Tag Archives: reading

Death of a Bore

Phil: My pile of books to read has been going down and I found myself recently with a selection that while appealing, didn’t grab me. I felt the need for a proper novel with a story that I could fall into.

Dropping into my local library, I spotted Death of a Bore by M.C.Beaton on the shelves. As one of the dullest people you could wish to meet, I wondered if she was writing about me, and there is a picture of a steam train on the cover. Perfect. Out came the library card and the book came home with me.

First up, under the author’s name is “Author of the bestselling Agatha Raisin series”. I’ve heard of these but this book is from the Hamish Macbeth series of mysteries. I remember those, televised by the BBC back in the mid-1990s with Robert Carlyle in the lead role. It seems that this is so long ago, the more recent Raisin series, also televised a couple of years ago (but only on Sky so I haven’t seen it) is considered more of a selling point by the publisher.

Anyway, thanks to snow cancelling an event I was supposed to devote a weekend to, I decided to read the book in a day. The chance to do this rarely occurs but it’s lovely when you can devote the time to it. Proper relaxation.

Is the book any good?

Let me start by saying that Marion Chesney (M.C. Beaton) is a breathtakingly prolific author. There are 33 Macbeth books, 28 Raisin ones and 76 others according to Wikipedia. She is a writing machine!

So it’s no surprise that this isn’t the greatest work of fiction ever. I’ve read books with more depth, less clunky narrative and more polish. Characters are paper-thin much of the time and I didn’t really warm to Hamish much.

Did I enjoy it? Yes, I did. That Hamish on the page bears no resemblance to Robert Carlye is a bit odd, but then Morse on the page isn’t much like John Thaw and people deal with it.

The style really reminds me of Agatha Christie. It’s a bit of a pot-boiler but who cares? I’ve tried to read books that were allegedly much “better” and gave up on them. This rattles along nicely and entertained me for a few hours. If you have a sunbed to lie on or just want to read for pleasure, its all good stuff.

Since the plot revolves around an authors murder and one of the things he does is inspire the local villagers to write, it’s odd that this has done the same for me. I think our books are every bit as well-written as Death of a Bore so there’s no reason that people shouldn’t enjoy them every bit as much as they obviously enjoy these.

Entertainment and inspiration. Not bad for a snowy Saturday afternoon.


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Dead Girls Dancing by Graham Masterton

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Candice:  Its been one of the most strange weeks here in the Nolan house.  I spent most of last week at home with a combination of an inner ear problem and then flu.  By Thursday I was resolutely fed up with seeing the same four walls.

I did fight back at the weekend and go to the gym, but now I feel like I’ve taken a step backwards as, though I am back at work, I don’t seem to have any energy.  Not even Salted Caramel Teacakes are helping to perk me up.

It did give me time to some reading, as well as watching a lot of the winter Olympics (go people throwing themselves down a hill at speed on a tea tray).  My book of choice was ‘Dead Girls Dancing’.  I’d picked it up in the supermarket as it looked like a nice juicy police procedural, just my cup of tea.

So there was I about half way in when I started to get a surprise.  I’d already found the book quite gory, the dancers of the title were spectacularly killed at the start by an explosion which burned them on the spot.

The book is number eight in a series, so I’d picked up bits about the protagonist having lost a husband and son, as well as another partner, due to her job as Detective Chief Inspector.  She’d just started a new relationship, with a guy, but then it got more complicated.

The book revolves a splinter IRA group, targeting a diplomat from the UK come to talk about Brexit.  The dancers being killed is just a side story, it demonstrates how ruthless the killer is.  By half way he’d shot one of his partners who wasn’t on board with his plan, put a knife through another’s hand and watched a gang rape of a woman who was going to tell the police what he had done.

So I’m sitting in the lounge at the weekend with my daughter, she’s watching ‘Mr Maker’ and the next scene starts.  I suddenly learn ways to use Nivea I’ve not heard of as the main character has a three-way with her new beau and one of her female work colleagues.  Not really what I was expecting.

To be honest I really didn’t like this book.  I found the story line jumped around a lot and was quite implausible.   And it was just so NASTY.  At the end of the book her dog gets kidnapped due to an unrelated case she is working on and the book closes with her dog returned, dead.  I turned the page expected something else uplifting to help drag me from this darkness but nothing.  I actually had to read something else to get a good night sleep.

So, I won’t be tackling Katie Maguire books again.

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Behind Her Eyes

Phil: Reading a book is often about the journey rather than the destination.  Plots can be summed up in a few lines and if you really want to know what happens, Wikipedia will probably fill you in.

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough is an excellent case in point.

On the cover, something designed to look like a sticker (it isn’t) promises “The most shocking ending you’ll read all year”. The publishers have bagged #WTFthatending on Twitter. On the back, John Connolly entreats browsers to “Read it now before someone spoils the ending.”.

And that someone won’t be me.

The story revolves around single mum Louise who devoted her life to her son but finds that she needs to get back into the world of work. David is her new boss, but just before she meets him at work, the bump into each other in a bar and enjoy a furtive (an initially regretted) snog. In the early stages, the plot covers the embarrassment of having got off with someone you then have to work for and the uncomfortable situation this provokes.

Very quickly, we meet Adele, David’s wife. She befriends Louise but doesn’t know she knows David as anything other than a colleague. Louise is lonely and fascinated by Adele so she doesn’t say anything to David. Nor does she tell Adele her secrets about her husband.

And that’s about as much as I can tell you.

The story is great at gradually unfolding. The author never lies to the reader, but you are constantly changing your opinion of the main characters. This draws you in gradually until the book has to be consumed in great chunks of reading.

Everything is told from the characters point of view, with the chapter title explaining who’s eyes were are looking through. Just as in real life, each one has a slightly different take on matters. As a reader, we think we have a handle on the various duplicities, but do we? Adele says, “The truth is different to different people” and she’s not wrong.

You could skim this, jump to the end and find out what happened. That would be a mistake. Enjoy the journey.

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Running for my Life

Phil: A book about running? Read and reviewed by Phil? Shome mishtake surely…

OK, so this is a looong way from my normal reading. Candice does the running in this partnership. I tried it once and hated it, much like I’ve hated going to the gym, even though I have forced myself to pay a visit 2 or 3 times a week for years at a time twice in my life.

Lets’ get this straight. I don’t just dislike going in a sort of half-hearted way because it’s boring (it is) but because many times I found myself sat on some sort of machine paralysed with misery. Do you ever find yourself thinking depressing thoughts in the middle of the night? Thoughts that become blacker and blacker the longer you are awake? Thoughts that fly away like so many butterflies when dawn breaks? It’s like that except the flying away bit.

Endorphins are something I had to look up in the dictionary, not something I ever found on a cross-trainer.

It doesn’t help that I am rubbish at going to the gym. Aided by staff who couldn’t be bothered to turn up for booked programme reviews, I went through the motions but without enough intensity to really do any good. If I’d turned into a ripped and buff Adonis, I’d probably still be going. Sadly, a jelly with a little bit of muscle tone was the best I could achieve.

I envy my writing colleague many things, but number 1 is her love of exercise.

Anyway, I saw Running For My Life advertised and thought it looked interesting. Maybe I could be inspired into fitness. A couple of days later, loitering in my local library, there it was on the “New Books” shelf. From there, it was in my bag via the checking out machine faster than Usain Bolt can run 100 metres.

Rachel Ann Cullen is best described as “damaged”. She has issues with depression, body image and pretty much everything else. A classic chubby child, her mother, hostage to her own mental illness, would feed her as much food as she wanted, and she wanted lots.

The book chronicles her university life, disastrous relationships with men and all-encompassing love of running. Starting as a way to lose weight, the book takes us through her life showing how running made things better – right up to the day she ran her first London Marathon. Running helps her define who she is. It provides a release from life, a source of friends and even her own business.

Did it make me want to don my trainers and pound the street?


Because the book isn’t so much about running, it’s about setting and achieving goals. The pleasure you can have from pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone and achieving things you didn’t think you could – be it running for ten minutes, beating your PB in a marathon, setting up your own business, exiting a depressing job, dumping a partner who is wrong for you.

I read the book in a sprint – 3 days while doing other things. Like your first jog, the early parts are slightly hard work and I was tempted to give up. Reading the book as an observer, it’s easy to see what the main character needs to do, but then you have to remember this isn’t a story, it’s someones real life. The role of Rach is played by Rachel Ann Cullen and it to do it.

Ultimately though, it’s an interesting read with loads of insight into the world of someone with a metal illness who found a way to beat her demons, ditch the Prozac and chisel out a new and fulfilling life.

You can read Rachels’ blog here.

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The Keeper of Lost Things

Phil: Meeting up with Candice on Monday for a chat through our edits, I shoved a book her way. All being well, she is on holiday as I write so I knew something for reading on the sunbed would be appreciated.

The author, Ruth Hogan, was at one of the Stratford Literary Festival sessions I went to earlier this year. At the time I wasn’t feeling flush enough to buy the hardback copy of the book, but the premise sounded really interesting so when the chance came to get a paperback, I did.

Let’s start with the description on the back:

Once a celebrated author of short stories now in his twilight years, Anthony Peardew has spent half his life collecting lost objects, trying to atone for a promise broken many years before.

Realising he is running out of time, he leaves his house and all its lost treasures to his assistant Laura, the one person he can trust to fulfil his legacy and reunite the thousands of objects with their rightful owners.

But the final wishes of the ‘Keeper of Lost Things’ have unforeseen repercussions which trigger a most serendipitous series of encounters…

Basically, Andrew has collected lots of stuff, carefully labelled it, stuffed it on shelves and intends to find the owners to return it. He doesn’t, but leaves the task, along with his house to Laura. There is also a dead fiance to consider, hunky gardner and special child.

Yes, it sounds a bit rubbish when I describe it like that, but I don’t want to give away any spoilers.  Probably best I don’t write the elevator pitch.

One of the highlights is that for many of the objects, there is a short story attached. Apparently, this was what Andrew wrote to make himself a successful author. The trouble was he wanted to write pieces with an edge, his publisher prefered fluffy happy tales and eventually, they parted company. I loved these little tales and suspect that there is a real book to match the fictional one in them.

Ruth weaves a couple of major plot strands through the book and for a while I couldn’t quite work out how they related to each other but by the end, everything ties up neatly and you have a happy “Oh, that’s what was happening moment.”

I enjoyed the book but it’s not perfect, there is some supernatural stuff that I could have lived without as I felt it dented the real world the rest of the plot lived in and Andrew seemed to do that literary thing of just deciding to drop dead in his rose garden in an unexplained way too.

Ultimately though, the basic idea is novel and pretty strong which overcomes any objections. I certainly enjoyed the read and picked it up every time I had a few minutes, always a good sign. It’s a pretty light and fun story which I expect the Nolan will enjoy as much as the sunbathing.

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Kate vs the Dirtboffins – Chapter Three

That evening, Kate had had enough.  The day’s events had destroyed her wardrobe.  Her best suit was a disaster. The stains would probably defeat even her trusty dry cleaner.  She’d be claiming the whole lot back on expenses.

Driving back home for fresh clothes seemed like a better bet than sitting in the boring hotel bar and rehashing the day with her colleagues.  Pulling up into the underground car park beneath her apartment block, she sighed with relief.  The car had tested the speed cameras on the A14 to get back here, but all she wanted to do was collapse in her own bath with a glass of sauvignon.

Kate turned off the ignition and stared into space for a moment trying to think positive thoughts.

Great job – tick

Great flat – tick

Great wardrobe – big tick.

But in the back of her mind she felt maybe something was missing. Upstairs in her stylish home, the only welcome would be the faint meow of Olly the cat.

Turning to pick up her take-away from the passenger seat, a smartly printed business card was dislodged from the gap it had been jammed into in the dashboard. On the front it read:

Kate Smith. Chief Executive.

K.O.D. – Change Management. We make the difference.

She looked at the words for a minute and smiled; that was her, MD of her own company, something that gave her a warm feeling that wasn’t attributable to the heated seats in her car.

For Kate, her business was more than just a job, it was her life. Solihull born, educated at an average comprehensive, and the youngest of three children, her two older brothers had made sure she stayed the bottom of the pecking order at all times. Her mother had always shrieked in horror when Kate had appeared from an afternoon playing with the boys. She would be covered in mud, her clothing all torn yet there was always a big smile on her face.  Growing up a tomboy thanks to years of fighting with her older brothers had ensured she developed a tough shell, essential for climbing the corporate ladder in later years.

Hitting the business world running after University, Kate had discovered that she needed more than just a brash attitude and the ability to throw great insults to get on in the world. She had worked her way up by quick thinking and building an armour of designer suits to keep everyone at arm’s length. But behind this tough exterior, Kate’s life didn’t extend very far beyond her work. Obviously, she had acquired the usual disparate collection of Facebook “friends” but these were mainly old workmates and people she half knew from University. Most wouldn’t recognize her on the street, far less cross the road for a chat. It didn’t matter to her, she had crawled her way to the top kicking and screaming and wasn’t about to let a little thing like friendship get in the way of her career goals.

K.O.D. was really Kate’s baby and she had poured all her love and affection into getting the business off the ground.  Opening the door of her apartment, Olly mewed a greeting and curled himself around her legs, purring contently.  She walked across to her SMEG fridge and pulled out a bottle of a good New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.  Grabbing a glass from her cupboard, she made short shrift of the cork and enjoyed the sound of the crisp, clean wine as it glugged into her glass.

Curling up on the sofa in her Juicy tracksuit she stroked a purring Olly.

“Oh puss, what a nightmare day I’ve had.  I’m wet, dirty and knackered. To cap it all I saw Dave. You remember me telling you about him?  The one that got away.  Well Ol, he’s back, looking cute as ever. I just don’t know what to do.”

She buried her face in his warm, furry tummy.  Anyone watching would have thought she was just cuddling the cat but silent tears fell from her eyes as she snuggled him.

Seeing Dave had left her so confused and she really wanted to avoid talking about that in the hotel bar. If they guessed at a connection, her staff would all want to grill her about him, the man who knew ‘Ice Maiden’ Kate before she was so frosty.

A career girl through and through, the brush with Dave all those years ago had left her only interested in one thing, work.  Falling in love with a man, well that was a weakness and Kate didn’t admit to weakness.  As far as she could see it only got in the way of her true goal – to own her own successful company – and she was well on her way to that.

Only sometimes, when sat in the lounge of a friend’s house as toddlers ran round their legs and their husband made the coffee, did she find herself wondering what it would be like to be involved in a more personal kind of partnership.

Walking into her bedroom, Kate pulled a dusty box from the top of the wardrobe.  Opening it she looked down at the piles of curling photographs.  Rifling in the bottom there was a faux leather photo album.  Sitting on the bed she began flicking through the photos, taken from her university days.

Staring out from one page was a photo of her and Dave, in full rock climbing gear, on top of some mountain or other.  Kate had first met him on a trip to the Peak District and they’d bonded over crampons and Kendal Mint cake.  Something seemed to click between the two of them and it quickly became coffees and lunch every day at Uni.  She had a boyfriend, but quickly realised her feelings for Dave were different.

Leafing through the pages there was another memorable photo – her perched on the end of Dave’s hospital bed. They’d taken off climbing for a day for a break from the last minute exam cramming. Bravado and his Ford Escort had taken them to Wild Cat Crags in the Peak District where even hardened climbers had second thoughts about some of its heights.

Dave had saved her life, she’d lost her footing and found herself hanging 100ft in the air with only the rope and Dave between her and certain death.

The memory was still vivid enough to send a chill through her bones. Somehow Dave found enough inner strength to pull her back from the edge.  She’d never been so frightened in her life. It was a turning point, nearly dying sealed a determination that nothing and no one would get in her way.  Her time with the boyfriend was done, she wanted to be with Dave.

Sadly, things hadn’t turned out that way, Dave ended up in hospital after the climbing accident and by the time he came out the job he’d applied for had come through, in Washington DC working for a senator.  In a week he was gone.

Closing the album, she piled all the photos back in the box and returned it to the wardrobe.  Rubbing a tear from her eye, she turned towards the bathroom.

“Enough of this rubbish,” she said, looking down at a purring Olly, “time for a nice hot bath, a few glasses of vino and a good night sleep.  I need all the beauty sleep I can get these days!”

Candice: So, there you go, a taste of the fun that is ‘Kate vs the Dirtboffins’.

We’d love to know what you think, so to encourage you to read the rest we’ve reduced the price of our e-book to 99p

And for the first person to comment on this blog post we’ll send you a signed paper copy (worldwide postage, you will need to supply postage details).

Yes, a copy from Candice and Phil, just think in a few years it might be worth something!

So go on, buy either the  paperback  or e-book from Amazon NOW, have a read and then write us a review on Amazon.

And if you really like it tell all your friends.

Once we’ve got you hooked then ‘Kate vs the Navy’ will be out soon.  It’s got the same core team of Kate, Gareth, Tracey and Kelvin, but with thrills and spills with the team all at sea closing down a naval base.  Of course, things are not as simple as that, with Dave re-appearing Kate’s life and the Navy crew having other ideas about what the Ministry of Defence should do with them.

But hey, life would be boring for KOD if not.

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Seeing things from the other side

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Candice: A while ago a friend of mine gave me a synopsis of an idea they’d had floating around in their head.  She professed to not having time to write it, but would I have a look and see if I thought it was worth exploring.

My view, any idea is worth exploring, and it sounded interesting to me, so I said go for it.

A few weeks ago she contacted me with a first draft, asking for my thoughts.  She’d asked me because I had experience in this area and was a ‘professional’ writer. Well, if the cap fits…

Reading someone else’s work is always hard.  I know that Phil and I struggled the first time we handed out pristine copies of book one.  We thought it was great, but we actually lost a few friends over some of the feedback.  So I gulped and dove in.

I’m not going to say much on my thoughts, I need to give them back to the author first.  But I can instantly some of the pitfalls that Phil and I fell in to when we did the first draft of book one.  And I can also see how much we have grown since we wrote the first Kate vs book.  The fact that I can see these things straight off shows we’ve learnt something.  We hope that is demonstrated with the feedback that we are getting on Book two, ie not a lot.

So, I shall carefully point out her where she can make things better and hope that she has another bash at something that is shaping into a good story.

But also go off and think about our marketing plan for Book two… more of that next week.

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