pass before the ultimate fate of Mallory and Irvine was known, it had always been hoped that they had reached the summit and that speculation still remains today even though Mallory’s body was discovered in 1999 it gives little clue as to his final moments…

 

An important read not only for its historical significance  but a wonderful study of the essence of man and his ability to rise above all adversity in the search of a dream…..”from that day it was certain that he had found in snow mountains the perfect medium for the expression of his physical and spiritual being”......”His great desire she wrote very simply was for the spirit of man to exercise itself freely and fearlessly and joyously as a climber on a hill”.......

Highly Recommended

Suburban frolics

Hours Before Dawn The - Celia Fremlin

Louise a put upon housewife with 3 siblings lives in middle class splendour with a husband unable or unwilling to help by taking joint responsibility for the day to day management of a busy household. This is a novel of its time set in late 1950's England when it was supposedly expected for the man of the house to be the bread winner and his wife to attend not only to a busy daily routine but also a demanding sibling schedule and a lazy needy husband.

 

Into this chaos steps Miss Brandon her role as housekeeper to alleviate the stress that colours Louise's every waking moment. It soon becomes apparent that Miss Brandon has a hidden agenda and may not be quite as charming or helpful as she appears on first blush. This is an enjoyable, forgotten (until recently) suburban tale that it could be argued paves the way for the deluge of psychological thrillers that now confronts a sometimes confused reader on a daily basis. Will Miss Brandon reveal her true self? Will the husband finally accept his parental responsibility and by so doing allow Louise to embrace the only thing that she really wants.....a good nights sleep!

Drab police procedural

Out for blood - Deborah Masson

The body of a young girl is found hanged in woods near the Scottish town of Aberdeen. Closer examination leads to the conclusion that death occurred prior to the hanging raising the possibility of murder. When a second body, the son of a wealthy businessman is discovered, police begin to fear that both deaths may be related.

 

This is a standard police procedural with the lead detective DI Eve Hunter returning to full time duty after a terrifying previous investigation. She is joined by DS Mark Cooper himself coping with personal difficulties (since when have policemen never had complicated lives!) The story involves elements of human trafficking, old Etonians, privileged fathers and sons using their wealth to furnish their own selfish and greedy desire without a thought for the consequences. I found this novel drab, uninteresting storyline, unnecessarily complex, and a cast of characters displaying the usual traits of unhappy social/personal lives, traumatic past events hindering their ability to adequately carry out their daily duties. Many thanks to the good people at netgalley for a gratis copy in exchange for an honest review and that is what I have written.

Is this really a booker winner?

Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel

Man booker prize winner! I sometimes wonder if I actually read the same book as all those 5 star reviews. So you may ask what is really the problem with this book and why is it that you either love or hate? For me the writing is just inaccessible, it is impossilbe to tell often who is actually speaking which is only highlighted by the sparse use of punctuation. I am able to just about understand the main threads of the narrative: Henry hoping to persuade the Roman Catholic church to acknowledge his divorce from Catherine of Aragon and his wedding to Anne Boleyn who he expects to be a virgin on the big day! It is hoped therefore that Anne will do as the king wishes and not lose her head (little play on words :)

Meanwhle Thomas Cromwell, lawyer, statesman and chief minister to Henry V111 is portrayed as bit of a wheeler dealer, ducking and diving, akin to a modern day Alistair Campbell. (Of course if you fell from popularity during the Blair government  you merely were forced to resign, altogether different with dear Henry who had a fixation with head removal :) There are a number of close associates of the king and Cromwell who just suddenly appear in the narrative and soon depart before their role is fully explained or exploited. It is a very tense read, over complicated and a storyline so well hidden under so much dross it tests the stayability of the reader to the nth degree. I bravely stuck to my task until the half way point where just like a sinking ship I had to abandon.......

Poignant

When I come Home Again - Caroline Scott

This is a slow burner, the pace is beautifully set and compliments a very difficult time and subject in the history of the world. Young men sent to fight, sent to be slaughtered in the killing fields of France. Returning home (the lucky?) to be confronted by a society totally unable to deal with the effects of close combat not able to understand ptsd, a word only recognized in the latter days of the 20th century. Adam emotionally damaged by his experiences in the trenches is sent to Fellside House in Durham where he is a patient to James Hawarth, himself also a casualty of the great war. These are men so traumatised and with such severe memory loss that they do not know who they are. Most of Caroline Scott’s novel concerns the many visitors who attend the hospital hoping to find their loved ones last scene on the road to France.

This book wonderfully shows the effect of war not only on the victims but also their immediate family; wives, mothers, lovers girlfriends…who individually visit Fellside in the hope that their visit will give them the answers they yearn for. A most enjoyable read. Many thanks to the good people at netgalley for a gratis copy in exchange for and honest review and that is what I have written.

Chocks away

Operation Chastise: The RAF's Most Brilliant Attack of World War II - Max Hastings

When I was a child I was thrilled to read the wonderful WW2 adventure stories by Scottish author Alistair Maclean. I mention this because The Dam Busters, on first blush, reads like a thriller, a boys own yarn, from the aforementioned author. However, as we know, the story of the Dam Busters is not an imaginary tale but rather an audacious attack right into the heart of Nazi Germany.

 

It was a time of world war, stagnation, constant heavy “carpet” bombing missions under the leadership of the somewhat controversial Arthur Harris. Harris appeared to be accomplishing little, the only way to mark/pinpoint a target from a Lancaster bomber was by use of a compass, a map, and a sharp pair of young eyes. It is therefore of little surprise that targeted carpet bombing had very limited success, and it is against this background that an enigmatic Barnes Wallis unfolds his bouncing bomb.

