Book Reviews

The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse

What Da Cover Says: An imposing, isolated hotel, high up in the Swiss Alps, is the last place Elin Warner wants to be. But she’s taken time off from her job as a detective, so when she receives an invitation out of the blue to celebrate her estranged brother’s recent engagement, she has no choice but to accept.

Arriving in the midst of a threatening storm, Elin immediately feels on edge. Though it’s beautiful, something about the hotel, recently converted from an abandoned sanatorium, makes her nervous – as does her brother, Isaac.

And when they wake the following morning to discover his fiancée Laure has vanished without a trace, Elin’s unease grows. With the storm cutting off access to and from the hotel, the longer Laure stays missing, the more the remaining guests start to panic.

But no-one has realized yet that another woman has gone missing. And she’s the only one who could have warned them just how much danger they’re all in.

What I Says: I have mixed feelings about this book, it has it’s good moments but there is a lot of weak writing and I can’t decide whether I liked it or not. The setting in the Swiss Alps was a fantastic idea, you can tell the author knows this landscape well, the descriptions are stunning and you could almost be there yourself. The plot itself is interesting enough to have kept me reading to the end, the idea behind the Sanatorium’s history was quite chilling.

The characters though are rubbish, nobody is developed enough to get you interested in them, Elin has a lot of baggage from an event in her past and it is dragged out for two thirds of the book, maybe if it was dealt with quicker she would have become the strong character that this book needed. The rest of the characters left you thinking they could be the killer and also not the killer at the same time, they were tough to get a read on, rather wishy-washy. A lot of the issues could be down to the very short chapters, the tension will start to build and then the chapter ends and you are left to start again, so many of the chapter breaks seemed unnecessary to me.

So it all came down to the ending would it be strong enough to make me want to recommend it to others…it wasn’t half bad, the reasoning behind the murders was very good, the final scene was very intense….and I have to admit I can’t remember if it was spread across loads of chapters or not, the flow was kept up well and I got caught up in the moment.

I think the book was ok in the end, it is a debut after all. There is a sequel, I’m hoping that Elin’s past has now been dealt with and that the readers can now get to see her in her element and start to solve some interesting cases. I think if you are a big reader of crime novels then you’ll like this one, I’m just a fussy old git.

Book Reviews

High White Notes: The Rise and Fall of Gonzo Journalism by David S. Wills

What Da Cover Says: High White Notes: The Rise and Fall of Gonzo Journalism aims to provide the first in-depth analysis of the writings of Hunter S. Thompson, one of the most misunderstood authors of the 20th century. His Gonzo journalism was an odd fusion of fact and fiction that garnered widespread adoration but for all the wrong reasons.

In this book, David S. Wills (author of books on William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg) traces the author’s life from birth to death, exploring how Thompson developed an entirely unique literary voice and why he used such odd techniques to craft a form of prose that defied categorisation. This book not only explores Thompson’s meteoric rise to literary superstardom, but also charts the startling decline in the quality of his work that came after his 1972 foray into political reporting.

What I Says: I consider myself a big fan of Hunter S. Thompson…even though I have only read 3 of his books (Hell’s Angels, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and The Rum Diaries) and only started reading him after he had died, this biography has shown me I have have only touched the surface with Thompson’s writing. There have been many books written about Thompson so what makes this book special? Thompson was the master of blending fact and fiction and it is nigh on impossible to unravel the truth from Thompson’s books, his letters, interviews and audio recordings, Wills has done an incredible job of trawling through all that work to separate fact from fiction and has created this biography that is one of the most interesting I’ve read. Sure he might have had to make assumptions here and there but that has to be expected, there is no real way to get to the truth, especially as in the end it’s not obvious as to whether Thompson himself was sure of the facts.

One thing that is obvious from this book is just how tragic Thompson’s life was, trapped inside a persona that he had created and unable to find a way out. The guy was most definitely a genius, some of his insults (especially those towards Nixon) are some of the funniest you’ll ever read and it’s amazing that you imagine Gonzo journalism as a huge movement but it was just the one guy, it was such a crazy concept that nobody was able to imitate and ultimately Thompson was unable to find his way out. Wills shares with the reader quotes from those closest to him and it’s very moving to see just what they did for him to help him focus on his writing, the quote at the beginning of the last chapter by Sandy Thompson was shocking, it really puts things into perspective about what Thompson was going through. Reading of his decline in these pages was quite depressing but Wills has handled it sensitively.

What makes a good biography? In my opinion it needs to be of somebody of interest, not some recent “celebrity”, the number of quotes from other sources needs to be kept down, the biographer needs to write things as if the object of the book is a character, any statements they make need to be backed up with understandable reasoning and finally it needs to leave you in awe and wanting to explore the person more. For me this book has ticked all the boxes, I have learnt a huge amount, the research has been fantastic, so well written that now and then I found myself all caught up in the events in Thompson’s life and finally it has made me want to re-read the three books I’ve read and to also read the poor quality work that Thompson wrote. If you want to know more about the myth that is Hunter S. Thompson then this is a great place to start, it ain’t just for the fanboys.

Massive thanks to David S. Wills for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Book Reviews

Leonard and Hungry Paul by Ronan Hession

What Da Cover Says: Leonard and Hungry Paul are two friends who see the world differently. They use humour, board games and silence to steer their way through the maelstrom that is the 21st century.

‘The figure in Munch’s painting isn’t actually screaming!’ Hungry Paul said. ‘Really, are you sure?’ Replied Leonard. ‘Absolutely. That’s the whole thing. The figure is actually closing his ears to block outa scream. Isn’t that amazing? A painting can be so misunderstood and still become so famous.’

LEONARD AND HUNGRY PAUL is the story of two quiet friends trying to find their place in the world. It is about those uncelebrated people who have the ability to change the world, not by effort or force, but through their appreciation of all that is special and overlooked in life.

What I Says: In the words of Grace (Hungry Paul’s sister) “Well now, that was nice”. When I tweeted that I was about to start this book it got a huge amount of love from so many people, I was quite surprised…can it really be that good that people were jealous of me reading it for the first time? The book really is that special, I am now officially in the gang who will get jealous when somebody else gives this a go. A friend of mine saw the book and asked what it was about, I was at a loss for words to describe it, I settled on “It’s a really nice book about two lads who still live with their parents, these two lads are the wisest people you’ll ever meet” and then I said she should get her own copy and snatched my one back.

Leonard is the more outgoing of the two (only by a bit), recently his world has been turned upside down by events and he is struggling to cope with these changes. Hungry Paul is far quieter and so very wise, he offers some very sage advice and if he starts up a cult, I’ll be there signing up fer sure. There was something about Paul that felt familiar to me and it took the scene with the roses for me to realise what it was, he comes across as a un-obnoxious version of Ignatius J. Reilly from The Confederacy of Dunces, he has the same sort of sage advice to give and will stand up for what’s right and he is quietly larger than life.. The rest of the characters were lovely, how they acted around Leonard and Paul was heart-warming. The story itself was well written and easy to follow, a sort of coming of age type book, throughout the whole book I had the feeling that things were gonna come undone for the duo and that Hession was gonna sucker-punch me, I guess the pandemic years have damaged me a bit for always expecting the worse.

This book is bloody fantastic, I laughed loads, I’ve learnt things, I’ve had my outlook on life altered and dammit! I also welled up a bit, the teeniest tiniest bit, was probably just raining on my face or something…anyways give this book a miss cos I’ll only get jealous!

If you want to get yourself a copy then here is an A****n free link HERE:

Book Reviews

Your Dark Meaning, Mouse by Stephen Moles

What Da Cover Says: Your Dark Meaning, Mouse is the ultimate field guide to the most bewildering and elusive topic in all literature: Dark Meaning, a subject that hitherto has only been accessible after deep study and courageous initiation to the most resourceful and sagacious of scholars, withdrawn, lab-coated persons who occasionally may be found stumbling about in forests, taking cryptic notes in their squared-paper moleskins from closely attended birdsong and astronomical observations. Now this indispensable collection of essays, stories, poems and scripts blasts the subject into public consciousness and beyond.

