Book Review: Don’t Go There by Adam Fletcher

My beautiful wife gave me this book as a Christmas present, and even though I’m only now writing a review, I had finished it a couple of months ago. I currently have a pile of seven books that I’ve finished but haven’t reviewed, so I’d better get on with reviewing them.

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My wife knows that I have a predilection for unusual travel books, so this was right up my street. However, the author doesn’t come across as the most likeable of people in the first few chapters.

The books premise is quite simple, go an visit the places where you are generally advised not to go. For example, Chernobyl or North Korea. This crazy tourist stuff doesn’t start deliberately, it begins with a holiday to Turkey which just happens to coincide with the uprising and numerous riots.

Stuck on a bus in China for 24 hours isn’t anyone’s idea of fun, and if I’m honest I would be happy not to visit most of the places. Saying that, Palestine was interesting, as was North Korea. The group that Adam travelled with through some of the more out of the way Eastern European countries would have driven me mad, as it almost did him, with their constant drunkeness.

Overall an interesting read, once you get past the author’s tendency to lie of the sofa antagonizing his girlfriend, and I will probably look out for the sequel when it comes out.

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Book Review: John Lanchester – The Wall

A few months ago I was in our local branch of Waterstones looking for a book by Alex Hannold called Alone on the Wall (read my review here). The very helpful assistant thought that I had asked for The Wall by John Lanchester. Intrigued by the wrong book I had a look at some reviews and decided to give it a go. I’m very glad that I did.

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It’s set in a dystopian future, very 1984, where there has been some cataclysmic climate change event, resulting in huge sea level rises, mass migration and a complete lack of beaches around the UK. The future in the book is like some kind of nightmare Brexit scenario designed by Farage and the Daily Mail. To keep out migrants from Europe and beyond which have become uninhabitable, a huge wall around the whole coast of the UK has been built. Added to this, every person once they reach 18 have to spend two years on the wall defending it. This causes great resentment between the younger generation, who are not responsible for the mess the world is in, and the older generation, who are responsible, but don’t have to live with their actions. Much like climate change or Brexit. On top of this, if someone successfully gets over the wall in the section that you are supposed to be defending, you get turfed out.

What actually caused the UK to become so insular is never explained, or how the wall came to be built, but I do hope that John Lanchester is busy writing a sequel. This book would be good for the Manchester post apocalypse book club to read.

Book Review: The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

You know it’s a good book when you finish it and immediately hand it to your wife to read, and then the moments she finishes it she hands it to her Mum to read. This book has everything. It will make you laugh and cry, but it will also make you think.

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Raynor and her husband Moth lose everything, and I mean everything. A court decides that they are liable for a debt and then lose all of their savings their house and any form of income. The book starts with the pair hiding in their house before the bailiffs arrive. A box of books in front of them has 500 Mile Walkies by Mark Wallington on the top. In a moment of madness or brilliance, Raynor decides that as they are about to be made homeless, why don’t they walk the West Coast Path from Minehead to Poole, wild camping to save money.

Almost thirty years ago Mark Wallington’s book was recommended to me by a friend, and I remember that I really enjoyed it. So much in fact that many years later on holiday I walked most of the path around Cornwall.

One of the things in the book that will strike you is people’s attitude once they find out that the Winns are homeless, and not homeless through choice. Almost like lepers. Raynor doesn’t shy away from talking about the vast numbers of homeless people that exist in the UK, often slipping through the cracks. The sofa surfers, the summer workers living in tents and the alcoholics and drug addicts, all trying to survive on very little, living hand to mouth, week to week. They meet them all on their walk, and the situation is getting worse. To make things worse, Moth has a long term incurable illness.

Is there a happy ending? You would hope so, but life isn’t always that kind.

The pair of them are approximately the same ages as me and my beautiful wife, and I couldn’t imagine losing everything as I near 50. It made me realise just how lucky I am. I have a wife and dog who love me, and all three of us are fit and healthy. Quite simply you should read this book.

 

Book Review: The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

This was by far one of the best books that I’ve read for a very long time. I didn’t want it to end. Shaun Bythell owns and runs a second hand book shop in Wigtown, and started to write down what went on in his shop.

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He writes about the staff who work from him, and their quirks, and the numerous customers and how books about trains are some of his biggest sellers. He notes down how many online orders there were each day, and how many of them could be found in the maze of his shop. It’s not unusual for a customer to put a book back in the wrong place, or for his staff to enter the location code into the computer incorrectly.

One theme that runs throughout the book is how Amazon have completely changed the business, and how they are squeezing every book shop in the country. Customers would even check Amazon prices when they were holding a book they wanted to buy while in full view of Shaun, or would say in a loud voice ‘it’s cheaper online’.

