John’s quick take:An excellent, touching and hilarious coming-of-age story, set during the Troubles in No...moreOriginal review posted at Layers of Thought.
John’s quick take:An excellent, touching and hilarious coming-of-age story, set during the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the 1970s. Also a “must read” for any ex-paperboys out there.
John’s description: In 1975, Macaulay was a twelve year old boy living in the Shankill Road in west Belfast. This was during the Troubles and the Shankill was a particular hotspot – a predominantly loyalist working class area, it was also the home of several loyalist paramilitary groups. Bombs were going off, mobs were clashing, shops and buses were being burnt out, paramilitaries were openly causing mayhem and an ever-expanding network of “peace walls” were going up to separate protestant and catholic communities. Against this backdrop, the young Macaulay gets a job delivering the local Belfast Telegraph newspaper each evening.
The story tells of a two-year period of his young life during which he delivers the newspapers without fail, despite all of the barriers and problems. It is a funny and touching tale. He cannot for the life of him understand what the Troubles are all about and sees madness and hypocrisy on a daily basis, but he remains cheerful and focused on things that are really important to a near-teenage boy – girls, pop music, clothes and trying to fit in at school.
We are introduced to a big cast of family, friends, adversaries, teachers and customers, most of them talking in a thick Belfast accent and many of them possessing slightly odd views of life. He becomes a star paperboy but remains fearful of his boss – Oul’ Mac. “Oul’ Mac smoked and said ‘f**k’ a lot. Of course, most men smoked and said ‘f**k’ a lot, but Oul’ Mac did both, simultaneously and ceaselessly ….. I never saw him smile, but sometimes his eyes twinkled and I couldn’t work out whether he was coughing or laughing”.
Macaulay and his friends got into endless pranks and scrapes, but through it all he remains determined to deliver his newspapers, polish his reputation and remain “the only pacifist paperboy in Belfast”.
John’s thoughts: This is a funny and a delightful book. It is also a clever read – while it remains light hearted it pulls no punches in skewering some of the idiocy (and idiots) of the Troubles. When Macaulay finally meets some catholic boys he surprisingly finds them just the same as his protestant neighbors and remains slightly bewildered at what the fuss is all about.
The story also resonated with me a lot on a personal level. I too spent my pre-teen and teen years in the 1970s delivering newspapers each day, albeit in England and not Ireland, so a lot of the cultural and historical references really hit home – though I didn’t have to dodge “wee hoods” that were regularly trying to rob me and I certainly didn’t have to worry about bombs and blocked off streets.
I found the Belfast humor hilarious, though I will warn that some readers might find the accents and some of the vernacular slightly tough to penetrate. I managed ok and actually found that rather than being a barrier it added to the enjoyment of the read.
I’d thoroughly recommend this book to anyone, but particularly to those who were growing up in the 1970s, anyone who enjoys light-hearted coming of age stories and anyone who wants to learn more about the Troubles. And of course this should be a compulsory read for the paperboy fraternity! I’d rate this four stars. (less)
A madcap caper set in the unlikely location of Silicon Valley – an ordinary guy tries to cash out...moreOriginal review by John posted at Layers of Thought.
A madcap caper set in the unlikely location of Silicon Valley – an ordinary guy tries to cash out while everyone else seems determined to try and stop him.
John's thoughts on what it's about: Dan Jordan thinks he’s a pretty ordinary guy – an ex-journalist who happened to find himself working as a speechwriter for the CEO of a Silicon Valley startup. The company grows like gangbusters and Dan’s stock options become worth over a millions dollars. But he has to be still employed by the company on the day when his stock becomes eligible for cashing out; and now he is counting down the last few days.
He despairs about the Silicon Valley culture and lifestyle/work-style; he really doesn’t fit in and dreams of using the money to drop-out with his wife, hoping to move to the California coast and to live a life they’ve always wanted. He just has to hold on for those last few days.
The trouble is that there is an ever-growing mob of people who seem to be doing everything possible to stop him reaching that milestone – including a gang of nerdy IT kidnappers, a muscle-bound corporate security hit-man, ultra-competitive “colleagues” and a long list of others I can’t describe without spoiling the plot. Contrastingly, in theory Dan has helping him out a sociopathic neighbor and a friend from school days who happens to be a professional cage-fighter. Funny thing is that at times it sure doesn’t feel to Dan like they are helping him at all.
Meanwhile his marriage is in danger of crumbling and he cannot recover from a simple medical procedure which becomes ever-more embarrassing and painful during this stressful romp. Nevertheless, he just has to hold on for a last few days!
John’s summary thoughts: This is a light-hearted easy read, very much in the style of a farce where everything that can go wrong seems to do so; and then some. Bardsley creates some delightfully whacky characters, my favorite being the totally gross guy who is a lodger with the sociopathic neighbor; and the neighbor himself is a fabulously weird creation. As for the main character himself, you certainly start out feeling highly supportive of Dan, though as the story progresses and one crazy dilemma follows after another follows after another, the plot becomes so far-fetched that I stopped thinking of him as a real character and just went along for the humorous ride.
Is Silicon Valley really like this? Well, Bardsley has “done his time” there, having worked as a speechwriter and ghostwriter for Executives, much like Dan Jordan – so he has certainly used his real-life experience as a launching pad for this story and the characters in it. Exaggerated? Of course, but that’s what makes it fun.
I’d recommend this book to anyone who likes a bit of modern slapstick or to those who have worked in the tech industry and enjoy poking fun at some of the odd characters and culture found there. I’d rate this light-hearted read three stars. (less)
A metaphorical and darkly hilarious novella about an environmentally poisoned wood where a ravenous monste...moreOriginal review posted at Layers of Thought.
A metaphorical and darkly hilarious novella about an environmentally poisoned wood where a ravenous monster awakens.
About: A young ward of the state decides to leave the safety of her group home to return home to her dying grandmother. Her friend reminds her of the darkness that lurks outside of the doors; a monster is waking up slowly to a deep hunger in the dead woods. There is no food to satisfy its need, not even a starving rat. Where will it feed?
A lonely gay man living on the edge of the woods opens his door for the runaway girl in time to save her from what lurks in the cold darkness. This is their story.
Thoughts: A story with a moral, its more funny than scary – though that’s not to say that I did not get the chills or that my heart remained at its regular pace for the entire novel. It is a chilling tale. But laughing while one has goose pimples is a curious sensation; Wood definitely did this for me.
Even better, it’s only a 60 page novella with some colorful characters. Socially marginal individuals – these people are loners, orphans, and from the hidden classes of society. They are those that remain in the peripheral of our vision, barely noticed, but have their valid tales to tell. What’s important to their story is that these characters are not victims, creating a different example for those faced with real life horrors.
Intelligent with some snarky dialog, this is not a typical horror story. It’s an emotional roller coaster trip through metaphorical darkness and hilarity. A 4-star in my opinion. I recommended it for anyone who likes unusual characters, complex dry humor, and surprisingly nice endings.(less)