Books

Making It – Jay Blades

I think it is always a privilege when “someone off the telly” decides to share their story with the viewers, it gives you a better insight and understadning of what makes that person tick.

And in the case of Jay Blades, probably best known for The Repair Shop we are treated to what life was like growing up with an absent father, racism, police brutality, dyslexia, making it and then losing it all and hitting rock bottom.

In a very honest account, written with the help of a writer, Jay takes us from his very beginnings on a council estate in Hackney through to The Repair Shop. The honesty of the injustices that Jay has witnessed and also been personally involved in made for some uncomfortable reading. My heart really went out to all those who suffered racism and yet whilst it could have taken Jay on one path (and perhaps it nearly did), it took him on another more compassionate path.

That path though was littered with obstacles and we see how his strength of character, his immense depth of love repairs not just those around him and of course the furniture we now know him for. He repairs himself through the kindness of strangers and those that would give him a chance and I felt once I had finished this book that you realise how far Jay has come but on that journey he has become the genuine chap that radiates from our television screens.

This is a book which could be used as an example of social history of growing up in the seventies and eighties in Britain, it is not a book that will tell you the secrets of The Repair Shop because there are some things which need to remain an institution. And I can think of no better foreman for it than Jay Blades.

Thank you to the publisher via netgalley for the opportunity to read this book.

Making It is published on 13 May

Books

June Roundup

What a start to the summer, as lockdown eases and we wait to see what happens next. It has sometimes been an absolute necessity to escape into the pages of a good book. Even better when you make a dent not just in your netgalley list but books on shelves too.

There are some nice gaps on the shelves now as I read Ken Bruce – Tacks of My Years. Published over ten years ago now, I think I picked it up in a charity shop. As a keen Radio 2 listener, it was great to put some background to the man who has probably been with me throughout my childhood and now my adulthood. A lot has happened in those last ten years and I wonder what Ken would write about now?

Another one gone is Jessie Burton – The Muse. The first book of this author that I have read, despite having watched The Miniaturist when it was televised a few Christmas back. Interestingly a book featuring black characters, set in the 1960s with mixed race relationship and the strange possibility of women being better than men at something came at the time when the Black Lives Matter was taking over the news broadcasts. I had no idea when I picked up the book to read. I was intrigued, it was wonderfully written and the story set in 1930s Spain just before revolution was most fascinating.

Finally a recent purchase which was on the shelf for hardly a moment Katie Fforde – Thyme Out. When all else fails and you are feeling out of sorts, Katie Fforde is bound to cheer and she did with a book I had not read before, so another one ticked of the oeuvre!

Reading old books and books that have been on my shelf for a while is incomplete contrast to the recent books that I have read and the ones that have yet to be published. I was somewhat disappointed with Tilly Tennant – The Waffle House on the Pier, it could have been a lot more and had a bit more to it. Tilly’s books are rather a hit or a miss with me in recent years.

In contrast an author who I came back to and have enjoyed immensely since those first novels is Ali McNamara – Kate and Clara’s Curious Craft Shop. This books is glorious, of course being set in Cornwall as many a book is nowadays does help but the dual narrative, the mystery and the wonder that is crafts makes it a must book for me.

Another place slightly closer to home is the Isle of Wight and it was a coincidence that is where I was taken with Carole Matthews – Sunny Days and Sea Breezes. A wonderful tale of boats, beaches and bossy friends. Guaranteed sunshine without leaving your house!

You need the sun if you are going to run a festival so it seems that everything is in there favour in Katie Ginger – Summer Strawberries at Swallowtail Bay. I wait in trepidation in how winter and Christmas is going to come to Swallowtail Bay.

Two books which don’t fit into any particular genre but I feel must be read for many different reasons, some I have yet to even work out myself.

Rachel Joyce – Miss Benson’s Beetle, the latest took me very much back to the debut novel. It had that gentleness of it, despite the plot and you could almost feel yourself out there on a expedition yourself, in uncharted territory – a bit like the book.

This has to be on all my lists for 2020, Brenda Davies – The Girl Behind the Gates. It is a difficult read but it is one that must be read. It is both a disturbing but fascinating read and one is compelled to be drawn in and wince at the injustice, the treatment and more than anything the reality hat this actually happened. You need a strong constitution to read it.

Quite a mix of books, which is the best way. Sometimes reading too much of the same, can result in nothing more that a regurgitation of plot, setting and character. I like to think this month I have captured plenty of variety.

Which leads me on very nicely to more variety in the shape of the 2020 Six in Six meme. Click here to see all about it and please join in if you can. You just might add some more books to your list.

Books

What Happened – Hillary Rodham Clinton

Reading biographies is not a normal choice of reading for me. The ones I do read are mainly due to the person featured as I have enjoyed their work or been fascinated by them at some point. Politically biographies even less of a choice.

So why on earth would I pick up a book about politics, politics of another country?

Curiosity and fascination.

Towards the end of 2017 I saw the said former first lady, Hillary Clinton being interviewed by Graham Norton. Now he is not your normal highbrow political interviewer but that is what made it accessible and the main reason I went to pick up the book.

And I am so glad I did.

First of all I must admit to being rather lost on some of the US politics and I had to go and have a look at how the basic system of American government works. Then I felt a bit more familiar with what I was reading.

But what Hillary Clinton gets to is the heart of the matter – what happened in that US election which has changed world politics and continues to do so. What happens when you cannot distinguish between what is real and what is fake? What happens when you put every last ounce of strength and belief into something and you still come second? And what it is like to be a woman, trying to breakthrough a highly male dominated world.

Approach this book with an open mind especially if you perhaps do not necessarily agree with her politics. I admire the lady who had to go the inauguration despite having lost. She goes in her role as a former First Lady not because she lost. I remember a small video clip of her taking a deep breath, holding Bill Clinton’s hand and walking out head held high.

I admire her for that action – she knows that America needs to come together again whoever is in power.

Her policies are explained in the book and the whole process of how a campaign works – it is quite unbelievable when in this country, an election can be called on a whim and have a whole country voting within six weeks. A lot of questions are asked and this book tries to answer some of them. I got to the part that the National Rifle Association play in American politics/life at the time of another mass shooting in a school in America. I was reading something which was being played out in real life. That is quite unnerving.

I thought she would win in – and I probably wasn’t the only one. But outside influences seem to have infiltrated into the mass media and everyone in America and beyond seemed to be making different decisions all based on mistakes, lies and what this one man said.

What is strong throughout this book is the role of women. Of course Hillary didn’t break the ultimate glass ceiling in America, but I would like to think she has made enough cracks in it for others not just in America but everywhere to see what is achievable for women everywhere.

What struck me was how it seems she must have been in my office at some point – let me explain.

Hillary states in her book about the role women play, especially when they are in a male dominated world. It is the women who makes sure everyone has a drink, asks after families, children, weekends, holiday plans. Remembers birthdays, worries about everyone else before they even get to their self. And when they do perhaps behave away from what others think a women’s behaviour should be – they are called to question on it. They are given labels, because they are emotive about something. They are easily portrayed as weak. The stronger they become the less they are liked.

I work in a male dominated environment, I think less than 15% of the people I deal with are women. I am a woman, I have an opinion, I know how to do my job effectively and efficiently. I will move with the changes, I can come up with solutions and not ones that will appease everyone, but ones that some people will not like. I know the answers to questions that my boss does not. BUT I have to put up with, everyone talking to my boss first to get the answer, to have my answers questioned as being right or not because I am a woman (and in part a civilian). Being ignored when someone walks into my office, as there is a man in there at the time. YET I am the woman that makes the coffee for my boss every morning. I can count on one hand how many times he has made me coffee in the last 16 years. I am the one that remembers birthdays, asks about family and holiday and how weekends have been. I bake the cakes for sharing with colleagues. I am the one that when there is some sort emotional/medical problem with any of the female staff members I have to deal with it. I fight pretty much every day in some way in my working environment.

There is still a long way to go and if reading this book empowers some women a little bit more as it has me, then all that hard work Hillary put in was not in vain. The glass ceiling may well one day be broken – but I have a funny feeling that it is us women who will have to clear up the mess.

A real interesting read, difficult in parts probably because I am not an American and don’t truly understand its political workings. However, read the book from an outsiders point of view and you get whole different experience.

Thank you Hillary.

I have picked a couple of excerpts from the interview in this piece, but if you have the time google/YouTube more clips.

Books

The Word is Murder – Anthony Horowitz

A woman walks into a funeral directors to arrange her funeral.

Six hours later she is dead.

Coincidence?

Murder?

A private detective, Daniel Hawthorne has been called in by the police to help with this case. A consulting detective like Holmes or Poirot but with a character and manner all of his own. So gruff and strange I could not be anything but fascinated by him. Hawthorne is private in many ways, we know little about him and whilst he was once a police inspector, it takes us a while to find out what happened.

The narrator of this story, is drawn into Hawthorne’s world.

The narrator is in fact an author, who has used Hawthorne before to help in his research in previous novels and television adaptations. Here you can quite easily think Watson to Holmes, Hastings to Poirot. Except this author, this narrator, we all know.

It is in fact Anthony Horowitz.

All of a sudden, The Word is Murder becomes part autobiography, part fiction and part fact and it was actually fascinating to learn all about Horowitz’s world as an author and script writer, to  the idiosyncrasies of the publishing and television world. A parody but actually not  – more a reality, a truth.

But just like us as readers, Horowitz is drawn to Hawthorne and the murder of the woman hours after arranging her funeral. He is reluctant to become involved but something draws him back to Hawthorne, because it is not just the murder to unpick Horowitz needs to understand the detective as well. Without that surely he will never have a book.

This is an interesting book, where you have to remind yourself when you are reading, what bit could be true and what part was the fiction of the story being weaved by Horowitz as he helped Hawthorne (not a real person) complete his investigation.

I chose not to go into much detail about the murder in this review, mainly because I am always too frightened of giving some obvious clue and rendering anyone else reading the book as a pointless exercise.

A cleverly crafted novel which will appeal to fans of murder mysteries. I would not put it down as a thriller but it is certainly a page turner. Very different to Magpie Murders published last year but both of these books have the potential to be developed further.

Thank you to the publisher through netgalley for the opportunity to read this book. 

The Word is Murder is out now. 

 

 

Books

How to be Champion – Sarah Millican

No doubt many people are going to call this book Champion and it will become a well-worn plaudits – but that is quite simply because this book does exactly what it says on the cover.

I have never been a fan of self-help books, but if they were all like this then I would be reading far more!

First of all, I read this because I am a fan of Sarah Millican. I have seen her live and watched many of her DVDs and wandered around YouTube listening to bits and pieces. There is something about what she talks about in her stand up and general day life that makes me smile, laugh out loud and totally relate to.

This is obviously an autobiography taking us through her days at school, right up to the present day via various jobs, various friends, men, stand up tours and hotels.

Of course there is some crossover in her stand up routines and this book. Clearly a lot of material came from real experiences. But if you laughed once, trust me you will laugh again and again. I did a lot of laughing out loud and it was a good job I was on my own in bed!

But you do find out more about this lovely smasher of a woman! I certainly could relate to her chapters about children and about clothes that fit or don’t fit. I was horrified about the world we live in when she recounts a review she read when she appeared in the programme Who Do You Think You Are? What she says makes perfect sense and it is amazing the world we women still live in. I have experienced many a similar thing at work and it is still shocking that such a thing exists in the twenty-first century.

A book and an author who is not afraid to tackle sex, mental health, heavy periods, depression, divorce, confidence, cats, clothes and cake with equal aplomb. The subjects are wide and varied and the laughs are there but underneath it all there is plenty to make you think.

If you are not a fan of Sarah Millican then this probably isn’t your cup of tea. But if you are then, grab a large slab of cake, a mug of tea and find out how to be champion or in my case more champion than I already am!

Thank you to the publisher and netgalley for the opportunity to read this book. 

The formatting when I received it from netgalley was a bit out, and I had to make some sense of the jumbled up bits, however it was easy enough to read. But I will be going out and buying this book so I can read it how it is meant to be and of course look at the photos!

In all the excitement of reading this, I tweeted the lovely Sarah Millican about reading her book and got a like back – I know it’s not like meeting her in person, but hey I was thrilled

How to be Champion is out now.

 

Books

84 Charing Cross Road – Helene Hanff

If you have been around book blogs for a while, then you will have either read this book or know of its existence.

For those that don’t

 ’84 Charing Cross Road’ is a charming record of bibliophilia, cultural difference, and imaginative sympathy. For 20 years, an outspoken New York writer and a rather more restrained London bookseller carried on an increasingly touching correspondence.

I have always liked reading letters between people, it feels like you have suddenly been let into a really special place in someone’s friendship. It has that gossipy feel, that you are hearing something that perhaps you should not be.

In the case of Helene Haff’s correspondence with Frank Doel, the man who in the main responded to her letters we see much thought about books and those editions that are the most relevant and important. But also we start to see what life is like for both Helene and Frank and the differences that the war has made to them both and how, Frank starts to share along with his co workers life about London post war. That whilst they do not have the abundance of goods that Helene seems to send them across, they do have an abundance of books that she wants.

Included in this edition of the book, which I was unaware of when I purchased it is, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street.

This is the direct sequel to 84 Charing Cross Road and rather than in letter form, it is diary form as we see the author, Helene Hanff make the journey to London, to Charing Cross Road and to visit many of the people she has only corresponded with. Due to the many delays in getting to London, the dynamic of the place has changed somewhat and the faces are very different. But Helene does get to experience something of London and we read about it through her eyes and words. Always interesting to see someone else’s take, especially an American, on some of the things we take very much for granted, the Tower of London, Windsor, Stratford-upon-Avon.

I am so glad that I got round to reading these two books. Both in themselves short stories, but read together makes you understand the fascination with all things books especially bookshops.

Whilst 84 Charing Cross road still exists it is there for those with a fast appetite, books are no longer its food. There is still a reminder.

Clicking on the photo will take you to a website all about 84 Charing Cross Road

Although my local bookshop is nothing like 84, I suddenly have an overwhelming desire to go and visit it. Not that I need any more books of course……

Books

Spectacles – Sue Perkins

I grew up with Sue Perkins, not actually but metaphorically. I was there when Light Lunch was debuting on channel 4, it was a must for students as it was on at about the time we got up. The beauty of the two presenters was the chemistry they had between them – these were friends just having a laugh and sharing it with everyone else.

But what about the person behind the television personality. I don’t want to say this is the book warts and all, because it really isn’t. This is a memoir, a collection of some of the more important events and some of the less ones too about Sue Perkins. She has relied on her family to help her with the book and whilst they want to be represented slightly differently, Sue just represents them as them as she does herself.

Sue Perkins is sharp with a razor wit and a humour that can be very basic in terms of the innuendos we are used to on The Great British Bake Off to the more up to date satirical humour on the numerous panel shows she has featured on. This book is very much a reflection of this, there were some real laugh out loud moments and others where my heart was breaking for Sue as she shared some of the slightly rougher times in her life so far.

It is fairly chronological but does jump backwards and forwards as happens when you start recalling moments of the past, other stories are suddenly remembered. If you can get used to that and accept that also no doubt (as the author admits herself) some of the book has been embellished or fleshed out a bit to give it more character then you will undoubtedly enjoy the book. Don’t we all exaggerate for effect?

A wonderfully funny read that was so heartfelt at the same time.

I do enjoy reading autobiographies but I am very choosy about who I read about, therefore I think if you look back on who I have read, it will surely give you a reflection of my life? 

Books

My Life – David Jason

David Jason has been apart of my life forever. I adored watching him as Granville in Open All Hours, I remember being encouraged to pick up H.E. Bates Darling Buds of May, after watching him on the television. Del Boy in Only Fools and Horses keeps me laughing to this day, despite having seen them countless times and his DI Frost is always the stark contrast in which one man can play two so differing roles.

And I was fascinated as a child that he played Blanco in Porridge. A fact which I have clung onto and many times has been a godsend in quizzes and trivia. I have caught many people out with this one!

This was a book I was going to enjoy reading and so I did. I savoured everything in it. We start from the very beginning of his life, born during the Second World War and are taken on how he has made it to the man we know today.

But do we really know the man? This is a book which concentrates on his career, how he worked hard, slogged in fact to make it in various productions long before he graced our television screens. If you want a book purely about his personal life then you will be disappointed. However there is enough ‘domestic’ anecdotes to keep the book very real. Names are dropped in where they are relevant but Jason keeps it all professional. That made it a much better read in my opinion, no mud-slinging and his deep honesty when dealing with some very private problems, such as nursing his partner, gave me more respect for what he had chosen to write about and share.

Of course there are some wonderful anecdotes of a number of prodcutions and programmes he has featured in and some he has not and of course plenty about the legend that is Ronnie Barker, ‘The Guvnor’ and the poem that he sent Jason on the announcement of his knighthood is how the book ends and how I will end this review

Congratulations, Little Feed,

Her Gracious Majesty decreed

That Granville, little errand lad,

And Del Boy, Frost and others had

All served their nation passing well,

So here’s to Granville, Frost and Del!

The old ex-Guvnor’s proud to see

His comrade reach such high degree,

Knight of the Realm, and TV star

Who never thought he’d get this far.

‘Arise, Sir David,’ she will say,

The sword upon your shoulder lay.

I raise a glass filled to the brim

And truly say, ‘Good Knight from him.’

Books

Book Club #18 – Barack Obama – Dreams From My Father

The book for this month (well actually November) was Barack Obama – Dreams From My Father. We thought we would go for something a bit more true life and real.

osborne house
We did not stay here! This is Osborne House, but we visited on the Sunday.

The plan was that we would discuss the book on our weekend away to the Isle of Wight. It is the first book that none of us have finished and even started to read. K and myself had started it, but we both found that it was rather scholarly and that it was a book that you had to take your time with to read. It felt like reading an essay. Certainly not a novel and not an autobiography as we know them from the ‘celeb’ variety.

So over a delicious Beef Curry (thanks to C) I sort of went over the book as to how far I had got – boy born in Hawaii, to a black father, white mother, father leaves him and goes back to Kenya, returns when he is about 11 years old and then the boy never sees him again. Boy moves around the world and then back to Hawaii and then onto New York where he coasts around trying to find some sort of purpose. The boy is really struggling to deal with the racism which is rife in America. Then he learns when he is 21 that his father has died.

That is as far as I have got with the book, I would like to finish it and I know K would as well. But whilst reading it I kept thinking about all of this that had happened to this man and that I was holding the book he had written and now he was the most powerful man in the world. That thought kept entering my mind and I thought what a journey he has had to where he is now, and I haven’t even finished the book.

A rather short entry into our Book Club archive but for fairness and posterity I thought it was still worth a mention. Let’s see how we fair with the next book.

Books

Home to Roost – Tessa Hainsworth

I had my doubts as to whether Tessa Hainsworth could actually get a third book out of her exploits as the local postie in a Cornish village and its surrounding areas. She has and actually she has done it with the wonderful style and descriptive quality of her previous two.

Known as the Posh Postie, Tessa is very much part of the village now and the locals although they know she has been there a mere three years, she is certainly more like one of them than some of the more recent folk from up country (anyone from anywhere apart from Cornwall).

In this book, Tessa’s closet friend Annie has certainly embraced life in a Cornish village since moving from London, but it looks like she might have to move again away from Tessa and start a whole new life. There are some new residents and neighbours for Tessa to get to know, Kate and  Leon who are wanting to escape the rat race and retire (despite being in their forties much to Tessa’s chagrin). It looks like there will be more friendly faces and more people to get involved in the local community. Suddenly Tessa realises that perhaps not everyone can settle into life down there and get as involved and dirty in some cases with what is going on. They are trying to find a paradise that only exists in their minds and not embracing what is actually out there to experience. It is at this point that Tessa really does feel like she belongs.

Trees that are in danger of collapsing but have rooks in cause problem for a local couple, the cry of the peacock is a nuisance but it seems someone wants rid of the noise completely, blossoming love between locals shows that it is never too late to find love. It can sometimes be the knowledge of a postie to bring these people together – knowing what their likes and dislikes are. The locals look out for each other, their parents did and now they are, but sometimes it becomes too much and it has to have intervention from an outsider which brought a few tears to my eye when they were trying to help one resident. Through all these comings and goings, Tessa tries to keep delivering the mail throughout all seasons and all weathers which it seems Cornwall has an abundance of, She is even starting to think like a local and predict from nature exactly what the weather is going to do.

But Tessa is not shy in explaining that it is not all a bed of roses, changing your lifestyle completely, they do struggle as a family to make ends meet and are always looking for ways to make extra money. Or simply using the barter principle of sharing produce and baked goods in return for something that they don’t have. When Tessa thinks renting her house out for the summer could be a viable option, the rental agency promptly give a shopping list of what would be required to succeed. Perhaps there could be a less expensive and more friendlier option?

Through a year, throughout the seasons, Tessa shares her love of the landscape, the weather and the animals and birds of the area and the importance of actually appreciating these seemingly small things in life to give you a much richer existence. This is a book which brings the reality of downsizing from city to country to the forefront and if you only want to dream about doing such a thing then this and her other novels are for you.

If I had a dream ideal life it would be to live in a village which was community minded and be part of it. Experiencing it whilst fitting in work as Tessa does in her books as the bit you have to do – and it does not feel like work. I am sure these books have been ‘fictionalised’ and no matter if they have. They create a world you wished you lived in and were part of just as Gervase Phinn does with his Dale series of novels. 

I will be intrigued to see if there is another book but if there is not then no matter – they are reads you could come back to when you needed that lift. 

What does intrigue me fellow reader is the fact that this book is found in the travel section of my local Waterstones? To me it should be in the autobiography section surely?