The Book Club – March Reads

I should have been doing this here for ages (you have no idea how hard it is to scroll back through hundreds of FB posts to remind myself what we’re read already!)

My two choices for March for my Facebook Book Club are:

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I’ve picked them because both are short, hugely fun, very easy reads (although in very different ways) and might introduce people to two of my favourite things recently – the brilliant David Sedaris and Japanese books in translation.

You can click on either image for the review from last year or click below to join the Book Club and see what it’s all about…

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1518629805017155/

Book Review – Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume

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Sara Baume’s debut is a story of a 57-year-old reclusive unnamed narrator in a rural Irish town who, after the death of his father with whom he’d been living alone all his life, gets a one-eyed dog from the pound. This is their story; of the interior of his old house, their walks, what they see from the window. Sound less than thrilling? You couldn’t be more wrong.

It’s been a long, long time since I read something that made me, no, demanded that I re-read whole paragraphs because the imagery and words within them were so beautiful. It’s beautiful, elegant, edible, with echoes of Patrick McCabe and reads like a prose poem in places with a touch of Frank from Iain Banks The Wasp Factory in late middle age thrown in.

Just read this…

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See what I mean?

I hate it when debut novels are described as being “highly anticipated”as they can only (usually) ever disappoint but I can’t impress on you just how good this is. The relationship between broken man and broken dog, the spill of hypnotic words, the ability to tell such a tiny story and make it seem like it’s a vast epic of human life. I can only hope this is the beginning of a very long relationship with her as a writer and me as a reader.

I’d devour it all over again tomorrow. One of the most memorable novels I’ve read in years.

Book Review – Chasing The Scream by Johann Hari

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We view the world through a frame whether we realise it or not. All of us.

It took me a long time growing up to realise that and it only really happened when, every now and then, a book came along that nudged the frame off-centre ever so slightly. Every time, afterwards, world looked different forever.

It happened with stuff like No Logo, The Tipping Point, Black Swan, Freakonomics, anything I’ve ever read by John Pilger or Noam Chomsky. It has happened hugely here.

Like everyone else, I thought I had a fairly decent handle on the idea of the “war on drugs” – origins, effects, goods, bads, facts, figures. What Hari sets out to do in this book is both uncover the actual history of how it started, question the nature of our perception of addiction and ask just how beneficial total prohibition is it in the 21st century. He starts by taking on the histories of Harry Anslinger, the first head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, the legendary Billie Holiday and Arnold Rothstein, the mob kingpin who ran drug and booze networks in the 1920s.

Later he brings to light stories of addicts, people who have spent lifetimes helping them and presidents who are changing how the world works with regard to this. It’s head-opening stuff from the big pictures of countries, global cartels and long wars to the smallest of stories of people who got caught up in the crossfire on the ground both as providers and addicts.

It’s page-turning stuff in places, genuinely unbelievable in others (his notes at the end are so cast iron and extensive though), ends up questioning whether the world is on the verge of abandoning the “war on drugs” permanently and asks what happens next.

Like everyone I came into this with mostly cast-iron beliefs in this field, I leave it with radically different ones and many more questions. I don’t have anything to say as to whether or not he’s “right” here, I do think you should read this, make your mind up for yourself and then ask your own questions.

This could end up being one of “those” books that changes how you look at the world.

New Beers, Cork Beers, Beers With My Face On Them

Yup, it’s been way to long since I’ve done a regular craft beer post here, before Xmas actually (although I have done Beers Of The Year and Edinburgh since then to be fair).

First off a few things I’ve tried over the last while you might like…

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All varying degrees of niceness, all worth your time.

I was in Cork or a night recently so decided to do the wander of the local craft beer spots. Found this in Franciscan Well:

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Rising Sons I hadn’t been in before, nice spot with plenty of beers and very busy…

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And a little gem in The Friary on the North Mall. Small, cosy and a full set of 8 Degrees taps when I was there…

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Actually, fair play to the one Cork bar I didn’t make it to that night – Elbow Lane have their own stuff in bottles too…

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Went down to The Forty Foot recently as well to try it out as it’s fairly local to me. It’s just as the Wetherspoon’s in Blackrock is – very table food oriented and *jammed* when I was in there.

Having said that they were serving bottles of lovely Goose Island cheaper than I can buy them in an off-licence…

Still puzzled by the wall design, though.

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And finally, fair play to Gilbert & Wright in Dun Laoghaire for making a batch of this.  Very decent it is too…

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Book Review – Darkmouth by Shane Hegarty

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Disclaimer – I know Shane, mostly just through online, but we’ve met a few times. Further disclosure – this makes it harder to review someone’s book just in case it’s crap, or just average, so you put it off sometimes.

I needn’t have worried.

Finn is twelve, lives in the small town of Darkmouth and his dad would like him to follow in his footsteps when it comes to his job. No, he has to follow in his footsteps.

Finn’s dad is a legend hunter and the town they live in is the last place on Earth the legends appear. At any moment Minotaurs, Basilisks or the like could pop through a hole in the Universe and trash the place and Finn is in training to continue the long line of protectors his dad is part of. Problem being, Finn is crap at it. Mostly.

From fairly early on this has “series” written all over it. Mythology building, the start of a huge story arc, great characters, fun and a nice sense of humour. There’s a smidge of Harry Potter, a dash of Douglas Adams, a whiff of Buffy. Get a copy, give it to a kid you know who loves reading – I think any age from 8 or so upwards (that doesn’t preclude you as an adult enjoying it either, I did!)

Mine was an early proof copy without the illustrations, I can only presume they add to it.

It’s a winner.

Book Review – Neuromancer by William Gibson

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Here’s another one I feel a great shame about.

Despite being a reader of SF since I was a kid I’ve always had my blind spots. Many of them I’ve been trying to redress over the last 2 years (Philip K. Dick, Iain M. Banks. Margaret Atwood, even bloody J.G. Ballard!) and now finally I’ve made it here, to the novel that made the word “cyberspace” a thing. In 1984.

There’s no point in me attempting to explain the plot shy of telling you that Case is a hustler “hacker” who plugs into a vast, global dataspace matrix and that this is, essentially, a sprawling futuristic heist book. It’s also one of the most thrilling things I’ve ever read.

His language is fluid and beautiful in places, his view of the future still fairly plausible over 30 years later (how often can you say that about a writer?) and his plotting swift and crackling.

With this I feel like I’ve opened up yet another door to a writer whose stuff I’m going to work my way through over time.

Complex, techspeak heavy, but brilliant stuff. Thank christ no-one made a crap film of it.

Book Review – The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins

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Following in my long tradition of not ruining the plots of books for you before you’ve actually read them, all I’ll tell you about The Girl On The Train are the bare bones.

Rachel takes the train into work in London every morning. It usually stops at the same set of points opposite a row of houses where she sees a couple out on their balcony or through their windows. She names them Jess and Jason, even through she doesn’t know their real names. One day she sees something that shakes her, and the imaginary world of their relationship that she’s built up in her head, to the core.

This is very impressive stuff and not just because the central narrator is someone who we come to realise fairly quickly has huge problems and isn’t the nicest person to have in your life. That makes this all the more interesting and three-dimensional.

If there’s one tiny fly in the ointment it’s that I thought the ending was going to go one way. A brave, shocking, rarely taken path (no spoilers here, don’t worry!) and, ultimately, it went somewhere else.

Then again, if I want books to finish the way I want them to I should just write one, right?

The Girl On The Train isn’t the sort of thing I would have picked up myself. I’m hugely glad I did. It’s a great debut.

Craft Beer In Edinburgh

I was off for a couple of days in Edinburgh recently and, amongst all the walking in the cold and the culturey stuff, of course I had to try the local craft beer spots. Just for you guys for the future, like.

Brewdog Edinburgh was the first sport, of course. Just as you’d expect, all their stuff and guests on tap (the Hop Cannon beer blew my head off!) The haggis pizza was an unexpectedly pleasant surprise…

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Found The Hanging Bat too. Nice atmosphere, in-house beers and a very decent food menu which included….. that’s right…. haggis on a hot dog.

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The Potting Shed was nice (if a little cold, well it is based on a potting shed, I suppose)

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And I really loved Holyrood 9A. Nice staff, great beers, old world pub atmosphere.

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And all three are within walking distance of each other too ;-)

Book Review – The China Factory by Mary Costello

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Came to this too late, it’s been sitting on the shelf for ages.

It’s a hugely readable and keenly observed collection of small, delicate stories about quiet lives, small moments, people in fractured relationships. Everything from a woman finding our her ex-husband has dies in a climbing accident to marital infidelity with a sibling, a ‘sort of’ relationship by e-mail all the way to a man finding out that he’s almost at the end of his life.

I’ve had a bit of an attitude change to collections of short stories recently. Over the years I’ve read everything from the brilliant Raymond Carver to collections that had left me stone cold and unengaged. I thought the form itself was probably not for me, that I needed something longer to get my teeth into.

So then recently reading current collections by Hilary Mantel and Andrew Fox reignited my love hugely. This sits squarely with them as one to be pressed into the hands of others wherever possible. Beautiful, internal and universal. Super stuff.