Tag Archives: reading

A successful recipe – review article

For this, the second in my books-by-my-bed review series (see below for links to earlier blog posts on this theme) I’m staying with the subject of death. But this time it’s fictional, I think…

Arguably, Anthony Horowitz’s work is best known by fans at opposite ends of the age range; by ‘older’ TV watchers for Foyles War, Midsomer Murders and Poirot and by young readers for his Alex Rider series (which have sold a cool 19 million copies worldwide). As if to confirm his supreme talent, he was commissioned to write a James Bond novel – Trigger Mortis, published in 2015. You need a safe pair of hands for that one.

I’ve enjoyed odd episodes of Foyle’s War but have not watched it avidly; it was via another string in Horowitz’s bow – writing new Sherlock Holmes mysteries in the style of Arthur Conan Doyle – that I got into his writing.  The book I’ve recently finished reading – a gift that had sat unread by my bed for many months for no good reason – is The Sentence is Death. It’s second in an expected trilogy featuring ‘disgraced private investigator’ (it says in the back-cover blurb) Daniel Hawthorne.

Like all good crime-fighters, despite his murky past Hawthorne unofficially works alongside the police because they know he’ll probably solve the crime before them and they want to be able to take the credit.

You don’t have to be a detective to work out from the book title that the crime in question is murder. For me, the book would read as a fairly routine mystery (if there is such a thing) if it wasn’t for its structure – not just the plot – and the author’s role within it. Just as Noises Off by Michael Frayn is a play within a play (and a big West End hit that I enjoyed seeing in the early 1980s) so The Sentence is Death is really a story within a story.

From page one, where the narrator is juggling being on set for the filming of Foyle’s War with pursuing the murder investigation that’s the core of the book, Horowitz blurs fact and fiction (and clearly identifies himself as the narrator). Even the cover illustration of the paperback edition features the (real) iron bridge over Archway Road in Highgate, North London – informally knows as ‘suicide bridge’ for reasons I’m sure I don’t need to go into – that has a significant walk-on part in the story.

Interweaving fact and fiction is, of course, nothing new for thriller writers – I’ve hitch-hiked with Jack Reacher all over the USA and I trust Lee Child to have done his research to make the scenery and locations authentic. What I think makes this book quite exceptional is how Anthony Horowitz involves his real-life writer self in the story he’s telling. When you read the book, you’re reading about the author researching the book you’re reading – if you see what I mean.

I’ll never know how authors manage to plan their books, structure their plots, develop characters, work out their relationships, and sustain parallel timelines all at once, but this book adds another ingredient to the recipe and, continuing my tired analogy, cooks up a treat for the hungry reader.

Even though I read the book during lockdown – with, arguably, more time to read and less competition for my attention – I really did look forward to returning to it over the Easter weekend I consumed it – fast for me, given that I’m a slow reader. But I urge you to make up your own mind (the proof of the pudding and all that) and share your verdict here.

Related blog posts:



To order The Sentence is Death https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Anthony-Horowitz/The-Sentence-is-Death–A-mind-bending-murder-mystery-from/23639303  (When you order online from Hive in the UK, you support local independent bookshops)

The books by my bed

When I started writing this blog post some weeks ago, little did I think I’d have the time to do some serious reading! What follows is largely what I wrote then. The main difference is that I now plan to write short reviews of the books by my bed to share over the coming weeks while we’re all staying at home. 

What are the books?

As regular readers of my blog posts will know, I’m a lover of real books and enjoy reading almost as much as writing. My  reading is largely Influenced by author reputations; based on previous books I’ve read by them, and recommendations from other book lovers that I respect. There are currently 14 unread books by my bed

The books – the baker’s dozen

Top Five Regrets of the Dying Strangely uplifting given the subject matter (and the current Coronavirus crisis) this book started life as a blog and grew into a journal of the Australian author’s own life and learning as a professional end-of-life carer and house-sitter. https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Bronnie-Ware/Top-Five-Regrets-of-the-Dying–A-Life-Transformed-by-the-Dearly-Departing/23828296

Top Five Regrets of the Dying reviewed here https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2020/04/27/death-and-life-review-article/

The Sentence is Death Crime writing at its best says the publicity, but I already know that Anthony Horowitz is a versatile and talented writer so I believe the blurb. I’ve particularly enjoyed his new Sherlock Holmes novels, and I expect this second title in his Daniel Hawthorne private investigator series will be equally entertaining.  https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Anthony-Horowitz/The-Sentence-is-Death–A-mind-bending-murder-mystery-from/23639303

The Sentence is Death reviewed here https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2020/05/10/a-successful-recipe-review-article/ 

Broken Vows; Tony Blair – The Tragedy of Power The unofficial biography of Tony Blair. Bought for 99p in a book sale and, given its size, it doubles as a doorstop from time to time when the bedroom window is open. https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Tom-Bower/Broken-Vows–Tony-Blair-The-Tragedy-of-Power/19673554

Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us I like popular psychology books and a positive review by Malcolm Gladwell (one of my must-read authors) prompted me to order this probably a year ago. I’ve got to page 61. https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Daniel-H-Pink/Drive–The-Surprising-Truth-About-What-Motivates-Us/21901101

Duane’s Depressed given/lent (can’t remember) to me by brother-in-law (author of Nobody of any importance – see below) a fan of Larry McMurtry, who also wrote The Last Picture Show and Texasville, and other American authors. I see I made it to page 116 first time around… https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/54816.Duane_s_Depressed

How to be alive: A guide to the kind of happiness that helps the world Already people are talking about how our world might (or might not) be changed forever when the Coronavirus pandemic is over. This book is apposite in that context. I bought it, got to page 184, then my daughter borrowed it to read (she’d read the author’s previous book No Impact Man) But that was a while ago, so I think I’ll have to start again!  https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Colin-Beavan/How-to-Be-Alive–A-Guide-to-the-Kind-of-Happiness-That-Helps-the-World/19419158

Nobody of any importance This book is written by my brother-in-law and is his late father’s recollections (written and verbal) of frontline action in World War One. It’s a great work of love and dedication – self-published and sold in aid of the British Red Cross.  http://www.footsoldiersam.co.uk

One Hundred Years of Solitude This book gets my award for ‘most-appropriately-titled-Coronavirus-reading’ (alongside Love in the Time of Cholera by the same author). A gratefully received recent gift which, given my past life in publishing on Latin American affairs, is wholly appropriate. A book I’ve been meaning to read for many years (but not 100). https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Gabriel-Garcia-Marquez/One-Hundred-Years-of-Solitude/15437723

Rethink: The surprising history of new ideas Author Steven Poole writes on ideas, culture, language and society. I share his love of words and I’m interested in creativity, so that was the attraction when I bought the book (a couple of years ago…) https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Steven-Poole/Rethink–The-Surprising-History-of-New-Ideas/20530224

The Last Landlady This was an impulse buy, except it wasn’t; I paid for the book but didn’t receive if for another 18 months or so. You see, publication was crowd-funded and the campaign must have come to attention at the right time. As a book and pub lover it was particularly appealing so I happily paid over the odds. The book is described as a memoir of the author’s grandmother – a landlady – and a social history of pub life.   https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Laura-Thompson/The-Last-Landlady–An-English-Memoir/23910248

The Snowman Author Jo Nesbo has millions of fans worldwide and my brother-in-law (another one) is one of them. I was given this book as alternative holiday reading (I usually take the latest Lee Child or John Grisham blockbuster). My bookmark tells me I made it to page 17 when I last picked up the book last summer. https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Jo-Nesbo/The-Snowman–Harry-Hole-7/16453092

Tickbox Written by David Boyle who I’m admired for many years as a thinker (and writer) and known through our shared involvement in Timebanking when it was new to the UK. He writes on diverse subjects – I think he’s essentially an economist (he’s a Fellow of the New Economics Foundation) and has written the wonderful Little Money Book, but I also enjoyed his book Authenticity: Brands, Fakes, Spin and the Lust for Real Life more than 15 years ago. https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/David-Boyle/Tickbox/24240617

Upstream: How to solve problems before they happen A new offering from one half of a writing team of two brothers (Dan and Chip Heath) who author intriguing popular psychology type books. I can recommend Made to Stick: Why some ideas survive and others die and The Power of Moments: Why certain experiences have extraordinary impact. https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Dan-Heath/Upstream–How-to-solve-problems-before-they-happen/24555849

The 14th book in the photo (spine to the wall) will be my last read – if necessary – when I’ll reveal what it is, if I do read it.

Why do they remain unread?

Despite 4-day weekends, I can’t find/ don’t make enough time for reading for pleasure. Luckily, I don’t have any problem getting to sleep at night or staying asleep, so no reading in the wee small hours. You’ll notice I’ve started quite a few of them, so maybe that says something about my inability to stick with reading books a bit at a time – I need a long run-up like when I’m on holiday. I’m also a slow reader.  The magazine you see on top of the pile of books – Private Eye – is another reason I don’t get through books; I’m too busy reading that (I’ve been a subscriber for decades).

Another reason I have so many unread books is… shameless plug; I can’t resist the ease of ordering online through Hive Books (often cheaper than you-know-who and they support local independent bookshops https://www.hive.co.uk). Even when I’ve bought a book but not (yet) read it I don’t feel it’s a waste of money. For now my plan is to read the books by my bed, before adding to the pile.

Once the books are read, some will stay in our house (‘too many’ says my wife) , others will find their way to my little library (outside https://www.facebook.com/MillRoadLittleLibrary) and/or charity shops, or will be given as gifts to friends (Man Walks into a Pub https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Pete-Brown/Man-Walks-Into-A-Pub–A-Sociable-History-of-Beer-Fully-Up/783549 being a recent example)

Do share details about your own bedside reading – ideally with a short review!

Related blog post:                              https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2018/07/09/my-love-affair-with-books 


My love affair with books

In the last three weeks I’ve read a John Grisham bestseller (Camino Island) and been to see a stage play (84 Charing Cross Road) both set in the world of bookselling, which partly explains this blog.

But books (and I mean real books) have played an important part throughout my life.

I grew up surrounded by books – my parents were both avid readers and book buyers; we hardly needed to heat our house as the walls were so well-insulated with shelves of books. I inherited from my parents a reluctance to get rid of books once read, and the Little Library outside our house today is the way we currently share unwanted, but not unvalued, paperbacks with passing readers.

Professionally, I spent the first 17 years of my so-called career selling books around the world – by direct mail, to bookshops and distributors, and at events. This was the heyday of ‘alternative’ ‘radical’ ‘community’ bookselling. It was (still) the days of the Net Book Agreement – before discounting and downloading from the internet changed everything to book prices and any sense of a level playing field. Even in those days – nearly 20 years ago – they were talking about the death of the printed book but here we are in 2018 and that’s still not the case.

When we first arrived in Royston – a market town of 15,000 people – we had two bookshops, now we only have a very niche bookseller and, Tesco, if you call them a bookseller. The nearest independent bookshop is 12 miles away (whom I support by ordering my books online through Hive who make a small % donation from each sale to my nominated bookshop).

On the subject of real books, you’ll not be surprised to hear that I’m a fierce opponent of e-readers. Yes – they are great for storing and reading hundreds of books the instant you want to read them on a device the size of a slim paperback. Yes – they save the trees that go into making printed books (but use other precious, less recyclable resources). Yes – I’ll probably have to get one when my eyesight needs large print, but, but, but…

My dear old mum used to go into bookshops, open a hefty new hardback and sniff inside the spine. I don’t know whether this was a version of glue-sniffing, but you can’t do that with a Kindle.