Tag Archives: review

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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It’s like the Da Vinci code – but funny!

Phil: A few years ago, Jonas Jonasson scored a hit with his book The hundred year old man who fell out of a window and disappeared. Now the lead character, Alan Karlsson is back.

In the first book, much of the action was played in flashback with stories telling how Karlsson had travelled the world, largely by accident, meeting pretty much every famous person over his lifetime. He stumbled into situations, often altering the world without really meaning to.

This might remind you of the film Forest Gump, Forest always being in shot during pivotal moments in history.

It all reminded me more of the Da Vinci code. Turn the page and the plot has summoned up yet another famous face to move things along. Over 100 years, Alan had certainly got around a bit and the idea of slamming all these notable names into one story was fun.

However, the new book takes place over a much shorter time, but with no fewer “characters”.

We get to meet Donald Trump, Lim Jong-un, Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel. To make matters more convincing, real-life history has been employed with Karlsson involved in uranium smuggling while the big players, especially Putin, control the world like a chess game.

Jonasson uses his characters and the story to satirise the world and it sort of works. At the end, everything becomes a little heavy-handed and a bit miserable, but not unrealistically so.  Cynics might suggest this “never planned” second book has appeared because the publishers put their author in an arm lock until he promised to write it, but I’m inclined to believe the introduction where he says there was a lot to say. A bit anyway. Maybe the appearance of a Mercedes catalogue helped too.

The story is full of cliches, unlikely conincidence, and very minor characters who have a very bad time of it. This might be realistic, but people being collateral damage always makes me feel uncomfortable. I know they aren’t real, but I’m stupid this way.

Despite the reservations, it’s a fun read, especially if you pay any attention to the news and can spot the events being satirised.

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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 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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The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society

Phil: Three things can be guaranteed to put me off a book:

  • It’s set in wartime, or involves a war.
  • The Daily Mail likes it
  • Someone has made it into a feature film and this is on the cover

A fourth one is that the book is described as “An International Bestseller” – I’ve been caught out before by that one. Just because lots of people bought something doesn’t mean I’ll enjoy it. I’m looking at you Girl on the train.

So I approached TGLPPPS not really expecting to get very far. To be honest, if I’d given up a couple of chapters in, that would have been par for the course.

Faced with a long train ride, I stuck the modest-sized book in my bag. One return from Leamington to Brighton later, I’d read the whole thing and thoroughly enjoyed it.

The book centres on author Juliet Ashton, a wartime “gel” who wrote a funny column in the press and a somewhat more serious book about the Bronte sisters. The war is just over and she is suffering from writer’s block but out of the blue, someone from Guernsey writes to her and a correspondence ensues.

The book is written as a series of letters and this propels the story along with a bit of pace. The reader has to suspend disbelief a little at the shortness and speed of delivery of some, but we let it go for the sake of the plotline.

In many ways, this is chick-lit. There is a love story. We can spot the ending a mile off, but this doesn’t matter.

Subtley slid into all the fluffy stuff is a description of life in the only part of the British Isles to be invaded during the war and have to exist under Nazi occupation. The history has been well researched and there are a few gruesome bits along with allusions to worse.  This matters as without it, the story could easily have been some bumbling locals and a smart London girl.

Weirdly, I also want to see the film. I really don’t see how you adapt a book made of letters – but I’m keen to know.

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Kindle or weight-lifting? The perils of author ego.

Phil: On my reading pile at the moment are Still Me by Jojo Moyes and Make a Killing on Kindle by a shouty American.

Both are good reads and neither has accompanied me on a train, my favourite place to read. Why not?

Because both are stupidly heavy. 1.7kg in total.

Now, I love a proper book as opposed to an e-reader, but looking at these things makes me wonder if I need to change my mind. In electronic form, these would be lighter than a feather. I’d be able to take them anywhere. Reading could be enjoyed wherever I have a few minutes.

Instead, the Kindle book has been sitting around since Candice gave it to me at Christmas. I’m up to chapter 8. It’s not that it’s bad (a bit shouty perhaps) but A4 sized and weighing as much as a large cat, I’m just not willing to lug the thing around.

Still Me was read in 4 chunks at home – the story is engaging enough to make me want to charge through it, but I’d still have rather read it on the train. I’ve passed the book on to the Nolan having warned her to bring a big bag. It’s a good job she’s a bit of a gym bunny.

Why are these things so massive?

The American I understand. It’s all bigger and better from him.

The novel? Publishers or authors ego. “Look at me”, the book shouts from the shelf in the supermarket, “I’m a really luxurious product.” In this day and age, there’s no need for hardbacks. The words would be the same in paper covers. I’m assuming it’s a combination of prestige and I suspect, profitability driving this.

Publisher – please think of your readers! I can’t be the only one put off reading because of the weight of the book, can I?

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The Party by Elizabeth Day

Image result for the party book

Candice: After all of this talk of holidays I thought I ought to write a review of one of the books I read while I was away.

I picked up The Party as I liked the sound of the premise, not unusual but thought it would be a change from my usual police procedural.

The story is around Martin and Ben who met at boarding school, went to University together and are now about to celebrate Ben’s 40th.  They come from two different worlds, Martin from a single parent family of little means who managed to get a scholarship to the school, Ben from an old moneyed family.

Martin is an odd, isolated character, who displays almost psychopathic tendencies with some of his actions; as when he kills a bird that has fallen, injured into the school playground.  This gives an insight that all is not well with him.

By the time he meets Ben he is a boy very much on his own and Ben takes him under his wing, for no reason that I can see. Ben makes sure Martin is not bullied and takes him back to his house during the school holidays.  By the time they go to University Martin’s mother is doesn’t really feature in his life. But that’s Martin’s plan.  He can see opportunity in Ben’s family, and a life that he thinks he deserves, a life of money and privilege.

The book cuts back and forth between past and present, explaining how Martin met his wife as well as scenes at Ben’s spectacular party.  Now turning 40 Martin is a journalist who has just published a successful art book, Ben a stockbroker with an obscene amount of money. His party is being held in the grounds of his lavish pile in the Cotswolds with all the current celebs and political figures attending.

Their relationship is not as it was, Martin hero worships Ben but he starting to move away from him, neither of their wives like the closeness of their relationship too.

Intercut with Martin’s story is his wife’s, Lucy,  told to a therapist.  We discover she is currently in care because of something that happened at the party.  As the story unfolds we find a woman who lacks confidence and was swept off her feet by the silver tongue of her husband.  But she’s not that stupid and over the years had put two and two together that there is more between the two male friends.

With the party coming to a close Ben and his trophy wife break the news to Martin and Lucy that they need to stop seeing them.  Ben is standing to be an MP and Martin carry’s a dark secret,  at University they were involved in a car accident where a girl died.  What Ben’s wife doesn’t know (but Lucy has worked out) is that Martin took the fall for Ben, mainly to tie himself even more closely to his friend.  Ben’s family has been funding Martin’s lifestyle ever since.

I was disappointed with this book.  I read it very quickly, interested to know how it panned out though I had an idea that something like the accident would have happened.  But how disappointing was the ending?  To me Martin gives up at the end, he is just left living on his own talking about making a plan to get back to Ben but that feels weak.  Lucy is the strong character as she separates from him and also shows her anger at Ben and family by lashing out at them, hence why she is seeing a therapist.

So worth a read but prepare yourself to fall off the edge at the end.

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