Monthly Archives: July 2014

#BookReview #TuppenyHatDetective

As a free Kindle download I must admit I didn’t expect much from this book.  What a surprise it gave me, from the opening paragraphs I was hooked and it just got better.
 
An opening scene I’m sure we are all familiar with from our childhood, the all important ball has gone into the scary old woman’s garden.  What to do?  As Billy, Yvonne and Kick make their action plan to get the ball back I was flooded with memories from when I was little. 
 
I can still vividly remember the fear we had for the “witch” who lived down the road, the screams and terror we experienced when she ventured out of her house, convinced she was coming after us.  As I sit writing this and remembering I can’t help but smile about how youthful imaginations can spiral out of control.  I also have a sense of contrition, how hard we must have made the life of a lonely isolated old lady.  You don’t realise when you’re 5 how hurtful a label of witch could be. 
 
But back to the book.  With the opening gambit of Billy finding Old Lady Star dead in her home a thoughtful and detailed plot unravels.  With her death comes the realisation that she wasn’t a scary lady, just an old lady living on her own.  Rather than waiting till he’s older to feel remorse for thinking her scary and weird Billy Perks sets out to make things right for Annabel Loveday.  The role of 11 year old Billy as detective is fantastic, the simple and logically way he works through the mystery is cleverly written.  There is nothing outlandish in the way he finds clues and evidence, this is detective work 101 – take everything as you see it, question everything, leave no stone unturned and what better way to do that than through the eyes of an inquisitive young boy.
 
The story is based in Sheffield and Sellars creates a wonderful nostalgic setting.  It is easy to imagine the streets the characters are walking and picture the small community where most people know something of everyone’s business.  A world where the greengrocer has a cart and pony, police boxes are on the corners of streets and if you get up to mischief you can be sure as hell that someone is going to tell your parents and you’ll be punished for it. 
 
Although the focus is very much on the character of Billy Perks, time has gone into each and every other member of the community.  From the helpful Dr Hadfield, Marlene the Co-op’s store cashier and older sister to Billy’s partner in the investigation Yvonne to the mysterious tramp.  You feel you know each of them and that although not contained in the book they have a past, a future, a life outside of the Tuppenny Hat Detective’s world.
 
As you can tell I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to older children and adults alike.  I had my suspicions about who dunnit but never would have got the MOM or is it OMM or even MMO!  
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Can you recommend a #goodbook?

The dreaded question, can you recommend any good books to read?

Considering that I blog about books why would this be a question I hate?  It’s not that I don’t have any books to recommend but that I’m always scared that people will judge me based on their feelings towards the books. 

I think most of this stems from an ex-housemate who was highly critical of many of my choices.  At the time I failed to realise that her taste is quite mainstream and science fiction, steam punk, religious thrillers etc. were never going to rate highly.  So we repeated a routine, she’d ask for a recommendation, I would give her one, she’d hate the book with a passion so fierce she’d go on to tell everyone she met about this rubbish book I had recommended.  In total it took 3 years of living with her for me to eventually curtail what I recommended, keeping it to my equivalent of the Richard and Judy book club.

Now when asked for a recommendation I take the time to ask about what they’ve read recently, who their favourite authors are, are they looking for a page turner or a thought provoker?  If I ask enough questions I can generally get a feel for them and make a half decent recommendation.  In some cases recommending something I haven’t read, as it’s not to my taste, but I’ve read enough good reviews on twitter, goodreads etc. to feel confident in passing on the knowledge. 

But what if someone just had open access to all your books, how do you then filter their choices, how do you protect the books you love so much you never tell others about them in case they hate them?!

Take my other half, we moved in together in October 2013 and he is slowly one by one making his way through my book collection.  If my book collection was made up of classics I would have no fear. But that is not me, mine has a more quirky make up with many of the authors and books unheard of by most people.  Where do you even begin with making a recommendation?

There are the vampire books (very sexual and written with a female reader in mind so probably best avoided), Scandinavian crime novels, Steam Punk, books about magic, code breaking, quantum physics, my collection of Agatha Christie books, a complete set of Roald Dahl, Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series, a fair few romance novels, teenage angst, religious thrillers I could go on.

We started mainstream going for books that he had actually heard of and we’ve slowly moved on to lesser known obscure books such as Q by Luther Blissett, The End of Mr Y and PopCo by Scarlett Thomas and The Book with No Name by Anon.  As nervous as I was about opening up my collection to someone, I would say overall the experience has gone well.  There have been a couple of books he has loved and many that he has liked.  A success most people would say, but not for me. 

Why not? Because he didn’t like one author and I can’t let that go.  I feel judged.

Although he enjoyed the steam punk books in general he didn’t rate George Mann as a writer.  George Mann is one author out of the hundreds that I have read and yet this negative review stays with me and irks me.  I feel my ability to source interesting different non-mainstream authors is being taken into question.  I become defensive when the other half tries to explain what he didn’t like. I feel I’ve disappointed him by giving him something of a lower standard to read.  I should say at this point that the other half has done nothing more than say something along the lines of “didn’t really take to the George Mann books, his writing style is awkward and annoying”.

So why am I obsessed with the fact that he didn’t rate them.   I enjoyed the Mann books, but I wouldn’t put them on a greatest list if I had to compile one.  They certainly wouldn’t be my choice of read on a desert island and yet for some reason I can’t just let his opinion lie.

It has been said the eyes are the windown to the soul, if that is true then what we read should, and often does, touch us in a way we can’t explain.  Stories we know not to be true can reduce us to tears, can move us so much we treasure the tale for our entire life.  I think this is the nub of my inability to let my other half’s review go.  In not liking the book the irrational part of me feels my book lover’s soul has been judged and in this case found lacking. 

I know I’ll get over this, eventually, and who knows maybe it will help me hone by skills when choosing new authors.  But I do know one thing for sure, I’m not recommending any more books to the other half!  

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Give #chicklit a break

Like a lot of women I from time to time enjoy the escapism offered from chick lit.  Quite often the phrase chick lit is used negatively, people dismiss the books as trashy and the author is somehow considered lacking in credibility regardless of the quality of their writing or how many books they’ve sold.  I also know from reading interviews a number of female authors classified as chick lit authors resent the term, I believe Freya North prefers contemporary fiction.  I can see where she is coming from, in no other scenario would I call myself a chick but I think her writing is part of a very specific genre that contemporary fiction is too general for.  Maybe there’s a twitter competition there for publishing houses to find a new catch all genre title.
 
Whatever you want to call it, like any other genre there is a scale of quality. 
 
I have quite a large collection of books that would be classified as chick lit and despite it being years since I turned their pages I can’t quite bring myself to give them away.  As such they’ve travelled from city to city house to house with me.  Authors featured in my collection include Jane Green, Freya North, Cecelia Ahern, Wendy Holden, Catherine Alliot, Katie Fforde and let us not forget Candace Bushnell who brought us our lovely friends Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte.
 
But what is it about these books that makes them so popular?
 
  • These are novels by women, about women, written for women.  The issues dealt with are relevant, they may not be an accurate reflection of my life but they strike a chord.
  • They are beautifully written.  I’m not saying every chick lit is, there are badly written ones but then that’s the same across the board.  Good chick lit authors, actually scrap that, great chick lit authors are fantastic writers, the books are gripping, the plots well planned, the characters go beyond the pages and the stories are heart-breaking and hilarious. 
  • They are entertaining.  I’ve read my fair share of the “great works of literature” and whilst I enjoyed a few of them I spent more time slogging my way through them trying to work out why they’re considered so great than I did enjoying them.  These books aren’t written to change the world they’re written to entertain us and to give us a chance to take a step back from life and indulge. 
  • On a personal note they gave me faith that I could have imperfections and still find my way in life.
Unfortunately for every great book that is published in this genre there are many others that, well to put it politely SUCK!  I recently endured Cup Cakes at Carrington’s by Alex Brown. 
 
WARNING THE NEXT SECTION CONTAINS SPOILERS

I was really shocked at how many high ratings this books received on Goodreads. I thought it was poorly plotted, rushed, predictable and incredibly annoying. The main character did nothing to warm herself to you and many of the other characters are so one dimensional it’s difficult to remember they exist.  Throughout the book the main characters life history is drip fed, but it’s like part way through the IV was taken away.  We never really get enough information to understand her and know her.  It’s as if the author just ran out of time to develop it and just had to get it finished.   

This is most apparent in the final chapters, it’s the equivalent of and I woke up and it was all a dream. Georgie’s sudden acceptance of her father, her happiness at him giving her best friend away, a brief reference to her starting to design and make clothes, it’s almost a bullet point epilogue that just makes no sense! I feel most let down by the development of the main male characters.  At the end we’re meant to be excited about the prospective future with Tom, and yet his character has been so distant throughout the book with no personality developed that we’re left with a fickle heroine going for the rich good looking guy.  

I know there are more in the series but with great writers like Freya North releasing new books I’d save your time and avoid anything at Carrington’s

 
Chick lit isn’t for everyone and anyone choosing something like Cup Cakes At Carrington’s as their first venture into the genre will be incredibly disappointed.  However there are amazing authors writing compelling modern “contemporary” stories about women and their relationships with friends, lovers, work and well life.  Don’t be too quick to judge these books, they might give you more insight to yourself than you realise.

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