The Soul Breaker

An intriguing concept for a book: an experiment based on reading the case notes relating to the Soul Breaker. The notes are effectively a thriller, a whodunnit. The story continually switches from the case notes to the experiment and back. Who is the Soul Breaker? How does he render his victims catatonic? Who is friend and who is foe in the psychiatric clinic?

It was all going well, a page turner, until the students finished reading the case notes and the explanation began. I felt everything lost pace. In written form, the technique of revealing the meaning of the clues working through the notes by page number seemed a bit cumbersome. I’ve no doubt the story would work really well on screen and I’d be interested in listening to the dramatised audio book (judging by the reviews I’ve read). I’ve given it a 3 but I can understand the higher ratings.

Thanks to Netgalley and Head of Zeus for the ARC.

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Posted in Crime and Detective Fiction

Dead Man’s Grave

By Neil Lancaster

4/5 Dead Man’s Grave has all the hallmarks of a first in series. DS Max Craigie is six month’s into his new job. Fresh from “the Met” he’s under pressure to prove himself in the Serious Organised Crime team in Police  Scotland and his first major job has been a bit of a damp squib. Janie Calder is young, bright and female, an accelerated promotion officer, together they are a team of outsiders ideal to take on a police force rotten to the core.

Tam Hardie was the head of a crime family until, researching his family history, he ended up dead in a grave marked “This Grave Never To Be Opened” reviving a centuries old family feud.

This is a police procedural and it seems painstaking in its accuracy. Just a note, there is some realistic language too. It’s a little reminiscent of Line of Duty but I enjoyed the story and I’d be interested to read the next one as the newly formed anti-corruption team take on the bad guys in Scottish law enforcement.

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Posted in Crime and Detective Fiction

The Gospel According To A Sitcom Writer

By James Cary

5/5 Imagine An Evening With James Cary, sitcom writer of the likes of Bluestone 42 with episodes of Miranda, My Hero, and My Family to his name, creator and writer of radio series Think the Unthinkable and lots more. Imagine he’s taking a sideways look at Bible stories you know (so well you haven’t really thought too much about them). Imagine he throws in some insights on why writing a sitcom about Christians would be a really tricky thing to do, tells a few personal anecdotes and imagine he throws in some really funny rewrites of Pilgrim’s Progress. Now you’re ready to read this book.

James has an obvious love for the Bible and his approach is in no way disrespectful, quite the reverse. The Bible isn’t a joke book, it isn’t a laugh a minute but there are times when you see the funny side of a situation. Familiarity means we usually miss it and it’s good to see it afresh. No spoilers (James concentrates on John’s Gospel) but take the book of Jonah. It could be an extended sketch. From the outset the joke is on Jonah. Having spent 3 days and 3 nights in the gastric juices of a big fish the reluctant missionary, looking and smelling like a fish, goes on a preaching tour in a town that worships Dagon the fish god. And the big reveal at the end of the book is Jonah  sulking with God because his mission was a big success – you don’t hear that in Sunday School.

I was fascinated to read James’s thoughts on the difficulties of writing a sitcom about Christians. It’s something I’d given some thought to, partly idle speculation, partly academic interest, partly as someone who’s produced some (minor) radio stuff. Never a sitcom but some kind of drama. I came to the conclusion it was either going to be sickly sweet or incredibly boring and probably both. James pretty much explains why. Now a sitcom written for a Christian audience who get the in jokes, that might work. Can’t help thinking there would be offence taken though …

This is a great book and an easy read. I highly recommend it. I’m not sure whether I’d prefer it to go in the wacky religious section of the secular bookshop or join the other three books on humour in the Christian bookshop (read the book for the reference). I guess online sales takes care of that.

Thanks to Netgalley and SPCK for the ARC.

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Posted in Bible, Christian

How to Know Everything

by Elke Wiss

Perhaps the book should have been called “How to Know Nothing” but I suppose that would be more difficult to sell! Wiss explains how the Socratic method can be put to practical use to learn (and, I would suggest, to teach). It’s true, too often when we think we are in a dialogue it’s really just two monologues as each party thinks of the next point they want to make instead of really listening. And too often conversations are shallow and unsatisfactory because we don’t ask good questions or because we’re afraid to appear impertinent or demonstrate our ignorance.

It’s a fine line between a conversation-starting question and a conversation killer (and Wiss illustrates this with examples from Socrates himself) so there is lots of practical advice to keep the reader right. I was reading this at Easter and the story of Jesus joining the two on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection with a provocative conversation-starting question immediately took my mind to this book. Indeed Jesus first public act as a 12 year old was to spend time with the teachers in the temple hearing them and asking them questions. I’m sure Jesus wasn’t a student of the Socratic Method but he was certainly an exponent.

How to Know Everything is a reminder of the power of good questions for both learning and teaching and a warning against making do with apparent shortcuts.

Recommended – thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.

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Posted in communication

The Mind of Mr. J. G. Reeder

By Edgar Wallace

Read (characterised without sound effects) by David Horovitch

J G Reeder is the epitome of his contemporary, the hard boiled detective (Marlowe, et al.) a slightly shabby, easily overlooked and always underestimated little man with red hair, weak eyes, whiskers, square-toed boots and never without his always furled umbrella. No wise cracks just self deprecation. A quintessentially English creation of the crime writer Edgar Wallace.

David Horovitch does a masterful job of bringing all the characters to life in these recordings originally broadcast on BBC Radio 7 in 2007. Abridged to 30 mins each by Neville Teller.

4 Episodes, each a stand-alone story
The Poetical Policeman
The Troupe
The Green Mamba
The Strange Case

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Posted in Crime and Detective Fiction

Raymond Chandler: The BBC Radio Drama Collection

Full Cast Drama
I’ve said it before and it’s worth saying again, nobody does radio drama better than the BBC and to my ear there are no audio books to rival the BBC’s full cast recordings. Toby Stephens captures the world weariness of Philip Marlowe and this complete set of the BBC versions of Chandler’s classics recorded in 2011 is how we all think of the hard boiled / film noir detective. Eight stories, roughly eleven hours, in all and every one a classic:
The Big Sleep
Farewell My Lovely
The High Window
The Lady in the Lake
The Little Sister
The Long Goodbye
Poodle Springs 

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Posted in Crime and Detective Fiction

One Ordinary Day at a Time

By Sarah J. Harris

One Ordinary Day at a Time is a study of two characters. Jodie Brook, orphan never in one place very long, troubled education concluded by becoming a single mum. Aspires to study Literature at Cambridge. Simon Sparks, child genius, mathematician extraodinaire, Cambridge scholar. Both serving fries in Prince Burger.

Jodie’s doing an Access to Higher Education Diploma at Kensington College so she’s making an effort to succeed at her goal but what’s Simon doing? Wry smile here! It’s years since I taught on an Access course (one of the earliest) but I’d guess Jodie’s teacher Monica and the team will have been rebuilding her confidence and getting her and others very like her back on track. College is just a means to an end, we realise that!

I loved the story. Even as progress is being made in the present secrets and lies from the past are surfacing and threatening to destroy everything. I’d just finished a book by one of my favourite authors and the cliffhangers at the end of the chapters kept my interest in that one. With this book I just wanted to keep reading, simply didn’t notice the time passing!

ARC courtesy Netgalley and Harper Fiction.

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Posted in fiction, humour

The Word on the Box

Editor: David Porter

I’ve a lot of books on the shelf I’ve referred to but not read (and too many I’ve barely opened). This is one I bought with about a dozen others, bargains, possibly remainders and maybe in some cases, judging by the biro underlining on one page towards the end of this book, second hand.

The Word on the Box is the text of the 1995 London Lectures in Contemporary Christianity, five lectures in all, delivered by experienced broadcasters speaking from a Christian perspective. Robert McLeish was Head of Corporate Management Training in the BBC before he left to become an international management consultant. As far as I’m concerned he’s the author of the definitive radio training book Radio Production; I’ve both the 2nd edition and the 6th (which I used for reference for the sound units I was involved in writing on the current Media HND). Justin Phillips was a BBC radio news veteran having working in the World Service and serving as deputy editor of The World Tonight. He died five years after delivering this lecture just before his fiftieth birthday and just after completing the manuscript of his book C.S. Lewis: In a Time of War about the BBC talks delivered during WWII which made C.S Lewis’s name. Graham Mytton was head of BBC Audience Research at the World Service at the time of this lecture becoming it’s Controller a year later. Alan Rogers had just left the BBC after an illustrious 25 year career including Head of Current Affairs, Magazine Programmes, Head of BBC Schools then BBC Education. At the time of his lecture Alan was a driving force behind ARK2 a cable Christian TV station due to launch imminently. Tim Dean was a senior manager in the World Service rising to Commissioning Editor before leaving in 2002 to become an Anglican Priest.

As it turned out 1995 was an interesting year for the lectures. They are very much of their time and fascinating to read with hindsight. This was a time when technology was making remarkable strides though yet immature enough for the speakers to predict (fairly accurately as it turned out) the impact on broadcasting. This was the time of CDROMs and the Internet was only just beginning to gain traction.

Alan Rogers gave the fourth lecture as Programme Director of ARK2 which would run out of money and fail to launch the following year despite raising £2 million. Other lectures were given in the context of the newly launched Premier Radio which would subsequently have to go “Christian only” to sustain its funding. The fifth speaker, Tim Dean, raised a number of potential problems with what he called “confessional” broadcasters. Funding (and specifically funders “calling the tune”) was one. Indeed Tim’s lecture was remarkably insightful.

Track this book down and consider five remarkable speakers whose broadcasting credentials were matched by their Christian commitment. 25 years later there is much to be learned from these lectures.

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Posted in Christian, Christian radio

When Sunday Comes

by Professor Claudrena N. Harold
4/5 In this insightful study of gospel music Professor Harold begins with a personal introduction explaining how family and community influences shaped her experience and understanding of gospel music.

From Reverend James Cleveland through the 1960s the author traces developments and debates in the gospel music industry to BeBe and CeCe Winans and Take 6 in the 1990s.

Cleveland signing with the Savoy record label for a rumoured 6 figure annual salary with a contract requiring several albums a year was a clear indication that it really had become an industry. It saw him have popular and commercial success to the extent of regularly having several songs concurrently in the top ten in the gospel charts. The Gospel Music Workshop of America, which he founded to develop and promote young talent, is an organisation that now numbers some 75,000 and features throughout When Sunday Comes.

Cleveland's criticism of Mighty Clouds of Joy when they had a "rock gospel" hits with the ABC label, arguing that in rock gospel the music takes precedence over the message is another recurring theme of the book.

The criticism of those who were perceived to have "sold out" by gospel purists for their collaboration in the secular realm continued to be a theme with Andrae Crouch and his involvement in film and TV. The uneasy relationship between Gospel Music and Contemporary Christian Music is considered in Crouch who often performed to predominantly white audiences. His appeal was due in part to the rise of the culturally radical Jesus Movement but it wasn't always a neat fit leading him to announce to one crowd "to those of you from the First Church of the Frigidaire, you don't have to do nothing. But if you come from the other side of the tracks ... we want you to clap your hands and join in with us" which seemed to break the ice.

Chronicling the careers of artists including Shirley Caesar, Walter Hawkins brother of Edwin Hawkins of the crossover hit O Happy Day, Reverend Al Green who started in pop music and made the transition into gospel, the Clark Sisters and groups such as Echoes, Commissioned and the Winans, Harold also considers the Detroit sound and classic black record labels such as Savoy and House of Beauty and their relationship with predominantly white labels Benson, Sparrow and Word.

In When Sunday Comes Professor Harold combines extensive research with access to first hand sources to produce a masterful documentary written from the perspective of a fan and an insider.
ARC courtesy Netgalley
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Posted in culture, Music

Monster:Living Off The Big Screen

by John Gregory Dunne
5/5 This is the cautionary tale of how 8 years and 27 draft scripts turned Golden Girl, the biography of TV anchorwoman Jessica Savitch into Up Close And Personal the 1996 Robert Redford and Michelle Pfeiffer vehicle.

Humourous, documentary-accurate, this is the screenwriters’ revenge. John Gregory Donne tells how screenwriters, in this particular case he and his wife Joan Didion, are at one and the same time primary and fundamental to the Hollywood system while being regarded as a curse to be borne, hacks for hire. Monster is the inside story of the directors, producers, agents, lawyers, et al.  who make the writer’s life a misery. It’s not a tell-all in the salacious sense but it does tell it like it is. I was going to say forget the glamour but there’s plenty of name-dropping, the Dunnes being writers of note in Hollywood and literary and journalistic circles.

This is pretty much autobiographical of the eight years of writing. If you want to get a Hollywood inside story this is equally enlightening and entertaining. Highly recommended.

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Posted in culture, Film