Tag Archives: humour

Teaser Tuesday – 6th February, 2018

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:

No Time Like the Past – Book 5 of The Chronicles of St Marys series by Jodi Taylor

49% Things were hotting up in the local farmers’ market where smelly cheese and oddly shaped sausages were being purchased with enthusiasm, especially after sampling thimblefuls of assorted murky and very sticky drinks, which invariably resulted in a sharp intake of breath, a momentary loss of vision, and utterances of ‘Wow! I’ll definitely have a bottle of that! No, make it two!’ People were staggering away with slightly less control over their limbs than they had previously enjoyed.

BLURB: St Mary’s has been rebuilt and it’s business as usual for the History department.
But first, there’s the little matter of a seventeenth-century ghost that only Mr Markham can see. Not to mention the minor inconvenience of being trapped in the Great Fire of London…and an unfortunately-timed comfort break at Thermopylae leaving the fate of the western world hanging in the balance.

I have had a very hectic week, followed by an intense week-end at the marvellous 20 Books 2018 Conference at Runneymede. So I wanted something both funny and action-packed to take me to somewhere completely different – and I don’t know anyone else who does it better than Jodi Taylor’s wonderful time travelling adventure series, which can have me laughing aloud and blinking back tears in the course of a handful of pages. Wonderful stuff!

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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Liar in the Library – Book 18 of the Fethering Mysteries by Simon Brett

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Simon Brett is patron of the West Sussex Writers club, so I have had the pleasure of hearing him speak a number of times. His witty take on the world pervades this pleasing cosy mystery.

When an author event at the local library ends in murder, Jude finds herself a suspect in the waspishly witty new Fethering mystery. Having been booked to give a talk at Fethering Library, successful author Burton St Clair invites his old friend Jude to come along. Although they haven’t met for twenty years, Jude is not surprised to find that St Clair hasn’t changed, with his towering ego and somewhat shaky relationship with the truth. What Jude hadn’t been suspecting however was that the evening would end in sudden, violent death. More worrying, from Jude’s point of view, is the fact that the investigating police officers seem to be convinced that she herself was responsible for the crime. With the evidence stacking up against her, Jude enlists the help of her neighbour Carole not just to solve the murder but to prevent herself from being arrested for committing it.

Set in a small village literally a stone’s throw from where we live in Littlehampton, which is mentioned several times in the book, I’ll freely admit that one of the attractions with this entertaining whodunit is the fact that I recognise the towns they visit. It is rather fun to so clearly visualise the setting during the investigation, even if the village of Fethering is a construct. Of course, the book would be a downright trudge if that was the only thing going for it, so the fact that I really like Jude and her relationship with her rather prickly neighbour, Carole. It’s a bonus they are both retired and of a certain age – while I haven’t yet retired, I’m also well into middle age and it’s a solid pleasure to read a book with two female protagonists who reflect my own age-group. It doesn’t happen all that often…

Jude is a thoroughly likeable protagonist, who during the story becomes the chief suspect in the murder. These days, with our overloaded justice system, it’s all too believable to see a scenario where she could be imprisoned for perpetrating a crime she didn’t commit, so the stakes in this case are far higher than terminal boredom. What turns this readable adventure into pure delight, however, are the acidic observations Jude and Carole both have on the world and the characters around them. Brett doesn’t hold back from having a pop at the state of the publishing industry and the struggles rural libraries are having to keep going, amongst other aspects of life in modern England – as well as the protagonists’ observations about the other characters they come into contact while on the case. Several times I giggled aloud at a nicely pithy phrase.

Any grizzles? Well, I was rather taken aback at having a crucial scene in the book where Jude is explaining the denouement glossed over in half a page, rather than being given the reactions of the characters involved. As the stakes were so high at this stage, I expected at least the first section to be fully depicted and the fact it wasn’t jarred with me. This is, after all, one of the planks of this particular genre and while Brett often successfully plays with readers’ expectations, this time it didn’t work. However, that is the only niggle and it certainly isn’t a dealbreaker. I found the ending not only satisfying, but unexpectedly poignant. If you are looking for an entertaining cosy mystery with a thoroughly modern take on the genre, then go looking for this offering – it reminded me all over again why I enjoy Brett’s writing so much. While I obtained an arc of The Liar in the Library from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Teaser Tuesday – 12th December, 2017

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:

The Frequency of Aliens – Book 2 of the Sorrow Falls series by Gene Doucette

58% The Groton naval base had the necessary security while the naval vessels mostly did not – the military still didn’t entirely trust wifi – so until Ed reached Groton, he was unable to retrieve what ended up being an absurdly massive number of messages.
The messages arrived in multiple ways: emails, voicemails, and text messages. They didn’t necessarily add up to anything individually, but taken as a whole it was clear a lot had gone wrong in the few weeks he’d been out of the country.

BLURB: Becoming an overnight celebrity at age sixteen should have been a lot more fun. Yes, there were times when it was extremely cool, but when the newness of it all wore off, Annie Collins was left with a permanent security detail and the kind of constant scrutiny that makes the college experience especially awkward.

Not helping matters: she’s the only kid in school with her own pet spaceship.

She would love it if things found some kind of normal, but as long as she has control of the most lethal—and only—interstellar vehicle in existence, that isn’t going to happen. Worse, things appear to be going in the other direction. Instead of everyone getting used to the idea of the ship, the complaints are getting louder. Public opinion is turning, and the demands that Annie turn over the ship are becoming more frequent. It doesn’t help that everyone seems to think Annie is giving them nightmares.

Nightmares aren’t the only weird things going on lately. A government telescope in California has been abandoned, and nobody seems to know why.

The man called on to investigate—Edgar Somerville—has become the go-to guy whenever there’s something odd going on, which has been pretty common lately. So far, nothing has panned out: no aliens or zombies or anything else that might be deemed legitimately peculiar… but now may be different, and not just because Ed can’t find an easy explanation. This isn’t the only telescope where people have gone missing, and the clues left behind lead back to Annie.

This week I’m reading another alien encounter quite different from last week’s offering. In amongst the paranoia and fear, there is also a humorous edge which I’m enjoying. However, I’m beginning to think there is something nasty OUT THERE and it has humanity in its sights…

Teaser Tuesday – 10th October, 2017

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:
Falling Apart – Book 2 of the Otherworlders series by Jane Lovering

3% I am vampire. I am top of the food chain, a mover-in-shadow; desired by women, envied by men. I have the grace of a cat, the sight of an eagle and the speed of a greyhound – so why can’t I find a bloody biro when I want one?

BLURB: Jessica Grant liaises with Otherworlders for York Council so she knows that falling in love with a vampire takes a leap of faith. But her lover Sil, the City Vampire in charge of Otherworld York, he wouldn’t run out on her, would he? He wouldn’t let his demon get the better of him. Or would he?

Sil knows there’s a reason for his bad haircut, worse clothes and the trail of bleeding humans in his wake. If only he could remember exactly what he did before someone finds him and shoots him on sight.

With her loyalties already questioned for defending zombies, the Otherworlders no one cares about, Jess must choose which side she’s on, either help her lover or turn him in. Human or Other? Whatever she decides, there’s a high price to pay and someone to lose.

I loved the first book in the series Vampire State of the Mind and couldn’t believe my luck when I realised that this book, which has been languishing on my TBR for far too long, was the sequel! Funny and engrossing – this is just what the doctor ordered while I’m still in the throes of influenza.

Friday Faceoff – Then let the crabs be cursed by Odin…

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is the one we prefer. This week the theme is Vikings, so I’ve chosen How to Speak Dragonese – Book 3 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell.

 

This cover, produced by Hachette UK in 2010, is the main template for the other covers. It is illustrated by Cowell herself, in the guise of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, who is her chief protagonist and heir to the Hooligan tribe. He grows up to be the greatest of all Viking chieftains, and this is part of the ongoing story of how he survives to adulthood – a mighty achievement in itself. I very much like this cover. It is eye-catching and humorous, while promising a big dollop of exciting adventures in the book. This is my favourite.

 

This offering was produced by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers in February 2010. It has a slightly slicker feel, having replaced the page in Hiccup’s journal with a purple background, but still features Hiccup and Toothless drawn by Cowell – and still clearly in yet another scrape. Once more it ticks the boxes for me.

 

This cover from Scholastic published in December 2009 features Toothless sitting in Hiccup’s helmet. Once more the illustration is recognisably Cowell’s and you get the sense that Toothless is sniggering about something. Another attractive cover that effectively gives a sense of the book’s content.

 

Produced in September 2008, this Spanish edition by Ediciones Sm still features the original illustration, but has changed the background. It’s pleasant enough, but I far prefer the blotchy, scruffy effect of the original, which is specifically aimed at reluctant boy readers, who are far more likely to be attracted by the odd ink blot and jagged page.

 

This Kindle edition, published in June 2017 by Hodder Children’s Books gives the first cover a very, very close run for its money as my favourite. While the original image has Hiccup and Toothless arguing, with Hiccup clearly losing, there isn’t a whole lot going on. However this cover features on of the most dramatic events in the book ripping a tear in the binding as a huge dragon hunts down his prey…

Review of KINDLE Ebook Spellslinger – Book 1 of the Spellslinger series by Sebastien de Castell

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I was intrigued by the cover and the rather nifty title – and when I looked at the opening paragraph, I decided to get hold of it. But it languished on my TBR pile until I got hold of the second book – and decided I had to read it.

There are three things that earn you a man’s name among the Jan’Tep. The first is to demonstrate the strength to defend your family. The second is to prove you can perform the high magic that defines our people. The third is surviving your fourteenth year. I was a few weeks shy of my birthday when I learned that I wouldn’t be doing any of those things.

Magic is a con game.
Kellen is moments away from facing his first mage’s duel and the start of four trials that will make him a spellcaster. There’s just one problem: his magic is gone. As his sixteenth birthday approaches, Kellen falls back on his cunning in a bid to avoid total disgrace. But when a daring stranger arrives in town, she challenges Kellen to take a different path.

This YA coming-of-age adventure hits the ground running and doesn’t stop. Kellen is an appealing protagonist who inexplicably has no magical ability despite his family’s great power and influence. In this world where magic is everything, his lack of magical talent will doom him to a life of servitude and drudgery – like his uncle, who instead of being a respected member of the council and adviser to Kellen’s father, instead runs the household. Kellen cannot quite believe that his magic won’t at some stage manifest itself. I really enjoyed the first-person narration and the shafts of humour.

The way the plot continually produced more surprises and Kellen’s strong character drew me in and kept the pages turning. It doesn’t hurt that the squirrel cat is also great fun with a lovely line in sarcastic putdowns. It is always a challenge when depicting someone discovering that their whole way of life and value system is based on lies and exploitation, but de Castell does a very good job as Kellen slowly discovers some very disturbing secrets. I enjoyed the magic system and really liked the idea that magic would tattoo its power upon the magic-user’s skin. However, the problem with the first-person narrative is that with so much going on, the worldbuilding at times suffered. That said, this is the first book in the series and I’m hoping in due course, we will have a clearer idea of the environment and exactly what it looks like.

While the story was satisfactorily wrapped up with the really unpleasant antagonists sorted out and Kellen’s future, at least in the short term, resolved, there was a major plot point left dangling to tempt us to get hold of the next book in the series. I’m delighted that I already have a Netgalley arc of Shadowblack and look forward to tucking into it very soon. This book is recommended for fantasy lovers of magical systems and a strong first-person protagonist.
8/10

Sunday Post – 27th August 2017

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

The news with my sister continues to be good. By some miracle she has managed to avoid any eye injury as last week the eye clinic gave her the thumbs up. Now we just have to get the allclear with the heart clinic… The bruising continues to fade and she continues to recover. Thank you everyone who wished her well and/or prayed for her – you clearly made a difference!

On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday I was busy grannying as the children returned from their trip to Disneyland Paris, full of enthusiasm and excitement about their wonderful holiday. As ever, they were a joy – I just wish the weather had been less uncertain. Typically, from the moment they returned home, it brightened up! Thursday I spent lazing around after having painfully pulled a muscle in my shoulder – I was also quite tired so gave myself permission to read and sleep throughout the morning, though I did get up later to do some writing and answer emails.

On Friday, my sister and I went shopping for wool – I have to knit a Dr Who scarf for Tim’s film and rehearsals will be resuming at the start of September, which is closing at the speed of an oncoming train. I went online and found a really good knitting pattern produced by the BBC for Tom Baker’s first Dr Who scarf. However, as well as wool, we got a bit sidetracked and I found myself returning home from an ad hoc shopping spree with a couple of storage jars, two sets of lovely towels and a very nice jacket. We only went out for some balls of wool and a row counter! We’ve agreed that we need to ration our shopping habit as we are clearly a bad influence on each other. Though it was huge fun.

This week I have read:
The Lost Steersman – Book 3 of The Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirstein
How do you find someone? How, if you have never seen him, never heard him described, did not know where he lived? How, if he wished not to be found? And how, most especially, if he were the most powerful wizard in the world? The steerswoman Rowan has discovered that the fall of the Guidestar and the massacre of Outskirter tribes were caused by one man: the secret master-wizard, Slado. But until now, no steerswoman had known of his existence, nor knew that the wizards answered to any single authority. Now, Rowan must find him. She comes to the seaside town of Alemeth, where centuries of records might help her find clues for her search. Then, an unexpected encounter with a lost friend: Janus, a steersman who had resigned his membership in the Steerswomen, giving no explanation. Now Rowan has hope for help in her search — but Janus has changed. The bright intellect is shrouded in a dark, shattered spirit…
This wonderful series just keeps on delivering. I thought I was on one kind of adventure – and turned around twice to find it was something completely different. I love it when that happens! Utterly engrossing, this third book in the series is a joy.

 

Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones
When Andrew Hope’s magician grandfather dies, he leaves his house and field-of-care to his grandson who spent much of his childhood at the house. Into this mix comes young Aidan Cain, who turns up from the orphanage asking for safety. Who he is and why he’s there is unclear, but a strong connection between the two becomes apparent.
I spotted this one in the library – and it was a no-brainer that I’d scoop it off the shelves. Once more this wonderful writer has woven a fantasy tale that drew me in with her magical mix of mayhem, humour, darkness and magic… I didn’t want to put this YA offering down until I reached the last page.

 

Death Shall Come – Book 4 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green
Death shall come on swift wings to whoever desecrates this tomb … Ishmael Jones and his partner Penny have been summoned to remote Cardavan House, home of the world’s largest private collection of Ancient Egyptian artefacts, for the unveiling of George Cardavan’s latest acquisition: a bone fide Egyptian mummy. When a bloodstained body is discovered beside the empty sarcophagus, Ishmael is dismissive of the theory that the mummy’s curse is to blame. Instead he sets out to uncover the human killer responsible. But how can Ishmael explain the strange, shuffling footsteps that creep along the corridors? Who is playing games with them … and why?
This is the class country house murder – right down to the Egyptian curse surrounding some unique ancient artefacts. However, this isn’t set back in the 1920s when these affairs were all the rage – Green has set this one here and now with a paranormal twist and lots of gritty action. Great fun!

 

Spirit Witch – Book 3 of The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Magic by Helen Harper
Barely recovered from her brush with necromancy, Ivy is flung once more into a world of intrigue, adventure and potential death and disaster. It’s not her fault – it just so turns out that she’s now the only person in the entire world who can communicate with the dead. And they’re a chatty bunch with a list of demands. When the ghosts offer information about a witch-hating mass murderer in return for Ivy’s help, she has no choice but to get involved. She might be getting herself into more trouble than she realises though – and that’s even before she’s dragged to Sunday dinner so she can meet Winter’s family…
Another wonderful offering that helped to continue this year’s marvellous string of thoroughly enjoyable reads – there has never been a better time to be a book-lover! This is the latest and supposedly last in this hilarious urban fantasy series – but I’m hoping that Helen Harper will listen to the pleas from her fans to consider at least one more helping of Ivy, Rafe and Brutus, the talking cat. Pretty please with sprinkles on the top!

 

The Heir to the North – Book 1 of Malessar’s Curse series by Steven Poore
“Caenthell will stay buried, and the North will not rise again until I freely offer my sword to a true descendant of the High Kings—or until one takes it from my dying hands!”
With this curse, the Warlock Malessar destroyed Caenthell. The bloodline of the High Kings disappeared and the kingdom faded into dark legend until even stories of the deed lost their power. But now there is an Heir to the North. Cassia hopes to make her reputation as a storyteller by witnessing a hardened soldier and a heroic princeling defeat Malessar and his foul curse. But neither of her companions are exactly as they appear, and the truth lies deep within stories that have been buried for centuries. As Cassia learns secrets both soldier and warlock have kept hidden since the fall of Caenthell, she discovers she can no longer merely bear witness. Cassia must become part of the story; she must choose a side and join the battle.
The North will rise again.
I got hold of this book by fellow Grimbold author, Steven Poore, with the firm intention of reading it – and somehow it got trapped in a holding pattern on my TBR pile. Until I decided I wanted some epic fantasy in my life… I’m so glad I did! I really loved this one.

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 20th August

Review of Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice – Book 4 of The Austen Project by Curtis Sittenfeld

Teaser Tuesday featuring Death Shall Come – Book 4 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green

Review of One Fell Sweep – Book 3 of The Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Real-Town Murders – Book 1 of The Real-Town Murders series by Adam Roberts

Friday Face-off – If I be waspish, best beware my sting… featuring Lord of the Flies by William Golding

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Spirit Witch – Book 3 of The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Magic by Helen Harper

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week and a bit, in no particular order:

Lola’s Ramblings: Birthday Party Book Tag http://lolasreviews.com/lolas-ramblings-birthday-party-book-tag/ This was great fun and particularly appropriate as it happened to turn up on Lola’s blog near her birthday… Happy Birthday, Lola😊

Brief Memories of Brian Aldiss http://www.julietemckenna.com/?p=2741 Fantasy author Juliet E. McKenna has written a lovely tribute to Brian Aldiss, who I had the honour to meet at my very first Fantasycon back in 2011. I grew up reading his amazing worlds and to have the chance to talk to him was magical. While it was only a passing conversation, I can echo Juliet’s comments on just what a generous man he was. He will be missed…

Good venues for microfiction http://earthianhivemind.net/2017/08/24/good-venues-microfiction/ Once again, Steph has provided a really useful article for those of us who write short shorts…

Finding and Losing Time https://thenaptimeauthor.wordpress.com/2017/08/25/finding-and-loosing-time/ I loved this one. It sums up the dilemma of parenthood – and I happen to think Anne has made the right choice…

#WhenDreamsComeTrue with author Alice Castle @ DDsDiary https://mychestnutreadingtree.wordpress.com/2017/08/20/whendreamscometrue-with-author-alice-castle-ddsdiary/ I really enjoy reading how various authors come to write and publish their books, so wanted to share my love for this series.

Thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to visit, like and comment on my site and may you have a great week.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Spirit Witch – Book 3 of The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Magic by Helen Harper

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This is a gem of a series that Himself stumbled across – see my review of Star Witch here – and so we were delighted when we realised the next book in the series was just about to come out. It was a no-brainer that we would pre-order it…

Barely recovered from her brush with necromancy, Ivy is flung once more into a world of intrigue, adventure and potential death and disaster. It’s not her fault – it just so turns out that she’s now the only person in the entire world who can communicate with the dead. And they’re a chatty bunch with a list of demands. When the ghosts offer information about a witch-hating mass murderer in return for Ivy’s help, she has no choice but to get involved. She might be getting herself into more trouble than she realises though – and that’s even before she’s dragged to Sunday dinner so she can meet Winter’s family…

This urban fantasy romp features Ivy who would far rather slump on a sofa eating takeaway than get swept up in some wretched adventure. That’s what she tells anyone who’s prepared to listen, anyway. However, it turns out that she is unexpectedly nifty at the odd tricky rune and while she initially hated Rafe Winter and his driven attitude – they are now an item… So you have some of the major ingredients in this beguiling adventure – a feisty protagonist with a strong first person voice that pings off the page; an enjoyable dollop of romance that supplies plenty of snark and some silliness; a strong plotline that provides plenty of page-turning tension as the stakes are steadily ramped up. And a talking cat.

I became a tad tired of this sub-genre a couple of years ago and these days I’m quite picky what I’ll read – but this one ticked all my boxes. The fact it is set in the UK and written by a Brit doesn’t hurt, as the sarcasm and humour is very much home-grown and certainly had me chuckling aloud in places.

Like the previous book, the actual storyline is quite dark as a serial killer with a major prejudice against witches is on the loose – and Ivy only gets to hear about it when another ghost tells her. Her ability to see and talk to ghosts is both unnerving and the source of some humour. Harper is very good at using comedy to lighten what would be quite a grim read, otherwise – in fact there is a very moving scene near the end which left me with a lump in my throat. But it is then counter-balanced by some more nonsense from Brutus, Ivy’s very contrary cat, which helped to lighten the mood again.

The romance is well handled – I thoroughly enjoyed Ivy and Rafe’s sheer delight with each other as they bathe in that newly-in-love feeling that makes every day together seem like Christmas. Harper manages to effectively depict that glow without feeling the need to embroider it with any nonsense like a love-triangle, or someone plotting against their happiness – it put a smile on my face and even produced a couple of ‘ah’ moments. Given that I’m not a romance fan, that takes some doing.

I was under the impression that this is supposed to be the final book in the series – however I have read a steady stream of impassioned pleas from other fans wanting more and I’m about to add my voice to that chorus. I would love to read more about Ivy, Rafe and Brutus. This is a delightful series and comes highly recommended.
9/10

Review of Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice – Book 4 of The Austen Project by Curtis Sittenfeld

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I recently had the week from Hell and wanted something cosy and reassuring to read. What could be better than Eligible? It’s been languishing on my TBR pile for a while and now was definitely the time to dust it off and get stuck in…

This version of the Bennet family and Mr. Darcy is one that you have and haven’t met before: Liz is a magazine writer in her late thirties who, like her yoga instructor older sister, Jane, lives in New York City. When their father has a health scare, they return to their childhood home in Cincinnati to help and discover that the sprawling Tudor they grew up in is crumbling and the family is in disarray. Youngest sisters Kitty and Lydia are too busy with their CrossFit workouts and Paleo diets to get jobs. Mary, the middle sister, is earning her third online master’s degree and barely leaves her room, except for those mysterious Tuesday-night outings she won’t discuss. And Mrs. Bennet has one thing on her mind: how to marry off her daughters, especially as Jane’s fortieth birthday fast approaches.

Enter Chip Bingley, a handsome new-in-town doctor who recently appeared on the juggernaut reality TV dating show Eligible. At a Fourth of July barbecue, Chip takes an immediate interest in Jane, but Chip’s friend, neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy, reveals himself to Liz to be much less charming. . . And yet, first impressions can be deceiving.

This proved to be just what I needed – a smart read that plays with the reader’s knowledge of the original story and then delivers something sufficiently different to keep the pages turning. For instance, Elizabeth, aged thirty-eight, is in the middle of an affair with Jasper Wicks whom she has been helplessly in love with for years – while he keeps stringing her along. Set in Cincinnati, where the Bennets live in a rambling, unkempt mansion called Tudors, this is also a commentary on modern times. The strength of this story is the way Sittenfeld reinvents the classic characters we know and love from Austen’s incomparable romantic comedy and offers them up in different guises. Some are still recognisable and some are completely different – I had great fun working out who was going to fill which niche in the story.

It does take a while to get going as initially we are treated to chunks of detail about the backstory in omniscient viewpoint, which I found a tad jarring. Once we were in the story, the pace picks up and the story lifted off. However, there is a problem that poor Sittenfeld couldn’t crack – while Mr Bennet does have some deliciously sharp and humorous lines, overall the dialogue lacks the wit and charm of Austen’s original novel. I’ll give her a pass on that one – Austen was a genius and while Sittenfeld’s prose is solidly good, she isn’t in the same league. That said, I had a great deal of fun with this one and recommend it to anyone in need of an enjoyable romance – a thorough working knowledge of Pride and Prejudice (and that can mean you’ve watched the films a few times) is a distinct advantage.
8/10

Review of The Last Straw – Book 3 of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney

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When Oscar came to stay, he was keen to go to the library and get hold of a book in this series as he’s been reading them at school and enjoying the fact that he was able to read a chapter book independently. He was delighted when we found this one on the shelves and between us, we were able to finish it before he returned home.

Let’s face it: Greg Heffley will never change his wimpy ways. Somebody just needs to explain that to Greg’s father. You see, Frank Heffley actually thinks he can get his son to toughen up, and he enlists Greg in organized sports and other “manly” endeavors. Of course, Greg is easily able to sidestep his father’s efforts to change him. But when Greg’s dad threatens to send him to military academy, Greg realizes he has to shape up . . . or get shipped out.

I can see why this series is so very enjoyable – hapless Greg gets himself into so many scrapes. Some explore fairly accurately the travails of school life that many children reading this book will be able to identify with – and some that tip into outright farce. Greg is an appealing protagonist, managing to be both inept during PE and clueless during lessons, when he regularly gets into trouble for daydreaming, or even falling asleep. What stops this becoming something much darker, is that Greg is perfectly happy being exactly who he is and feels the rest of the world ought consider changing around him. He lives with both parents and two brothers, one is older and the other a baby.

The humour is direct and helped along by the amusing cartoon drawings on each page that breaks up the text, giving new readers extra confidence and information. Kinney has a really good narrative flow – the diary format means that each couple of pages contains an event or happening that can be read as a standalone, while the main, overarching problem – that of Greg’s Dad being increasingly worried about Greg’s unmanly attitude to life – is the theme that underpins the story. Again, this makes the book very accessible for new readers still struggling with decoding words. There is a limited vocabulary with the occasional harder word added that is obvious in the context, again encouraging children to continue reading with a feeling of achievement.

I’m conscious that I’ve slipped into teacher-mode while reviewing this book and may have given the impression that it is one of those stories that children love and adults hate. But this isn’t the case. Oscar made a good start reading this one himself, but as he wanted to finish it before returning home, he asked me to read it to him during both days and as his bedtime story. I found it thoroughly enjoyable and although Greg is a Canadian kid in the state school system, the experience crosses over effectively so that my British grandson and I also giggled at his problems and could identify with him. Highly recommended for emerging and newly independent readers.
9/10