Book:The Truth about these Strange Times – Adam Foulds

Indeed a strange but ultimately enjoyable book. It took about a third of the book for me to get into, not for the first time, but I always think it’s such a waste of precious time to start reading something and then not get the benefit of the whole story.

The story is of 10 year old child genius Saul Dawson-Smith who’s demanding but doting parents are living through him. He is on a never ending timetable of learning to enable him to enter world memory contests with other bored, brainy children who have zero play or ‘child’ time.

The other main character is Scottish, Howard who forms an unlikely friendship with Saul’s father at a hospital. Howard is looking out for Les Dawson-Smith’s mother after his own Mum has already passed away and because he seems to get on with Saul and clearly needs a break from his lonely life in a series of dead end low paid jobs, Mr Dawson-Smith asks him to relocate to London. In gratitude for this stranger looking after his mother, the plan is to find him work but in the meantime, he can help with Saul and the household chores alongside the uppity Mrs Dawson-Smith.

Throw in some Russian friends who are desperate for Howard to marry their friend back home so she can live in the UK legally and the fact that Saul and Howard end up on a road trip, running away from home for ‘respite’ as the genius boy child calls it, and we are in for an entertaining two thirds of a book.

7/10

Inspiration factor 7½/10

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Book – The Good Fairies of New York by Martin Millar

Fairies and New York? Two enticing subjects. I’m slowing getting back into reading (and watching films) based in New York after my long self imposed ban (long, sad story of one big city & one broken heart).

The book is bigged up almightily by Neil Gaiman and I hope when my book gets published (after I finish writing it and sending it out to publishers and someone some accepts it) I’ll have an introduction as good.

The story itself is all in the title, except there are bad fairies as well – obviously. New York – and the whole world is inhabited by fairies from many different nations. In NYC the fairies, as with the communities, are from all nationalities and as with the humans stick together. When Heather & Morad, arrive on the run from their native Scotland after some accidental fairy wrong-doing, they are able to be seen by Dinnie, the overweight, unemployed squatter and Kerry, New York Dolls obsessive with Crohn’s disease who lives opposite. Dinnie has never had a girlfriend, is a terrible violinist and in return for a nationally treasured fairy fiddle that has come into his possession, Heather agrees to help him become the man Kerry would fall in love with.

It’s a delightful tale with many interwoven stories; the fairy clans, the drinking and debauchery and the money stealing and most hilariously, fairy travel; if they want to get somewhere fast, or more likely be on the run from rival fairies, they attach themselves to a cab.

7½/10

Inspiration factor 8/10

Book – Watching Willow Watts, Talli Roland

As well as being an inspiration to us writers, Ms Roland is a prolific worker! It seems I have only just read the debut, The Hating Game and the third one is out but I have just caught up on Watching Willow Watts; I like the hard copy. For one thing, how do I get it autographed otherwise?

Having been overwhelmed by the first one – it’s always hard to  read, let alone review when you know the author – I wondered if the follow up is going to be able to live up to it. As I’ve mentioned before, I would not have picked up The Hating Game had I not known the writer so it’s a blessing that I did.

WWW has me hooked once again. The niche again is using a modern phenomenon as the basis; last time reality TV, this time You Tube, and then building a cast of interesting characters around it.

Willow Watt has gone back from her promising florist career in London to her home village (“Britain’s Ugliest”) to look out for her widowed father, in the process also leaving behind a hopeful relationship. She finds her father’s business in financial difficulty and comes up with a money making idea as she sets about finding the £10K needed for the tax bill. Begrudgingly, Willow is filmed for a talent contest as a Marilyn Monroe lookalike and a ghostly figure appears which the world takes as a sign that our local florist has the movie star’s spirit in her. The new Marilyn is born.

Unfortunately for her, an unscrupulous agent is out to make money from her, as he has done in the past with fellow villager, former startlet, Cissy. The books’ supporting cast of the father, the down trodden Marilyn fan from small town America (who becomes fathers’ companion), her hairdresser best friend who befriends a sleb journalist and the ex-love of her life all make this book come to speedily to life.

Bringing in the elements of strong women business owners, love and the social media makes this a thoroughly modern read. It is the second time Ms Roland has made me put the book down early so I can relish looking forward to the closing chapters the next day.

Love it.

8½/10

Inspiration factor 10/10

On Amazon

Book – A Serving of Scandal by Prue Leith

It was by chance I found out Prue Leith, a renowned cook in my younger years, had become a novelist. She mentioned in passing when she opened a new Academy that I was also a guest at. I come across it in the library, on a rare occasion when I had reached ‘L’ before I’d picked up the maximum amount of books.

This book is much better than the title and the cover – and indeed the author’s background suggests. It’s really as insightful about British politics as it is about the catering industry.

I say the catering rather than restaurant industry as the leading female character is Kate, a respected chef, running her business from home whilst single handedly bringing up her much doted upon young son. Of course, most of her work is undertaken during evening dinner parties and especially for the government.  She relies heavily on the support and friendship of her best friend and her restaurateur husband who’s own son is a playmate for her Toby.

This sets the scene for how hard she works before we consider her meeting the main male character; Oliver Stapleton, a leading, honest MP, Foreign Sectary and favourite for the PM job but with a disaffected wife and children back in his West Midlands constituency. The scandal comes about after the talented caterer and the lonely MP start having friendly after dinner chats in the catering kitchen which get deliberately leaked (as most leaks are) by a bystander with low self esteem who doesn’t like them.

What I feared was the scandal; what I love is that the scandal appears to be just muck raking by the Evening Standard. I also love the insight into politics as the book mentions many real government players and also how much detail the author goes into to describe the scrumptious cooking. This is to be expected if a little excessive but cleverly weaved in nonetheless.

It says a lot that I recall both characters names without referring back to the book. I’ve always had a passing interest in American politics but this book has opened my eyes a little to the British side and I may now pick up the odd tome based in Westminster village. For sure I’m going back for more Leith and may even find the odd recipe idea for my renewed enthusiasm for cooking. (Project #DomesticGodessinthemaking)

8/10

Inspiration factor 9/10

On Amazon

Book – Everything you know, by Zoe Heller

The second time in a row I’ve read a book by an author I’ve enjoyed, but not particularly this time. Not that there’s anything wrong with the book, I just couldn’t get into it although that’s partly because I’m pre-occupied with 89 things at the moment.

As the jacket states, the book is ’set inLondon,HollywoodandMexico’ so each chapter jumps between the three and ‘the women in Willy Muller’s Life are trouble’ and I have trouble keeping up with them.

There are two girlfriends, a mother and daughters, one of whom is married to a drug addict and the committed suicide, just after sending him her diaries. Willy is a writer, living inHollywoodwhilst his family are inLondon, with his book about to be turned into a film.

It’s as well written as the two Heller books I love ‘Notes on a Scandal’ and the brilliant ‘The Believers’. I actually want to ready the latter again now.

Book – If Morning Ever Comes, Anne Tyler

It took me a lot longer than a week to read this and even after getting to the end, all I can get is only boy from a large family leaves Carolina to go to university in New York. We find his late father lead a double family life and leaves a mistress and another son but other than that, not much else.

I loved the last, most recent book I ready by Anne Tyler which I picked up completely by chance. So I thought I would like this, not realising it was from 1964. Not that this should be significant but I just couldn’t get into it.

I cannot mark down a book by a talented author, it just didn’t do anything for me.

Book – Happiness™ – Will Ferguson

It wasn’t intentional to read to two Will Ferguson books in a row, seeing as I struggled with the last one. This is next on the list as I didn’t get on with a very old Anne Tyler book, being completely ignorant of the fact that she’d been around so long an had films made out of her books (The Accidental Tourist) I’d picked up an interesting book of hers’ in Montreal that I love but couldn’t get into this old one from 1965.

Having said all of that Happiness™ is a fun story about the stereo type editor who is a frustrated writer working in the self help section. These are woeful tales of how editors don’t get past the first page before rejecting, giving most of the manuscripts to interns to decide upon and how they expect to negotiate contracts.

It’s frightening but mostly hilarious as it centres on our main character Edwin who finally finds a book he can work with but only after he’s thrown it out on account of the author’s cheeky, knowing approach. Then when he’s idea-less and facing the firing squad in the team meeting, he decides he can make a book out of this manuscript but unfortunately his trash bin has now been emptied. There follow stories of him going to the incinerator, tracking down said author and negotiating until the book get’s published. And then the story begins.

“Remember, small circles and not too much direct pressure!”

It turns out Happiness™ literally changes the world and because people are less materialistic and just happy with their lot, whole industries go out of business and Edwin thinks that’s bad. There is the perfect wife at home, the crazed publisher at work and the less than perfect love of his life to contend with as well as the author of the most successful book the world has seen since the holy bible.

Happiness™ is a well written, humorous tale (I hope) giving us just the slightest hint at the extremes of the publishing industry.

Now, how can I make sure my book doesn’t end up on the intern’s ‘slush pile’…..?

7½/10

Inspiration factor 8/10