New Read: My Autobiography (Guy Martin)

My Autobiography

I have rather a soft spot for Guy Martin, and knowing this a family friend lent me her copy of My Autobiography. After the disappointment of the last biography I read I didn’t wait long to start this, and timed it almost perfectly for the Isle of Man TT.

Guy Martin is a road racer, TV presenter and truck fitter; if you asked him though he would probably say truck fitter. Guy is a ‘grafter’ and it is his day job that has kept him sane, grounded, fit and initially paid for his motorcycle career. It was while racing at the Isle of Man TT that Guy took part in the filming of a documentary, Closer to the Edge, about the legendary event. Overnight he became a household name. Not only getting recognised at races but offers came in to do more television. I must admit I know him best from his television documentaries; including The Boat that Guy Built (2011), Speed with Guy Martin (2013), Guy Martin’s Spitfire (2014) and Our Guy in India (2015).

This biography starts with Guy’s childhood which he spent with his parents and three siblings in a small, rural community in North Lincolnshire. From an early age guy was mad on engines. Working hard he saved up his money for engines, bikes and cars. While Guy is best known for racing at the Isle of Man TT. He has had a successful career and raced at many other events; including Cock ‘o the North, Oliver’s Mount, North West 200 and the Ulster Grand Prix. Guy has also now diversified into endurance mountain biking and took on many challenges, for Speed with Guy Martin (2013), such as tobogganing, gravity racing, hydroplaning and even a human powered aircraft.

If you hadn’t guessed already this was a fascinating read. I love the humour, candour and down-to-earth nature that Guy brings to this biography. Plus the history and details he gives you about how everything works. Basically everything that makes him a great TV presenter, is brought to make this a great biography. Guy is also very candid about his relationship with his family, friends and girlfriends, the mistakes he has made, and after struggling with his fame his subsequent diagnosis with Asperger’s Syndrome. This biography has no airs and graces but in fact feels more like you’ve sat down with Guy for a chat over a cup of tea; and with it being Guy it would have to be a proper ‘builders brew’ (strong tea).

My Autobiography is a funny and honest read, packed with fascinating facts and interesting events. I highly recommend if you are a fan of Guy Martin, and/or love engines, machines and history. Great read.

Have you read this? Are you a fan of Guy Martin and his TV shows?

New Read: The Little Village School

The Little Village School

At the beginning of June, hoping to get my 10 Books of Summer reading off to a good start, I picked up The Little Village School by Gervase Phinn; a Barton-in-the-Dale novel. I have fond memories of Miss Read’s Village School and hoped this would be a similarly comforting read.

Barton-in-the-Dale’s small village school is in trouble, big trouble. The school is old, tired, unloved and poorly managed. Her Majesty’s Inspector’s have given the school a damning report and parents are beginning to take their children elsewhere. In steps the new head teacher Mrs Devine, in her red high heel shoes, with new ideas and a fresh approach. As the tag line says: change is coming… But Mrs Devine won’t have an easy job though. With a sour former head teacher, nervous staff, a grumpy care taker, duplicitous governors, and village gossips to contend with.

Mrs Devine is a well dressed, smart, practical and kind woman. In stark contrast to her predecessor Miss Sowerbutts; a domineering and stubborn woman. Sower by name, sour by nature. Mrs Devine’s presence is not only to bring about positive changes in the school but also in the lives of many of the villagers too. I enjoyed finding out about the school as well as the lives of some of the villagers. Including Mrs Devine, deputy head Miss Brakespeare, Mr Stainthorpe and his grandson Danny, Dr Stirling and his son James, Reverend Atticus and his wife, and village gossip Mrs Sloughthwaite. I think the author has come up with a lovely, colourful collection of characters.

I found The Little Village School did have a similarly comforting feel to Miss Read’s Village School. With the small school and village setting, insights into the lives of the villagers, and some lovely touches of humour. The humour, for me, came mostly from the children. Working in a school myself I have heard many of the honest, touching and often hilarious things children can come out with. The difference would be that Phinn, the author, has brought a more contemporary and up-to-date setting, style and humour to The Little Village School. There wasn’t only humour though there are also some very touching and sad elements to the story. I must admit near the end I got a little teary.

The Little Village School is a touching and humorous book, and a comforting read. I recommend to those interested in small village life in England and perhaps those looking for a more modern Miss Read. Good read.

Have you read this? Or Miss Read’s village series? If you have any recommendations for other village books, please let me know.

10 Books of Summer – 1/10

The Classics Club: The Pickwick Papers

The Pickwick Papers

I decided in January to try to always have a classic novel or short story collection on the go. Continuing this back in March I picked up The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens. Yes, it is June now. This has been a slow and long read.

The Pickwick Papers is very different from my previous Dickens’ reads. Here we join Mr Pickwick, his manservant and his intrepid, young friends as they travel around England; collecting stories for the self-styled Pickwick Papers. If only that is all they did! Instead they find themselves making new friends, falling in love, making enemies, attending jolly parties, but also getting themselves into prison, duels, court cases, fights, and highly embarrassing situations. This a silly, sometimes raucous, and rambling adventure which does finally come to a neat and peaceful end.

What I love most about Dickens’ novels are the large cast of colourful, and often larger than life characters. The Pickwick Papers certainly has it’s fair share of colourful characters. However the cast is so large and we often meet them so fleetingly that sadly I didn’t find them that memorable. Excepting Mr Pickwick and his manservant Sam Weller (or Veller as he pronounces it). Our main protagonist Mr Pickwick is a large, bumbling gentlemen of means. Whilst he usually makes things far worse, his heart is always in the right place. Then we have his manservant Sam a young, eager and cocksure man, who is loyal to a fault (even getting himself locked up to look after his master). I am a little bit in love with Sam, his sections always made me smile.

My previous Dickens’ read was A Christmas Carol; which I adored. The Pickwick Papers couldn’t be more different in style or tale. I found Dickens’s rather convoluted and highly detailed language and speech had returned in this book. Making it more like Bleak House or Oliver Twist in that sense, but again it lacked the drama and mystery of these reads too. I think it was ultimately the lack of drama, mystery and pace that made it such a long read for me. There just wasn’t anything to grip me! I enjoyed some of the amusing scenarios, the variety of characters they meet along the way, and the selection of stories they collect; but sadly this won’t be going down as one of my favourite Dickens’ novels.

The Pickwick Papers is a frivolous and lighter tale from Dickens with some morals and redemption in there too. I recommend if you fancy trying a lighter toned Dickens novel. This is my 31st read off my Classics Club list. I am now looking forward to finally getting round to The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling; my selection for the 9th Classics Club Spin. Okay read.

Have you read this? Which is your favourite Charles Dickens’s novel?

New Read: The Storyteller and Her Sisters

The Storyteller and Her Sisters

In April I read and adored The Wanderers by Cheryl Mahoney. I only just managed to wait till May to read Mahoney’s second novel The Storyteller and Her Sisters. A re-imagining of my favourite, childhood fairy tale, The Twelve Dancing Princesses, seemed just what my over-worked brain needed.

The Storyteller and Her Sisters takes us back to the last adventure our heroes encountered in The Wanderers. There is no need to have read the previous book though, because now we look at the story from a different perspective and in more detail.

Twelve princesses are mysteriously wearing out their dancing slippers every night, whilst locked in their bedroom. The king has proclaimed whom ever solves the mystery can choose one of the princesses to be his wife. However fail to solve the mystery after three nights, and off with your head! A charming fairy tale…or is it? What if the princess chosen doesn’t want to marry the champion? Or what if there is an important reason to keep dancing each night? What if the king has a darker, alternative motive? This is the story that The Storyteller and Her Sisters tells.

Our storyteller is in fact Alyra, better known as Lyra by those who matter, the ninth dancing princess. To their father, his court, and the numerous champions though Lyra and her sisters are all the same. Something the princesses encourage as there is safety in numbers. Yet really they have their own names, personalities, tastes, hobbies and unique traits. Likewise the corresponding twelve cursed princes (no there not demons or anything else nasty) are all different too. Together they need to dance for a year and a day to break a cruel curse upon the princes’ kingdom.

I have really been looking forward to reading this and I wasn’t to be disappointed. I thought Mahoney brought the princesses, the princes, the world, and the secret curse to life beautifully. Okay I probably can’t say I got to know every princess and prince as a perfect individual. However I loved getting to know Lyra, Vira the eldest princess, Talya the baby of the group, and Lyra’s closest sister Mina, and their prospective love interests (yes they have a choice!). This story had a slower pace to the previous but I still loved  the fairy tale tropes that Mahoney used and sometimes poked a bit of fun at too. It was also lovely to see the heroes from The Wanderers return near the end; especially Tom, the talking cat! It was clever of Mahoney to flip the story this way.

The Storyteller and Her Sisters is another well written and charming adventure. I highly recommend if you enjoy fairy tale re-imaginings. Great read.

Thank you to the author for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? What other fairy tale re-imaginings should I try?

This charming, fairy tale re-imagining is my 6th read towards the Once Upon a Time IX event, hosted by Carl V @ Stainless Steal Droppings.

New Read: Tolkien

Tolkien

I picked up Devin Brown’s biography Tolkien: How an Obscure Oxford Professor Wrote The Hobbit and Became the Most Beloved Author of the Century, as I thought it would be the perfect accompaniment to my re-read of The Lord of the Rings.

In January 1892 John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born. Initially he had an idyllic childhood, playing in the fields, and around the mills and train tracks on the outskirts of Birmingham. A time that inspired The Shire. Sadly by 1904 Tolkien had lost both his parents. A loss that could perhaps explain the sheer amount of motherless and orphaned characters he would go on to create. After this education took over his life. First he attended King’s Edward’s School then Oxford University; where his passion for language, literature and mythology would flourish. On graduating and surviving WWI Tolkien’s took a professorship first at The University of Leeds(where I studied!) and then Oxford University.

It was at Oxford where he really had the time to start writing his new mythology for England; The Silmarillion. It was while he was trying to get this published that The Hobbit, initially a bedtime story for his children, was spotted. The Hobbit was almost an instant hit and over the years its popularity has only grown. The publishers wanted another hobbit tale and while trying to do this Tolkien actually created his epic The Lord of the Rings. In September 1973 Tolkien died. He lived to see the growing popularity of his work but didn’t get to see the massive phenomenon it would become. Posthumously The Silmarillion was finally published.

Brown has packed so much into this biography! I have only touched on the main points as they struck me. There is also far more information on Tolkien’s Catholic faith, his marriage and children, exams and essays, The Inklings and other clubs he formed, his passion for Norse mythology, and his long friendship with C S Lewis (another of my favourite authors). There is also the plethora of letters Tolkien wrote. For which I am so thankful as through them Brown was able to bring us closer to the real man Tolkien was.

This is the first book I have read by Devin Brown; I have a copy of Bringing Narnia Home still to read. I thought this was a clear and detailed biography, and Brown has added a lot of research and insight. I did however feel there were sometimes moments where Brown over described rather obvious things; such as shillings and Waterstones. He also discusses exams Tolkien took which are now called O Levels, however here in the UK now we take GCSEs at the end of school. Which makes me think this was written for an American or international audience. Small niggles but they really jarred with me and pulled me out of my reading; such a shame.

Tolkien is an interesting and detailed biography of the life and what went on to inspire the author J R R Tolkien to create his wonderful, fantasy novels. I recommend to those interested in biographies and history. Okay read.

Thank you to Abingdon Press for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? Any biography of Tolkien you would recommend?

Not a fantasy itself but it is about one of the best known fantasy authors. So I am counting this as my 5th read towards the Once Upon a Time IX event, hosted by Carl V @ Stainless Steal Droppings.

New Read: Divergent

Divergent

Earlier this year I watched Divergent (2014) and Insurgent (2015) based on Veronica Roth’s dystopian, young adult novels. I watched these films in a row and enjoyed them even more than I thought. I now have a wait for Allegiant part 1 and 2. With that in mind my friend lent me the 3 books to read; first up Divergent.

Divergent takes us into the future, to a post-apocalyptic Chicago, USA. The limited population of the city are now divided into factions based on traits. Abnegation for selflessness, Amity for peace, Candor for honesty, Dauntless for bravery, and Erudite for intelligence. When a person reaches 16 years old they are given an aptitude test to help them decide which faction to choose. Once you have chosen there is no going back and individuals may even have to turn their backs on family; faction before blood. Some people though don’t fit into just one faction. They are known as divergents and are seen as dangerous.

Our protagonist is Beatrice (Tris) Prior who at the beginning of the novel lives in Abnegation with her family. Tris lives a comfortable and happy life, and while she is a kind and likeable person she does find it hard to be effortlessly selfless. Instead Tris finds herself eyeing the fearless and fun life of the Dauntless. Her aptitude test is only to confuse rather than help her choose though. Her results are inconclusive, meaning she is divergent and her life is in danger. Now Tris must balance her love for her family, her wishes for her own life, and hiding what she is from those in power who mean her harm.

Divergent is the debut novel of Veronica Roth which I think is really impressive. I think Divergent is well written and visualised dystopian world, with a really good pace. The tension was kept high as Tris and her fellow initiates go through a gruelling initiation with the ever present fear of failure. Failing will mean living in poverty without protection as a factionless. To lighten the darkness of the story though Roth has used humour and a cool, snarky edge. A lot of which comes from our protagonist Tris. I liked and respected Tris. She is young, small and physically not the strongest but she is mentally strong and doesn’t allow others to change her own moral code. I haven’t read a young adult novel in a while. There is of course the required love interest but thankfully there isn’t a love triangle in sight!

Divergent is a well written, immersive, and taut dystopian adventure. I highly recommend to those who enjoy dystopian, young adult novels. I look forward to reading Insurgent next. Good read.

Have you read and/or watched this? What other dystopian novels or films do you recommend?

Re-Read: The Battersea Park Road to Enlightenment

Battersea Park Road

I first read inspirational memoir, The Battersea Park Road to Enlightenment by Isabel Losada, more years ago than I can or wish to count. Needless to say I thought it was high time for a re-read to see if I still enjoyed it.

In The Battersea Park Road to Enlightenment Losada chronicles her search for love and acceptance, from herself and others. So starts her slight obsession with going on courses and looking for new experiences. To name a few Losada tries T’ai Chi, colonic irrigation, a weekend retreat with nuns, an Insight seminar, a past lives session, an Astrological reading, and even naked inner Goddess workshops. While I don’t fancy trying even half of the things Losada tries I did find it inspirational how open and brave she was. Losada’s journey is honest, funny and emotional.

I love Losada’s down-to-earth and honest writing style. It didn’t feel like reading a book but instead an informal chat with a friend over a cup of tea. Although in the case of ‘Starbuck’s addict’ Losada, she would perhaps prefer a coffee. Also when I say honest, I mean really honest. Losada’s honesty is often hilarious, sometimes heart-breaking and sometimes painful but I truly appreciated it. I was originally drawn to The Battersea Park Road to Enlightenment because I adored From Tibet with Love a previous read by Losada. For my re-read I decided to read them in publication order to see how Losada’s experiences and writing progresses. I look forward to re-reading From Tibet with Love next as I have fond memories of enjoying that even more than this.

The Battersea Park Road to Enlightenment is a funny and inspirational memoir. It is hard to know exactly who to recommend this too, as it covers so much! I do highly recommend though. Perhaps you will enjoy this too if you like memoirs, new experiences, and inspirational and faith literature. Good read.

Have you read this too? Have you perhaps tried some of Losada’s experiences?