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

Judge a Cover Friday! The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck

steinbeckcollage“The Grapes of Wrath’s radical voice of protest can still be heard. As a tale of dashed illusions, thwarted desires, inhuman suffering, and betrayed promises – all strung on a shimmering thread of hope – The Grapes of Wrath not only summed up the Depression era’s socially conscious art but, beyond that – for emotional urgency, evocative power, and sustained drama – has few peers in American fiction.”

Robert DeMott*

To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the release of The Grapes of Wrath, Penguin have published 5 of his books, with stunning new covers.

steinbeckallI am very lucky to live in the same house as the new Grapes but I want all the rest of these new releases so much!

I have always considered myself a Steinbeck fan; I read Cannery Row (which, by the way, has devastated me by its absence in this selection) over and over again when I was about 10, and enjoyed every page even though I had no idea what was going on (I thought the Bear Flag Restaurant was just a really friendly place where men, who didn’t have female friends, went to just talk about feelings with golden hearted women).

But, I have yet to read Grapes (and will probably only be allowed to when I stop referring to it as “Grapes”) which some would view as sinful. I hadn’t even heard of The Moon is Down before this new edition landed.

So I guess my Steinbeck fangirling needs some work, and this new edition is making it very easy to get started.

Cover designed by Jim Stoddart, and a quick glance through his website confirms that yes, this is the dude that does all the cool things.

Book info:

* Taken from this edition’s introduction.

 

Posted in American Fiction, Judge a Cover Friday, Literature, Modern Classics, Modern Historical Fiction, Political Fiction, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is it always ok to post a bad review?

Hating by Alison Ashley

Hating by Alison Ashley

As a blogger who reviews things, you will occasionally get sent stuff from people to transform into words.  When this happens Rule Number One is always: Make it clear to your audience that your opinions haven’t been bought.

Shiny New Thing doesn’t equal Glowing Review.

The other day I posted a review of The Reluctant Yogi. Needless to say, I didn’t rate it and my review reflected this completely. I also didn’t rate Gone Girl much, and didn’t exactly reel my opinion in there either.

I felt justified about posting these less than glowing reviews; I had invested a lot of my time reading the books (time which could have been sent reading my first Austen or something), not to mention the pennies I spent.

Particularly in the case of Gone Girl, I also felt a need, nay, an OBLIGATION, to give a bit of balance to an internet world gone bonkers for it.

But, like I say, I paid for these books and when it comes to my dollar I don’t mind saying my piece.

However, what about all those books you get for free?

When you blog, or sell books for a living, you are often sent lots of proof copies for new titles. The intention is that these books are read and reviewed to some extent in return. Hopefully the result is that they are loved, adored and pushed into as many people’s hands as possible.

When you pick up a proof and love it, this is the greatest gift possible. You feel stunned that you would have been gifted this thing of joy, of perfect beauty. You feel you must track down the person at the publisher’s office who sent it. You NEED to give them something; a Starbucks gift card perhaps, a new iPod, your first-born.Book love

But, with coffee in hand, Haim tickling their ear passages, and baby given back, there is only really one thing they want in return; that you sing as loudly as your heart allows about your latest, book soul-mate, discovery.

That is dead easy. That is a joy. And that makes everyone happy.

It’s also easier, I find, to be really honest about a book that was sent to you without you requesting it. You send me your book, and in return I will be honest about it. I figure, any author, however big or small, needs to have the cahooners to take a bit of stick. So long as that stick is constructive and not held by a troll just being horrible for kicks.

So, what’s hard about getting free books to review – when you request a book to review and end up hating it.

This happened at the weekend. I began reading something I requested, and though it started out pretty well, it wasn’t long before I was going “errr…plot?”

Then I started getting annoyed by the characters, then the writing style, then the ending made me crazy. And I thought: “Great! I’m going to have to review this, and be all honest and stuff, and what if the author reads it and hates me?”

And that’s the thing, in our Twitter world it’s like the author you are reviewing is sitting right next to you, reading over your shoulder as you type.

It’s hard to not to cringe at that.

So?!” I hear you cry, “Grow up you big baby, this is the nature of the gig, and surely this is just the same thing as being sent some turd without asking for it? they didn’t have to send it to you and they have sent it to you in the full knowledge that you MAY hate it and tell people this. This is their JOB.”

It’s true, no-one purposefully asks for turd in order to write about turd, and I totally understand that people dishing out false praise in return for books is pointless and downright nauseating. But should you then just keep quiet, let the publisher know on the side, all subtle like, without telling everyone you know (and quite possibly the author) how much something made you want to punch holes in your face?

This is easy with Netgalley, you can leave feedback without publishing a post if you wish. But what about actual, physical book post that doesn’t come with a handy tick sheet, but still expects some kind of acknowledgement in return? What then?

What about when this, totally made-up-in-my-head-paranoid-scenario, happens:

Publisher: “Hi! Such a gorgeous day today! Wow, makes you glad to be alive and in the sending out books market! Did you get a chance to read [book]? Just wondering what you made of it, really looking forward to hearing your thoughts!”

Me: *in head* Oh no! It’s them, they have come for me about that pile of discharging honk I just burned in the garden. They seem really lovely! Just like their twitter picture promised they’d be. I’m going to have to hurt them, hurt that wonderful person and their client with my stabby words…” Yeeeeeeah…..about that…..thanks for sending it, I really loved the chocolates you popped in, really…..really sweet gesture…they are my absolute favourites, and the embossed bookmark…so lovely. Thing is….that book made me want to die.”

Publisher: I see……..you did request it though, kinda makes me think like perhaps you shouldn’t have done that.

Me: Yeeeeeeah.

I know! I am being totally melodramatic. Publishers know the deal, authors know the deal. Publishers can be totally generous; I’ve been sent chocolates, boxes of tea, Eyes Wide Shut type eye masks (I don’t know either) – but that is their choice. Gifts don’t make the book, and the book is the most important thing in any box of marketing (along with the chocolate).

I like to write, I have friends that write. I have a really dear friend that has a book out later this year, and I do feel like I would get itchy verbal fists if anyone trashed her in a review.

d5a82a29f64aeb6621fd06d09d39f8b0

But then, is this the nature of the blogging/writing/publishing beast? Honesty is the price paid when the RRP is negated. I, personally, wouldn’t like to read a blog that was just screen after screen of “OMG I LAAAARVED IT!” So I guess I just answered my own argument.

And whether you have paid for a book in money shouldn’t matter, you always pay with your time no matter what, and when you love books there is nothing worse than feeling cheated out of numerous hours that could have been spent reading something better.

Also, if there is one thing I have learnt about book blogs, there are plenty of opinions, good and bad, to go round!

What do you think? How did you feel when you posted your first bad review of a proof? Did you feel dirty for more or did it put you off? Do I need to calm it?

Also, p.s. If you have sent me book post recently, I am not talking about you!

  • Images take from Pinterest
Posted in New Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments