Craig Taylor is a Canadian journalist and writer who has been living in London for at least a decade. He claims to love London (he has chosen to live here above Canada, after all) but I wouldn’t have guessed that he did from this book.
The book was Radio 4′s Book Of The Week last year, and has received much critical acclaim. I decided to give it a go as an audiobook – especially as I have been doing a lot of walking recently, and obviously that is almost always on the streets of London.
Around 80 people were interviewed for the book, and this is more an exercise in editing on the author’s behalf.
I was looking forward to hearing from people that keep London ticking, the unseen perhaps – the ones who see a different London to the one that I do. I felt that they would be the stories to really make the book ‘pop’. The ones where readers are forced to see the city in a different way.
The book was divided into sections (eg arriving, living, working, departing, dying etc) although these seemed a bit of a flimsy way to bunch the stories, as invariably people’s experiences tended to go beyond the boundaries of that particular aspect.
Now, as you may realise, I LOVE this ever-changing city that I live in. I defintiely choose to be here, and although I sometimes entertain the thought of leaving and moving somewhere more rural (as I did growing up), when I give it a little more thought, I realise that I am in no way ready for that. I would miss SO much about London. To be entirely honest, I don’t think I’m old enough to leave yet. There is still so much to experience!
Although I have a deep-set love for London, I am also aware of its faults. I can’t have lived here most of my life without acknowledging them, after all. I’m not blind to them, but I am accepting of them as there are so many positives.
With that in mind, I have to say I wanted to love this book so much, and I ended up hating it.
It felt so biased. There seemed to be a huge bias towards people complaining bitterly about London – in some ways that I agreed with, but often in ways that I didn’t. The times that the peopel were upbeat and positive, they were mainly just talking about their very interesting jobs (eg bus control room operators, Spitalfields market trader, stock-broker turned cabbie, funeral director, the actress who is the voice of London Underground), and they didn’t tend to offer an opinion on London itself – so the only opinions seemed to be extremely negative.
I don’t think that it helped that not very far into the book at all, a South African that lived here for a while describes London as “…a city full of Asperger’s people…” How rude! It’s funny how London is possibly one of the most multiculturally diverse places in the world, and yet people always refer to ‘Londoners’ as being a certain way.
The only people that seemed to be very positive and confess their love for London were people that lived in the East End or Essex borders. The stockbroker turned cabbie, the market trader, and the old lady whose daughter keeps wanting to get her a nice flat in Broxbourne, but who says “London gets to you. I can’t leave it. There’s too much quiet in the countryside.”
There seemed to be so much missed out from what makes London great, and different to other place in Britain. However, this in itself cemented my love for London, and made me see it through different eyes yet again. I feel that there was so much unexplored – but so much that I haven’t explored myself.
And I have to say, the disappointment in this book has inspired me, and given me an idea to do something myself. Watch this space (but don’t hold your breath!)
I received this as an ARC, but due to some family issues, I haven’t been able to get in as much reading time as usual lately, so it did actually get published on 30th April (but that’s great as it means that it’s already available to buy now!)
Roen Tan is your normal twenty-something Average Joe. He shares a flat with his friend (who has just become a Doctor, so lording it over him), hates his tedious office job, wishes he could have more success with women and is sure that it’s down to him being not just short, but overweight and lacking confidence. However, instead of doing anything about it, he (like millions of others) just complains and seeks solace in more junk food.
He soon gets the break that he needs though, but with far more consequences than he could have even started dreaming of!
Somewhere nearby, secret agent Edward Blair is betrayed and compromised. He sacrifices himself as a means of saving Tao, who has existed inside him for years. Tao is a Quasing, an alien who can only survive on earth within another lifeform, is unable to exist outside of a host for more than a couple of minutes, and once joined, is unable to exit the host until it has died.
Upon his release following Edward’s death, Tao is forced to seek refuge in Roen Tan’s body – not the highly trained soldier that he would have chosen to co-exist with, although not a challenge that he is unfamiliar with.
The Quasing have been on Earth since the Jurassic period when their ship crashed. In their effort to find a way home, they have been inhabiting creatures to survive, eventually choosing humans over other species. At some stage, the Quasing split into two factions, Prophus and Genjix that have ended up warring for thousands of years in their race to find a way back to their own planet. Both sides have spent much of their time in hosts that have become powerful or noteworthy – which is understandable, if you had a highly-evolved alien mentoring you, you’d probably make a mark on history, wouldn’t you?
