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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

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.

 

Great addition to the series

The Hanging Club (DC Max Wolfe) - Tony Parsons

A self appointed Vigilante group is roaming the streets of London administering their own  brand of retribution. Those perpetrators who have seemingly escaped justice, or received a soft sentence, are kidnapped blindfolded taken to a hidden location where lady luck in no longer in residence and the ferryman of Hades is about to cross the river Styx.

 

Tony Parsons is a totally unique crime writer. He brings all the love, all the emotion, all the need, all the want from his writing debut Man & Boy, and weaves his style and finesse into the mindset of DC Max Wolfe. We have a detective with the cunning of a fox and the heart of a lion. Underneath this tough exterior is the deep love he has for his daughter Scout and their faithful dog Stan. Parsons writing has the ability to stop me in my tracks and just ponder the words before me...."All parents want the same things for their children. But the single parent wants something extra"....."You can make new friends Jackson Rose said looking at me..but you can't make old friends"......"I felt myself on the very edge of the blackness that lasts forever, and it felt as sweet and welcome as home"...."it is when we are closest to death that we cling most strongly to life"...."but in the end we all run out of time"....

 

Yet another great read from the delicate hand of Tony Parsons. Perhaps the story lacks a little credibility but the authors skilful technique, and wonderful warm characters makes it a great addition to the Max Wolfe series.

One step at a time....

Walking - Erling Kagge

If only, as inhabitants of the 21st century, we could just for a moment, step outside the structured manic lives we lead and simply make the time to "be", to observe, to glorify and appreciate this wondrous beauty all around us. We live in a technological age, a time where we are made to believe that anything is possible, a 24 hour harvesting machine that consumes us, surrounding us with unbelievable choice and wealth abound if only we buy into it.

How wrong we are, how blind we are; wealth creates wealth...creates wealth.....creates consumerism...creates a never ending want, an illusion that possessions are the key to happiness when in reality they are the answer to nothing and only create a society wallowing in depression and mental health creating a whirlpool which we (if we allow it) are sucked into.

 

Walking, one step at a time, by Norwegian explorer Erling Kagge is a celebration of the immense beauty of this wonderful universe that surrounds us and all we need to do to appreciate this wealth is to observe, to become immersed in nature, wildlife, changing seasons, to take time, to slow down, to touch, to feel and only by doing this is it possible to make some sense of a society gone mad. Kagge's writing is sublime taking the inquisitive reader into the heart of what is really important in our lives showing us a world in glorious colour when often we only view in black and white. To enter this garden of Eden all that is required is the ability to put one foot in front of the other...to walk one step at a time....."with the utmost love and attention the man who walks must study and observe every smallest living thing"....."just as the body requires sunlight, the skin loves to feel the wind, and the ears delight in the sound of birdsong"......"to take one step at a time- can be about loving the earth, seeing yourself and letting your body travel at the same speed as your soul"....

 

A short read, a great read and one that may change your life, Highly Recommended.

 

A fine example of our justice system in action

In your Defence - Sarah Langford

A book that is of great interest to me as I work in the law courts. It always strikes me, no matter how simple a case can be, in the final analysis a crime not only has repercussions with the perpetrator and the immediate victim, but can have far reaching consequences to people beyond the crime itself. There is no greater example of this than family cases where often the mother and father have few if any social skills, often they are drug dependant and a relationship that is in essence volatile can in no way tolerate the introduction of a child. Sarah Langford in her excellent novel explores cases she has directly been involved and a number are sadly family related.This is a sober account of our justice system in action and how we attempt to right the wrongs that people commit, people who never want to accept responsibility for their evil deeds.The author through a number of poignant examples gives the reader a great insight into the workings of the law courts in modern society. Recommended.

An essential read about a troubled time in history

Say Nothing - Patrick Radden Keefe

I am well versed to have an opinion on this book, I am a child of the 50's and spent my teenage years as a student in Belfast. We as residents of this troubled country accepted it as normal that cities were surrounded by concrete and wire and many had police/army checkpoints for all who entered...and quite right too. It was dangerous, bombs could explode with little warming and incendiary devices were often discreetly hidden waiting for shoppers to vacate premises before the building was set alight....I should know, I worked as a student in a high street retailer which was set alight 3 times. "Say Nothing" is probably one of the best accounts I have ever read about the sad plight of Northern Ireland and it's persecuted residents who suffered bombs, intimidation, fear and sorrow as an everyday occurrence. This book beautifully creates an atmosphere of mistrust, not knowing where and when the enemy would strike, not knowing who to talk to or trust. They are all here the players of that time; Marin McGuinness, the politically correct Jerry Adams, and the loud thunderous roar of evangelical minister the Reverend Ian Paisley. Highly recommended not only as a thrilling read but as an important social history.  

Full of warmth and passion

The Prison Doctor - Amanda Brown

Doctor Amanda Brown trained and worked as a general practitioner for many years but became somewhat disillusioned when the government introduced many changes all to the detriment of doctors and ultimately patients. She took a great leap of faith moved to the prison service and worked at HMP Huntercombe, Wormwood Scrubs,and Bronzefield which incarcerated high profile women offenders and as such was rated the biggest prison of its type in the whole of Europe.

 

In short this is a wonderful read. It is full of warmth and shows a very passionate and caring woman dealing with many challenging cases on a daily basis. She never questioned her decision to work within the prison environment and truly did make a difference. Many thanks to netgalley for a gratis copy in exchange for an honest review. Very enjoyable and highly recommended.

Enjoyable and very informative

Older Brother - Mahir Guven

A very informative story that shows to keen outsiders how complex the relationship within families can be and how destructive allegiance to an ideal can prove. Big brother is a taxi driver and everyday he dreams about the direction his life has taken and his inability to go beyond the confines of his metal coffin. Little brother, once a surgeon, now fighting in Syria for a belief he has come to accept as the true way to happiness and fulfillment. What happens when family, ambition, and belief collide is the essence of this wonderful novel. One of the best opening lines I have ever read..." Death is the only true thing, the rest is just a list of details." is followed by many insightful observations..."Muslims were shit, less than zeros in a society that teaches about equality and tolerance and respect"....."And then you just keep going up toward the next summit. It's simple. You just have to breathe a little bit sometimes to catch your breath"....."Life hangs on the word if".....Many thanks to the good people at netgalley for a gratis copy of Older Brother in return for an honest review and that is what I have written. Recommended.

Warm and soulful storytelling

Taken - Tony Parsons

Tony Parsons will always have a warm place in my heart after his ground breaking Man & Boy now unbelievably written 20 years ago, What Parsons excels in is relationships and in particular the dynamics of family life how passion can easily turn to sadness,and how there is very little that separates those great human emotions; love and hate. So when the author turned his skillful hand to writing a detective series I was eager to see if he could bring the same warmth to characters in a totally different setting, and I was certainly not disappointed. D I Max Wolfe is a a single parent living above Smithfield meat market in central London. He shares his life with daughter Scout, Stan the dog and irascible Mrs Murphy who sees herself as guardian of this lovely little family. Ex wife Anne has flown the nest although we do meet her periodically in the series and she paints a rather sad picture of a mother too concerned with her own financial aspirations to be bothered about her daughter. But this helps Parsons develop the character of Wolfe letting his warmth shine through and loved without question by Stan and Scout. To me relationships form the heart of TP's writing brilliantly depicted against a criminal background

 

Not like most crime novels Parsons has a clear simple plot; Jessica  Lyle is kidnapped whilst driving her friend Snezia's BMW. Is this a case of mistaken identity were the kidnappers really after Synezia and by doing so hoping to blackmail her gangster boyfriend Harry Flowers. Thats the plot and it runs along at a cracking pace but as implied above this is not what endears me to this novel. It is TP's razor sharp observations of the human condition and the human heart with all the pain it must endure in a short lifetime......"the recently dead do not leave us immediately. They stay close by, held by the sadness of leaving, and the human bonds that were made in this world"...."They were like brother and sister towards the end. Isn't that the way it always ends up between men and women, if you leave them together long enough?",,,,,

There is a wonderful scene in the final chapter. It is sports day at Scouts school and because her birthday is at the end of July she is always competing against fellow classmates who are older and thus have the advantage of age. All she wants to do is just once win a gold, silver or bronze sticker either in the heats or in the final. She lines up against 3 fellow competitors one of whom is a rather overweight pupil...surely on this day she can win not a first place not even a second place but just possibly a third and perhaps finally receive a bronze sticker...well this is Tony Parsons writing and I am sure if  you now understand his psyche a little better you will surely know the answer and the race outcome. A wonderful writer that brings a much needed warmth to a great detective series. Highly Recommended

The evil that men do

The Librarian of Auschwitz - Antonio G. Iturbe

There appears to be a plethora of books recently dealing with atrocities committed during the 2ndww. The Librarian of Auschwitz is a fine example and shows how in the midst of living amongst the wretchedness and unbelievable cruelty of Auschwitz ordinary everyday life can just continue. It says something for the human spirit that when all around you are dying the simple pleasure of reading a banned book or  discussing them can somehow bind people together and make day to day living in such squalor seem bearable. The story of Dita Kraus is a blend of mixing the facts around a well presented novel and makes for inspirational reading. Bringing order and resilience is really the only way to survive and the simple task of lending and discussing creates a kind of normality when faced with evil from such monstrous individuals as Joseph Mengele and Rudolf Hoess commandant of Auschwitz. A difficult book to read but essential if we are ever to understand how the evil intent of men must not be allowed to prevail.

A tough read

The Nickel Boys - Colson Whitehead

I found it difficult to engage with this story. Elwood Curtis grows up in 60's Florida, a time of race riots yet balanced with that the wonderful influential and lyrical leadership and direction of Martin Luther king. One small mistake results in Elwood being enrolled in a reform school, a home for difficult boys and an attempt to make them physically, emotionally, and intellectually better. The young Elwood Curtis meets, befriends and is greatly influenced by Turner, a fellow detainee.."The key to in here is the same as surviving out there-you got to see how people act, and then you got to figure out how to get around them like an obstacle"....The book in part explores attitude to racism at that time, whilst graphically illustrating the brutal treatment such unfortunate boys were forced to endure and suffer, incarcerated in an institution meant to help and reform young minds but ultimately destroying them. 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.

A joy to read

Something to live for - Richard Roper

The hero of Something to Die for (and I think he is a hero) is Andrew. Andrew could best be described as socially inept in that he lacks certain social skills and finds it difficult to mix with people and judge their reactions. So he disappears into his world of model railways and finds it much easier to mix with the faceless few railway enthusiasts online who are somewhat cliquish and unsociable in pursuit of their hobby. Andrew works for the council in a somewhat unusual role; he visits the houses of recently departed tenants, destitute people who have no next of kin, and it is his job to trace relatives, and hopefully they will help fund the funeral, if not it falls under the auspices of the council to provide a paupers grave. Andrew has created a fictitious world, in his need to be wanted by his work colleagues, pretending he is happily married to Diane with two lovely children Steph and David. A change occurs in his life when Peggy comes to work with the council and in particular as a colleague to Andrew. There is a certain attraction between the two, is it really possible that this strange likeable young man might at long last find some happiness

 

This was a very enjoyable, funny, poignant and ultimately uplifting book, a joy to read from start to finish. There are some genuinely laugh out moments but equally some compelling thoughtful observations…..”because as Andrew had discovered, once you’ve smelled death it never leaves you”……”Peggy had hugged him. This wasn’t physical contact through formality-an introductory handshake. Nor was it the unavoidable touch of the barber or dentist, or a stranger on a packed train. It had been a genuine gesture of warmth, and for that second and a half he was reminded about how it felt to let someone in”……. Many thanks to the good people of Netgalley for a gratis copy in return for an honest review and that is what I have written.

 

The collapse of a beloved institution

This Is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor - Adam Kay

This is really a story of the National Health Service and how it has evolved into an underfunded body unable to cope with ever increasing demands. A workforce dedicated to healing people but overwhelmed by sheer numbers, lack of staff, and long working hours where the slightest mistake can have fatal consequences.This is going to hurt is an expose a cry for help by a young doctor Adam Kay trying to educate the public into the inevitable collapse of a beloved institution in the hope that something can be done before it is too late. As with any job that is public facing no day is ever the same and Kay tells his story with great warmth and many funny unbelievable tales...."mild vaginal burns from a patient stuffing a string of lights inside and turning them on (brings new meaning to the phrase..I put the Christmas light up myself!)...."he explains that the last time he was on call on Christmas Day, he chucked on the outfit and beard for the ward round and was halfway through when an elderly patient suddenly went into cardiac arrest, so he dashed over and started CPR while a nurse went to fetch the trolley. Unusually the CPR was successful and the patient gasped back to life to the sight of a six foot Santa liplocked with her, his arms on her chest. I can still hear her scream he said",,,,,,.."Prescribing a morning-after pill in A&E. The patient says,..I slept with three guys last night. Will one pill be enough?".....

A very enjoyable, informative, and often sad read, highly recommended.