Category Archives: 2018

Review, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (not!)

In this tale, which seems like the female and slightly less funny but more sinister version of The Rosie Project, Eleanor Oliphant is ‘weird’ and fine with being alone and with her routine until she decides she’s in love and is going to do something about it.

The narrative proceeds then to follow someone pursuing this path that would be ‘normal’ for most of the population but through the eyes of someone who doesn’t fit into the social spectrum deemed normal by the media and most institutions in society.

It’s a typical ploy used to exploit ‘other’ points of view so that we can have a laugh at them. She complains about the lack of other people’s manners while behaving in a way that the reader would immediately know is not socially polite. We are invited to look down and laugh at her through her very own narrative, in a sense.

By the end of chapter two I already disliked the book. Half-way through story I could no longer stand the exploitation and mockery of someone who the author was quite clearly suggesting had been abused and traumatised. There are horrible and sickening allusions and I couldn’t take it.

I read a review of the book on Shona Craven’s site and I agree with the following:

The biggest problem with the book as a work of literature is that there is barely a scene in it that rings true. As a character, Eleanor is utterly implausible, a crude caricature. Does she have autistic spectrum disorder? Post-traumatic stress disorder? Some kind of dissociative disorder? It’s barely worth speculating, as she is nothing but a figment of the author’s imagination. No-one like her exists in the real world. And as such, the book has nothing whatsoever of value to say.

But the reason it matters is that this is a book about a character who is part of one of the most marginalised and misunderstood populations in society – care-experienced young people. She is a young woman who has experienced childhood trauma, and moved around foster placements, and struggled to form relationships.

The average person doesn’t know a great deal about the care system. Neither, is seems, does Gail Honeyman, who has nonetheless written a novel about a care-experienced character who at the outset has no friends, no social skills and a ludicrously limited understanding of the world she has inhabited for 30 years. The novel is set in contemporary Glasgow, yet the author seems to have no interest in getting very basic facts right. She perpetuates a number of harmful myths about social services, including that workers conceal vital information from foster carers, that young people are not included in decision-making about their lives, and that trauma-experienced social work clients (whether adults or children) receive no meaningful support whatsoever.

This is an irresponsible book that ‘others’ certain behaviours for effect. It does feel harmful and it’s a sad state of affairs that people think they can understand others’ trauma by reading through the lens of mockery.

 

Louise Conan Doyle stars in her own mystery set in Bristol

Front cover of book Brimstone by John Allen

Californian author John Allen is so convinced that Sherlock Holmes was created by Arthur Conan Doyle’s wife that he has written the first in 12-part series of books in which she is the sleuth. Louise Hawkins Conan Doyle investigates her first mystery in Allen’s book Brimstone, set in Bristol, 1879.

Allen was born in California and first latched on to the idea that Arthur Conan Doyle couldn’t have been the writer after he read a 1980s essay by Martin Gardner called “The Irrelevance of Arthur Conan Doyle.” Gardner claimed that Arthur was “too gullible and to easily duped to have created Sherlock Holmes.”

Allen’s thirty year fascination with the true Sherlock creator culminated in his book Shadow Woman published in 2017. He has also published original research about his stylometric method for author identification.

The claims include the theory that Louise and Arthur co-wrote the Sherlock Holmes portion of the first Sherlock Holmes Adventure, A Study in Scarlet while Arthur wrote the Utah narrative of that novel. Louise wrote each of every other early Holmes adventure, up to and including The Hound of the Baskervilles, two of the intermediate stories –those collected in The Return of Sherlock Holmes– and Arthur wrote two of those intermediate stories.

Allen says, “I have never been to Bristol. But I have grown quite fond of Bristol from afar, researching it extensively for the Louise stories that will be set there. I’ve walked remotely through Bristol’s streets via Google Maps street level view. I’ve studied old maps of Bristol and refer to them frequently. I’ve studied Temple Meads Station, and New Gaol Prison, and police stations, and pubs, and churches, and the observatory. I would really like to visit, but time and distance and money are considerable barriers.

“Regarding why I located Louise’s first novel in Bristol. I did so because she lived there as a teenager, at least she lived in Clifton. She was a resident student at Badminton School for Girls, and I have the census records to prove it. I discovered them while working on Shadow Woman, and I consider it one of the great discoveries of my effort.

“Louise Hawkins [w]as a resident student at Badminton School in 1871. She was only thirteen at the time, tied for youngest of the students.”

Allen is not the first author to set their Sherlock Holmes-ian tales in Bristol. In Cavan Scott’s Cry of the Innocents, Sherlock and Watson visit the city to investigate the killing of a priest. The series Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch has filmed in Bristol a fair few times and you can follow the film trail from here.

The ‘original’ Sherlock, just as in the new Louise Conan Doyle books, never did go to Bristol but the city is mentioned in The Boscombe Valley Mystery where one of the characters visits for three days to be with his barmaid wife. Sherlock will not be making an appearance in the new series either.

Further information is available at the following URL: louiseconandoyle.com.

Brimstone is published 18 May on Amazon

Bristol Libraries join in with 4000-book giveaway for Crimefest

CrimeFest celebrates 10 years on Saturday 5 May and in celebration is giving away 4000 books.

The UK’s biggest crime fiction convention has teamed up with publishers, Goldsboro Books and libraries in Bristol, Birmingham, Glasgow and South Tyneside to give away up to 4,000 crime novels for free, two weeks ahead of the crime fiction festival.

The initiative started in Bristol as a thank you to the city that has hosted the convention since 2008, and now CrimeFest want to extend that to crime fiction fans throughout the country. Eleven publishers and Goldsboro Books have generously donated books by thirty-five authors to this crime fiction giveaway being hosted at twenty libraries from across the UK Crime fiction lovers from will be treated to books by 35 authors.

The libraries taking part in Bristol are:

• Bishopston Library, Bristol North Baths, Gloucester Road BS7 8BN

• Marksbury Road Library, Marksbury Road BS3 5LG

• Knowle Library, Broadwalk Shopping Centre, Wells Road BS4 2QU

• Henleaze Library, 30 Northumbria Drive BS9 4HP

• Fishponds Library, Robinson House, Hockey’s Lane BS16 3HL

• Whitchurch Library, 7 Oatlands Avenue, City Centre BS14 0SX

CRIMEFEST – 17 – 20 May 2018 ‘One of the best Crime-Writing Festivals in the World’ – The Guardian

The authors and publishers taking part in the giveaway are:

• Claire Allan, Her Name Was Rose (Avon)

• Cara Black, Murder in the Pigalle (Soho Press)

• Sam Blake, Little Bones (Twenty7)

• Angelena Boden, Cruelty of Lambs (Urbane Publications)

• Anthony M. Brown, Death of an Actress (Mirror Books)

• Anthony M. Brown, The Green Bicycle Mystery (Mirror Books)

• Alex Caan, Cut to the Bone (Twenty7)

• R.M. Cartmel, The Richebourg Affair (Crime Scene Books)

• Rosie Claverton, Terror 404 (Crime Scene Books)

• Barbara Cleverly, A Spider In The Cup (Soho Press)

• Candy Denman, Dead Pretty (Crime Scene Books)

• Joy Fielding, Someone is Watching (Zaffre)

• Clio Gray, Burning Secrets (Urbane Publications)

• Camilla Grebe, The Ice Beneath Her (Zaffre)

• Adam Hamdy, Pendulum (Headline)

• James Hazel, The Mayfly (Zaffre)

• Corrie Jackson, The Perfect Victim (Zaffre)

• Diane Janes, Death at Wolf’s Nick (Mirror Books)

• Amanda Jennings, In Her Wake (Orenda Books)

• Ragnar Jonasson, Whiteout (Orenda Books)

• J.S. Law, The Fear Within (Headline)

• A.J. MacKenzie, The Body in the Ice (Zaffre)

• Michael J. Malone, A Suitable Lie (Orenda Books)

• Claire McGowan, The Lost (Headline)

• Simon Michael, Honest Man (Urbane Publications)

• Peter Murphy, A Higher Duty (No Exit Press)

• Lloyd Otis, Dead Lands (Urbane Publications)

• Daniel Pembrey, Night Market (No Exit Press)

• Agnes Ravatn, The Bird Tribunal (Orenda Books)

• Mark Roberts, Blood Mist (Head of Zeus)

• Leigh Russell, Death Bed (No Exit Press)

• Guy Fraser Sampson, Whiff of Cyanide (Urbane Publications)

• Jason Star, Savage Lane (No Exit Press)

• James Swallow, Nomad (Zaffre)

• Neil White, From the Shadows (Zaffre)

• S.W. Williams, Small Deaths (Crime Scene Books)

 

CrimeFest takes place between 17 – 20 May 2018, crimefest.com

Review, Reiki Insights by Frans Steins

Frans Steins is the co-founder of the International House of Reiki and Shibumi International Reiki Association with his wife, Bronwen Stiene, with whom he has co-authored several of his books. Reiki Insights is the latest publication and Steins looks back on some of the founders of Reiki and some of the principal insights into the system. This isn’t a practical workbook but an exploration with some depth and a light and warming touch.

The essential focus of the system of Reiki is foremost about rediscovering our original nature. Everything has original enlightenment beans within it, all we have to do is water them, give them light and keep the weeds out.

The Reiki precepts are repeated often and in reading them and following them, the healing and inner purpose of this system permeates the book.

  • Do not anger
  • Do not worry
  • Be grateful
  • Be true to your way and your true self
  • Be compassionate to yourself and others

There is some history of Reiki in this book but the main message is about practice. One must practice the precepts, one must meditate.

Reiki Insights is primarily a meditative journey into the inner depths of the system of Reiki.

It is presented as a series of short chapters, each of them a teaching, so that you can pick it up, choose a chapter and read it. After you have read the chapter, sit down and meditate upon the words. Let them sink deep into your mind, body, and energy, so that you can feel what is in between the sentences. By reading and experiencing Reiki Insights in this way, it will lay a foundation for inner change, from not knowing your true self to knowing your true self.

If you’ve never seen or felt reikin in practice, here is Steins performing a healing treatment demo.

In this wonderful book, Frans Stiene addresses ancient wisdom and meditation tradition in a very practical way to bring it to the modern world. It conveys a beneficial, heartwarming, and transformative experience, and will create happiness and joy for those who read it.
Orgyen Chowang Rinpoche, author of Our Pristine Mind

Reiki Insights is available to purchase.

Review, The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

The writing is consistently tremendous. The content? … well, I don’t know. It belies a young person writing literature after having learned of the world mainly from headlines. The characters are the biggest problem and Benjamin’s bizarre immaturity the other.

The story idea is great even if the setting is rather Hollywood and shallow. Four children of various ages — the oldest 13 — are told the date of their deaths. What happens next? Each character gets their own section and their own years.

With four characters it’s hard enough to love all of them but I loved only one – Klara and by extension her daughter and Raj. The rest were, to use a word that reviewers have used a lot with this book, underwhelming. Pathetic even, really.

Varya, I couldn’t stand even though I felt sorry for her being introduced as a sexualised girl at 13 and maybe that was meant to mirror her sexless life later — she was ultimately stunted at the original visit — but I can’t help but think that Benjamin herself probably thinks more like a man in order to see this girl with her ‘palm-sized breasts’ at this age. It’s a horrendous description to add to such a young person because you are left with the image of someone’s hands on this little girl. It was an exploitative beginning, manipulative even. I can’t tell if it was deliberate, though.

There’s no life-changing hero’s narrative in this story except for those who get their life lessons from Hollywood and scripted TV.

There’s also an odd sense of balancing events in the background occasionally. We hear about the British Mandate being lifted off of Israel, which is a  recurring motif about having somewhere to call ‘home’ but we never hear about the Palestinians, the many UN resolutions against Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine and of the daily torture and killings of the Palestinian people. Their home is destroyed so someone else gets to have one. The only criticism of Israel that is presented in the book is the support of Iraq and that it’s now a satellite of the US and incredibly powerful. The latter can be dismissed, the former was never brought up and could not be dismissed.

This idea could have been amazing. What a shame.

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin was published January 9, 2018 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

 

Betting the House, Review

By Tim Ross and  Tom McTague .

Betting the House never once veers from its purpose – to explain what happened during the 2017 general election, including the campaign and the night itself. The authors are political journalists who produced this work within six months; an incredible accomplishment, no doubt in part to their partners who held down the fort, and a bunch of editors.

There is little heart in this book; little acknowledgment of the deaths and the pain and the destruction that a Conservative government has brought upon the country and its people. There is no acknowledgment of the unnecessary austerity measures brought into force by the Conservatives, supported by their coalition partners the Liberal Democrats and often unchallenged and supported by the Labour ‘moderates’*; no acknowledgment that austerity brought on suffering to such an extent that the British voters chose to leave the European Union in a shocking referendum. The referendum is mentioned often but the policies that led to it not at all.

In this respect, the authors ignore the vile nature of the political part of the election results.

The right-leaning bias of the book is no surprise, Ross previously wrote about the 2015 election, Why the Tories won https://www.waterstones.com/book/why-the-tories-won/tim-ross/9781849549479

The ways in which the bias permeates the book is a curious one. The images of May and the Tories are consistently positive. She is strong and steady and just wants to get on with her job. She avoided the cameras and interviews because all she wants to do is her job and she wants to do it right. She is strong throughout Lent and even though she is diabetic and can only have crisps as a snack, she resisted even in critical moments.

Corbyn on the other hand, is not given such positive treatment. The epithet ‘socialist’ is nearly always applied to him even though ‘free-market loony’ is never once applied to May. The concept of the free market is used un-ironically when a Conservative MP disagrees with the idea of providing specific help with struggling regions because it’s meant to be the free market that decides these things.

I can’t tell if Betting the House is the voice of the right-wing, devoid of any interest in anyone but themselves — or simply a very efficient way of telling the story of the election. It is a book that leans heavily right in an almost immoral sense but it also reads well.

I feel I learnt a lot about elections and what I mostly gleaned is that those who spend the most money win the elections; something Trump and social research have always known too. Lynton Crosby’s campaign for Theresa May was not the winning one he’d hoped but the PR magnate and his company made £4m for two months of work. The Australian PR man was the one who won it for David Cameron in the previous election.

Some of the insights are maybe unintentionally fascinating such as when Jeremy Heywood, Britain’s most senior civil servant, and the Queen’s private secretary, Sir Christopher Geidt, get together to decide who would form a government because “the country needed a government, and it must not be left to the Queen to decide”.

It’s these fascinating little tidbits that make me wish the authors were on the better side of the political spectrum.

Betting the House by Tim Ross and Tom McTague is out now.

A shawl per ball of yarn

I’ve decided to use only vegan yarn from now on and that has meant mostly cotton, linen and bamboo. However, there have been many sales on at various yarn outlets and I saw some nice-looking acrylic yarn on offer at £1.89 so I thought, why not. I bought it, it looks acrylic and I can’t say I love it much at all. But there’s lots of it so I’m committing myself to getting one shawl pattern (not necessarily a usable shawl) out of each one.

I’m committing in writing because otherwise I keep suffering through various iterations of ‘switch to a nicer yarn’, ‘bind off and use it for a swatch’, ‘stop knitting because you’ll never knit the whole thing again with lovely yarn that you can use for a pattern’. But I’m enjoying my knitting and I am getting a pattern out of the first ball already. With a commitment I can tell all those voices to go away.

The colours look like a combination of a dish cloth and a granny dressing gown.

Review, Fragile Lives by Stephen Westaby

You can see Stephen Westaby in action here in this clip from Your Life in Their Hands.

This book is a bit like Grey’s Anatomy with each chapter and case study emotionally gripping and heart wrenching (pun not intended). Heart surgeon Stephen Westaby is humble in his arrogance and self-effacing in his success. He knows exactly what he is all about and how to get the story out without getting lost in the details. This last part is hugely important because he also doesn’t scrimp on the technical language and bits and pieces of the body that gets sawed through and dropped and battered while being fixed and occasionally failed.

He has an incredible way of placing things in their context while never knowingly telling a straightforward story. I never knew which of the patients was going to die and the point he was making was that heart surgeons don’t always know either.

This gripping account of heart surgery kept me up for three nights in a row and I got through a lot of tissues. His stories make for an amazing read and I hope that now he has retired (a bit) he will find time to write more. Well, to write more for the general public. He is already well-published having written the chapter on Ballistic Injuries of the Chest for the British military’s textbook of emergency medicine.

He asks the political questions too and we alongside him watch young healthy people die because of the underfunding of the NHS and political decisions made away from the doctors. He asks “Should a First World health-care system use modern technology to prolong life? Or should it let young heart failure patients die miserably like in the Third World?’ He has travelled and operated and revolutionised heart surgery and brought in artificial hearts all around the world. He knows the effects.

A lot of the work he writes about was funded through charity and this is a reflection on neoliberalism and not just the latest Conservative (plus one) government.

No surprise that for a man this accomplished he has done an excellent work in conveying it in a gripping and emotional way, even though he points out that it’s important for surgeons not to stress and not to get too involved with their patients. His humanity shines through despite that.

Fragiles Lives is now available. See Goodreads reviews.

 

Rough sleeping in Bristol up since last year

The number of rough sleepers in Bristol has gone up 16% from 2016 and almost 11-fold from 2010 with 86 rough sleepers counted and reported in the latest figures. The number in 2010 was 8.

At 0.44 in every 1000 residents, the rate in Bristol is just over twice the English average 0.20.

From people sleeping the crevices of the City Hall’s building to doorways of shops and residences, it’s no easy to miss the horrifyingly ever-increasing problem of people sleeping rough in our city. There are at least three men (and it is mostly men, 64%) who show up at our doorway. Ian, a man in a wheelchair who is near our house most days, lost one of his legs from DVT when he was a crane driver. When he finally came out of hospital, he’d lost his flat too. He sleeps in a friend’s shed in the garden and any notes he’s given he saves for a deposit on a flat. He spends the coins.
The Rough Sleeping in England release of information provides national summary information on rough sleeping counts and estimates carried out by local authorities between 1 October and 30 November 2017.

Rough sleeping counts and estimates are single night snapshots of the number of people sleeping rough in local authority areas. Local authorities decide on the best method to use in their area, a street count or an estimate.

 

 

Ex-Bristol West MP Stephen Williams and Communities minister said in 2015 that homelessness was due to immigration rather than housing shortage, before losing his seat to Labour MP Thangam Debonair. He’s still wrong. 54% of homeless people recorded were UK citizens, while only 24% were EU or non-EU residents. The rest were unknown.

The Bristol council house stock had been reduced over the years leading to mayoral pledges to build new houses in Marvin Rees’ term of office.

   2012/13 2013/14 2014/15 2015/16
New homes built 70 6 0 8
Sold under right to buy 97 142 194 161
Sold – other than right to buy 17 12 29 41
Decommissioned / demolished 98 4 26 2

Despite needing to find £108m of savings from council spending over the next five years, Mayor Marvin Rees’s administration is planning to spend £277 million on housing (p.25 Cabinet Budget Report, 22 January 2018).

Review, Before this is Over by Amanda Hickie

A disappointing book in many ways. An epidemic takes over the world and this story focuses on what one family does to get through it. The kind of interesting part is that the mother, who is the main character, had cancer eight years previously and is now paranoid about any kind of risk to her family. When news of an epidemic starts, she begins to panic and seems paranoid to everyone until what she fears comes to pass.

Now that could potentially be an interesting story but there is no plot and the main character herself is not likeable at all. I finished the book because I was reviewing it but I disliked the mother and would rather have been anywhere else but in that house.

By the end, maybe there was some attempt to show that she had learnt to let go of her paranoia a bit but it didn’t really come through. I mean, if you’re going to be paranoid, at least do it well. Stock up properly and get provisions that will last. Be like Branch in Trolls. Now there’s a character who gets my respect.

I spent most of the book hoping she would get the disease and from many of the comments on Goodreads, so did most people. I imagine the book was signed up because Hickie was a debut author and so could get a cheap deal, and the topic was easy to market. It would be easy to turn into a movie too.

Skip this one.

Before this is Over available now.