Tag Archives: reading

Nice work

Phil: When we go to literary events, I often feel that Candice and I aren’t really in the right place. The art establishment doesn’t really have a home for people who just want to write novels for readers on sunbeds.

Last year, we were given a copy of Nice Work by David Lodge and I decided it was time I got around to reading it.

The plot concerns university lecturer Robyn Penrose, who finds herself shadowing factory manager Vic Wilcox. They rub along, disagree and then have a brief fling. The plot is nicely summarised on Wikipedia.

My god, this book is pleased with itself. Witten in the third person, the text keeps showing how clever it is with little asides. To be honest, the print format put me off, and by the third chapter, it was heading for the charity pile. But, I persevered, in the world of Art, books are not there to be enjoyed, they are there to be good for you. A bit like broccoli.

By the end, I enjoyed it, but possibly not in the right way.

You see, I didn’t go to university and have a suspicion that many of the people there simply use further education as a way of avoiding the real world. Yes, there are many valuable courses and we can’t do without them, but I’ve met people who basically have never left school and boy can you tell.

Robyn Penrose is just such a person. She thinks that the most important thing in the world is obscure literary criticism. I’ve no issue with that, the problem I have is that she expects to be able to live in her ivory tower and have everyone else pay for it. Even as I write this, I know it sounds a bit Daily Mail, but when she visits Vic’s factory, it’s obvious that she doesn’t comprehend that those working in the hell-hole conditions are supporting her lovely way of life – just like the landed gentry expected the serfs to toil in the fields so they could lounge around doing nothing. At least they didn’t pretend they cared.

It might be that the author was satirizing this, Robyn and her partner do briefly discuss the idea, but I’m unconvinced. I think she is the hero, especially when we reach the deus ex machina ending with unexpected windfalls and bailing a recently redundant Vic out.

The point is, there is IMHO, nothing wrong with setting out just to entertain people. Life is rubbish enough without someone coming along and snootily laughing at your enjoyable choice of reading matter, and then expecting you to fork out for their luxury lifestyle.

Rant over.

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Rain stops reading

Remilia Scarlet - Rain

Candice: Phil’s written about abandoning a book in a recent blog, and then finding one that touches a cord.

I’ve had a similar issue myself recently.

The last few months have been a rollercoaster with a new job and things outside work throwing a few spanners in the works.  I’ve struggled to concentrate on books or TV shows as I’ve had so much going on in my head.  Walking to walk today in another bought of torrential rain hasn’t helped with the vibe. I realise I need a piece of complete escapism.

So far I’ve started and given up on – One Enchanted Evening by Anton du Beke.  Too light and fluffy, I can’t remember the character names and I’m not in the period ‘Downton’ mood.  Saving that one for the sun lounger

The Librarian of Auschwitz about Dita Kraus – an incredibility important subject but far too sad for me at present.  When they starting talking about sending families to the gas chambers I just can’t read any more.

One of the books both Phil and I have enjoyed recently is Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, recommended to us by Liv from Writing West Midlands, a very quirky story of a random political initiative to bring salmon to a Wadi in the Yemen and based on the author’s experiences in industry and government.

The title would put me off straight away, but the story just reminds me of when I worked for Birmingham City Council. A politician would decide that the idea put in front of them was the greatest thing since sliced bread, and that everything need to be done to drive this idea forward, without actually thinking the whole thing through.   There is a human side to the story too, it’s not all about fishing.  It is the most bizarre book, written from lots of different viewpoints, but yet it works and is quite amusing.  Don’t take my word for it, give it a go.

Anyway, I think I have finally found my book for my mood.  It’s called The Temptation of Gracie and tells the story of a woman returning to Italy, 40 years after she left, to return to her true love.  I’m still only one third through the book but I’m enjoying the vision of the beautiful flower-filled fields of Tuscany and the swarthy Italian men.  There is young love in the present and in the past and stories of hot, steamy days.  It’s exactly what I need to take me away from the constant UK rain.

In few weeks I’ll be able to escape to my next holiday and perhaps some of the books I’ve given up on I’ll give a second chance, it’s easier to focus on something when you have a longer time to read it.  I do try and read everything I buy as its good to broaden your horizons and read things other than Crime Fiction and Chick-Lit, but also sometimes it’s just good to just disappear.

Hopefully, the rain will stop soon too…

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Recognising yourself in a book

Phil: Working through the huge piles of books passed on to me from La Nolan earlier this year, I’ve just read Wilde About the Girl by Louise Pentland. Not a book I would have picked up myself, but I really enjoyed it.

The plot concerns a year in the life of Robin Wilde – single mother, makeup artist and generally, pretty much together woman. She’s got a useful collection of friends and relatives. Even the ex-husband isn’t written as a monster or complete incompetent. There is a new bloke on the horizon, but he’s not the main plot strand in that annoying way many chick-lit books seem to manage.

Instead, the focus of Robin’s like is her daughter Lyla. Well, that and work. I don’t think I’ve read anything quite like this – the child is the apple of her mother’s eye, but not the only thing in her life. It’s almost like the author managed to write about real life!

Now, I don’t have kids, but I’ve seen friends lives change as they sprogs arrive on the scene. Pentland doesn’t turn the child into a mobile nightmare, but actually makes you feel that spending time with the youngster is fun. If you aren’t broody before opening the cover, you might be by the end.

One aspect that rang true for me was when a new man came in to Auntie Kath’s life. Kath is the rock Robin relies upon and Lyla loves her. When Colin turns up, even though he makes widowed Kath happy, Layla hates him for replacing her late husband. Eventually, they are reconciled but it reminded me of myself.

When I was very young, we lost my Grandad. Even though we didn’t live close, apparently he and I were very close. A few years later my gran took in a lodger for the company and a little income. He was (as I recall) about the same age as my grandad would have been and apparently, I behaved terribly towards him, presumably thinking he was replacing my grandad (he wasn’t, he was just a lodger unlike Colin in this book). Like Robin, my parents had to find a way to reconcile us, they did it and we were fine after that. I was so young I don’t remember not liking him, but I could see what Lyla was going through.

The book is broken up into several sections, each of many chapters, and they all seem to contain an “incident”. One is terrible, but you wouldn’t know this from the cover or blurb. There, we find the stakes ramped up – unnecessarily in my opinion. This book nips along a decent pace, the characters are all pleasant to know and not too cartoony in most cases (OK, some of the school mums maybe) and there is a bit of pathos too. Colin could just be a cypher, but on a trip to the Lake District, we see into his soul a little, but only a little.

I think this is the middle volume in a Trilogy. To be honest, I don’t feel the need to read the others as this is such a strong standalone story, would they spoil it for me?

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Right book, wrong time?

Phil: Why do we like a particular book?

I’m wondering because I’ve just abandoned Sheila O’Flanagan’s How will I know?

I didn’t even make it to the end of the first chapter. Something about the writing style jarred with me. There’s a lot of description of the main characters day, and to be honest I just got bored.

It must just be me though, as this is (according to the cover) and bestseller.

My thinking is that were I lying on a sun lounger I’d have stuck with it and probably if not enjoyed it, at least passed time pleasantly. As it is, I need to be grabbed by the story fast. There’s too much going on in my head to plough through a book which doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

This happens all the time of course. If you want a book published, you have to be lucky. The right person has to read your pitch at the right time. If they want vampire books, it’s no good pitching historical romantic fiction. But if they want the new Price and Prejudice, the best book about a blood-sucker in the world won’t get anywhere.

OK, putting your book out everywhere increases the chance of a hit, but there’s still luck involved – which I say to make everyone feel better. How do we know the slush pile that Harry Potter came out of didn’t have another boy wizard further down? And wouldn’t that be annoying?

And imagine the editor reading How will I know? had been in the same frame of mind I am at the moment. They would have been shouting, “Stop describing the contents of your kitchen cupboard!” instead of “Fire up the printing presses, we’ve got a hit on our hands!”

Not every book suits every taste every time. That’s what we keep telling ourselves. That and people who don’t like our books are idiots…

 

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Is it June already?

Phil: How did it become June already?

I’m sure someone has nicked about three months of this year because I’m sure I missed them somewhere along the line…

Looking at the files for Book 3, I see that we’ve not added anything to it since April. That’s pretty poor. Admittedly, we have ideas on a side project that has taken up quite a bit of brain space, but sadly, real life has taken over for both of us and priorities change.

Are we beating ourselves up about it? No.

For a start there is cake. Yummy cake. We still meet up planning to think book and end up chatting instead.

Then we’ve come to the conclusion that writing should be fun. Proper writers describe it as a dreadfully painful exercise, but you know what, that sounds rubbish. Hours of moaning and agony to produce a “worthy” book that people might aspire to read, but never actually bother.

No – the books are to be a dream. We will make progress, but generally when we are enjoying it. This means getting our heads around the idea that we aren’t likely to become best-selling authors, but as the chances of this are very slim unless one of us becomes famous, we might as well accept it and just enjoy the ride. More than can be said of me when I ended up on a child’s spinning teacup roundabout half an hour after eating one of the slices in the photo.

Anyway, I suppose it’s also worth looking back to see how my new years’ resolutions are going.

Do less work – Well, I am getting more efficient at doing work. I’ve figured out that I’m more productive on the computer in the afternoon and evenings, so the non-typing parts of my work are fitted into the morning, something that seems to be working well.

Promise less – Still rubbish at this.

Go out for more walks – This is a bit hit and miss. Some days I hit my “Move Minutes” target on an app on my phone, sometimes not.

Read more books – Big tick. I’ve read a lot of books, but still not fast enough to keep up with the numbers heading my way.

Read fewer magazines, or at least only those that I need to – I’ve stopped taking a few periodicals and buying less of others. I think this is working.

Sleep more – Can’t say this is much different. Maybe a little better, but sometimes much worse.

Basically, 5/10, must try harder all round.

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The Last Hour

Phil: Books make great Christmas presents. Carefully chosen, they tell the recipient that you have thought about them, and yet they are so easy to wrap.

My friend is interested in Roman history and when I spotted The Last Hour by Harry Sidebottom, I thought that a novel set in Rome during the empire would be perfect.

A few months later, it came back to me, enjoyed, but described as “a bit Dan Brown”.

Now I’ve had the chance to read it, I’m not sure about Mr Brown, perhaps a bit Leslie Charteris.

The plot concerns Ballista, a Roman soldier and confidant of the Emperor. He learns that there is a plot to assassinate his friend an hour before sunset the next day. All he has to do is fight his way across Rome and speak to the Emperor.

In the way seems to be most of the official armies and police of the city. It seems the plotters know who he is and have the ability to spread his description almost instantly to their men.

Fortunately, like Charteris’s Saint, Ballista is indestructible. He is beaten, stabbed, slashed, half-drowned and he just keeps on going. OK, his motivation is that with the Emperor out of the way, vengeance will see his wife and family killed, but even so, for 350 pages, he’s either fighting or running. There’s a brief respite among some Christians for a kip, but precious little food. By the fourth chapter, his bloodstream must be 100% adrenalin.

This aside, I enjoyed the descriptions of Rome itself. The author has done his research and we learn a lot about the society – how honour and family matter. The various tensions between different races, the conflict between religions.

The finale at the Colosseum fascinated the engineer in me with descriptions of various trapdoors to lift beasts and prisoners into the arena. Less appealing is the details of how people met their ends in the arena. Sadly, I suspect that entertainment like this would prove just as popular today if it were Saturday evening television.

The story moves at pace, but I found myself getting as tired as Ballista should have been. It’s hard work reading this as you try to follow yet another gruelling punch-up. A fair few people are killed by our hero simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and without Roman sensibilities, I found that a bit hard. Realistic maybe, but I’m a bit of a wuss about this sort of thing.

