29/04/2016

All Questions Great and Small (by Adrian Plass and Jeff Lucas)

I’ve been a huge fan of Adrian Plass’s writing for nearly thirty years now, and started to enjoy Jeff Lucas’s books about six years ago. I’m gradually collecting them, and was very pleased when the two collaborated with the ‘Seriously Funny’ books. So when I spotted another jointly written book by these two excellent writers, it went straight on my wishlist, and I was delighted to be given it last Christmas.

‘All Questions Great and Small’ is a series of questions and answers that were given on the authors’ ‘Seriously Funny’ tour; they felt that this particular selection deserved a wider audience, and I’m very glad that they and their publishers put this book together.

It’s divided into eight sections - after the introduction - which loosely group the questions together by theme. The first one, for instance, is entitled, ‘Now that reminds me of a time when…’. It includes questions about funny stories, embarrassing anecdotes and so on, encouraging Plass and Lucas to reminisce about events in their lives.

The second section is headed, ‘Where’s my soapbox?’ and includes questions where the two might be expected to have strong opinions - on American evangelists, for instance, or some irritating Christian jargon phases. I didn’t really distinguish this from the third section, ‘Telling it like it is’, and by this stage I wasn’t really noticing these loose chapter headings, but reading each question and answer for its own merit.

As ever, there’s self-deprecating humour in many of the responses, some of which made me smile or nod appreciatively. But this isn’t just light-hearted quips; the book contains much that’s profound, and thought-provoking, and some questions where I heaved a wonderful sigh of relief to know that even such well-known speakers feel the same as I do, despite evidence that many in the church would disagree.

I was going to read just a few pages each morning, but found it so enjoyable that I finished it in a couple of weeks. I feel reassured, enlightened, and encouraged and would recommend it to anyone with any interest in the Christian life, or church in general, whether or not you’re feeling positive about them.

Available for the Kindle as well as in paperback form.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

23/04/2016

Pyramids (by Terry Pratchett)

I didn’t discover the late Terry Pratchett’s brilliant writing until a friend introduced me to the children’s TV series based on his ‘Bromeliad’ trilogy, in around 1990. My husband then started reading a few of the satirical pseudo-fantasy ‘Discworld’ series, and suggested I try one of them… and quickly I was hooked. I’ve collected them all over the years, reading some of the later ones aloud with my teenage sons when they were still at home.

But I’ve read most of them only once, so I’m well overdue for a re-read. I’m doing that slowly, interspersed with other books, and have just finished ‘Pyramids’, seventh in the series. I see from the notation in the front that I was given this for my birthday twenty years ago, so it’s probably almost that long since I last read it. As such I’d forgotten most of it - not that Pratchett plots are straightforward anyway, and it’s easy to get confused.

This book, unsurprisingly, is mostly set in the Discworld equivalents of Ancient Egypt. We meet Teppic, crown prince, in the first chapters, studying at the Assassins’ Guild in Ankh Morpork. This is the book in which the ‘guilds’ are properly introduced, a concept which I’ve always liked. Teppic is a likeable young man despite his unpleasant profession, but almost as soon as he finishes his final exam, he senses that his father has died, and so he has to return to his home country to take up his duties as King.

The demise of an Egyptian king requires the building of a new pyramid, so we meet the architects and builders, the priests who really control the empire, the embalmers… and several other larger-than-life characters who are caricatures of their professions. Unlike many of the other books there don’t seem to be any other species than humans involved - none of the trolls or dwarfs or werewolves who co-exist reasonably peacefully in Ankh Morpork - although we do meet an unlikely camel, who has a large part to play in the story.

There are classical and other allusions on almost every page: the Discworld equivalent countries of Troy and Greece are involved in war, as usual; the king has regular dreams about seven fat and thin cows; the pyramids possess some kind of mystical power that is only gradually understood as the book progresses.

I have to be in the right mood to read Pratchett, and when I went away for a couple of weeks I didn’t take the book with me, despite being about half-way through; I knew it would be easy enough to pick it up again on my return. It makes good, undemanding light bedtime reading, and it’s a very clever plot.

As with many of the Discworld series, this one stands alone. It would make quite a good introduction to Pratchett for anyone interested in or intrigued by ancient history, but it’s also enjoyable to re-read as part of the series.

Continually in print, as are most of Pratchett's works, including the lengthy Discworld series.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

14/04/2016

Love and Freedom (by Sue Moorcroft)


I absolutely loved the first book I read by Sue Moorcroft, many years ago now. And although none of her other novels have been as brilliant as that one, I’ve enjoyed most of the ones I’ve read, on the whole, although I don’t much like the raunchy scenes that seem to be required in novels published by ‘ChocLit’. However, when I saw this one available inexpensively for my Kindle some years ago, I went ahead and bought it, even though I generally only collect free ebooks.

Apparently it was in October 2011 that I bought ‘Love and Freedom’ so it’s taken me four and a half years to read it, but I decided it would be a good book to start on a coach journey, and I then completed it on an aeroplane. The characters were memorable and it did not require too much concentration.

The story is about Honor, a young American woman who has decided to try and find her mother’s family in the South of England. She’s left her home rather abruptly, after a major problem with her husband, and we only learn gradually about her father and step-family back in the US; she’s evidently quite close to them all.

The opening scene sees Honor rescued from sunstroke by the handsome Martyn, who is related not just to Honor’s landlady but also to the local doctor, and a couple of other prominent women in the village where she’s staying. Martyn is a good handyman, but apparently only works a few hours each week; Honor, new to the country and struggling to understand the British way of thinking, makes a lot of assumptions, some of which turn out to be more accurate than others.

It’s a story of discovery, and of the inevitable relationship that develops between these two people: prickly at first, fraught with misunderstandings, and then a growing friendship. It’s no spoiler to say this, as this style of women’s romantic fiction follows this pattern in the majority of cases.

Sue Moorcroft creates three dimensional and believable people, and while some of her minor caricatures were rather stereotyped, I liked the two main protagonists, and also the teenage boy Rufus who is badly bullied at school, and whose bohemian (and often downright weird) mother makes life difficult for Martyn as well as her son.

The places were nicely painted, the British/American misunderstandings believable, and I was enjoying the story, although disappointed at the amount of bad language. Then suddenly the bedroom scenes start, with too much detail, and unrealistic regularity. The author’s otherwise excellent style of writing does not suit this kind of thing, and I had to skip forward to reach the more interesting parts of the book.

The ending took a direction I wasn’t expecting, revealing more about Honor’s past and also her marriage, and then eventually leading to the expected and satisfactory conclusion.

Overall I liked this book, and am glad I read it; but don’t feel that I can recommend it to friends due to the ‘adult’ nature of so much of the language and the detailed bedroom scenes later in the book.

Available in paperback form as well as on Kindle, though not currently in print in the United States.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

12/04/2016

Lessons in Love (by Della Galton)


I’ve always enjoyed short stories by Della Galton, who is widely published in women’s magazines; she’s also written some excellent books about writing, and a few novels. But there’s something extra special about her short stories, so I was delighted to find that she has published collections of them as ‘Daily Della’ in Kindle form, some of which are - or have been - available free.

Short stories are ideal reading when travelling, so on a recent coach journey I delved into ‘Lessons in Love’, part of the ‘Daily Della’ series. There are five short stories in this book, all very different. The first one, which gives the book its title, features a young woman who is trying to help a geeky (and attractive) man learn how to dress and behave on a date. I could where the story was going from the romantic point of view, but was pleased and surprised to find that there was an underlying twist to the story which I had not expected. The writing is excellent, as is the characterisation.

The second one isn’t so much a story as an exploration of synaesthesia, a condition which I have read about several times; there’s a low-key romance, but nothing unpredictable or surprising, other than the way that the author evidently understands this trait; the language is poetic and I enjoyed the story very much.

The three other stories were different again, all involving light romances, all well-written, and all with people I could relate to. I’d have liked there to be more stories - or longer ones - but since the collection was free I can hardly complain about that. It was slightly disappointing that I was only a little over half-way through, percentage-wise, when I came to the end of the short stories, but that was the case with the last ones I read too.

Overall I enjoyed this collection of stories very much; they offer something a little different from the average short story, and made great reading while travelling. Only available in Kindle form, as far as I know, and fairly inexpensive.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

Her Friend from the North (by Sally Quilford)

I’ve read and enjoyed quite a few of Sally Quilford’s novellas on my Kindle, and regularly download more when she offers a free promotion. This particular one was free on February 14th a couple of years ago, but I have a lot of unread books on my Kindle, and had not got around to reading it.

However, on a recent coach journey, I wanted something light and decided that ‘Her friend from the North’ would be suitable. I had forgotten hat this isn’t a novella, but a short story of around 5000 words. The genre is that of a romantic thriller, and the plot moves at quite a pace.

Sally Quilford is very skilled at creating believable characters that I can empathise with, and I had no difficulty relating to the narrator of this story, a young woman called Valentine. She’s unemployed and trying to take shelter from the rain after a depressing job interview when she’s surprised by a sudden kiss from a stranger. It’s a great opening that drew me right in.

Valentine finds a piece of paper in her pocket when she returns home and decides to follow up a clue to something that is potentially very dangerous. The rest of the story then takes place in Venice, where everything happens so rapidly that I felt a bit confused and a little breathless at times…

Thrillers aren’t my preferred genre of story, although this one is thankfully free of gore and bad language, and is short enough that there’s very little suspense. Nonetheless, I felt that it suffered from its brevity; we learn a few facts about Valentine’s parents and her upsetting past, but I’d have liked to have known more. I didn’t feel that her motivation for following up the clue was really explored, either, and never really felt myself to be part of the story.

I think my biggest problem, though, was that I found the main male character a bit flat. He was rather caricatured, a ‘northerner’ by the way he spoke, but I wasn’t sure what the point of his accent was. I was also unconvinced by a rather sudden intimate scene that seemed unnecessary to the plot.

Nevertheless, as with all this author’s books the story is well-written and the ending satisfactory. It was good to read on a coach as I finished it in less than ten minutes, despite having to page backwards a couple of times to remind myself what was going on - but then I’m not very good with this kind of plot. I’m glad I didn’t pay for it, although the Kindle edition cost is very low, but I would like it to have been clearer at the front of the book that this is a short story rather than a novel.

Only, as far as I know, available in Kindle form, certainly worth reading if you like this genre and have KindleUnlimited to download it at no cost.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

Disney Syndrome (by Daniel Marquez)

This is another book I downloaded a while ago for my Kindle, when it was free on special offer. I thought I’d read it on a lengthy coach journey, not expecting very much but intrigued to know what the author thought was the result of watching too many Disney movies.

The subtitle of the book is, “The effects of fairy-tales as a mind-programming tool”, and the implication (stated explicitly in the synopsis) is that fairy tales per se, and Disney variations in particular, are dangerous and manipulative. The book tells us that we should not expose our children to any kind of fairy stories or films about princesses.

The author’s main premise in ‘Disney Syndrome’ seems to be that many women who started life by watching endless ‘princess’ movies become helpless, wanting to be rescued by a prince, and are unable to cope with real life or relationships. Apparently many of them then grow up to be ‘dragons’, filled with hate and bitterness.

While no doubt there are some people like this, they’re hardly as common as the author suggests. I don’t think it’s a good idea to watch the same movie over and over again, or for small children to see much TV at all; but since many thousands of small girls watch Disney princess movies over and over without turning into the rather pathetic creatures described by the author, I don’t think the premise can be correct.

Moreover, while it was an interesting idea, it’s not developed by examples or even by explanation or research. The writing is ungrammatical; I assume the author does not have English as a first language, so it’s a pity he didn’t use a proof-reader. And it’s very short. Each ‘page turn’ in my Kindle moved forward about five or six percent of the book, and the last few pages are lists of the author’s other books.

All in all, I found myself bemused by this book, wondering what the point of it is.

Not recommended, and definitely not worth paying for.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

The Unmumsy Mums

Searching through free downloads for my Kindle prior to travelling, I saw this ebook recommended, with a lot of high quality reviews. So I added it to my collection, and decided to delve into it on a recent coach journey.

Inevitably with free ebooks there are some gems, some mediocre books and some absolute rubbish. As far as I’m concerned ‘The Unmumsy Mums’ is in the latter category. Subtitled, ‘A collection of your hysterical stories from the frontline of parenting’, I was expecting amusing anecdotes from small children; perhaps mistaken words, or misunderstandings - the kinds of things friends regularly post on social media, and which celebrate the innocence of childhood.

Alas, these anecdotes were not funny despite the author’s assertion that they left her howling with laughter. Some are full of innuendoes, some record bad or inappropriate language used by children, some are merely embarrassing - such as the time a child removed an elderly lady’s wig, or the time another child packed a toy gun in a suitcase prior to flying. Others are merely bizarre. I'm not a prude and wasn't really offended by anything in this book, but totally unamused

I read with growing disbelief - surely there would be something which would at least raise a smile? - but I was disappointed. By the end I had a bad taste in my mouth and I wished I hadn’t bothered.

Definitely not recommended.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

31/03/2016

Love Among the Chickens (by PG Wodehouse)

I’ve been a fan of PG Wodehouse for over forty years. While he was best known for his many novels about the hapless Bertie Wooster and his valet Jeeves, he wrote many other books as well. They are not all readily in print, but since they’re out of copyright several of them can be found, free to download on Project Gutenberg.

One such novel is ‘Love among the chickens’ which I put on my Kindle a couple of years ago but only recently read, while travelling. The story is narrated by a struggling writer called Jeremy Garnet, who used to work with a larger-than-life and entrepreneurial character (who appears in other volumes too) known as Ukridge. Jeremy is persuaded, rather against his better judgement, to go and stay with Ukridge and his unassuming wife Millie, and to assist in their new project, starting a chicken farm.

It quickly transpires that neither of the Ukridges have any clue what to do with chickens. But Ukridge has a business plan - of sorts - and is convinced he is going to make their fortunes. They arrive at the farm and are almost shot by the housekeeper, and gradually life becomes more and more chaotic, Jeremy charting everything carefully while Ukridge sails through life, convinced everything will work out eventually, and blaming everyone but himself when it doesn’t.

There’s another subplot involving a young woman at a nearby farm, whom Jeremy finds very attractive… and several other sidelines to the story, introducing a wide spectrum of characters, some more believable than others.

The story itself is somewhat ridiculous, of course, although the foreword to the book implies that it’s based on something that actually happened. But Wodehouse was a master of language, of satirical humour and of the classic understatement. I love the way he wrote, and savoured his language on every page.

While I didn’t enjoy this as much as the Jeeves and Wooster stories, it was an excellent book for travelling; I read some of it on a flight and, the next day on a coach, and on a couple of evenings later on. It was light enough that I didn’t need to concentrate much; it was also the kind of book I could put down at any moment and resume later without losing the train of thought.

I don’t think this would make a particularly good introduction to Wodehouse; inevitably it’s quite dated, and the style won’t appeal to everyone, but for fans of this author, I’d recommend it highly. Links are to Amazon editions of the book, which has been reprinted in paperback as well as various e-book editions, but it can still also be found free elsewhere.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews