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review 2020-01-20 22:59
Bloody January / Alan Parks
Bloody January - Alan J. Parks

When a teenage boy shoots a young woman dead in the middle of a busy Glasgow street and then commits suicide, Detective Harry McCoy is sure of one thing. It wasn't a random act of violence.

With his new partner in tow, McCoy uses his underworld network to lead the investigation but soon runs up against a secret society led by Glasgow's wealthiest family, the Dunlops.

McCoy's boss doesn't want him to investigate. The Dunlops seem untouchable. But McCoy has other ideas . . .

In a helter-skelter tale - winding from moneyed elite to hipster music groupies to the brutal gangs of the urban wasteland - Bloody January brings to life the dark underbelly of 1970s Glasgow and establishes Alan Parks as a new and exciting voice in Scottish noir.

 

Wow, this is down and dirty Tartan noir! Harry McCoy is not your typical main character detective. Harry grew up in care, in a church run institution and his best buddy from those days is now one of the major crime bosses in Glasgow. This, obviously, is going to cause some issues for McCoy. Talk about conflict of interest!

I generally prefer noir mysteries to the cozies. And I did like this one, but I found some of the over-the-top violence and a lot of the language off-putting. It’s not like I have never sworn in my life, but I do try to moderate it (my mother taught me that people pay more attention when you swear if you don’t do it very often). Probably the amount of profanity is accurate for 1970’s Glasgow, but it was a little much for 2020 me. There’s a lid for every pot, but this one doesn’t fit me.

I was excited to recognize Irn Bru when one character was guzzling a bottle of it. I’d just heard a radio program about small brands that stood up to huge ones and Irn Bru in Scotland outsells CocaCola! Recognizing the brand gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling in an otherwise cold and gray book.

If you love dark and gritty crime fiction, this is the book for you.

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review 2019-12-26 09:51
Fun historical facts with a twisted sense of humour #history #non-fiction
The Peasants' Revolting Crimes - Terry Deary

Thanks to Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for sending me an early paperback copy of this book, which I freely chose to read and review.

I’ve long been intrigued by the Horrible Stories books, and when I saw the stage adaptation advertised, I thought about going to watch it, but, as was the case with the books, I never managed to make it. That, combined with my interest in criminology and the criminal justice system (particularly in the UK), made this book irresistible. Although I cannot compare it to other books by the authors, and must warn readers that this is, by no means, a book written for children, I loved every minute of it. The author combines a vast number of UK historical (and also some fairly recent) facts and events, with a sharp sense of humour (beware of papercuts. Some pages ooze poison), to the point of crossing into satire and black humour at times. The book shows a great deal of social consciousness, and it is far from complacent with the status quo, but it does not glamorise “peasant criminals” either, and it is harsh on popular renderings of figures like the highway man (Dick Turpin is no favourite), or pirates.

Deary explains in his introduction (after three great quotes, and there are many interspersed throughout the whole text) the reason why he decided to write the book. He observes that most books and plays featuring crimes and criminals tend to focus on kings, queens, or high-class characters (he mentions Shakespeare and Agatha Christie), and even when lower class characters are mentioned, they are not usually the heroes or the central figures. And he decided it was time to put it right, and here we have this book. As you can imagine from the topic and the title, there is plenty of gore, detailed accounts of crimes and punishments, and despite the wit and the humour, I’d recommend caution to those who prefer a truly light and cosy read.

The book is divided into seven chapters, plus the already mentioned introduction, an epilogue where the author reflects upon how little things have changed over the years, and an index. The chapters seem to follow a chronological order (or almost): Norman Nastiness, Mediaeval Misery, Wild Women, Tudor Twisters, Sinful Stuarts, Quaint Crimes, Georgian Jokers and Victorian Villains, but the content of each individual chapter is not limited to the period mentioned in the title. Every chapter focuses on a series of crimes that became typified or described for the first time in that historical period, or that are particularly associated with it, but Deary sometimes includes recent examples of similar crimes, to compare the types of punishment then and now or to emphasise the fact that history repeats itself and certain things change little, if at all. Although I have lived in the UK for many years, I didn’t grow up here, and there are periods of UK history and events that I’m not familiar with, so it is likely that much of the information that was new to me might be well-known to others, but the author presents it in an entertaining and seemingly light-hearted manner (I’d leave that to readers’ interpretation and opinion) that makes the book impossible to put down and the facts stick in one’s mind.

I, for one, was fascinated to read about football hooligans and their shenanigans as far back as the 1100s, about clan clashes, to discover the origin of ‘brawling’ (quarrelling in a church or a churchyard), to read about wife-selling (and how it often seemed to be a good option if divorce was not an option and both parties wanted out, no matter how illegal)… And yes, husband-selling also took place. Deary writes also about peasant revolts, about the machine wreckers of the Industrial Revolution era, or the many attempts on Queen Victoria’s life. I don’t want to spoil the book for you, so I won’t go into more detail, but apart from managing to cover a lot of ground, and having a knack for finding the perfect quote, Deary’s sharp wit and his talent for highlighting the connections between historical events and the present make this book a must read for those interested in crime, criminology, and UK history in general. Especially if they have a slightly twisted sense of humour.

I marked so many pages of the book that I had difficulty choosing a few to share here, but I’ll try to give you some sense of what you might expect from the book.

Here is one of his notes (they are priceless) in reference to Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus.

Some critics interpret eating your sons, not so much as ‘cannibalism’ as ‘incest’. Whatever the legality of eating your children, just don’t try it at home.

In Chapter 2, Mediaeval History:

Peasants were at the bottom of the feudal system pyramid. And if you were at the bottom of a pyramid you’d be crushed. As if that weren’t enough, your evil lord made you work like a slave labourer; meanwhile, your Good Lord sent you something to help relieve your misery. He sent you plagues.

This reflection seemed particularly relevant to some recent events in my country.

The Seditious Meeting Act was passed in March 1817. What constituted ‘sedition’, you might ask? Well, like ‘treason’, pretty much anything the Lord Lieutenants of the counties fancied, really.

The book ends in a hopeful note, well, sort of, but not quite.

In summary, this is a great book for people interested in the history of crime and the criminal justice system (and history in general) in the UK, particularly if they enjoy a humorous and ironic take on received wisdom. I am sure fans of Deary will enjoy it as well, but, despite the cover, this is not a book for young children, and I’d advise parents to check it out to decide its suitability for themselves. The book’s back cover states that the author is working on The Peasants’ Revolting… Lives, and I’ve added it to my wish list already.

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review 2019-05-12 21:01
We Need to Talk About Kevin / Lionel Shriver
We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver

Eva never really wanted to be a mother - and certainly not the mother of the unlovable boy who murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker, and a much-adored teacher who tried to befriend him, all two days before his sixteenth birthday. Now, two years later, it is time for her to come to terms with marriage, career, family, parenthood, and Kevin's horrific rampage in a series of startlingly direct correspondences with her estranged husband, Franklin. Uneasy with the sacrifices and social demotion of motherhood from the start, Eva fears that her alarming dislike for her own son may be responsible for driving him so nihilistically off the rails.

 

Here I am, several days after finishing this book, trying to collect my thoughts about it into a coherent narrative. I’m also intensely aware of writing this missive on Mother’s Day. I vascillated back and forth between 3 and 4 stars, finally settling on 4 because I couldn’t quit thinking about it.

It’s an exploration of the whole nature vs. nurture argument (although surely we all realize by now that its “both and” rather than “either or”). The volume that I read had an essay by the author at the end and I was interested in her perspective:

Though any writer is pleased by admiring reviews in the Wall Street Journal or Publishers Weekly, I’ve been more fascinated by the responses to Kevin...by so-called “ordinary” readers. Not only are many of these amateur reviews surprisingly well written and reflective, but they divided almost straight down the middle into what seem to be reviews of two different books….Mission accomplished.”


I believe that I read somewhere that nature (genetics) loads the gun, but nurture (environment) pulls the trigger. To me, it seems that Kevin shares a genetic tendency with his mother towards being restless and bored. Eva solved it first by traveling and second by childbirth, her son by murder. Both are competitive in their own arenas. With a different mother, Kevin might have turned out differently. Maybe. But we see from Eva’s relationship with Celia that she is capable of being a good mother, given a child who will meet her halfway. Every time you think you know for sure what went wrong, Shriver produces an event like a rabbit out of a hat to show you that it ain’t necessarily so.

I really enjoy epistolary novels, so that was a point in its favour for me. I also appreciated how carefully the author doled out the bread crumbs, leading the reader on, gradually revealing the true situation. Or at least what Eva believes the true situation to be. It seems to me that the two camps of readers (That poor woman vs. the woman who ruined her son’s life) show us clearly the stresses of parenting in the modern world. It’s still the mother who is saddled with the expectations for her children, as if the father’s job was over when sperm joined egg. Mothers aren’t allowed to be human or have imperfections. I think that’s what people are referring to when they call this a feminist novel--why is it the mother or why is it only the mother who is deemed at fault? Because all the way through the novel, I found myself asking, “What the hell is wrong with Franklin? Why can he not see any of this?” I also found myself wondering what had drawn Eva and Franklin together to begin with and why they stayed together. 

I could write a thesis on this book. It makes me think of so many things, join so many disparate threads together. So although I may not have enjoyed the book in the traditional sense, I can’t quite get it out of my head. The impulse was to sit right back down and read it again. Maybe I will revisit it in the future, who knows? May I say that I am profoundly happy to be single and childless.

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text 2019-04-01 21:49
Furiously Happy
Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things - Jenny Lawson,Jenny Lawson
I Picked Up This Book Because: I saw it on one of those “books you must read” lists.

The Story:

I have described this book as the endlessly entertaining rantings of a mad woman but there is sooo much more to it then that. Jenny is a fierce warrior, a dedicated mother and an outstanding human though I’m not sure her husband would always agree. I have so many good feelings spurred by this book. I won’t ramble for days about it, at least not here. I’ll just say I loved it.

The Random Thoughts:



The Score Card:

description

4.5 Stars
 
 
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review 2019-01-29 04:43
Furiously Happy
Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things - Jenny Lawson

I have to say, while I did especially love the cover on her last book, there was nothing as great as opening my phone each day to that crazy Raccoon when I played this audio book. I do love Lawson's taste in taxidermy. As a fan of her blog and a twitter follower, I think she just keeps getting better. Hearing her read these stories is like having a conversation with an old friend; running the gamut from laugh out-loud funny to heartbreakingly sad. The fact that Lawson gets up every day and keeps writing and touring and driving Victor crazy despite the many demons she battles is truly amazing, and I am moved at how she offers hope and understanding to all those who face similar challenges.

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