 

3 dams were chosen; the Mohne, the Sorpe and the Eder. A special 617 squadron was created under the auspices of Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson, VC, DSO & Bar, DFC & Bar, and a fleet of Lancaster bombers were requisitioned and accordingly modified to carry the inventors explosive device. In order to deliver the bouncing bomb at the centre of the chosen dam, great concentration, precision and nerve were demanded from the crew of the attacking plane. A modern generation can never imagine how brave and utterly fearless those young men inside the Lancaster bomber were. To fly at a height of only 60ft, under constant attack by enemy fire, and expected to destroy a specified target needs a certain type of resilience, a certain type of superhero. When you realize that an airman was expected to complete 30 missions as part of a tour it is little wonder that few survived beyond the first few.

 

There have been those who have voiced great concern and justification at the implementation of such at such a foolhardy mission. Not only a great loss of so many young airmen but equally devastating to those residents who lived immediately below and therefore directly in the path of a fast approaching mountainous volume of water. However Britain needed a hero, something to cheer for, in the stagnant waters of the early 1940’s, and a young boyish aircrew led by the flamboyant, abrasive Gibson aptly filled that role. Max Hasting’s “Chastise” is a truly inspiring, magnificent book. It brings to life a story of a daring mission deep into the heart of a hostile nation. How fearless young men were prepared to fight and most probably die for the greater good, free from oppression and tyranny so that future generations could live in relative freedom……. “We lived supremely for the moment. Our preoccupation was the next patrol, our horizon the next leave. Sometimes, jokingly, as one discusses winning the Derby Sweep, we would plan our lives after the war. But this had no substantial significance. It was a dream, conjecturable as heaven, resembling no life we knew. We were trained with one object -to kill. We had one hope - to live”.....Wonderful inspiring writing and highly recommended.

Outstanding

Remain Silent - Susie Steiner

This is a gutsy, unique, very realistic crime novel. A wonderful lead character, DI Manon Bradshaw, coping with the pressure of trying to run 2 major police investigations and a personal life with many pressures, and unwanted devastating news. She is a lady we can all identify with, the work life balance, enjoying a successful career without destroying a young marriage. This is not a normal police procedural in which the unravelling of the facts leads to the identification of the perpetrator….it is so much more than that. Susie Steiner has been able to showcase and bring to our attention issues that influence our daily lives, not only in the UK but throughout the world: Racism, modern day slavery, people kidnapping/trafficking, neo-Nazi groups, immigration, exploitation, ill equipped police force, prejudice. It expertly highlights internal and external pressures a career police man/woman has to accommodate in order to survive in a world where we are led to believe we can have it all.

A body is discovered hanging from a tree in the Cambridgeshire woods with the words, “The dead cannot speak”, attached as a note to the body. What a fabulous way to start a novel, what numerous possibilities enter the mind of the reader. Did he jump or was he pushed? Like the opening of Pandora’s box what on first blush appears a relatively simple investigation unfolds in a web of hate, racism, and political intrigue. Manon is not a woman to accept defeat, as she struggles with her personal life caring for partner Mark, and her two children. She is determined to be successful in a career where cynicism and politics rule supreme.

 

“They barely touch each other these days, her and Mark. The bed is an icy canyon they cannot cross”……

“Why does this mental load descend with such force? Is it late middle age? The anxiety has smothered her libido once as bouncy as a Labrador pup”….

“It’s flexing in and out of a relationship that’s difficult. It’s the same after intense jobs- twenty hours at work, then domesticity, the supermarket”….

“There are phases of life that are depressing, when it feels as if things are ending-vigour, fertility, excitement, pleasure- and nothing now seems to be coming over the horizon”….

 

This is not just a story it is a literary achievement. It is captivating in its ability to get under the skin of what it is like to live, of what it is like to survive in a world obsessed by social media, a world where achievement and perfect home life is the true value when in reality it is not worth a damn. An outstanding book in both its content and execution. Many thanks to the good people at netgalley for a gratis copy in return for a honest review and that is what I have written. Highly, highly recommended.

Adrenaline rush

Fair Warning - Michael Connelly

Wow….just finished, and what a fantastic read and possibly one of the best books written by Mr Connelly. Jack McEvoy, you Connelly devotees will remember him from The Poet when he was a crime reporter and his brother died in an apparent suicide, and what an andreniline ride that was. Now Jack a man in his 50’s and working for an online “defender of consumer rights” site called Fair Warning, is back and hot on the heels of a killer who uses a bizarre, brutally painful, and unusual way to destroy his victims….atlanto-occipital dislocation (AOD) This is a form of internal decapitation where the spine is separated from the skull. When the body of Christina Portrero is discovered, and Jack’s DNA is identified he becomes a suspect. Now I’m not going to destroy the plot by telling you that Jack did not of course commit the murder, but as he does a little digging he soon discovers that there are a number of similar deaths that appear to be related…..yep the word that we crime readers adore...wait for it….a “serial killer” is on the loose! Hold on for the ride, and I can honestly tell you that this book moves with an unrelenting pace, forget everything...put the cat out, cancel the milkman, switch off the telly, unplug that bloody phone, and just do what we all do naturally….read. We enter the world of DNA, supply and demand, seller and purchaser and of course shady trading on the darknet. Jack once again finds himself working alongside ex FBI agent Rachel Walling, hoping to ignite that old flame of passion, and entice the delectable Rachel back to his lonely single man flat!. There are false leads, a super (nasty villain) and a well researched intelligent story, just waiting to be consumed by MC’s hungry and adoring fans!

 

After some 25 years as one of the leaders in American crime fiction, Michael Connelly shows no signs of waning, the writing is taut, fresh, no wasted words or descriptions, simply great storytelling….if you only read one crime novel this year, this is it...many many thanks to the good people at netgalley for a gratis copy in exchange for an honest review and that is what I have written….Highly, highly recommended.