Tag Archives: intelligent

Review: ‘The Hermitage’ by LJ Ross

When an old man is found dead inside the ancient hermitage at Warkworth Castle, Northumbria CID are called in to investigate. With no apparent motive, it’s their job to discover why he was murdered – and this time they’re forced to do it without their star detective as DCI Ryan has tracked a killer across Europe and has sworn not to return until he has his man in custody. Nathan Armstrong is a dangerous psychopath but there’s just one problem – he’s also an international celebrity; a world-famous thriller writer with money and connections.

When I began reading ‘The Hermitage‘, I was staying in a hotel very close to the village of Warkworth, where LJ Ross’s latest book is set. I loved being even more immersed in the setting than usual. However, Ross’s descriptions are so evocative that you’ll be able to picture the locations even if you haven’t visited them before. 

The Hermitage‘ is also unusual in the fact that DCI Ryan is actually out of the UK, we follow him and his wife Anna to Florence. Despite the beauty of their surroundings, Ryan and Anna find themselves fighting for their lives against an intelligent adversary. 

I really enjoyed finding out more about Nathan Armstrong’s backstory, LJ Ross demonstrates an insightful streak by understanding the motives behind his heinous acts. Combined with a keen awareness of her main character, Ross uses ‘The Hermitage‘ to inform her readers about Ryan and his family too. 

I think what continues to make the DCI Ryan series so successful is Ross’s ability to combine some awful crimes with strong relationships between the recurring characters. I particularly enjoy the banter between Ryan and Phillips. 

Ross’s stories demonstrate a duality that most of us experience: that things are rarely all good or all bad. 

I honestly did not want ‘The Hermitage‘ to end, it was utterly gripping. However, DCI Ryan fans don’t have long to wait for the next instalment: ‘Longstone‘ is due to be released on 10th December. Before that, though, is a new multicast drama on audiobook. ‘The Infirmary‘ will be available on Audible from 8th November. I, for one, can’t wait! 

Vic x

Review: ‘Absolution’ by Patrick Flanery

Patrick Flanery’s novel is about contemporary South Africa and how Apartheid continues to cast a shadow over the country and its inhabitants.

This post-modern novel has echoes of Philip Roth and the way Flanery interweaves several narratives together is ambitious but he carries it off.

As aging novelist Clare Wald opens up her life to biographer Sam Leroux but she is haunted by her perceived crimes against her country and her own family. In the meantime, Sam is hiding his own agenda. This is a story of regret, guilt and repression. Flanery’s descriptions capture the feeling of paranoia and claustraphobia in South Africa, as well as the constant threat of crime.

‘Absolution’ considers issues of identity, belonging as well as the potent issue of race.

A good read.

Vic x

Review: Stephen Merchant at Newcastle City Hall 11/10/11

As you will know, if you’re a frequent reader of this blog, I have a bit of a crush on Stephen Merchant, the tall geeky side-kick of Ricky Gervais.

Thirty-six year old Steve is touring the UK with his show “Hello Ladies”. He says being a stand-up worked to attract women to Russell Brand so he thought he’d try it out in order to find a wife – not a groupie, though, a wife. I’ve always had a thing for tall geeks and Merchant is no exception. If I was a single girl, I’ve thought I’d be interested in becoming Mrs Merchant.

Not often getting a word in edgeways when he’s with Gervais, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from Merchant as a stand-up. Looking around the audience, it was obvious that he appealed to a certain demographic – young, educated couples mainly.

Steve combines an intelligent string of stories with a physicality that I hadn’t expected. He moves a lot during the routine and it added a lot to the show. Stephen admits that being 6’7″ gives him an air of arrogance tempered with neurosis. As a tall person, I sympathised with Merchant’s stories of how difficult life is for a man of his stature.

I guess being Gervais’s “other half” may have made Merchant a famous name but the show demonstrated that he is not only an intelligent writer but a gifted and talented performer. Merchant shows with his show that he is more than capable of stepping out of Ricky’s shadow.

His reinterpretations of the Last Supper and how Venn diagrams were invented were inspired. Merchant obviously isn’t afraid of stepping out of his comfort zone and taking the mick out of himself. At one point in the show, he uses a tiny camera on a microphone stand to give the audience a close-up of his face as if he were bearing down on you – to demonstrate why there aren’t many repeat visitors “Chez Steve”.

I have to admit that many of the stories that Merchant tells didn’t endear me to him as a potential spouse. He’s a pedant, which isn’t a problem to me, as I am too. He says he’s not tight, just careful with money and many of the stories he tells are obviously embellished for comedic effect but I get the feeling that my frivolity with cash wouldn’t go down with Stephen – the thirty-seven year old who still sleeps in a single bed because “there’s no point in wasting the money” as he’s still single. He tells a story about a dull family and their annoying toddler at a wedding, perhaps not what I’d look for in a husband – someone who doesn’t like kids.

