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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

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 - 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.

The challenges of living

Normal People - Sally Rooney

A Costa prize winner Normal People is a story of the relationship between Connell and Marianne. As young people growing into adulthood we learn to relate and build friendships in our daily lives, this challenge and the actions and decisions that we take can affect us for many years. Irrespective of their social backgrounds Connell and Marianne are drawn to each other from an early age. Normal People is a study of the intricacies of modern life, and no matter how complex and confusing living can be, how we learn to tolerate and understand, and how sex, power, and the ability to hurt is always present.

One of Ireland's finest

A ladder to the sky - John Boyne

A colourful, lusty comical look into the life of one Maurice Swift, who is both flamboyant and arrogant, in his attempt to become a world famous novelist. The only problem is that Swift had zero talent as an author and resorts to plagiarism to achieve his aims. As a narcissist he has no consideration or indeed cares about the needs and welfare of others and is quite happy to to sacrifice his closest friends to achieve his misguided aims and ambitions. Lovely lyrical writing by one of Ireland's finest authors and I enjoyed immensely. 

Nice idea but......

The Chain - Adrian McKinty

Nice idea but lost my attention very quickly. A phone call is received and the caller instructs you to kidnap a victim. If you do not follow his instructions then your child, who is being held captive, will be executed. The chain is a very mediocre read with a central theme that is much too repetitive and shallow to be taken seriously as a crime novel.

A truly great author

Pet Sematary - Stephen King

Having recently viewed the new 2019 movie Pet Sematary I was eager to have a reread of the Stephen King classic. Strange to say that the author is probably viewed more of a horror writer, but I beg to disagree. His characters are very  troubled and the people that he writes about are human just like you and me, and the issues debated are concerns that we all hold. In Pet Sematary Dr Louis Creed has moved his family from the heavily polluted streets of Chicago to rural Maine.When a tragedy strikes the Creed family, Louis must take decisions and actions that lead the reader to question.... What is life all about? If we had the opportunity and the know how would we resurrect those who died prematurely? In short if you could be God would you try to undo the past? A brilliant novel of loss and family values by a true master of the written word

A shaggy dog story

Lost Dog - Kate Spicer

Kate wants to change her daily routine of casual drink and drug use whilst writing the odd article for numerous lifestyle magazines. She lives with her partner Charlie in a fashionable part of London (but not so fashionable flat) and their relationship could be best described as tolerable. Into her life comes Wolfy a cross lurcher with shaggy dog features loveable and needy, the perfect companion for Kate to turn all her affections "what an unequalled joy it was to love and be loved with no conditions, even by a dumb animal" One day whilst leaving Wolfy in the watchful hands of her brother, Wolfy it would appear, decides he has no further need for his affectionate yet annoying(my opinion) owner and does a runner. The remainder of this "shaggy dog story involves Kate's 9 day search for her loveable pooch and the will she or wont she find him dilemma that ensues. There are some good characters introduced along the way most notable being the midnight runner (likes to train at night when the streets are empty) and Anna Twinney (the founder of reach out to horses...and it would also appear dogs) who for a price will make some "out of this world" contact with the missing pooch the hope being that Wolfy can be found. The excitement builds, the emotions are running high as the reader and Kate stumble from false sighting to false sighting...will she ever find him? You will need to read the story to find out. A pleasant enjoyable read with some tidy life observations...."Love isn't just neurotransmitters, is it? It's not just dependency. It is our route to something beautiful, mysterious and transcendent. Without it, life is a hollow set of functions and, frankly, pointless"....Many thanks to the good people at netgalley for a gratis copy in return for an honest review and that is what I have written.

A brilliant debut

The Whisper Man - Alex North

First book by Alex North and what a brilliant psychological thriller it has proved to be. The body of a child Neil Spencer is discovered his death bearing an uncanny resemblance to the murder of five children some years ago...but that is impossible as the killer Frank Carter is imprisoned. DI Pete Willis is the policeman in charge but he is haunted by his past failures and his daily struggle with alcoholism...."So drink then. You're worthless . Just do it. The urge was stronger than ever, but he could survive this. After all ,he had resisted the voice in the past"... There is not only a great story line but add to this a touch of the supernatural and characters that jump off the page then we have all the ingredients for a super exciting thriller. 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. Highly recommended.

A celebration of the great British spirit

Free Country: A Penniless Adventure the Length of Britain - George Mahood

Two young men one goal travel from Lands end to john o groats relying on the kindness of others and as an added incentive start the challenge in nothing but your union jack boxer shorts! The ground rules were simple all food, all transport all clothes must be "blagged" no money must be taken or spent..this was self sufficiency in the extreme....could it be done or was the whole idea just plain bonkers...Free Country is a super little book and the reader is privileged to travel with the boys and be part of the expedition. To me the story is not only about the endurance and spirit of two men but a celebration of the generosity of the British people. If you add to this some wonderful characters that they met along the way this is a story that will leave you with  a smile on your face. Highly Recommended 

A cracking little thriller

November Road - Lou Berney

It is not often that I read a book by a new author and think...wow! that was a thrilling ride.November Road by Lou Berney simply crackles along with strong characters, clear precise prose,and a really enjoyable story. Frank Guidry "former fixer extraordinaire for the Marcello organization is a hunted man. His employers are uncomfortable that he knows a little too much about the perpetrators behind the assassination of JF Kennedy in Dallas and need to terminate his employment on a permanent basis. As a separate story we learn that a beautiful young housewife Charlotte has escaped the clutches of her controlling drunken husband Dooley and is on route to the west coast with her two daughters Rosemary and Joan. As luck (or possibly not) would have it she crosses path with Guidry and this newly combined family attempt to stay ahead of those who would do them harm.

 

As an avid reader and reviewer I often try to anticipate the direction a story is heading and how the adventure will conclude. I was pleasantly surprised with the ending of November Road as the author presents an unexpected conclusion to a cracking little crime thriller. Many thanks to the good people at netgalley for a gratis copy of November Road in exchange for an honest review and that is what I have written. Highly recommended.

Well written but wordy

All the Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr

Marie-Laure a young blind girl lives with her father in the suburbs of Paris. Her father has created a miniature model of the city and by memorizing the detail she is able to navigate in real time. Meanwhile Werner a skilled radio operator and member of the Hitler youth spends his day identifying and  neutralizing Resistance threats when heard over the airways. So we have a story told in alternate voices through the eyes of two young people. It is an obvious assumption to make that the lives of Werner and Marie will interact at some time in the near future. Threaded throughout the action is the mystery of a precious stone known as the "Sea of Flames"...that is legend has it that bad luck will befall the lives of those who own it.

There is little doubt that "The light we cannot see" is a beautifully written book taking place at a harrowing, disturbing and changing period in world history. However the descriptive wordy narrative begins to irritate after a relatively short time and although the novel may appeal to many I found it rather ponderous.

Cold atmospheric scandi noir

The Island (Hidden Iceland #2) - Ragnar Jónasson

The Island" falls into a category of books loosely referred to as Scandinavian noir. Set in Iceland the volcanic landscape and frozen polar conditions adds an eerie silent and unpredictable element to the events as they unfold...."What the scenery lacked in drama it made up for in its all encompassing tranquility, its sense of space and emptiness. The only accents of colour in the treeless landscape were provided by patches of bilberry and crowberry plants and the calm blue waters of the fjord below....."

 

Some 10 years ago a young girl was murdered in Ellidaey, a small island located south of Iceland. A culprit is identified, apprehended and the case is seemingly closed. Moving forward to the present and four young friends are holidaying on the same desolate location. Before the vacation concludes one of the four lies dead at the bottom of a steep cliff and murder is suspected. Is there a connection between the two brutal acts? Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir is assigned the case. Hindered by the interference of a previous superior Lydur and struggling with her own personal tragedies she must use all her skills to navigate both the past and the present incidents in an attempt to identify the killer/s The character of Hulda Hermannsdóttir is a tough and resilient antihero. Living alone in this isolated barren part of the world she demands the structure and discipline that comes with her job as a police inspector. She presents a picture of a loner, there to be pitied by a sympathetic reader and for the most part this is successful

 

Underneath the main crime investigation a secondary mystery unfolds. Hulda is trying to trace the whereabouts of her real father. She knows he was an American GI and on impulse travels to the US only to be faced with disappointment. Ragnar Jonasson uses this opportunity to tease the reader and in the closing pages an unexpected detail is revealed adding a delightful ending that is sure to be explored in future books. The stark and bare landscape is used to great affect by the author to add tension and unpredictability to his writing. Hulda Hermannsdóttir is a sad highly intelligent police officer performing her daily workload to the best of her undoubted ability. I felt however that the story itself was somewhat unoriginal (four friends camping, one is killed, who is the murderer amongst them) yet having said that The Island was a fine example of Scandi noir. Many thanks to the good people at netgalley for a gratis copy of The Island in exchange for an honest review and that is what I have written.

Reading progress update: I've read 500 out of 544 pages.

All the Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr

This is tough going however nearly finished :)