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Ultra Marathon Man

ultra marathon man

 

Ultra Marathon Man

by Dean Karnazes

 

Ultrarunning legend, Dean Karnazes, has run 262 miles – the equivalent of ten marathons – without rest. He has run over mountains, across death valley, to the South Pole, and is probably the first person to eat an entire pizza while running. With an insught, candour and humour rarely seen in sports memoirs, Ultramarathon Man has motivated hundreds of thousands of people – runners and non-runners alike – to push themselves beyond their comfort zones and simply get out there and run.

 

I picked up this book out of interest, having done the odd 10k run myself.  I started reading the first chapter and I was hooked, I barely let the book out of my hands until I was finished.

From the first chapter when Dean is craving food while running in the early hours and ordering himself a pizza literally on the run, we follow his treks over The Western States Trail, through Death Valley and down to the South Pole.  These are incredible journeys that leave you gasping at what the human body is capable of enduring.

Dean’s first attempt at the 100 miles Great Western Trail is described in great detail and it is a totally engrossing read: the high points – not so many; and the low points – that get harder and harder to bear, as body parts start failing and some even fall off! Still he keeps going. The only complaint I have here is that no mention was made of the after effects and I really wanted to know how much damage he had done and how long the recovery was.

For his next challenge, Dean attempts to run through Death Valley in the height of summer with temperatures reaching 130 degrees fahrenheit, the asphalt underfoot exceeding 200 degrees; the run a mere 135 miles long.

After this, needing some cooling down the obvious place to go is the South Pole where Dean and a  select band of runners try to become the first runners ever to run a marathon to the south Pole.

I loved this book. I was totally immersed in Dean Karnazes’ adventures, metaphorically running alongside him in frank amazement but also huge admiration. The writing style makes it a very easy read and Dean comes across as a charismatic character. You don’t need to be an expert runner, or a sports person of any kind really, to read this, apart from some diet and training tips at the end, it’s not technical at all.

This is such an inspirational book, Dean karnazes’ attitude is so positive, his motto is:

      Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up.

whether you want to run an ultra marathon or your goals are a little more modest and maybe just getting out of bed in the morning is an achievement, this can be applied to anything at all in life.

Highly recommended

See What I Have Done

see what i have done

 

See What I Have Done

by Sarah Schmidt

 

In this riveting debut novel, See What I Have Done, Sarah Schmidt recasts one of the most fascinating murder cases of all time into an intimate story of a volatile household and a family devoid of love.

On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden calls out to her maid: Someone’s killed Father. The brutal ax-murder of Andrew and Abby Borden in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts, leaves little evidence and many unanswered questions. While neighbors struggle to understand why anyone would want to harm the respected Bordens, those close to the family have a different tale to tell—of a father with an explosive temper; a spiteful stepmother; and two spinster sisters, with a bond even stronger than blood, desperate for their independence.

As the police search for clues, Emma comforts an increasingly distraught Lizzie whose memories of that morning flash in scattered fragments. Had she been in the barn or the pear arbor to escape the stifling heat of the house? When did she last speak to her stepmother? Were they really gone and would everything be better now? Shifting among the perspectives of the unreliable Lizzie, her older sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget, and the enigmatic stranger Benjamin, the events of that fateful day are slowly revealed through a high-wire feat of storytelling. 

 

I do love books that take actual events and weave a story around them. Bring characters to life that you only know the very best or very worst about.  In this case Sarah Schmidt takes the infamous Lizzie Borden: accused of axing her father and step-mother to death, she was then acquitted, but still remained the prime suspect.

Most people are familiar with the old, rather gruesome, schoolyard rhyme:

 “Lizzie Borden took an axe, 

and gave her mother forty whacks, 

when she saw what she had done,

she gave her father forty one.”

This book is told from four viewpoints; Lizzie, her sister Emma, the maid Bridget and Benjamin, who gives an outsider’s perspective.

Lizzie’s voice is childlike, coming across as whiny and selfish and sounding much younger than her 30+ years. The relationship with her sister Emma is completely unhealthy; Lizzie is needy and dependent and Emma is staying at relatives to give herself much needed distance.

The whole family exists in a state of disfunctionality and Sarah Schmidt’s writing is engrossing, bringing out the mistrust and perceived slights between the family members. The whole atmosphere of the Borden household is claustrophobic and brooding in the extreme. This is not helped by being inside Lizzie’s head, a disturbing and unsettling place to be and we are soon glad of the differing viewpoints.

The book is awash with sensory overload; the descriptions of taste and smell leave a disgusting taste in your mouth: the rancid mutton stew, the sickness, Lizzie’s need to wallow in the blood and gore as she tries to come to terms with the fact that her father is dead.

Lizzie was put on trial for the murders but was acquitted for no better reason than the jury did not believe that a woman was capable of committing such a crime. Sarah Schmidt tells Lizzie’s side of the story and you can make your own mind up, there are other possibilities and the different viewpoints are fascinating.

This is a completely compelling read and if you enjoy true-life historical drama you are probably going to enjoy this.

High;y recommended

Many thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy.

The Man Who Loved Islands *Blog Tour*

the man who loved islands cover

I am really pleased to be part of the blog tour for this final chapter in David Ross’ fabulous trilogy. Many thanks to Anne Cater at  randomthingsthroughmyletterbox and to Karen at Orenda Books for sending me a copy of the book.

 

In the early ’80s, Bobby Cassidy and Joey Miller were inseparable; childhood friends and fledgling business associates. Now, both are depressed and lonely, and they haven’t spoken to each other in more than ten years. A bizarre opportunity to honour the memory of someone close to both of them presents itself, if only they can forgive … and forget.

Absurdly funny, deeply moving and utterly human, The Man Who Loved Islands is an unforgettable finale to the Disco Days trilogy.

 

The Man Who Loved Islands is the final book in the trilogy about working class life in Scotland in the 1980s. In this book we are transported forward to the present day and the starry-eyed lads are now middle-aged men with lives falling apart: collapsed relationships, failing health and depression taking hold.

Bobby Cassidy has been living in Ibiza and Joey Miller, his erstwhile best friend, has travelled the world over with his job; but neither is happy and neither has spoken to the other for 10 years. When another friend Hammy May, conspires to bring the two together it starts a new chapter in their lives and with the help of the impossible Max Mojo they embark on re-uniting The legendary Miraculous Vespas for a one-off music festival.

I have read and loved both the previous books:   The Last Days of disco review here which was one of my top 10 books of 2015 and The Rise and Fall of the Miraculous vespas review here  so I was obviously looking forward to this final book, and it was like meeting up with old friends. Friends who have had trials and tribulations but are essentially still the people you know and love.

David Ross definitely has a way of putting the human into his characters, they live and breathe, and you feel every emotion with them. He is totally in tune with the zeitgeist of the 80s and the mood of working class boys and men: their arguments and banter, but also their fierce loyalty and need for each other.

The final book is a fitting end to the story of Bobby and his family and friends, perfectly told in tone and pace. The humour in amongst the sadness; the wit and charm; the music – everywhere the music; but above all the love, tenderness and friendship.

A perfect human trilogy. I can’t wait to see what David F. Ross does next.

 

David Ross photo 2

David’s Bio

I was born in Glasgow in 1964 and I lived in various part of the city until the late 70’s. I subsequently moved to Kilmarnock where I have lived since. Following a frankly ludicrous early foray into sporadic employment (Undertakers, Ice Cream Parlour, Tennis Groundsman, DJ…I’ll save these stories until I know you better) I found myself at Glasgow School of Art, studying architecture. I am now the Design Director of Keppie Design.

I have worked all over the world and I led our practice strategy for projects in countries as diverse as China, Egypt, Malaysia, India and Libya. I am a designated business leader for East Ayrshire Council, a Board Mentor for Entrepreneurial Spark and I was design advisor to Strathclyde Passenger Transport for their modernisation programme of the Glasgow Subway in advance of the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

I’m married to Elaine and I have two children, Nathan and Nadia.  I’m a Chelsea fan – from long before the cash-rich days – and I occasionally write stream of consciousness rubbish for @ByTheMinSport feeds on Twitter.

My most prized possession is a signed Joe Strummer LP, and The Last Days Of Disco is my first novel.

Don’t forget to follow the rest of the blog tour!!

new blog poster

The Restless Dead

the restless dead

 

The Restless Dead

by Simon Beckett

 

It was on a Friday evening that forensics consultant Dr David Hunter took the call: a Detective Inspector Lundy from the Essex force. Just up the coast from Mersea Island, near a place called Backwaters, a badly decomposed body has been found and the local police would welcome Hunter’s help with the recovery and identification . . . But Hunter has his doubts about the identity of the remains. The hands and feet are missing, the face no longer recognisable. 

With its eerie and claustrophobic sense of place, explosive heart-in-mouth moments, and viscerally authentic forensics and police procedural detail, coupled with David Hunter’s own uncanny ability to understand the living as much as the dead, The Restless Dead stands as a masterclass in crime fiction and marks the stunning return of one of the genre’s best.

 

Dr David hunter is called by Essex police to assist with the recovery of a body in an area of marsh land known as the Backwaters. Being out of favour with the police due to circumstances in his past, he is hopeful this could be a turning point in his career.

The remains are thought to be those of the son of local businessman and landowner Sir Stephen Villiers, who has used his power and influence to hamper the investigation from the moment his son went missing. But when the body is recovered Hunter is not convinced that it is Leo villiers, and when more bodies are discovered, the mystery deepens.

This is crime writing at its intelligent best with superb characters, meaning the pages practically turn themselves.  Dr David Hunter as the main character is very well drawn, he has been the subject of previous books, but this can easily be read as a standalone, you get just enough back story to get a feel for the character but not too much to be over-whelming.

The setting of the Essex Backwaters is creepy and atmospheric, it is almost a character in itself and the introduction of the family through the setting is excellently told. This family have secrets abound and David Hunter finds himself entangled in the middle of it, to the detriment of his job. The twists and turns come thick and fast and, thanks to the calibre of the writing, are totally surprising. The denouement was totally unexpected and original.

The forensic detail is absolutely fascinating and this book will appeal to fans of Patricia Cornwell and Kathy Reichs.

Highly recommended

 

Many thanks to martin Myers of Penguin/Random House for sending me a copy.

 

 

 

A Dangerous Crossing

A Dangerous Crossing

 

A Dangerous Crossing

by Rachel Rhys

 

1939, Europe on the brink of war. Lily Shepherd leaves England on an ocean liner for Australia, escaping her life of drudgery for new horizons. She is instantly seduced by the world onboard: cocktails, black-tie balls and beautiful sunsets. Suddenly, Lily finds herself mingling with people who would otherwise never give her the time of day.

But soon she realizes her glamorous new friends are not what they seem. The rich and hedonistic Max and Eliza Campbell, mysterious and flirtatious Edward, and fascist George are all running away from tragedy and scandal even greater than her own.

By the time the ship docks, two passengers are dead, war has been declared, and life will never be the same again.

 

Lily shepherd is travelling to Australia, taking advantage of a government assisted place programme. She has to spend two years in domestic service when she arrives, but nevertheless she is looking forward to her new life and new adventures, hoping it will help her escape events from her past life.

The ocean liner provides an existence bubble away from the protocols of real life; class boundaries blur and unlikely friendships are struck up.

Set in the period leading up to WWII, many of the ship’s passengers are trying to escape the impending war and their own dark secrets. As the voyage goes on it becomes clear that something tragic is going to happen.

I absolutely adored this Agatha Christiesque tale of decadence and intrigue. The sights, sounds and smells of this ocean liner are brought brilliantly to life by clever, astute writing of the highest order. The stop-overs at the various countries immerse you in the crowds, the bustle, the cultures; you don’t just read this book: you feel it and experience it.

The characters are wonderful, Lily, who is at the heart of the story, trying to escape her demons and forge a new life; Max and Eliza, first class passengers who befriend Lily; the unstable George Price, with fascist leanings; Maria, a Jewish woman fleeing Europe and its impending war; and brother and sister Edward and Helena Fletcher who are also harbouring secrets.

The cover of the book is just perfect, the huge liner about to take over everyone’s life and one of the passenger’s (Lily?) so small looking up to a new life, yet seemingly up to her neck in water.

I am not sure how you would describe this book; it’s not classic murder/mystery with suspects, more historical drama with intrigue. However you describe it, it is wonderful, an absolute gem and highly recommended.

Many thanks to Alison Barrow at Transworld for sending me a copy

 

 

 

The Dollmaker

the dollmaker

 

The Dollmaker

Harriette Arnow

 

Strong-willed, self-reliant Gertie Nevels’s peaceful life in the Kentucky hills is devastated by the brutal winds of change. Uprooted from her backwoods home, she and her family are thrust into the confusion and chaos of wartime Detroit. And in a pitiless world of unendurable poverty, Gertie will battle fiercely and relentlessly to protect those things she holds most dear — her children, her heritage . . . and her triumphant ability to create beauty in the suffocating shadow of ugliness and despair.

 

There are books that you read that you think are good, then there are ones that you think are brilliant, but on top of that there is another category: masterpiece. The Dollmaker is an absolute masterpiece.

If the first chapter of this book doesn’t get your interest nothing will.  Gertie Nevels is riding her mule down the hills of kentucky to try to get emergency treatment for her sick son. we get a real taste for Gertie in this chapter, her strength and determination shines through.

Gertie and her family live in rural Appalachia. It is Gertie’s dream to own her own place and for her and her family to live off the land. But these are the dark days of WWII and the men are being taken away. The ones that aren’t conscripted are sent to Detroit to work for the industrial war machine. just when it seems that Gertie’s dream will come true; fate intervenes.

Taking all the children, she follows her husband to Detroit where life could not be more different or difficult. Living in a project scheme for workers at the factories there is no space, no privacy, nothing except grinding poverty.

Life for the family from here onwards is about making adjustments, but Gertie and her son, Reuben, find it the most difficult. When Gertie goes to meet the children’s teachers she is told in no uncertain terms that the problems Reuben has is because of his lack of adjustment, his refusal to fit in. Gertie’s retort to the obnoxious teacher is brilliant…

“but he cain’t help the way he’s made. It’s a lot more trouble to roll out steel-and make it like you want it-than it is biscuit dough.”

But Reuben’s failure to fit in, to find any kind of life for himself brings about one of Gertie’s many upheavals.

Gertie is such a brilliant character. in fact it is hard to think of her as a character in a book, she is so real your heart breaks for her. She is so strong and yet it seems impossible for her not to fall under the weight of her life. But she has children and responsibilities that she does not take lightly. there is a moment in the book when her husband says something to her that leaves you gasping. You wonder how she does not break, how she does not let hate take over her entire being. Gertie’s way of coping is whittling – sculpting from wooden blocks – she has a project that gives her some release from the hardship that she is living; but even that is somewhat taken from her and reduced to money-making.

There are two distinct settings to the book; the first is Kentucky, home for Gertie and her family, and the descriptions of the way people lived during the wartime, waiting for news of relatives fighting abroad is potent. The second setting is Detroit, this setting of total poverty, of the steel factory blazing away in the background, the multitude of characters living and struggling together, gives such depth to this novel. The book is told in local dialect which is totally necessary and quite easy to pick up and run with.

The war is always there in the background; although it is when it is over that most people are affected. When jobs begin to dry up and the animosity between employers and the unions wreaks terrible violence.

There is such devastation and tragedy in this novel, it is not an easy read, but there is also such savage beauty, charm, elegance and grace. I have found it so hard to write this review because I know I can’t do it justice, this book will stay with me for a very long time. It is re-released by Vintage as a lost classic and it quite simply is.

Many thanks to Rosanna at Vintage for sending me a copy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Intrusions

the-intrusions

 

The Intrusions

by Stav Sherez

 

When a distressed young woman arrives at their station claiming her friend has been abducted, and that the man threatened to come back and ‘claim her next’, Detectives Carrigan and Miller are thrust into a terrifying new world of stalking and obsession.

Taking them from a Bayswater hostel, where backpackers and foreign students share dorms and failing dreams, to the emerging threat of online intimidation, hacking, and control, The Intrusions explores disturbing contemporary themes with all the skill and dark psychology that Stav Sherez’s work has been so acclaimed for.

Under scrutiny themselves, and with old foes and enmities re-surfacing, how long will Carrigan and Miller have to find out the truth behind what these two women have been subjected to?

 

The first thing to say about this book is that it is fabulous: I mean truly fabulous.

The second thing to say is that it is scary: and I mean truly scary.

The book is set in Bayswater, London; temporary home to a transient population. When a resident in one of the hostels goes missing and her friend goes to the police, D.S. Geneva miller wants to investigate, but her boss D.I. Carrigan is sceptical until he is called to a murder site and the victim turns out to be Anna, the missing resident.

Carrigan is already in trouble with his superiors over past misdeeds, so when the case seems to be mired, he has to reluctantly accept the services of profiler, Ed Hoffman. They are not the best of friends.

The net is spread far and wide, encompassing countries, drugs,computer crime and social media.

I loved the characters of Carrigan and Miller, they worked so well together, and Geneva is my favourite name ever! All the characters are well-drawn and come across as real people; no copy and paste cliches here.

A book that is grounded in reality is always going to be unsettling and the premise here is extremely chilling. It will make you think every time you turn on your computer or go onto social media: how easy would it be for this to happen?

This book is such a wonderfully written, intelligent crime thriller. The layers of the crime are peeled away with subtlety to reveal twists, but also to deepen your understanding of the characters involved.

This is my first Stav Sherez novel; I have no idea how this has occurred, but I am off now to grab hold of his first two books and really hope that it’s not too long before his fourth is out.