May 2023 book blog

It’s nearly the end of June, and I’ve only just got round to this. I blame a rather nasty bout of food poisoning and some stupidly hot weather for me being so out of it recently. So. What did I read in May?

Although I’d finished Adrian Tchaikovsky’s ten book Shadows of the Apt Saga, I still had a couple of the anthologies to read.
‘For Love of Distant Shores’ is the third book in the Tales of the Apt series of short story anthologies set in the Shadows of the Apt universe. There are four novellas, or longish short stories, in this collection, and the timeline pretty much covers the extent of the ten book series. Each story is an account of a mis / adventure that has befallen Fosse, a delightfully unimpressed Fly woman, and her employer, Dr Phinagler, a Beetle and professional traveller from the city of Collegium. You really need to have read the ten book ‘Shadows of the Apt’ series to get the most out of this anthology, but I would definitely recommend it to anyone who has read the series and is wondering if the anthologies are worth it. Incidentally, Fosse is one of Tchaikovsky’s greatest creations, I love her.

The final Tales of the Apt anthology is ‘The Scent of Tears’. In which Tchaikovsky throws the world of the Kinden open to other writers, with various degrees of success. I’ve read a few shared world / multiple writer anthologies, but never one that was so firmly associated with a single writer. It can’t be easy walking into someone else’s world and telling your own story there, but some of these stories do it very well. There is a limitation on these authors, in that they’re asked to write a concise and close ended tale within a longer story that many of the readers will already be familiar with, where there is an established canon. Other than the first and last stories, which are by Tchaikovsky himself, my favourite tale was The Mantis Way. Tchaikovsky himself has said that the best characters go against type, and our protagonist in this story definitely does that, until she doesn’t …

My next two reads were by Al Ramsay. Alan is an indie writer and a member of my writing group, so I’d give five stars whatever … us indies need all the help we can get.
Having just started reading Al’s 2023 book, Free Lunch, it’s become clear that The Decoy is the second book in the Felix Haythornthwaite Files, and I should have read The Free Lunch first. It doesn’t matter much, the plot of The Decoy wasn’t dependent on the plot of The Free Lunch. However, you should buy both, and read The Decoy second, it’s just easier. The Decoy is set in Lancashire, in a fictitious coastal town, somewhat down at heel and peopled by families like Felix’s, who are just trying to get by but somehow get wound up in all kinds of shenanigans that get more and more complex. This is an amusing and fast paced story with engaging characters. I enjoyed it.

From ‘The Decoy’ I moved on ‘The Free Lunch’ I read the entirety of this book under the influence of food poisoning, which gave it a hallucinatory quality which may not be experienced by other readers. The protagonist of the book is Felix Haythornthwaite, a teenager, aspiring journalist, and middle child, resident in Frecklesall-on-Sea, an imaginary Lancashire coastal town with the usual coastal town issues. The town has a lido, currently derelict, but the townspeople hope that it will be restored, and it has an old lady (Felix’s great aunt) who runs a string of donkeys, the last tourist attraction in town.
Felix finds himself in trouble when an article written for the school magazine is somehow released without approval, putting his editorial role, and indeed his place at school, in jeopardy. As he investigates the case, there is a huge announcement – the Tour de France is coming to Frecklesall!
I enjoyed this story, it was fast paced, funny, and had a full cast of engaging characters.

I rarely read autobiographies, but when you meet someone who has written one, it’s only polite to buy a copy. I met the author a few months ago at a meeting of the Lancashire Authors Association, and more recently at meetings of Chorley Writers Circle, where I bought a copy of his book, ‘PC Mebs, Finding Myself’ by Mahmood Ahmed.

I rarely read non-fiction, and biography / autobiography is a field that I hardly ever touch, but Mebs’ story intrigued me and I finished the book within a couple of days. It was a remarkably easy and enjoyable read, apart from a chapter or two near the end which were quite technical and dry. The book covers his life from his early childhood in Pakistan, his move to England with his mum to join his father, his schooldays in Oxford, Bradford and Blackburn, and his working life. The story takes a themed view, rather than a purely chronological one, covering family life, romance, career and football whilst moving back and forwards through the timeline. As someone utterly unversed in the art of biography, I suspect that this isn’t an unusual way of telling the complex story of a single life. The book was honest and frank, discussing the positive effects of his decisions on himself, whilst unflinchingly addressing their negative effects on his wife and young sons. After an unpromising early career, during which he nevertheless developed some very important skills, Mebs joined Lancashire Police in his early thirties, and although he never rose above the rank of PC, he became a respected representative of the BAME community within the police force, and from the police force to the local BAME communities. This book would make an excellent read for anyone interested in the stories of immigrant children, the Asian community in Britain, community football, and how Lancashire Constabulary came to be seen as the leading force in addressing racism within the police force nationally.
Something that really struck me about his story was that despite his late start, he always had people who believed in him, and that was reflected in the faith that he had that other people could change their own ideas and behaviour for the better.

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