Shot Through The Heart – Matt Cain

Shot ThroughSo, in March I read The List, and rather unexpectantly, I thoroughly enjoyed it. When I wrote my review I made a vow to try to pick up more books that I would otherwise have ignored.

It was with this in mind that I requested Shot Through The Heart from Netgalley.

STUPID STUPID VOW! This is definitely one I could have ignored!

Welcome to LA, where women nibble their fingers flirtatiously and men get slightly warmer and undo some buttons.

Mia is an actress who is struggling with her fame – she wants to be taken seriously in Hollywood as a proper actress; she is desperate to shake her “First Lady of Love” persona, but has been sucked so far into the L.A. machine that she can’t even leave the gym without putting on a full face of make-up. She nearly boaks when she sees a woman remove a GREY HAIR from her “slug-shaped pubic strip” (what?) and the scene in which she cries is about to be cut from her latest picture.

Mia is a woman in crisis.

British Leo is a cheeky British lad paparazzo from Watford, in Britain, who has a “wonky [British] grin” and a British Bulldog called Watford, as that’s where he’s from, Watford, in Britain. Everyone calls him “Limey” cos he’s in a different country from the one he was born in (which was Britain), its hilarious! (ugh). He has just broken up with his girlfriend and it is unclear whether he cares about this or not (so bloody British of him! Cheeky Watford boy!). He spends his days roaring around the sweltering streets on his bike, trying to get money shots of the rich and famous (Mia being his prime target).

There is also Billy, a closet homosexual whose relevance I didn’t read long enough to learn about.

So far, so blah.

I think I was about 3% in when I figured out what was going to happen, and not just plotwise. I realised this book was going to make me antsy, and I knew I would only ever finish it with a full on rage attack.

I did manage 25% (which I think might become my benchmark stop percent when reading rubbish on the Kindle) and that 25% was made up of some of the most vacuous and borderline racist/misogynistic/stereotyped dirge I have read. It is The Daily Mail Sidebar of Shame in book form.

This book appears to hate women. Mia stars in a film called Lapping it Up; “in which she played a lapdancer with a heart of gold who gives up her dream of becoming a prima ballerina to elope with a customer who tells her he’s a billionaire.”

Sounds great! I wish it was real so I could watch it right now!

Another star, Destiny Diament “a washed-up reality star with a serious prescription drug habit” plans to have “open-air sex” on a beach in order to promote her new discount underwear range.

Yeah you desperate druggie! Get shagging on the beach if you want us to buy those cheap pants of yours!

Massive FFS awards there.

Women are described, among other things, as “generic blondes” and “skanky redheads”. We are reminded constantly that Mia has it all, except of course “a man to share it all with.” Because having stuff you have earned is only worth anything when you can let a man have a go on it all too.

Having a man would be handy though as he would be able to eat all that naughty food that women aren’t allowed. Mia is clearly a binge-eater who struggles a lot with food and this issue is dealt with extremely sensitively.

Of course it’s not.

A woman working in the industry as a costume designer, but who isn’t a size 0, is described as”dumpy“, and because during a break-up she ate some ice cream in front of Mia, she seems to be blamed for Mia’s eating disorder

And minorities don’t come out of this much better: A black girl working at a drive-thru has “large lips that didn’t quite fit together” and two paps discuss a HILARIOUS incident where they “blacked up as refugees in Darfur to snap Angelina Jolie handing out food“. Gay men who aren’t in the closest “mince about” to Britney and Madonna in shiny shorts, and can’t finish a sentence without an exclaim of “girlfriend!” (Cain being gay doesn’t make these caricatures ok).

So, Cain sets this depressing scene out over about 3 chapters. Nothing else really happens other than Billy going out to buy some perfume. When some action finally kicks in it revolves around Leo trying to get a shot of Mia eating a burger.

We are led to believe up to this point that Mia hates the paps; they seem hell-bent on destroying her otherwise perfect life. She goes to great lengths and expense to avoid them. When she discovers she has been photographed by Leo “ramming” food into her mouth she is determined to finally confront one of the vermin that have hounded her for so long.

Leo is all too aware of the trauma he inflicts on his targets, and to give him his dues, he does listens to Mia’s rage for a nano second before becoming surprised to find he thinks its “actually quite sexy“.

That’s right ladies! Stand up for yourself, demand respect and you can guarantee that before you have finished your first sentence the object of your spleen will definitely start to think you fancy him:

Was he imagining this or was the energy between them tipping over into something else?

And sure as you like, within a few minutes not even Mia’s burning resentment can stop her from falling for Leo’s bad boy charms, oh those “wonky” Britishsmiles! They’ll get a girl every time:

For a split second she couldn’t help feeling just a frisson of attraction…Just then she felt her heart flutter

I put my hands up, I didn’t finish this book, it could have completely turned around by the end. Who knows, maybe it became some kind of satire on Hollywood, so powerfully written that it would have blown my mind apart (having read the promotional stuff from Pan Macmillan, I don’t think it is…).

This book gets 37 Nos and a Ugh.

Book info:

Posted in American Fiction, Debut Author, Modern Fiction, Romance | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Rules of Inheritance – Claire Bidwell Smith

The Rules of InheritanceI finished this book about three hours ago now and I’m still not sure I’m in the correct state of mind to write about it.

This is an unflinching and extremely affecting look into the deep depths of grief. Bidwell Smith lost both her parents to cancer before she reached 30, this book charts her journey through the bleak and jagged journey of mourning. It takes in her failed relationships with men and drink, her faltering career and her all-consuming depression.

And it’s every bit as bleak as it sounds.

Smith writes as though she is underwater; her tone is languid, drugged. She writes almost like she is blurting stuff out into a diary. The time frame ebbs and flows; one moment she is a lost girl shoplifting in order to make friends, then she is hoisted up on a bed in an abortion clinic desperately imploring her dead mother to reappear and save her.

Youth and innocence are mixed over and over again with the pain of adulthood, reality and regret.

This is a book written in beats, lines are short and sometimes disjointed. Smith repeatedly describes silences as “a beat passes” and her palpitating heartbeat during panic attacks as “pound, pound, skip“. I found these devices so effective, you felt that any moment, at any beat, everything could change.

And everything can change, at any moment.

I lost a parent at a youngish age (23) and could somewhat relate to Smith’s experience. However, my father died suddenly, her parents died after long agonising illnesses. I have always harboured a strange, dark envy for people who got to say goodbye to loved ones, jealous of those moments in which to pour every joy and regret. I didn’t get that chance, I am one of those who know what “everything changed” feels like. But having read this book, where death hovers unrelentingly over everything, for what seems like eternity, I have changed my mind. I don’t think I could have coped with the unremitting anguish that Smith had to endure for so long at such an age.

One of the things that has struck me since reading this are the handful of reviews on Goodreads berating Smith for being “spoilt” and “whiney” and whose “terrible decisions” were a result of her inability to just get over herself (all accusations of this nature don’t flinch from pointing out her sex as if this somehow made her depression some frivolous, girly, middle-class self-indulgence, and were sadly nearly all made by other women). Largely the reviews for this book are triumphant, but those handful of spiteful individuals have made my blood boil.

To read such a book as this, such a bare and open examination of loss, and react to it with scoffy, eye-rolling sarcasm is to totally and utterly miss the point. I can only imagine people who respond this way have themselves rather indulgent and frivolous lives.

Ok, I will admit to ONE moment where I too cringed a little; Smith is on a train when someone commits suicide on the line, her reaction to this seems fleeting after pages dedicated to her own losses. In fact, she seems to only respond to this death in terms of what it means to her own situation. This scene did momentarily alienate me, I was hoping for some thoughts on the victim, their family, but she appears only to take a moment to turn her head and look at the bloody smear on the train.

But this is ONE incident in a book that is otherwise deeply rooted in the human experience, not just Smith’s and one that I can see myself pouring a lot of thought into to try to understand. Nobody ever talks about death, and when someone opens themselves up to relate how bile-churningly dismal it can be, this should be celebrated, not fobbed off. Death is something that happens to all of us and we should all learn to embrace it, guts, selfishness and all.

