Bedtime Stories Are A Tradition: Will Digitalising Them Help?

Chinese mother and daughter reading together

As a long-term insomniac I have been searching for many years for a way to help me get to sleep and then stay in the land of nod for the entire night.

Therefore, I was intrigued by the news that Penguin Random House is teaming up with a number of charities and sleep organisations to create a series of stories designed to act as a soundscape to send listeners off to sleep. These tales will be offered as a sort of audiobook/ background music designed to help listeners to get themselves off to sleep without the use of drugs, which is the holy grail for anyone with troubles getting their evening rest.

Designed specifically with users in mind, the stories draw on the Sleep Council’s research into sounds that help people get themselves off into a relaxed state of mind, such as waves lapping on a shore, soft rainfall and birdsong. These noises will, presumably, be included alongside the words to create a unique tool.

Bedtime stories have been a tradition for hundreds of years, with children and even adults enjoying listening to hearing the sound of someone to read to them to help them get to sleep. Also, it’s long been known that reading before bed is supposed to help you get to sleep; however, I’ve always believed that this is more because it helps people to get away from their screens than any actual benefit that the reading gives you.

Whilst I think that the idea of stories to help you sleep is a good idea, it’s clear that Penguin Random House has planned for its tales to be more like a white noise machine than actual stories that listeners will be interested in, with engaging plots, exciting characters and thrilling conclusions.

As white noise machines, apps with certain specific noises and even CDs of whale music already in existence with the same sort of aim, it seems to me like this is merely another product in the already vast industry that does the same job as several others.

Something I’d really like to see is an app or network where people can read bedtime stories in a calm way and record them for others to listen to at their leisure. Sort of like audiobooks, but more personal. It’s possible that audiobooks may work just as well, although my idea would make it more fun for people who want to hear only certain stories or who are looking for something with less background noise and alternating voice tone. To be honest, you could probably find something similar if look hard enough on YouTube, or you could just make your own, or have a friend do it for you.

In all, the point I’m trying to make is that tales designed to send you off to the land of nod is not a bad shout, but they’ll probably do the same sort of job as any other solution on the market. You need to try and find the solution that’s right for you, and if the sleep stories from Penguin Random House don’t work, then they’ll be something else out there to help you. After all, every aspect of the healthcare market is capable of being monetised, and insomnia is one of the top sectors out there. They’ll be something, even if the sleep stories don’t work out. But they might be a good place to start.

Books: It’s All About Quality, Not Quantity

reading lots of books

An argument broke out on an Internet book forum recently about whether or not someone could possibly have read in a year. Someone the person posting knew had bragged about reading literally hundreds of books in a year, yet she didn’t believe this could possibly true.

Personally, I reckon she’s probably right; the person claiming it was probably just trying to show off. But it did raise the question: how many books is a good number?

I suspect this is a bit like asking how many blokes you’ve spent the night with, or how many snickers bars is allowed before you’re officially labelled a pig? There’s no real right or wrong answer: the number depends on you as an individual. Everyone reads at a different pace, and some people read every day, whilst some only do it on special occasions. Some read a little and often, some binge read an entire series in two days.

Whatever your number may be, the important thing is that you’ve read books you enjoy and that you’ve learned something from them. You can read absolutely anything and still learn from it; whatever you read, make sure you retain some form of information from it. That way, you’ll feel satisfied when you finally finish the book and you’ll be excited to carry on with the next book.

It doesn’t matter how many books you read, but rather the quality of your reading matter, or more to the point how much enjoyment and happiness you get out of them. You need to be happy with whatever you’re reading to truly get the benefits and to be completely engaged, which will ultimately lead to you retaining and remembering more information.

For those who want to count their books, or write them down in a journal, just remember that you’re doing great. You’re reading something, and that’s the most important thing.

Trace and Eliminate Review: Inspector Stark Is Back And Better Than Ever

trace and eliminate

After having interviewed author Keith Wright I was excited to check out the second in his Inspector Stark series. I had to wait a little while but eventually I received a copy and was keen to check it out.

Set in the 1980s, this latest in the Inspector Stark series sees the dogged detective battle against both his own demons and the seemingly motiveless murder of a solicitor.

A hard-working family man seemingly with everything going for him, there doesn’t seem to be any reason for anyone to kill him. As Stark and his team race to find the killer a second, equally motiveless murder occurs, and the team has to work even hard to prove themselves to be ahead of this evil killer.

This is only the second in the Inspector Stark series, yet somehow he feels like a long established character with his own quirks. Yet, despite this, he doesn’t feel like a tired caricature; Stark is as individual as it gets, and his team all work together well, interacting in a natural way that makes this book exciting, thrilling yet at the same time completely believable.

The characterisation is the real selling point for this novel, with the core detectives, their suspects and witnesses all perfectly crafted so as to be both suspicious and at the same time believable. Many obvious but often-overlooked traits, such as pride, envy and intuition are all shown here in all their glory, making readers sympathetic to the character’s and their situations.

One thing I would say, and it’s literally my sole criticism, is that at times the language is a little clunky. There’s a lot of hedging that goes on, with phrases like ‘a bit’ used with alarming regularity at times. At others, the novel is exceptionally witty and intense, with the author taking control of the narrative and driving it towards intense conclusions that leave readers guessing with every new clue discovered and every new lead followed.

In all, this is a great historical novel, and as such if you’re a fan of old school detectives then Trace and Eliminate is the book for you.

Book Reviews: Why Aren’t Children’s Books Getting The Space They Deserve?

kids reading books

Recently the Bookseller announced that just 4.9% of all reviews were children’s books, which seems strange when you consider that the Independent stated that in 2018 the children’s book market had grown yet again and was now worth a whopping £383 million.

As adults and children alike enjoy a wide range of increasingly complicated and enticing books, it begs the question: why aren’t they getting reviewed?

It could be a case of poor management on their publisher’s parts: after all, a big part of any book promotion is marketing, of which reviews are a part, and if they’re not coordinated properly then they simply won’t work/ happen.

A big part, however, is most probably the lack of respect that marketing firms and publications alike have for kid’s books. Everyone seems to think they’re poorly done and not as important or good as fiction aimed at adults, when in fact when they’re well done children’s books are skilfully crafted masterpieces rich in characterisation and description. Considering the greater limitations that children’s authors have placed on them, I’d even go so far as to suggest that it’s harder to write a book for kids than for adults.

So, what is there to be done? Well, for starters the book reviewing industry needs to change. I myself will be working to add more young adult books to my blog (given that it’s a crime fiction blog it’s hard to find much kid’s fiction that gritty enough, but I’ll try). For the wider market, work needs to be done to educate more reviewers about the importance and value that’s to be found in children’s literature.

However, the biggest change that really needs to be made is a greater focus on getting young people to review books. After all, they’re written with them in mind, so they should be reviewing them too. In today’s modern society where every 4 year old has an iPad, computers are incredibly accessible and more young people should be using them to write reviews of the books they enjoy.

At the end of the day, I’m always encouraging people, especially young people, to read more, as are many others, but when it comes to writing there’s less encouragement, and that’s simply wrong. We should be pushing more young people to get out there and start reviewing the books they like to read. They don’t even have to get their work published; as this very blog illustrates, anyone can set up their own space to share their reviews, so there’s literally no excuse not to!



Summer Birthday Gifts For The Reader In Your Life

summer gift ideas booklovers

It was my birthday on Saturday, and whilst I don’t get a lot of gifts (because I’m over about five) I was spoiled rotten by my friends. Despite this, I always treat myself to something small every year to celebrate getting another year older.

Each year I try to find something new to tell myself that it’s all OK and I’m lucky enough to have a steady job and a small amount of disposable income, of which I’m proud.

At Christmas I posted my gift guide for when you’re treating a friend or someone you love, but what do you buy yourself or someone with a summer birthday when it’s just a little present?

It’s tempting to check out the soulless gift section of Waterstones and just grab something shitty from there (usually related to Harry Potter, seriously gift makers need to think outside of that box), but it’s always much nicer to pick up something handmade and unique.

Although you can check out Etsy and all those sorts of online marketplaces, the best place to look is always at a craft fair or in small, boutique shops. There you can find all sorts of cute trinkets for the book lover in your life, including unique bookmarks (FYI, we will end up just using receipts and old train tickets anyway, but it’s always lovely to be given a really cute bookmark), cool little reading lights or even book related paraphernalia, such as tote bags with cool quotes on.

If they’re a fan of a specific series then you’re in: it’s pretty much guaranteed that someone has made something related to it, so you can grab that and truss it up as a sweet little gift. Even some obscure book series have gifts you can buy for your loved ones, so explore and find something really unique.

So, I think what I’m really trying to say is that if you have someone in your life who loves books and is born in the summer, you don’t just have to buy them a voucher. There’s a lot of cool stuff out there you can treat them (or yourself) to!

Bodies From The Library 2 Review: Another Incredible Anthology Celebrating Golden Age Crime Fiction At Its Finest

bodies from the library 2

Initially, I found out about Bodies From The Library when someone recommended it as something I would enjoy.

They were completely right, and the first edition of this unique anthology of forgotten stories from some of the greatest golden age crime fiction writers was a real hit. I later looked into it and discovered that the anthology is linked to an event of the same name, which explores golden age writing and the influence it had on the crime fiction genre as a whole.

When I found out there was going to be a second edition I was excited to get my hands on it and see what new forgotten tales (some of which are actually previously unpublished) of this often underrated sub-genre editor Tony Medawar had in store.

This second collection is as ingenious, unique and perfectly curated as the first. Medawar has selected some real gems from previously overlooked authors, as well as old favourites such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers, as well as writers whose work has been forgotten over the years such as Q Patrick and Jonathan Latimer.

There is a truly diverse selection of tales here, from play and radio scripts through to dialogue driven short stories, descriptive narratives through to longer, almost novella-esq works. The stories are all written in English but are set around the world, and there are a variety of different writers here so that the reader can really delve into the depths of crime fiction, rather than settling on the more common authors and the predictable detectives.

Each story is accompanied by a short description of the author and their other work, offering readers a chance to find out more about the writer, their lives and the role they played in the crime fiction market during their day. Many of the authors were members (in some cases influential ones) of the Detection Club, the renowned dining club for crime fiction authors, and through his descriptions of their lives and works Medawar weaves a unique timeline of the club and its rich history of inspiring some of the greatest works of crime fiction that the world has ever seen.

If you need any further reason to check out Bodies From The Library 2, you need look no further than the Q Patrick thriller Exit Before Midnight. This ingenious tale is incredible and the perfect choice for the anthology, and its worth picking up a copy just to read this one story, although you’d be mad not to keep going afterwards.

At the end of the day, such a perfectly collected anthology is a testament to the hard work and dedication Medawar and his associates put in to showcasing the golden age of crime fiction. For those interested in the genre, this is a must-read.

Marcel Berlins Obituary

marcel berlins

On 31st July 2019 the world lost a truly inspirational crime fiction reviewer. Proud Frenchman, former lawyer and discerning traveller, this man was a true maverick who had often-derisive opinions that were nonetheless well researched, well argued and often ahead of their time.

For example, he was not a fan of national service and refused to participate, which at the time was considered unpatriotic but is now considered, by many, to be a sensible course of action.

Having fled Nazi-occupied France as a child, Berlins travelled the world, and he claimed to have learned perfect English by reading Agatha Christie novels. Later, he drew on this knowledge to become a popular figure in the literary world, regularly writing reviews for revered publications such as the Guardian and the Times. He also hosted a popular Radio 4 programme on the law and was a visiting professor in journalism for the City, University of London.

He was also an expert pianist, and he combined all of these unique and disparate skills to offer his opinion on crime fiction in a way that hadn’t seen before and will never be seen again. He could get straight to the issue of any book with ease and fully understood the problems or perfection that the author had created.

Through his understanding of the law and his ability to make it easily accessible to ordinary readers with no prior understanding he was able to take apart even complicated books, plots, narratives or storylines and unpick the intricacies with ease. He understood what readers were looking for from crime fiction and offered an honest opinion on whether they were getting it or not. Witty, dry and often downright hilarious, his reviews were a great source of joy for many and, in some cases, were better than reading the book itself.

As a crime fiction blogger and reviewer myself I have always respected Berlins and I understand that his loss is a great blow to the reviewing community, and the entire crime fiction market. When he died of a brain haemorrhage at the end of July, in losing Marcel Berlins the world lost a true genius.

Crime Fiction Treats For Summer

reading in summer

In the heat (if you’re lucky enough to actually get some) it can be fun to read escapist fiction and whisk yourself away to some distant land.

Many of my friends are taking away cheap, trashy romance novels, or books about travel when they go away on holiday.

Alternatively, if you’re looking for something a bit different but still as enjoyable, you could spook yourself and take a thrilling trip into the dark underworld with some great crime fiction.

In the summer, when we’re lucky and get some nice weather, which isn’t mad often because I live in the UK, I’m a big fan of grabbing the latest thriller and settling down for a read. After all, thrillers and detective novels are as escapist and, in many cases, as easy to read as most trashy romance novels, but many also incorporate really good writing techniques in as well.

Therefore, you can easily get through a good thriller and still be reading something well crafted and creative, rather than one of those awful cheap romances everyone seems to take to the beach.

August and the summer months are also a great time in the world of book buying, with many authors bringing out exciting new titles. Ian Rankin, Peter May and, everyone’s favourite, Stephen King, all have new releases out this summer, and as such there’s something new for everyone to try.

There are also some ace new thrillers and true life crime books out there right now, including Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud and the Last Trial of Harper Lee, which is a really gripping book for fans of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.

In all, thrillers and crime fiction books are a great way to go if you want something interesting, gripping but easy to escape into this summer. While you’re away lounging on a beach you can lose yourself in the latest murder case and let your imagination run free.