Towards the end, there is a seed of doubt in Ballista’s mind about the Emperor. Power has corrupted and it may be that the man simply isn’t worth saving. Maybe the conspirators are right and he needs to go. That’s the trouble with dictatorships, there’s no easy way to replace the man at the top. Needless to say, the seed falls on fallow ground and there’s never any real option other than to save the man, to protect Ballista’s family.

By the end we see Ballista earning a phyric victory. As a hero of the empire, he’s promptly shipped off to lead the legions, well away from his beloved family. There is obviously a sequel planned, but you’ll need (I suspect) to limber up for more crunching action if you fancy taking it on.

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Read what you don’t know

Hot MessPhil: Authors are told, “Write what you know”, but my latest read is the complete opposite.

I couldn’t be less like Ellie Knight from the book Hot Mess if I tried – and I think that’s a good thing. At least it’s a break from my “normal” life, which I think is pretty much the point of reading.

Ellie is newly single and spends most of the book looking for lurve, or at least shagging her way through Tinder…

You guessed this from the cover, didn’t you? It’s pink. There is a shoe. The writing is a sort of scripty font. This is proper chick-lit. And of course, I didn’t buy it, or dare read it outside the house.

It’s quite fun. For a long while, you are wondering if there is actually a plot, but eventually, things start to tie up and by the end, you feel you’ve been on a journey with the character and had a laugh along the way.

Apparently, London is full of girls for whom this is a documentary, but as I say, that’s not me.

By the end though, there was something annoying me.

The story is told from Ellie’s point of view – but she doesn’t tell us everything. Several times events take place where you would have expected us to know what’s going on, but she “remembers” to tell us a bit of back story all of a sudden. Maybe it’s me, but I felt a little short-changed especially at the end when everything gets tied up.

Don’t get me wrong, this was an enjoyable, and for me, eduactional, read. Perfect for the side of a pool where everyone else is the colour of the cover.

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The Beachside Guest House

Phil: Vanessa Greene books get vintage teacups on the cover. As far as her publisher is concerned, that’s the rule.

Odd, because this book concerns three friends who drop out of their lives and set up a guest house on the Greek Island of Paros.

No teacups there.

I can’t help feeling Ms Greene is being let down here. The cover says “snuggly heartwarming and safe story”. Inside, there is plenty of plot that is safe enough for early evening Sunday television, there is also a bit of bite.

Disillusioned charity worker Rosa finds financial irregularities with her bosses daughter. Bee is about to get married to her childhood sweetheart. They drop everything, including Stuart, Bee’s fiance who I think gets a rough deal, and head to the location of their most important holiday together.

Rosa buys the old windmill guest house they remember staying in, they restore it and return the place to being a successful business.  There’s some heart-searching along the way, an old boyfriend returns and departs. New love is found. So far, so chick-lit. Nothing to disturb the sunlounger there.

Bite arrives with Iona, trapped in a psychologically abusive relationship. Years ago, she lost contact with her friends, but they didn’t forget her and use the move to reestablish contact. The chapters written from Iona’s point of view are genuinely chilling as we see how her boyfriend is controlling her. By the third chapter, you are past the point of willing her to leave, you want him smashed in the face with a heavy or sharp object.

The three women’s stories are journeys – each one grows and changes thanks to their involvement in the project. It is heartwarming, and I suppose you know from the start that everything is going to be all right in the end, but then that’s what we want from a book like this. There is a hint of a sequel right at the end, perhaps the author liked the characters so much she wasn’t ready to let them go?

The cover still intrigues me though. Is “the brand” more important than the contents?

 

 

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The Hideaway

Phil: In the book tsunami from my writing friend is a new title – The Hideaway by Sheila O’Flanagan.

I can guess why she picked it. The front shows a sunny villa and the back cover talks about “the enchanting Villa Naranja in Spain”. This is sun-lounger reading in every respect. Opening it in winter is going to make you want to jump on a ‘plane for a bit of sunshine.

The story revolves around Juno Ryan, an Irish radiologist who discovers that her boyfriend is married. Worse, she finds out he’s married when he’s killed in an earthquake. Along with his wife and child.

For obvious reasons, this upsets her and she ends up taking up the offer of a few months unpaid holiday at a villa in Spain.

There is a pool, complete with Greek God style poll cleaners. Regular chick-lit readers won’t be surprised what happens there. It is not the end of the story though.

In fact, the book splits reasonably nicely into three parts and getting it on with the pool boy is in the early stages. After that, things progress and you see Juno start to recover and grow as a person. She conquers some of the demons that hold her back thanks to her family as well as those caused by her relationship with a married man who lied to her.

The story is deeper and far more involved than most sunlounger fiction. It’s light enough to be pleasant, especially the running cat story arc, but involving enough that you are pleased you are reading it. The ending isn’t quite what you’d expect from the first half of the book.

Summing up, the book is better than the cover would suggest. You can enjoy this while covered in suntan lotion, but it’s just as good while supping a warming cup of tea in the rain.

 

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Summer at Rose Island

Image result for the lighthouse at rose islandCandice: Phil and I love a good ‘sunlounger read’.  I.e. something that does not tax the mind but whiles away a few hours while taking you to another place. Pure escapism.

They are often the books that get picked up at the airport, just as you making your way to the plane and finally thinking about the relaxation you are going to get on that break (kids club anyone?).

You don’t want educational text, you don’t want War and Peace, you just want to be transported for a few hours to somewhere different and forget about the day to day drudge.  It’s ironic really that you often read these on a break, considering that you are somewhere that you should be escaping the drudge anyway. The Kate series is written with this in mind, something that you will enjoy reading, perhaps discuss with the other half but then give to someone else and moves on to the next one.

I’ve been raiding our local charity shop recently for books to read, I’ve got a bit more time on my hands which means I’ve been racing through a few more reads (probably when I should be writing!).  Poor Phil gets the remainders every time we see each other, good job he carries a sensible rucksack rather than my rather less sensible bag fair.

Anyway, in my riffle through the books, I came across this very chick-lit fair, “Summer at Rose Island”.  The story follows Darcey, who’s moved to a quiet Devon town to escape her disastrous history of jobs.  She has lovely memories of summering there with her Aunt, so hopes by running away to the town she can get away from her overbearing parents and the fact she seems to get sacked from every job.

On her first day, she swims over to the island surrounding the local Lighthouse, and is promptly shooed away by its owner, a burly but attractive American called Riley.  Of course, you can guess what happens next, she and Riley have a few run-ins and then fall in love.  Luckily that happens early in the book, else it would have been boring.

The main thrust of the story is more around the job she has come to work on, something this is not really aware of until she starts.  Recruited as Community Liaison, her job is to support the Council in knocking down the lighthouse, something that she has been trying to prevent in the two weeks before she starts her new job.  It is to be replaced with a luxury hotel as a new lighthouse has been built.  But it is also the focal point of the town and Riley’s family history, as his grandfather originally funded and built it.

Suddenly she is in conflict with him and the town and back where she started, about to be sacked from another job.

The most interesting part of the book to me is her insecurities.  What we actually get to the bottom of is that she trained as a Marine Biologist but left her favourite job due to a silly mistake.  Lacking in confidence as her parents and brother are all medical doctors and see her PhD as something frivolous, she bounces from one job to another.  We never understand why her parents feel like that but when she finally stands up to them it does make you do a little punch in the air.

It’s her marine knowledge that saves the day, in a slightly trite way but hey this is a chick lit book.

Both Phil and I raced through the book, what I actually enjoyed was the scenery as much as the story.  I love the seaside and the pictures in my head of a sleepy seaside town made me dream of where I’d like to retire to one day.

 

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