3824 Followers
143 Following
robtwinem

runner

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

Powerful and thought provoking

Giovanni's Room - James Baldwin

What a wonderful yet very powerful read. David is betrothed to Hella, he is an American living in Paris waiting for his lover to join him. A chance meeting at a Paris bar with a young attractive Italian, Giovanni, results in David questioning values that he has always believed to be true. He takes a decision that will profoundly alter the course of his life, with devastating consequences.

 

Giovanni's room poses the question, do we as humans follow convention and lead a life and follow a set of codes that is expected of us, or should we throw caution to the wind and by so doing be true to our self. A story that it is impossible not to be affected by and issues as important today as when the novel was first published. Highly Recomended

A ponderous read

The Regeneration Trilogy - Pat Barker

It was with great anticipation that I turned my inquisitive reading mind towards Pat Barker’s 1st WW extravaganza The Regeneration Trilogy. The paperwork version, of this former booker prize winner, boasts just under a 900 page word count and demands some serious attention and dedicated reading time. Having recently reread and loved Sebastian Faulks monumental Birdsong, I was hopeful that Regeneration would provide equal if not better stimulus.

In reality The Regeneration Trilogy (as the name implies) is not one but 3 books namely; Regeneration, The Eye in the Door, and The Ghost Road. It follows the fortunes and life of army psychologist William Rivers, and patients under his professional care damaged by the fallout of WW1. It is hoped that Rivers can repair not only their damaged bodies but more importantly their disturbed minds, broken by the sights and sounds of the bloody battlefield they have so recently been exposed to. One such eminent patient was the poet Siegfried Sassoon who was sent for immediate medical attention to River’s war hospital, when in reality he was a conscientious objector. Other worthy notables were poet and author Robert Graves, and the tragic wartime poet Wilfred Owen.

 

Quite simply Regeneration is much too wordy, and it is a constant battle not to get lost in the endless discussions and debates that make up the majority of the 900 pages. The exception however is in the persona of damaged soldier Billy Prior. By his actions, and his live for the moment nihilistic approach, we come a little way to understanding the crude approach adopted by physicians, in their treatment of soldiers, many years before the emergence and world recognition of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The art of acceptance

In One Person - John Irving

John Irving's novels are recognizable "in general" by their mighty page content and some might not feel comfortable with the committment needed to finish such a wordy novel, but that would be unfortunate.

 

In essence "In one Person" is a study of attitude and tolerance (or not) towards our individual sexuality and in particular it addresses variance in sexual preference/behaviour from what is perceived as normal. The story is told through the eyes of Billy Dean, his colourful family and their life in small town rural America. In particular special mention, and indeed praise should be directed at Miss A Frost, librarian, a wonderful lady with a secret, brave and courageous past.

 

I love this story; it is offbeat, it is brave (encompassing the cruel burden of the aids epidemic and the destruction it reaped on a young mostly male population) it implores you the reader to rethink and question how we judge those who do not conform, and by so doing accept it is not wrong to be different. Highly recommended.

Snowball does not hit the spot!

Snowball - Gregory Bastianelli

Snow creates a wonderful setting and atmosphere and is particularly effective when applied to a horror story. This crisp souless, and silence stage needs little extra in the way of descriptions or characters....the silence says it all....

 

For the first 25% of Snowball the scene is set; a snowplough breaks down in the foulest of New Hampshire weather, leaving in its trail an asortment of abandoned vehicles. The occupants all regroup to recover in an RV, itself a casualty of the snowy conditions. With time on their hands this reluctant cast of survivors retell stories of unusual and horrific happenings from winters past. From this moment Snowball desintegrates into a rather laughable series of events more suitable to a teenage readership than the audience it was intended. Many thanks to netgalley for a gratis copy of Snowball in exchange for an honest review and that is what I have written.

A monumental achievement

Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks

A senseless slaughter of innocent lives, young men, brothers, cousins, family connections living in the same towns and villages, lined up at the front of water logged trenches waiting for the whistle and their date with destiny.

It is 1910, four years before  the start of World War 1 and Stephen Wraysford, an industrialist from the north of England, is on a visit to a family in Northern France, in the small town of Amiens where an exchange of business ideas is about to take place. An intorduction to Isabelle Azaire, the wife of Rene Azaire leads to a passionate affair which has repercussions and for reaching consequences long into the future.

 

We move forward to the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, the enevitable commencement of hostilities and a blood bath on a scale never before witnessed. Wraysford's command is that of Lieutenant in charge of a small group of "tunnel rats". Their function is to infiltrate the German troops by tunnelling underneath their forward line, plant explosives, and in the resulting mayhem, offer the allies an opportunity to advance. Given that the same tactic is employed by both sides there is little or nothing to be gained, apart from the inevitable sacrifice of human life.

 

Birdsong is one of the greatest books ever written and it has been a real joy for me to rediscover again 25+ years after it's debut. Not only is it a statement about the futility of war, war is inevitable it is endemic in the human spirit, but equally it is a love story, the passion that can bind two people together nomatter the circumstances. Birdsong is a book of good and evil, of love and death, a momumental literary achievement of one of the saddest events in the history of mankind.

Utter nonsense

She has a Broken Thing where her Heart should be - J.D. Barker

A disappointing read, overlong, coming of age story concerning Jack Thatch and his infatuation with a young mysterious girl called Stella. Comic book characters, dressed in long white coats brandishing guns and driving high powered SUV's. Add to this a police investigation that is attempting to unravel the significance of charred bodies dressed immaculately and you have a story (I use the term loosely) with no merit whatsoever...utter nonsense!

A difficult read

A thousand moons - Sebastian Barry

Sebastian Barry writes in a certain literary style that you will either warm to or, as in my case, you will find his prose difficult to appreciate. The story is set against the American civil was and concerns a young Lacota Indian girl called Winona Cole who is adopted by William MrNulty and John cole. Through her eyes we are witness to persecution and hatred displayed everyday against a diminishing indigenous Lacota tribe. Whilst the story has merit and the events set against a harsh and unforgiving environment makes for difficult and at times challenging reading, it was not a story I particularly enjoyed.

Very disappointing

The Deep - Alma Katsu

Having read and enjoyed The Hunger by Alma Katsu I was looking forward to The Deep, an old fashioned ghost story occuring aboard the doomed luxury liner Titanic. Katsu chooses well documented historical events and attempts to inject a supernatural element around approaching disaster. I found The Deep to be a very uninspiring read, a story that moved backwards and forwards in time, and the ghostly apparitions when they occur, towards the end, did little to add any excitement or enjoyment to a very mediocre read.

Reading progress update: I've read 80%.

Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks

A magnificent story even better on a 2nd reading...

Magnificent, heartbreaking, unforgettable

Invisible - Paul Auster

Adam Walker, student, is invited to the house of lecturer Rudolf Born. Here he meets the seductive and solitary Margot. His relationship to Margot is secondary to an incident that occurs when in the company of Born, something so disturbing that Walker carries it with him for the rest of his life.

This is a magnificent novel. Paul Auster's writing so captivating, so powerful that even when he diverts into areas that some my term taboo he does it with style and conviction, that the reader cannot help but be moved.

The action moves swiftly between Walker's youth and his later years, between Paris and New York, and there is a feeling of justice pervailing in the final chapters. I quite simply loved this book, it is short, sharp, poignant, brutal and unforgettable, in equal measures. Highly Recommended.

Complex yet rewarding

4321 - Paul Auster

Told throught the eyes of Archie Ferguson 4321 is really a picture of 60's America with all its dirty laundry on show! Racism, Vietnam war, Tricky Dick, anti war demonstrations, student unrest/riots, the summer of love, free love, the beautiful pill, Martin Luther King, JFK, KKK, Manson, one small step for man, rampant consumerism, Bay of pigs, Woodstork, Oswald, Ruby, Khrushchev, Che Guevara, Castro, marijuana, lsd, helter skelter...the list is endless

The novel poses the question...what if we could live our lives over again, would we make the same decisions? the same mistakes? would we choose the same or a different path? This is cleverly achieved as the author introduces not one Archie Ferguson but 3 and we follow their separate lives as individually they make different decisions with different outcomes.

The book is enjoyable, Paul Auster is an accomplished, and clever wordsmith but at over 1000 pages (paperback) it is in need of some critical word management/editing. At times brilliant, at times challenging, at times confusing  the story moves forwards and backwards at a franatic pace and needs some serious reading time devoted solely for the purpose of completion.

Lyrical and oh so beautiful

The Offing - Benjamin Myers

A coming of age story beautifully told. It is a time of hope just after the 2nd World War and Robert Appleyard goes for a walk in the beautiful Durham countryside. He encounters Dulcie Piper; a recluse, who lives off the land and she welcomes 16 year old Robert into her home. She recognizes in him a young man on the cusp of adulthood and through her guidance and tuition she attempts to instil in him some decent values. It is the lyrical writing of the author Benjamin Myers that makes this story a joy to read….”The day was scented with the perfume of jupp trees imbuing everything with fresh hope and renewed courage…..”Grief is a swallow he said. One day you wake up and you think its gone but its only migrated to some other place warming its feathers. Sooner or later it will return”……..”what is war: its started by the few, and fought by the many, and everyone loses in the end”…..”Great journeys are never about the destination”…..”The night alone had me drunk enough, in time it took me entirely”…”There is poetry in silence but both don’t stop to make it”… Highly recommended

Atmospheric and very unsettling

Starve Acre - Andrew Michael Hurley

Andrew Michael Hurley is an author I have come to admire very much. He uses the wild rugged unpredictable Lancastrian coast (The Loney) and the beautiful desolate Yorkshire dales as a setting for Starve Acre his latest novel. His stories cross a number of genres, part contemporary gothic with elements of horror, the supernatural, and local forklore with a dash of superstition. It works extremely well Starve Acre is a delightful unsettling novel to read.

 

Juliette and Richard move to the family home of Starve Acre in the remote Yorkshire Dales. Tragedy strikes their son Ewan at the very tender age of five. Naturally this event rips the family apart, Juliette in particular has disappeared into a make believe world where she senses that her son is still alive. Meanwhile Richard is obsessed with uncovering the roots of an ancient oak tree rumoured to the the location of historical hangings. When he unearths what appears to be the bones of a dead hare a mysterious transformation occurs one that will have for reaching consequences for the delicate Juliette.

 

As in the prize winning The Loney Andrew Hurley once again draws the reader in...the hope is that some peace will finally be granted to the fragile Juliette...but the author leaves his best surprise to the final paragraph of the final page and what emerges is not for the faint hearted. I most certainly look forward to further publications by Mr Hurley....enjoyable and uncomfortable in equal measures.

Descriptive elegant writing

10 minutes 38 seconds in this strange world - Elif Shafak

Tequila Leila is a prostitute, a street walker, and strangely we encounter her just after she has been murdered. Her brain however is the last organ to die, and during the next 10 minutes and 38 seconds her sad life is told in a series of flashbacks.

 

This story to me is about true friends, friendship and love. It is also a tale of misfits, people who do not conform, people who are different, and by so being society in general treats them as outcasts. Many have been abused and looked at with contempt and distaste. After Tequila Leila’s brutal demise, her true friends saddened by the horror she endured take a decision which involves making a bizarre journey to atone for the wrongs she suffered.

 

Descriptive, filled with the sights and sounds of a bustling Istanbul, and some very memorable locations, most notably the “Cemetery of the Companionless” which by its very title creates a sad and disturbing picture of a soulless burial ground. Recommended

A delight to read

The Ghost Factory - Jenny McCartney

There is a lot of interest and talk around Irish literature at the moment, enhanced by last years  Booker prize winner Milkman by Anna Burns ( a book that found little merit with me) As an expat from the green and damp bogs of Northern Ireland I am always keen to sample the delights, insights and opinions that a new book can reveal by a previously unknown author: Jenny McCartney. I need not have been concerned The Ghost Factory is a delight to read.

 

The novel is set post the troubles of the 1970's but Belfast is a city still scarred by its unenviable past, still lacking real investment, an economy mortally wounded. When our narrator Jacky witnesses an act of savagery upon his friend Mitch, and later is himself the recipient of a brutal beating, he is forced to flee and seek sanctuary in London. However the love of his birthland and a burning need for revenge acts as an open wound encouraging him to return to right the ways of his past.

 

What I loved about the author's style was her ability to bring to life the mindset of the battle weary  Irish populace, the clipped hard "Ulster" speak and the dark brooding Irish humour. Highly Recommended

Wonderful storytelling that just crackles along

The Butcher Boy - Patrick McCabe

Last year the Booker prize winner was Milkman by Anna Burns and what a disappointing read that proved to be. Set in Belfast this was a book of gossip told in the first person by "middle sister" in a very claustrophobic and confusing style. Why should I tell you this? quite simply it is only to draw a comparison between a book that did not deserve the prize and a book published in 1992 that was Booker shortlisted but did not win....and what a pity it didn't......

 

The Butcher Boy is a highly entertaining tour de force novel set in a small Irish Village. The prose is direct and very similar in style to The Wasp Factory by Ian Banks where the main character is also the narrator. In The Butcher Boy our narrator is Francie Brady probably best described as a bit of a scallywag, a good-for-nothing who with his best friend Joe spend their days in a carefree way more an inconvenience to the residents than a real threat. When they make the acquaintance of a local lad Philip Nugent and act in a somewhat dishonest way, refusing to return his comics, Mrs Nugent steps in to rescue the situation and in so doing changes the life of not only Francie but indirectly hers which is only revealed when the book concludes.

 

This is a startling novel giving great insight into life in a small Irish community in the early 1960s. Through the eyes of Francie we soon become acquainted with the somewhat joie de vivre  attitude of the locals none more accommodating  than Brady himself. However the second part of the novel displays a bitter and disturbing series of events; events that will have a long reaching affect on not only our narrator but an unsuspecting target. What starts off as a jovial account suddenly changes direction with impromptu  violence and a very dark ending, with echoes of Charles Manson. Along the way it is easy to see how it only takes a little act to upset the balance of peace and how such an act can have deadly consequences...nothing is what it seems, people are not what they seem...With a very snappy dialogue that crackles along the book deserves to be read in one sitting..."He had a big breeze block of a head and a pair of eyebrows like two slugs trying to stand up"...."it was funny that face it slowly grew over the other one until one day you looked and the person you knew was gone."....."Oh ma I said the whole house is burning up on us then a fist made of smoke hit me a smack in the mouth its over says ma its all over now".....Highly recommended.