Tag Archives: Books

The Keeper of Stories

KeeperShe can’t recall what started her collection. Maybe it was in a fragment of conversation overheard as she cleaned a sink? Before long (as she dusted a sitting room or defrosted a fridge) she noticed people were telling her their stories. Perhaps they always had done, but now it is different, now the stories are reaching out to her and she gathers them to her…

When Janice starts cleaning for Mrs B – a shrewd and tricksy woman in her nineties – she meets someone who wants to hear her story. But Janice is clear: she is the keeper of stories, she doesn’t have a story to tell. At least, not one she can share.

Mrs B is no fool and knows there is more to Janice than meets the eye. What is she hiding? After all, doesn’t everyone have a story to tell?

A little break from the continuing saga of Kate vs Showbiz to review a book both Candice and I have enjoyed recently.

Janice is “just” a cleaner, and a remarkable individual. Well-regarded by her numerous employers, she is married to a man who can’t hold on to a job and has a few secrets of her own.

Meeting ex-spy Mrs B, the stories Janice has collected from people she works for and occasional snippets heard on the bus, start to come out. Much of this revolves around Mrs B telling her the tale of “Becky”, a courtesan who knew the Prince of Wales (as in Edward and Mrs Simpson) among others. Becky lived a hell of a life but always drove her own future. This helps to galvanise Janice to do the same.

The Keeper of Stories is an enjoyable read. If I’m honest, it starts slow, and only Candice telling me it was good kept me going, but by halfway through, the plot is moving, and I was snatching time to read another chapter – the sign of a good book.

The ending is pretty much how you’d like it to be, and I don’t mean this in a bad way. A couple of plot twists (one of which is after the story has finished) are dropped in at the end, serving to tie up loose ends and allow the reader to believe all will be well for a character that they will have grown to like.

As a character, Mrs B is interesting. When we first meet her, she is cantankerous, but it’s obvious that Janice is going to end up close to her and that without her, there would be no story. You could argue that there are a couple of handy coincidences, without which, the plot could be a lot grimmer, but this is a feel-good book, even though it takes some very serious subjects in its stride.

 

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Kate vs Showbiz – Chapter 3

Kate was confused. The business with the Navy Island had finished two months ago and since then she’d been feeling down. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it.

The nightly trips to the gym had lost their sparkle, she’d even had the instructor shouting at her during her last body pump class that she wasn’t working hard enough. She’d stopped mid ‘clean and jerk’ and she couldn’t remember why. For a proud gym bunny, that was worrying.

Sat on her sofa with a cat purring on her lap, and another beside her after another post work session, she hopped channels on the TV but nothing caught her attention. It was no good. She needed to get to the bottom of the problem.

There was one benefit to her low mood, her skirts and trousers were getting looser as she’d also lost interest in food. Picking at a chicken sandwich she left it on the floor for Olly to lap up, and instead grabbed a class of wine.

Flicking through her post she came across a post card. “Who sends postcards, these days?” she mused to herself. The picture showed a beautiful Italian setting, and turning it over, she read the back. “Loving another cruise, this time round the Med. Have met some great friends, and seen some great sights, you must join me next time, you might find ‘The One’. Lots of Love Olive.”

Ah, Olive. They’d met on a job that Kate’s company had done a couple of years ago. Called in to close down the Horticultural Investigation Agency, and Olive had to be the only sane person that Kate had met there. Officially, PA to the boss, she was actually the one who kept the boffins’ world turning. They had kept in very loose touch. Well actually, Olive sent Kate cards and emails, and Kate spent all her time promising to return the favour.

Looking at her watch she saw it was not quite 9pm, not too late for a call then. Picking up her mobile she found Olive’s number and dialled.

“Well hello stranger.” The gravelly voice replied.

“Hi there. I wasn’t sure if you would be back from your grand tour.” Kate laughed.

“What you actually mean is you were hoping I’d be away so you could leave me a voicemail and think you had done your bit.”

“Oh Olive, I can’t get anything past you.” Kate squirmed slightly on the sofa.

Olive was in her early 60s, a widower with two grown-up sons. She and Kate clicked because, in her day, Olive had also been a career woman. Unfortunately, back then, the world of work didn’t allow for women to progress when they had children so she’d had to give up her career for more menial jobs to look after her boys. Once they had left home she’d been past getting the career back up and running, but had kept a tight ship at HIA and made sure that, when it came to the crunch, she’d got a decent package and everyone else there had too. Her redundancy and pension had helped to fund a prosecco lifestyle (not quite champagne) and she was now enjoying some of the things she’d not been able to do before.

“So, tell me what’s going on with you?”

“Oh, nothing much.” Kate stroked Olly and sipped her wine. Horatio nuzzled her legs and then sniffed Olly’s bottom.

“No change there then. Come on girl, you need to do more than burn 500 calories in the gym and then drink them in Sauvignon.” Olive laughed lightly down the phone. “I met some lovely single men on my cruise, you really need to book one.”

“But where any of them under 60?” Kate smiled at the picture of her in a designer gown surrounded by over 60’s waltzing round the ballroom of some cruise ship. “I don’t think I’m quite desperate enough to be thinking of sugar daddies yet.”

“But you need to be thinking of someone, my lovely. Your eggs aren’t getting any younger.”

“Olive really! Do you have to be that detailed?” Kate blushed, glad that no one else could hear this conversation.

Olive understood Kate’s need to pursue her career, but had also enjoyed her time as a wife and mum so didn’t want Kate to give up on these things too. In this day and age Olive though she could juggle both, she just couldn’t persuade her friend.

“But it’s true my love. Where’s Dave these days?” Olive had met Dave on the HIA job and had been quite taken with him too. She knew he and Kate had history, and couldn’t understand why Kate didn’t want to rekindle everything she’d felt all those years ago.

“Off in America, looking at work for the business.” Kate tried to come across more dismissive that she felt.

“And seeing his wife and son?”

“I suppose so, but it’s none of my business.”

“What do you mean, it’s none of your business? It only that if he wants to get back together with her, and the general feeling I’ve got from you two is that is a no no.”

“I don’t know Olive, you know my relationship radar doesn’t work. Look what happened with Ross”

Kate’s last try at a relationship had failed miserably. She literally thrown herself at Ross Smith, entrepreneur and business guru who’d help get the firm’s last project over the line. Unfortunately, he was also gay, something that she seemed to be the only person not to notice. In the process she’d pushed Dave away and now he’d left the country and she had no idea what was going on.

“He was just a distraction. You really need to sort out what is going on with Dave. Come on, this has been going on for nearly twenty years now. If he isn’t the one then you need to work it out and move on. Really my love, I don’t want you to be my age, single and lonely.”

“But you’re single…”

“But I’m most definitely not lonely. I’m having the time of my life and I’ve got two boys and three grandchildren to share it with.”

Children. That was another of Kate’s stumbling blocks. Dave already had a son, and the thought of him made her uncomfortable.

“Well, you know how I feel about children.” Kate tailed off.

“Actually, I don’t. You always skirt around the issue.” Olive smirked. She’d come back from her cruise refreshed and was determined not to let her friend get away with this anymore. She had begun to see Kate more like another member of her family, especially as she didn’t have a daughter of her own. And she wasn’t going to let her substitute daughter get away with not being true to herself.

“Well, um.” Kate felt a little put on the spot, she had an answer for everything in the business world but in this particular situation she didn’t really know what the answer was. “Kids, its all sick, poo and no sleep from what I can see from my friends and family. No time to yourself and spending hours trying to get your body back to how it was.”

“That’s just surface stuff. They add another layer to your life, bring joy and smiles, help you learn and grow. “ Olive looked at the photos of her boys and their children on the mantlepiece. She remembered it was hard work, but now, looking at her grandchildren just made her smile.

“I’ll remember that when I see a fraught mother shouting at her child in a shop.” Kate laughed. She really didn’t get the whole kids thing, she was happy with her cats. And the way things were going it would be an immaculate conception anyway.

“Just think about it for me, would you love. Perhaps spend some time with your niece and nephew. I think it will change your mind.” Olive thought she’d done enough for now, but she was worried about Kate cutting herself out of something that she would enjoy. In her minds eye, she could see Kate with a sidekick daughter, in matching outfits, out shopping together.

Finishing the call with a promise to stay in touch more often, Kate swallowed the rest of her wine. Children were a big problem for her, she just couldn’t see past the disruption to her life and change to her body. She’d seen what a C section could do to someone’s six pack.

Ruffling Olly’s fur she remembered again why she’d decided that a cats were as far as she wanted to go when it came to dependents. Love and affection but didn’t impact on your ability to go on holiday. How that would work with her and Dave’s relationship she didn’t know but as she still wasn’t sure what he was thinking, well she didn’t have to address it right now.

She did think about Olive’s comment about her brother. She really didn’t see enough of either of her brother’s and their children, and was well overdue a chat with Jake, who always had a clear head and good approach to life. She was conscious she was moping around without Dave and needed to get out of the funk. Picking up her phone she dropped him a text before she changed her mind. An immediate response filled with exclamation marks came back, with a date for a meet in a weeks’ time. Putting her phone on silent she went to bed feeling happier, with something to focus on rather than her worry about what Dave was up to.

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Aren’t librarians helpful people?

Phil: A few weeks ago, I mourned the loss of the library I used to visit as a child. Well, last night I took a trip to the replacement.

Part of a “community hub”, it is smaller than the old place, but has (I am assured) just as many books. OK, the children’s area is a lot smaller, but there are other spaces in the building that can be used, and anyway, when I was a child, the only children’s area was full of books. No mats and beanbags for storytime for young Phil! (Grumble, brumbe, youth of today don’t know they are born etc…)

Anway, one fascility not currently available, is the magic machine that checks books in and out. It seems that the new machines haven’t arrived yet, despite the project to build the place taking a couple of years. That was awkward, because I was there to return and renew the books I borrowed from the old place.

Despite it being 20 minutes to closing time, one of the librarians took my books into the office and did it all for me. If there was a fine to pay, nothing was mentioned.

She then went on to check and renew my account, hopefully so I can finally use the on-line renewal system.

I think it must be in a librarians’ DNA to do this. Presumably something checked at the job interview.

Someone pointed out that libraries are the last public space you can enter wehre no-one expects you to spend any money (unless you really want to). I guess that must appeal to people who just like helping others with something as important as reading, and searching for knowledge. And long may it be so.

You’re probably asking why there isn’t a photo of the library at the top of this post, well, it was too dark for the building and I don’t like taking shots of the inside while there are people there.

However, as part of the new hub, there is a cafe. So I bought some cake (it’s compulsory for this blog) and chose the one that looked like a muffin with the poo emoji on top. It’s actually a choux bun with chocolate, and very nice too. A definite asset to the library.

Worse, for my waistline, to get there I have to pass a fish’n’chip shop. The aroma on a dark evening explains why I enjoyed a chip buttie for tea…

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Farewell to MY library

Sign

Phil: I went to the library on Monday. Nothing unusual in that you might thing, but I went on a mission.

You see, the library I have known all my life, is closing down. When the doors closed at the end of that day, they would open no more. The walls won’t resound to the sound of children enjoying being read a story. No longer will adults browse the shelves, wondering where the pages of a good book would take them in the next few weeks.

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OK, I’m being maudalin. The library isn’t really closing, it’s moving to a new community hub around the corner. There will be a cafe, multi-puropse sports hall and meeting rooms you can book. Outside there is parking and a children’s playground. It’s next to the shops – pretty much everything our little town can offer all within a few feet.

But I had to go and pay one last visit. I’m sure the new place will be lovely, but it won’t have that airy 1960s feel of the old library. More to the point, it won’t be the one I spent hours chosing my books from as a child.

I know things have to move on. When I borrow books now, they are placed in a machine to book them out to me, something that would have seemed like magic back in the 1970s, and young Phil would have been desperate to have a go with it! No little card wallets nowadays. No librarian stamping the date in the front of each one either. Lot of stamps meant I’d borrowed a popular title, and you also knew when the books were due back, something far easier than logging on to the library website, which is what you have to do now.

Just for old times sake, I wanted to borrow some more books. My reading has been hopeless recently. Maybe the impending fines will make me buck my ideas up a bit.

Books

My choice were a couple of “grown-up” books, becuase they appealed to me. And Five on a treasure island, because when I was a kid, I read all the Famous Five books, mostly from this very library.

I’ll miss the old place. Libraries are the last public spaces you can visit and no-one expects you to hand over money. Books will still be available for loan in the new community hub, that is a very good thing, and I’m sure a new generation will become as nostalgic about it as I am about MY library.