I also enjoyed reading about the process of buying used books. People would ring up and ask Shaun to visit and buy job lots. Often most of the books are old and not in a very good condition or are just unlikely to sell. Other times people wander into the shop with a couple of boxes or bags full of books to sell.

Opening the book at a random page;

orders online 5, books found 4. There was another invasion of lycra-clad septuagenarian cyclists this morning, most of whom bought a book or two, and who were flattering about both the shop and the stock.

The shop also had a Random Book Club, with approximately 160 members, who for £59 a year would receive a good quality random book each month, mixed between fiction and non-fiction. Brilliant idea. However, when I looked online about joining, it was closed to new members, so I assume that the success of this book has helped with the physical shop. Let’s hope so.

I used to love browsing in a second hand book shop, and there used to be a good one in the Oxford covered market, but when I returned last year it had closed. There is a fairly recent second hand book opened in Lancaster, but I am sorry to say that I have never been in. This I will rectify, post haste.

As I said at the start, I loved this book and you will too.

Book Review: Vassos Alexander – Running Up That Hill

Last weekend me and my beautiful wife spent a few days in Sowerby Bridge, where among other things we both managed to complete our fiftieth parkrun (read about it here). The reason we were there was because I had entered Canalathon; a 50km run from Manchester to Sowerby Bridge along the Rochdale Canal, which you will be able to read about as soon as I’ve written it 🙂

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I’m getting slightly ahead of myself. Vassos Alexander used to be the sports guy on the Chris Evans Radio 2 Breakfast Show, until they moved to Virgin. He also co-presents the parkrun free weekly times podcast (read about it here). As well as all that, he is a runner, and a very good ultra-runner, which is what this book is all about. Seeing as Canalathon would be my first point to point ultra run, it seemed apt to read about ultra running in the days before the race. Maybe I could pick up some last minute tips, or just get a bit of a mental boost.

Of course for Vassos, a 50km run is nothing to write home about, as he has completed 50 milers, 100 milers and Spartathon. The final race, Spartathon, threads it’s way throughout the book, with the history and background.

Also throughout the book are interviews with some of the best known ultra runners, including Ben Smith (read about him here), and Kilian Jornet, as well as Chrissie Wellington and many others. This adds another dimension to the book, especially with interesting tales from regular people, who just happen to enjoy longer than normal runs. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and even if you have no intention of ever running further than a marathon, the book is still a very good read.

Book Review: Philip Reeve – A Darkling Plain

The last of the four Mortal Engines series, and it neatly wrapped up all of the loose ends from book three. Reviews for the first three books can be found here and here.

 

Once again I don’t want to write too much about what happens in the final book as it would give away what happens in books two and three. Suffice it to say all of the main characters are there, including Shrike, who was permanently killed by Tom in an earlier book, and has been resurrected (again), although with some quirks. Hester is there, as expected, and Tom and her paths cross over, missing each other at crucial junctions, as does their daughter.

I have really enjoyed all of the books in this series, and although they can be found in the ‘Young Adult’ section of a book shop, they are not in the least bit immature. The whole idea of a wasteland with huge moving cities hunting and devouring smaller cities fascinated me, and as soon as the film is released on DVD (or Netflix) I will make sure to watch it.

Films are rarely as good as the book, with the exception of The Shawshank Redemption, but with Peter Jackson involved in the production it could well be quite good. I missed it at the cinema so please don’t tell me if it is rubbish.

I have toyed with buying the Illustrated World of Mortal Engines, but however well everything has been imagined and drawn, it won’t look like how it all looked in my mind.

Final question is, should I read the other four books set in the same world?

Book Review: Matthew Quick – The Silver Linings Playbook

Me and my beautiful wife spent an amazing week on the Island of Skye, and although I had taken a couple of books with me the cottage where we were staying had a small shelf of books.

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One of them was The Silver Linings Playbook. I’d heard of the film but but not seen it, and as it looked interesting one very wet and windy day I started to read it. Before I knew it I was 50 pages in, generally a good sign. However, I wasn’t really finding any of the characters particularly likeable, especially Pat, the focus of the book.

The book begins with Pat being released from a psychiatric hospital, a.k.a. ‘The Bad Place’, and into the care of his mother. Pats reason to live is to reconcile with his wife, ending the ‘Apart Time’, to be a better person, get fit and to look for the silver lining. Along the way there is a great deal of American football, his therapist, the grumpy dad, the well meaning brother, along with the mysterious Tiffany.

I finished the book in a couple of days as I really wanted to know what was going on and how it would all end. Despite this I’m not sure if I would recommend it as it was quite dark and depressing in places, and if I’m completely honest I didn’t feel any real empathy with the main characters. If the book hadn’t been on a bookshelf where we were staying I doubt if I would ever have read it.

The book was definitely quirky, almost a rom-com, without the romance and very little to laugh about.