Gruffsdad’s Rather Small Reading Challenge 2017

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That is Roddy Doyle and he is one of my favourite authors. Like many people, I first heard of him back in 1991 when the film of The Commitments came out – I read the book which I loved and then read the other two books in the Barrytown Trilogy. I also saw and loved the film adaptations of those two books too not least because The Snapper introduced me to Lick the Tins’ version of Can’t Help Falling in Love.*

Anyway I’ve read a lot of his books but I haven’t read all of them and then this evening I read that he has a new book out later on the year so I thought what better time to set myself the minisucle reading challenge of reading those Roddy Doyle books that I haven’t read for a variety of reason e.g. my copy of The Woman Who Walked Into Doors got destroyed by a leaking sink, I’m not that big a fan of jazz so Oh, Play That Thing! never really appealed to me etc, etc…

So yes once I’ve finished the book I’m on at the moment – the latest Stav Sherez book – you should give him a go as he’s rather bloody good – then I will begin working my way through the unread titles of the Doyle oeuvre and give my views on each of the ones I’ve put off reading until now.

My Kindle has been loaded up with the books and first up will be the aforementioned The Woman Who Walked Into Doors – my review will be up next week – I swear it’s true!!!

In the meantime you should all go and read or watch The Commitments,The Snapper and The Van – you won’t regret it.

In my challenge I will be reading the following titles:

The Woman Who Walked into Doors (1996)
Paula Spencer (2006)

Oh, Play That Thing! (2004)
The Dead Republic (2010)

Rory and Ita (2002)

The Deportees and Other Stories (2007)
Bullfighting (2011)

Two Pints (2012) and Two More Pints (2014)

I hope you’ve all been well – it’s been a long time since I blogged – I’m so rubbish and I’m sorry.

* Never seen Some Kind of Wonderful – sorry.

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Book Review: Liz Moore – The Unseen World

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Everybody has a secret – mine is that I scoffed a Twirl before 8:30 this morning and it was bloody lovely.

Anyway, in what literally nobody is calling ‘Gruffsdad’s long awaited return to blogging and book reviews’ I am going to tell you all about Liz Moore’s The Unseen World.

I loved this book.

Ever since I became a father I basically cry at anything, Long Lost Family on ITV every week, Wales doing well in the Euros recently and A Rainy Night in Soho by The Pogues – anything and everything can set me off with the exception of books. Books can make me excited, angry, laugh etc, etc but I can’t say that I’ve ever read a book and found myself with tears running down my face. Only last night that’s exactly what happened as I reached the end of The Unseen World.

Ada Sibelius is the young daughter of David a professor in Boston who specialises in the development of artificial intelligence. Ada was born to a surrogate and is home schooled by David and spends her time almost entirely with her father and his colleagues at the university where he works. One evening during the traditional meal to welcome the new post grads to the university David forgets the answer to riddle that he asks the new students each year and this is the precursor to David’s illness which develops as the book progresses. As David’s succumbs to his illness secrets about him are revealed and Ada resolves to find out the truth about her father and this search for answers forms the backbone of The Unseen World.

Did I say that I loved this book? I really did, it’s not just a weepy story about a kid finding herself by finding out the truth about her life – it’s way more than that. It’s a desperate account about the effects of Alzheimer’s on a person and the people they love, it’s about a young child having the world she knows and loves being torn away from her and about how resilient kids can be when inside they are being destroyed by the events raging on uncontrollably around them. It’s about love, teenage life, the horrors of school and it’s also about the 1980s and how computer technology began to take over all of our lives.

Then as the book reaches the final stages Moore ruminations about what might happen with artificial intelligence in the decades ahead and I found this section fascinating. Predictions about the future can come back to bite authors on the bum but this was different and strangely moving. I know that Spielberg’s A.I. is loved and loathed in equal measure – I loved it – and without giving anything away there were sections in the section of the book in which I was reminded of it – whichever way you feel about the film then please don’t let this put you off! Can machines develop human emotions and what are the implications of that? Moore doesn’t have the answers but those passages and her views on this will stay with me for a long time to come.

The Unseen World leaps from decade to decade, past and present and we see people grow, we see them make mistakes and we see them die. Much to my surprise I found it all incredibly moving and it was during one of sections set in the past that I found myself wiping tears from my eyes as everything suddenly made sense and the reasons for the behaviours exhibited by one of the characters in the book finally became clear and it was genuinely heart-breaking.

I felt relief albeit tinged with sadness – life isn’t all about happy endings, sometimes things go wrong and they stay wrong and we come to terms with that, learn from it and move on with our lives.

I’m sorry to resort to cliché here but I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It is book crammed full of warmth, sadness and surprises and I’ll say it again – I really loved it.

Okay that’s my return to book reviewing – a little bit rusty but hopefully you’ve enjoyed and I really, really hope that some of you might be tempted to go and read the book because it really is fab.

Thanks for reading this and thanks to Christian for telling me I should blog again – he still owes me three pints of Coke Zero for last weekend though.*

Have a good weekend everybody!!!

* My Amazon wishlist is still available

The James Ellroy Reading Challenge – An Update

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I am making my way through the James Ellroy books that I’ve not read yet – I promise this is true!

Blood’s a Rover took me a week to read and whilst not quite up there with the previous books in the American Tabloid trilogy it was still bloody excellent and proved a fitting end to it. A fuller review will be posted on here in due course.

I’m currently reading My Dark Places which I first started some seventeen years ago and was defeated by. I’m obviously older and wiser now and have already progressed way further than I did back then!

My aim is to finish it and then do a review of both books so far.

A Book Review: Cal Moriarty – The Killing of Bobbi Lomax

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I know, I know – I promised a lot of things for this blog a few weeks ago and they are on their way I promise but first up I want to rave about a book that I read over the weekend.

Cal Moriarty is a screenwriter and a former private eye and The Killing of Bobbi Lomax is her first novel which is getting rave reviews all over the place. Sometimes I come to books with hype or incredible amounts of high praise behind them and having finished them come away feeling slightly underwhelmed – I will name no names – but this isn’t the case with The Killing of Bobbi Lomax  – or if you don’t mind, TKOBL.

As the book begins two people including Bobbi Lomax the young wife of a older local businessman Alan have been killed by bombs and the local police are struggling to work out the reasons behind the bombings. A third bomb has just gone off and detectives Marty Sinclair and Al Alvarez are heading to the scene where they find the third victim Clark Houseman still alive and he manages to whisper a name: “Hartman” before he is whisked off to hospital. With that we travel back a few months to Vegas where Houseman has travelled to conduct some business away from the prying eyes of “The Faith”.

This is where TKOBL got me hooked and led me spend a large part of my weekend crashed out of the sofa and in bed reading – The Faith isn’t given a name but with mentions of prophets, scared texts dictated to the prophet and his wife, polygamy and illicit alcohol drinking you don’t have to have a doctorate in religions of the world to know that we’re talking about Mormonism here and quite simply I loved this aspect of the book. The Faith permeates every aspect of the story, from the way in which the local police function to the everyday lives of every single character in the book, The Faith is invasive and leads people to do stupid and illogical things and to behave in what their leaders would deem to be immoral ways – TVs are hidden away as are drink cabinets on wheels, people vanish or leave and are never heard from again but at the same time one of the protagonists – the latest victim is seen in the flashbacks – is using The Faith’s faith to plot against them. By using his particular skills he exploits their need to keep their faith sacrosanct and pure and in doing so aims to further his own needs and social standing.

I really enjoyed this book; I liked the lead detectives’ relationship, the delicate reveal of Detective Sinclair’s backstory is subtle and all the more believable because of that. All too often damaged cops’ reasons for being damaged can be shoehorned in with the sound of a klaxon sounding but not in this instance and having been tweeted by Cal Moriarty over the weekend about her next book I really hope that this is explored further in her future work.

The details of the sting enthralled me, not just the practical details of how a forger works and how he creates his pieces but also the research that goes into it all and the sacrifices he makes, the risks he takes and how a man can be blinded by greed when initially his reason for conning The Faith are deeply personal.  It’s important to say that the level of detail contained in these passages is never overwhelming and it always convinces, it feels like it could have – and possible has – happened.*

It was however the aspects of the book that dealt with The Faith that intrigued me and drew me deeper into the story. There’s something about Mormonism that fascinates me, I’ve read a lot about their history and it’s genuinely a thought provoking story which continues to develop as they expand across the globe. The sections of TKOBL that dealt with The Faith and their meetings with Houseman reminded me of the HBO series Big Love and this really isn’t a bad thing as that was a wonderful show that really deserved a bigger audience over here in the UK.

As the story progresses we see the leaders of The Faith and their Supreme Leader seemingly blinded by their desire to own their history and in doing some becoming prepared to acquiesce to the demands of Houseman so that they can remain the one true faith whilst at the same time destroy their enemies.

The Killing of Bobbi Lomax is a book about faith, love, criminality, revenge, family, loss and the all-encompassing  panoramic experience that is the American Way.** It more than lived up to the online hype that has been growing over the last month or so and I highly recommend that you read it!

*This was only re-enforced when having finished the book I went on the BBC News website and saw a story about a first edition of Peter Pan that’s just gone on sale – when you read the book it’ll make sense why I said “No way!” to myself.

** I’m so sorry – I have serious doubts about the end of that sentence but I’ve gone with it.

My James Ellroy Reading Challenge

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Five years ago at a Waterstones in Bristol I bought the paperback of Blood’s a Rover by James Ellroy. I’d read a lot of his books over the years preceding its release in paperback and I really liked a lot of what I read and if I’m going to be honest some not so much but I did consider myself a fan.

I never read Blood’s a Rover – it’s still on my to read list over on Goodreads but this evening having sorted out the books on my Kindle I made a decision to undertake a blog reading challenge which I have given the following snappy title:

“Gruffsdad Goes Back to Ellroy and Reads the Books by Him That He’s Not Read Yet.”

First up will be the aforementioned Blood’s a Rover just as soon as I’ve finished Garnethill by Denise Mina* who is also another author whose back catalogue I’m currently making my way through.

I don’t know how long this challenge will take but I know that you my loyal and patient blog readers will wish me luck and I’ll report in to let you know how I’m getting on. As a bonus to get you back here, over the next few weeks I will post the following things:

  • A review of Denise Mina’s Garnethill
  • A review of a Super Furry Animals gig
  • A review of a Belle & Sebastian gig
  • A restaurant review

So that’s it for now but please come back soon.

* I’m on course to finish it tomorrow – parenting got in the way of my reading today.

A Book Review – Eva Dolan: Tell No Tales

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Eva Dolan wrote one of my favourite books of 2014 – Long Way Home – for which I wrote a review on this neglected blog – you should be able to find it on here somewhere – and my reward for said review was getting sent a copy of Ms Dolan’s second book to feature Zigic & Ferreira: Tell No Tales.

Long Way Home was a remarkable read combing social commentary with a cracking whodunit and my worry was that Dolan wouldn’t be able to match the heights obtained in her second book. I was so worried about this that I put off reading the book on several occasions until I just bit the bullet and cracked on with it. I needn’t have worried, Tell No Tales is another first rate read and a book very much of its moment which the way events are developing in the UK will ensure that it remains relevant and essential.

Dolan this times focusses on not only the immigrant population of Peterborough as she did in Long Way Home but also finds time to write about the various aspects of British right wing politics and how they gained strength in mainstream politics over the last couple of years. They have parliamentary seats are working to maintain this new found power in the face of an upcoming General Election. Recent reports in the press reported on how the far right is in disarray, the BNP and NF have fallen apart and whilst the headline news is great for the people who have fought against such political foes the reality is that the right wing haven’t gone away and as in such difficult times faced by them before they will regroup and fight again and it’s important that this isn’t ignored by the media.

Dolan seems to have an uncanny knack of identifying and then writing about issues that are current and matter to a great many people. She does this in a direct manner but doesn’t take sides in the debate. She is fair and honest and whilst this might not make her popular with certain sections of the population it does make her an important writer because I do believe that popular culture can play an important part in educating and informing society and Dolan’s work in both this book and Long Way Home has done its part to fulfil this objective.

Before you think “Oh Gruffsdad, you make it sound so boring! Why on earth would I want to read that?” then stop, you needn’t worry as Dolan is a thriller writer of the highest calibre and Tell No Tales is a terrific thriller. The storylines  – a hit and run which is possibly racial motivated and a serial killer  who is killing members of the BME community – race along with each development in the different cases keeping you turning the pages and I raced through the book desperate to know how and indeed if all the threads tied together.

The characters of Zigic & Ferreira along with their supporting cast are given the space to develop, we learn more about them and we are given the chance to care about the characters and identify with them which for me is an essential aspect of any crime book series.

Dolan has fast become one of my favourite crime writers and the Zigic and Menedes series ranking highly in my list of favourite crime series with Tell No Tales leaving me eager for the next book!

Tell No Tales is out now and thank you so much to Eva Dolan and to Harvill Secker for sending me a copy to review.

Broadchurch – This isn’t about Meera Syal’s legal wig.

My name is Anthony, I live in Dorset and I’ve given up watching Broadchurch.

West_Bay_Beach

Oh God that feels good.

This is my first blog in ages and it’s about Broadchurch, the crime show that is filmed near where I live in Dorset oh and other places too that the Dorset Echo never refer to but for the record include Clevedon – where my Auntie Hilary lives – Exeter, North Devon and I think possibly Sherborne where my wife and I once saw Jill Dando driving an Aston Martin DB5.

Broadchurch is big down here, well as big as anything can get in West Dorset, the local paper the Dorset Echo when not covering such important stories as a man not being able to use the staff toilet in Superdrug* have a massive stiffy for the show. Their website has a special section for it and details everything down to the minutist detail – we’ve had stories about the cast – understandable, they are big stars! The locations – it’s a beautiful place, who doesn’t want to see it as often as possible? The shops and restaurants where it’s filmed – hmm not so interested to be honest, not so much as an article, more a free advert for featured establishments. The filming schedule – losing me now, and the self-proclaimed “Broadies” who organised a coach trip around the locations – the Dorset ones only mind, a trip up to Clevedon wouldn’t have been cost effective – and I’m gone.

The thing is that I don’t think it’s that good.

This isn’t a reaction against the populist nature of the show, or the mass coverage it gets down here. I’m not really that bothered with the list of mistakes that appeared in the papers at the weekend nor do I really care about the generic “Alright my lover!” West Country accents that bedevil the show – if the producers had gone for a full on Dorset accent like the one my father in law has then nobody would have understood a bloody word. I’ve known him 19 years and still struggle to know what he’s talking about half the time.

We’ve had conversations over the years that have gone like this:

Him: “Something, mumble, something, mumble, something, lardy cake.”

Me: “Did you see that thing about cows on the news?”

Him: “Thaaaaat’s whaaaaaat eye’ve bin taaaalking ‘bout!!!!” **

No I just don’t rate it. I think I know what the producers were going for, a reaction to the Scandinavian dramas that BBC4 have shown on recent years and which I have watched and have enjoyed  – save for the ending of the series three of The Killing, what the hell was that about?!? So they’ve aimed impressively high but they don’t quite make it.

The main stumbling block for me is that I don’t like any of the characters in the show – no not even national treasure Olivia Coleman – she’s great as always but she’s not sympathetic but rather she’s pathetic and weak and gets trampled oncontinuously by everybody else in the show. I know that in the second series he’s been through a trauma which might explain that but she was like that in the first series before she went through all that. Danny’s family – horrible the lot of them. That bald bloke who works for Danny’s dad – a yokel simpleton – I could go on – nobody in the show warms the heart and I don’t care for them.

Where’s the Sara Lund whose jumpers I desire or the Martin Rohde who my wife compares me to and who she’ll miss more than words can say from series three of The Bridge?

That’s my main problem and why I gave up on Broadchurch it last week. Okay so I’ll backtrack yes the glaring mistakes do matter – it’s not like a show being set in the 1950s featuring a train from the 1960s, it’s worse than that and it affects the storyline. ITV have said that it’s a fiction and they’ve had support in that from eminent critics such as Mark Lawson but when the writer bends the law to enable a story to develop down a route which it wouldn’t have been able to develop without the bending then I have an issue.

I’ve done jury duty and have seen at first-hand how boring a criminal case can be but that’s no excuse for painting a false picture of what goes on in a Crown Court. Kavanagh QC never felt the need to do it and frankly it’s lazy writing on the part of Chris Chibnall to resort to such tactics.

I know what it wants to do and I really wanted it to work but Broadchurch has become more like a soap as it’s progressed and this process has been aided by the blatant shoe horning in of the David Tennant back story which we are meant to believe is something that was going on during the entire first series – oh come off it!!! Stop now please.

Maybe I was spoilt by the shows the preceded it and inspired it but Broadchurch can’t hold a candle to The Bridge or The Killing and no matter how hard it to tries to do so, I don’t think it ever will and I won’t be back to watch it.

That’s my other main issue, I want my crime drama to fascinate me, to keep me wanting to come back for me, to tease me, to shock me and to get my heart racing – Prime Suspect did that to me but Broadchurch just doesn’t and it has failed to do so since the very first episode. Characters came and went, were spooky or scary without ever really explaining why and the best character they had in series one – come on you know it was Pauline Quirke – was shamefully underused.

Maybe television has moved on from the days of classics such as Alec Guinness in the Smiley adaptations or Bob Peck in Edge of Darkness and my favourite, Ray McAnally in A Very British Coup.

These are dramas that decades on are still fondly remembered, eulogised over and watched with new eyes are drop dead classics of British television– will Broadchurch be so fondly remembered in five, ten or twenty years time? Getting quality actors such as Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Charlotte Rampling into a production was a casting coup for ITV – it just seems such a shame to have put them into such an underwhelming thing as the second series of Broadchurch.

The word subjective comes into play here and means that some of you will be saying “Yes” and some “No” – I fall in the latter camp but I’d honestly  – and despite what I’ve just written would rather be in the former.

*Here he is! http://www.dorsetecho.co.uk/news/localnews/dorchester/11687754.Loo_refusal_causes_customer_outrage_in_Dorchester/

** No, not racist, Dorset people are not a race.