Tag Archives: Quick Reads

It’s World Book Day; Celebrate With A Quick Read (Or A Long One…)

It is World Book Day, hooray! A day devoted to celebrating the love of books around the world. It is all too easy to forget though, especially in the bubble of the book blogosphere, that not everyone out in that there big wide world has the ability, time, money or simply the inclination/desire to read books. Some people may even be wary of the world of books or find reading difficult.

As I have mentioned many a time on this blog, I myself was a great reader as a child but my late teens and early twenties were a barren time for books. I had been put off by the endless re-reading and re-reading of school texts which had to be analysed to the umpteenth degree. I felt that books were more for academics than for enjoyment. Oh and I was more interested in getting drunk on alcho-pops and dancing to Britney in my early twenties and so was lost in a bookish wilderness. I had become alienated from the wonderful world that books can provide for us all and in actual fact, hold on to your hats, thought that books were for the pretentious and elite. Now I know different, obviously, all it too was the recommendation of the right book to try (in my case The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie) and I was off…

Sometimes all it takes is that quick recommendation, loaning of a book or pointing in the direction of a library that can create the spark needed to fire a love of reading. Or of course re-reading. Quick Reads is an initiative which aims to do the same and selects several titles by well-known authors that are short, sharp reads aimed to attract those who think books and reading might not be for them and get them hooked. They are designed to encourage those who have been put off reading or are late to reading to ‘give a book a whirl’ and who knows they might become a book addict? Great stuff!

Yet they are also perfect, as I discovered when reading three of them after this year’s titles were announced, for an avid reader who might fancy trying out an author you have meant to read for a while, or just getting time to read something short and sharp whilst on your commute or having a nice cup of tea in your favourite book nook. Here are my thoughts on three of them…

Dead Man Talking – Roddy Doyle

Vintage Books, paperback, 2015, fiction, 98 pages, kindly sent by Quick Reads

Pat had been best friends with Joe Murphy since they were kids. But five years ago they had a fight. A big one, and they haven’t spoken since — till the day before Joe’s funeral.

What? On the day before his funeral Joe would be dead, wouldn’t he?

Yes, he would…

This was my first foray into the work of Roddy Doyle (despite my mothers best efforts, unless you count having watched The Commitments film at a young age and spending hours singing the soundtrack in the car) and I was not sure what to expect but I enjoyed it very much. Regular readers will know that I quite like ghostly tales and stories that are quite quirky and this is both.

There is a wonderful surreal element to this story without it ever veering too far off into magical realism which some new and avid readers might find off putting, it almost has a ‘fairytale for adults’ feel whilst as it goes on and takes stranger and stranger twists reminded me somewhat of a Roald Dahl sinister short story and a Hitchcock movie. What I thought Roddy Doyle did wonderfully was give the book an underlying message of grief, regret and mortality yet never making it overtly melancholy. All in all an interesting and thought provoking twisting tale, I need to read a novel of his now don’t I? Where would you recommend I start?

Out of the Dark – Adele Geras

Quercus Books, paperback, 2015, fiction, 101 pages, kindly sent by Quick Reads

Rob Stone comes back from the horrors of the First World War with a ruined face and a broken heart. Lonely, unable to forget the things he has seen, and haunted by the ghost of his dead captain, all that Rob has left is a picture of the captain’s family. Rob sets out to find them, hoping that by giving them the picture, he can bring peace to the captain’s ghost – and to his own troubled heart.

Another author that I have been meaning to read for ages (another which my mother has also raved about reading her young adult novels with her studenst) and another quick reads with a ghost in it this year.

I am normally not the greatest fan of wartime novels, I think the subject has been overdone, yet I really, really loved this story. In a very short space of time Adele Geras makes you sympathise and empathise with our main character and the affects that war has had on him both physically and mentally. The tale of Rob’s heartbreak after his fiancé backs out of the marriage was one which I found both heart-breaking and also, for me, added a side to the war that I have never seen depicted in another piece of writing about the time. In fact I think that was one of the things that I liked so much about Out of the Dark was that it really put me in the head of a young man who had been to war far more than anything else I have read has done. More food for thought, and another author that I shall return to.

Pictures Or It Didn’t Happen – Sophie Hannah

Hodder & Stoughton, paperback, 2015, fiction, 117 pages, kindly sent by Quick Reads

After Chloe and her daughter Freya are rescued from disaster by a man who seems too good to be true, Chloe decides she must find him again to thank him. But instead of meeting her knight in shining armour, she comes across a woman called Nadine Caspian who warns her to stay well away from him. The man is dangerous, Nadine claims, and a compulsive liar. Alarmed, Chloe asks her what she means, but Nadine will say no more. Chloe knows that the sensible choice would be to walk away – after all, she doesn’t know anything about this man. But she is too curious. What could Nadine have meant? And can Chloe find out the truth without putting herself and her daughter in danger?

Regulars to Savidge Reads will know that I am a big fan of Sophie both as an author or some corking thrillers, and a wonderful collection of short stories (which were recommended to me by a friend and got me into her work – see it’s all about the recommendations) of which you can find out more here. Shockingly though, and despite having them all, I have not read one of her books since 2011!?!? Where has the time gone?

Pictures Or It Didn’t Happen is, as you might expect, like the perfect condensed versions of one of her Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer thrillers, and indeed they turn up in this one. From the off you are constantly question who is telling the truth and who is doing some serious lying and manipulating, the guessing only gets greater as Sophie throws in some twists, turns and potential red herrings. If you love this then go and get your hands on Little Face which is the first in the series, I need to grab Lasting Damage just as soon as I have finished the Fiction Uncovered reading, promise!

This isn’t the whole collection of books either, I still have three more to dip into in due course – which I will be eating with more of the Galaxy chocolates these arrived with – but hopefully gives you some insight into the diversity of the books which Quick Reads produce (and they have a whole backlist you can go through, here are some more I’ve read) and how easy they are to get into and just taking you away. As I said, perfect reads for any reader be you avid or just wanting to give books and reading a try. And all for just £1 or to be found in your local library, what could be better? (Though if you’re reading something longer that’s good too, I will be spending some of the evening with Maya Angelou, you?) Happy World Book Day all!

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Filed under Adele Geras, Quick Reads, Roddy Doyle, Sophie Hannah

Some Quick Reads…

You may have noticed around the blogosphere on Thursday last week that many a blogger was ignoring Valentine’s Day (and any possible conflicting presents they got) in favour of mentioning the new list of Quick Reads. Today, if a little belatedly, it is my turn to have a natter to you about the initiative, which after speaking to its Project Manager for The Readers I became all the more impassioned about, and also to report back on having read a couple of the books which rather marvellously seems to have cured my reading funk – hoorah to that.

Whilst I was in my ‘reading rut’ did you know that I was joining in with around 12 million other people in the UK alone? No, me neither! The idea behind Quick Reads is to get books into the hands of those who don’t read and to get those who do read to try something new and different, though for me it is the non readers that I think are the most important. The initiative aims itself at people who are worried that books will be boring, make them feel unintelligent, have bad associations with their education and much more. Basically these books are designed to appeal to the sort of person I was not so many moons ago, though before the initiative was founded in 2006, when I had been put off reading and thought it was a dull and self satisfactory kind of pass time – oh how things have changed. Obviously it has a real poignancy for me, especially as I was someone lucky enough to have friends and relatives eager to provide me with lots of reading recommendations, but many people don’t.

Quick Reads distributes these mini novels, all written by a host of well known authors with big back catalogues to quickly take a reader off into a world of escapism, in retail stores around the UK for just £1, on Amazon for even cheaper if you have a K***** (cough) and free in libraries all around, and up and down, the UK. They are also starting reading groups in prisons where it has proven that reading and literacy can curb reoffending, what could be better as an initiative.

The question is though… What are the books actually like? It is this that made me hold off from writing about the initiative until I had read some and so here, in mini review form as I know I am waffling on, are my thoughts on the ones that the non reader of my past would have grabbed if he had had the option.

Wrong Time, Wrong Place – Simon Kernick

*** Arrow Books, paperback, 2013, fiction, 92 pages, kindly sent by Quick Reads

As a group of friends go hiking in the Scottish highlands they come across a naked woman who is running from something or someone. Clearly having been beaten and half starved but unable to speak a word of English they decide to help her and take her to their holiday cottage, their kindness however is their biggest mistake as someone knows that this girl is missing and they will do everything and anything to cover up this girls existence and anyone else’s knowledge of it.

Well, wow! Simon Kernick certainly knows how to grip you from the start of this tale until the very end – which had two or three absolutely brilliant twists in it. Clichéd as it sounds I actually couldn’t put this down and read it in one great greedy gulp. It is quite terrifying, though it does go a little farcical at points and also reminded me of several horror movies, yet that is what may attract non readers to it and keep them reading because it is a pure escapist adrenaline rush. I was chilled and thrilled throughout but especially by the ending, genius. It should come with a warning for anyone who is averse to gore though.

A Dreadful Murder; The Mysterious Death of Caroline Luard – Minette Walters

**** Pan Macmillan Books, paperback, 2013, fiction, 125 pages, kindly sent by Quick Reads

In 1908, in a small town in Kent, Mrs Caroline Luard was found dead outside the Summer House in the large estate that she rented with her husband. She had been attacked and shot twice in broad daylight with no
witnesses and soon her husband became the prime suspect as the last person to see her alive and the first person to find her dead. In this short novel Minette Walters looks at one of England’s unresolved true crimes, one that in its heyday was infamous, and tries to see if she can work out who the killer was.

This was just my sort of book. I love that period in history and how detection was evolving, as it was still a relatively new form of policing, I also love a grand house as a murder setting and all the gossip that evolves below stairs and in the surrounding neighbourhoods and I love true crimes and find the unsolved ones all the more intriguing, even if it is slightly infuriating that we will never know the truth. So I naturally thought that this was brilliant. I could see this making people rush off to read more fictionalised true crimes, books from the era and of course more of Minette Walters books themselves – I know I wanted to do just this when I finished it.

So… hopefully that gives you an idea of what a brilliant initiative this all is. For me, from both the mind of someone who didn’t used to read at all and someone who is now an addicted avid reader, these two reads were just great. One provided utter escapism and took me into a genre I tend to watch in films rather than read, though might read more in the future for escape, the other reignited my desire for narrative nonfiction or a book from the late 1800’s or early 1900’s. Both were from authors I had never tried before and will definitely give another whirl.

If you fancy giving anyone you know who doesn’t read much a good start I would recommend passing them one of these and supporting a brilliant cause, or indeed (as I was last week) you find yourself in a reading funk or you just want to dabble with something new in your reading diet then pick up a couple for yourself. I would definitely recommend them on both counts. You can hear more about the initiative on The Readers this week, and visit the Quick Reads website too. Which of their books have you read and what did you make of them?

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Filed under Arrow Books, Minette Walters, Pan MacMillan, Quick Reads, Review, Simon Kernick

The Book Boy – Joanna Trollope

I wonder if I can explain why I have not read any Joanna Trollope before without implying that I am some kind of book snob. I suppose it’s simply fair enough, and true enough, to say that I have never really fancied them. In my head, with a mixture of the covers and things I have heard along the way, I have imagined she is rather twee and upper class and I just wouldn’t like them. Sometimes though the title of a book will make you give an author a try and when I saw ‘The Book Boy’ at the library, and saw it was one of the ‘quick reads’ initiative title I thought ‘oh why not?’

Bloomsbury Books, paperback, 2006, fiction, 95 pages, borrowed from the library

Alice is a thirty-eight year old woman stuck in a rut. She is her entire families doormat. Her husband Ed domineers over her with a certain edge of the dark and fearful in anything he does, her son Craig seems to be following his example (and has started hanging out with an unsavoury new friend) and Becky, her daughter and possible ally, thinks she is stupid. All this seems to emanate from the fact that Alice cannot read, something she has always wanted to do, and its something that no one speaks of and yet everyone knows. It also seems to be what people, including Alice herself, us to hold her back.

I feel forgotten, Alice though. Forgotten.
 ‘Mum!’ Craig yelled.
Like, Alice thought, something that fell down the back of the sofa. And got lost. That’s what I feel like.

Of course from the premise of the book we know that this is about to change, what we don’t know is how. I will say that help comes in the least expected guise; I will leave it at that. Through the relationships she has outside the house, mainly with her friend Liz (who has a very funny moment when she becomes a spy) and the Chandra family whose corner shops she cleans, we learn just how closed a life she leads and one which is clearly making her deeply unhappy. This is not a melancholy novella however, in fact it is very much one of hope.

This is a piece of fiction of less than 100 pages which gives a very clear insight into the life of its main character. Alice and her situation are fully fleshed out and though the other characters, including her family, aren’t fleshed out so well they are really there in order to act awfully and show us just how dreary Alice’s life is. Its how she got there and the fact that she initially seems to simply accept that this is her lot in life which proves deeply affecting and through provoking.

How much of the world do we miss if we are unable to read? How do people judge those who can’t? How would our lives be hindered by it and in what ways? These are all the questions that Joanna Trollope looks at, and I was impressed by how much I felt in so little pages. It reminded me just how lucky I am to be able to read and how much it benefits my life, not only in the fact I can read little gems like this, but in the everyday things which we completely forget about and take for granted.

It’s interesting that whilst I enjoyed this example of Joanna Trollope’s work I am not sure if I would read any more. I liked this book because of the story it was telling rather than who was telling it if that makes sense? It was a book you could read for an hour and pop away, would I fare so well with something longer? Is there some underlying subconscious snobbery in me? Maybe I am wrong, maybe another Joanna Trollope would be right up my street, or maybe it was nice to read her once and that’s enough? We all have an encounter with an author like this now and again don’t we? Anyone got any thoughts?

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Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, Books About Books, Joanna Trollope, Review