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Under Milkwood (The Definitive Edition)
Thomas Dylan

The Fix

The Fix - Keith Nixon A sizzler of a book which moves at a cracking pace. If I’d not been introduced to the writer I wouldn’t have picked it up on the cover alone as guns and bullets don’t normally do it for me. But this is more than crime fiction, it is crime literary fiction. It reinforces what I’ve always found – it’s not what you write so much as the way you write it. The sort of book where you look forward to every invigorating sentence. For instance I loved this line: ‘It’s said that everyone’s good at something, which implies that we’re terrible at lots of things.’The chapters are in small bite-sized appetizing chunks which drive the pace. One of the book’s greatest strength are its colourfully-drawn characters, most of them dodgy or seedy or both. The story begins with the shooting of American banker Hershey Valentine, second in command at the bank where £20 million pounds has gone missing. What follows, told mainly in flashback, is a lot of intrigue and double-dealing which can lose you if you don’t keep up, and nobody is quite who they seem. I got to about half way and thought I had a good idea whodunnit but nothing so simple!My favourite scenes involved the interplay between Josh and Jack from their first encounter on the train - and the portrayal of discomfort and mismatch between what is said and what is thought - to their evolving friendship. Thinks Josh, ‘Jack has a gradual degrading effect like a steady ongoing dose of radiation.’ There are plenty more gritty and witty nuggets where that came from. If there is any justice in the world this should be snapped up by a mainstream publisher who can give it the publicity, marketing and presentation it deserves.

Ragged Trousered Philanthropists (Harperperennial Classics)

Ragged Trousered Philanthropists (Harperperennial Classics) - Robert Tressell This is a book I’ve wanted to read for literally decades and it was well worth the wait. That I should have read it at this time seems to be no accident. There is much relevance for society today with all the draconian cuts and culture of austerity we are now facing, further impoverishing the poor and enriching the wealthy. Although a work of fiction, the book is a valuable social document of the realities of Edwardian England for the poorest. Electric lighting was not commonplace (Tressell’s workers light lamps and candles at work and at home in the dark winter evenings), adequate clothing and protection against inclement weather was non-existent leaving the workers open to poor health and life-threatening diseases, there was no NHS, no unemployment benefit or welfare state and no workers’ rights or health and safety protection for workers. The book begins with a group of workers who are working on the renovation of a house called The Cave under the auspices of their cut-throat employer Rushton’s (although as the book unfolds we find that Mr Rushton and his colleagues are relatively ‘good’ employers compared with others in the town of Mugsborough where the novel is set). Rushton’s underling is the appropriately-named Hunter (and as you read on you will find many an ironic or fun-poking name for his characters) who coerces and spies on his workers in the hope of catching them out doing something they shouldn’t so he can dismiss them and replace them with cheaper labour. And there’s always an army of half-starved ill-clad men hanging about desperate for work and willing to be paid less than the going rate than the ‘old hands’. This inevitably results in a working atmosphere of resentment, fear, suspicion and backstabbing among the men who are overseen by the foreman Crass. Crass is in many ways in an enviable position, though he has to do a lot of cozying up to the bosses. In turn, the workers themselves try to get into his good books to prevent themselves from being considered for dismissal. Rushton, Hunter and many of the other town’s big employers are also influential in the business and religious affairs of the town. When self-educated Frank Owen, tries to explain the causes of poverty to his fellow workers, he is mocked and ridiculed by most of them. They are resistant to change and opt for the status quo because they don’t believe in an alternative, in spite of their lot being a miserable one: their families half-starving and dressed in rags and dilapidated boots. However, Owen’s arguments – as well as those of one of his fellow workers, Barrington - are persuasive and the men cannot put together a cohesive argument against those of Owen. All in all, Tressell portrays a rich portrayal of brutal working life and poverty as it was at the time and many of the tragedies that resulted. But there is also plenty of humour in the interplay of characters who are as alive and relevant today as they were then.

Boat Girl: A Memoir of Youth, Love, & Fiberglass

Boat Girl: A Memoir of Youth, Love & Fiberglass - Melanie Neale A fascinating account of Melanie Neale’s childhood and adolesence growing up on the family boat Chez Nous with her parents and younger sister. In the winters they head off for the Bahamas and summers they return to the east coast of the United States. Melanie’s parents have always been unconventional and wish to broaden the horizons of their children. Melanie and her sister are home-schooled and as children get shunned by small-town America for their unconventional lifestyle. Learning the lore of boat-life, Melanie makes life-long ‘liveaboard’ friends. At the age of eleven, she goes diving with her father and other men and has adventures with reef sharks and other formidable creatures. We share her growing pains as she turns from a child into a teenager and has various pubescent relationships. We feel her pain and confusion as she comes up against her father’s attitude as she becomes sexually active. The hypocrisy and double-standards she has to endure as a girl, hit her hard. Meanwhile, she and her friend, Michelle, have a dream to buy a boat and go sailing together when they are old enough and they save up to make this dream a reality. By the age of eighteen, Melanie is doing a correspondence course in boat design. She also gets her captain’s license and now has options and money in the bank. She and Michelle have saved enough for a boat but Michelle drops a bombshell – she’s going to get a boat with her new boyfriend. Not one to be perturbed, Melanie goes to college to study International Business and decides to major in creative writing. At the age of twenty-two she buys herself a boat Short Story and survives extreme weather conditions and hurricanes. She’s ‘chosen to be that girl who’s a little tougher than most guys’ after all. Boats are so much more than fibreglass when you’ve lived and breathed them and cared for them as Melanie has – they are her skin. The vivid imagery of reefs and conches and the passion with which Melanie describes her life as a ‘liveaboard’ will stay with me for a long time.

Some Are Sicker Than Others

Some Are Sicker Than Others - Andrew Seaward Some Are Sicker Than Others – Andrew SeawardAfter their lives reach rock bottom, three ‘addictive personalities’ – Monty, Dave and Angie coincide at a rehabilitation centre called Sanctuary in the scenic Colorado mountains. Their lives are inter-connected by tragedy but just how much remains one of the driving forces of the novel. This is a hard-hitting and extremely well-written account of the reality of living with a drug or alcohol. Life is grim for people with serious addictions and Seaward isn’t afraid to tell it like it is in his acerbic style. His writing is punchy, fresh and cliché-free with a thread of dark humour running through it. The micro details would suggest either first-hand experience or very heightened powers of observation – or perhaps both. His characterization and dialogue are spot on – I’m sure we’ve all met people like Dexter, and Nick is instantly memorable. Highly recommended though not for the faint-hearted or those who prefer a happy-ever-after ending.

Jamrach's Menagerie

Jamrach's Menagerie - Carol Birch I won't forget this book in a long time. Unusual subject matter - very disturbing and gripping. Not for the faint-hearted.

The Space Between Things

The Space Between Things - Charlie  Hill Thatcher has just gone and Arch goes out to party with his Moseley mates. There he meets the poetic Vee who he ends up spending the night with. Arch is used to getting by between dole cheques and smoking skunk, whereas for Vee life is more than this. Then Vee disappears and over the next year, Arch only has the occasional postcard from Bosnia, though she leaves a lasting impression on him as he rises her to her challenge to throw himself into the world and its possibilities. He gets involved with the techno festival scene and its vibrant underculture of doing your own thing, coming together, being creative, playing music and reclaiming the common land for travelling, partying and living. What follows are parties in disused properties and landmark road protests and other demonstrations including Twyford Down and anti-Criminal Justice Bill marches which I too was involved with, if very peripherally. Then Vee returns and becomes involved in the direct action and gets deep and meaningful with Arch. But what does she really make of the change in Arch? And what of her work in Bosnia? Why is she so enigmatic?The writing is rich with the slang and expressions of the time many of which have filtered into everyday parlance: chill out, keep it fluffy, ambient music etc.This is a vitally important and well-written book with plenty of wit, and just as relevant now with sinister developments in government, oppression of opposition, and suppression of news coverage or misrepresentation of news on a far wider scale. They thought they were changing the world, but the sinister grey men are back in power with knobs on.

If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things

If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things - Jon McGregor This is an unforgettable book, much for the lyrical and poignant way it is written as anything. I love to read this kind of literary fiction and the author has a rare talent for making the ordinary extraordinary; the small everyday events becoming charged with an electric significance due to a tragic event, the details of which don't become apparent until near the end. This lends it a pace while the exact everyday actions of the street's residents keep that pace measured and steady, leading to a satisfying and nail-biting climax. Occasionally I got confused between a couple of the characters but it didn't spoil my overall enjoyment.

Ben's Adventures in Wine Making

Ben's Adventures in Wine Making - Ben Hardy If you think this is just another book on wine-making you'd be totally wrong. Yes, wine is the raison d'être for the book but it's as much about the accompanying events which enrich the whole wine-making and wine-drinking experience: the food, the friends, the family members, the cats, the classical music, the dissertations on medieval childbirth and other little anecdotes that almost make you feel a participant in the Hardy household. The book is divided into sections according to wine flavour (and there are many), and we are privy to the agonies and ecstasies of each new flavour, from the picking (or buying), to the stalking, mashing or cutting of the fruit (or vegetable), to the bottling, maturing and eventual drinking. The events are relayed with a wit, sometimes dry, at other times sparkly, just like the various wines. Banana, plum and blackberry are some of the fruits employed, even exotic tinned fruit, though Hardy strongly advises against the potato. "I think this is the most disgusting wine I have ever made or supped. It's bitter and tastes of raw potatoes," he writes with his usual candour. I'm not at all surprised that the Barley Wine tasted like Carlsberg Special either - as a teen I would drink both to get off my head quickly and cheaply, though the Barley Wine was pretty bitter and disgusting to my youthful palate. I am also very averse to rhubarb but I must say that the description of something more akin to pink champagne and no hint of rhubarb did sound very enticing. One gets the feeling that corks are popping and wine exploding all the time in the Hardy household and when they're not drinking the stuff or having Wine Parties for friends to rate Ben's wines, they're foraging, picking, racking, bottling and keeping a journal. One wonders how Ben and his wife Claire - whose home-made dishes are usually a mouth-watering accompaniment - have time for all their other pursuits.

The Well (King Penguin)

The Well - Elizabeth Jolley I read this over twenty years ago but it still stays with me

The Bird of Night

The Bird of Night - Susan Hill I can't give this a fair review because I read it over thirty years ago, but I still remember the creepy scenes of Venice out of season

Unknown Book 12384272

Unknown Book 12384272 - Unknown Author 273 Another one I read when I was five! Now I must look for 'What Happened at Updown'

At Old Lob's

At Old Lob's - Elsie H. Grassam OMG! This was the second of the set books when I was five! The first was Old Lob And His Family. I wasn't expecting to find it. That means I can maybe find some of the others in the series. I can't star rate it because I can't remember the story, but for nostalgic value I'd give it a 5!


Trippers - William J. Booker Trippers is a profound and important book about the life-changing experience taking place in the life of Bill Booker and his friends over a period of two weeks in the summer of 1971. The writing is beautiful and of its time. Beginning in Leicester, Bill reaches a turning point in his life as he questions his existence and the pure futility of living until he alights on the idea of a journey as a passport out of the gloom and depression of Leicester. The book is peppered with nostalgic references, infusing deeper significance to those of us of a certain generation: Ted Heath, power cuts, Double Barrel, Spirit In The Sky, Reefer jackets. Bill gravitates towards a new crowd of like-minded, mind-expanding, enlightenment-seekers who listen to the soundtracks of the time - Cream, Captain Beefheart and Pink Floyd - while imbibing certain mind-altering substances. Bill's travelling companions and fellow trippers, Ray, Jake and Syd are vividly described, the `tripping' of course not only referring to their planned trip to Weymouth, perhaps an unlikely destination for enlightenment, but also to the psychedelic substances they ingest before they hit the road and during their time away. The reality of living cheek-by-jowl with fellow travellers is beautifully observed and with plenty of wry humour as we get a more in-depth portrayal of the characters, their complexities, their vulnerabilities, even their personal hygiene problems (Ray's foot odour problem for one!) as their shared experience of tripping bonds them. Egg and chips provide fuel for the boys wherever they travel, but even the fried eggs, sunny side up, become a metaphor for something deeper (if only I liked fried eggs). There are great discussions aplenty and some very eerie experiences when they are tripping, like the walk in the dark back to the campsite, but the whole `trip' to Weymouth provides the catalyst for the meaning of life, and a new self-confidence and fearlessness in Bill as he embraces the philosophy of Tim Leary: Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out. But more than this, Bill's quest and understanding about light, love, and oneness, is like reading one of those Buddhist books about the connectedness of all existence, leaving one with a sense of awe and positivity.


Missio - Tim Roux Missio begins with a history of Hull trawlers that have sunk over the years. The narrator Stevie Francis should know – this is how he lost his father and grandfather. The key figures in Stevie’s life are his mother, grandmother, Danielle and Felicio, a stalwart of a cat (and I am always a sucker for cats). Stevie discovers he has access to another world when his deceased father appears to him at nights. Stevie’s furtive imagination and extra-sensory perception is further roused by a morbid fascination with the former ‘hanging judge’s’ house, situated between his gran’s and his mother’s house. The creepy portrayal of this house as seen through the child’s eyes is superb. When Felicio goes missing, Stevie enlists the help of the Great Macaroni, the magician who has had the ‘hanging judge’s house bequeathed to him. Soon Stevie is being versed by both the ghost of the hanging judge and the Great Macaroni: the judge teaching him facts and the Great Macaroni conjuring and to question reality and things start to get delightfully surreal. By the time he hits puberty, Stevie’s mind can’t cope with too much reality causing a mental breakdown and the loss of a couple of years of his life. Our hero ‘recovers’ by playing the ‘normality’ game but the gift for predicting the future sometimes proves to be a curse, especially where his wife Danielle and her family are concerned. Tim Roux’s light touch of humour, economic style and sense of the surreal ensure this is a story to remember.

Empty Chairs: Much more than a story about child abuse

Empty Chairs: Much more than a story about child abuse - Stacey Danson Empty Chairs is a shocking and extraordinary account of Stacey Danson's survival from the most harrowing sexual and physical abuse she was subjected to from the age of three by her mother and a succession of men. Yet there's an absence of self-pity in the recounting, Stacey tell it as it is, with emotional honesty and simplicity, making it all the more poignant. But Stacey is a survivor. We see the emergence of her indomitable spirit which helps her escape from her intolerable situation. At the tender age of eleven she runs away and the rest of this astounding autobiography is given over to her survival on the streets where she arms herself with a knife and a few other essentials, including a radio, and earns herself a street name - Sassy Girl or Sassy. She lives from day to day, night to night, in cliff recesses, doorways, parks, beach huts and dock warehouses, surviving on old bruised fruit from the market and water from toilet blocks, or, when she can, food and drink from Paulie's cafe where the pimps and 'working girls' hang out. It would have been so easy for someone so young and vulnerable and desperate as Stacey to have ended up in prostitution, like the other girls at Paulie's cafe, but in spite of the growing menace and eventual abuse and violence Stacey is subjected to, she resists. She's made a promise to herself that she won't allow her body to be prostituted so she can 'keep mind and body intact'. We feel her exhaustion and fear as she is hounded from place to place with threats from predators or as a result of witnessing torture or murder. In spite of her constant references to her age, I had to keep pinching yourself to remember that I was reading the account of an eleven-year-old girl, so old is the head on her shoulders. Her intuition and outspokenness are undoubtedly her saviour. At the end of the book, we just begin to see glimpses of the next phase of Stacey's life and I think - I hope - this is a taster for her next book as I for one want to see what happens next on her incredible journey from then to now.

The Secret Life of Bees - A Novel

The Secret Life of Bees - Sue Monk Kidd The Secret Life of Bees tells the story of feisty white teenage runaway, Lily Owens, who accidentally killed her mother as a small child. Lily escapes her embittered father and goes on a journey, both physical and psycholgical, taking her to the pink home of the three black Boatwright sisters, the oldest of which takes Lily under her wing and initiates her into the intriguing world of bee-keeping. Lily gradually discovers romance as well as the truth about her mother - a truth which she has been longing and yet dreading to hear. Monk Kidd deftly weaves this around the other big themes of the story: the religion and worship of the black Madonna, and racial tensions in America's deep south of the era. All five stars go to this poignant and breath-taking story. A must read.