Book Review: The Grand Dark by Richard Kadrey

The other week me and my lovely wife were browsing in our local Waterstones when I spotted the cover for this particular book.

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That looks interesting, I thought to myself. I read the back cover and then later at home downloaded the Kindle version. (Sorry Waterstones, but it was half the price).

Set in the fictional city of Lower Proszawa, the book features Largo, a cycle messenger and his exotic girlfriend Remy. The city is recovering from a war which all but destroyed the more affluent sister city of Higher Proszawa, and while the city’s inhabitants wait for the next war to begin they party, drink and take drugs. The book is post-apocalyptic set in a dystopian future, with steampunk themes, as well as having Orwellian and Kafkaesque undertones to go with Terry Gillian’s Brazil. With all that going, what’s not to like?

The first third of the book sets out the characters and their lives, as well as filling in their backstories, however the second third drags. I pushed through expecting the last third of the book to be exciting as all of the different threads are pulled together. This doesn’t happen. Largo goes off to visit the wastelands of Higher Proszawa, pointlessly, on a whim, using up favours and money that he doesn’t really have. He gets robbed, beaten up, shot at and shoots back. His friends go missing or are arrested. Unfortunately, overall, nothing really happens. The end is open ended with an obvious second book soon to come. Half of The Grand Dark could have been edited out without losing anything plot-wise.

I wanted to like this book, but by the end I was bored. I didn’t even object to how Largo managed to know the route across a minefield, despite seemingly never having crossed it before in his life. I won’t be reading the sequel, whenever it is released, and I very much doubt if I’ll read anything else by Richard Kadrey. I gave it 2 out of 5 on Goodreads.

Book Review: Free Country by George Mahood

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To give the book it’s full title, Free Country: A Penniless Adventure the Length of Britain. I first came across this book when I was reading the Oxfam collection of travel stories contained in The Kindness of Strangers (read my review here).

It often feels that if you’re going to write a travel book, especially something like Land’s End to John O’Groats, which has been written about at least a hundred times, you need a hook to pull people in. The ‘hook’ in Free Country is that George and his friend Ben intend to cycle the classic LEJOG route without spending a single penny. To add to this they start at Land’s End only wearing Union Jack boxer shorts, and without bicycles.

Their first port of call is the Land’s End hotel to see if there are any clothes left in the lost property box, and to see if the hotel would be prepared to give them any food. The pair of them have a knack of blagging stuff as it doesn’t take them too long to have acquired a couple of old bikes and an odd assortment of clothes. They also manage to find places to sleep; sometimes in an old barn, other times in some quite nice B & Bs.

The book is great fun to read and as with all travel books it’s the people you meet on the journey who make it all worthwhile. Most often the pair of them offer to work in return for food and lodgings, which one hotelier takes advantage of. They also stop for lunch in Lancaster, where we live, although they aren’t too kind about the place. It doesn’t take much for a city to give a bad impression; some dodgy traffic, a drunk wanting to fight or the local Greggs not wanting to give away any baked goods. Anyway, they make it all the way to the top of the country without knowingly paying for anything, and in just under three weeks, which is very impressive when you think about it.

I gave the book 5 out of 5 on Goodreads, and as I have said on many an occasion, the measure of an author is would you buy any of their other books. In  this instance I have, as George has written a book all about having a go at an Ironman, which I am looking forward to reading soon.

Currently I’m reading Down to the Sea in Ships by Horatio Clare and 65 Proof by J. A. Konrath.

A Pair of e-book Thrillers

Two thrillers to review here, both e-book freebies. First up we have No Shelter by Robert Smartwood, the first in the Holly Lin/Nova Bartkowski series of thrillers.

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Holly Lin is a US Government paid assassin who mainly works with Nova Bartkowski, with some of the books in the series featuring Holly as the main character and others featuring Nova. This book, as I said earlier, the first in the series features Holly Lin infiltrating a heavily guarded party in a top hotel in Las Vegas. Her aim is the kill the arms dealer and leave with a pendrive that he keeps on a chain around his  neck. It is implied that the pendrive contains details of how to hack into the US nuclear warheads and set them off.

The book  starts off at a frantic pace with fist fights, gun fights and car chases, before going off on a tangent to rescue a group of sex trafficked Mexicans. This doesn’t end well. There are some obvious plot holes, and Holly’s former lover and her father, both of whom she thought were dead, are actually still alive but working for the bad guys. A plot device that must be as old as the hills.

The ending of the book, while again very frantic, is slightly unbelievable. Why would the US Government place the highly dangerous pendrive onto a truck only guarded by two men. I gave the book 4 out of 5 on Goodreads,  but on reflection that was a little generous and 3 is probably fairer. Would I buy Book 2 in the series? Possibly.

Next up we have The Beast Within by Natalie Severine. This is the third book in the Lily Quinn series, and while I haven’t read the first two, this isn’t an issue. Lily is a half demon bounty hunter, paid by a college of sorcerers to find and deal with monsters. In this book it is a Werewolf, a very strong and powerful wolf. The sorcerers are also descended from Merlin, and Lily has demon strength, which comes in handy when you’re trying to capture a werewolf.

The book was fast paced with the action rarely letting up, and unlike No Shelter, you didn’t need to worry about plot holes or plot devices, because the book is all about a half demon chasing monsters. There isn’t really much else to say about it, except that I gave it 3 out 5 on Goodreads, and much like No Shelter it is unlikely that I will be buying or reading any of the other books in the series.

More Virtual Running Medals

The brother of a work colleague set up Run for the World, where medals were available if you ran a certain distance (read about my previous blog here). When the company was started, it wasn’t uncommon for there to be only a dozen people ‘racing’ for each medal. However, during lock down, virtual running has come into it’s own, with over 200 people for some of the more popular medals.

A year ago I joined a couple of multi-medal challenges, which I have only just finished. The first was to run 400km every three months, or each season, for the very nice set of jigsaw style medals seen below.

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The other challenge was to run 100km every month with each medal representing a different Wonder of the World; Grand Canyon, Rainbow Mountain, etc. Again the medals were in a jigsaw style, which was a little harder to put together than the four seasons challenge. This bling was also very nice.

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Both of these sets of medals are still available if you want them. Currently there is a continents set of medals, which I have Europe so far. Some of their other medals are a bit naff, in my opinion, which is why I am selective with which medals I go for.

Anyway, they can be found here if you’re after some nice lock down bling.

Book Review: Night Show by Richard Laymon

When I first started to read horror novels back in the late 80’s, Richard Laymon was one of my favourite authors. He didn’t try to write literature (Stephen King), or try to be too dark (Clive Barker) or try to shock for shocks sake (Shaun Hutson). Instead Mr Laymon wrote good honest scary horror novels with a plot that moved along nicely, with the odd twist, and a good smattering of gore. It must have been at least 20 years since I read Quake. It was with sadness that I found out that he’d died in 2001, so decided to download one of his e-books, especially as many of them were priced at 0.99p.

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The plot for Night Show is quite simple. A High School girl is tricked into visiting a ‘haunted’ house where someone else pretends to me a classic hockey mask wearing serial killer, scaring the hell out of her. She runs out of the house and into the street where she is hit by a car. After many months of convalescence she recovers with revenge on her mind. The other part of the story is a pair of lovers who work in Hollywood as special effects artists for horror films.

At times the book felt a little dated, however it was first published in 1984, and the story is probably more simplistic than what would be expected today. Despite this, I enjoyed the book and gave it 4 out of 5 on Goodreads. Next up I might look at reading something by Shaun Hutson, Graham Masterton or Peter Straub, among the many other horror writers that I used to read many years ago. Alternatively I could search out some of the best from the newer writers out there, possibly Joe Hill (who does look exactly like his old man), or maybe Oddjobs Part 2 (read my review of Part 1 here).

Book Review: Too Much and Never Enough by Mary Trump

or to give the book it’s full title – Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man.

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I’m not a fan of Donald Trump. As far as I’m concerned he has no redeeming qualities and should have been in jail many years ago, either for fraud, bribery or sexual assault. I have read a number of books about Trump, most recently I reviewed a couple here.

This book by Mary Trump is different as she is family. A granddaughter of Fred Trump Snr. and a niece of Donald. She refers to her uncle throughout the book as Donald, never as Donald Trump or The President. Fred Trump was a very successful businessman, but a very poor father, wanting his sons to have a ‘killer’ instinct, to win at all costs. Mary’s father, Freddy, wasn’t deemed to be ruthless enough and was constantly made to feel inferior by Fred Trump. Donald saw this as he was growing up and subsequently became a nasty bully, ignoring his mother and teachers to the point where he was shipped off to a Military Academy, which only made him worse.

Donald has always boasted about how he graduated college top of his class, although he sued his college to ensure that they never released his results. Mary goes further by saying that Trump paid someone else to take the entrance exam. Denied by Donald, obviously, but totally believable. After college Donald went to ‘work’ for his old man, although this mainly involved getting paid a lot for doing very little. As Mary exaplins, doing very little but taking the credit is a Trump family trait. When Donald branched out on his own, all of his early success was engineered by his father; the money, the contacts and then ensuring that Donald was surrounded by people who did know what they were doing. Once Donald moved into Casinos, and area Fred knew nothing, Donald started to fail, and fail big time.

There isn’t a great deal in this book which isn’t already known, but to hear it from someone inside the Trump family makes it more shocking, no wonder Donald tried to ban it. This brings me onto the Fred Trump will. Mary, her brother and their mother were completely left out of the will, and had to take the four remaining siblings to court. They didn’t have a great lawyer who ended up agreeing that the estate was only worth $30m. Four years later the estate was sold for $700m, with Donald receiving $170m to help pay some of his huge debts, even though the estate was valued at the time at $1,000m, another huge loss for Donald.

There are so many other stories in the book. Especially shocking is the treatment of Mary’s father, Freddy, who when he became seriously ill wasn’t taken to a hospital until it was too late, and then no one from the family went with him so he dies alone. Mary was at college at the time and wasn’t told how seriously ill he was. Donald went to the cinema to watch a film.

Donald has failed upwards his whole life and with the Presidency it is obvious that he defers to dictators, Putin and Kim Jong-un, while trying to create his own dictatorship in the US, (just look at the troops on the streets of Portland). On a recent interview with Fox News he declined to state if he would observe the results of the 2020 election. It should also be very worrying that he took a cognitive test. Only people with signs of dementia need to take that test. The 2020 election is less than 100 days away, and for the sake of the world Trump must be defeated.

I have to say that this book is probably the best book about Trump that I’ve read, along with the ones by Bob Woodward and the golfing book by Rick Reilly.  Well worth reading and another 5 out of 5 on Goodreads.

Book Review: Signalz by F Paul Wilson

I have avidly read most of Mr Wilson’s books, and all of his Repairman Jack books. Read my many reviews here, here, here and here.

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Before we start on the review of Signalz, the first thing to know is that if you’ve not read most of the Repairman Jack books, this is not the one to start with. Add to the confusion, Repairman Jack isn’t even in this book, although everything in this book occurs days before Nightworld, the final Jack book.

Most of the characters in Signalz have appeared in other books as bit part players. We have Russ Tuit’s brother, Ernst Drexlar, the writer Frank Winslow and the Native American from The Last Christmas. There are three different stories in Signalz, but as with all good Paul Wilson books, their stories overlap and become entwined. However, sometimes it feels like you should now more about certain characters. It is possible that some of them have appeared in other books which I haven’t read.

The main thread is the ‘signalz’, other worldly communications emanating from unknown places, but having been recorded since 1941, the year that ‘The One’ escaped from his prison in a Romanian keep, as written about in The Keep, a very scary stand alone horror novel. Anyway, these signals are drawing together, implying that the end of the world is about to begin.

As I said, this is a book for the fans only, and I loved it, even without Jack. I also enjoy how Paul Wilson doesn’t worry about inserting new books into an established series. Signalz occurs days before Nightworld, even though the first version of Nightworld came out almost 30 years ago. There is a great deal going on in Signalz, which could indicate that there are more books to come. Last Christmas inserts itself into the series with another three or four books after it. One reason I like this is because it means that we might get more Repairman Jack books in the future. Here’s hoping.

Anyway, I gave the book 5 out of 5 on Goodreads.

Longsleddale

I have my old friend The Prof to thank for encouraging me to head down dead ends. Longsleddale is one of the best dead ends around, with over four miles of undulating quiet road until you reach an old farm and a dirt track which continues up into the fells.

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I’m getting ahead of myself. I have a habit of wanting to find new roads to cycle on and new footpaths to run on, with the aim of ‘getting’ new Veloviewer tiles (read about it here), which my lovely wife tells me is endearing. Last weekends camping trip snagged another half a dozen tiles (read about it here and here), but the lock down has meant that we haven’t travelled as far a field as we would have liked. Yesterday I decided to cycle up to Kendal and up Longsleddale to nab a few more tiles.

I headed north from Kendal up the A6, which is fairly quiet up here, before turning off just after Garth Row. The road drops down suddenly before passing the road on the left to Burnside. From here, as I mentioned earlier, the road undulates as it makes it’s way up the Longsleddale Valley, passing holiday cottages and farms. There are fells either side, first off Whiteside Pike, then White How, before looming in the distance is Shipman Knots and Grey Crag.

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After four miles of some of the best cycling ever, the road ends at a small bridge and a farm, although a dirt track continues up and over before dropping down to Haweswater Reservoir. Alternatively you could run up and around the famous Kentmere Pike. There were a number of cars parked along the dirt track so it is obviously a popular spot for runners and mountain bikers, although if you wanted to run Kentmere Pike, Staveley is probably a better place to start and finish from. As I cycled back toward Burnside I was passed by more than a few cars, all of whom looked to be full of sporty types. Hopefully when the whole Covid thing calms down a bit, me and my lovely wife will feel able to head out into the fells of the Lake District or even make a long weekend of it.

Anyway, if you’re in the area, Longsleddale is a great little valley to visit, and don’t be afraid to cycle down the odd dead end, you never know what you might find.

 

Book Review: In Search of Robert Millar by Richard Moore

I remember as a teenager when TV in the UK first starting showing the Tour de France. It was incredibly exciting, although there wasn’t much home talent to cheer on. The came the mercurial Scottish rider Robert Millar, climbing through the alps to win that year’s Polka Dot Jersey. ‘Fame’ followed by appearing on the boxes of Kellog’s ‘Start’ cereal. It was also very obvious that Robert didn’t in the least enjoy the fame side of professional cycling. Some interviews with him were hard to watch as he gave single word answers, while other he could be very informative. This book is written by a former team mate of Robert’s. Initially he wanted to write an official biography with direct input from Robert, but as he became a recluse at the end of his professional career, the book became slightly detective in nature.

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The author travels around Europe interviewing friends, colleagues and team mate of Robert’s, from his days growing up in Glasgow to his brief time as a team manager. Robert was definitely ahead of his time as he was far more focused on his diet, whereas all other professional cyclists were having steak most nights.

Over the course of the book we find out so much about Robert, and despite his reputation for being difficult, hardly anyone has a bad word to say about him. There are also many anecdotes throughout the book, including one where he is mentoring a group of young UK professionals and he tells them not to ask about the Tour de France as none of them will ever be going there to race. Harsh, but true. He didn’t mince his words. Also interesting is how he was ‘robbed’ of winning the Tour of Spain as the Spanish teams worked together for a Spanish win. Undoubtedly Robert should have been the first English speaking Grand Tour winner.

The book also touches on the controversy surrounding his hermit like status in the years after he retired, including being hounded by the tabloid press. The book was written in 2008, ten years before Millar re-emerged as Philippa York. The Wikipedia entry is far more interesting than anything the tabloids might say, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s none of my business. Robert/Philippa remains one of the greatest British cyclists of all time, and paved the way for many other talented riders from these shores to follow his/her footsteps. An amazing cyclist and an amazing person.

Strava Local Legends

Over the last month I had spotted a couple of friends in America becoming ‘local legends’, in that they had ridden or run a particular segment the most times in the last 90 days. This functionality has now been released in the UK, but only on the mobile App, and I think only to subscribers. If you go to your profile on the App, scroll down to Segments near to the bottom and you will find a tab with all of the segments where you are the local legend. Currently I am the local legend on one cycling segment and five running segments.

Over the last few years I’ve looked at segments less and less, as it has become almost impossible for me to reach the top ten. This function means that segment hunting rewards athletes of all abilities, as speed doesn’t factor into it. I also like how the graph illustrates how many different athletes have done each segment in the last 90 days. Yesterday I was the local legend on a segment that had over 900 athletes completing it. Alas someone else took my local legend status from me. I like how this encourages you to go out, but unlike KOMs, it doesn’t encourage reckless or dangerous cycling.

On the downside, I like to ride or run somewhere new. Whether this be tile hunting with Veloveiwer, or new streets with City Strides. Additionally, the segment above, ‘Bowerham work commute’ is one that once the University is fully open again I will lose. Commuters who ride the same route day in day out will obviously have an advantage for certain segments. You can also see that all of the running segments where I am the local legend I have only run once as they are fairly obscure. The local legend status also isn’t available for every segment; I’m not sure why.

Anyway, I think this is a brilliant addition to Strava as segments were definitely becoming a bit stale.