With their war at a critical point, and Tao a crucial part of the war – does Tao have time to train Roen Tan for his new role? Will Roen have to give up every aspect of his life? Can he just ignore Tao’s voice in his head? Would he rather just carry on with his boring existence?
I loved this book. Roen Tan is such an ordinary, average kind of guy. All the normal complaints and pretty sedentary lifestyle. Never realising that he always has had it within him to do something about it – with the right motivation.
Tao is like a hugely committed personal trainer and motivational speaker. Tao tells Roen his history, giving different insights into some of the better-known figures that he has co-existed with. But it’s not just about trying to retell history with a different slant, it’s more about one man’s journey to finding himself. It’s a little like a reversal of The Host by Stephanie Meyers (which my 13 year old dragged me to see the film) but without all the insufferable teenage angst!
There are comic moments, there are tender moments and there are moments where I wondered what I would do if I had an alien inside me, and moments where I wished I did as it might push me into doing stuff!
The climax was especially strong, and somewhat unexpected. And it has left me wanting more Roen & Tao.
This shocking story is told by Skunk Cunningham (so named because her mum liked the group), who is 11 years old and in a coma.
We do not know why she is there until towards the end of the story, but she tells us of the events leading up to it, starting with the violent beating of teenage neighbour Rick Buckley by another neighbour (Bob Oswald) for something that he didn’t do.
Rick then becomes the ‘Broken’ of the title, and referred to as Broken Buckley throughout.
Bob’s life however seems to continue reasonably unchanged – father to five daughters who are just as thuggishly violent as him. Drink, drugs and sex help the days pass for the Oswald girls, and they revel in their reign of terror over everyone they know – including Skunk who is in class with one of them.
Skunk wants to enjoy just being a kid, playing too much X-Box with her older brother, forming a crush on her teacher (who also happens to be the boyfriend of their Welsh au pair – needed because their mum ran away to Spain years ago) and riding out in the sun on her bike.
But, living on this rather down-trodden square in Southampton that is lorded over by the Oswalds, Skunk is privvy to more violence, swearing, sex and criminal activity than is good for her. And yet her narration still has a naivety about it, and a poetic repetition that is somehow childlike, and lures the reader to its shocking and dramatic climax.
This isn’t like a modern day To Kill A Mockingbird, this is a contemporary realisation – evident even in the names that have been used (eg Skunk = Scout). Daniel Clay has made no secret of the fact that this was the inspiration for the story.
I listened to the audiobook, and Colin Moody’s narration was just right – a clever mixture of ‘telling’ what was coming in an ‘unaccented’ voice, and then accents used for actual speech, or when Skunk was narrating.
I usually only listen to books when I’m walking, but I found that as I came to the end of Broken, I was wandering around the flat in my headphones as I had to get to the end. I had to know what actually happened to Skunk, and whether we would ever see her come out of the coma.
An amazing, horrific, beautiful, powerful, contemporary book, I immediately thought that it would make a fantastic British film – we do gritty SO well. I looked it up and was so disappointed to see that a film HAS been made, and it should be quite good, but I had missed it being at the cinema by a matter of a couple of weeks – and so it’s not out on DVD yet either!
Gutted…but something to look forward to now!
Still holding the coveted title of ‘My Favourite Author’, if he publishes, then I will read! I received this as an ‘Uncorrected Proof’ review copy.
This is the second book featuring young Jasmine Sharp, 21 years old and working as a Private Investigator. Following the high profile Ramsay case that she solved in Where The Bodies Are Buried, Jasmine has got a bit of a name for herself.
When she is approached by a sickly older woman to find her sister who went missing without trace more than 30 years ago, Jasmine expects it to be a pretty easy case to solve.
The case has a personal pull for her tpp, the missing woman having been a promising actress. As Jasmine followed her late mother’s footsteps, training to be an actress, she finds herself pondering on the life that both herself and her mother could have had, and feels an almost kinship to the missing actress.
What she doesn’t expect is the dark and twisted path the investigation leads her down – sex, drugs, ritualism and possibly even murder?
The trail is so ancient and the ‘players’ are amongst some of the most respected in their fields – so is Jasmine ever really going to be able to find out the whole truth?
I am loving Jasmine Sharp – I was a bit concerned that I would be missing Jack Parlabane from many of Brookmyre’s previous books, but Jasmine is superceding my expectations. Her opening scene is pure genius.
She’s feisty, intelligent and razor-sharp – she may not have Parlabane’s sarcasm and cutting wit, but she has Glen Fallan once again – handy with a gun and a fist and generally a dead dodgy guy. Emphasis on the dead there as that is what he has meant to have been for the past 20 years. Fiercely protective of Jasmine, he is a formidable force to be reckoned with.
Also making a reappearance is Detective Catherine McLeod, covering a murder that Jasmine’s own investigation touches upon yet again. But will she be able to solve the case before Jasmine using good old-fashioned (and legal) police work?
I am so glad that this series isn’t disappointing me – although i would still relish a Jack Parlabane reappearance
It was very timely too that on the day of Margaret Thatcher’s funeral (when Cameron was spouting all sorts of tripe) while reading this book, I read this phrase relating to the ‘video nasty’ uproar in the 80s (does anyone remember that):
“It was a convenient distraction for the Thatcher government too,” Finnegan added. “Nothing like a moral panic to take people’s minds off mass unemployment and riots on the streets.
I am overly excited to see that the third in the series – Flesh Wounds – is due out in August!!
I picked this up on Audible as it sounded rather intriguing.
In 1941, Molly Lefebure was a newspaper reporter. While following a case at Walthamstow Coroner’s Court, she was offered a secretarial job by renowned pathologist Dr (Cedric) Keith Simpson (who she then refers to affectionately as CKS throughout the rest of the book). As she wanted to be a writer, Molly eventually decided to accept the offer as she felt it would provide good experience and knowledge.
So, while World War 2 raged on and London was living through the Blitz, Molly was travelling across London and much of the south east visiting murder scenes, helping Simpson examine bodies and going to trials.
Molly walked an average 12 miles a day, worked from 8.30am to 10.30pm, seven days a week and was paid a starting salary of £1 a week. She also had to deal with people’s perceptions of her new role. There is a fabulous passage about the difference between the reactions between male and female friends, when they are alone, or in mixed company.
Peppered amongst the quite vivd descriptions of murders and trials, there is a lot of talk of lunch, tea and sardine sandwiches. The first night after she’d started the role, her landlady served her up a pork chop, and Molly reflected that if she didn’t eat it then, she would be likely to have turned vegetarian. So she made sure she ate it!
There was so much to love about this book – not just the interesting (sometimes high profile) cases, but insight into the judicial system (murderers were still hung at this time) and a matter-of-fact account of every day life living during the war (on 23rd August 1944, Molly would have loved to have been celebrating the liberation of Paris, but found herself eating sardine sandwiches and catching a train to Ashford together with armies of families of hop-pickers – including all their belongings, screaming children and cats & dogs!).
Molly gave up the job when she became engaged and originally this book was published in 1955 entitled “Evidence for the Crown: Experiences of a Pathologist’s Secretary“. It has been reprinted this year and I seem to have recalled reading somewhere that it is planned to be turned into a dramatisation (I am thinking much like Call The Midwife).
Soon after finishing the book, I happened to watch Pierrepoint with the fantastic Timothy Spall playing the eponymous, most prolific and last hangman in Britain, and couldn’t help thinking that they would have dealt with some of the same cases.
I have no idea at all what Molly Lefebure’s voice might sound like, but I like to think that narrator Lucy Scott sounds just like her! That cut-glass ‘proper’ English accent regaling the tales of war and murder and cadavers and post mortems and courtrooms and hangings and the ever-present sardine sandwiches felt just perfect!
I received this as an Advance Review Copy but it was actually published on 2nd April.
Set in Coden, Alabama in 1974, the story is told by Mimi Bosarge. Recently graduated at 21, Mimi is happy as she has landed a job as live-in tutor to the Henderson’s. A picture perfect, happy blonde all-American family who have moved to Coden from California, restoring the great house of the town (Belle Fleur) to its former 1940s glory.
At the start of the summer, Mimi’s social worker grandmother Cora (who raised Mimi after her parents died in a fire) introduces 16 year old Annie to the Hendersons, asking whether they would be able to foster her. Annie seems both beautiful and tragic – she has amnesia, with no knowledge of any of her own history or family – and noone appears to be missing her.
Being so happy, wealthy and generous, the Henderson’s welcome Annie with open arms and hearts. All of them except oldest daughter Margo who seems both suspicious and jealous of Annie. When Margo disappears, Mimi’s suspicions of Annie are also raised and she embarks on a mission to uncover the truth of Margo’s disappearance and uncovers more about Annie than she is comfortable with.
As evil seems to descend on Belle Fleur, Mimi realises that Annie’s arrival has disturbed something old and dark, and she appears to be the only one to suspect the truth.
I like being scared. I thrive on the feeling. I love a good horror film, and I especially love a good creepy story. However, I have found that my niche for being scared is a very small one. Too many horror films these days are just gore, and not enough suspense – or are too unreal to be scared by as they could never possibly happen in real life.
I think these is why I enjoy J-horror and K-Horror so much. They are usually based around things just on the edge of reality. A lot of ‘out of the corner of your eye’ inexplicable stuff. I like that.
For something to give me the willies (ooer), it generally has to be based in reality, usually with a supernatural element, preferably around a family and occur almost entirely in their home – where they should feel the most safe. If there is a dark-haired child featured, even better! this is especially difficult to get across in a book.
The Darkling manages to tick all of those boxes.
I can imagine this being made into a very sinister film – if it didn’t get the terrible Hollywood gloss treatment. The breakdown of Mrs Henderson, the malevolent creatures, Mimi’s uncertainty of reality and fight to turn suspicions from herself, a young girl’s disappearance , the house’s disturbing history – all good, meaty horror stuff.
There were times when the story repeated itself a little – I wished that there could have been some differences on the occasions that Mimi encountered the ‘nester’, but I can forgive the occasional lapses in variety as I zoomed through the book, desperate to know the ending – even though I had an inkling of what I might find there!
R B Chesterton is apparently a pseudonym of Carolyn Haines who wrote the Sarah Booth Delaney Mysteries series of books. I’m afraid that meant nothing to me, but it may well do to others!
I received this as an Advance Review Copy, which was a little misleading. I read the blurb about it and remember thinking “This sounds like an old-fashioned Southern crime thriller”.
The truth is that the book (due for publication on 16th April) is actually just a reprint. The book was originally released in 1940, and was (I believe) Ross’s only published book – a bit of a one-book wonder.
The story is set in a small North Carolina town during the Depression – the kind of town where everyone knows everyone and where there are complex shifts of power due to gossip, money and friendship.
The narrator of the story is Jack and starts when his land is repossessed for unpaid taxes, and then he drifts into working for his friend Smut Milligan as he embarks on a new venture to build a roadhouse.
Smut has a propensity for illicit dealings – moonshine, gambling and an eye for the girl married to one of the richest men in town.
The majority of the book is a kind of gentle narrative of life in that kind of town in the 1930′s, and I have to say that I enjoyed it immensely. There was then the turning point of the story, where Smut’s greed for money and power overtakes his common sense and morals, and Jack becomes embroiled in an event that he would much rather not have.
How the two of them deal with the fallout from this, Jack’s inner turmoil and his need for redemption carry the story through to its inevitable conclusion.
The book is a curious mixture of gentle innocence and harrowing violence that works extremely well, BUT you have to be prepared for the fact that it was published in 1940!
The use of the n-word throughout can only be expected given the time and location, and the derogatory picture of the black population and the somewhat ‘backward’ hicks is obviously not unusual when you consider it was written.
Reading it in 2013 however, some of the terminology jarred somewhat, and I found it quite difficult to ignore. I know that this is a slightly unfair criticism, and that if you knew when the book was originally written before reading it, you would expect this kind of language, and adjust your mindset for it. However, I kind of went into a little blind – which I realise is my own fault.
The story is excellent though, and I can imagine it making a great character-led film, as the characters are fantastic and really come to life.
If you can handle the ‘of-the-time’ language, and enjoy character stroies with not a lot of action, you’ll probably love this slice of American history!
They Don’t Dance Much will be (re)published on 16th April 2013.
I received this as an advance review copy, but didn’t manage to read it until a couple of weeks after it had been published. Oops!
Mums Like Us is a weekly group for ‘normal’ mums. Those who don’t manage to hold down a high-flying job, look immaculate every moment of the day, exercise before the rest of the household is up, have perfect children and throw extravagant parties for their successful husbands.
Mums Like Us is for the average mums. The ones who can barely prise their eyes open in the morning, often do the school run in their PJs, whose houses are a permanent sticky mess and who plonk their kids in front of the TV to eat their dinner while they open a bottle of wine.
Stella Smith is the Chairwoman of the group and the story is written in the form of direct addresses or emails from her to the club members, or news stories. Interspersed are emails from her husband to his brother or members of his mediochre football team of fellow dads.
There are elements of the book that I absolutely loved – the idea of ‘Mother Superiors’ – those that look down their nose at other mums who just don’t seem to cope as well as them and have as amazing a life. Those who think that your average mum just isn’t trying hard enough – and we’ve all encountered them, haven’t we? Especially at that Mother Superior hallowed ground that Stella coins the ‘Nasty Childbirth Trust’.
My experience of the NCT in Stoke Newington was one of the key elements to put me off the area completely – so hearing it coined so vehemently in this book was a wondrous feeling for me!
The idea of mums being ‘good enough’ – the Mums Like Us slogan really is something I could buy into. Just this week, I have been feeling that eternal guilt of parenthood. And The Girl is 13 years old – no little toddler. I have always had that feeling that I haven’t done the right thing for her, and I don’t think that’s any different from most mums.
So – lots of great things in the book, which were tugging at all the right strings – as well as being very funny.
However, the format just didn’t quite work for me. The form it took as a form of address just grated occasionally – it felt very unnatural. It was the same with Matt’s emails. They both revealed so much intimacy that I felt they wouldn’t really have done in ‘real’ life. It felt that what they were saying was really what they would have been thinking in their head, which was perfectly natural, but you wouldn’t share that with a roomful of people!
I also wasn’t sure of the way that Stella addresses the group as ‘lardies’ rather than ladies. many of the ‘good enough’ mums I know are stick then because they’re trying to do too much at once, so it felt a little derogatory to insinuate that mums that don’t try to hard will all be a bit porky.
Unfortunately, being within the first line of the book, it took me aback somewhat, and I’m not sure I ever really warmed to Stella completely after that.
So, unique, witty, vociferous and with a good strong message…but it just didn’t quite hit every spot for me due to the format.
I would recommend that all those ‘good enough’ mums read it though. Preferfably with a glass of wine…or two!
I picked this up on Kindle for 20p back in December when Amazon were having one of their seasonal special deals. It is now £3.29.
Set on the Isle of Man, plumber Rob Hale wakes up in hospital with head injuries sustained in an accident he has had on his motorbike. In pain, dazed and confused, he asks after Lena – a woman he had met the day before and who he had been giving a ride to when he crashed.
When he is told that no woman was brought in with him and that the house he believed he picked her up from was deserted, he wonders whether it’s his mind playing tricks on him. She did bear a strong resemblence to his sister who died recently – perhaps his combined head trauma and grief has somehow merged the two events?
But then his parents bring in Rebecca, a PI from London, to investigate his sister’s suicide. together they start uncovering things that seem to point to Lena’s existence and a possible connection to his sister.
From the start, this had me gripped – there’s nothing like a disappearing hot chick mystery to draw you in. It didn’t relent from there. The action was fast-paced, and Rob has a great and believable voice – and he loves his grandpa and his dog Rocky, so can only be a good guy, right?
There’s intrigue, death, and a huge conspiracy theory – what more can you want from a thriller? OK, the plot seems a little thin or confusing at a couple of points, but overall it does what it says on the tin – it thrills, has great pace and a likeable and real protagonist.
Enjoyable beach / holiday light reading type book.
I received this as a review copy. I have to admit, until I saw it, I had never even heard of Nina Post – let alone read any of her books (of which there appear to be four!) – but i will be very happy to read others at some stage! Perhaps when my massive ‘To Read’ pile has dwindled somewhat!
The ‘Danger’ in cat world actually refers to Detective Shawn Danger – a homicide detective brought in to investigate the murder of a rich paper heiress who has been found with her head bludgeoned in.
In an attempt to solve the case, Shawn also has to investigate the apparent murder of the heiress’ 50+ year old tortoise (who had once attended boarding school), work out why she had been obsessive about the weights of her collection of anvils and get to the bottom of why she hired such a bunch of misfits to work in her mansion on such odd tasks as ‘investigating coincidences’.
Not only this, but Shawn’s is trying hard to avoid his own family (who wouldn’t want to avoid sisters that used to make him play ‘North Korean Dictator’?), has found a potential love interest and is having to placate his cat Comet who is a little put out when a number of ideantical cats seem to be appearing at Shawn’s house every hour.
I love a little bit of surreal, and this certainly does contain a bit of surreal.
Shawn is a fantastic character. he’s a bit of a loner, at loggerheads with his family, only has Comet for company and really throws himself into his work – which results in him being a very good detective. However, he is extremely likeable, and a bit cocky. The ‘dates’ he goes on are very amusing – I would have enjoyed those kinds of dates
“Can’t you get in trouble for taking me on a wretched, terrible date?” “The department doesn’t have rules in place for date quality. We’re free to go on whatever quality of date we like.”
When you take the slight oddities out of the book, and the ‘other world’ and ‘another Danger’ that Shawn often sees on an old TV (he can’t stand the other smug Danger), this is just a plain and simple detective story. But it is one with very strong characters, a likeable not-too-damaged hero and quite a few ‘grin’ moments, if not laugh out loud.
I really enjoyed it.