Tag Archives: reading

Having the faith to put yourself in the book

Phil: Last week, I wrote that I felt the need for a nice, readable story and thanks to my local library had picked up A Brush With Death by Ali Carter.

I’m pleased to say it ticked the boxes perfectly. A pleasant read with a reasonably easy to follow plot that fitted my day. Doing a little digging, apparently this fits into the “Cozy Crime” genre. Think Miss Marple with a little less bite.

The plot is simple enough, Lord of the Manor dies, the police decide it’s murder and artist Susie Mahl solves the crime. I guessed whodunit pretty early in the book, but this didn’t spoil things – in fact I wanted to see if I was right. I was, although the method I had settled on wasn’t quite correct.

There are a couple of areas where the book stands out.

First, we learn a great deal about the English upper classes. If I ever find myself called to stay for the weekend at a great country house, I will have a better understanding of the protocol thanks to this book. We learn that all houses tend to run to a timetable, and once you know this, you can plan your trips snooping around. Stick to the rules, including not marrying anyone beneath your station, and everyone will get along swimmingly.

My main fascination was with the lead character, Susie Mahl, herself. She’s an artist who has found painting dog portraits to be a lucrative job. Handily, it sees her invited to many country seats for the weekend, you need to get to know the pooch to render them in paint. Apparently, this pays enough to buy a house in Sussex and a lot of very expensive luxury underwear. This detail is covered repeatedly.

Why? Because art follows life. It turns out that Ali Carter paints pet portraits and likes luxury underwear.

The most unusual aspect of Susie though is that she is a fairly strict catholic. At one point she goes to mass and also hints at disproval of divorce. Religion plays very little part in British novels, in fact I can’t think of a character who has expressed any interest in this direction. OK, we have Bother Cadfael and Father Brown, but they are monk and priest respectivly – it’s a massive part of their character. What I mean is we rarely see religion being part of a “normal” person’s life in this way.

It’s odd that this should leap out at me. In America and many other parts of the world, religion is a massive part of many people’s lives. You very much wear it on your sleeve. Politically, following the right flavour of God can be more important in the decisions a voter makes than a candidates policies or behaviour. Despite this, I don’t reacall many modern day American novels showing the impact of belief on their character.

My guess is that this is another area where author and character cross over. The interview I linked to above mentions a post-accident pilgrimage, but never explicitly mentions this being a religious one. That’s simply not how we do stuff in Britian. The Church of England is as inoffensive as possible and rarely do we have the zealots found in other branches of faith.

Ultimatly, “Write what you know” is an oft trotted out maxim, and one Ali Carter appears to have taken to heart, with interesting results. Susie Mahl is a stand-out character and will easily carry the three-novel deal Ms Carter has landed. She’d probably make a good TV drama too, something for the Sunday evening wind-down slot on BBC 1. However, I wonder if her faith will make the transition to the screen?

 

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Tackling the reading pile – library to the rescue!

The book pile

Phil: My slightly unconventional job often leaves me feeling I’m keeping lots of plates spinning at once. Sometimes this is energising, sometimes I need to get my head somewhere else for a little break. Reading a book is great for this, but it has to be the right book.

My reading pile is growing, but nothing grabs me as the perfect candidate. Watling Street, The Seabird’s Cry and Prisoners of Geography have all come my way via my family and I’m assured they are excellent reads. From the enthusiastic descriptions and a quick look at the blub on the back of the cover, I think this is probably right. The only trouble is, they are fact-filled books. Don’t get me wrong, I love learning stuff and if it’s well written, I’m a happy man, but, pummelling my brain with new knowledge isn’t what I needright now.

Candice passed me The 50:50 killer. The cover design tells me it’s not chick-lit, something confirmed by the synopsis on the jacket.  It’s one of those gruesome Police procedurals that she loves. Hopefully, it’s not one of the really gruesome ones. I suspect she thinks I’m a little bit of a wuss as I avoid those. After the last one I decided we should only meet in public places…

Anyway, there’s nothing on the pile that will do the job, so while strolling back from the Post Office yesterday, I dropped into our local library and grabbed something random from the new books shelf. A Brush with Death looks like a light whodunnit without a hint of blood or gore. The main character is a typically English amateur detective who paints for a living. Pets mostly, so we are on safe ground I think.

Reading the first few chapters, I’m safe enough. It won’t be groundbreaking but I get to disappear into another world for a few minutes, which is exactly what I need.

All this relates to our continuing literary efforts. We have firmly pitched the Kate vs series as pleasant reads. There’s a little bit of bite, but both books, and the third instalment due next year, will work well on a sun lounger beside a pool. Candice will be happy to demonstrate if required!

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Perry Rhodan and the terrible sci-fi

Phil: I love a bit of sci-fi and many years ago, picked up a Perry Rhodan book. I think it was the second in the series. It followed Perry Rhodan, the first man to land on the moon in 1971, and his battles to unify and pacify the Earth using an alien spaceship he had found. Imagine the unholy product of a union between Dan Dare and Biggles.

At the time, I enjoyed it and since this was a series, decided I would seek out further books second hand and collect the set.

That was until I realised just how many there were. Well over a hundred I discovered from reading the titles. According to Wikipedia, there are 126 plus spin-off novels.

However, the series has German origins and they published 2950 plus 850 spin-off novels!

That’s some series. We are looking at pulp fiction – cheaply produced novels each containing a story that forms part of a much larger story arc. You also get a couple of bonus short stories in each. Think a novel/magazine combination. I don’t think the concept exists in the same way nowadays, but at the time, this sort of publishing was lapped up by readers.

Anyway, I recently spotted number 34 SOS: Spaceship Titan! in a shop and decided to renew my acquaintance with the series.

Initially, it is terrible. If you’re a regular reader then the sci-fi mumbo-jumbo will make a lot more sense, but it’s difficult for the casual reader to penetrate. There’s no time for a preamble, we are straight into the story so if you don’t know the characters then tough. Mind you, if you do know them then an explanation for new readers each time will be annoying, so fair enough.

The story involves a super new spaceship which Rhodan and chums take away for a flight, land on a mysterious planet and then stuff happens. Space fights, robots, weird aliens, the whole lot. Eventually, they win through, but the story stops before most of the loose ends are tied up. You’ll need issue 35 for that!

Bonus extras include a review of the film Killers from space, rubbishing it in a pretty vicious way and a short story The Eagle Has Landed which just made no sense.

An interesting histroical artefact, but I’m not sure I’ll be looking for any more. Maybe my reading has become more sophisiticated. Has anyone else re-read a book from their past and thought, “How did I like this stuff?”

 

 

 

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To the moon! (and back again)

Phil: I was reminded that a review of Andrew Smith’s book Moon Dust was overdue while sitting in a nearly empty cinema (10am showings are great if you want it quiet) waiting First Man* to begin. The thought almost persuaded me not to open my cinema treat packet of Maltesers.

The book charts Smith’s efforts to track down and talk to every man who has walked on the moon and see how the experience affected them.

We’re only talking about 9 people, 3 have already passed on, but the quest takes the author all over the world. I was fascinated by this – how did he fund his travels? I get the feeling that it was a side project to other work, but still…

Walking on another planet is, let’s face it, the most exciting and impressive thing anyone can ever do. There are many years of build-up, some terror as you sit on top of a bomb that will fire you into space and a huge job list from NASA once you arrive. All the time knowing that every single component in your equipment has been chosen because the person building it tendered the lowest price. You rely on a machine so complex that even if the  agency achieves it’s 99.9% success rate, several hundred parts will fail. There’s no intergalactic RAC to come and rescue you either!

Once you’ve splashed down, been hauled out of the sea and returned home, what do you do next?

The astronauts’ answers to this are fascinating. Some stay in the system fighting to get man back out into space and back to the moon or even Mars.

Others drop out and start painting as a way to try to make sense of the experience they have been through. Alan Bean cleverly includes dust from his space suit badge in his paints so everyone buying a picture owns a little bit of the moon. This doesn’t appear to be a cynical marketing ploy, more a way to convey the experience.

Along the way, there are insights into the world of the Apollo programme. Astronauts weren’t that well paid. They didn’t receive media training, even though they would become some of the most famous people on the planet. Wives were expected to be part of the show, but not get in the way. Space bases aren’t situated in bustling towns and Cape Canaveral was basically a swamp when they all first moved there.

This is a portrait of a very different world from the one today. It’s all history and not even recent history. Apollo was a bubble of optimism where the US, while bogged down in the Vietnam war, offered a chunk of the future. Kids who had grown up on science fiction thought they were seeing the first days of something great, little realising that a couple of missions in, the public would be so bored of the whole thing that the TV networks couldn’t be bothered to show landing live.

An enjoyable read, it probably helps if you are a little bit geeky and love space things as the author experiences the wide-eyed wonder of meeting his heroes. Some turn out to have feet of clay, but most are still clad in moondust.

*Review: Armstong is taciturn.

 

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Brave moves

Phil: According to the BBC, last week 10 years since the great financial crash. Banks were hastily thrown vast amounts of money, a few bankers lost their jobs and everyone prepared for financial Armageddon.

A couple of months earlier, I had thrown in my job with plans to travel and write and generally eat through a big chunk of my savings, treating myself to the gap year I’d missed out on because I didn’t go to university. Not that I’d have been brave enough to take that year of course, but I’d got old enough to think I might be ready for it 25 years later.

All this came back to me as I read  Take a Look at Me Now by Miranda Dickinson.

The story concerns Nell who loses her job as a planning officer and instead of plunging into the local jobs market, decides to take off to visit her cousin in San Francisco for a couple of months with her redundancy money.  She has a dream of running an American style diner in the UK and as luck would have it, ends up meeting a diner owner in the US who shows her the ropes.

Along the way, there is a dalliance with a hunky, grey-eyed artist and generally, a good time is had by all. So good in fact, that you have to get 2/3rds of the way through the book before there is any jeopardy. Redundancy aside, her life goes swimmingly the moment her feet hit US soil with a succession of happy coincidences. As a travel promotion for the city, it’s great, and you can tell the author fell in love with the place.

As with any chick-lit, all ends happily, especially for the publishers who surely have a potential sequel being written since the story couldn’t have ended in a better place for this.

To be honest, it’s light, pleasant reading. Undemanding and perfect for a sun lounger.

My biggest complaint is the cover, which has all the hallmarks of a designer keen to go to the pub. The story is set where? Well, put the Golden Gate bridge on. It’s about a youngish woman? Where’s that CD full of unconvincing clipart? Job done – let’s go.

Having said this, my own story also enjoyed a few happy coincidences. Jumping into the world of temporary jobs, I ended up working with Candice and when the place closed down, we found ourselves with lots of time and no work so started writing a book. Which became a series. And a lasting friendship.

Now if only we could get someone to sign up to turn them into a major feature film, this really would read like a book…

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Why I’m STILL rubbish at holidays

Phil: As Candice mentioned last week, I’ve been on holiday. No jet-lag this time, since it was on the (mostly) sunny Isle of Man.

Now back home, I have several bags of souvenirs, lots of photos and a few videos. The week was great, but not perfect.

My plan had involved running around the island (not actual running, travelling on the train, tram or bus obviously) visiting things and meeting people. Evenings were to be spent backing up my photos then doing some writing. In my imagination, I’d have a relaxing hour most evenings hammering away at the keyboard, producing vast amounts of hilarious plot for our third novel. I might even have promised by writing other half this.

I’d also catch up on my reading. Two books went in the bag.

Now I’m back home, it’s time to admit I failed. Total written – 432 words.

And those novels, I never opened them. I did read 1/4 of a book picked up from the apartment “library” and most of the local newspapers but only in snatched moments.

As da kidz would say, “Epic FAIL”.

They would also go on to explain that I am suffering from FOMO – that is the Fear Of Missing Out. I pre-pack my week with stuff and don’t leave space for unexpected things, or just to relax. I want to see everything and be everywhere. No time to chill, all there is is the idea that when I get home I’ll be thinking, “Why didn’t I do that as well”  – pretty much what Dr Candice diagnosed a few weeks ago. At least her smug “I woz right” feeling will help counter the “Where are the WORDS you promised Parker?” grumbling.

Now I need a break to recover!

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Why Mummy Drinks by Gill Sims

Why Mummy Drinks: Sunday Times Bestseller ebook by Gill Sims

Candice: I have mixed feelings about this book. I loved the title – it’s what caught my eye when Phil and I were doing some work the other week on polishing our Amazon entry and looking at books that we would like to be listed by.

So, I bought it, and reading the blurb on the back about a Mummy struggling with balancing job and life who has an idea the might help solve her problems, it sounded interesting. With her job being in IT I had an idea what that idea might be, but hey I’m too good at solving plot lines.

I started the book and immediately got annoyed with the main character. She reminded me of the woman in the TV show ‘Motherland’ who supposedly holds down a high-powered job in PR but also makes a tit of herself on a regular basis – saying and doing the wrong thing. I understand some of that chaos, I am currently writing this in a notepad while my daughter is doing her swimming lesson, I had to borrow a pen as the one I packed seems to have disappeared and I’ve got toothpaste on my top (not mine). #multitasking

The style also annoyed me as its written in a diary style and initially its very staccato and frantic and you just want her to take a Valium. However, as the book develops (and the writing style slows down) I found a lot of truth in the story (too much in some cases). The arguments over who’s turn it is to look after the kids, whose job is more important, etc are too close to the bone. And her thinking about trying to find time for yourself.

But by the end, I’m slightly jealous of her as she invents a game which becomes a global sensation, and in the end, brings her together with everyone who she thinks isn’t on her side. The game is about trying to get the kids to school, and the working vs non-working mummies at the school gates and all the other fun stuff. I’ve already had a snapshot of that with nursery and school fun starts soon. But the other mummies actually are jealous of her working. At the finish, she has money, drinking buddies and it even smooths her relationship with her husband as money is always the other worry in a working family.

The book is funny, and though annoying at times I did enjoy it. If you are a working parent, male or female, it might make you think about some of those snappy conversations you have with your other half.

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