What I Says: What is a Buckarastano? This book starts of with this question, I had no idea what it was, and according to Microsoft’s red squiggly line they don’t know either. Luckily I have now read this field guide and I understand what it is and the dangers it represents….unfortunately that’s where all understanding ends for me with regards this absurd book.

What have I read here? Moles mixes poetry, theatre, essays, diagrams and stories to mess with the reader’s consciousness; when I read collections of short stories I love to look for the links between each story, in this book I was left scratching my head, “is that a link?” “Hang on! It’s those blooming Ravens again” were thoughts I kept having. Somehow Moles has taken the “normal” tenuous links in short story collections and created a vortex that it is quite impossible to escape from, I kept seeing the same thing again and again and yet maybe I hadn’t see anything at all. It really does mess with your mind, you shouldn’t read this book if you are not prepared to give it your full attention.

As I was reading this I assumed it was all made up so I decided to google a few of the statements…turns out the total of the numbers on a roulette wheel and the message on Shakespeare’s grave were 100% accurate, I can only assume then that everything in this book is true. The sense of humour is very wicked, all the Beatles experiments/theories had me laughing big time and trying to explain it my family. There are also some very good lines, I especially liked the altered version of The Beatles song “When I’m Sixty Four”. The writing at times felt a bit like Hunter S. Thompson, with the author putting himself into the story and there is even a short story called “Hell’s Academics”, which is another fine moment.

This is a very good book, I’ve enjoyed the experience of it’s madness, I’ve most definitely not understood all that has gone down but I think that’s the point, it’s all part of the experience. One question I am left with is, “like Spider-Man this book messes with the Multiverse, therefore should it get it’s very own Marvel franchise?”

Many thanks to Sagging Meniscus for sending me this copy to review. You can get your A****n free version from HERE:

Book Reviews

River Weather by Cameron MacKenzie

What Da Cover Says: As the D.C. city sprawl moved west along the banks of the Potomac in the late 1990s, what had once been a rural backwater was rapidly transformed into a dystopian suburbia of suspicion, greed, and naked self-interest. This collection examines the resulting blends of money, race, and class that have come to define the ongoing metamorphosis of Northern Virginia. In “Kalim Mansour,” a boy trying to understand his father fixates on a mysterious Saudi car salesman. In “Rowdy,” a man who was sexually assaulted by his high school football team still romanticizes their masculine code of behaviour. In “A Non-Smoking House,” two contractors battle the realtors who control their livelihood as the ties that bind civil behaviour pull tight, and then snap. Each of MacKenzie’s stories explores the incommensurable moments that lie at the heart of shared experience, the yawning gaps that separate us, and our desperate attempts to close them.

What I Says: A collection of brutal short stories that examines masculinity and the pressures a man is under to keep up the the appearance of being a big strong man. A lot of the stories had a similar set up, two people, one who has put up walls and thinks that sharing their emotions is not the correct thing to do and the second is the person trying desperately to understand this male figure in their life. There is nothing to like about the first person, their masculine face has been worn for so long that they have become bitter and twisted. The second person makes for hard reading, you instantly care for them but you can see the inevitable outcome that they are going to turn out just as bad.

The writing is very good, these characters are experiencing every day events and MacKenzie manages to draw you in very quickly, in fact he does this a little too well, a few of the stories are only 2 or 3 pages long and I had already invested myself when it had suddenly ended. There is a constant threat of violence, quite often alcohol induced and it is this theme that made me think of Palahniuk…without Palahniuk’s trademark of trying to gross you out.

This is the first thing I’ve read by MacKenzie and I see that he has a novel too, this book has left me intrigued to see what he can do with a longer project. Favourite story here was the opening one “Scenarios” a great little discussion between kids on the most awesome way to die…Jerry was very wise. haha

Thanks to Alternating Current Press for the copy of this book.

Book Reviews

The Cumbria and Lake District Coast by Kevin Sene

What Da Cover Says: The coastline of Cumbria stretches for almost two hundred miles from Morecambe Bay to the Solway Firth and passes through the beautiful Lake District National Park. The Cumbria and Lake District Coast provides suggestions for places to visit along the coast, including picturesque harbours, stately homes, museums and seaside resorts. Readers will also discover less well-known sights such as medieval buildings, lighthouses and stone circles. The Lancashire shores of Morecambe Bay and the Scottish shores of the Solway Firth are included too.

For those interested in the history of the coast, there is an introduction to the role of coastal trade through the centuries. Topics include the Roman coastal defences that once extended to Maryport beyond Hadrian’s Wall, how mining contributed to the growth of ports such as Barrow, Millom and Workington, and the canals that linked ports at Lancaster, Ulverston and Carlisle to the shore.

For wildlife enthusiasts, the book highlights the many nature reserves that dot the shoreline and the varied habitats that are found, such as sand dunes, lowland raised mires and spectacular sea cliffs. There are also tips on watching waterbirds, for which Morecambe Bay and the Solway Firth are famed, and on where to see seals and tidal bores such as the Arnside Bore.

With stunning colour photographs, The Cumbria and Lake District Coast is a must-read for travellers and local residents alike. It will also be of interest to walkers along the England Coast Path, a fabulous new long-distance trail which is due to be completed shortly.

What I Says: I’m one of those Brits who never goes abroad, never needs a holiday that is super hot, I’ve always said that there is so much in the UK left for me to explore and this book has given me a list of some fantastic places to check out on my next trip up north. As a scout I spent a lot of time in the Lake District and as an adult I’ve spent a lot of time exploring the Solway Firth on the Scottish side…you’d think with all that time spent in this area I’d know it well, this book has shown me there is so much I have missed. I’ve never heard of Leven Estuary or the Ravenglass Estuary but these are the two most interesting places included here, I can’t wait to have a visit…and try and check out a steam train.

The book is jam packed with information, facts and many lovely photographs, my daughter has just got into photography and can’t wait to see the places captured in this book. The book is well spaced out with interesting headings, like coastal themes and the Irish sea. More care seems to have been taken here than I have found in similar guide books, for example I absolutely loved that you get a whole page dedicated to the River Leven…from source to sea, fascinating stuff.

Even if you are not planning on visiting this area I would still recommend this book, in this era of uncertain COVID travel restrictions this is the sort of book to inspire you to see what’s at home.

This review is based on reading the book, I’ll update once I’ve taken it out into the field for testing.

This was my stop on this blog tour, make sure to check out the other reviews on the list below.

About the Author: Kevin Sene is a scientist and writer on water and climate themes. The idea for this guide arose from many enjoyable walks and cycle rides along the Cumbrian coast when living in Kendal and Carlisle and an interest in its history and wildlife. He has also written a book on tidal bores and a travel guide to the Mersey Estuary describing places to visit around its Liverpool, Wirral and Cheshire shores. He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and has worked extensively in Europe, Africa and Asia.
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Book Reviews

Torpor: Or, The Disquieted Vicissitudes of the Inchoate by Jack CJ Stark

What Da Cover Says: Each night whilst everyone else was praying for good health and fortune, Arwen prayed for change.

It arrived on a dank winter night.

A Ma Shen folk tale told to and via Jack CJ Stark.

What I Says: There is a song by Bob Dylan called “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” it’s a song that draws you in, takes you on the strangest of trips and leaves you smiling with how much fun it was. The reading experience of this book was very similar to Dylan’s song and it left me wondering just how much cheese does Stark eat before bedtime? The story starts off nice and gentle you have a village protected behind a tall wall, we meet Arwen and Heylyn, potential heroes? Arwen doesn’t really fit in with everybody else in the village, they come across as very standard run-of-the-mill type people whilst Arwen is a larger than life girl, I instantly liked her, and Heylyn too…there is another kid but he was a right muppet. Everything seems very normal until one day they wake up and a strange cart has appeared in a nearby field…this side of the wall. It’s at this point that everything seems to go a bit wonky.

I do enjoy Stark’s short stories, it takes a real talent to write a book that is only 85 pages long and make the reader feel like they have read an epic novel. Whilst reading I kept thinking that the writing was like a particular author (Not naming names as that might give away spoilers) then I would change my mind and think it was like another author, in the end I decided these Ma Shen stories are all Stark, there really isn’t anybody else there to compare…..accept maybe Dylan.

As with previous books of Stark’s you get his sense of humour included and that has to be my favourite part, it’s a gentle humour that creeps up on you and before you know it you’re already laughing. I’ve recommended all his other books and I recommend this one too, they just keep getting better and better.

If you wanna get a copy then you can get a copy from SMASHWORDS where you can pay what you want for a copy…My suggestion is £1million.

Book Reviews

Snow by Marcus Sedgwick

What Da Cover says: Of all weathers, snow is the one that has always affected Marcus Sedgwick the most. While many people’s idea of the perfect holiday involves sun, sea an sand, he instead makes trips to cold, snowy parts of the world: Russia, Scandinavia or the Arctic Circle. A few years ago he bought a mountain home, an old chalet d’alpage high in the Haute Savoie, and for the first time he began to understand what it is to live in an environment where extreme snowfall is frequent. Like the six sides of a snowflake, the book has six chapters, each exploring the art, literature and science of snow, as well as his own experiences and memories, asking whether it really did snow more during his boyhood in Kent and whether changing climate patterns might mean, that for some areas of the world, snow may become a thing of the past. He also wonders why snow is so powerful for our imagination, so transformative and as fundamental as our response to darkness, to sunlight.

What I Says: Snow is my favourite weather, it brings back memories as a kid sat eating my breakfast listening to the radio as the DJ reads out the list of schools that are closed because of snow, and the cheer as my school was read out and then the day of fun playing in the snow…now that I’m a parent the school closures give a different response :-). Every year I take December off work in the hope of a good snow storm and the chance to explore.

This little book is only just over 100 pages long but it is crammed full of information…just like snow Sedgwick has packed it down to fit on the pages. There are 6 distinct chapters where Sedgwick investigates snow, it’s science, etymology, art, history, literature and mythology are all explored. Mixed in amongst this info are his personal experiences of snow, he shares that he lives in the Alps and gets the full-on snow experience, the shovelling of snow multiple times a day to stop it building up and he shares just how much joy he still gets from the first snow fall of the year.

When I purchased this book I didn’t realise it was a Little Toller Monograph, surely it isn’t going to be any good being so small? I thought…but it was the perfect length. Sedgwick covers just enough books and art to wet your appetite and he goes deep enough into the science and etymology to not confuse and bore you. The shared personal experiences give you the longing for some snow so you can get out there and see how the world has been transformed overnight. This book totally works, the monograph idea is a brilliant one and this reader is hooked and must have them all!

If you want to get yourself a copy then you can get it direct from Little Toller to support the small publisher and avoid funding the little bald spaceman’s next trip into space.

Book Reviews

The Happiness Factory by Jo McMillan

What Da Cover Says: Mo Moore, estranged daughter of a sex-aid entrepreneur, regards her father as good as dead. And then he really does die and leaves her all his wealth. Stuck in a job in elderly care, newly single, and with nothing and no-one to keep her in England, Mo does what she’s always done when things get tough: she runs. It could have been anywhere, but a classified ad catches Mo’s eye, and it takes her to China. She lands in Pingdi, a remote mountain village that for centuries supplied dildos to the Imperial bedchamber, and whose revived sex-aid factory is in a financial fix. Soon Mo finds herself on the wrong side of the authorities and needing all the help she can get: China is a land of pointing fingers and blind eyes, of closed doors and open secrets, of rules and recklessness – a place, she discovers, where it’s not easy to be female. 

What I Says: I do love a book that manages to find a unique and interesting storyline (at least to me) that is able to grab my attention in the way that this one has….an English woman buys a factory in China that makes dildos, or “sex-aids” if you prefer the polite term (good luck getting your review past the Amazon censor bot), she tries to save the struggling factory from ruin all the time whilst fighting a battle of wits against Chinese bureaucracy. As soon as I saw this book I knew it was for me, sounded like fun.

The book was as much fun as I expected, what took me by surprise was all the layers of the book, you have all the dildos and sex talk, then you have the bureaucracy (the sort of thing that Monty Python could come up with) all the mad rules and their loopholes and then you have what the book truly is about…the woman’s place in the world, the fear that they have to live with from a young age and the lack of rights they have for their whole life….the book is based in the past but at times it barely feels like that.

Our main character is Mo, her father has just died and she inherits some cash and so starts her adventure in China. She is a rather distant character, it is hard to get a take on her and my first thoughts were that I didn’t like her, but as the book goes on and events happen we get flashbacks into her upbringing and the abusive father she had and she soon found a place in my heart. This was some clever writing, McMillan almost starts with a blank slate and lets your imagination create the character as the information comes in….this worked well for me as I was almost shouting at the pages as the book neared it’s conclusion. As soon as Mo reaches the factory in China I instantly loved the place and it’s people it felt idyllic, I especially liked the Mayor.

There is a lot of sex talk here, some of the words used made me a bit squeamish at first but it is done in such a scientific way that I became engrossed in all the facts, as good as any non-fiction book, I’ve learnt a lot too, the number of types of orgasm a woman can experience, the number/timing of contractions during said orgasm and how long it should take a vibrator to spin when at full power. All interesting facts.

I may joke a bit during this review but this was a horrifying book, the way a woman is treated, an object with no rights and her Husband who informs her of her place and that she will work hard to make him happy made me sick, the feelings this book invokes in the reader was shocking. The scenes that Mo witnesses and the threatening behaviour she endures was heart breaking and it is this powerful writing that makes this such a good book to read.

The conclusion was a powerful statement on family and a fine way to end this stunning book. It’s an eye-opener of a book that I don’t think this review can do justice to, so all I can do is recommend this to everybody I know.

Massive thanks to Bluemoose books for sending me a copy to review, you really should get a copy and get it from this A****n free site HERE:

Book Reviews

Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle by Dervla Murphy

What Da cover Says: Shortly after her tenth birthday, inspired by an atlas she was given, Dervla Murphy decided that she would one day cycle to India. Almost twenty years later she set out to achieve her ambition on her bicycle, Roz. Here she describes her journey and experiences.

What I Says: It’s one of those sad things in life that so few people have heard of Dervla Murphy, I went around mentioning her to people at work and not one person knew her name and when I explained her achievements a couple of people didn’t believe me. If you want to get an idea of what sort of person Murphy is then this is perfect book for you to read, the introduction describes how she got a bicycle and an atlas for her tenth birthday and it was there and then that she decided she was going to cycle all the way to India, this is a crazy idea for an adult let alone a 10 year old girl…this book is her bringing that dream to light.

In 1963 Murphy was 31 years old and her bike was called “Roz”, she comes across as planning the bare minimum and also taking with her the least amount of stuff she would need. During the trip she was to face her fears about strangers, face wolves and fight the elements (extreme cold, insane heat, sand storms and the Monsoon). I found it incredible what she was able to endure, the lack of food in the mountains, the lack of water in the desert, the lice/flies/fleas/bed bugs and the intense smell in some of the areas, this is most assuredly not an adventure for me. By far the most interesting thing to come out of this book is the trip would have been impossible without the generosity of the people she met on the way, anybody she met was willing to chat and feed her and put her up for the night with nothing wanted in return. She met some very interesting people, both rich and poor and the treatment was the same no matter their station.

The book is not really your standard travel book, Murphy wrote a journal and this book is that collection put together with no further elaboration, it did take me a while to into this style, most of Europe gets missed out with the focus being on Afghanistan and Pakistan. Each section has been written at the end of a long day’s ride and how much you get told all depends on how that day went, there is plenty about the scenery which from these pages sounded stunning, what is lacking is the people. She shares her overall opinion of the village but only really goes into detail about those she stayed with a few nights…I’m guessing this was mostly down to pretty much being a figure passing in the night as she had many early starts (another thing to put me off this trip…up at 4am to ride my bike, no thank you).

I think what Dervla Murphy achieved in this book was incredible, a woman on her own in these countries where you are only told the bad things that happen, it blows my mind what she did, I was constantly shaking my head at how well she handled each situation. She is one of my heroes no doubt about that.

I really do recommend this book, a great place to start and she has had so many books published, plenty more for me to read. You can get yourself a copy from HERE: