Sometimes a book comes your way entirely by accident and such was the case with The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, the first novel by Phaedra Patrick. My wife Jacqui and I were in Toppings in Ely (in my opinion probably the best bookshop in England other than Blackwells in Oxford) and she a picked this up knowing neither the book nor the author. It looked interesting, but the thing that decided her to buy it was one review that compared it to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry which, if you haven’t read it, is a fabulous book and I urge you to do so as soon as possible.
The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper tells the story of Arthur Pepper, a widower who is still lost in mourning one year after death of his wife who discovers a hidden charm bracelet that he has no recollection of ever seeing before. He decides to ring a phone number that is engraved on one of the charms and what that call reveals sets him on the path of finding out about the other charms. In the process he discovers a lot about his wife but even more about himself.
It’s thought-provoking and warm hearted as it goes through Arthur’s confusion, hurt, bafflement and anger as he slowly uncovers the life that his wife lead before they were married. And it takes a richer turn as this process not only makes him more open with people that he meets but also brings him closer to his daughter.
The best thing about the book in my opinion is not the detective work that leads to the finding about each of the charms but his development as a man and as a father as he goes through this. It’s a great book and I can highly recommend it.
As a general rule I don’t read many autobiographies. But The Inside Track by Laura Trott and Jason Kenny (written with Tom Fordyce) attracted me because I’d been captivated by their incredible wins at the London and Rio Olympics.
When it comes to watching sport I am usually rather picky. Rugby, cricket, some athletics, Formula 1 occasionally, a little bit of tennis and cycling. (Never ever top level football because I can’t stand prima donnas).
Road cycling and track cycling I enjoy watching because I spent many years cycling – for fun and for transport, never as a sport. And perhaps because I never treated it as a sport I am even more impressed by the skills and talent of those that do. When it comes to track cycling Laura Trott and Jason Kenny are amongst the finest in the world at the moment, a married couple who between them have ten Olympic gold medals. Laura has been in four Olympic finals and won the lot, which means she has won more Olympic gold medals than any other British female ever; Jason has six, which makes him the equal highest British gold medal winner of all time, along with Sir Chris Hoy.
Their autobiography is told in the two voices, Jason and Laura commenting in parallel on their lives from early years up to their wedding, one month after the Rio Olympics. The book is sandwiched by them talking through one fantastic hour on 16th August 2016 when Laura won her second gold of the Olympics and Jason won his third. They tell of their early training, developing from promising children through to their enrolment into the British Olympic development team. It tells of Jason at the Beijing Olympics, then them both at the London Olympics and then their five events at Rio, ending with their marriage in September.
I found it a great read, cleverly assembled (no doubt by the ghost writer) and gives quite an insight into the mental processes involved in being two of the finest athletes in the world today. It is a personal tale, involving, emotional, touching and remarkably frank. I loved it.
The Rivers of London, published in 2011, was the first in the eponymous series of books by Ben Aaronovitch. It’s a series of police procedural novels that combine imagination, wit and, rather surprisingly given the subject matter, a deep realism. The Hanging Tree is the sixth and latest volume and like most the preceeding books is set in London.
The series places a world of magic, gods, elves, underground beings and even vampires right into the middle of modern London with the narrator being a constable in the Metropolitan Police – who finds himself working in a small section that deals with what one senior police inspector calls “weird bollocks”. Unlike the Harry Potter books where the magical society is hidden from and lives independently of the world of ordinary folk, the various magical, divine or fae people in these books live in the world, albeit hiding their talents. And the bit that I love is the gamut of gods and goddesses of the Thames and its tributaries – yep, old Father Thames is real in these books.
Sounds strange I’ll admit, but ever since first reading Rivers of London I’ve been captivated by the whole world of it and always eagerly await the publication of the next book. The juxtaposition of real and the fantastic is better done than anything I’ve read in years. There is romance, history, bravery, wit, humour, pathos and evil – and Aaronovitch does not shrink from the last, for the evil is truly wicked and malicious. The history includes Sir Isaac Newton who was the first to define the laws of magic (well who else? ).
If you fancy reading this book I’d strongly advise you to go back to the beginning and catch up because there’s a developing back story that evolves through the series. But if you want to dive in feel free – it’s a really good book!
Because we were away over New Year and I didn’t want to add the weight of a bound volume to the already rather over-full suitcase, the first book in the 2017 project had to be something that was already on my Kindle. And as the Sebastian Faulks’s Jeeves book was bought on the Kindle when it first was published I decided finally to give it a try.
Jeeves and the Wedding Bells caused quite a furore when first published as many Wodehouse fans felt that Plum’s work was well-nigh sacrosanct and any attempt to add to it by a different author would be doomed to failure at best and an insult to Wodehouse at worst. But Faulks writes in an Author’s Note at the beginning of the book that it was intended as a tribute to the great man, rather than any attempt merely to copy him. And the result is a book with the familiar characters – and a few new ones, as was usually Plum’s wont – written in the style of Wodehouse but plainly not by Wodehouse.
IMHO the book carries off the author’s stated aim with some aplomb. Plum was a superb author in the mode that he employed; his prose, his lightness of touch and his humour were unsurpassed until the advent of Pratchett. But I think that Faulks is a better writer overall and it shows in this book. There are emotional touches and human insight that do not often appear in the main canon. And though the plot is perhaps overly complex I admit I loved it. It is a book that I can recommend, especially to Wodehouse fans who, like me, have not read it until now, and is one that will definitely be read again.