Now, can someone lend me a pile of cash? There’s a nice looking 1960s property coming up for sale nearby, and I think I’d like to live in it. There are even enough book shelves…

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Rediscovering the Library

Candice: Over the last few years I’ve got out of the habit of going to the local library. It’s been too easy to pick up a book from the supermarket or the charity shop, or get one from Phil. However, during lockdown, it has been harder and harder to get hold of physical books so I have had to look at other options.

At one point I tried to set up a share group with the neighbours, but we either didn’t like each others type of book, or they read on a kindle so couldn’t share.

Phil and I have posted books back and forth, but that has still be dependent on what I can get hold of, and I refuse to buy too much from Amazon as I like to support the local stores instead.

But then there was a lightbulb moment in the family the other week. Why not use the Library? It’s particularly relevant as my daughter is reading more and more, and finding the right books for her is also a challenge.

She loved her first trip there, and was very proud of having her new library card. The slight problem is her having picked about seven books up, and only managing to read one in the three weeks she has them, but I am not knocking that excitement!

However, it has also helped me to discover the extensive range at Solihull Library. In fact, I got more lost in the options than she did; quick reads, Richard and Judy reads, murder mystery, chick lit, something completely different. I’m reading something at the moment I would not have picked up in a shop.

The downside is I can’t share them with Phil, but I can at least recommend and he can go and find them in his own library.

There are lots of other things happening at the Library too, there were some children doing craft activities last time we went in so I need to find out how to sign up to them, plus reading groups and summer clubs.

Lockdown has changed a lot of things but also brought other things to the fore that we’d forgotten about – using the local park is one and now using the Library is another. Don’t forget to use yours – its a great, free service and will open you up to lots more things than books.

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A Book Club with a difference

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Candice: As part of the the many initiatives out there to bring us all together while we are apart my work set up a book club. Being of the writing mind I joined immediately, and then gave a plug for the two Nolan Parker books.

Disappointingly neither were on the short list for the first two books we read as a group (I’m still working on that), however we picked ‘The Thursday Murder Club’ by Richard Osman. My sister had already read this and told me it was a good one so I was looking forward to it. And the result, I loved it! It nipped along lightly with twist and turns, and I loved the fact the main characters were all people in an old people’s home, proving that age doesn’t impact on your mind (just your body in a lot of cases).

Book put aside it was time for the first meet of the Book Club. The organiser had sent round some very deep discussion questions and I thought, ‘oh no, this is going to be too highbrow for me’ . But I logged in late to the meeting, due to going to another, and it was all ladies and they were nattering about something completely different!

The call turned into a ‘life, the universe and everything’ discussion. We covered the book, old age, which character we’d want to be, then other books we had read, then work, working from home, and even misogyny and the menopause! It was great because it was like being on a girls night out in the pub, with a book as the starter for the conversation but actually just a really good natter. It almost felt normal, apart from the fact they were on screen on sat around me.

I’m not sure what we are reading next but I’m more looking forward to the chat than the book.

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Lockdown reading

Candice: I could write about the fact its been a year and a day since Boris told us all to stay home. But there has been a lot of coverage on that so I wanted to write about something else.

I would say that I haven’t read any more or less that usual in this year of lock down. The biggest problem I have had is getting hold of books. The range in a supermarket is never quite the same as a good book shop, and then at times even getting to a supermarket to buy a book was hard.

I did try and do book sharing with the neighbours but we either didn’t like the same books or they only read on Kindle so couldn’t share.

Phil and I have done some parcels to each other, as we haven’t been able to share books face to face. But we now keep forgetting who sent what to whom!

The other day I spotted and article on the BBC website about celebrity recommendations for lock down reading. BBC Arts – Culture in Quarantine – Meet the authors: What have Big Book Weekend’s guests been reading? so I thought I’d have a look. It was part of the Big Book Weekend, last weekend and you can hear interviews with each celeb about their favourite book.

The one that interested me the most was the book that Russell Kane recommended. It’s called ‘Wild Thing’ by Mike Fairclough. Its all about rediscovering how to be a child again as an adult, taking some of the stresses and strains that make us forget to have fun.

With over a year of not knowing what we can or can’t do, not being able to book or plan ahead to far as things keep changing, and home schooling for some of us, then perhaps its time to go back and take away some of these stresses. I’ve already decided to take time over the weekend when this is over, rather than stuff it full with expensive activities. Someone just wants to run round the garden sometimes, or play on the swings, and perhaps I do to (though I’m better on the trampoline). Anyone for back garden tennis?

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Something bad is on the way

Phil: I’m reading the excellent All the lonely people by Mike Gayle, but as I look at the book right now, a thought hit me.

I’m 2/3rd of the way through, but I know something bad is going to happen.

The story is partly told in flashback, and so we know where the characters are now, and where they were years ago. And not all the characters are in the Now.

So, somewhere in the remaining pages, there are bad things going to happen.

Perhaps I should stop reading and everything will be all right, but that would deny me the pleasure of finishing off the book. I probably should remember that these aren’t real people, but then I’ve invested in them and care what happens. And (I have the surname for it) I’m nosy.

Does anyone else ever feel like this?

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Booky loses to the pandemic

Phil: As I go for my evening allotted segment of allowable exercise, what we used to call a stroll, I pass by my local library. Which is shut.

Not just shut because I’m walking at dusk, but shut, as it has been for most of the year, because of Covid restrictions. Sadly, if you are stuck at home, you’ll need to find another way to access books.

That’s fine if you have an e-reader, the library service has developed clever ways to lend electronic books. They have even created a click and collect service from the larger locations. What’s gone is the pleasure of perusing bookshelves, waiting for a title to leap out at you. The random book you didn’t know existed, but will enjoy once you open the cover, is denied to you.

Second-hand bookshops suffer the same fate. How I miss the higgledy-piggledy nature of the shelves. You never know what’s going to be there – apart from many copies of whatever best-seller has dominated the charts recently – books decades-old rub shoulders with more recent releases. There’s the sense of adventure and the slightly odd smell. Bookshelves crammed into odd spaces to handle the stock. Peering around corners to find a topic and then tripping over it in a pile on the floor.

I know we can still buy new books, and fair play to those local shops offering some sort of service in these difficult times, but I like old books too.

And what do you do with those on the read pile? All the charity shops you’d drop them off to, and replenish your stocks from, are shut as well. There’s going to be a lot of books in landfill I’m afraid.

Let’s hope this is the last #worldbookday when getting your hands on a book is difficult. A time when we all need to be transported from reality into a different place for a few hours, and yet are denied this pleasure.

And let’s hope the Nolan and I can meet up for coffee and plotting. It will save us a fortune in postage swooping books by mail, and the chance of a proper chat is far better than the daily swapping of numbers of steps walked each day.

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A great title WILL sell your book. To me anyway…

Phil: It’s my old editor’s fault. David and I are both VW campervan fans, and the conversions in our vans are by the Folkestone firm of Dormobile.

So, when he posted the cover of Tess of the Dormobiles on Facebook, I knew it was only going to be a matter of time before I read it.

The story concerns Theresa Finbow – a self-published author, and her plan to write the difficult second novel. She borrows a holiday cottage in a quiet area of Norfolk, the plan being to emulate her lead character Tess.

In Norfolk, a trip to the local pub brings her into contact with Billy, a local farmworker who has a mysterious and ominous past. Worse, his brother is the reason that Tess is on holiday without her husband.

Can Tess get her novel finished, survive contact with Billy and resolve the issues in her personal life?

Will Stebbings is a self-published author with at least five books to his credit. Tess of the Dormobiles is printed by Createspace, a print-on-demand house, and sold via eBay, which is where I bought it.

You might expect me to review this with 2 stars and tell you I’d been ripped off. And you’d be wrong.

OK, the text could do with the attentions of a copy editor. There’s too much nerdy detail in places. Both Will and Tess know Norfolk and relate some locations in a very blokeish way with road numbers. I also query what two chapters of the fictional Tess book add to anything.

But, as I read it, one word kept popping up in my head – fresh. The writing is fresh and enjoyable. The plot rolls along well and a few surprises are chucked in along the way, especially the twist at the end. It’s not the best book I’ve read, but a lot better than many efforts by names famous for things other than writing.

I’m pleased the title, which is explained in the story, sold me this book. Reading it was fun. Owning it is a bit of a laugh. Passing it on to La Nolan will be a pleasure.

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