Blog Archives

Exporter of Popular Culture

Linnea Mills Author Interview

Linnea Mills Author Interview

I Spy with My Little Eye analyses and discusses our changing behaviours as a society. Why was this an important book for you to write?

This book was important for me to write for three different reasons. First, on a personal level, researching and writing this book has helped me think through a number of concerns that have been in the back of my mind for a while about the direction in which our society is heading. As a result of this process, I’m more convinced than ever that I, as a parent, need to make active choices that go against some of today’s societal trends if I’m to provide my children with a sensible worldview and a solid starting point in life.

Second, I find it worrying that there isn’t greater debate about the values and norms underpinning our society. I think we need to acknowledge and perhaps rethink many of our behaviours if we wish to solve some of the symptoms of ill-health that are plaguing our societies, such as stress and anxiety, financial indebtedness and shallow aspirations. It’s difficult to change course if we don’t know where we’re heading. Acknowledging the problems is therefore a good start. I raise a lot of issues for discussion in this book and it’s my hope that it will be used for spurring debates in schools, book clubs and other places.

Finally, as I see it, questions around morality have too often been outsourced to, and monopolized by, organized religion. What I want to show by using the seven deadly sins and seven heavenly virtues is that being religious is not a precondition for being concerned about, and engaging in discussions around, morality.

This book uses a combination of statistics, quotes and recent topics to illustrate various points. I thought the research was outstanding. What was one thing that surprised you while you were researching this book?

On the whole, the data I used in the various chapters supported the hunches I already had about the issues I raise. In that sense I wasn’t particularly surprised by what the data showed. That said, I was still horrified to have my suspicions confirmed, especially when it came to statistics concerning children, such as the large amount of time they, on average, spend in front of screens, and the little time they spend outdoors.

This book looks at some of the problems affecting Britain s society today. Is there a problem that is unique to Britain? What is a problem that is shares with the world?

Although I’m drawing on material mainly from the British context, the issues I’m discussing are applicable to many more countries than the UK. I would argue that much of what I write about are trends found across the Western world. For example, in the first chapter titled Pride I discuss how today’s ‘celebritisation’ – the increased celebration of celebrities – affects the aspirations of young people towards careers that come with fame and glamour. This trend is far from unique to Britain. Seeing, for example, that the reality TV series Keeping Up with the Kardashians is apparently aired in 167 countries, I would say this issue is rather widespread.

Also, the role of the West as a predominant exporter of popular culture and information means that the norms and values we experience today in Britain may well be the norms and values experienced across the developing world in the years to come, if they aren’t already.

I think it would be a worth-while exercise to organize cross-cultural debates around the issues I raise in this book. For example, it would be interesting to set up panel debates at universities for students from different countries to discuss commonalities and differences in how they perceive values and norms playing out in their respective societies.

I understand that you currently live in London, but you’ve also lived in various other countries. How has this affected you as a citizen?

I was born and raised in the Northern Swedish countryside and I have moved many times as an adult, both within countries and across countries and continents. For over a decade now I’ve called England my home; starting off in London, moving out to the Essex commuter belt, and more recently setting up shop in rural Devon.

These moves have naturally altered the mirrors in which I see myself in relation to other people and cultures. Each time these contextual mirrors have changed I have had to step out of autopilot mode and take stock. In that sense, I think the many moves have made me wiser and more understanding as a person. They have also added a comparative perspective to my societal observations. For example, I think I have a better grasp of American politics because I’ve lived in both Montana and Washington D.C. And, I think I understand European geopolitics better because I’ve called Sweden, France, Spain and the UK my home.

On the other hand, I would probably have exercised a louder societal and political voice if I had stayed in my home country. Being an immigrant comes with a natural wish to blend in, and to be accepted. Especially after Brexit, I have sadly found myself adding things like ‘my husband is British’ or ‘I’ve been in England for many years’ when I meet new people simply to justify my existence in this country. I must also admit that I’ve had a fear when writing this book that people will think ‘who are you to come here and judge us?’ I sincerely hope the book won’t evoke such feelings.

What is the next book that you are writing and when will it be available?

In my next book I highlight the Western world’s evaporated trust in politics, business, and international institutions and argue that we need to tackle this lack of trust through greater focus on integrity and honesty in public life. I shed light on a number of the mechanisms believed to induce integrity through interesting (and hopefully amusing) cases from around the world, including whether Donald Trump’s fibbing can be stopped by naming and shaming, and if FIFA’s culture of corruption is finally an issue of the past. My intention with the book is to re-package academic research into an approachable format and let interesting cases bring the theories to life.

The book is only in its research phase so it won’t be ready for publishing for quite a while still.

Author Links: GoodReads | LinkedIn

I Spy with My Little Eye: A journey through the moral landscape of Britain by [Mills, Linnea]Which direction is our society heading in? Does it provide a good enough nurturing ground for the next generation to flourish? Is it time we took a good look at our values and behaviour and changed course? Dr Linnea Mills offers a frank discussion about the prevailing norms and values in today’s Britain, interpreted through the seven deadly sins and seven heavenly virtues. She tackles head-on topics as diverse as celebrity culture, work-life balance, immigration politics and economic divisions. This is a book for anyone with a keen interest in society, philosophy and politics. Get inspired and join the debate.

Buy Now From Amazon.com

A Victim of Circumstances

Arti Chugpai Author Interview

Arti Chugpai Author Interview

Phoenix tells the story of Sonam and her trials and tribulations as she builds her life as a woman in India. What was your inspiration for this heart-felt novel?

I have been inspired by experience and observation. My family background has been similar, and I have closely observed the lives of urban well-educated women in India. Despite a progressive education and multifaceted skills, they are expected to conform to obsolete family norms and not allowed to make life choices. This is especially true for the year 1983, when the protagonist Sonam wants to extricate herself from an abusive marriage. Indian society then was full of paradoxes: on one hand was the evolution of a knowledge society and unprecedented technological advancement and on the other deeply entrenched dogmatic beliefs in gender stereotypes. Instead of sympathising with a woman who was a victim of circumstances, her family and friends blamed her for her misfortunes and ostracised her.

I felt that this novel confronted gender stereotypes in a bold way. What themes did you want to capture while writing this book?

I have always felt strongly about the unequal playing field provided to women, even in the educated elite class, and the perception that they are appendages to male family members, whether father, brother or husband. Why should women be accorded respect only if they have empathetic men to battle for them? This discrimination is especially difficult to combat since one is pushing against one’s parents and closest family members whom one loves and respects. Through this novel, I wanted to highlight the need to cherish and support daughters as individuals regardless of the presence and status of their life partners.

I felt that Sonam was a multilayered character that was judged by her failings rather than her success. What were the driving ideals behind the characters development throughout the story?

While her parents despair of what will happen to Sonam after she leaves her husband and judge her by her failure in relationship, she demonstrates exceptional skills and shines in her workplace as an achiever. Her personality growth from 1983 to 2017 despite all odds illustrates the triumph of the spirit over ostracism, bigotry, negativity and injustice. She is rejuvenated from the ashes, just like the mythical bird, phoenix.

What is the next book that you are writing and when will it be available?

My next book, tentatively titled ‘A Journey Within’ has a very different story though it also deals with women’s issues. The lives of 16 Indian women of varying age groups intersect when they go on an all-women’s trip to Spain and Portugal. As events unfold during and after the trip, each of them reaches a realization that changes her life forever.

Author Links: Amazon | Website

Phoenix by [Chugpai, Arti]

Caught in an abusive marriage, Sonam Aggarwal finds no family support when she struggles to break free. However, with unwavering grit, she makes a place for herself in the world and rises like a phoenix from the ashes of her dead marriage to discover true companionship and professional success. 

The evolution of a knowledge society in India that places a premium on human knowledge and skills regardless of gender finally bequeaths her a coveted place in the sun. The novel focuses on the core strength of a woman that asserts her value despite external trappings and women characters who go through their individual struggle with the inevitable challenges that threaten their existence. 

Phoenix, a novel, traces the life of Sonam and her upper class family in South Delhi from 1983 to 2017. It highlights the curious paradoxes in Indian society: its global leadership in digitalization contrasted with antiquated prejudices and gender stereotypes.

Buy Now From Amazon.com

Shadows, Shells, and Spain

John Meyer Author Interview

John Meyer Author Interview

Shadows, Shells, and Spain follows Jaime as he searches for his wife by following clues she’s left for him along Spain’s Camino trail. What was your inspiration for the setup to this novel?

Well, I knew that I wanted to write about the Camino. The adventure had everything I think I needed to write my next book. I had the rich history of the Camino; I knew I would uncover interesting anecdotes in every town; and I was assured that I would meet wonderful characters from around the world. All I needed to do was add my fictional story to my already unbelievable reality.

Now when I embarked on my own pilgrimage, I, of course, was immediately fascinated with Spain’s compelling landscape and the Camino’s magical history, but it was the people on the path who really inspired me. Each walker had their own personal reason for their demanding journey. Some had just quit their jobs. Some had just quit their marriages. Some just needed to unplug from their stressful lives back home. Whatever their reason they were all united in their belief that walking across Spain would help them heal from their hurts or stimulate their minds to live their lives better when they returned home.

So I knew I needed main characters in my book who were equally damaged and required more time to heal from the pain in their pasts. That was the starting point. Then I added the mystery, the suspense, and the quirky love story….

Jamie is a fascinating character and his relationship with Brie becomes something more than he expected. Did you plan their relationship or did this happen organically as you were writing?

For the most part it was planned because I outline everything! I know my beginning and my ending and everything in between. Now while the story evolves and I discover things along the way (especially how characters act and react to each other), the basic narrative remains intact….especially the ending.

I think about my ending much more than my beginning. The ending is often the first thing I write. Even if it’s only a paragraph or a few lines of dialogue, it sits there the entire time while I write everything else. Then when I reach that ending, I only have to tweak it. If I don’t have my ending, I don’t start writing!

However, having said that, yes, Jamie and Brie’s relationship did change organically too. I mean, every scene and every conversation had its theme or drama that I had to convey to the reader, but I didn’t always know exactly how I would convey that.

So with their voices firmly in my head, their conversations came quite easily. But in some scenes, yes, I did have to change direction because I knew that Jamie or Brie wouldn’t say or do certain things. It eventually became down to a scene-by-scene litmus test: “What would Jamie do?” or “What would Brie say?”

This book highlights some fascinating historical and architectural sights. What draws you to the history of Spain?

Because I write what I call fictional travel memoirs, I need locations that are rich in history, filled with local, colorful characters, and steeped in adventure. And now in two of my books, I’ve been drawn to Spain for all those reasons and more.

The first time was in my book, Bulls, Bands, and London, where I ran with the bulls during Pamplona’s San Fermin Festival. London was the primary focus of the story but Pamplona was where the main character was truly challenged and had to make a life-altering decision—while risking his life being pursued by a half-dozen frightened bulls.

Now in my current book, Shadows, Shells, and Spain, the adventure itself is far less dangerous but it still challenges you physically, mentally, and for many pilgrims, spiritually. To outside pilgrims scattered across the globe, the Camino is perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for some serious soul-searching. To Spanish pilgrims, this 800 kilometer trek is almost a rite of passage: a journey every Spaniard must make in order to test his or her body, free his or her mind, nurture his or her soul—and truly understand what it means to be Spanish.

That’s what draws me to Spain. It doesn’t matter where you live, what you do for a living, or how much money you make, every citizen embraces their heritage and takes a moment to re-connect with the land and dig deep inside their hearts to re-focus their minds to what’s truly important in their lives.

Is there any message you might like to leave with your readers?

Whether you read my new book or not, I really encourage everyone to walk the Camino at some point in their lives. It really does inspire you and gives you plenty of time to contemplate your life while you meet many other friendly, likeminded souls marching across Spain—just like you! Sure, you can contemplate your life while sitting on your couch as well… but only by leaving all your distractions behind can you really experience some form of positive growth. Plus you’re going to lose a lot of weight! And that’s a pretty good deal too…

Author Links: GoodReads | Twitter | Facebook | Website

Shadows, Shells, and Spain by [Meyer, John]Lost and listless on the island of Mallorca, Jamie Draper searches for his estranged wife, Pam, who has left him without any explanation or warning. Exploring her last known location, Jamie stumbles upon an urgent letter from his missing wife promising full disclosure as to her sudden departure and her current whereabouts. There’s just one catch: her mysterious adventure is disclosed in a series of letters she’s left hidden along the ancient Camino trail across northern Spain. Now armed with a list of clues to track the letters down, Jamie retraces Pam’s footsteps, while being both entertained and challenged by the many colorful Camino characters he meets along the way—including the enchanting Brie, who harbors her own secrets that just might compromise Jamie’s intended reunion with his wife. 

Buy Now From Amazon.com

Shadows, Shells, and Spain

Shadows, Shells, and Spain

Would you walk a mile for someone you love? What about 300 miles? In John Meyer’s Shadows, Shells and Spain this adult fictionalized travel memoir tells the story of Jamie Draper’s journey on the Camino de Santiago trail.

Jamie Draper was a happily married man who loved his wife Pamela very much. But when she surprised him with a divorce, it had caught him off guard. Ever since he received a postcard addressed to him from Spain, it had sent him on a journey. He quit his job as a history teacher in Canada and moved to Palma, Spain, hoping to reconnect with his wife and discover why she so abruptly left him. He then starts a journey to follow the Camino trail to find his wife by following the subtle hidden clues in her letters to him. Along the way he makes interesting friends and explores the trail with some intriguing strangers. He meets a British woman named Brie Bletcher, who’s estranged from her husband Martin. When Jamie tells her his story, she joins him on the trip. Gaining clues and traveling along a striking trail they  hit some snags from missing letters to some stained by the weather. When Jamie discovers that his wife is very sick in a new batch of letters, it gives his mission a new urgency.

This story takes place in present day Spain and some parts of Canada. These are beautiful landscapes on their own and John Meyer is able to bring them to life with vivid details. This being a fictional travel memoir I expected some heavy scene descriptions, but these were broken up by the curious characters that pop up along the trail as well as Jamie’s intereactions with Brie. The story was well written and grows more profound the longer he travels the trail. It had a bit of literary fiction, romance, mystery and drama all wrapped into one story. The theme, I felt, is about life, loss and love, and how to move on from grief. This would be ideal for people who love travelogues and who love tear-jerking novels.

Although I enjoyed reading this book, there’s a lot of factual and historical tidbits that slow the pace of the story. I wish this was streamlined so that I could get back to my favorite part, the characters. Although travel readers will enjoy the architectural highlights of each town and accompanying history. If you can’t make it to Spain, this is your next best option.

Pages: 287 | ASIN: B0756JF632

Buy Now From Amazon.com

Room 11

Room 11: A man sits singing where a woman lies dreaming

Mari Reiza, author of Room 11, gives readers two women’s accounts of the same events via their own dreamlike states. A comatose woman and her doting husband are tended by a dedicated but overly-involved nurse. The nurse, focused heavily on the needs of the adoring husband, gives her account of the meticulous care he shows his bedridden wife underscored by her own daydreams which reveal an intense yearning to take his wife’s place. In alternating chapters, Reiza allows the reader to hear the wife’s dreams loud and clear via her own tangled memories. Hers are dreams peppered with fantasies based on the events taking place around her.

The style Mari Reiza has chosen to use in writing Room 11 offered me quite a different reading experience. I enjoyed the alternating chapters revealing the two different points of view of both the needy nurse and the comatose wife. About halfway through the book, it became more obvious that Reiza was revealing dreams from the wife that painted a picture of her immediate surroundings and her husband’s desperate efforts to rouse her.

I did find it much easier to follow the nurse’s daydreams than the wife’s fantastical retellings. At times, the wife’s chapters became very difficult to follow. There are many lines that are effectively repeated to make an impact on the reader. Reiza has succeeded in expressing the wife’s distress over her own inability to have children. However, much of the wife’s narrative becomes a series of rambling and repetitive lines.

The author paints a clear picture of the man in Room 11, as the nurse refers to him throughout the book. His love for his wife is heartrendingly obvious. His dedication to her care and, most of all, her dignity in her current condition is indeed enviable. Any person who has been the caretaker for a relative or patient will relate to the exhausting amount of effort the man in Room 11 bestows upon his ailing wife day in and day out.

Throughout the dreams and musings of both women, multiple settings are incorporated into the story. Among them are Ghana and Northern Spain. Though the reader slowly discerns the main setting is in the United Kingdom, both women’s tales reveal troubled pasts beyond its borders. The author has created a vision of a tormented life for both characters. Living in vastly different economic circumstances, the nurse and the wife both expose the anguish of devastating losses. The two women share a common bond they will likely never realize.

As I read, I was both fascinated by and disturbed by the nurse’s infatuation with the man in Room 11. Reiza has created a memorable character with the nurse as she divulges dark, almost sinister, feelings toward her helpless patient. Her increasingly stalker-like behaviors leave the reader both intrigued and uncomfortable. It is a given that the reader’s compassion should be directed to the wife in her unfortunate state, but the nurse is a character much more worthy of pity.

Though the language is beautiful and the story woven by the two women is fascinating, I found their dreams difficult to follow. I feel that too much repetition, especially in the wife’s dream sequences, took away from the book’s overall appeal.

Pages: 128 | ASIN: B06XJ3X7JZ

Buy Now From Amazon.com

The Time Slipsters

The Time Slipsters5 Stars

Book 3 in the Dreadnought Collective series returns to the home of Terry and Sandra Tumbler. Terry and his wife plan a return holiday to Turkey, recalling their last visit with their grandson, Seb, when his tour group from the Sombrella Syndicate got into trouble in the underground city of Derinkuyu. They’d like to go again to see it at their leisure. Terry invites several couples who had accompanied them on an earlier visit to Santiago. Since they’d had trouble on that particular tip, Terry sweetens the deal by booking a luxury version of fast-travel flying cars, colloquially known as “potties,” to speed them on their way.

On arrival in Istanbul, the five couples embark on a grand tour of historic sites on a large coach, shared by a group of Spanish tourists. During their travels, Terry meets with a mysterious man named Marius. Marius asks Terry for help regarding Alien visitations, and Terry is delighted. His love of researching UFO phenomena may help save lives, and Marius may be able to explain the odd dreams Terry is having. When the tour visits the ancient hospital of Asklepion, the true nature of the “Magic Carpet” tour coach (dubbed the Turkish Floater by Wilf) is revealed, and the travelers slip back in time to witness ancient Rome in person. This leads to uncovering the mystery of the aliens who have been living under the auspices of the Sombrella Syndicate, and a threat to earth.

If you can’t tell by the irreverent names of the vehicles, this is a very funny book. The Time Slipsters is a delightfully fun read. It crosses genre borders as easily as the Magic Carpet crosses timelines. The story spans science fiction, travelogue, historical fiction and comedy while showing a vibrant world of the future and the past. Terry is a loveable rogue, and his gaffes are both funny and important to the story. Laughing at phallic rock formations and obsessing over bathroom facilities in ancient buildings could be jokes, but they may come in handy later.

But the trip is not all fun and games. When the ship begins to slip between time zones, the travelers are under very explicit orders to stay away from the locals. One of them foolishly ignores that advice, and like any time travel story, what you do in the past can have a ripple effect into the future.

The author’s imagination is truly fantastic. Even the little details of this future world are well fleshed out. There’s the concept of Democracy on Demand that allows people to guide their government by instantaneous voting. And sure, the flying cars are neat, but what about smart suitcases that carry themselves to and from your hotel, or having delicate surgery performed by nanobots while you sleep? I can’t start on the alien technology without spoilers, so you’ll have to read for yourself.

One thing I liked was the occasional break in the intrigue so I could wander the streets of ancient monuments along with the characters. It’s clear the author has visited these places and wants to share these remarkable places and their histories with others.

Though Seb Cage Begins His Adventures was a book aimed at young readers, The Time Slipsters is decidedly more adult. The adult humor and a few sexual references, though never explicit, wouldn’t be appropriate for a young reader. If you like SF, time travel stories, or dry British humor, you’ll like this book.

Pages: 291 | ASIN: B018MLKT7M

Buy Now From Amazon.com

%d bloggers like this: