Love Unscripted by Owen Nicholls – love, life and film jokes

Nick has fallen in love with Ellie, but nothing is straightforward. Nick is a projectionist in a small cinema, Ellie is a photographer with prospects. This is a lovely comedy with more than a hint of pathos. There are situations which can bear so many interpretations, and the overthinking Nick usually works through them all. As films and references to them come and go throughout, this is shown to be a complex and sophisticated romantic comedy. This is not only the story of a couple who have their own highs and lows but also two families with backstories and stresses, challenges and choices. This book looks at love in the twenty first century, where life is unexpected and the rules undefined. Nicholls has written a book with some brilliant characters which are well developed and in most cases funny, touching and painfully realistic. Nick is a man whose interior dialogue reveals much of his panic with daily life, as he tries to do his best. Whether it is getting stuck in a window, quoting films or making genuine attempts to help his friends and family, Nick is always realising all the things that can go wrong. This is a most enjoyable book written with a keen ear for dialogue and everyday situations. Running jokes and consistent characters make this book a really engaging experience, which I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review. 

 

The book opens with a Prologue which shows that Nick has always lacked confidence with the opposite sex, and has long been obsessed with films.  His job at a small cinema is more than a money earner; he has a good friend as a boss who will humour his obsessions with naming the projectors and try to help him come to terms with the fact that Ellie has moved out. We return to an American election party. It is 5th November 2008, when it seems that the incredible might actually happen; Obama may actually win. The party is an odd one, and the most amazing thing happens as Nick meets Ellie. Not that it is a hugely romantic moment, but he soon realises that she is immensely attractive with her distinctive flat, her sympathetic sense of humour, and her devastating playlists for every occasion. Despite the political arguments raging around them they realise that this is something special, as sections recalling that night throughout the novel reoccur. Nick is as always a little self destructive as he is so determined that this is the perfect evening that he tries to walk away, convinced that the best thing to do is preserve this night in his memory, of the perfect woman with who he could have spent his life. Fortunately he was roundly disabused of that view, and the whole relationship begins. 

 

It is so difficult to convey just how gently funny this book is, with conversations that have the ring of truth, film references that are not always comprehensible, an unusual story of a love story that is grounded in the mundane truth of missed planes, cringe worthy situations, and a sister who deserves a novel of her own. Families, films and funny conversations, this novel is a real hit, a five star experience, and I recommend it as a grown up comedy for today.  

The Secret Teacher – an anonymous but authentic look at school life through the early years of a career

Image result for the secret teacher book

This is an anonymous book. A teacher in an unnamed school tells it like it really was, hence the fact that there are no real identifying details. With an impressive combination of humour, pathos and reality, this is a book offering genuine insights into life in a school. The characters in the classroom are challenging and entirely realistic, representing all types of school student in depth, not just the clever and the difficult, a good cross section of the characters a teacher would encounter. The teacher starts with dreams and aspirations for transforming lives, or at least delivering brilliant lessons which excited and challenged everyone. As might be expected, for more than one class that does not transpire. Such is the nature of the book that the challenges do not only just come from the students; sometimes other teachers, including the senior management team, make life difficult. The language used by the students can sometimes be a little fruity, sometimes just bewildering, and in recognition of this there is even a glossary of words and phrases included in the book.  Many familiar situations arise; using the wrong marker on the interactive white board, asking questions that no one will admit to knowing the sensible answer, students reacting noisy when they spot a teacher outside school. Most teachers know the way strange ideas are past down from on high, as when every class must include reference to “British Values”. The technological challenges are there, when the staff computer refuses to work properly, when detailed lesson plans disappear, when a classroom of computer using students will not cooperate. Parents want the best for their children, or just want a peaceful life. Some students are ambitious, some students just switch off, especially if home circumstances conspire against them.

As a teacher myself, I really enjoyed this less than respectful, sometimes painfully funny view from the classroom.

 

The book begins with the teacher starting his career as a Newly Qualified Teacher in a mixed school which includes some older staff, full of the quirks and habits of the long established. Our hero does not go in without ideas; post it notes for plenary activities, experience of a challenging placement, an awareness of what other NQTs really meant by their confident chat. As the book progresses his confidence ebbs and flows as an inspiring lesson is followed by one where no one listens, where the behaviour enforcement team is permanently present. Observation lessons are recalled in perfect, horrendous detail, but the solidarity of the staff in times of crisis is real. The social life of teachers is explored, as alcohol is taken but no grudges taken. New time tables, new school years and new classes present new challenges but also fresh rewards. A highlight of the book is a school trip to Oxford, where assumptions are made about a certain group of students, which are thoroughly overturned among the dreaming spires. The humour of a situation involving favourite students out in the world is brilliantly written. Well written, well paced and always interesting, I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in what really goes on in classrooms. 

 

As students work their way through the school and other teachers leave or move on, conflicts and opportunities come and go. This is a painfully funny, completely authentic memoir of teaching in the twenty first century with all its challenges and rewards. The teacher begins by thinking that this is the best career in the world, and while there are some difficult moments, he discovers that it is really rewarding, always challenging, and rarely boring.    

 

I happened to buy and read this book when on a trip to Oxford, and I found it entertaining when the weather meant that I did not really feel like wandering around seeing the sights. It has been some time since I taught in a classroom, but I recognised the situations described with powerful humour. It is so truthful, as the writer comes to realise that he cannot succeed with every student, but must try just the same. A genuinely entertaining book, I really appreciated it  in so many ways.  

The Seventh Train by Jackie Carreira – a journey without end?

This is a book of train journeys that are significant for not really ever arriving as far as the main character is concerned. They are an adventure yet also an escape, from what and to where is never clear. While it tackles some difficult topics head on, it is also very funny. It is eloquent on feelings that many might have but few admit to, let alone take life changing action. Elizabeth is a fascinating character, and remains the strongest in a book that eventually introduces several memorable and surprising people. Beginning in London, this is a book which reveals a fascinating insight into the Suffolk countryside, as well as the realities of British trains. Tackling themes such as loneliness and the rules that govern lives, this is a book of great contemporary relevance and puts a sometimes comic twist on serious ideas. I greatly enjoyed its characterisation and pace, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this lovely book.

 

The book opens at Harlow Town railway station.  The announcer intones a warning of delay “This is due to a passenger on the line at Harlow Town”, a coded indication of a suicide in Elizabeth’s opinion. Managing not to argue with a singular woman in the cafe as other passengers gawp, she takes her coffee, shocked that the fatality is labelled an “inconvenience”. Daniel Cotter, the driver, realises that he has killed a human being, and is deeply traumatised. Elizabeth travels on to Cambridge, encountering in the cafe on the station a man who seems determined to discover why she is there, intent on taking a particular train, carrying no luggage to speak of, quietly determined. Then a memorable young woman arrives, loud, disruptive, encumbered with a suitcase obviously overstuffed with fashionable shoes and clothes. She breaks into Elizabeth’s thoughts, full of her own stories and phrases, most memorably “The world is my lobster!”. She wants to go to Brighton explore on her own, discover the world, change everything for two weeks.  Elizabeth is pressed into explaining her story, her reason why “The seventh train” is important, even if she is not sure herself at certain points. She has her stories, and it transpires that she is not alone in making revelations. The train journey is the thing, but is the destination, the end, always important?

 

I found much to enjoy in this novel, developed from a play, which explains the realistic dialogue and deep feelings expressed here. There are surprises, but set in a context where they fit and make sense. The facts, the trains, do hold together, as I have some knowledge of one of the destinations mentioned in some detail. There are rules, there is a framework, an ultimately there is hope. This is a deceptively important book, with an unerring sense of purpose, even if at times the whole premise seems unfocused. It examines various experiences from a safe place, and demonstrates a great understanding of what makes the quiet, the anonymous  passenger on a train may be thinking, why they do what they do. Carreira is a watcher of people who has committed her imaginings to a novel which has a quiet power, well expressed, and which has the capacity to make the reader think, while being entertained. I recommend it as an excellent read for all those who wonder about other people, and indeed their own motivations, when travelling on trains.

 

I have of course recommended this book to Northernvicar! He will no doubt give his verdict on at least the train information ( but the pieces I have read him have met with his approval!)

Nobody’s Wife by Laura Pearson – A Quartet of People, a Network of Relationships

This contemporary novel of a complex net of relationships has a certain power; beautifully written, it has the capacity to draw the reader into following the four major characters with its empathy and understanding. Pearson has created a world in which the houses and flats the characters inhabit form a series of settings for the open events and the secret actions of enormous significance in four lives and those that interact with them. Michael, Emily, Josephine and Jack are drawn together in a variety of ways, sometimes openly, sometimes secretly, but always powerfully. This is a book which proceeds relentlessly to a climax where there is no going back, only forwards into a world in which nothing will ever be the same. I found this book easy to read, genuinely empathetic, and difficult to put down. I was grateful to be given the opportunity to read and review this compelling book.

The book opens on the day that Emily marries Michael. She is bewildered by the choices she has made, uncertain that the vows she is making are really what she feels. Michael, on the other hand, is in no doubt; he openly adores Emily and has done for several years. He has wanted this since he met the beautiful Emily, and he has always tried hard not to frighten her away with his determination to spend the rest of his life with her. Emily seeks out her sister Josephine with whom she has a seemingly unbreakable link forged out of their mother’s desertion of them and flight to the other side of the world, even if it did happen when they were adults. Neither of them knew their fathers as Emily’s father died very young, and Josephine’s father was a married man who broke off the relationship. As the young women are so close Michael realises that he must share his new wife to a certain extent. Jack is in a new relationship with Josephine, in which they are unsure of the depth of their feelings. Damaged and wary, Jack soon realises that the sisters’ relationship is special, and if he follows his desires nothing will ever be the same again. As the four meet and spend time together, some deep relationships are already there, but what will now happen?

This is a book which achieves much in a dynamic way. The network of relationships between four people not only change and develop, but there are significant effects on those who are on the outside of the quartet. An effortlessly contemporary tale, the emotional truth of the writing is so revealing that the characters feel real. While I did not always agree with the characters’ actions, the fact that I tried shows how real they felt. No character has all the answers, just like in real life, and this is a memorable tale on many fronts. The subtitle “A Sister’s Love, A Wife’s Betrayal, A Woman’s Obsession” gives some clues as to where this book will take you; but it is certain that it will be more complex than you first imagine.

This book is a great contrast to my previous review of “The Earl’s Runaway Governess” in some ways, but in other ways people are the same whether in Regency England or twenty first century Britain. Just to prove that reading can take you to so many different places!

Strays and Relations by Dizzy Greenfield – family life from a new perspective

A book of honest memories, sometimes painful, often hilarious, always thought provoking, Dizzy Greenfield has written a loving book of family and friends. This is the story of discovery of what families can mean in all their variety and sometimes inconvenient affection. New beginnings can only mean challenges, but as Dizzy negotiates life in all its variety, her unique circumstances seem to magnify the small challenges that afflict all of us at times. The contrast between countryside and city is well drawn, as getting to know people can sometimes mean getting to grips with entire lifestyles. I was pleased to receive a copy of this book to read and review.

The book opens with a journey on a train, as Greenfield describes with a realistic touch her fellow travellers. She is en route to meet someone, on “a journey that had taken five hours and four decades”. Her friend Sugar, who we will read more of later, reminds her to be “True, Brave and Fearless”, as she confronts those who are waiting for her to arrive. We go on to discover that she has been adopted and lives with her partner Will and their daughter Sasha. She has fond memories of most of her childhood, of her adoptive mother in particular, who has a lovely positive attitude to Dizzy and her attempt to discover her birth mother. Dizzy is quite a character, content to live in a lonely farmhouse with few comforts and a notoriously temperamental Rayburn called Daphne for heating and unpredictable cooking. She recalls her rescue of a dog, Merlin, and her desperate attempts to restrain him and his behaviour. He will provide a lovely background character responsible for someone who will temporary get lost. Dizzy and Sugar have quite the adventure to find out more about her birth mother in Ireland, enjoying local hospitality. As members of her birth family emerge, she discovers that her partner, her daughter and her home will be affected by an influx into her life of people who are loving, radically different, and no longer allow her life to run in straight line.  It is her honesty and the tiny details that make this book come alive, and the humour and good nature that transform the bleakest events into comedy, headlines which verge on the ludicrous, such as a lost prosthetic leg, overly hot chutney and awful television.

This is a book which has undoubtedly been written from the heart with some deep emotions, imaginative empathy, and a great sense of humour. There is the pain of a mother who lost children, the gap of no communication for decades, and yet the ability to pick up relationships. This is a cheerful book, as alcohol is taken and new connections made, but there are challenges of sadness and loss honestly described. Greenfield is a clever observer, a constructor of memorable scenes and has a fine ear for dialogue. This is an immensely readable book, which I greatly enjoyed, and I recommend it for a refreshing view of family life.

 

This is a lovely book which really brings to life an unusual family situation in all its glory. It is such a well written series of memories, which can trigger off all sorts of memories for each of us. It certainly reminded me of the need for photographs and other memory triggers – just like blogs, in facts. Thank you to everyone who “likes” and comments on this blog – I may sometimes not respond, but they are appreciated all the same. Do let me know what you think!

Unlawful Things by Anna Sayburn Lane – A thriller based on a historical hunt for the truth

A thriller with an academic twist, this is a unique book dominated by some serious historical research, both as part of the plot and the knowledge that was needed to create it. Sayburn Lane has created a trail of academic discovery which gives a real challenge to the characters to discover a radical explanation for a contemporary obsession, against a very real danger to today’s British society. With some brutal episodes, this is not merely an intellectual puzzle; real danger and violence follow the main characters as some seek to profit from fear of the different. I soon realised that this is a fascinating and compelling book which held my interest throughout a dense plot, and I was very grateful to receive a copy to read and review.

The book opens with a narrative of a stabbing attack in Deptford, and the realisation that it is an ironic place to be stabbed. The action then goes back by two weeks, to show Helen Oddfellow, leader of historical walking tours in London, Phd student and friend of Crispin, a retired actor with a past. She is contacted by Richard, who has unearthed a reference to the playwright Kit Marlowe, and has seen an article in a local paper which mentions Helen as a Marlowe expert. Younger and more interesting than she had expected, she joins in his research to clear the name of an ancestor of the Cobham family, visiting the archives of Dulwich College and the Parker library at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge. Their investigations do seem to be getting close to a dangerous discovery however, and there are threats. Meanwhile a young reporter called Nick who wrote the original article about Helen witnesses an attack on a new mosque by a far right group. He is injured, and soon realises that this is but the tip of a very dangerous anti Muslim force. As he investigates, he too finds himself in some danger, and he overlaps with the hunt for Marlowe references. This is not a gentle academic tiff; there are some fairly brutal scenes and some violent and sudden twists as the two investigations become more complex.

This is a book which I read quickly, as I was so keen to find out what happened next. I found the historical research fascinating, but can see that it may be a little confusing for someone not so interested in Elizabethan politics. Having said that, the author is very competent at anchoring the plot in the sort of twenty first century politics that means that certain groups in society struggle. There are some points at which the narrative gets very convoluted, but the character of Helen grounds it well in a sort of bewildered yet determined way. This is a densely written book, full of incidental details of a contemporary London that seems real. I really enjoyed this book, found the characters well drawn and generally fascinating, and was very intrigued by the puzzle at the heart of the book. I recommend it to those who like their thrillers based in a detailed story with some elegant twists and turns, some of which are shocking and memorable.

 

Last night we had a Pancake Party in honour of Shrove Tuesday, the last day before the beginning of Lent. Many scrumptious pancakes were consumed, people came along and enjoyed meeting old and new friends, and a good time was had by all. Then straight into a choir practice! It’s a great life provided you don’t weaken! We are now looking forward to another day in London, and are trying to find things to do. Having been to Persephone Books a few weeks ago, I am fighting the urge to look out other lovely bookshops, but finding time to read my haul is a little tricky if I am honest…

The Day We Met by Roxie Cooper – a romance with real insight and depth

This is a haunting book which deals with the idea that there is a perfect person for everyone, but that sometimes it is already too late when they are discovered. The characters in this book are seemingly successful, loyal and trustworthy, except that they have a secret. Every year, for a weekend, they meet, and it is that tiny contact, that meeting that is the background to a novel which spans several years. This is a novel where the feelings and emotions of some very realistic characters are described in almost forensic detail. Clever, sensitive and carefully written, this is a book of touching and gentle romance, interspersed with the reality of life where chances are missed. This is a book which represents modern society with its sophisticated communications and flexible work patterns, but is still at heart a romance that seems to be fated never to quite work. I was carried along with this book, and as a result was happy to receive a copy to read and review.

The book opens with Stephanie arriving at a hotel for an art course weekend. While it is a treat arranged by her father, she is brought by her fiancé, Matt. It appears that not all was well between them, they had argued and there is only music playing. This is a book with a continuous musical background, as characters send each other music videos, and there are points when particular music is important to the depth of feeling. There is evidently something in Stephanie’s background, and once in her room at the hotel she panics and decides to leave. She bumps into Jamie, a tutor on the course, and they instantly discover a similar sense of humour and interests. However, it soon emerges that Jamie is married to Helen, and in every respect they are well suited. There is an undeniable attraction, but they fight the urge to take things further. We then see Stephanie and Jamie in their own settings; Matt proves to be quite an objectionable man, but nevertheless she marries him out of gratitude. Helen loves Jamie, but also wants different things. He is a dedicated art teacher who cares about his students, while she is heavily involved in the design section of a high powered business. After a gap of a year, Stephanie returns to the hotel and meets Jamie once more. As life events continue, the couple only meet once a year and discover that they can only be themselves with the one person they cannot admit to loving to anyone else, even themselves. As the individual stories of the characters develop, it seems that Stephanie has sustained a terrific blow at the death of her mother, while Jamie is overwhelmed by the birth of a child and his wife’s behaviour.

This book is a mature and complex look at two people’s individual stories, and where they occasionally intersect. There is a therapist who poses the questions of Stephanie that the reader would perhaps ask, and Jamie represents his feelings through the medium of art.  Through these devices we learn a lot about the characters, and it is a subtle and successful writing technique which transforms this romance into a physiological study with real depth. I was carried along with this story in every respect, enjoying the musical references and the careful construction of a relationship long denied. I can therefore recommend this book as a romance with so much depth, and an enjoyable read on many levels.

 

I am still reading many books for quite a lot of tours, though I am looking forward to many of these as I enjoy the variety of novels available. It is certainly an exciting time for books of so many kinds, and there are so many gems out there to discover. Do let me know if there are some types of books which you would like to see here, and what you are enjoying right now in the bookish sense.