Category Archives: Comedy

Something Rotten (Thursday Next #4)

by Jasper Fforde

If you are reading this but haven’t already read any of the previous three Thursday Next novels- STOP! You really shouldn’t be here. Book four is not a safe place for the uninitiated. There are all kinds of sinister traps and unpredictable plot twists that may result in a serious book related injuries. 

Something Rotten brings all the threads, plots, chronologically challenged events and Shakespeare’s favourite character (so he thinks) to some kind of conclusion.

Of course, in the world created by the at time warped but always funny imagination of Jasper Fforde, nothing can be taken at face value.

In the previous books we have seen the barriers between fiction and reality come tumbling down. Even concepts such as linear time have been challenged and found wanting. Nothing is sacred in a world where croquet attracts audiences in the millions, Shakespeare is a national hero, George Formby is the President of England and where literary crimes are investigated by a dedicated special police department.

At the centre of his, Thursday’s fourth outing is the dashing young Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. His appearance just as the government embarks on a campaign of anti-Danish propaganda is more than a little awkward, but ultimately the least of Thursday’s worries. Not only must she find a way to save Hamlet from a hostile merger, but she is also trying to bring back her eradicated husband whilst struggling to prevent Armageddon by ensuring that Swindon win the Croquet Superhoop. 

Something Rotten is an action-packed adventure that does not disappoint in any way. For fans of Jasper Fforde, it is just what we have come to expect. For the uninitiated (why are you still reading this?), go out there and buy the set – you won’t be disappointed. 

A Man With One Of Those Faces (The Dublin Trilogy #1)

A Man With One Of Those Facesby Caimh McDonnell

A Man With One Of Those Faces is a rare gem of a book. The combination of plot, crime drama, a cast of unlikely but wonderfully crafted characters and the unmistakable natural Irish wit make this a real treat.

Paul Mulchrone os one of life’s underachievers. OK, he’s lazy. His life is uneventful and lacking in any form of ambition of direction. That is until the day someone tries to kill him. Not the first time though; that was just a misunderstanding. But when the second attempt results in the bomb squad being called out, ambition to stay alive) and direction (anywhere but here!) are almost all he has. 

Almost, but not quite all. On the run from unknown killers the only person he can trust, all be it reluctantly, is the person who got him into this in the first place, Nurse Brigit Conroy whos love for crime novels proves to be no help at all. 

At the heart of the story is a fast-paced thriller. Stumbling across a 30-year-old crime brings all kinds of characters out of the woodwork and as DS Bunny McGary wades in with his hurling stick, it all begins to get a little messy.

Driving the story along is a humour that is distinctly Irish. here is a wonderful sense of the ridiculous and some lovely slapstick moments that kept me chuckling the whole way through.

There is no doubt that Caimh is a natural storyteller and I was captivated by both the story and the characters, particularly the unpredictable DS McGarry. I was left wanting to read more which is just as well as there are a further three books in this trilogy. I am looking forward to reading the rest.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (Harold Fry #1)

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fryby Rachel Joyce

Recently retired brewery rep Harold Fry lives a quiet life with his wife Maureen in their South Devon home. He is a man of routine and simple pleasures with no discernable ambition other than to make other people happy. He never goes anywhere or does anything. Not, you might think, the most likely type of character to be the hero of a book. And if it had not been for the letter, you would be right. For Harold, the note he receives from along forgotten work colleague, Queenie Hennessy is the unexpected catalyst that changes everything.

It is not the letter itself, or its contents, that turn Harold’s life upside down. 

He had only left the house to post his short and simple reply, but as he walked down the roads to the post box, something changed within him. He continues past the post box, starting on a journey that would change not only his life but those of his wife, Queenie and many others who take inspiration from this strange man’s pilgrimage.

Not that he sees it that way. For Harold, it just something he has to do. 

What makes his journey so different and inspiring is that he is doing it on foot. Walking six hundred miles from Kingsbridge to Berwick-upon-Tweed would be a challenge for anyone, but for a 65-year-old man who, on his own admittance does not walk, wearing only a pair of yaughting shoes and with no map, compass or phone, this trip was never going to be easy.

“The Unlikely Pilgrimage…” is a touching and entertaining tale of one man’s journey of self-discovery. Through the people he meets and recollections of his own long-buried memories, Harold learns again what it means to love and be loved.

The highs and lows of Harold’s journey are both entertaining and thought-provoking. I coldn;t help but have some sympathy for the poor man. I felt I understood his confusion and frustrations, although I like to think that I could get my own life in order without all the blisters and nights spent on park benches.

A thoroughly entertaining and thought-provoking book. 

The Herring In The Library (Elsie and Ethelred Mystery #3)

The Herring In The Libraryby L C Tyler

It all begins with Elsie and Ethelred enjoying a quiet game of Cluedo. As usual, Elsie is cheating, making up the rules as she goes along, very much as she does in life. By contrast, Ethelred plays by the rules and loses out as a result. Although I don’t think that she believes that rules are made to be broken the are certainly optional and are to be overlooked if they become inconvenient. Elsie Thirkwttle is a literary agent and self-proclaimed chocoholic, a juggernaut of a woman who takes no prisoners when it comes to getting what and where she wants. 

Ethelred Tressider is one of Elsie’s long-suffering authors who seems to have little enthusiasm for his chosen profession. He has been fairly successful, publishing novels under several pseudonyms, but he dreams of one day doing something serious under his own name. Elsie is not so sure.

This is the third outing for this unlikely literary pair who have developed an uncanny habit of being in the wrong place at the right time. In this case, the Cluedo theme merges into their real lives following the mysterious death of Ethelred’s former school pal, Sir Robert Muntham at a dinner party at Muntham Hall.

As a crime writer, Ethelred is expected to use his skills to help solve the age-old “locked room” mystery. But, as those who have read the first two books will know, Ethelred’s grasp of simple police procedures and interview techniques are not as honed as one might expect.

The same cannot be said of Elsie who’s natural scepticism and bulldog approach find her unravelling the truth while Ethelred is still blundering around the dark alleyways the lovely Lady Muntham has lead him down. 

Not only is “The Herring In The Library” a very funny and enjoyable tale, there is also a nicely plotted murder mystery to follow. I particularly enjoy the way these books switch narrative between Ethelred and Elsie. Their polar opposite observations and opinions make the whole thing so much more enjoyable than seeing things from one point of view. These are very much about the pair, not the individuals.

And as a treat, we also get a glimpse for the first time of one of Ethelred’s recurring characters, Master Thomas, whose latest adventure bears an uncanny resemblance to the predicament he finds himself in at Munford Hall. All in all, another excellent outing for the odd couple of crime fiction. 

A Man Called Ove

A Man Called Oveby Fredrik Backman

Every now and again you come across a book that really says something to you, and for me, A Man Called Ove is just such a book. From the very first page, I felt I understood Ove. To many of the people he meets he comes across as a grumpy old man, but, as is often the case, there is more to him than first meets the eye.

For Ove, life is simple and made up of two types of people: those who drive Saabs, and twits. And there are a lot of twits about! 

As the book progresses we learn more about Ove’s past and the events that shaped the man he became. The biggest single event being the day he met his wife-to-be Sonja. To everyone who knew them, Ove and Sonja were an odd couple, like chalk and cheese. But to Ove, Sonja was his world and without her, nothing makes sense any more.

But with the arrival of new neighbours, Ove’s life is about to take on a whole new meaning. 

A Man Called Ove is a delightful and very moving story. Fredrik Backman has a real gift for blending humour and pathos in a totally compelling way. There is a slapstick element to the story that makes the tragedy even more profound. For me, it is one of the best books I have read this year and one I can wholeheartedly recommend. 

Something Borrowed (Brenda & Effie Mystery #2)

Something Brrowedby Paul Magrs

I picked up this particular little gem in a charity shop, not realising at the time that it is, in fact, the second in a series. I only realised this when I came to read it. Normally, I would have put it aside until I could get hold of the preceding book, but as I also realised it was set in the seaside town of Whitby, a place I was due to visit that very week, I decided to plough on regardless.

Something Borrowed mixes gothic horror, fantasy and comedy to produce a tale that is both ludicrous and compelling. Not having read the first book (soon to be rectified) I was a little behind with Brenda and Effie’s story, but Magrs (pronounced Mars apparently) very thoughtfully included enough references to the two ladies’ first adventure (Never The  Bride) that I was very soon fairly up to date. In Brenda and Effie Magrs has created two wonderfully idiosyncratic characters who manage to blunder their way through a plot full of overflowing with vampires, zombies, stray body parts and a set of possessed furniture, all set against the gothic spookiness of Whitby.

Thanks to Bram Stoker, this busy little seaside town has become something of a mecca for fans of the gothic tradition. The swirling mists that often shroud the imposing Abbey, its narrow alleys and steep, winding pathways, make it the perfect setting for tales of possession and devilment. In Something Borrowed the town itself is as much a character as Brenda and Effie and their assorted friends and foes.

Something Borrowed has all the elements of a good old fashioned horror story, told with a wonderful comic twist that makes it a very entertaining and unique read. At times I was reminded of watching those old black and white movies that are now more amusing than they are terrifying. 

Brenda is one of those characters who leap out of the page and demand your attention – and affection. I can almost picture myself enjoying coffee and a cake with her in the Walrus and Carpenter. Her straight talking honesty and her strength of character make her a compelling narrator as she and Effie face a demon from Brenda’s murky past. 

There is also the question of the poison pen letters that have been dropping through people’s letterboxes. Who would write such horrible things? And who, or what, is haunting Brenda every night with their incessant tappings and scrapings? And why has Henry Cleavis turned up here and now, dragging up long-forgotten memories and feelings?

Read and all will be revealed.

Something Borrowed has everything I could want from a book – captivating characters, recognisable setting, great plot and plenty of humour, all told with style and wit. I will definitely be reading Brenda and Effie’s debut, and am looking forward to the rest of their crazy adventures. 

