Book Review 13 – The Daily Struggles of Archie Adams (Aged 2 1/4) by Katie Kirby

Are you human? Then you’ll like this book. No further comment needed. End of review.

Oh OK, you want me to sell it to you. Well to do that I need to start with a story. There is a point to this so bear with me… Once upon a time, back when the movie The Hangover came out a friend of ours told me and hubby that it was the funniest film she had seen in her entire life. She had been rolling on the floor laughing, she had tears of mirth drenching her face. Her cheeks ached from laughing, her sides ached from laughing, she very nearly hyperventilated and died from laughing. The stage was set. The expectations were insanely high. We watched The Hangover. We giggled at parts and then we declared that *whispers* ‘it wasn’t that funny.’

It was so funny I literally died!

So what happened? Did our friend get it wrong? Did she just have some quirky sense of humour that we didn’t share? No. We genuinely enjoyed it. It was just that the bar had been set too high. When someone tells you that you are in for the most rip rollicking  time of your life then you expect dancing flamingos to leap out of the screen. You expect maltesers to rain down on you while you watch. You expect £50 notes to start growing out of your carpet. You expect, quite frankly, too much. No-one and nothing can meet those kinds of expectations.  Not The Hangover and not ‘The Daily Struggles of Archie Adams Aged 2 1/4’. Since then hubby and I refer to anything where the expectations are set too high as “being Hangovered” and I am wary of “Hangovering” you because I loved this book so much. I just loved it.

The story is told in diary format through the eyes of the precocious toddler himself. Archie is your typical put-upon child. His parents expect him to do unreasonable things such as not wake up at an hour which begins with a 4 or a 5 and eat vegetables. Archie has to go to all sorts of lengths everyday to assert his authority over them. Then these awful parents go and throw him a curveball and tell him he is going to have to share them with some weird alien thing growing in Mummy’s tummy. All hell is about to break loose, so prepare yourselves!

Katie Kirby illustrates the entries with cute stick man pictures depicting things such as Archie’s rage when the baby dares to look in the general direction of “his” television. As I started off this post saying, if you are human you will enjoy this book. If you are fortunate enough to have well behaved children you will chuckle smugly at Archie’s tantrums. If your children behave like Archie then you may find some light relief within these pages. If you have no children at all, you may be sorely tempted to keep it that way after reading this. And if your children are long since over these phases then you will laugh manically at the misfortune of others. Schadenfreude. It’s a real thing.

Kirby has a genuine talent for injecting humour to the situations that bring people to the end of their tether. This book is jam packed with moments of hilarity. Get a copy for yourself and then dole them out to everyone you know for Christmas. They’ll love them! While you’re at it check out Kirby’s blog at www.hurrahforgin.com She has expanded her repertoire to include humorous greeting cards that include her stick man pictures.

Oh, there is one warning that I might put on this book. Archie is a teeny-weeny bit sweary. Well, actually his mouth was fouler than a sumo-wrestler’s armpit, so if you are sensitive to that kind of thing then this may not be the book for you. For the rest of you, read it, laugh, then come back and thank me later!

But come back next Monday anyway. Now that I have whetted your appetite with some new books, I’m going to start moving into a mixture of new and older fiction. Some of them may be books that I have been meaning to read for years, others, like next week’s book, things that I stumbled across at the library. Next Monday I will review ‘The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared’ by Jonas Jonasson. Thank goodness they increased the number of characters in a tweet, otherwise I would never be able to tell people that I was reviewing this…

Book Review 12 – Genuine Fraud by E.Lockhart

Some authors use their initials instead of their first names A.A. Milne, J.K. Rowling and H.G. Wells are some examples that spring to mind. It makes you wonder if H.G. Wells’ mum used to shout, ‘H.G. dinner’s ready!’ Did A.A Milne’s friends drop by and ask him, ‘A.A. fancy coming out for a pint? If the car breaks down on the way, you can fix it… oh my bad, wrong AA.’

The author of ‘Genuine Fraud’, E. Lockhart has joined the rankings of the initialled authors. Is Lockhart male or female? Are they actually in possession of a first name? Nobody knows. It’s classified information. I honestly have no idea. Oh alright then, she is called Emily and it turns out her real surname is Jenkins, but I am really letting out all the secrets now!

Lockhart is primarily a childrens and young adult writer. If like me, you are less young and more adult then you may not have heard of her, but she has also forayed into adult fiction. ‘Genuine Fraud’ however falls firmly within the young adult category. Despite which I genuinely enjoyed it. Who said grown ups can’t read childrens fiction anyway? The biggest Harry Potter fans I know (yours truly included) are all over 30.

Sometimes I surprise even myself with the lengths that I go to for ‘book art’…

‘Genuine Fraud’ deals with the enigmatic friendship between the central character Jule, and her uber-rich pal Imogen. Jule is not your average 18 year old. There are dark sides to her personality fuelled by a childhood filled with neglect and abandonment. You can’t help but empathise with Jule, even when she behaves in ways that we would not expect from our protagonist.

The quirk of the book is that the story is told entirely backwards. Entirely not well….oops I mean, well not entirely! Because of course that wouldn’t make any sense, but we gradually move further and further back through Jule’s timeline. And as we do this we uncover all sorts of shenanigans. I have mentioned in previous posts that I have a habit of trying to second-guess fantastical plot twists. Well I have to admit that I was still at it with this book, but it almost didn’t matter because it was that kind of book. You know, the kind where even the most trusting reader will expect the unexpected.

I’m always intrigued by the feeling I have when I’ve finished a book. Sometimes I am exhilarated, sometimes I’m gutted it’s over. I finished ‘Genuine Fraud’ with an unexpected sense of sadness. I’m not sure if that was Lockhart’s intention or not, but Jule seemed so wholly unanchored, so bereft. It felt melancholy to leave her to her lot, but I am no longer privy to Jule’s life so I’ll just have to deal with it! Genuine Fraud, is tense, dark and cleverly constructed. If you are a fan of non-linear fiction then this is a definite go-to.

Next Monday I’m reviewing ‘The Daily Struggles of Archie Adams (Aged 2 and 1/4) by Katie Kirby. Come prepared for some laughs!

Book Review 11 – First Love by Gwendoline Riley

First and foremost I’d like to thank Jodie, my one and only voter in last week’s referendum. But one vote is all I needed. Well actually, no votes would have done but at least one vote is a positive reinforcement. The results are in and it’s official: audio books do count towards the 52 week challenge. So I’m still on track with my reading. Hooray!

This week I finished off ‘First Love’ by Gwendoline Riley. I was already a few chapters in from last week’s false start and the book is slim as it is so I had it all wrapped up within a few days. ‘First Love’ was shortlisted for the Bailey’s prize for women in 2017 and lost out to ‘The Power’ which was the first book I took up on this 52 book challenge. So it was with great excitement that I returned to the Bailey’s prize to see what else it had to offer.

‘First Love’ is about Neve, her husband Edwyn, and their rocky relationship. The back of the book states, ‘For now [Neve and Edwyn] are in a place of relative peace, but their past battles have left scars.’ I wholeheartedly disagree with this summary. The simmering cauldron of toxicity that was Neve and Edwyn’s marriage did not strike me as a place of peace. Edwyn was despicable. The way he spoke to Neve pretty much constituted emotional abuse and yet she apparently loved him. I have no idea why. Sure there were moments of tenderness, but these were so scant that they might as well have not been there at all. How could Neve allow these moments to make up for the horrific names she was called? How could anyone love such viciousness?! As you can see Edwyn engendered some pretty strong feelings in me. I’m just glad he’s fictional! But believe it or not, I couldn’t decide who to detest more, him or Neve’s father who was a selfish, manipulative piece of work. Luckily he wasn’t in a lot of the book so Edwyn had to bear the brunt of my ire.

In amongst the blood-bath of character assassinations that I’m carrying out here, I would like to make the salient point about the true to life form of Riley’s characters. This is my eleventh book of the challenge and, whilst I have come up against some stunning writing, this is the book more than any other where the characters have practically jumped off the page and into my living room. I almost offered them a cup of tea (or reached for a frying pan to assault them with).

I’m struggling to pin-point what it is about Riley’s writing that has made these characters so real that I wanted to repeatedly punch them in the noggin. I think it was her focus on the almost imperceptible interactions between people that often go unobserved. Or those feelings that are too cringe-worthy to articulate that she painfully spells out. I think it was this that helped to really define her characters in my mind. They became towering inferno’s of people for the few short days in which I read the book.

Whilst I was evidently antagonised by Edwyn, I was well aware of the power that Neve held as the narrator of the book and I did wonder how much of her own behaviour she chose to withhold. We tend not to see our own faults I suppose. Edwyn may have been heavy handed with berating her and putting her down and she did allude to her shortcomings on occasion, her neediness and inability to acknowledge his feelings, but I had a strong suspicion that she was hiding things. That the less palatable aspects of her personality were glossed over. She basically made it sound as though simply breathing was enough to set Edwyn off into one of his tantrums. And the one concession that I will make for Edwyn is that it cannot have been all him. Some of the friction must have come from Neve. She can’t have been the picture of placidity that she was painting. But that is my only concession. Edwyn was vile and if Neve were ever to stick her head out of the book and read my review I would just give her one piece of advice: leave him!

Now, playing agony aunt to fictional characters is all good and well, but I am reviewing a book here and I have to finish off by saying this is an absolute must read. To be transported so thoroughly into someone else’s life is ultimately the point of reading. I have been so wrapped up in this book and its characters that for whole chunks of time the real world has ceased to exist and I am just there on the sofa sat between Neve and Edwyn feeling the pernicious undercurrent of their relationship around me. Riley is simply an incomparable genius and I for one will be going on the hunt for other works by her.

Come back next Monday my lovelies. I shall be reviewing ‘Genuine Fraud’ by E. Lockhart. I bought it after reading a massive endorsement from a Twitter contact, so I’m optimistic about this one!

Update

It turns out I actually had three voters in the referendum – the other two were on my scantily used Facebook account. One voted ‘yes’ and the other ‘no’. So the outcome is still the same! Thanks to those who took part!

Book Review 10 – How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

I need you all to decide a very important question for me: Do audio books count as reading? I have used them on several occasions before this 52 week challenge and found them great for commuting because you don’t need spare hands that can otherwise be used for holding a rail on the train or drinking your tea. You also don’t need to put it away on the walk from the station to the office. What’s not to love?!

What happened was I had started reading ‘First Love’ by Gwendoline Riley in preparation for this blog post, when I found myself stuck on the M25 on a journey that eventually took four hours rather than two. About an hour in, I realised how bad the tailbacks were and decided to make good use of the time by downloading an audio book on my app from the library. It still gives me a little thrill when I borrow e-books from the library. Instant service that’s totally free. I keep on looking for the catch, but there isn’t one! So anyway, whilst I made good use of my time stuck in traffic it was via an audio book.  My hubby laughed when I told him and asked whether watching the movie also counted or maybe reading reviews that other people have written. My husband is big on sarcasm, but he did have a point. Because now that I have committed to “reading” a book a week it felt like… well it felt like I was cheating. So I’ll take a poll on this. I know you lot are a bit shy and don’t like leaving comments, but if I get more comments saying that I have cheated than have said that I haven’t then I will read an extra book to make up for it. If no one comments then I’ll assume you are happy with my audio book!

So on to this weeks review. ‘How to Stop Time’ is about the very long life that the central character Tom has led. Tom has a condition which only exposes itself after the age of 13. He ages extremely slowly. For every decade or so he only ages one year and consequently at over 400 years old he only looks around 40. Over the years Tom has met other people with the same condition. They have to keep moving, never getting too close to people, otherwise others will suspect that something is not quite right. In the past Tom’s condition led to persecution when locals thought his mother was a witch or that he practised Devil worship to stay young. In modern times he and others like him are trying instead to keep one step ahead of the researchers and scientists who they consider would hold them captive and destroy their lives.

The concept is a clever one and Matt Haig has clearly thought long and hard about what a life that spanned hundreds of years might look like. These long living individuals are plagued by headaches caused by the amount of information their brains have to hold. This reminded me of Catherine Tate becoming The Doctor Donna. Perhaps Haig is also a Doctor Who fan! He also made some poignant observations about the character traits of a person who has lived this long. He observes that great age doesn’t necessarily bring great wisdom and that ultimately you have to live your life ‘within the confines of your personality,’ which I thought was beautifully put.

I don’t know if it was because this was an audio book, but I did find the book somewhat slow and meandering. I think what Haig is trying to do is give us a good feel of what has happened in Tom’s life over the period of 400 years, but I felt as though it could do with taking a chunk out. I also found Tom’s life to have been slightly too remarkable. He had known Shakespeare, met F. Scott Fitzgerald, writer of The Great Gatsby, and sailed on maiden voyages to the Cook Islands. I wondered whether 320 additional years of life on the rest of us would really increase the probability of these things happening so much.

Haig has created a thought provoking story. His characters are believable and whilst the book is long, I did find myself consistently coming back to it to find out what was going to happen, which ultimately is what we all want from a book.

So this week I’ll be finishing off ‘First Love’ by Gwendoline Riley and I’ll be back with a review on Monday. I’ll await your verdict on how many books I have to read next week…