COBLEY GOES FROM ONE HUNDRED TO MY NUMBER ONE WITH HIS ENTHRALLING DEBUT

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A little over two weeks ago the American and British forces left Afghanistan, 20 years after they entered following 9/11, the anniversary of which is marked this weekend. In the aftermath of any military campaign, especially one which entailed such a chaotic departure, it is often questioned as to what was achieved and did all those who died, die in vain? Even one hundred and seven years on from the first world war, questions are still asked by historians, and quotes still attributed to politicians and commentators of the day about the outcome.

U.S. President Wilson, thought then it would be “the war to end all wars..”, he didn’t live to see the Second World War. Hemmingway did, he was an ambulance driver in the first war and a correspondent in the second. In 1946 he wrote “never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime..”. That maybe so, but if nothing is done after all the talking and diplomatic avenues have been exhausted, then there’s the “Sliding Doors” theory that we may have all ended up speaking German, especially in relation to WW2. This month’s first book review is set in WW1, it’s ‘A Hundred Years To Arras’ by J.M. Cobley and published by Unbound (www.unbound.com) 19th August.

Robert Gooding Henson is a twenty-three-year-old farmers son from Somerset in Southwest England. Who, against his father’s wishes, joins up just after the start of the first world war. He quickly forms deep rooted friendships with Stanley, who has lied about his age, and Ernest, who joined up to escape a life living rough on the streets. The bonds of their friendship are forged through gas attacks, spirit sapping life in frozen trenches, and hunting down kidnapped regimental dogs; while all along keeping up a sense of humour. The story follows Robert, and his regimental friends as they fight through France to a crucial battle at Arras. Thoughts of his parents farm and past loves on both sides of the channel draw him home, and leave him wondering if he or his friends will ever see their beloved home again.

I’ve watched numerous war movies over the years, but the most recent one set during world war one was the 2019 release ‘1917’, which received amazing reviews for its camera work and the performance of its unknown leads, along with the stellar support cast. But as for books set in World War One, this one stands out as the grittiest and most memorable, I’ve read to date.

From the first page you’re introduced to a simple, but seemingly well-read and rational farm boy, who is exposed to the to horrors of war, where for a lot of his fellow men and women rational thoughts and actions are destroyed by the sights, sounds and smells of modern warfare. The descriptions and detailed writing by Cobley, sticks with you like the cloying and frozen mud the characters trudge through day in and day out.

No more so than one pivotal scene where Robert is selected to make up a firing squad, tasked with executing two underage British soldiers, who are caught deserting. If nothing else in this or any other book you may have read on the subject, brings you up close and personal to the realities of having to shoot two young innocent boys, for just running from their fears and the reality of their situation, this scene alone will sear itself onto your memory.

On top of that there are the realities of the effect on the animals, both the working ones and the wildlife. Caught up in this unreal and hell like scenario, which is cutting a swathe across their home, and cut down by, bullets, gas and bombs. This all seen through eyes of a young man brought up to admire and respect nature. No where is this more poigniant then on the front cover, with an image of a dead sparrow liying on top of spent cartridges.

I couldn’t put this book down. Even though, I did think the relationship with his dad was a bit of an overused storyline, until at the end you discover that this is more than a well-researched work of fiction, and that J.M Cobley is actually a descendant of Robert, and Robert Henson Snr. not wanting his son to go to war was fact. After that, I was filled with admiration for both the story of Robert and how the author came to find out about his relative.

J.M. Cobley

This is English author Jason M. Cobley’s (www.jmcobley.wordpress.com) first novel. He is best known for his work writing scripts for the long running Commando comic series and graphic novel adaptations of classics such as An Inspector Calls, as well as a children’s novel The Legend of Tom Hickathrift (2018). He also hosts a weekly progressive rock show on Radio Abbey in Kenilworth, and currently lives in Warwickshire with his wife and daughter.

With a month to go to my choice for the November read of my book group, I now have a selection headache, with three possible choices. But I can tell you, it won’t take you long to go out and pick up this book or download it, Neither will it take you a hundred years to read it, but you may wish you could immerse yourself in it for that long.

Reviewed by: Adrian Murphy

This book review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour. To see what ther other reviwers thought, visit their blogs listed below. Then if get a copy, comeback and tell us what you thought. We’d really appreciate the feedback.

NO OXFORD BLUES ABOUT GRIFFEE’S THIRD NARROWBOAT MYSTERY, IT’S A RED HOT READ

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Probably like most people, I always associate Oxford with education and in recent times with the development of a Covid vaccine. But in terms of literature and in particular crime fiction, whenever someone mentions the city, I think of the Inspector Morse books, as well as the hugely successful TV series and its spin-off Endeavour series. So I was delighted when I got sent a copy of the third Johnson and Wilde mystery series. This months Third book review is Oxford Blues by Andy Griffee and published by Orphans publishing (www.orphanspublishing.co.uk) in July.

Jack Johnson is suffering from a severe case of the boating blues as we join him aboard Jumping Jack Flash in Oxford. He has moved there following his erstwhile companion, Nina Wilde. Nina’s niece, Anna, has recently started studying in Oxford and Nina has moved to be near her. Jack hopes they can have a fresh start but finds they’re drifting apart. He throws himself into a new job and makes friends amongst his boating neighbours. Then a young woman’s body is pulled from Iffley Lock. The victim’s boyfriend is a good friend of Anna. Nina, who is still grieving the loss of her husband is keen to support him. Reluctantly, Jack is pulled into the investigation.

Followers of this blog will know I previously reviewed the first of the series, ‘Canal Pushers’. As a former boater myself, I was impressed with the technical explanations and representations of the joys and hardships of living on the water. I haven’t boated around Oxford, but I’ve experienced some river cruising around York and Cambridge. Being at the whim of the river in terms of currents, tides and floods made for interesting and testing times and sometimes inventive boat handling techniques. I recall a boating holiday around York one winter. We’d cruised up the river Ouse ok, then spent some time on the Ripon Canal, during which it snowed. We thought nothing of it until we wanted to re-join the Ouse and found it in full flood. Trying to close the lock gates at the end of the canal where the two water courses met was a nightmare, due to the strong river current and that the landing stage where I planned to hop back aboard was under several feet of water. I remember some scary acrobatic climbing down onto the boat with the gates open.  I was always afraid of weirs, and to a certain extent locks. I can remember being concerned that we’d be pulled onto the weirs rather than being able to take the safe channel around. What a holiday! Even currently, any nightmarish dreams involve floods, water crossings, weirs and locks!  All thrilling enough without murder and intrigue thrown in!

Andy Griffee (Worcester Observer)

The job of freelance journalist and the use of a narrowboat are ideal vehicles for this crime series. They allow the story to move to different settings easily and for the main character to have both nose for trouble and an insight into how to investigate. The fact that Andy Griffee has experience, both as a journalist and boater, shines through. Everything rings true and doesn’t seem forced or unbelievable. I loved the addition of a few new characters to the story, who I hope will reappear in future adventures. There was some humour again here. Andy Griffee seems to have a fixation with naturists! Perhaps that’s another life experience he’s drawing on? Who knows! There was also some moments of well written tension, that got my heart thumping, as well as the will they, wont they aspect of Jack’s romantic interest in Nina.  Certainly, there were enough twists and turns to keep me guessing until the end.

This is English Author Andy Griffee’s (www.andygriffee.co.uk) third book, his others are Canal Pushers (2019) and Riiver Rats (2020). A former journalist with the Bath Chronic;le and 25 year stint as a regional controller with the BBC, he finished his career in charge of the redevelopment of the BBC’s iconic Broadcasting House in London. He lives in Worcestersire with his wife and three dogs, where he also rears rare pigs and maintains a 1964 triumph spitfire.

 I’d highly recommended Oxford Blues to other crime readers. You could read this as a standalone but it’s well worth acquainting yourselves with the previous books. I’m already looking forward to number four. So cast off to your local bookseller and hook yourself a copy.

Reviewed by Georgina Murphy

BOURKE CROSSES THE LINE TO SUCCESS WITH HIS ENGAGING AND SIMPLE DEBUT

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We’ve being doing something sub-consciously for years, then over the past eighteen months or more, we’ve had to get used to doing it almost as a necessity. While also lengthening this simple act by standing two metres apart from the person in front and behind us. What am I talking about? Queuing.

Whether you’re standing at a bus stop, in a supermarket, or a public toilet, we usually form an orderly queue. But when order breaks down, or someone tries to jump the queue, that’s when problems arise. This is usually supressed by a few polite words and an effusive apology from the offender. But when fear, or if there is a perception of missing out on something, and you could look at those images coming out Afghanistan over the past couple of days, or those scenes in the past of men, women and children scrambling over each other to get at items in Black Friday sales, that things can turn bad.  So, it’s in this month’s second book review that the story centres around queuing, its Line by Niall Bourke and published by Tramp Press (www.tramppress.com) in April of this year.

Willard, his mother, and his girlfriend Nyla have spent their entire lives in an eternal procession, as part of The Line.  The Line is a seemingly never-ending queue that stops, starts, and meanders its way across vast plains, up over mountains and in and out of valleys. Daily life in the Line is dictated by the ultimate imperative: obey the rules or lose your place in the line. When, one day Willard returns to his place in the line after visiting Nyla, he finds his mum has died. Among her possessions he discovers a small booklet, unable to comprehend what it means or its refences to Ali-Ben Orkul and The Corporation, he and Nyla decide to break one of the more sacrosanct rules and leave The Line. What answers will they find in the wilderness, cut off from The Line, and who or what are the Corporation and Ali-Ben Orkul?

Over the past number of years, a host of new Irish writing talent has taken it upon themselves to breakdown old traditions and step outside the literary box so to speak. Take Mike McCormack’s award-winning Solar Bones, which is a single sentence stretching over 233 pages and the equally unusual and highly celebrated Milkman by Anna Burns, which I had to put down after 20 pages due to it wrecking my head.

Unlike Burns’ book, I couldn’t put this down. Niall Bourke’s Line is both unusual and amazing in its simplicity. There is also punctuation, as well as seemly intriguing but easy to follow story within these 245 pages.

But I was held by the mystery of this story from page one and kept trying to figure out whether The Line and Willard, his mum and Nyla were part of a wagon train crossing the Americas? Were they and everyone else migrating from Africa to Europe or from South America to North America?  Bourke’s excellent writing style gives no clue and lets you wonder. But every so often, I had to ask myself, is it simpler than that? Are they just on a constant never-ending line? And there you have it, the thing I found most interesting about this book and the story, is the unknown… But then, just when you think you can relax and let the book lead on, Bourke throws in a thesis on queuing!!! Again, this was beautiful and reminded me of the asides that regularly feature is Hitch Hikers Guide to The Galaxy, and as a result I was enthralled by the uniqueness and originality of this story.

Niall Bourke (rte.ie)

This is Irish Author Niall Bourke’s (www.niallbourke.com)  debut novel. His work has been published widely in magazines across Ireland and the UK, while his poems and stories have been shortlisted for numerous awards, including the Costa Short Story Award and the Hennessy New Irish Writing Award. When not writing he is a teacher and lives in London with his wife and daughter.

This book proves that you can make a highly thought-provoking read out of the most mundane things in life and follows hot on the heels of the recent success of fellow Irish debutant writer Jamie O’Connell and his Diving for Pearls, which we reviewed here in June. I hope Niall keeps this up and bases his next book on some equally obscure day to day ritual or maybe he’ll write a sequel.

So, as we enter the latter part of August, and the last vestiges of the school holidays. I urge you to step away from the queue to the bestselling authors as you search for your holiday read and try this brand-new name in Irish literary fiction, that will have you following a new line -the one for his next eagerly anticipated book.

Reviewed by Adrian Murphy

This review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour. To see what the other reviewers thought visit their blogs listed below. Then if you get a copy comeback and tell us what you thought we’d really appreciate the feedback.

ONCE AGAIN, MOGGACH PROVES YOU’RE NEVER TOO OLD TO HAVE FUN IN A BLACK DRESS.

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We read These Foolish Things with our bookclub a few years back and the following Christmas, we watched the movie. It was our Christmas tradition to watch the film version of one of the books we’d enjoyed that year. Other years we watched The Help, after reading the book by Kathryn Stockett and The Dead, following from the story of the same name by James Joyce. Usually, it was fun to see the characters brought to life and the plot twists occur as expected on the screen. This wasn’t the case with The Best Marigold Hotel, the film which is based on the book. In general, the storyline is vastly different, but the great characters developed by Deborah Moggach had been used. So I was delighted to get the opportunity to read her latest book for this months first review. Its The Black Dress published by Headline Review (www.headline.co.uk ) 22nd July

When Pru’s husband walks out on their seemingly rock solid marriage, she’s distraught. More over from the shock of the break up and the loss of the life they had, than him leaving. Still reeling from the bombshell, she goes off to a friends funeral, the hymns are the same, words of praise. But the eulogy is different, not the person she knew… She’s gone to the wrong funeral. Everyone is very welcoming, its quite hilarious actually. and more fun than she’s had in ages. So Pru buys a Little Black Dress in a charity shop and goes to another funeral and another. People don’t want to make scenes at a funeral, what harm can it, or will it…

I approached reading Deborah Moggach’s new release, The Black Dress, anticipating another great cast of characters, but maybe not a lot happening. There is a fine but small cast of characters, however, we mainly follow the life and thoughts of Pru. 

Lots of things do happen in this book. Deborah Moggach really throws the kitchen sink at this drama in terms of plot twists and turns. Sometimes several things at once, so you can understand why Pru is overwhelmed with all the changes to her reality. There are lots of surprises and a good dash of dark humour. I’ve just read the Thursday Murder club, by Richard Osman. There, I loved the character of Joyce, with her constant eye out for lonely men and her wry wit. I thought Pru was going to be of similar ilk. However, Pru is a bit less resilient and bit more whiney. She reminded me of the Liz Jones column in the Saturday Independent, which I refer to as ‘Liz Jones Moans’ so I guess, personally, I found Pru a little harder to like. She may well sit better with other readers. This didn’t take too much way from my enjoyment of the writing. The story is funny and the scenarios farcical but believable. There is some pathos there too. The characters show their vulnerability and humanness.

Deborah Moggach

This English author Deborah Moggach’s (www.deborahmoggach.com) twentieth book The others include, You Must Be Sisters (1978), A Quiet Drink (1980), Porky (198383), Driving In The Dark (1988), These Foolish Things (2004) on Which The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel ,was based, and The Carer (2019). She’s also written two collections of Short Stories – Smile and Other Stories (1987), Changing babies and Other Stories (1995). On top of that she’s written two screen plays Pride & Prejudice(2005) Starring Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen, and Tulip Fever (2017). She she currently divides her time between Wales and London.

I’d recommend this book to fellow ladies of a certain age, who have a naughty twinkle in their eye, an open mind and a good sense of humour, but sadly I wasn’t cheering for Pru in the same way as I was for Evelyn in These Foolish Things.

Reviewed by: Georgina Murphy

This review is part of a random things blog tour, to see what the others thought the book visit their blogs listed below. Then if you get a copy, comeback and tell us what you thought. we’d really appreciate the feedback.

KETTLEWELL HUMOUROUSLY REMINDS ME WHY I TOOK ETERNAL LEAVE FROM PARENTING

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Myself and Georgina don’t have children, mainly down to medical reasons. But what we do have is two cats and a dog, which if you were to eavesdrop on our house at any given time of the day, you would think that we were living with teenagers. They don’t come when they are called, don’t speak, sleep for long periods of the day, and stay out all night (that’s mainly the cats). They also fight with each other and traipse food all over the gaff, not to mention eating everything that isn’t securely locked away or defended with your life.   Like most animal lovers we do talk to our animals and can regularly hold fairly lengthy two-way conversations with them, making me think I missed a calling on the stage as a ventriloquist.

I am though, a godfather to two girls, one of which lives in Melbourne. Some people might think even in the godparenting dept. I got away lightly. So, as you might have guessed this month’s second book review is all about parenting, no! It’s not a self-help book. Its Eternity Leave by Simon Kettlewell and self-published (February 2021) available on Amazon.

Brigit Wheeler’s partner (mysteriously unnamed) has for the past nineteen years been the sole carer for their four children Chloe, Emma, Ruby and Ollie. While Brigit has gone out to work running a large UK hospital, he, the un-named narrator, decided to take the unconventional route (twenty years ago) and be a stay at home dad. Setting out to be self-sufficient and follow in the footsteps of TV Chef Hugh Fernley Whittingstall, while also becoming a successful novelist and proving men can be capable parents, especially when guided by the self-help book The Complete Guide to Childcare. But five minutes after Bridgit’s maternity leave ended with their eldest Chloe, he realises the magnitude of this decision, after all this time, has he really achieved anything?

It was only after reading this book and looking at the press release that accompanied it, that I saw in big bold letting “A MUST FOR ANY PARENT”. But despite that, I enjoyed this book, it’s funny and although not being a parent I wasn’t ROTFL, as the kids might say, more often than not I found myself reflecting on how I react when my young nieces and nephews do something and my sister telling me to relax. Then I quickly realise there’s a divine reason I’m not a parent.  I did sympathise with the main character (good god, let’s call him Mr Wheeler), As I endure the same respect from our pets as he does from his kids.

There are some poignant parts in the book, for example, when he meets another mother and her mum pushing her kids round a local zoo and a couple of months later, he meets the grandmother with the kids  at the same zoo, only to discover that the daughter died of cancer shortly after the last meet, and what “Mr. Wheeler” thought was the fatigued look of childcare on the mothers face was actually her battle with cancer. Ok, not exactly 24hrs in A&E, but a nice touch for a piece of fiction.

Simon Kettlewell

This is English author and father of four, Simon Kettlewell’s (www.simonkettlewell.co.uk) fifth book, his others are Bread for The Bourgeoisie (2014), Dead Dog Floating (2015), The Truth About Us (2016) and The Truth About Her (2016) all self-published and available on Amazon. Simon lives in Devon, with his family, a variety of animals, in a multicoloured house where people come and go like passengers at a station.

So, if you are looking for book that is cross between the TV shows, Breeders, Outnumbered and The Good Life. While also seeking to reassure yourself that your parenting skills are above par, and that the path you have chosen is, definitely not a lonely furrow, then get on to Amazon and order a copy to enjoy while the kids are asleep or before you do.

Reviewed by : Adrian Murphy

This book review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour. To see what the other reviewers thought read visit their blogs listed below, then if you get a copy of this book and read it, comeback and tell us what you thought, we’d really appreciate the feedback.

SHERIDAN UNCOILS THE MYTHS, WITH A TAUT MEMOIR OF HER ASCENT TO MOUNTAINEERINGS HEADY HEIGHTS

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When I was in my early twenties, my then partner went through phases of enthusiasm for various outdoor hobbies. One of them was mountaineering. Whilst I’m a happy camper and rambler, climbing up steep mountainsides, and worse still, coming down them is not my cup of tea. I’d tried rock climbing once on a school trip and having been told to jam my foot into a crack in the rock, I found I couldn’t remove it. The instructor had to climb up below me and undo my boot laces so I could extricate my foot. If that wasn’t embarrassing enough, I couldn’t will myself to lean back off the edge of the cliff and abseil back down, so I had a rather shame faced walk back down by a longer route. However, and maybe because of that, I’ve always admired the exploits of mountaineers. I attended a number of lecture tour events given by Doug Scott, a fellow climber of Chris Bonnington, the British Everest conqueror. This was a time of slide shows and a one man show, retelling his recent adventures, to raise money for the next expedition. I always remember Doug Scott being quite self-effacing, describing life threatening situation with nonchalance and humour. There didn’t seem to be any famous women climbers at the time, the early 1990s. It was kind of accepted that women weren’t strong enough to undertake these exploits and I never really questioned it, even though climbing and other ‘extreme’ sports were taking off at the time.

This brings me to this month’s first offering from the Library Door. Its Uncoiling the Ropes by Clare Sheridan and published by Mweelrea Press in July 2020 (available – Amazon). This book was presented to us as our May book club choice by Lesley Sheridan, Clare’s younger sister. In fact, Lesley doesn’t really get a mention in the book, but there’s no doubting they are siblings as they look so much alike. 

Uncoiling the Ropes is a memoir of a lifetime of heart stopping adventures. Having been told in 1970’s Ireland that ‘girls don’t climb’ Clare Sheridan decided she wasn’t listening and went on to become recognised by fellow climbers as a pioneering leader, meeting the love of her life  during her first trip climbing in the Alps,  raising three children , holding down a career as a teacher , whilst continuing to tackle difficult routes on mountains all over the world as well as achieving a phenomenal succession of first climbs on Irish cliffs.

This is an engaging and enjoyable book to read. The first chapter is full of drama. A real cliff hanger, if you’ll excuse the pun and it really reels you in. Then we go back to the beginning of Clare’s passion, started by mountain walks with her father and a rivalry with her sister. We travel through Clare’s early climbing career. In the Alps she meets Calvin Torrans, a well-known mountaineer from Belfast. They start a long-distance courtship, carried out on various cliff faces! We hear about their travels into Canada, where they take on oil exploration work designed for rock climbers to fund expeditions. Eventually they move back to base themselves in Ireland and raise a family. The social conventions in Ireland at this time are explored in the book. Clare and Calvin had an unconventional and forward-thinking approach to marriage, running a household and raising three children which would have certainly jarred at the time. However , they seem to carried it off with patience , humour and a determination to live life their way that many of us could envy now in these more ‘enlightened’ times.

Claire Sheridan (Mountaineering Ireland)

This is Irish author, climber and retired school teacher Claire Sheridan’s first book. Although she has other writing credits to her name, such as regularly writing articles for the Irish Mountain Log and co-editing numerous rock-climbing guidebooks with her husband Calvin Torrans. In 2014 she was the first woman to be awarded the Lynam Medal by mountaineering Ireland, other recipients include Sir Chris Bonington in 2019, along with the only other woman to date to have been awarded one, Innes Papert in 2015. She lives with her family in Bray, Ireland.

The book is full of humour and there are sad events and regrets expressed too. Its very human. I was left feeling that Clare had, in the book at least, put herself second to Calvin. The book was quite technical in explaining about techniques and politics in relation to the sport, without being heavy handed. The included photographs are amazing and bring some of the text further to life. That’s not to say they are needed, the writing is very good , Clare really brings the story to life , making the inaccessible , accessible, but I enjoyed being able to see the faces and places she wrote about.

From the safety of my sofa, this was an enthralling and exhalating story, told with passion and aplomb. I would love to listen to Clare regale with me stories in a theatre, when restrictions allow.

Claire and husband Calvin Torrans (IADT)

Reviewed by Georgina Murphy

O’CONNELL DIVES DEEP TO DELIVER A PEARL OF A DEBUT

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According to Forbes, in 2021 a quarter of the world’s 2,755 billionaires live in just ten cities. They are Hangzou at 10, San Francisco, Mumbai, London, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Moscow, Hong Kong, New York, with Beijing at number one having the largest number of billionaires 100. Surprisingly, the city where this month’s second book review is set, is not there. Dubai (10 Billionaires – Arabianbusiness.com) has a population of over 3 million, of which eighty five percent are foreign nationals. It is home to the tallest building in the world – The Burg Khalifa, which has featured in one of the most successful movie franchises, and that movie’s most iconic scene forms a small part of the storyline. Also, when you compare Dubai to the other top ten cities above, none of their police forces cruise around in top of the range super cars. Although there is a lot that cannot be done there, that you can probably get away with in most of the others. PDAs for example, swearing, and failure…The book is Diving for Pearls by Jamie O’Connell and published by Doubleday (www.penguin.co.uk) on the 3rd June.

When the body of a Muslim girl, the daughter of a rich influential Emirate family is found floating in the marina in downtown Dubai, the lives of six people from various backgrounds are altered. Each one has come to Dubai, drawn by its bright lights, warm weather, and the promise of a new Life. Trevor a young Irish man who is hoping to escape a troubled past, Lydia a Russian sex worker trying to outsmart the system. While Tahir, a Pakistani taxi driver, dreams of a future for his children back home. Then there’s Aasim, the brother of the victim, who desperately tries to deal with the grief while also hiding who he really is from is family, and finally an Ethiopian maid, Gete, begins to carve out a new life. But Dubai breaks its promises, and in a city of mirages, where the cultures of East and West collide, how do you find your way out…

 Wow, I have just spent the past week reading this book while enduring a mini heatwave in Ireland. So, at times I really felt like I was in Dubai, albeit even if I were reading it in October or January, I’d probably feel the heat coming off the page. That’s not all that drips off the page, there’s the glorification of wealth and its trappings and the lifestyle that are part and parcel of this city, courtesy of O’Connell’s writing.

The book is a guaranteed page turner from the prologue all the way to the end of the epilogue, three hundred and thirty-two pages later. What you get inside this book is a gritty and harrowing expose of life, behind the glare of the skyscrapers, the opulence, and the heat. While also dealing excellently with the topic of emigration and how we struggle to find ourselves in a new environment, while adjusting to its cultural differences.

What we discover about the pearl of the UAE, is unlike most of bright, glamourous cities around the world, which have a triple class system, Dubai essentially has two, the Rich and the poor. Although there is a subclass in the rich grouping – according to one of the characters in the book, “no matter how wealthy you are, there’s always someone richer”. While the poor are the maids and waiters, bell hops and taxi drivers who eke out a living, making sure that the needs and whims of the wealthy are met, while accepting the varying degrees of mistreatment as part of your lot.

But it is under the draconian religious rules by which the city and UAE is governed, that all citizens are essentially equal as they fearfully try to toe the line. This is where O’Connell’s story flourishes as the six main characters deal with the ripple effects of the death of this young girl and the dramatic turn of events it will have on their lives both directly and indirectly.

As for the character themselves, each is depicted with such depth and realism that you can almost feel their pulse, the heat and sweat running off their bodies and the hurt and pain they feel from this event and having to deal with the authorities. This depth allows the reader to sympathise with them and their varying situations.

Another great thing about this book is the death itself and the mystery that surrounds it, O’Connell allows the reader to draw their own conclusions as to how or what led to the girl’s untimely demise, for the main premise is the repercussions, and even after you turn the final page, you are left to wonder about the next chapter for all concerned.  

Jamie O’Connell (independent.ie)

This is the debut novel of Irish writer Jamie O’Connell (@jamieoconnell). Previously he has had short stories “Highly Commended” by the Costa Short Story Award and the Irish Book Award Short Story of the Year. He’s also been longlisted for the BBC Radio 4 Opening Lines Short Story Competition and shortlisted for the Maeve Binchy Travel Award. Jamie has an MFA and MA in Creative Writing from University College Dublin and has worked for the likes of Penguin Random House, Gill Books and O’Brien Press.

There are no downsides to this book, only the anticipation that I’m feeling already for Jamie’s next book. In this one I have found an author who has seamlessly moved from short storyteller to novelist and is now perfectly at home among the stable of new Irish writing talent. Before that, this book may have just jumped to the top of my book group selection for November.

So, if you are looking for a brilliantly written book for your weekend reading or staycation beach read, then dive into your wallet and order a copy online or head down to your local book shop and snap up a copy.

Reviewed by: Adrian Murphy

This review is part of a Random Things blog tour, to see what the other reviewers thought. Visit their blogs listed below. Then, if you get a copy, comeback and tell us what you thought. We would really appreciate the feedback.

LESS MOLE AND MORE HILARIOUS SOUL SEARCHING FROM ZENA’S NEW FRIEND

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I was an adolescent in the 1980s. I went to my local comprehensive, had too much enthusiasm for the lessons, according to my peers, and so was bullied throughout. I do have found memories of a school play, choir, and the Duke of Edinburgh Award, which at my school united me with a group of other slight misfits. It also ignited a lifelong love of the outdoors, hiking and sense of service and giving back. So, I guess it met its aim! I went through all the usual teenage crushes on bands and TV stars, joining a few fan clubs, following unsuitable fashion, and dreaming of being successful and gorgeous as the heroines of all my favourite novels were, and I read the teenage angst in the problem pages of ‘Jackie’ with interest. I think the excitement of Adrian Mole, the iconic 80’s teenager passed me by a little. I was too much into Agatha christie and the like at the time.  Despite being an only child with a dysfunctional step-family, little money to spare and an occasionally stormy home life, I don’t remember my teenage years as being awful.

I suppose you accept what you have if it’s all you know. Plus, I always had the total love, support and involvement of my Mum and grandma in my life. This brings me to this month’s first review, its Your Forever Friend by Zena Barrie and published by Unbound (www.unbound.com) 21st April 2021. 

Your forever friend is based in Preston in 1981 and Maud is twelve and lives with her dysfunctional parents and her elder brother. She finds the PO Box address of Tom Harding, the lead singer of a Punk band called Horsefly. No one understands her or tries to, and she thinks Tom may just have some of the answers to her many, many, questions.

This book has been described as an Adrian Mole for the 21st Century and I’d have to agree with that. Although it is mainly in the form of letters, rather than a diary, it charts the day to day existence of Maud. It has a lot of humour. Maud has a great dry turn of phrase. I loved the different ways she addresses Tom Harding and describes her own address at the beginning of each letter. Also, the many postscripts. I always remember adding several of those myself in my own teenage letters to pen pals! I’m still one of those annoying people who send multiple text messages with after thoughts! I really loved the letter in ‘French’ when Maud is enthused by learning a new language. There are other methods of communication used here too, press cuttings, interviews and as the story moves forward in time to Maud’s adult life by, emails text exchanges.

Despite the laughs, I can’t say it’s an easy book to read. Its really sad and I felt frustrated about the lack of carers in Maud’s life. No extended family? No social workers? No sympathetic teachers? And her best friend has her own problems to deal with.  I was surprised, if relieved, to see no bullying in the school time section. Maud would have been ripe for that in my own experience. A good thing too, as she had so much else to deal with. And the story moves into darker territory in terms of abuse in places. This certainly has moved forward from Adrian Mole territory in the 80’s, at a time where your parent’s possible divorce marked you out as unusual, and when I know we were also so sex obsessed as teenagers but probably wouldn’t have written such graphic comments in letters to strangers or friends!

Zena Barrie

This is English author Zena Barrie’s (www.zenabarrie.com) first novel. Her day job is producer of the Greater Manchester and Camden fringe Festivals. Prior to that she she was landlady and manager at the Kings Arms Pub and theatre in Salford, while also previously managing the Etcetera theatre in Camden as well as occupying a various roles at the Edinburgh Fringe. She has a degree in drama and theatre arts from the Queen Margaret University in Manchester. Upon till recently she has been co-hosting the award-winning Spoken-Word night Verbose in Manchester, where she lives.

Maud’s outpourings and ponderings are a little ‘Milkman’ like in style. This a prose style that seems popular now, but I find irritating. I found myself skipping a few passages because it was all too much.  Despite this, Maud was such a kind, bright and vulnerable character, you couldn’t help but root for her and so I was pleased to find a happy ending of sorts for her.

So if you like your humour dark, your social situation deprived but your character bright, this is an ideal read for you . 

Reviewed by : Georgina Murphy

This book review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour, to see what the other reviewers thought visit their blogs listed below. Then, if you get a copy comeback and tell us what you thought. we’d really appreciate the feedback.

LINDSTROM DRAWS THE READER INTO HER HEARTWARMING DEBUT

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I don’t how you did in school? Me? I was an average kid. Usually given the yard stick of looking up to my high achieving cousins by my well-meaning parents. But as is often said, everyone has their own unique talents and therefore just because maths or metalwork, languages or technical drawing isn’t your thing, doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Usually by the time you graduate college you will have found your true calling.

Some people may discover their unique talents earlier than most, because of being gifted or highly intelligent. This often leads to problems with socially interaction with their peers or being unable to develop loving relationships, unless they find someone or a group of other high achieving likeminded individuals. Usually, they turn into loners because no one can relate to them or understand what internal struggles they are dealing with. Thus, everyday routines that you and I may carry out almost naturally can be seen as a hurdle. Dealing with the complexities of being gifted is the main story of this months third book review, its The Draftsman by Laurel Lindstrom and published by Unbound (www.unbound.com)   on the 21st April 2021.

Martin Cox is an untrained, but gifted, draftsman, in his early twenties, who has become quite wealthy due to a number of shrewd technical designs. But he’s also damaged by his parents protective care and is obsessive as a result of his superior intellect. When he purchases Shadowhurst a large estate in the West Country as both an investment and a way of finding peace and tranquillity for his overactive mind, he soon discovers that there is more than a bit of history to it, and as a result he finds an outlet to occupy his mind, researching its history.

At five pages short of two hundred, this book is not to far off being a novella. Is it a one sitting read? That depends on the reader. For me, the first quarter of the book didn’t really do much and I had feelings of entering The Milkman territory – which I had to throw down after twenty pages. With The Draftsman, I felt adrift and unable to find a footing, but persevered and shortly afterwards when the back story about how Martin made his money was being told, I fell in love with it and from then on it made a lot of sense.

Martin is a beautifully written and a very believable troubled character trying to cope with his foibles and weird mannerisms, and as he starts to slowly overcome them, you feel happy and even emotional at times. Any fear you might have for him dissipates near the end as you realise he has some very good friends and family, including his old boss, Bill, who sees what a complicated character he is due to his high level of intellect, but slowly allows him to move from being just an office tea boy, to a skilled and much sought after draftsman.

Laurel Lindstrom

There is also the unrequited love storyline that takes place between Martin and his financial advisor Joshua. You get the feeling, Joshua wants something to happen, but in the end, Martin just too wrapped up in himself to notice.

Meanwhile the research that Martin takes on, around the history of Shadowhurst is straightforward, but the mystery that surrounds one particular part of it is lovely and excellently revealed at the end.

This is the debut novel of English author, technical writer, and journalist Laurel Lindstrom  (www.laurellindstrom.org) . She’s written a number of collections of short stories in the past as well two books of nonfiction Internet for Beginners (1997) and Past, Print, Future (2018). She has a degree in linguistics from UCLA and is a visiting professor at the Shenzhen Technical University in China. She currently lives in east Sussex.

So, if you are looking for short, but heart-warming read about a gifted individual that, then take up a pen and write a note reminding yourself that next time you are in your local bookshop to look out for it or put an order in.

Reviewed by – Adrian Murphy

This book is part of a Random Things Blog Tour, to see what the other reviewers thought, visit their blogs listed below. Then, if you get a copy, comeback and tell us what you thought, we would really appreciate the feedback.

BENJAMIN GIVES ME A NEW SEASON ANNUALLY WITH HIS SECOND BOOK

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Do you have a “Bucket list”? Most people have some sort of one, but what about one made up entirely of foods and rare delicacies from around the world, that you want to try before you die, and if so what’s on it? I know mine has Caviar, which I have eaten, Dover Sole which I ate a couple of years ago when on a holiday in Devon, I’d been waiting around for years thinking I’d have to go to a high-class restaurant to order it. But no, it was a lovely little family run restaurant just off the harbour in Ilfracombe.

I’ve had kangaroo and crocodile too.  Really, I’m doing quite well, although there is still plenty on the list, like a coffee made up of Kopi Luwak, the rare coffee bean (the most expensive type) passed through the intestines of a wild Asian Civet. Wagyu beef steak from Japan, again rather pricey. Getting closer to home, I haven’t had lobster or whelks, a delicacy in the UK. Georgina (my wife and fellow Librarian)  laughed at me when she saw this, saying we can have the the latter anytime we visit her mum in Skegness. Another thing on that list is truffles, I’ve had the chocolate confectionary shaped one’s, mass produced for Christmas, but the original ones found growing wild in France, Italy and Spain particularly, no. There are two types, a black one and a rarer white truffle. They are harvested from the wild using pigs or specially trained dogs (which are less likely to eat them, unlike their porcine colleagues). This brings us to this months second book review, it’s The Hunting Season by Tom Benjamin and published by Constable Books (www.littlebrown.co.uk/imprint/constable/page/lbbg-imprint-constable) in November 2020.

Its truffle hunting season in the hills around Bologna and the search is on to find the elusive ‘Boscuri’ white truffle. But when Ryan Lee, an American “Supertaster”, goes missing in the area, widower and local private eye Daniel Leicester is hired by the young man’s parents to find him. Daniel’s search finds him delving into the multi million euro culinary trade, while the ever present hint of Mafiosa involvement rears its ugly head. Soon after a high a profile Italian chef is found murdered, forcing Daniel to team up with a glamorous Italian TV journalist, but before long there’s another murder connected to the case and this time Daniel finds himself the prime suspect. Can he clear his name along with the help his ex-Carabinieri father in law and find the truth behind the disappearance of Ryan Lee…

I love Italy and have been there on numerous occasions, the nearest I’ve been to Bologna is a day trip to Florence 100 km away so I was quite looking forward to reading this murder mystery by Tom Benjamin. It’s a nice easy enough read at just under three hundred and thirty pages long. There’s a hint of a mash up between Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana and A Year in Provence.

Also, with it being set in the historical environs of Bologna, there’s a sort of Morse / Lewis vibe to it with Daniel representing the Sgt Lewis Character and his father-in-law the “The Comandante” Giovanni, a retired senior member of the Carabinieri, providing the excellent fatherly role similar to Colin Dexter’s Iconic hero.

I liked this book and could get to really yearn for an annual fix of Daniel Leicester, as I do with the Jack Reacher series. He’s a nice and very believable character, who hates Brexit and loves BBC radio 4. The widower aspect and his relationship with his daughter Rosie, was a nice angle and could appeal to male and female readers alike.

There are a few minor downsides. There are quite a number of random characters, that pop in the story. Also I did sometimes feel like there was no real distinction between when Daniel is speaking Italian to Italians and English to English speaking characters, so at times you think everyone is speaking English, when actually Daniel is speaking Italian to them, and every now and then Benjamin does highlight it, but not enough.

Tom Benjamin

This is English born author Tom Benjamin’s (www.tombenjamin.com) second novel featuring Daniel Leicester, the first and his debut book was A Quiet death in Italy (2019). Benjamin began his working career as a journalist, before becoming a spokesman for Scotland Yard. He later moved into Public Health, where he developed England’s first national campaign against alcohol abuse. He now lives in Bologna.

So if, like me, you want to immerse yourself in a well written and very atmospheric Italian crime novel, while staycationing this year, observe the covid regulations and Click and Collect from your local book shop or download a copy and join Daniel Leicester and the team from Faidate Investigations as they hunt a killer around Bologna. Then go and pick up Tom Benjamin’s first book too.

Reviewed by: Adrian Murphy

This book review is part of a Random Things blog tour, to see what the other reviewers thought visit their pages listed below, then if you get a copy comeback and tell us what you thought, we’d really appreciate the feedback.