Book Review: Running Tracks by Rob Deering

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about NetGalley (read about it here), an online book reviewing site for new or soon to be released books. Some of the books have to be requested while others can be downloaded (for free) immediately. Running Tracks was a book that I requested and after a few days was given a link to download it.

Yesterday I wrote about our love of music, and how we had re-kindled it with the purchase of a record player (read about it here). As an act of serendipity, I have now finished Rob’s book, which is all about running and music.

I’d never come across the comedian Rob Deering before, but the title and description of the book definitely intrigued me. Running and music, what’s not to like. I’m a runner and I also love listening to music, although unlike Rob I don’t do them both at the same time. Many years ago I used to, but after a couple of close shaves where I didn’t hear a car, I decided that running with music wasn’t the best idea for me. Plus, my mp3 player got wet one day and stopped working.

Rob is almost an accidental runner, but once he started running he found his true passion, alongside music. His career as a comedian has taken him all over the country so he is in the envious position of having run in loads of interesting places, and often completing a tourist parkrun while out on the road. His taste in music might not always gel with mine, too many banging beats while I prefer banging heavy metal, but music when running can provide a great lift. One of the things I said after my attempt at Backyard Ultra (read about it here and here) was that I should have run with music, and this book has definitely pushed me getting myself a small mp3 player again.

Rob is also a fairly accomplished runner, having completed the London marathon numerous times, raising thousands of pounds for Parkinson’s UK. Funnily enough today is the London marathon, and I was saying to my lovely wife that maybe I should enter a big city marathon. I did enter London over 20 years ago, but was unsuccessful, so maybe I’ll have better luck this time around.

Anyway, I really enjoyed Running Tracks and gave it a big thumbs up 5 out of 5.

Book Review – Children of Men by PD James

Many months ago I stumbled across a top ten list of the best post apocalypse books, as suggested by the Guardian. I didn’t think much of their list, so I searched out for others. One of the lists included the Children of Men by PD James. I had watched the film version of it a few years ago so I was intrigued by how much different the book would be. Actually, a great deal different. Apart from the main premise and the title, the film and book are very distant cousins.

What is the main premise of the book? 20 years earlier, children stopped being born. Both the book and the film start off with news clips about the youngest person the world dying outside of a nightclub in Rio. The UK, where the book is set, has become a right-wing fascist state, run by a dictator. Foreigners are shipped over for manual work, treated like second class citizens and then shipped back home again. There are also huge camps full of immigrants.

In amongst all this, our hero finds himself aligned with a group low level terrorists, who in fact are little more than left wing idealists. Obviously the big twist in the book is that one of the group is pregnant. The first pregnant woman for over 20 years. I’m not giving too much away here as we find out that she is pregnant fairly early on. Another one of the group was a former wid-wife, and there is a very good scene in both the book and the film where she describes seeing no more appointments after a certain date, and the phoning colleagues at other hospitals who also noted that there were no more pregnancies.

Overall the book was incredibly fascinating and I enjoyed all of it. I’m not sure about it being post-apocalypse as it is set during an ongoing apocalypse. That is something to take up with the list, not with the author or publisher. The film is also very good, even if much of it is different from the book.

Book Review: Twisted by Steve Cavanagh

There is a whole load of twists and turns within this book, as expected with that specific title. It is quite difficult to review this book without giving away too much, but the basic premise is that an successful author famous for writing thrillers with unexpected twists possibly knows more about a missing person. Another less successful author is hiding because he knows too much. His wife is having an affair. The local police are trying to piece it all together.

There are a couple of minor details which didn’t ring true to me, but if you can gloss over them then this is a cracking thriller. My lovely wife read it in a matter of days and when she handed it to me I did the same. I have to admit that I guessed the twists at the end of the book, although only a few pages before they were revealed, which didn’t spoil the ending for me.

There are some very unique ideas in this book and it is also very well written. I gave it 4 out of 5 on Goodreads and if it hadn’t been for a couple of minor details I would have given it 5. Overall a very good thriller without too much gratuitous violence.

Book Review: The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis

I’ve not written very many book reviews in the last couple of month. This isn’t because I’ve not been reading, it’s because I became immersed in the Stormlight Archive series by Brandon Sanderson, and I wanted to wait until I’d read all of the books written so far before reviewing them. I have to say that the first two books were amazing, the third dragged a little and the fourth I am really struggling with, but that is all for another review.

I’m sure that almost everyone has heard of The Queen’s Gambit, which was one of the best TV shows of last year. It was based on the book of the same name by Walter Tevis and was first published way back in 1983. Walter also wrote The Hustler and The Color of Money, both made into very successful films. He died in 1984 at the young age of only 56.

Anyway, The Queen’s Gambit stars Beth, an orphan who watches the janitor at the orphanage playing chess against himself and is immediately intrigued. Before too long she is beating her first mentor, and then starts to win against far more experienced players. The book also describes her addiction to tranquilizers and later wine. Throughout the book she has two different nemeses. The first when she is young the woman in charge of the orphanage, and then later the Russian Chess Grand Master and World Champion.

Who would have though that a thriller about chess would be so engrossing. The book does get into the nuances of chess more than the TV series, but for me that is OK. What is also amazing is how close the TV series is to the book. And yes, I did use to play chess when I was young, although I was a distinctly below average player.

Overall a fantastic read which I sped through like a game of speed chess, and one that I gave a top score of 5 out of 5 on Goodreads.

Book Review: Later by Stephen King

I’ve written before about how I stopped reading new books by Stephen King for a number of years, and how recently with The Outsider, The Institute and Doctor Sleep my enjoyment has returned. I’m glad that I have as Later is another absolute cracker of a read. My other recent Stephen King book reviews can be read here.

The book is all about young Jamie growing up in New York with his mother. Jamie has a secret which his mother insists, for good reasons, that he keep quiet about. He can see dead people, and talk to them, but only for a few days until they fade away. He uses his gift a couple of times to do good, but his mother and a policewoman use his gift for their own ends, with very differing results. Without giving away too many spoilers that is about as much as I can say.

There isn’t too much original with the story, and The Sixth Sense does get a mention, but it is all very well written with a great set of characters. Additionally the book isn’t too long and keeps a good pace going the whole way through.

Anyway, a short review for a short book which I gave 5 stars to on Goodreads.

Book Review: In Search of the Rainbow’s End by Colin Caffell

My lovely wife bought me this book as a surprise. We’d binge watched the TV series over two days and we both wanted to know more. In 1985 a family of five were shot and murdered in a quiet farmhouse in Essex. The police originally thought that it was a murder suicide committed by Sheila Caffell, although it turned out to have been carried out by her younger brother.

The book was written by Colin, Sheila’s former husband and the father of twin boys, who were also killed along with Neville and June, Sheila’s parents. It was a truly horrific slaughter and it took Colin many years to come to terms with what happened. The book isn’t only about the murders as it also focuses on Sheila and how she would never have harmed her sons, despite what was printed in the press at the time. Her cousins knew that she couldn’t have done it and pestered the police to look at Jeremy. Eventually the police put together enough evidence to arrest Jeremy. His girlfriend then handed herself into the police and admitted that Jeremy had told her that he had committed the murders for the money.

Much of the book discusses Colin’s search for answers, not just to the murders, but spiritually and religiously. The good side and the bad side of the church are both on display, along with a couple of ‘mediums’. I don’t have any first hand experience of psychics, but Colin and Sheila obviously believed, and definitely helped Colin.

The book was first published in 1995 with an extra couple of chapters written to coincide with the TV series. One of those chapters covers Jeremy’s appeal. Fortunately, further forensic examination of the original case showed that the correct killer had been jailed, much to the relief of Colin.

Overall a very interesting read, although if you are only looking for details of the murder and the trial this probably isn’t the book you’re looking for. Reviews suggest that the book by Carol Ann Lee is the best of the books written about the murders. I would recommend watching the TV series, which was based upon Colin’s book, without the clairvoyance stuff.

Book Review: The Private Life of the Hare by John Lewis-Stempel

Hares are without doubt my favourite animal. I never fail to smile if I’m lucky enough to see one when we’re out cycling, running or walking. Unfortunately they are becoming rarer and rarer due to a number of reasons.

The Private Life of the Hare is one of a series of books by John Lewis-Stempel who is a farmer and nature lover. It isn’t a long book but it fascinating. It includes the history and breeds of hares found in the UK, along with numerous poems and sayings; Fast as a Hare being one of the best. Hundreds of years ago hares were considered a pest because of their huge appetite and because there were millions of them.

‘To see a hare sit still as stone, to watch a hare boxing on a frosty March morning, to witness a hare bolt . . . these are great things. Every field should have a hare.’

Hares are also incredibly hardy creatures. Unlike rabbits they don’t have burrows, instead they find a shallow hollow to sleep in, even in the coldest of weathers. The book also talks about the myths of hares, and how they are often thought to be witches.

My lovely wife knows of my love for hares and bought this book for me as a surprise, just because she loves me. I have the best life ever. Anyway, I gave this book 4 out of 5 on Goodreads, but then I love hares.

Book Review: The Living Dead by George Romero and Daniel Kraus

This is an epic tome of a book, coming in at 600 pages. The definitive zombie book, mostly written by the definitive zombie writer/director – George Romero. I say mostly written, because he died before he could finish it, so his wife and long time collaborator searched for someone who would be able to pull all of the threads together and complete what George had started. Not an easy process as George’s wife found plot outlines kept separate from the book, and Daniel found a couple of chapters of a previous version online written over 20 years earlier. Daniel Kraus has published many books in his own right as well as collaborating with the writer/director Guillermo Del Toro.

The book is almost a written version combining all six of the zombie films, starting from the very first re-animated corpse to the death of the dead. There are many different characters in the book with lengthy sections for each one, which then becomes single chapters in the second part of the book, and then ultimately some of the characters meet up in the land of the living in the final part of the book. Obviously, not all of the characters survive, and some of them get bumped off quite early on. The ending is also spot on, with humans reverting to type.

There was always a depth to Romero’s films, which was often ignored. As with Clive Barker, the monsters are not always the monster. Zombies are just doing what zombies do, in that they eat human flesh. The real monsters are always other humans. This depth of character has the time and space to evolve incredibly well within this book. You really start feeling for the characters, hoping that everything will work out for the best.

There is also a great deal of humour within the book, as well as a few hidden ‘Easter Eggs’. Daniel Kraus is a long time George fan and one of the hidden eggs I found was a reference to the characters from George’s 1981 film Knightriders, which has nothing to do with David Hasselhoff, but is a film well worth looking out for. Additionally there is the introduction of zombie chickens in the book.

Zombie books and horror books are fairly niche so I won’t recommend this if you’re not a fan of the genre. However, if you love a good horror novel then this is an absolute must read. I gave it 5 out of 5 on Goodreads.

Book Review: Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam

A few months ago me and my lovely wife were searching Netflix for something interesting to watch on a Friday night, when we stumbled upon the 1999 film October Sky staring Jake Gyllenhaal. We both loved it and so did a work colleague who I recommended it to. However, the film was based upon the book Rocket Boys.

Set in the 1950’s in a company owned coal mining town in West Virginia, Homer and his school friends are transfixed by the Russian’s space exploration, specifically the Sputnik series of satellites. Homer decides to have a go at building a rocket. Obviously it doesn’t all go to plan, with many failures along the way, as well trouble for his parents in the mine.

I don’t want to give too much away but they end up building some very impressive rockets, as well as all of the boys managing to go to college, not something many kids managed from their background. To cap it all, many years later, Homer manages to secure a job working for NASA.

One of the best feel good films and book that I’ve watched or read in a long time. Definitely received 5 out of 5 on Goodreads. There are a few differences between the film and the book, as there always are, but both are well worth looking out for.

Book Review: All the Gear No Idea by Michele Harrison

To give the books its full title, All the Gear No Idea: A Woman’s Solo Motorbike Journey Around the Indian Subcontinent. The title pretty much sums up the gist of the book. Michele has just turned 30 and is incredibly bored with her current job and her current boyfriend. She lusts after some adventure and opts for a year long motorbike trip around most of India.

A three day intensive motorbike training course is all she has before flying out to India, purchasing a motorbike when she arrives. Royal Enfield were a classic British manufacturer until Japanese imports put them out of business. Gone but not forgotten, as the brand was brought back in India as a cheap, reliable and easy to repair workhorse. The brand went full circle as they were then imported back into the UK as brand new ‘classic’ motorbikes. My brother-in-law used to run a classic motorbike shop and became the Royal Enfield dealer for South Wales.

Anyway, Michele buys the classic 350 Enfield and after a few hiccups manages to leave Delhi unscathed. She travels far and wide, meets interesting people everywhere, is constantly told how brave she is and on occasions comes off. The bike needs almost constant repairs, often due to the very poor road surface, but there is always a mechanic in the next village. She also meets her future husband who was cycling around the world at the time.

I love good travel books and this is one of the best, even though I don’t ride motorcycles, much preferring to tour on the engine-less variety of bikes. I’m also not too interested in visiting India, although this book might have changed my mind. Who knows where we’ll all be in a few years time. Hopefully me and Helen will be travelling in our camper van.

I gave this book 5 out of 5 on Goodreads as it was highly entertaining and I would definitely recommend it.