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My Thoughts About … ‘The Baggage Handler’ by Colin Browne

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SYNOPSIS

Available From Amazon

Martin White, editor of The Shallow Review of Books, likes his life as he likes his work: shallow. Living in purposeful near-isolation in the middle of a crowded city, he keeps his relationships superficial and his life uncomplicated. His deliberate avoidance of social potholes prompts his colleagues to turn to him for assistance handling their own life and relationship baggage, which only strengthens his resolve never to allow any of it into his life. He’s pretty happy, albeit hollow and empty.

But then Kasia turns up. Young, Polish, focused on minding her own business, she neither invites, nor encourages Martin’s flailing attempts at romance, but he can’t help himself. For reasons that defy logic for an isolationist such as he, he falls for her, hard. Years of handling baggage have done nothing to equip him to handle his own however as he realizes with excruciating displays of ineptitude, again and again. He’s way out of his depth …

Faced with a challenge by Rich, his more socially adept colleague, to ask Kasia out within a week or Rich will, Martin has no option but to open the doors to all the complexity of modern life and relationships as he re-emerges from the shadows.

A twisted romantic comedy, written from the male perspective, The Baggage Handler is an acknowledgement that if you’re going to be serious about it, this love stuff is hard

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A LITTLE ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Colin Browne, has lived and worked in several countries, including Belgium, Dubai and South Africa, however he has returned to his birthplace of England, where these days, he calls London his home.

Colin’s early career was in business-to-business magazines, writing articles which  took  him on his worldwide travels.

Latterly, he has become involved in the conception and and start-up of a successful sales resource company, ‘SALESGURU’, in South Africa, which he has now left in the safe hands of his two partners and which continues to flourish and develop.

Today, Colin is still very much in the thrall of corporate culture and it is this energy which drives him to speak on the subject at almost every given opportunity, where he enjoys sharing the hard fought lessons he has learned over the years, with his audience.

He is now making time to indulge in his love of writing, which has been a big part of his life for many years, although this has only recently brought him recognition, with the publication of this, his debut novel ‘The Baggage Handler’

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WORDS FROM THE BOOK WHICH I THOUGHT WERE SIGNIFICANT

‘But he still struggled to lose the mindset he had when he founded it as an ironic blog and twitter feed. It was supposed to be a statement against shallowness; a veiled lashing out at the people who believe that superficiality and substance are the same things. He guessed those people didn’t care about reading good books anything like as much as they did about being seen reading the hottest book of the moment.’

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“So I met this writer and I thought she was great and since I never meet the writers, I thought I’d also read her book. Well, sort of read it anyway. She told me what it was about and I flipped through it. So I wrote the review on that.”

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Are these words spoken by Martin the character, or through him a cynical message from the author ?

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MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THE BOOK

After those two passages from the book, I am almost scared to write down my thoughts about ‘The Baggage Handler’, for fear of being thought too shallow, or worse still, not even reading the book !

So, I had better begin by stating that I read every single word, on every single page, of every book I write about.

It didn’t take long to recognise that to read this book I would have to be quite broad-minded, as being written by a man, conversing predominantly with other men, it was suitably replete with what I would describe as mens ‘locker-room’ humour, innuendo and language. In the overall context of the story though, I didn’t find this overtly offensive or overused.

This was certainly a character based novel rather than plot based, as the story itself was an easy uncomplicated one, which left Colin with plenty of scope to enhance the content with some excellent characterisations which grew in depth during the course of the book, with even the background characters taking on some important and relevant roles of their own.

This, coupled with some excellent dialogue, (much of it making me cringe with embarassment at its ineptitude on Martin’s part), together with some tastefully executed humorous exchanges, particularly between Martin and Kasia, made ‘The Baggage Handler’ fun to read. I found myself alternating between frustration and sorrow at the depths of Martin’s inability to communicate other than on a totally superficial level, with wanting to shout and lash out at him for his utterly wimpish and at times downright callous behaviour.

First of all I had to get used to the idea that there was a complete role reversal in this story, which meant that Martin’s reactions came across as almost feminine and submissive, whereas Kasia was definitely in charge of the situation throughout, until she decided that enough was enough and Martin needed to step up to the mark if he was in any way serious about a relationship with her.

In Martin we superficially see a shallow, lonely and excessively defensive character, who is only best able to communicate with those outside contacts over whom he feels he is able to exert some modicum of control. Surprisingly this ‘shallowness’ has brought him some success in his career, albeit a career which many would find quiet distasteful.  This success has also had some quite surprising side effects, as he is now treated as an inhouse ‘agony aunt’ by his colleagues, although whether they are laughing with him or at him, is a debatable point. I got the impression that whilst Martin is outwardly laughing with people, inwardly he is crying out for help and becoming increasingly isolationist and withdrawn.

As the story progresses it is easy to see why Martin may be quite as bad as he is at communicating. Whilst he comes from a family with an excellent career pedigree, communication skills as a family unit are almost non-existent. It would seem that he has never had a true father/son relationship with his father, to whom winning is the ‘be all and end all’ of everything, whilst he has a love/hate relationship with his overbearing, overpowering and domineering mother. Basically, Martin has never been able to meet, yet alone exceed, their expectations of him, leaving him underconfident and acting like a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders.

He is unable to cope with rejection and after having been unceremoniously ‘dumped’ by his one true love, has decided that the only way not to get hurt again, is not to get close enough to anyone to allow that situation to arise. This strategy only serves to make him appear a cold and distant character who seems to have no feelings, therefore leaving him even more open to being hurt, however unintentionally, by friends and colleagues who do not understand this strange behaviour.

To a perplexed Kasia, it appears that Martin is completely uninterested and unconcerned that she may have problems of her own and despite her giving him all the chances in the world to be completely open and honest with each other, she decides that she is not going to be able to make the breakthrough necessary, to move the relationship off of first base.

Several people try to offer Martin advice on how to turn things around with Kasia, although it is eventually the combined efforts of three relative strangers, unknown to each other, who bring him to his senses, helped in an odd way by his mostly absent mother, who does actually seem genuine in her concern for her son’s happiness, yet unable to articulate it to him.

Martin learns some invaluable lessons from his mentors; you can separate your work from your personal life; this whole concept of love and ‘happy ever after’ is a two way street; and that he just needs to ‘grow a pair’ and accept that if things don’t always go according to plan, then you have to take it on the chin and stop keep blaming the world and everyone else in it, for your woes …. and the outcome? …. well you’ll just need to read the book and find out for yourself!

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The characters have been well developed through various defined stages and I could see them transitioning from chapter to chapter.

The plot, although simple and basic, is well developed and runs its full course, with a distinct beginning, middle and end, leaving no loose ends or hurried conclusions.

There was just the right amount of humour injected, so that situations remained controlled and focused, yet still left me smiling as I read.

I do not rate books on my own blog, however, as the review is to be posted on various sites which do require a star rating system, I will be awarding ‘The Baggage Handler’ 4 stars.

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As this was an author invitation to read and review, a copy of The Baggage Handler was sent to me free of charge, by its author, Colin Browne.

This will in no way influence any comments I may express about the book, in any blog article I may post. Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article.

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Written by
Yvonne

I can’t remember a time, even as a child, when I haven’t been passionate about books and reading.
I began blogging, when I realised just how many other people out there shared my passion for the written word and I have been continually amazed at the wealth of books that are available and the amount of great new friends I have made, from literally 'The Four Corners Of The World'.

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17 comments
  • Wonderful review, Yvonne. Possibly not my kind of thing but I enjoyed reading about it nevertheless. If I spot it anywhere I’ll get it for my husband as he enjoys that kind of book. It’s quite refreshing I find when male authors sometimes write men as they really are amongst themselves. That can be a bit of a mystery to us women so it’s interesting to find out about it. Part of the reason we read is to discover things we know little of so I like that a lot, even though it can be a bit shocking sometimes. LOL.

    • Hi Cath,

      I wonder if men ever get the same urge to read chick-lit, to discover how women interact with each other? I would lay odds that they have no idea just how ‘bitchy’ we females can be when backed into a corner, or how we rate and discuss men behind their backs. I think they would be quite surprised to realise that ‘checking out’ the opposite sex, is not exclusively in the male domain!

      Neither chick-lit, nor romantic humour, are genres of book that I would read too regularly, but they can make an enjoyable change occasionally. There is no doubt that this was an enjoyable, well written, debut novel.

      Thanks for the kind comment and for taking the time to stop by.

      • I must ask my husband why he likes the occasional chick-lit book. I’m not sure that it’s to find out more about women. I think it’s more than he likes an easy, fun sort of read for bedtime. Janet Evanovitch is one of his favs for instance. Plus, he can be better than me at random grabbing of books at the library. I tend to look very carefully at random books (making them anything but ‘random’ really… lol) whereas he will just take anything and give it a try, so I know he would happily read this book you’ve reviewed here.

        Funny… I absolutely love a rom com film but rarely read such things in book form. Katie Fforde is the closest I come to that.

        • Hi Cath,

          I am pretty good at grabbing random books and will give most things a try, although not unfortunately science fiction, that’s where I draw the line, although if there were no other books available I guess I would read it then!

          I have never tried any Janet Evanovitch so that’s another one for my list, although I have read one or two Katie Fforde books in the past.

          I don’t really like rom com films either and am always being berated by my nieces for having no taste. Hubbie has always watched thrillers or action films, so I have just gone along with that, although I am finding just lately that I just don’t have the patience to sit still through a couple of hours film. I can always find the time to sit and watch a good detective televison series or film though, although if I do miss a show it doesn’t really bother me as it would have done in the past.

          I am still reading ‘A Dead Red Heart’ which is a mystery with a little humour and romance thrown into the mix and I have to say that I am really enjoying it so far.

          There really are just too many books and not enough time!!

  • Hey Yvonne!

    Thank you so much for the thoughtful (and thorough) review. I have to admit, I have been laughing a little lately at the thought of asking book reviewers to review a book in which the lead character is a particularly cynical book reviewer. I honestly never put two-and-two together and it has made me giggle a little. Rest assured I am anything BUT disdainful of reviewers and very much aware of how valuable you are in helping me get some visibility for my work.

    It’s rewarding to note that the principal points I was trying to play with in this novel managed to get across: the gender role reversal for example and the jet turbo attack helicopter model of parenting where his mother will drop into his life, whip it all up and zoom back out again.

    For the final draft, for pace, and for the sake of at least demonstrating some of the humanity I saw in her, I toned Isabel down a lot. There were things that even I couldn’t allow her to do to Martin.

    I’m really thrilled that you thought the characters were worthwhile and that they had been developed sufficiently to hold your interest. They felt real to me and I had real conversations with them throughout the writing, but as the author, I am obviously the very worst judge of whether I got the result I intended.

    Ultimately if my book made you smile, then I think it did its job.

    I have another novel called The Ninth which is a good deal more challenging, darker and more disturbing coming right up. Love stories aren’t always comedic and sweet, I guess. If you haven’t had enough Colin Browne for a lifetime, I’d love to slip that one onto your e-reader sometime in April.

    In the mean time, please accept my sincere thanks for taking the time to read The Baggage Handler, write about it and create such a lot of buzz about it on your blog. I really am very grateful.

    • Hi Colin,

      Thanks so much for taking the time and trouble to stop by and leave comment, I really do appreciate it.

      I hadn’t thought about the scenario you laid out in your email, whereby an author commenting on their own review might be seen as damaging the impartiality and integrity of myself as the reviewer.

      I have found that quite the reverse applies, whereby other readers and bloggers seem to genuinely enjoy and encourage the author to take part in discussions about thier own books and reviews.

