The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

I only finished reading The Handmaid’s Tale a couple of weeks ago, and as I recall I said that it was an essential dystopian book. The sequel, The Testaments, was written almost 35 years later, in a very different world and a very different America.

The Testaments isn’t a pure sequel, in that Offred, from the first book isn’t mentioned, so we still have no idea what happened to her. I’d like to think that she made it across the border into Canada and was eventually re-united with her husband and child.

This book is also written in a very different style. For one, there are now quotation marks, an oft mentioned complaint from the first book. The Testaments is also written from the perspective of three different characters; two teenage girls, one from Gilead and the other from Canada, with Aunt Lydia being the final character, the first and more powerful of all of the Aunts. I don’t think its too much of a spoiler to say that the lives of all three characters intertwine. We learn more about the history of Gilead and the wars between Gilead and Texas, California and Canada. There are also ‘Pearl Girls’, in effect missionaries travelling abroad in an attempt to convert young girls to emigrate to Gilead.

I thought that the book was truly excellent, maybe not as good as The Handmaid’s Tale, but then not many books are. It must be daunting to write a follow up book to one of the most important books ever written. See also Joseph Heller’s follow up to Catch-22, or Gyorgy Dalos’ sequel to 1984, titled 1985. There are plenty of reviews saying how disappointed they were with The Testaments, which is unfair.

I can’t write about the TV Series as we only watched half of the first series. I can’t comment on differences in storylines or characters, and I have no idea if the plot from The Testaments is included. What I can say, is that if you enjoyed reading The Handmaid’s Tale, then you’ll enjoy this.

Finally, some reviewers insist that this could never happen and that the book is unrealistic. The Stand and It are two of Stephen King’s most popular books, but I can’t remember reading about them being unrealistic. Before the end of 2022, half of the States in America will have banned abortion, and within 10 years America will no longer be a democracy, if it still is at the moment, as Republican rule is minority rule. Can someone explain to me why the person who gets the most votes doesn’t become President, and how this is ‘Democracy’. Scary times are ahead.

Book Review: Did Not Finish by George Mahood

Did Not Finish, or DNF for short, is an oft used acronym in running and triathlons. The disastrous DNF. George knows all too well about the dreaded DNF having written a book all about training, preparing and then completing an Ironman. This particular book was written during the first lockdown and forms part of a series of medium length books all available at a knockdown price. They are all full of George’s witty observations on life, along with his friends and family.

As you can see from the book covers above the books mostly cover swimming, cycling and running. I won’t go into detail about the books except to say that I enjoyed them all, as did most people on Goodreads, with each book having an average score of 4.5. They books are all approximately 150 pages long and are available from Amazon as an e-book for only £1.99.

Perfect books if you don’t want to read about the professionals and you prefer to read about the exploits of people like you and me, the plodders, the finishers and those who get back up after falling on their arse.

Edit a few days later.

I had also read another book by George, which is part of the same series.

This particular short book is all about his attempt to run a 36 mile ultra along the south coast in horrendous weather. It’s amazing how a book all about how truly awful an experience someone had running 36 miles can make you want to enter something similar. Laugh out loud and well worth checking out, even if you never want to run an ultra.

Book Review: Walking the Nile by Levison Wood

Two Africa travel books in quick succession. After the very good Blood River by Tim Butcher (review here), I started to read Levison Wood’s adventure along the Nile.

Most people will know that the source of the Nile is highly disputed, with different countries insisting it starts on their land. As the title suggests, the author aims to walk the whole length of it, which has never been done before. He will walk through seven different countries, through rainforest, savannah, swamp, desert and lush delta oasis. Does he manage it? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

As with any good travel book, the people met on the way are often more of the story than the actual journey. That is definitely the case here, with the guides who he wouldn’t have managed to survive without and the locals who mostly wanted to help. The different countries often merge into one, but there were some obvious borders to cross.