 

Quartet in Autumn

Quartet in Autumnby Barbara Pym

A classic from the late 1970s, Quartet in Autumn is a light and amusing tale of four co-workers, drifting towards and into retirement. Edwin, Norman, Marcia and Letty share an office in an undisclosed London office block. Each is alone, either by choice or circumstances and none have any plans or ambitions for their futures. With retirement just around the corner, time is running out. 

The story meanders between the four characters, delving into their lives in a way the characters themselves seem unwilling or unable to do. There is no question of their friendships going beyond the confines of the office, yet surely, no one understands their situations better they each other?

I really enjoyed this gently and mildly amusing foray into the lives of these four over 60s. Each desperately hanging onto their independence and their pasts. But it is the shared sense of loneliness that makes the book so appealing. So often I wanted to reach out to them and point out that there is someone who cares and they are sitting right across from them. 

It is rather sad in a way, but I enjoyed their individual stories and the way Barbara Pym injected her subtle humour into even the most poignant and sad moments. Although there are some elements of the story that are very much of the time, the problem of loneliness in the heart of one of the world’s busiest cities is as true today as it was then. 

This is the first Pymnovelk that I have read and I am sure it won’t be the last.

The One Plus One

One Plus Oneby Jojo Moyes

Having previously read several Jojo Moyes books I was pretty sure what to expect – captivating characters, a great plot and quality writing. And that is exactly what I got. The plot itself is typical rom-com fodder, but the important thing is the way it is told. Jojo Moyes has the ability to make her characters come to life on the page. 

We all know how hard it can be to recover when life when knocks us down, and how difficult it can be to retain our optimism when you feel that universe is conspiring against us. But that eternal optimism despite everything life has thrown at her is what makes the leading lady, Jess Thomas, such an endearing character. Despite having to hold down two jobs to keep her and her two children fed and watered, she remains confident that things will get better. 

On the other hand, Ed Nichols has it all: the perfect job, a flat in London, a holiday home by the sea, his own company and, on the face of it, a bright future.

But all is not as it seems, and that is where the story begins. 

The One Plus One is a modern love story with just a hint of the Romeo and Juliet about it. But like all good books, there is a lot more going on underneath the surface. Jess’s optimism is tested to its limits by the circumstances of a life she no longer seems to have any control over. But it is that very “silver lining” approach that turns Ed’s life around. As he faces losing everything he has ever worked for, seeing at first hand Jess’s determination to do the best for her children is something of a revelation. He begins to realise that for one he has the opportunity to do some real good, to do something that will improve the life of someone else.

It doesn’t hurt that on their journey – physical and metaphorical – they find themselves growing ever closer.

For me, Jojo Moyes is one of those writers that can turn a seemingly simple tale into something quite deep and inspiring. Her characters are easily identifiable and I can’t help feeling some empathy towards them and their plights. Whilst tragedy is always at the heart of a good novel, particularly a love story like this one, humour is also a key element, and in The One Plus One Jojo Moyes gets the balance just right. It is witty, absorbing and a joy to read. 

 

 

 

The House of Sleep

by Jonathan Coe

Coe is a favourite of my wife’s, but I have never actually read any of his work myself before. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, but the cover promised me something “hilarious and devastating”; what I got some was something mildly interesting and eventually amusing. 

That is not to say I didn’t enjoy the book because I did. But not because of the plot, which I found contrived and lacking in focus. I found some of the characters to be extremely engaging and the twist in the tale unexpected but welcome. Describing this book as hilarious is really stretching it. In fact, it barely raised an amused smile until over halfway through when started to get into his stride.

The plot revolves around a group of students, each with their own issue around sleep and dreams. Misunderstandings and madness give the tale an interesting and unusual twist, but for me, the real meat of the story came too late to fully rescue the book. 

The House of Sleep is not one of the better books I have read recently. It was not a bad book, but it simply wasn’t as good as it could have been. In the hands of someone like Tom Sharpe, this story could have been a real gem. 

 

Sense and Sensibility (The Austen Project #1)

by Joanna Trollope

Sense and SensibilityThis was the first book of the Austen Project which sees contemporary writers revisit Jane Austen’s timeless stories. And the one thing that the project proves, to me at least, is just how timeless Austen’s work really is. Obviously there have to be some changes to the plot and, in some cases, characterisations, but on the whole, the stories stand up well to being dragged into the twenty-first century.

Elinore and Marianne Dashwood’s story is one of Austen’s most endearing tales. thrown out of their childhood home the family find themselves dependent on the charity of relatives in Devon. Far from their friends and relatives, the Dashwoods are going to have to make some serious changes if they are to survive. But while Marianne wears her all-too-fragile heart on her sleeve, falling in love with the dashing Joh  Willoughby on first sight, her sister Elinor’s heart is much harder to find and even harder to win. 

Bringing the wonderful cast of characters up to date was particularly tricky in this book, so dependent on 19th-century manners and rules of inheritance, but Joanne Trollope pulls it off with real panache. The characters are still very true to Austen’s originals, and the tweaks and twists necessary to make the plot work in the modern age work well.

Whilst I don’t think any adaptation is ever going to match the wit and insight of the original, I have enjoyed each of the books in the series so far. I suppose that by getting such well-established authors as Joanne Trollope involved guarantees a high standard. 

A really good read.