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A Break from the BBC Top 100

Okay so I know I’m not exactly the worlds greatest blogger but 99 of you like what I do enough to hang around and that makes me very happy so thank you! This week is the one year anniversary of Bernie and Books which has gone much quicker than I expected. In that time I have posted 105 times read 37 books 18 of which are from the BBC Top 100 and I now have only 37 more to go wooh!

But, as with most things life is about to get in the way. I am starting research for my dissertation which of course involves an awful lot of reading. As a result I don’t know how much time I am going to have to read anything other than books about 16th Century women’s dress. Now I really hope I will be able to keep up reading for pleasure but it isn’t looking very likely as I am up to my eyeballs already in biographies of Renaissance Queens. Now if that’s your sort of thing I will probably be posting the reviews of those books here at Bernie and Books for you to peruse at your leisure but there is probably going to be a substantial break in BBC Top 100 post.

I am hoping to keep up blogging as a whole as I really enjoy being a part of this community of book lovers so I hopefully will speak to you again soon but I am really very sorry if this next year isn’t as exciting as the last.

All the best and here’s to another year full of books for us all,

Claudia x

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Requested Reviews

Requested Review – “Frankly Twisted”: The Lost Files, Kevin 11 Read 9/6/15

“Frankly Twisted”: The Lost Files by Kevin 11 is the second book in a trilogy that follows the 23rd precinct of the Brooklyn Police Department. Although this book is the second in the series it is a prequel to the events of the first which actually made it a great starting point for a new comer like me.

The story follows the men and women whose job it is to fight crime in New York City. However, all is not as it seems in the 23rd precinct and the reason as to why cases keep stalling and going cold is far from what anyone imagined.

My first thought when reading this book is how much it feels like a TV series. The chapters are episodes and the cases within them are solved by the time the imagined credits role. Similarly, throughout every episode there are hints of something bigger that builds and builds until we get to the season finale. I must admit I loved this. I loved the way each episode focused on a different member of the BKPD but the other characters weaved through all the stories. Like a good series on netflix I could dip in to one episode at a time or binge read two or three after the other. I really enjoyed reading this book.

The characters are really well written too. As the narrative is told in the first person from many different points of view I loved the way my opinion of a character would be formed from what the narrator told me and then I would be surprised when the narrative finally came around to be told from that character’s point of view. Similarly, hearing a character talk about another member of the precinct whose story I had already read, I would be able to think to myself “just you wait you’ve got that person so wrong” and feel really smug about it. The characters and the relationships between them were so very well thought out the story was seamless.

I have only one criticism of this book and it is a very small one. I like detective novels where I the reader have to try and figure out the case as well. I love that feeling of it suddenly clicking and getting to the answer before the characters in the book and then sometimes there being a huge twist and me being completely wrong. I missed that element in “Frankly Twisted”: The Lost Files. The cases we follow are very much as an observer rather than a participant and I think this is because the focus is more on the detectives themselves rather than the cases they solve. The story of the detectives is enjoyable in itself, I just would have liked a bit of both worlds.

“Frankly Twisted”: The Lost Files by Kevin 11 is published by Flowered Concrete and is available on July 21st. Find out more: http://www.floweredconcrete.net/

The author also has a blog you should check out: https://kevinanglade.wordpress.com/

Rating: 4/5

Would recommend to: anybody who loves CSI, Law & Order etc.

P.S. Not suitable for young audiences

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The Big Read

No.100 – Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie Read 18/7/15

I had hoped to save No.100 of the BBC Top 100 for my last book as it has such a neatness to it but it didn’t quite work out that way. Being over 600 pages long Midnight’s Children counts as one of the 15 long books I am trying to read this year. I had originally intended it to be only books over 700 pages but I buckled. Anyway, I picked up Midnight’s Children as I continue to avoid War and Peace. 

The story is narrated by Saleem Sinai who like a thousand others across India was born at the exact hour of India’s independence. He and these other so called “Midnight’s Children” have mysterious and magnificent powers and as the letter to Saleem from the Prime Minister proclaims, there lives shall be a reflection of the new India’s.

As much as I love classics I also love reading books outside of the western tradition and Midnight’s Children is an excellent specimen. I learnt so much about modern Indian history as this book is as much India’s life story and it is Saleem’s. Much like The God of Small Things it is a very stylish book full of evocative language and unconventionally structured. The linguistic style works perfectly to conjure up a world both alien and familiar.

I loved that the narrative told the story of Saleem’s grandparents and parents so that we come to know the journey of the characters that have such an impact on Saleem’s journey. This bigger picture means we see the significance of the smaller details that keep appearing like the silver spittoon and perforated sheets. I enjoyed the theme of recurrence, of things too neat to be a coincidence. It would have been much too neat had I left this book until last, unnervingly so, but the way things turned out has restored my faith in the random nature of the world.

Despite the magical realism of this book it is a very honest depiction of a troubled country. It doesn’t shy away from controversy and upset quite a few politicians I am sure. I liked that about it, the lines between what is real and not real blur at times except the historical events. I don’t know how accurately Rushdie describes them but there was never any doubt in my mind what actually happened and which bits were artistic licence. Yet, he blends the two together so well that I could almost accept the entire book as the truth. Almost.

My only criticism is that it is long. I know I should have guessed that with the 647 pages but there aren’t 647 pages worth of events or characters in this story so there are moments that feel like filler. These parts are well written and enjoyable enough I just couldn’t help thinking when is something going to happen. In these parts, where I found myself drifting off slightly, was usually hidden some small clue as to the events that were yet to come. Had I been paying attention maybe I would have solved a few mysteries a little quicker.

Rating: 4/5

Would recommend to: people who don’t like historical fiction.

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Thoughts from Swindon Bus Station

As I write this I am sat an a slanted bench, designed to discourage rough sleeping, in the notoriously drab town of Swindon. Now of the 15 minutes experience I have had of this town so far I would say not a lot really except it feels “modern”. I come from a place mentioned in the Domesday book that has remained virtually unchanged since the Second World War and perhaps would have looked the same in 1866 as 1066. Therefore, I have always found towns like Swindon utterly uninspiring.

However, sitting here at the highly practical, conveniently placed bus station I am starting to have rather profound feelings about the place. This town has the uniformity and logical feel of a lot of post war spaces. Concrete 60s architecture prevails despite many noticeable attempts at modernisation. These things have a result of a rather tragic air and as I sit on my slanted bench I have started to realise why. When Swindon was designed it was designed with hope, with aspirations for the future of Britain. This was what we wanted Britain to be. People looked to the future and tried their hardest to create a world where life would be easier for us all.

The result…. I’m not so sure. The truth is I feel bad that so many people’s work and passion is now viewed as mundane, lacking imagination, drab. As with a lot of attempts at a modern look it has dated terribly like shoulder pads and perms. It feels as if it lacks character. But does it? Surely the story of the people who conveniently placed the bus station next to the train station is just as worthy of being told as the stories of roof thatchers and “the old post office mews”? Will concrete one day be slate roofs and bus stations village squares?

Anyway, my bus is here.

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The Big Read

No. 46 – Animal Farm, George Orwell Read 2/7/15

Now if you have been with me here at Bernie and Books for a while, first of all thanks for sticking around, but also I am sure you will know my feelings about the only other work by George Orwell I have read Nineteen Eighty-Four. I shall say no more but read the review if you like. I approached Animal Farm with a little trepidation but I tried to keep an open mind.

Animal Farm is the story of Manor Farm where the animals over throw and drive out their farmer Jones. At first the animals form and live in a peaceful republic but the pigs, Snowball and Napoleon start to use their superior intelligence for their own gains. Now it was quite obvious from the first page that this book is a political satire and a criticism of communism, I had expected nothing less from Orwell, but it says an awful lot about human nature. “Human nature? But it’s about animals!” I hear you cry and that is true but Orwell uses the different animals to show the different levels of society. It is very cleverly done, the horses working tirelessly without a thought for themselves, the sheep blindly following whatever they are told, the ducks and chickens doing their small part and my favourite of all the cat, who slyly manages to avoid doing any work are all people I have seen in social structures around the world.

With the pigs Orwell shows brilliantly how power can be abused and manipulated. How those with power can very subtly oppress and make you believe you are free at the same time. This book was written in 1943-44 and it is almost like a dummies guide to understanding what was happening in dictatorships across the world at that time. It said on the cover of my edition it was a obvious criticism of Stalin but it can also be read as a criticism of Hitler, Mussolini and any other dictator you can think of. Most tellingly it is still relevant today. From North Korea to Syria and Iraq, even in Britain I see the horses and I see the pigs. This book has made me ask are we really equal?

It is an excellent political statement. I just can’t stand the narrative. It is all statement no story. At times I felt like I was reading a non-fiction book rather than a novella. Perhaps this is was original when Orwell was writing. Perhaps people weren’t used to analysing a text for its political subtleties so it had to be brutally honest. I don’t know. I just like to be credited with a bit more intelligence as a reader. I have thought long and hard about this because I didn’t want my previous experience with Orwell to influence me and I see much more than I did with Nineteen Eighty-Four ‘the point’ of the book but I still have issues with the method.

Rating: 3/5

Would recommend to: anyone trying to understand politics.

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