Book Review: Ten Dead Comedians

Ten Dead Comedians, by Fred Van Lente, is a contemporary Agatha Christie style murder mystery set on a celebrity owned island in the Caribbean. Hollywood funnyman Dustin Walker invites nine fellow comedians to collaborate with him on an unspecified project, details to be explained during a luxury, weekend retreat. All are excited at this potential injection of energy into their mutable careers and accept. When they arrive it is to discover that they are cut off from the mainland with no access to mobile reception or wifi. Their host then informs them that they are all here to die, including himself.

Lives may be at stake but so are fragile egos. These people have experienced the adrenaline rush of applause, of popular attention, and become addicted. Those who have touched the heady heights of fame may be aware of its disappointments but they still long for its return. They are disdainful of their fellow artistes, especially when compared to themselves.

The deaths begin immediately. At first some believe it is an elaborate hoax, a gig in which they are all being played. As the body count increases and the meagre food supplies get eaten everyone falls under suspicion.

The writing is a satire on the modern performers of comedic repartee where offence and insults pass as humour. Each character found a niche that got them noticed by agents, some even believe themselves to be funny.

The action is offbeat in places, the characters unlikable and at times pitiable, but this is a competent murder mystery. The means of death are imaginative, the reveal of the perpetrator clever even if all is understandably far fetched.

As someone who prefers intelligent humour to the more widespread unsavoury crudeness this garnered an unusual degree of sympathy for modern comedians. I may not have found the transcripts from the standup routines amusing, but the pathos portrayed gave the applause hungry entertainers more humanity than their words suggest they deserve.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Quirk.

Book Review: The Ladybird Book of The Meeting

The Ladybird Book of The Meeting, by J.A. Hazeley and J.P. Morris, is one in a series of Ladybird books for grown-ups written to help them cope with the world around them. My daughter gave it to my husband on Fathers’ Day and it is the only book he has successfully finished reading this year. This probably says something about shortening attention spans in our modern world, or maybe just about him.

The layout is crisp and appealing with hardback binding and traditional illustrations that will be familiar to those who enjoyed the original Ladybird books as a child. The text is pithy and ironic, amusing to any required to attend workplace meetings. Is anyone in work not required to do this?

As the book says:

Meetings are important because they give everyone a chance to talk about work.

Which is easier than doing it.

I laughed out loud at some of the wry observations and can understand why these little books have become so popular as gifts. Booksellers often stock them close to tills and report buoyant sales which I regard as a good thing. Purchasers may even have picked up another book whilst there.

Although read in about ten minutes this was thereby granted more attention than many gifts presented to my husband over the years.

An amusing diversion that we both enjoyed. I would be happy to have further books from the series adorning my shelves.

Book Review: The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 1/4 Years Old

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The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 1/4 Years Old, by a Dutch author whose identity is a closely guarded secret (his words have been translated into English by Hester Velmans), is a must read for anyone who claims they wish to live into old age. It had me laughing out loud on numerous occasions, but this is an honest, poignant and insightful exposé of how it feels to exist in a busy, modern world when one’s body is inexorably deteriorating.

Hendrik Groen doesn’t like old people, particularly their endless complaints and repetitive, small minded conversation. He lives in a care home in North Amsterdam, one provided by the state at minimal cost. He admits that it is not a bad place to be, that the food is passable and he has made some good friends. Many of his fellow residents, however, he derides. Due to his habit of wishing to please everyone he cannot bring himself to say what he thinks, so he decides to write it down, narrating a year in the life of the inmates.

Given that this home is the sort of facility where people go to die, death is a regular occurence. Each time a room is vacated it must quickly be cleared that a new resident may move in. When one such arrival, Eefje, turns out to have a sharper wit than most, Hendrik befriends her. He and his select band of peers have an epiphany – if life is to be improved then they must take action. To the palpable disapproval of management, they set up the Old But Not Dead Club. Outings are arranged and fun is had. Once more, they have something to look forward to, including a chance to fall in love.

Each entry in the diary presents aspects of life from the point of view of an elderly gentleman who fully recognises his incapacities yet rails against the way the growing number of old people are treated by society. He also rails against how so many of these old people talk and behave towards each other. He acknowledges the smells and the leaks and the slowness of their actions; he dislikes these unavoidable features of aging as much as anyone. What he struggles with is the narrowing of horizons, the constant discussion of ailments, the petty bullying and intransigence endemic in their everyday lives.

Alongside the routine are moments that prove Hendrik can still garner enjoyment from life. Their club outings enable the members to try new activities, to eat well and drink with abandon. Such behaviour earns them the rancour of their envious peers.

There are also the trials, when good friends suffer serious health setbacks. There is discussion of euthanasia, dementia and suicide.

The wide ranging scope of the book makes it, in my view, an essential read. It does not shy away from the issues of aging, but neither does it present it as without hope. I loved the fun Hendrik had on a mobility scooter, the way the members of the club behaved on their outings, and the subversive nature of their gatherings within the care home where they flouted the rules designed to make life boringly safe, or  simply easier for the carers.

Hendrik is incorrigible, sometimes grumpy, always relatable. His honesty is both poignant and refreshing. He asks that he may be granted a place in the world, not shunted aside as the embarrassment too many view him as.

It is pointed out that the number of old people is set to grow yet economies in provision for them are forever being sought. Hendrik does not expect to live long enough to suffer the consequences. He offers a reminder to the policymakers that they are ruling on the quality of their own future lives.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by Think Jam.

 

Book Review: Spoon’s Carpets

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“It’s tough to write drunk, you know; this Spoons book is a testament to that.”

Spoon’s Carpets, by Kit Caless, is beautifully presented, neatly sized, and full of subversive nonsense that is somehow glorious. Having read it cover to cover, dipped into it every time someone I know mentions visiting a Wetherspoons to see if the establishment warrants a mention, and flicked through the pages of photographs in wonderment that pictures of pub flooring can be so alluring, I am still unsure whether to categorise the narrative that accompanies each carpet included as fiction or non fiction. This work is destined to become an essential reference for Spoon’s aficionados. Really, you want this book.

The author partook of a nationwide pub crawl to see for himself his favourite carpets in situ. Drinkers up and down the country had been sending him pictures after their boozy nights out. I guess some may consider this an improvement on other types of pictures sometimes sent. Several of the regular Spoon’s carpet photographers (yes, these people exist) are rewarded for their efforts by having their feet included. One such drinker is quoted as saying:

“essentially everything is fantastical if you stare at it long enough”

I ponder the level of inebriation required in order to fully appreciate the floor art depicted.

Spoon’s regulars are described as high quality storytellers, which perhaps explains the factoids and local knowledge shared from each location. Other nuggets I mulled whilst absorbing the glory that is a Spoon’s carpet were: How can a town have more than one twin? Does The Regal, Cambridge need a new vacuum cleaner? How many pairs of shoes does the author own? As is pointed out, the carpets pose more questions than they answer.

Statistics are also provided for the reader’s edification, from famous regulars (a statistic?) to improbable quantities of items consumed. For no particular reason, my favourite was: “Number of men who are an island: 0”

And I guess that there is no particular reason for buying a book about pub carpets except that it is a surprisingly satisfying little item to peruse. As well as being educated in how a Spoon’s carpet is designed and manufactured, readers may use this as a travel guide. As tourist attractions go there are tempting possibilities, including the curry and beer. The appreciation of art has always been subjective, supposed experts regarded as a bit snobby. Appreciation of Spoon’s carpets, and the varied settings in which they lie, could buck this trend.

My only complaint is that my local Spoons is not included in the selection. I need to know why it did not make the cut. I shall go buy a beverage and check out what they have to offer beneath my feet. Perhaps I will even take a picture.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Square Peg.

Ten Random Book Blogger Dilemmas

A ramble through the crowded mind of a book blogger…

1. Book post arrives

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Hark! Is that the thud of a parcel landing on my doormat? Rushes excitedly to door and spots book shaped padded envelope. Does joyful dance. Rips open parcel in eager anticipation.

Looks at shiny new book. Strokes cover of shiny new book. Feels ecstatic about receiving this beautiful creation. Publishers love me. Can’t wait to read.

Realisation that am going to have to wait. Have publication dates approaching for many books on my TBR mountain. Have had some of those must read books on my TBR mountain for months.

Rearranges TBR mountain. Adds new book. Wonders how many books can read this week. Cancels all social plans.

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2. No book post arrives

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Hears postman at door. No satisfying thud on doormat. Stares diconsolately at non book post. Feels dark, empty sadness.

Publishers hate me. My reviews are no good.

Distracts self by browsing twitter. Wonders why have not been sent book everyone I follow is tweeting about receiving.

Brief moment of relief that my TBR mountain has not grown. Determines to read faster. Reminds self of every positive comment ever received about reviews.

Wonders if publisher would send book if asked. Stalks publicist on twitter.

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3. Publishes new book review

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Wonders if review does book justice. Agonises over star rating on popular sites. Wonders if review explains star rating. Hates star rating system.

Worries about tagging author in tweet. Wonders if author will read review and consider point of book missed.

Why has author not retweeted review? Author hates review.

Author tweets thanks for review. Joy! Realises author says same lovely thing to every reviewer.

Why has publisher not retweeted my link? Publisher hates review. Wonders if publisher will ever send books again.

So many people have retweeted my link! Feels love for the book blogging community. Feels guilt for not personally thanking everyone. Wonders if will ever be retweeted again.

Rereads review. Spots error / clunky phrase / repeated words. Wonders why considers self writer.

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4. Reads review of  book by other blogger

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Did we read the same book? Wishes I had thought of that turn of phrase. Spots publisher retweeting and quoting review. Worries my reviews are no good.

Reminds self of every positive comment ever received about reviews. Retweets other blogger’s review.

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5. Asked to take part in blog tour

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Requests guest post. Asked for ideas for guest post. Active and imaginative mind goes entirely blank.

Submits idea for guest post. Worries that author will hate idea. Worries that readers will not see funny / perceptive / thought-provoking side of author because of dull idea.

Reads other guest posts on blog tour. Why did I not think of that idea?

Wonders if publisher will ever send books again.

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6. Visits bookshop

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Shiny new books! Selects a dozen must reads. Reminds self of size of TBR mountain. Reminds self that haven’t read last dozen books bought. Puts all books back. Feels sad.

Selects just one book to buy and feels virtuous. Adds book to TBR mountain, non priority pile. Wonders if life will be long enough to find time to read new book.

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7. Friend asks for book recommendation

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Momentarily speechless with excitement. Provides list of awesome, must read books that would last slow reading friend a decade.

Remembers to ask what sort of books previously enjoyed. Offers smaller selection.

Feels guilty for not including amazing book from indie press / lesser known author / publisher who sends me all the best books.

Wonders why friend not telling me how much they enjoyed books recommended. Discovers they have not yet got around to buying them all. Tries to understand.

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8. Choosing a birthday present for a friend

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Has excuse to buy books! Spends hours checking back on every book read in past year. Selects a dozen that friend will absolutely adore.

Checks bank balance. Removes most of the books. Feels sad.

Spends next year wondering why friend is not raving about awesome books received. Remembers not everyone wants to talk books at every opportunity.

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9. Asked to produce Christmas gift list

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Sits down with favourite pen and notebook bought at great expense from lovely bookshop. Writes down titles of all books not received in book post. Adds all books recommended by friends. Adds book leant to former friend and never returned.

Ignores pointed comments from nearest and dearest on already tottering TBR mountain. Ignores request for non book related items.

Tries to be stoical about books not received.

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10. Runs out of bookshelf space

Overflowing-Bookcases

Decides to cull books. Looks at titles where multiple copies owned. Recognises importance of keeping both ARCs and final copies. Admires paperback edition containing quote from my review.

Gives away books didn’t enjoy or am never likely to read again.

Thinks of books given away and regrets loss.

Comforts self by buying more books. Feels happy with no furniture in house other than bed, bookshelves, and chair in which to read.

Book Review: What a Way to Go

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What a Way to Go, by Julia Forster, starts off as a bittersweet, humorous tale of life as a child of divorced parents. Set in 1988 it softens the harsh reality of loneliness and judgemental neighbours with insight and nostalgia. It is perceptive yet gentle in its representations of the prejudices of the time.

As the story progresses the layers are peeled away to reveal the secrets that have shaped each of the adults’ lives. In amongst the bad hair and worse dress sense are stories of poor decisions, wasted potential and private grief. Situations are rarely as straightforward as they first appear.

The protagonist is twelve year old Harper Richardson. First impressions are of childish naivete but she is precocious in her thoughts. Harper accepts that her mother is trying to find a new husband, helping out when she can to drive unsuitable candidates away. Every other weekend she visits her father in the small village where she was born. The only friend she has here is an elderly neighbour who her mother deplores.

Harper has a best friend, Cassie, whose family are the antithesis to Harper’s. Their clean and tidy lives could be held up as the standard to which others should aspire. Where Harper faces chaos, Cassie encounters order. Both represent problems that the girls must overcome.

The story is lightly told with a few gaping plot holes and questionable realities that are filled in and explained as the layers of the parents’ lives are revealed. There is much there to frown upon, and many have done just that. Harper must deal with revelations and loss at a time when she is seeking out her own direction. The structure of her day to day life may be shoddily constructed but the foundations are shown to be firm.

A nicely written tale that makes good use of plot development to highlight what is important in life. Harper is a fabulous character coping with the hand she has been dealt as best she can. The supporting cast enable the author to raise the many issues with grace and discernment. There is nothing heavy in the writing but what is explored will linger, as all good stories should.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the Curtis Brown Book Group.

Book Review: Fuck This Journal

fuck this journal

Fuck This Journal, by Dale Shaw, is the perfect Secret Santa gift to buy for that annoying co-worker who sucks in air and shakes their head when you share an amusing anecdote from your drink fueled weekend. Or give it to someone who has just joined the firm to confuse them.

Based on the inspirational tropes which encourage creativity and mindfulness, this does the opposite. Did that last sentence make sense? Neither does much of this book, which is rather the point.

There are pages filled with suggestions for filling time now that your wife has left you for a man who makes his living selling cleansing products at car book sales. For example:

“Write your deepest darkest fantasy on this page. Rip it out screw it into a tiny ball and drop it into the bicycle basket of a passing clergyman. That’ll show him.”

There is advice to ignore and suggestions for stupid things to do (that plenty of people do anyway). Under “Make the whole world your canvas” are instructions for creating what would probably pass as art if placed in a modern gallery.

Or, you could “have an adventure”. You may get arrested if you followed these suggestions but hey, wouldn’t that be a new experience? (if not then maybe don’t read this book after all).

I suspect that there is something within these pages that will offend every reader at least once.

There are sketches of poo, of a wicker man, pictures to colour in, pages to pull out for no reason, and plenty of space for you to “write about how that makes you feel…”

The one thing that you mustn’t do is wear this book as a hat. No, I have no idea why either.

I requested a review copy because I was intrigued that, at its launch party, attendees were given ‘Baddy Bags’ (that’s baddy, not buddy or body, and definitely not goody).

What is your excuse for reading it going to be?

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Headline.