Manchester Central Library

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Manchester Central Library was opened in 1934 but feels a lot older with its stunning architecture. The circular building with its domed structure is loosely based on the Pantheon in Rome.

The library has just reopened after a major £50million refurbishment. Now 70% of the building is in public use whereas before there was only 30%.

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Entrance Hall

The ground floor has been transformed into a high-tech, interactive space now known as Archives+. This brings together local history by way of documents, photographs and films in a very accessible way.

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Ground floor

The lower ground floor is the new Lending Library which also houses the Children’s Library. This is called the Secret Garden and is based on the classic book by local author Frances Hodgson Burnett. It is an exciting hive of activity for children.

Up on the first floor is the Wolfson Reading Room. This is the library’s breathtaking centrepiece. As you walk through the doors the silence hangs around you like a cloud. It is visceral. The room is lined with bookshelves and as you sit and take in the magnificent dome and the words of wisdom circling it, you feel your humanity.
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Reading Room

Also on the first floor there is the Henry Watson music library named after Dr Henry Watson, a renowned composer and teacher born in nearby Accrington. He gifted the contents of his private library to the care of Manchester City Council in 1902. The music library today has some 380,000 books and individual items of music. There are also instruments to try out.

The second floor holds the Business Library where would-be entrepreneurs can access a wealth of information.

On the top floor is the Reference Library where the moveable bookcases glide backwards and forwards. Each section has a local author or poet depicted on them.
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Reference Library

What the designers have done with this building is a marvel. The circular system with the grand staircase is wonderful; exhilarating. They have opened up an historic building, giving it air and light using,and showcasing, the original architecture. No doubt there will be people who say that it is too modern (the ground floor) and maybe people that say it is too dated in the Reading room (heathens). For me it is perfect, an absolute credit to Manchester that will have visitors coming from far and wide.

The Goldfinch

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The Goldfinch
By Donna Tartt.

At nearly 800 pages long, this book is a substantial investment of your time. Is it worth it? Absolutely.

The characters, the locations, the plot twists. This book is Dickensian in its scope.

Theo Decker is 13years old when his life is torn apart. The only thing he has left that he values is a tiny painting: The Goldfinch. This painting runs throughout the book connecting each part and reminding him of his loss, but also giving him hope as his life spirals out of control. But it’s not just a literary prop, it serves a meaningful part in the story as it evolves.

Theo’s loss, pain, grief, sorrow are writ large throughout this book; it is heartbreaking. Even in its lighter moments; fooling around with Boris (one of the best characters ever created) in Vegas, the pair of them are so disfunctional and self-destructive that you know it can’t end well.

The problem with Theo’s life, and probably the same in real life, is that as a damaged person he is drawn to other damaged people. His love for Pippa is a modern day Pip and Estella.

As the book moves on, Theo grows up, and a thrilling denouement in Amsterdam beckons and you find yourself not wanting the book to end.

This is a glorious, stupendous, soaring tale of what it is to be human. To suffer loss and have no hope. To keep going because the people around you are hopeless as well. I don’t want to make it sound depressing and cold because it is anything but. It is heartbreaking, but it is also glorious and beautiful. It is an absolute masterpiece. The best book I have read in the last 10 years, if not longer. I give it a full 5 stars.

*****

The Stranger You Know

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The Stranger You Know
By Jane Casey

This is the fourth book in the Maeve Kerrigan series. I have not read the other three and this is perfectly readable as a stand-alone novel.

With three dead women all with a similar m.o. Maeve Kerrigan and her colleagues in the Met have a serial killer on their hands. Unfortunately suspicion falls onto DI Josh Derwent, one of Maeve’s colleagues. The case is closely connected to another one twenty years earlier which DI Derwent was a suspect.

The first three quarters of the book is a real page turner and gripping. It is well written and the characters are good. (Probably because they have been developed over four books.) Maeve is a likeable woman with her humour and intelligence. There are a couple of little niggles; her comments and thoughts on how attractive she is to the opposite sex can sometimes come across as a little adolescent. Also her ESP left me groaning; where she ‘just knows’ who the killer is. Especially when she ‘just knew’ it was someone else a few pages before. But on the whole a good character.

The same cannot be said for Chief Superintendent Charles Godley who, while he seems to be an able leader, is a corrupt policeman. In thrall to a drug’s baron, exchanging information for money, he has somehow persuaded Maeve to keep this a secret. Justifying himself with ‘at least I know how much information has been leaked’.

But the main character for me is DI Josh Derwent. He is overbearing, annoying, bullying, sexist, misogynistic and any other un-pc characteristic you can think of. He is also loyal, good, caring, hard-working and moral. The backdrop of this story focuses on Derwent, perhaps showing why he has become such an embittered man.
His character is the one you want to reappear on the page time and again and the dynamic between Derwent and Maeve is a strong one.

There is the tiniest of sub-plots running through the book which culminates in a scene just over halfway through; where I was left feeling: what on earth does that have to do with anything? And I still feel, even knowing how it was encompassed into the story, that it was shoe-horned in. The ending, I felt, fizzled out just a little after such a strong first three quarters of the book.

Having said that I did enjoy the book and will definately read the other Maeve Kerrigan’s in the series, and I will look out for any other Jane Casey novels.
***

Apple Tree Yard

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Apple Tree Yard
By Louise Doughty

*SPOILERS* There are spoilers in the following review.

I was really looking forward to reading this book, it has lots of recommendations including Ian Rankin who is one of my favourite authors, so I made sure that I saved it for when I had no distractions and the time to savour and enjoy. Unfortunately the book was a total let down.

The narrator, Yvonne Carmichael, a 52yrs old scientist at the peak of her career embarks on an affair, I use the term very loosely as it consists of meeting in coffee shops then having sex in back alleys. The entire affair on both sides just beggars belief. He tells her absolutely nothing; he takes her nowhere; he doesn’t even offer to get them a room. And yet we are expected to believe that this 52yrs old, highly intelligent woman, believes this man to be in love with her. I think possibly the worst part of the book, is where, with no encouragement from Mark (the lover), she decides that he is a spy!! There cannot be one person who read that and thought it likely.

The woman is unlikeable, unbelievable, delusional and has no credibility whatsoever. I presume that was the author’s intent, to show how people’s emotions overtake them to to the detriment of everything else. But you must have some basis in reality and this story did not. I lost the will to live.

Mark’s perspective was just as bad, here is a serial adulterer who, we are asked to believe, is prepared to commit the worst crime known to man for a woman who he has sex with on occasion in a back alley.

On a positive note the rape scene is well depicted and quite harrowing. It is a pity it is enmeshed in the rest of this story. The trial scenes are interesting and well researched. But the plot just goes from bad to worse. The explanation for Mark’s actions is no more than cod-psychology and the verdict is laughable. How a man who takes and uses a change of clothes to a crime scene can get his sentence reduced from premeditated murder to manslaughter, I have no idea. Perhaps someone could enlighten me.

The ‘twist’, as some people have referred to it, on the last page is no twist at all. It is totally predictable and the only thing left to happen.

I don’t particularly like giving poor reviews, but this book has barely anything to recommend it. While the prose is fine and the court scenes well described, the plot is ludicrous in my opinion. But there are, at this moment in time, 262 Amazon reviews that say I am wrong. They all give the book 5 stars, meaning that they believe it is one of the best books ever written. They can’t all be wrong: can they?

Life after Life

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Life after Life
By Kate Atkinson

This book is about Ursula who has many lives. When she is born she dies but then gets to carry on with another life but always with the same family, and as she get older the same cast of characters. This happens numerous times during her childhood so we soon get used to the premise, some danger occurs, Ursula dies, then she pops up again on the next page. In the first part of the book it can be a little tedious as the story doesn’t feel as though it’s moving on at all.

The first two incidents that make you start to think about decisions, or maybe just fate, affecting your life are the murder of the next door neighbour and the rape. These are things that constantly plague people’s consciences: ‘if I hadn’t been late, if I’d taken a different route, if I hadn’t missed the bus, if I hadn’t stood chatting,’ and so on. Kate Atkinson brings these dilemmas to life, with Ursula reliving events to different ends.

The WW11 section is when the book comes into its own, or rather Kate Atkinson does, the Blitz is brought to life in all its horror and grim reality by Ursula and her fellow wardens on the front line.
Between the falling bombs and devastation, the scenes of Miss Woolf (a true back-to-the-wall stoic Englishwoman) and her colleagues are truly heartwarming and sometimes truly sad.

The story takes a wild turn at one point when Ursula’s life has her not only living in Germany but, a friend of Eva Braun and a guest at the Fuhrer’s table. The point being made was an obvious one but suspending disbelief was impossible.

This book is interesting and kept my attention. The characters were well-drawn especially Ursula, Sylvie and Izzie. The dialogue between Sylvie and Izzie was humorous and very real.

The problem with the book is that because death has been taken away as the ultimate ending you can’t care enough about Ursula: she dies, she comes back. Rather than feeling like a complete novel it feels more like a series of short stories with the same characters.
There are suggestions throughout the book of,if not clairvoyance, then an ethereal quality about Ursula. I’m left unsure if this is the case and she knows she is re- writing history or it’s just happenstance that she does things differently.

I would recommend this book but with the proviso that it may not be what you think it is. But they are sometimes the best books.
***