His encore, where he invited two members of the audience on stage to re-enact a play he’d written at school, is just cracking. It’s so well executed right down to the noisy chair movements in between scenes.

I would definitely go to see Merchant again, but perhaps I’ll stand back and let the other girls fight over him.

Vic x

To read a blog post by me, inspired by Stephen, click here: http://www.craigrobertdouglas.com/general/tall-people-have-feelings-too-you-know/

Review: ‘Tony and Susan’ by Austin M. Wright

Apparently this novel was first released in 1993 but is being given a second crack at success. And rightfully so.

This is an intelligent story within a story – Susan is a middle-aged housewife who lives in her second husband Arnold’s shadow. She receives a manuscript from her ex-husband Edward and the reader gets to enjoy Edward’s novel along with Susan’s reactions to the narrative. The reader also is privy to the resurgence of Susan’s memories which are provoked by Edward’s sudden reappearance in her life. Susan has barely heard from Edward in 20 years but his letter, asking her to read his novel, provokes a dearth of memories of him and his desperation to be a writer. She doubts the novel will be any good but what we were treated to is a gripping thriller that keeps the reader guessing. In his novel, Nocturnal Animals, Edward writes of right and wrong, retribution and revenge.

The reader can compare their own critique of Edward’s novel with Susan’s, as well as feeling her quiet desperation at dreams lost and suburban life. As both stories progress, we also get to learn about Susan and Edward’s back story while she examines the life choices she made.

Nocturnal Animals itself is a great thriller but I was disappointed with the last third of the book although Susan didn’t seem to notice, despite admitting she was often over-critical of Edward’s writing during their marriage. Nocturnal Animals was written with such tension that I was expecting a big reveal or twist at the end which I never got so that was a disappointment and I have to admit I expected a confession or an unusual outcome but it never happened. Although, I daresay that was the point.

Tony and Susan is a great read and justifies Atlantic’s decision to reissue it.

Vic x

Review: ‘Afterwards’ by Rosamund Lupton

Following on from one of last year’s biggest selling novels (and the fastest selling debut from a British author), Rosamund Lupton continued her success with second novel ‘Afterwards’ which went straight into the Top 10 on its release and, within a month of its release, became the fastest selling e-book ever.

‘Afterwards’ is the story of Grace, a mother of two, who runs into a burning school building to save her daughter Jenny. Afterwards, Grace needs to find out the identity of the arsonist and try to put her family back together while protecting them from an unknown threat. Not only does Grace have to contend with these issues but she has to accept the fact that no-one but Jenny can hear her – and that they may never wake up.

Lupton is really carving herself a niche in the thriller genre. The only other book I can think of written in this style in ‘The Lovely Bones’ by Alice Sebold but ‘Afterwards’ leaves it looking simplistic.

As with ‘Sister’, there are many red herrings thrown in for good measure, so much so that you suspect someone, dismiss them and then suspect them again which makes this novel seem all the more realistic. It is cleverly plotted and the prose is almost lyrical. Not only is this an intelligent thriller but it is, yet again, an honest portrayal of family life and relationships.

My one bugbear with Lupton is that she often writes in the second person – “I said to you….” – which can be distracting at times although I know she does it to make the reader feel entirely involved.

Think Jodi Picoult meets Audrey Niffnegger. This is a unique novel that is eloquently written, you will be blown away by it.

Vic x

To order your copy of ‘Afterwards’, click here: http://amzn.to/l0kfFY

Review: ‘The Weight of Silence’ by Heather Gudenkauf

‘The Weight of Silence’ is a tense thriller which focuses on two little girls being discovered missing one summer morning. Seven-year-old Calli has selective mutism brought on by a tragedy in her early years. Petra is Calli’s best friend and also works as her voice. But no-one knows where either of the girls are.

This non-linear narrative tells the story from various character’s points of view as well as revisiting the past to reveal family secrets. The book follows Calli and Petra’s parents, as well as the sheriff involved in the search and Calli’s older brother Ben.

I found this book a real page-turner with a compelling narrative. For a debut novel, this is quite a feat. Intelligently and sensitively written, Gudenkauf manages to explore the intricacies of family life as well as the effect secrets have on people.

The prose is almost lyrical in places and Gudenkauf manages to make you desperate to reach the conclusion of this tale.

Vic x

Order your copy here: http://amzn.to/q1dC5n

Save our libraries.

As you know, I’m a book worm. I wouldn’t know what to do without a book on my person. I carry a book / my Kindle everywhere I go just in case I am presented with a couple of seconds to read. It might be in a waiting room or waiting to meet a friend, it might be in the hairdressers or when there’s nothing on TV – there’s nothing I love more than the written word. What may surprise you, however, is my next statement: I don’t go to the library.

I have a vivid memory from my childhood, I was aged about four at the time, of being in the library with my classmates when I flicked through a book and found a questionable-looking smear on a picture book. Was it blood or something worse? I’ll never know, nor do I want to. That experience put me off libraries for life. Even during my three years as an undergraduate, I made as few trips to the library as humanly possible. I spent a lot of the money I earned on buying books instead of borrowing them. I hate how library books make my hands feel dusty and I still can’t get that smear out of my mind.

However, when I took some time off last year to concentrate on completing my Masters, I found myself without a regular income and a dwindling number of books. That was when The Boy Wonder convinced me to visit the library with him. I was determined I wouldn’t touch anything while I was there but the sheer amount of books, some in darn good condition, seduced me.

Newcastle City Library got a complete overhaul a couple of years ago and now looks almost futuristic. However, even the local libraries that aren’t having millions spent on them do a darn important job. I was lucky as a child, my parents could afford to buy me books. Not everyone’s parents can afford those luxuries but with libraries, every child has the opportunity to access books and, in turn, develop their imaginations, knowledge and vocabulary.

Having spent more time in libraries in the last year than I have in my whole life, I can say with conviction that they provide a great service. There are the ‘bounce and rhyme’ sessions that they hold for babies and their parents – a great opportunity for social interaction for both – the weekly school trips, free computers for the public to use – very handy for jobseekers to use to search and apply for jobs.

However, I’m also aware that certain members of society abuse this great resource. I know that teenagers use libraries as a place to access Facebook, distracting the genuine patrons and causing a disturbance. Some parents use the library as a free baby-sitting service; sending their children there with packed lunches or dinner money during school holidays while they go to work. I’ve seen people there to use the toilets, sleep and cause a disturbance.

The role of the library needs to be reassessed. There need to be tighter controls over what websites can be viewed, and the length of time and purpose people use the computers monitored. Libraries are a great place to publicise local activities as well as a helpful learning resource but they need to be respected.

Vic x

Review: ‘The Reiki Man’ by Dominic C James

‘The Reiki Man’ is the first novel in a trilogy by Dominic C James who, after being made redundant two years ago, decided to become a full-time writer. James is a Reiki Master and from this novel it is plain to see he knows a great deal about the subject. James states on his website that he wants to bring Reiki and other practices to a wider audience. This book is not only entertaining but informative.

When a billionaire is murdered, the police are left with no clues however all is not it seems – whoever murdered Henry Mulholland passed by several guards and a sophisticated security system – the only clue left behind is a mysterious symbol. Mulholland’s head of security recognises the symbol and tracks down a face from the past to assist her. What follows next is a story of ancient power and the supernatural. ‘The Reiki Man’ combines the spiritual world with the physical and tests both to the limit.

James creates a believable narrative and I felt totally drawn into the mystery of Reiki however what is clever about this story is that it is a murder mystery with more to it than the usual ‘whodunnit’.

My only criticism of this book is that there is too much description of the food the characters are eating, it seemed somewhat irrelevant.

The ending made me desperate to read the second part of the trilogy! Fans of Dan Brown will love this book.

Vic x

My Dad, my hero

As it’s Father’s Day this weekend, I’d like to take this opportunity to gush about my dad, just a little.

My dad is an inspiration to me. He wasn’t born into a life of privilege and wealth, he was the youngest of four children and lived in a pretty poor area, on the bread line all of his childhood. From the stories my grandmother told, my dad was a character in his youth, always leading his brother and sisters into trouble. My dad’s dad was a signalman on the railways and was very strict, my dad was often made to stand out in the hallway during mealtimes because he’d flicked peas at one of his siblings. Another thing that annoyed his father was his habit of singing at the top of his voice despite his father having been on night-shift.

During his childhood, my dad got into a lot of scrapes – in the ‘Oor Wullie’ sense – and frequently went among the missing. He saw the world as his playground – whether it was quarries, disused air raid shelters or some other forbidden place.

He wasn’t interested in education; when asked at school aged thirteen what he planned to do, he said leave as early as possible and get a job. Between then and leaving at fifteen, he was left to his own devices as the teachers weren’t interested in someone who wasn’t going to sit exams. It wasn’t that he wasn’t intelligent, he just had no use for academia. He wanted to be out in the world, earning money.

After leaving school he got a job and since then he has gradually risen through the ranks. He is now in a position that he – and his teachers – would never have believed possible. My dad is the poster boy for starting at the bottom and working your way up. He doesn’t have an O-Level to his name but he has far surpassed any expectations of him. My dad is an example of what you can achieve with hard work and dedication.

From the moment I was old enough to walk, I became my dad’s little shadow, a tomboy in the making. I remember building snowmen in the garden, finding creepy crawlies, helping him grow veg in his green-house, playing football and him teaching me to ride my bike.

Once, aged 11, I’d arranged with my cousin to watch a live Bon Jovi concert from a vantage point near Gateshead stadium but 2 days before the gig, I had my ankle put in plaster. I sat moping about at home until my dad said “Come on then” and drove me to sit in the car and listen to the gig. I may not have seen them but it was such a kind thing of him to do.

When I was learning to drive, he sat beside me for hours on end, trawling the north-east and getting practice before my test. As he became more confident in my driving, he’d let me put some music on and even one day wrote a sign saying “Help!” and held it up at passing pedestrians.

I have so many great memories. Like the time he drove me and two friends to Manchester to see Bon Jovi. He said he’d just find a restaurant and do some work while we went to the gig. Five minutes after the concert started, I got a text through from my dad saying “Got in for a fiver!” We’d paid £40 each. He still chuckles about that even now.

He gets angry if he goes past his usual ‘feeding time’ and when I was a teenager he used to accuse me of playing “psychological mind games” because I would come in, drunk, and inevitably make a lot of noise. He’s been a taxi driver and a bank, he’s spent countless hours in A&E departments. He’s been to swimming galas and football matches and he only ever missed one parents evening in the whole time me and my brother were at school – and that was because he was working away.

My dad, and my mum, have given me everything I ever wanted. I could not have wished for better parents.

Neither one of them stayed at school beyond compulsory schooling but they have encouraged and supported me every step of the way. From helping me with my reading and testing me on my spellings, they’ve been there. “As long as you’ve tried your best” still remains one of their favourite sayings. When I decided to quit a lucrative banking job to do a degree, my dad wasn’t overly happy. He thought I should follow his example and work my way up but when I made my decision, he supported it. And there was no-one happier on graduation day than my dad.

My dad is one of the earliest examples of ‘the new man’, he will do anything in the house. And when raising me and my brother, he had as much input as my mum. Both of my parents have showered us with love and affection; every night before bed even now, they say “Goodnight, love you.”

I don’t mean to make us sound like ‘The Waltons’, we’re not. We argue, we have disagreements and we fall out with each other. But I know that if I had a real problem, my parents (and my little brother) would be there for me.

My dad has had such a massive impact on my life. I’ve got his sense of humour, his love of films and, although I’m loath to admit it, I look just like him. I could sit with him for hours, watching ‘Bang, Bang it’s Reeves and Mortimer’ chuckling away while my mum looks on nonplussed.

He’s still an adventurer, he likes to go to new places and he often remarks he can’t believe how far he’s come in life – from quarries and air-raid shelters to America and the Caribbean. My dad is proof that the nice guy doesn’t always finish last – sometimes he deservedly comes first.

Happy Father’s Day.

Vic x

Review: ‘The History of Love’ by Nicole Krauss

Having read ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’ by Jonathan Safran Foer, I found out that he is married to Nicole Krauss and many criticisms levelled at his book were that his story was incredibly similar in themes and technique. I decided to read ‘The History of Love’ so that I could compare the two.

True, both stories feature an intelligent youth who sets out on a quest in New York City – both having lost their fathers. In Foer’s story, Oskar encounters a survivor of the Dresden firebombing and in Krauss’s Alma meets a Holocaust survivor. Both of the elderly men in the stories are mourning the loss of their estranged sons. However, for me, that’s where the similarities end.

Yes, Krauss and Foer may have lived together when writing these novels but there are thousands of books that feature people who lived during World War II. If you have a shared history, as partners often do, it is possible you could write about similar things. For me, Krauss’s novel is far more confusing in its attempts to weave a mystery. I enjoyed Foer’s novel immensely and found the characters easy to empathise with but with Krauss’s, I found the characters as confusing as the plot. Perhaps I just wasn’t concentrating.

I think Krauss was determined to use this novel as a vehicle to demonstrate her intellect and knowledge of writers but it just didn’t appeal to me. For a book called ‘The History of Love’, it lacked heart. I didn’t care enough about the characters and the disjointed narrative only distanced me further.

This book is meant to be about love, loss and friendship but it seemed to me to be about betrayal, confusion and insanity.

There are some genuine moments in the book where I had to stifle a giggle but all in all this book did not come close to ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’.

Vic x

Order your copy of ‘The History of Love’ here: http://amzn.to/mQv9lT