But, there is a chink or light to be found in this book.

Smith points out towards the end, that the ability to grieve is a soulful skill that goes hand in hand with love, breathing life into the old platitude that “grief is the price we pay for love”. This book is divided into sections, each taking its title from Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grief and in each section Smith reflects on Life as well as Death in these terms. Don’t come away thinking this is a book just about death, it’s about so much more than that. I haven’t rooted for someone so much in a book for a long time and it was with utter delight that you discover she has found happiness at the end.

Yes this book can be bleak and brutal, but it’s also brilliant and beautiful.

It’s now more like four hours since I finished it and I am convinced this is a book that will be staying with me for a while yet.

Book info:

  • ISBN: 978472214294
  • Published by Headline, 2013
  • Sent copy of book by publisher through Bookbridgr

 

Posted in Autobiography | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

When The Professor Got Stuck In The Snow – Dan Rhodes

 A weird, inappropriate and almost melancholy photo of a brilliantly, bright and funny book.

A weird, inappropriate and almost melancholy photo of a brilliantly, bright and funny book.

Picture if you will, last week…

*wiggly line fade*

My other half is sniggering to himself at an alarming rate.

It’s up to one a minute.

That book he’s reading must be pretty alright.

He is on course to read it in about an afternoon, possibly a record.

As far as I can remember it arrived this morning, addressed to me, but as the book I’m currently reading has reached the level “OK” and could go on to “Alright”, I pass him the new book to look at.

He has now been looking at it for ages, each page in fact.

His requests to read me bits “even though you haven’t read it yet, but it won’t give anything, well much, away” are at an all time high. I would start to get annoyed if it wasn’t for the fact witnessing someone squeeze such epic levels of joy from a book make’s life a little more worth living.

However:

“SHUT UP!!” I want to yell, “I get it! Your book is an orgy of comedic genius that has you turning to me with unhinged delight on a 30 second basis. My book is ONLY OK (it is not becoming ALRIGHT) and your reaction to yours is making mine seem A WASTE OF LIFE in comparison, which is an ENTIRELY NEW LEVEL of BAD!” I find myself desperately trying to find things in the book I’m reading to counter his chuckle bombardment. “CATS!!!! LOTS OF CATS IN CANADA!!!” is all I manage to attack with.

Useless.

*wiggly line fade up*

Back to today…

It is lucky then, that my other half finished When The Professor Got Stuck In The Snow in a ludicrously quick time, which saved either of us having to sustain an injury.

The quiet, jealous pain I endured that day was worth it: this book is a monumental pleasure from page one. And seeing as you have stuck with this post so far, I shall reward you with The Blurb:

Everybody at the Women’s Institute in the village of Upper Bottom is eagerly awaiting the arrival of a very special guest speaker – the world famous evolutionary biologist and television personality Professor Richard Dawkins. But with a blizzard setting in, their visitor finds himself trapped in the nearby town of Market Horten, with no choice but to take lodgings amid the local Anglican community.”

I think I can pretty much honestly say I haven’t read anything like this before. Ok, so I have recently read another comedy novel based on an actual person (Look Who’s Back), but the humour couldn’t be more different. Primarily, for me, this is very much a laugh out loud book, there is plenty of  satire here and lots to think about, but its drenched in such crowd pleasing nonsense that it doesn’t tax the “Am I Stupid?” muscles that the previous book almost broke.

This book is a timely, fun poke at The Master of The Universe, Richard Dawkins. I must admit, as a pretty dyed-in atheist I used to be one of those people who hung upon his every word and whineily bought his name up to win arguments as regularly as my own father’s when I was in the playground: “well Richard Dawkins says….”

If you come from the same camp as me, you may in recent years have grown to be a little embarrassed by Dawkins’ borderline fundamentalist rantings.

God (who doesn’t exist), how I have cringed.

Also in this camp is the wonderfully drawn character Smee. Desperately depressed after a break-up, he has been hired by Dawkins to be his “male secretary”, someone to speak for him, pay for things and organise stuff so Dawkins doesn’t have to worry his massive clever head about them. Stuck in the snow and with nothing but Deal or No Deal to distract him from The Professor’s spleen, he begins to tire of the onslaught and opens his mind and heart to the warmth of Market Horten, and the host of golden characters therein. Through them he begins to wonder, with renewed hope, about a different life and a different way to think.

Running throughout all the innuendo (I don’t think I have read so many perfect bottom jokes in one sitting), the hilarious ranting, and the debate, is a swathe of kindness encapsulated by the residents of this small English town.

My boyfriend’s reactions to this book were perfect, and I am only sorry there isn’t a third person in our relationship that I could quote it endlessly to (perhaps we need to hire a Smee…).

It is such an enriching read, it will make you feel like bringing your neighbours bin in for them, de-icing their car, and nipping out to pay for their takeaway before they’ve even answered the door. It is a glorious celebration of the human capacity for the good and the bonkers and you will be happy to just soak in your own grinning face (whether it got that way through evolution or creation is up to you to wonder about).

You will also want to embrace Rhodes for being just so bloody cheeky.

There is a whole other story behind this book regarding its publication and I would heartily recommend you go over to Rhodes’ own website to read about this. And if my review and his publication story aren’t enough to make you buy this book, then I really don’t know what’s wrong with you.

Buy this book.

Book info:

  • ISBN: 9780992827601
  • Self-published by the author
  • Sent a copy by the author (I loved it, thank you!)
Posted in Humour, Modern Classics, Modern Fiction, Natural History, Self-published | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Good Luck of Right Now – Matthew Quick

The Good LuckI don’t really have much to say about this book, so I’ll give you the blurb to start:

The Blurb:

Bartholomew Neil is thirty-eight and lost. He’s lived his whole life, up till a few weeks ago, with his devoted mum, but now she has died Bartholomew has no idea how to be on his own. His grief counsellor, Wendy, says he needs to find his flock and leave the nest. But how does a man whose whole life has been grounded learn how to fly?

So Bartholomew turns to Richard Gere, the man his mum adored from afar, in the hope he can offer some answers.

It was good. It was OK. I learnt about the Parliamentary Cats in Canada and have packed a bag. I liked the characters, they were also, OK. It didn’t annoy me and it was easy to read.

The ending can be predicted very early on and had the book been any longer I would have felt cheated, but as it wasn’t a taxing read (in fact Quick’s writing is extraordinary pleasant) I wasn’t that bothered.

There are so many books out there now with “quirky” voices and “offbeat” characters that I feel an author has to do something really special to be heard and it turns out that using Richard Gere as a narrative device isn’t enough (*scratches off “WRITING IDEAS!” list*).

This book has left no deep impression on me, and for that reason I would advice you to wait and pick this up in a charity shop; there is no pressing need for anyone to read this (especially as everyone is still reading The Humans) and the warm feeling you will get from donating money is quite a fitting connection to the book’s themes.

I give this book two shrugs and an alright.

Book info:

 

Posted in American Fiction, Humour, Modern Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Campari For Breakfast – Sara Crowe

Campari

A Book Review for Campari For Breakfast
By Hannah J A Renowden

Sue is a 17-year-old wannabe writer, her mother has just died and her father has shacked up with a new woman, two years older than him. In order to find herself some peace and time to write, Sue moves into her Aunt Coral’s rambling, crumbling old home. It is at Green Place that Sue will learn about the beauty of eccentricities, the subtle plays of love and how to write a really ok book.

I ADORED this book – everyone in it, the story, the sublime cover design by Malika Favre. It was one of those perfect books you dream of disappearing into for a couple of days. Green Place surrounded me and I hated to leave it.

The brilliant cover design by Malika Favre

The brilliant cover design by Malika Favre

There are a bevy of bonkers, brilliantly conceived characters and I challenge anyone not to take them straight to their hearts.

The scenes revolving around the writing group that Aunt Coral sets up to help Sue with her endeavours have some of the shiniest comedy gold I have ever read! Anyone who has ever been a 17-year-old wanting to write will cringe and delight in following Sue’s progress. I hate to bring Adrian Mole into every review I do, but I haven’t laughed so much at a character’s literary attempts since “Lo! The Flat Hills of My Homeland“.

The mixture of comedy and pathos is just right, and you will feel your heart strings pung as many times as your funny bone nudged.

I could write on and on about this book, but I’m away for the rest of the week and wanted to get something out there to make sure you all go and buy it! My only regret is that I didn’t save it to read on holiday!

A witty, energetic debut that has made me grieve its ending, a gem!

If you enjoyed The Rosie Project and  Where’d You Go Bernadette? This should definitely be on your To Read list.

Book info:

  • ISBN: 9780857522153
  •  Transworld Books, out 10th April 2014
  • Sent copy by publisher THANK YOU SO MUCH!

 

Posted in British Fiction, Debut Author, Family Drama, Friendship, Humour, Modern Fiction, Modern Historical Fiction, Mystery, New Writing, Romance | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Look Who’s Back – Timur Vermes

 “He’s back and he’s Fuhrious”

 

Look Who's Back

The Third Reich meets W1A in Timur Vermes’ much talked about new novel.

Adolf Hitler finds himself awakening, on the ground in full uniform, in Berlin 2011. Things have changed, and not as Hitler had planned. Mistaken for an extremely near the knuckle, satirical comedy act, he is soon picked up by a production company who think they have found the latest shocking act to fill up the column inches and their pockets. His striking appearance and reluctance to tone down his opinions has the inhabitants of Berlin twitching with offense.

But has his charisma of old remained? Will Berlin fall for him again? Or will this new world teach one of the looming monsters of the past a new thing or two?

Watching Hitler bumble about 2011, discovering 24 hour colour TV, the Internet, Starbucks was predictably hilarious, and I couldn’t stop picturing the older Adrian Mole with a side swipe parting and Chaplin moustache, rallying against modernity and the imbeciles he finds surrounding him.

Reading a modern account of such a haunting figure (1930s Nazis are number two on my phobia list) was a bizarre sensation, and friends have expressed to me how books of this nature, that seem to cartoonify evil and turn it into a light-hearted romp, are weird, tasteless and make them feel uncomfortable.

But I disagree. What I find strange is that someone would read (or, more accurately, react to without reading) a book like this on such a surface level. I imagine such a reader (reactor) believes the following has happened:

  • That an author has, balls-out, written a book he hopes will result in his readers relating warmly to Hitler and giggling along to his scampy, scally wag, holocausty ways. Taking him to their hearts and campaigning to reinstigate The Third Reich.
  • That a publisher has picked this book up and nodded with enthusiasm and relish that its extreme right-wing leanings have finally been satisfied. A book has been written that not only reflects how they, as a company, truly feel about Uncle Adolf, but makes them feel so proud about these feelings that they release the book with a fairly substantial marketing budget.
  • That a translator has written it up into English without vomiting all over the place.
  • That this book has gone on to be stocked by all the leading booksellers, who only bat an eyelid in order to swoon over the precious, precious Nazi-love held within.

That people could possibly think this has happened is beyond me.

I’m getting ranty, but come on. If this book was a celebration of Hitler or a dismissal of his actions in ANYWAY it would never have seen the light of day in Waterstones, and certainly wouldn’t have gone on to be a bestseller in Germany. In fact, if you want to get antsy about something, ask Waterstones (and other booksellers) why many of their stores not only stock, but FACE OUT, Mein Kampf. THAT is what’s weird.

So, just take a moment before you go all Mary Whitehouse over this.

Turning these figures, obsessed with their own image, into buffoons is what satire is all about and can be a very sharp weapon in reducing them and their ideas. I think art, and comedy, would lose so much if we stopped ourselves from exploring events and people (ourselves included) from all possible angles. This is a book which will make you LIKE Hitler at times, if you want your literature to make you questions things, then this will have you screaming  “WTF?!” at yourself. And there is nothing wrong with some focussed self-analysis once in a while.

For this reason Look Who’s Back reminded me of 2012′s Hope: A Tragedy by Shalom Auslander, which turned Anne Frank from the sainted poster-girl of oppression to a sulking, miserable old woman hiding in a residential attic in New York. This book made you examine the nature of history and how we relentlessly allow it to haunt us.

I get why these books may make people uneasy, but it’s for that very reason that you should give them a go, I think it’s good to give those knee-jerk reactions a work out from time to time.

I have to admit, there were many moments in this book that I didn’t get. It is one of those books that is based just enough in history and politics to have me sweating over the details, wondering if the only reason I’m not laughing is because I just don’t get the joke. It’s how I feel reading Private Eye sometimes, when I have no idea who they are talking about; I’m sure that comment from Hislop was a zinger, but I don’t know why. I read a lot of Look Who’s Back with the same benign grin on my face going, “I know this is meant to be funny, but I’m not sure what the joke is….hahaha…..ummm.”

(Hey! maybe it was all the right-wing propaganda that went over my head! What a klutz I am!)

The observations about our media-centric world, our self-indulgence and those knee-jerk reactions, were spot on and hilarious. The bits of this book I understood I really enjoyed, and would recommend this to anyone who enjoys a scathing satire and has a working knowledge of German politics and culture past and present.

Book info

  • ISBN: 9780857052933
  • Maclehose Press, Quercus 3rd April 2014
  • Translated by Jamie Bulloch
  • Sent proof by publisher, via Netgalley
Posted in German Fiction, Historical Fiction, Humour, Modern Fiction, Modern Historical Fiction, Mystery, Political Fiction, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Bum Book Bonanza! (well, it is Saturday…)

bummageAs a children’s bookseller there was one thing you could be sure of: Give a kid a book about bums, poo or farting and you will have a snorting, giggling friend for life.

Possibly not the always the first choice of the older relative who has companioned them, who was perhaps hoping to leave the shop with something a little more “educational”, or “traditional”. But definitely the sort of thing that immediately catches delighted little eyes!

Sure, there’s room in this world for The Velveteen Rabbit AND bum books- but each has their time and place, and the time and place for bum books is ALWAYS and EVERYWHERE.

My little eyes were delighted then, when three books from the wonderful Claudia Rowe plopped through my letter box.

The Very Hungry Bum, Where the Wild Bums Are and Bum Magic are three hysterical parodies of well-known children’s picture books, which you have probably guessed, are all about rumps, derrieres, posteriors and whoopie cakes.

Irreverent and bonkers, I love these books! They are full of all the silliness and daft nonsense that makes being a kid such fun. But, you don’t have to be a kid to crease up over these, I was sniggering throughout each one and will definitely be keeping them for endless rereads!

It would be easy for kid’s books of this nature to become crass, and parodies can sometimes seem like tacky imposters, but Rowe’s illustrations are subtly wonderful and playful and pay loving respect to the originals. I can easily see these books standing up as must-reads in thier own right. The humour is spot on, just enough without being rude for the sake of it (genius considering its out and out bummage from page one!).

I can see these books being a great tool in teaching kids that bums, poos and farts are nature’s comedy tools and something to be laughed at rather than be ashamed of. Though, teaching your kids to fart expressively and persistantly in class probably isn’t the goal here.

Right, I’m off to download a free copy of The Hungry Bum Yoga Book to complete my collection and see if I can catch a bummerfly, in the meantime, take a look at the trailer for Where The Wild Bums Are…it’s the definition of adorable!

Book infos:

The Very Hungry Bum:

Where The Wild Things Are:

Bum Magic:

  • ISBN: 9780646583068
  • Published by Atlas Jones & Co, 2012
  • Sent copy by author

 

 

Posted in Art, Australian Fiction, Humour, Illustrations, Picture Book, RUDE!, Young readers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment