THERE IS NOTHING SOMBRE ABOUT FLINTS MIDLAND GATHERING

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midland cover imageIt’s only the end of January and you’ve probably already had your fill of family get togethers. Unless that is, you’re me. We missed out on our annual Christmas family get together this year as the arrival of my sister’s third baby got in the way but we do have another eleven months to correct that, to include: regular Sunday lunch at Mum’s and each of our houses, a Christening for my new nephew and a family wedding in London. I will hopefully try to get to see my wife’s parents, all four of them, at some stage of the year either in Lincolnshire or Nottinghamshire, The Sherwooder’s might come to Ireland too. As for a family a get together for all of them. it’s complicated as they say, but aren’t all families in some respect?

The author, Robert Brault, once said, ‘what greater blessing to give thanks for at a family gathering, than the family and the gathering...’ He’s obviously never been to a gathering of the family in this month’s third book review. The book is Midland by James Flint and published by Unbound (www.unbound.com) on the 24th January.

Alex Wold is a hard-nosed City of London stock trader, who sees the ‘soft’ Britain of 1918-1978 (from the end of the First World War to the rise of Thatcher) as ‘an anomaly’. Nevertheless, the book opens with Alex, perhaps dis-oriented by the imminent birth of his second child, plunging into the Thames to try to help a beached whale to find its way to sea. We soon learn that his extremely expensive suit was ruined in vain, and his reassurances to his son prove hollow, when the whale dies. Shortly after he hears of the death of his mother’s ex-husband Tony Nolan from a heart  attack.

Alex must now prepare to face both sides of the family, as the Nolans and the Wolds have had a difficult few years behind them, but maybe this is the ideal opportunity Alex has been looking for to lay the ghosts of the past.

The book centres on a ‘home-coming’ of two families who had grown up side-by-side. Now adults, they had been linked in many and complex ways but had been scattered for even more complex reasons. Tony was the father of one of the grown-up families. He is also the former husband of Margaret Wold, whose ‘children’ from her second marriage come home to give her some moral support. Tony has attracted some admirers from both families, and repelled others, with his dodgy but successful dealings in financial derivatives and his domineering personality.

Outdoor shot of funeral

Reuniting in their home town allows for the gradual re-emergence of old grudges, suppressed passions, friendships and suspicions. As readers, we are gradually let into some of the backstories of the two families

As the funeral comes closer, the plots multiply. We follow Tony’s hippie runaway son bumming his way around Caribbean beaches, until he gets enticed into a drug ring which is bigger than he can handle. But why did he leave in the first place?

We share the frustrations of another member of the Nolan clan, who sees herself as a serious journalist but is constantly put on trivial celebrity-watch. We feel her anger as she is undermined and bullied out of her job by her ambitious new assistant. There are also hints of a complex web of love affairs between the ‘children’ of the two families in the past, including a deep and sincere but incestuous relationship between half-siblings.

For me, these little sub-plots make the book worth-while and give flesh to the only slightly intriguing who-slept-with-who? mystery which drives the story towards the end.

Some of the sub-plots are not much more than throw-aways. One little half-page insight into the daily life of a trader concerns one of Alex Wold’s early experiences. He was worried by a news item about a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan, where he has invested heavily in steel futures. An older hand says: ‘don’t worry, just check what rice is doing’. Alex checks, and finds ‘no movement’. The old hand replies ‘exactly – no war’. The logic was that Chinese leaders would know that an invasion of Taiwan would lead to foreign sanctions. If they planned to go to war, they would therefore be buying up and stockpiling foreign rice, leading to a rise in prices.

As the story goes on, the younger generation begin to learn the secrets of each other’s love-lives, mostly with each other.  What they find more shocking are the hints emerging about their parents’ love lives. As someone said of the 1960s: ‘every generation thinks they have invented sex and are disturbed when they find that their parents got there before them’.

The characters cover a wide range of English Midlands middle-class life. They are well rounded and avoid too many obvious stereotypes.

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James Flint

This is English author James Flints fourth book. His others are Habituis (1998), 52 Ways To Magic America (2002) and The book of Ash (2004) . Flint wrote Midland in installments and performed a chapter each year at the Port Eliot festival in St Germans in Cornwall. He started his working life as an apprenticeship  on the Times of India Newspaper in New Delhi, before going on to study Philosophy in Oxford.

Midland is a well-crafted tapestry of little vignettes, if I can mix my metaphors as freely as Flint mixes his story-lines. James Flint is a superb story-teller with a good eye for character.  One to watch. So get down to your local bookshop and order a copy, or download it to your e-reader.

 

Reviewed by Robin Hanan

 

This book review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour, below you’ll find a list of the other bloggers who reviewed it. Go visit their sites and see what they thought. Then once you’ve read the the book, go back and see if you agree and even you don’t leave a message saying why.

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ROBERTS GOES ALL TOOTH, NAIL AND RITCHIE WITH THE BLACK PRINCE

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The Black Prince CoverOne of the joys of being English, is whichever foreign country you may be visiting, the urge to apologise on behalf of the actions of your nation is strong. Throughout history we have oppressed, enslaved, conquered, pillaged, waged holy crusades and generally stuck our noses into all manner of societies. Even to this day it provides a rich source of material for various TV  programmes. The History Channel  currently has a lighted-hearted series hosted by the comedian Al Murray entitled, ‘ Why Does Everyone Hate The English?’.A brief look at the history books should enlighten anyone.

I raided my own somewhat spotty knowledge of history when presented with this month’s book for review, its The Black Prince, by Adam Roberts, published by Unbound (www.unbound.com ) on the 4th October and being featured here as part of the Random Things Black Prince blog tour.

Adapted from a screenplay by Anthony Burgess a British comedic author, whose best known work is A Clockwork Orange. Adam Robert’s novel is set during the reign of Edward the Third and part of the Hundred Years War. This isn’t a period I’m familiar with, my school learned history apparently having moved from the Norman conquest directly to Henry the Eighth, so I was interested to learn what I could about the Black Prince and the war for France.

Beginning at Cressy, the book takes the story forward using a large cast of characters. The titular Black Prince, a foot soldier called Black George, priests, clerics, villagers, miners and gentlewomen. Interspersed among the prose are news bulletin style story breaks, poetry and sections described as,’ camera eye’, which I initially took to be part of some kind of news footage but now think is more of a psychic scrying type of phenomenon. Its hard to know where screenplay and novel unite or differ. There are some modern images such as the Pathe cockerel from 20th Century newsreels, which the author refers to. Its all very Guy Ritchie.

Poetry aside, and I know ballads were a form of oral news-feed in medieval times, but I have no time for poetry in novels, and a slight excess of religion which is also to not to my taste; the style changes made it, in my opinion, more appetizing to modern tastes and less of a dry historical account.  Intermittently following the fortunes of characters from differing walks of life gave the story depth, thus you get a glimpse at the events from lots of angles. There were perhaps too many different stories as sometimes the narrative felt in-cohesive and meandering? History very rarely records the stories of the foot soldiers and bit players of life and so it was good to see their short, often brutal, existences detailed.

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Adam Roberts

As for its Brutality, this is not a book for the fainthearted or squeamish. When we talk these days of being chivalrous we think of good manners and kindness. In medieval times it referred to a system of behavior knights and highborn ladies should adhere to.  There was much talk of chivalry in the book but one could be horrified by the wanton cruelty and disregard for life.  No mercy is shown, nor quarter given. To me the characters seemed the opposite of chivalrous. One of the lords says,” A fine word chivalry. It means appropriate to the chevalier. And what is a chevalier? A man on a horse.” Whilst we may have been deluded by accounts of King Arthur and his knights, written as romanticized tales long after the events, I think the level of barbarity and graphic violence may shock some readers.

This the 16th book by English author, academic and critic Adam Roberts (www.adamroberts.com), his others a mix of science fiction, collected short stories, non-fiction, parody and academic works, include the prize winning Glass House (2012). While his most recent novel was The Real Town Murders (2017). He is the professor of 19th Century literature at Royal Holloway, University College London and  currently lives in the South East of England.

The Black Prince of the title, Edward of Woodstock is the is the son of Edward the Third and therefore the Prince of Wales. He never becomes king as he died before his father. He won his spurs in his first battle at the age of 16. Pursuing an English claim to reign over France his army marched across France waging war and laying siege to towns. Known as the Black Prince, his name is linked historically to cruelty. Most notably in his sack of the town of Limoges, where it is said he had the entire population of the city was killed, more than three thousand people. However, recently a letter written by the Prince was discovered in a Spanish archive. It was written three days after the sack of Limoges and details the prisoners taken and reduces the estimated death toll to nearer three hundred. So maybe Edward of Woodstock has undeservedly been cast as an evil figure in history.  Whatever the truth is this novel makes you realise that if war didn’t claim you, plague or poverty may still.

This book will be a good read for those who like their historical fiction raw in tooth and claw or grew up on the children’s books “Horrible Hostories”, personally I don’t see it being a recommended text for schools however!

Reviewed By Georgina Murphy

To see what the other reviewers thought of the book, find their websites on the poster below and go and visit them.

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FERNLEY’S SECOND NOVEL LEAVES ME IN A STATE OF FLUX AND CAPACITY FOR AN ENDING

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Uber Alles coverWhen H.G. Wells published his novella The Time Machine in 1836, time travel was still in the realms of fantasy. With the development of nuclear and quantum physics over the past one hundred and eighty years, the idea of travelling back and forward in time is perceived to be closer than ever. If, it hasn’t already been achieved in some small aspect, by a government or corporation.

In literature we’ve certainly seen authors grasp the theory and run with it, considering the likes of Michael Crichton’s 1999 time travel adventure Timeline and more recently Audrey Niffeneggers’s 2003 book, the Time Traveler’s Wife. As with most things, there are good and bad uses for scientific advances; take Crichton’s other big literary and film success Jurassic Park and it’s print sequel Jurassic World. This month’s book explores the idea of what would happen if a group of Hitler’s most trusted military leaders got their hands on time travel. Its America Uber Alles by Jack Fernley and is published by Unbound (www.unbound.com)  on the 3rd May 2018.

Its 1945 in Berlin and the Allies and Russians are closing in on the city. Hitler and his  generals are facing defeat. General Robert Ritter Von Griem and Flying Ace, Hanna Reitsch are summoned to Hitler’s bunker. There, they are ordered to proceed to a facility on the outskirts of the city where a group of highly skilled Stormtroopers, Historians and Engineers are waiting. Their mission is to travel back in time and change history by making one of the allies a German state, founded on the beliefs of the Third Reich. In December 1776, George Washington and his army are struggling to overcome mounting losses, low morale  and defeat  at the hands of the British in the American War of Independence, aided by a large force of German mercenaries, led by the mysterious Baron Von Steuben aka Ritter Von Griem and Hanna Reitsch. When one of Washington’s most trusted lieutenants Edward Hand, an Irish Doctor is kidnapped, he is asked by Von Steuben to introduce him to Washington and through their knowledge of American history Von Stuben and his troops start  to turn the tide of the war against the British. But as the German influence over the Americans becomes all encompassing, Edward Hand witnesses first hand their barbarity and has grave doubts about the Germans. Can he convince the fledgling congress and his own leaders and friends of the danger they are in? Or will Von Stueben and Reitsch and their ever growing support achieve their sole objective of changing the future?

When I first heard the title of this book, I thought it was about Uber and modern America. What a surprise I got when I read the blurb and it dawned on me what a coincidence its publication was, considering the  social and political change sweeping America at this time under Trump.

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Jack Fernley (AKA Wayne Garvie)

 

What Fernley gives us in this book is a historical conspiracy thriller that will have readers chomping at the bit from the first page to find the answer to the huge “Will they won’t they” conundrum at the heart of this book. The main thing we take from reading  this book, is the vast amount historical research that Fernley has put into this work. When you add his edgy and engrossing story telling, you realize how on the mark he is. As a result the reader is drawn into a parallel world where modern ideals and warfare clash with old world thinking and technologies.

I did like this book and found it a real page turner, but there are a couple things that are a big let down. For one there is no apparent protagonist in the book, it’s only midway through it that I started to get a feeling I should be rooting for Edward Hand, but he disappears for a good bit of the book and really only comes to the fore at the end. So in a sense, its like watching a big Premiership football match  with a lot of well constructed characters up against each other.

The second and biggest problem lies in the fact that there’s no ending. From page one you are on a vehicle which moves at speed to one of two conclusions, either the Germans succeed or Edward Hand and the few friends he has left, thwart their mission. But after three hundred and forty nine pages the whole thing falls off a cliff and stops dead. There is no outcome and the reader is left wondering what happens next.

The last chapter sees George Washington, Edward Hand and Thomas Jefferson meeting a groupH.G.Wells Time Machine Cvr of Native Americans to try raise a new American army, but nothing is mentioned of whether they succeed or if Von Stueben and the Nazi’s do. I can only assume Fernely is planning a second book, with a conclusion where a new America under German rule is formed and the outcome of World War Two is altered or maybe he’ll introduce another group of time travelers from the future lead by the allies. These I would look forward to, but if there is no such thing then I’m very disappointed.

This is English Author Jack Fernley’s (@thejackfernely) second historical thriller, his first was, The Babylon Revelation published in 2013. Jack Fernley is actually the pen name of Wayne Garvie a leading British television executive whose worked on such programes as Strictly Come Dancing, Top Gear and The Crown.

So, if you are looking for a great read with the plotting and pace of any of Robert Harris or Bernard Cornwell’s books then jump in your Delorean and drive to your local bookshop or download a copy, but be warned the ending is a big let down and needs the reader to decide the outcome.