As with Blood River this book offered a fascinating insight into the vast African continent, and while I wouldn’t want to follow in his footsteps, I will happily read about it. I gave the book 4 stars, which seems to be the average, with a few 5 stars and a few 3 stars, but I couldn’t find a single 1 star review.

Book Review: The Khan by Saima Mir

My lovely wife is as bad as me for bookshop browsing. Even though we both have a pile of unread books, last Saturday we exited Waterstones with a new book each. The new book that I had acquired was The Khan by Saima Mir, reviewed below.

Today I picked up two books from a charity shop, one a Jack Reacher book by Lee Child and the other one of the Dark Tower series by Stephen King, combined price £2.50. They also had The Testaments by Margaret Attwood for £1, which was a shame as I had only just bought it second hand online. We really should browse the many charity shops in Lancaster more often.

Back to the book review. “Be twice as good as men and four times as good as white men” is how Jia Khan has lived. Jia is a highly successful lawyer in London, often representing criminals and their associates, one of which is an Eastern European drug smuggler and all round crime lord. She manages to defend one of his cousins, and she does it by being the archetypal ‘nasty’ lawyer.

A year later Jia finds herself back in her home town of Bradford for the wedding of her younger sister. 14 years have passed since she was last in the family home. Her father, Akbar Khan, is the boss of another organised crime syndicate, with his rule often being violent and bloody. When he is murdered, Jia is offered the opportunity to follow in her father’s footsteps.

The book is fairly slow moving, with many flashback chapters where we find out about a younger Jia, her brothers and her son. The book also details life for many Pakistani’s born and raised in the UK, where justice is often very different for them, than it is for whites. It also looks at how a woman could cope thrust into a very male dominated world.

It is a very powerful book, full of twists and turns, with some very nasty characters, and Jia is not the most innocent of people. One analogy of this is that at the start of the book she is a vegan, but by the end she is tucking into traditional meat dishes. The book slows down for a few chapters about two thirds of the way through, but this mirrors the battle between the two crime syndicates in the city. It isn’t a secret that the other crime syndicate is the same Eastern European from earlier in the book. There are also a couple of reveals at the end of the book which I hadn’t guessed, but definitely adds to the whole story and how the characters behave.

I gave the book 4 stars, which I thought was fair, although the average is 3.6, which I think is a little harsh. A unique thriller set in a city where thrillers are not usually set, with characters that are not generally well represented in crime fiction. A very accomplished debut novel.


In my late teens that only books I would read were from the horror section, much like the only music I would listen to was heavy metal. One friend introduced me to the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett, and another friend introduced me to the band Half Man Half Biscuit. Within a few years I was reading and listening to a wide spectrum of books and music.

This got me think about how authors become pigeon-holed in a specific genre, and that many authors definitely don’t stick with that initial genre. Dean Koontz has written many out and out horror books, for example Phantoms or Watchers, but he’s also written some out and out thrillers, for example Dark Rivers of the Heart or the Jane Hawk Series.

Continuing my thought process, what actually is ‘horror’? At the classic level you might suggest good old fashioned monsters, with Vampires and Werewolves. What about Cujo? One of Stephen King’s early novels with a large rabid dog. There isn’t anything supernatural. It is just a large dog that’s gone crazy. I would still suggest that the book would be classed as ‘horror’. I stopped reading Patricia Cornwell mostly because how horrible the situations her main character would find herself in. The books might be thriller or crime thriller, but they were had far more ‘horror’ than many horror books out there. See also books by Tess Gerritsen, specifically The Surgeon.

Richard Laymon is always classed as a horror writer, even though it is very rare for anything in his books to be supernatural. I would class him in the Splatterpunk genre, along with Shaun Hutson, although some of Shaun’s books have plenty of supernatural elements. What is Splatterpunk? I watched one of the Hostel films and again one of the Saw films. I didn’t particularly enjoy them and haven’t watched any of the many many sequels. These type of films have been dubbed Torture Porn, which is fairly apt and possibly a way to describe Splatterpunk. However, not all Splatterpunk books are the same. I will read reviews and if the book is simply trying to be as gross and nasty as possible with very little reason or plot, I will give it a pass.

One final thought. Do you buy or read books solely based on Genre? I definitely look at the list of books in the Post Apocalypse and Dystopian genres, but I don’t for Horror or Splatterpunk.

I think what I’m trying to say, is that the boundaries between genres is very fluid, with plenty of crossover, and that I don’t believe in sticking to one genre, as anyone who has read some of my book reviews can attest.

Book Review: The Thursday Murder Club and The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman

My lovely wife was reading The Thursday Murder Club and was chuckling away to herself, so when she finished it she gave it to me to read.

My wife had also bought the hardback version of the sequel, The Man Who Died Twice, but has been distracted by a true crime book, so I jumped straight in when I’d finished the first one.

What are they about? A group of four pensioners living in a retirement complex look at old case files, and try to solve them. However, one of the builders of the complex is bludgeoned to death, so the Thursday Murder Club set about trying to find out who did it. As the bodies begin to pile up, can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer, before it’s too late? (The last sentence was taken directly from the back of the book, if you’re wondering why it is written so well).

The Man Who Died Twice follows a similar pattern, involving diamond thieves, the mafia, the local drug boss and one of our gang’s ex-husband. This time they are up against an enemy who wouldn’t bat an eyelid at knocking off four septuagenarians. Can The Thursday Murder Club find the killer (and the diamonds) before the killer finds them? (The last sentence was also taken directly from the back of the book).

Book reviews for a series of books can become complicated, as I don’t want to give away anything from the second book which might spoil the first if you’ve not read it, which is why the above is quite concise.

What did I think of the books? The first book has sold more than a million, although it isn’t really that good a book. It’s OK, but not a million best seller. The book has been marketed very well, and it has appealed to those people who might bot read books very often, which is no bad thing, and people recognise Richard Osman as that man off the telly. There are a lot of characters in the first book and it can become confusing, but there are some very good laugh out loud moments.

The second book is much better. It flows faster and grips you more. Also, the author doesn’t need to spend pages and pages describing our main characters, as we all know them by now. The second book is also better written, almost as if Richard Osman has become a better writer.

I heard on the radio that the first book is going to be made into a film or a TV series, and I couldn’t help but immediately think that Helen Mirren would be perfect as Elizabeth,.

Anyway, both books are highly inoffensive and mostly highly enjoyable. I gave the first book 4 out of 5, which was a little generous, and the second book the same, which was probably a little harsh. Goodreads gives them 3.95 and 4.47, which is just about right I think.

50 Closest Parkrun

Any followers of this blog will know that I like to do the odd tourist parkrun, and while I’ve ‘only’ done 128 parkruns, they have been at 43 different locations. Out running this morning it occurred to me how many of the fifty closest parkruns to Lancaster have I done. I have mentioned the website tourist tool in the past, which allows you to search for your nearest parkruns, either ones you’ve done or not done. Below is an image of my fifty closest parkruns, taken from tourist tool.

The tool isn’t perfect as it includes parkruns located within the confines of prisons, which are not open to the general public. Also, while I have done 43 different parkruns, many of them have been well away from Lancaster, for example Salisbury, Blandford Forum and Graves to name just three. Finally, one of the parkruns that I’ve done is no longer a parkrun. For various reasons Cuerdon Valley didn’t start up again after the long Covid lay off.

Of the 50 closest parkruns, I have completed 27 of them, however, there are 5 prisons parkruns, which leaves me with 18 parkruns to complete. Technically this would be the nearest 45 if we exclude the prisons, but that might be the next challenge, 50 closest parkruns excluding prisons.

You might notice that the website includes distances. However, this is as the crow flies, and the distance to Horton Park on the road is 138km, although according to Google maps this will only take one hour and 22 minutes.

How long will it take to complete these 18 missing parkruns? Am I being too ambitious if I want to tick them all off this year?

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

I very rarely give a book a 5 star rating. The Handmaid’s Tale deserved 5 stars. A book so good and so thought provoking that on occasions I had to put it down so that I could have a think over what I’d just read. When it comes to dystopian novels this book is equal to 1984 and Fahrenheit 451. A book so good that I struggled to read anything new for a few days.

This has been on my ‘to read’ list for a while, but last weekend on our usual foray into Lancaster we stopped off at the Oxfam second hand book shop where I snagged a copy of this, along with another trashy Richard Laymon splatterpunk special.

For those who don’t know the story, America has become the Republic of Gilead, where women have become little more than breeding stock. Offred, the main character, lives with the commander and his wife, and once a month she is forced to have sex with him so that she can provide them with a child. If she is successful, she will then be sent to live with another childless couple from the higher echelons of this warped society to do the same. If she doesn’t get pregnant then her future will be even bleaker than it currently is.

Offred remembers when things were different, when women were allowed jobs, or to have money, or to decide who they had sex with, who they married or had children with. A terrorist attack, where the President was killed, resulted in martial law, which after only a few years became this nightmare dystopian world as human rights and freedoms were slowly eroded.

It is impossible to review this book without touching upon politics. It was written during the Reagon era, but in light of the recent leak from the Supreme Court in America, where 5 of the judges have openly stated they they intend to revoke Roe vs Wade, and allow individual states to decide if abortions should remain legal. Already the so called heartbeat law is in place in may states, along with plans to try women for murder if they have an abortion. Lets set the record straight. Rich women who want an abortion will still be able to get them. For the rest, these laws will mean that abortions will still occur, but they will no longer be safe. Additionally, many states are looking at no exemption laws, where even if a woman (or child) becomes pregnant through rape or incest, they will still have to give birth. This is what people were worried about when Trump was made President, and were told that they were being alarmist. On top of this we have Trump’s refusal to concede and the riots of 6th January 2021 which tried to prevent the peaceful and lawful transfer of power. Marjorie Taylor Greene even sent a text message to Mark Meadows advocating for martial law, although she spelt it as ‘Marshall’ law.

It has been stated that America has inched towards the first stages of fascism. 15 years ago Naomi Wolf wrote an article detailing the 10 steps to fascism (Read it here). I would suggest that America was only a hare’s breath away from reaching step 10 last January.

A few years ago me and Helen started to watch the TV series, but we stopped half way through as it was depressing and upsetting, which is probably to some degree the point. The book does differ from the TV series, mainly because the book is only long enough for one series, and I just had a look and series 5 will be shown later this year. However, from what I watched and read, the book and TV are very similar. However, there is the recently written sequel, The Testaments, which I have already ordered.

What was also interesting was reading some of the reviews for this book. Mostly 4 or 5 stars, but with the odd 1 star as well. Some people really didn’t like the style of the book, and how quotation marks are missing. If I tried to write in the style of this book it would be terrible, but Margaret Atwood is such an accomplished author she can carry off this very unconventional style of writing. One reviewer said that she didn’t ‘buy it’, as in the future in the book was too extreme and would never happen. Let’s hope so, but that misses the point of dystopian books, they are meant to show an extreme version of our future society. Much like many politicians in the Conservative party looked at 1984 as a ‘how to’ manual. Another reviewer said ‘so much for Atwood’s dire predictions’. Again, disliking the book because 25 years after it was written, the future described hasn’t happened misses the point by a country mile.

Anyway I could go on. The book is amazing, and America, you have to fight like you’ve never fought before because your future could be just as bad as the Republic of Gilead.

Book Review: Nameless Series 2 by Dean Koontz

Two years ago I reviewed Nameless Series 1 by Dean Koontz, although at the time it was simply called Nameless (read my review here). Mr Koontz has now written another six inter-linked stories with the same ‘Nameless’ hero.

Once again the nameless individual travels the country, righting wrongs and punishing evil, with the aid of his mysterious accomplice on the other end of the phone. Our hero is always supplied with more than enough funds, ID and weapons, along with his occasional precognition abilities. He can see a future where all is lost, armed gangs roam the land raping and killing. All he can do is hope that the missions he’s sent on will lead to a better future.

As with the first series there is an arc threading it’s way through all six short books, culminating in the last book. Each book has it’s own plot, but as I said, something bigger is looming. There are the usual Dean Koontz characters; the psychopathic doctor who thinks he’s doing the work of a higher power, corrupt local police and billionaires out for their own ends.

Not all of the books in the series work. One in particular is a mess, although it could be argued that it is intentional, as his handler is also a mess. Anyway, if you’re a fan of Dean Koontz, you’ll love this second series. I gave the series as a whole 4 out of 5. I don’t know if there will be a series 3, but I hope so.

If you’ve never read any of his books, I would recommend starting with either Dark Rivers of the Heart or Watchers.

Book Review: Jack Reacher by Lee Child

Every now and again the internet explodes. I can happily ignore it if the furore involves a Kardashian or similar, but when the ‘explosion’ is book related I take notice. A few years ago, when the first series of Game of Thrones was being broadcast, there was a huge outcry when Sean Bean’s character, Ned Stark, lost his head. I had never read the books or watch the series, but I was intrigued enough to do both. I even read all of the available books before the start of the second series, although like everyone else I was disappointed by the final series. Hopefully the last two books will be better, whenever they appear. Currently The Winds of Winter is due mid way through 2021.

Another time that I remember the internet exploding was when Tom Cruise was signed up to play Jack Reacher. Not having read the books I was once again out of the loop, but me and my lovely wife did watch the film a while ago. It was OK, nothing special, but not too bad. I’m not a fan of Tom Cruise. I find his acting to be two dimensional at best, and as a person he comes across as a humourless control freak.

Anyway, I caught the trailer for the new Amazon Jack Reacher series, and it then dawned on me why fans of the series might be upset with Tom Cruise. Much like when Stallone removed his helmet when playing Judge Dread. One of the most important facets of Jack Reacher is that he is huge, 6 foot 5 inches with muscles on top of muscles.

Not having Amazon Prime I haven’t watched the series, but by all accounts its very good. I therefore decided to read the first book, Killing Floor. What I didn’t realise when I started was that there are currently 27 books in the series, with a whole load of short stories as well. It might take a while to read them all!

Jack Reacher is ex-army, from an army family. Discharged he is lost, and becomes, in his own words, a hobo, travelling around America with no fixed abode. He lands in the small Georgia town of Margrave, and is immediately arrested for murder. He is sent to the local prison for the weekend, where upon someone tries to kill him.

Back in the town on the Monday, it appears that not every person on the small police force is corrupt, and with the head detective and one of the deputy’s they set about finding out who was murdered and why. I won’t give too much away, but the plot involves Reacher’s older brother and a warehouse full of counterfeit money, along with a very nasty South American cartel.

The book fair rockets along, and while the story isn’t ground breaking it was very well written and hooked me in, so much so that I purchased the second book in the series, Die Trying. It must be noted that the books do not need to be read in order, which is lucky as I grabbed book number 21 from a bus stop library in Sedbergh the other week.

In this book Jack Reacher is working as a bouncer for a blues club in Chicago, and when casually walking through the city a woman is grabbed off the street and bundled into a van. Thinking that he is with her, Reacher is taken hostage as well. Who is she and where are they being taken?

In the back of the van they are transferred to a larger truck and driven across the country. Reacher manages to escape and kill one of their captors, but decides to stay with the woman for her protection, although she thinks that she is protecting him, as she doesn’t know about his army background, and he doesn’t know about her FBI background.

We learn more about Reacher’s army days as one of his old commanders turns up, and we find out that he was also one of the best marksman in the army. Handy.

Anyway, not quite as good as the first book, but still an enjoyable read, although with Reacher’s sniper skills it feels like he is almost super human. I’m not in a hurry to read book 3, although I expect that I probably will at some point in the future.