      I am always genuine in my reviews and will in no way be influenced by the ‘persuasiveness’ of an author to engineer a positive review. I do however, always try to be objective in any opinions I may share and will not mark a book down too heavily just because it is not to my personal taste. I think that if a review is comprehensive and objective enough, then most readers will be able to decide whether a book is for them or not.

      Enjoying a book or not, is purely a matter of personal taste, however the message that I am sending out to people is hopefully designed to highlight the quality and content of the writing and plot.

      ‘The Baggage Handler’ was a genuinely enjoyable experience to read and whilst there were some obviously deep and underlying personal issues that came across very successfully in the storyline, overall it did leave me smiling long after I had finshed reading.

      ‘The Ninth’ sounds like an intriguing title, so yes please, let me know as soon as details are due to be released and by all means drop me a copy when it becomes available, I would love to read it. Just drop me an email closer to the time and we can agree the format for me to view it in.

      • Hey Yvonne,

        I can see where that would be fun and I hope I haven’t missed the chance to interact with your readers. I didn’t think at any point that I would influence your impartiality by popping in with a comment but rather that I would deliver through my comments an insight or two that the book really ought to deliver on its own.

        I’m sure you can imagine the luxury I have felt in being able to experience someone reading my book as I have through your updates along the way. Obviously however I am not going to get that chance with every reader and so I thought it would be right for me to see how someone who doesn’t know the first thing about me or the book, would interpret it completely in isolation.

        Don’t think I didn’t do so with baited breath though. It has been a very enjoyable experience for me too. And I’d like to thank everyone who has commented on the book so far. If you’d like me to do a Q and A or anything like that, however informally, I’d be delighted, even if it is right here in the comment string.

        I’ll let you know about The Ninth as soon as it is ready!

        • Colin, it’s brilliant to see an author interacting with reviewers, bloggers and commenters. Do keep it up! Romance novels aren’t usually my kind of thing, but I think I could give a romcom book a go and The Baggage Handler certainly sounds like a good read.

          Yvonne, a great review, as always. If you’ve got time, please do take Collin up on his offer of a Q & A. It’s great to find authors who are willing to participate on a blog. I know I am thoroughly enjoying doing my “Meet The Author” posts.

          • Hi Nikki,

            Thanks for joining in the discussion and debate about ‘The Baggage Handler’ and thanks also to Colin for being so proactive.

            I think that you might well enjoy this particular romcom Nikki. Martin isn’t your usual guy (although perhaps he is more ‘normal’ than one might think, when you have been married for 33 years these things tend to lose some of their perspective LOL). I kept wanting to give him a firm kick up the butt and get him to be a bit more decisive about what he wanted from his life, then he has his ‘moment in time’ with Polly and I was busy screaming at Kasia to find someone better and not to bother with the jerk.

            Either way, I was left smiling and thoroughly entertained at the end of the book.

          • Hi Nikki-ann,

            Always a pleasure! I wish I had engaged in this earlier on actually. Imagine how much fun it is for me, being able to speak about my book like this? I’m honestly having a blast, so I will be delighted to keep it up!

            Thanks very much for your comments! Thank you Yvonne, also, for providing the forum!

    • Hi Kathy,

      The male humour and language was definitely authentic to the environment in the story, probably the same as any publishing room in the world, so it wasn’t really a problem or in any way anything out of the ordinary, or just added for affect.

      I would definitely rate ‘The Baggage Handler’ as a character driven novel, with the character development and relationships being the lynchpin of the story. To be fair and honest, the plot, not unlike that of so many chick-lit books, was not strong.

      Personally and in general, I also prefer more of a mix and even balance between plot and character. However when reviewing a book outside of my general genres of interest, I try to leave my personal preferences to one side and concentrate on reading the book as the author wrote it, expressing my thoughts purely on the quality of the narrative in relation to the given plot and circumstances.

      Sorry that this doesn’t seem to be a book that is going to feature highly on your reading list, however thanks for still stopping by and leaving your views, it all adds to the discussion and is much appreciated.

      • I agree that plot can be very important and I guess it depends on the story. Some books are all plot and little else, but the plot is so enthralling that you almost overlook the weaknesses around it. Finding a book with great balance is always a very good thing though.

        I guess with The Baggage Handler, ultimately I was trying to suggest that in the even if you work hard to keep control of your life as Martin has, you’re never really in control of anything else. He suffers the eccentricities of Drake the Robot, avoids Rupert like the plague and never even considers whether Polly, his across-the-r0ad neighbour might be interested in him. Most guys would deal with these things quite differently, but he’s trying to control things so tightly that he can’t see where he’s wrong.

        That means that his life is actually rather repetitive. It’s up in the morning, off to work, go home, go to sleep. The only real sign that he lacks the discipline to be truly in control is that he can’t even stick to his own workout schedule.

        But that was kind of the point. The relatively shallow arc of the plot was deliberate because that’s sort of how the average month is for people in the working rat race. Nothing really crazy ever happens in the general run of events and so I thought I’d stick with that. You could of course argue that either I got that wrong, or that it isn’t a worthwhile thing to even attempt in a 300-odd page book, but regardless, I do have to put up my hand and say that it was indeed deliberate. 🙂

        • Hi Colin,

          When you put life into such ‘black and white’ terms, I guess my own life is probably just as shallow as Martins and definitely as repetitive.

          If something crazy or out of the ordinary were to happen, I would probably be all at sea and indecisive about how to handle the situation, so I can well see where you are coming from with your comments.

          I guess a book with probably no more pages, but which is full of action and never a dull moment, sounds good to the reader, but in reality is totally far-fetched and unreal in most peoples lives. I suppose perhaps we all like to try and lose ourselves in a good story, but to write a story about normal everyday events and give it the human touch, yet still manage to capture the readers attention, is much more difficult and something which ‘The Baggage Handler’ manages very well.

          • Well, one certainly can’t under-estimate the power of pure-escapism in a novel with an action-packed plot. I like those too!

            Applying that thinking to movies, I guess it’s the difference between, say, ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ and ‘Mission Impossible’: both great movies, but for totally different reasons. Not that I am suggesting what I have created here matches Little Miss Sunshine as a story, but you get my point.

            Actually, I think there is a lot of weirdness in mundanity. Otherwise normal people with whom you share an office can come out with the most amazing stuff which to them appears normal. I guess it’s all subjective.

            I certainly live a very unremarkable 9 – 5 during the week (or more like 7 – 7 by the time the morning and evening commutes are added on), but during that weekday life and especially on the commutes, I see people, hear them say things, watch them do things … and I make notes. Sometimes mental, sometimes I have to type stuff into my Blackberry and send it to myself in an email.

            Real life is way more remarkable than we give it any credit for.

            That said, you will notice a slightly deeper plot in my next novel, The Ninth.

            I guess you just have to write what you can write at the given moment and let the story be what it needs to be. Oh dear … that just sounded very esoteric, didn’t it?

  • Yvonne, this is the first I’ve heard about this book, and although initially my thoughts were that I might enjoy it, in the end, I’m not so sure. Plot is important to me as are the characters, and I just get the feeling this one might not have enough substance to hold my interest.

    I really appreciate you thorough review.

    • Hi Diane,

      I was a little unsure myself, whether or not I would enjoy this book, when I was first contacted by Colin and asked to consider ‘The Baggage Handler’ for review.

      The plot of the story is certainly easy enough to spot right from the outset and the book’s narrative deals much more with the evolution of the character of Martin as he grows in stature and maturity, shedding the mundanity of his lifestyle thus far and reaching out into unchartered waters.

      The outcome wasn’t always a predictable foregone conclusion as Martin wavers back and forth so many times, almost blowing it all on more than one occasion.

      Overall, I was left with a satisfying read, that certainly had more substance to it than I had originally anticipated, but hey! it wouldn’t do for us all to enjoy the same thing, would it?

      I really appreciate it that you took the time to appraise the review and leave a comment, even though you didn’t feel that this would be one for you to read.

Written by Yvonne

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