The Hopeless Life of Charlie Summers is one long cringe of a book that constantly made me prickle with second-hand embarrassment. The eponymous Charli...moreThe Hopeless Life of Charlie Summers is one long cringe of a book that constantly made me prickle with second-hand embarrassment. The eponymous Charlie is a con-man, a loveable rogue drifting from one get-rich-quick scheme to the next, leeching on to the wealthy and the likely with only a dim acknowledgement of his own grasping ways. Our narrator is Hector "Eck" Chetwode-Talbot, former soldier and current financier, charged with roping his wealthy friends into high-risk investment strategies.
I was under the impression that the book would focus on Charlie grasping onto Eck and causing havoc in his life, but save for a brief encounter at the beginning, it's over halfway through before they even meet again. For the most part, the two characters lead separate lives with separate plots, although there are certainly strong parallels between them; Charlie might be a down-and-out scoundrel, but Eck's financial entanglements as the banking crisis rolls in raises the question of how different they really are.
I found it hard to warm to Eck as the central character. Much of his storyline revolves around his romantic infatuation with his widowed cousin, and rather than rooting for him to get the girl, I rather hoped he'd leave the poor thing alone. The pinnacle of awkwardness is reached around chapter nine, when they sleep together for the first time: "I remember reading somewhere that the shortest unit of measurable time is called a nanosecond, and that is how long it took from the beginning to the end of our lovemaking." Yikes.
When the two disparate plot strands finally converge towards the end of the book, the whole thing veers off in a rather fantastical direction that strains credulity, yet at the same time was heavily signposted enough to neutralise any surprise.
I read this for my book group, and on the whole found it to be a warm but slow read, one that it was hard to relate to or fully engaged with, but pleasant enough that I wouldn't rule out reading more by Paul Torday in future.(less)
Parks and Recreation is an absolutely wonderful little show - hilarious, on-the-nose, with a whole lot of heart. Tie-in book Pawnee: The Greatest Town...moreParks and Recreation is an absolutely wonderful little show - hilarious, on-the-nose, with a whole lot of heart. Tie-in book Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America is lacking in comparison, but still made me laugh obnoxiously loud a good half dozen times. It's ostensibly a history of and guide to the fictional Pawnee, penned by deputy Parks director Leslie Knope (in actuality written by Nate DiMeo and the show's creative team).
It's a little bizarre in that it really does capture Amy Poehler's Leslie extremely well in places, and yet I absolutely can't believe this is the same book Leslie wrote in the context of the show. In a bid to include the other characters, each is ascribed a feature section which, while entertaining, would never have made it past Leslie's stringent quality control (Really, I love Jean-Ralphio, but a guide to Pawnee's clubs rated by most bangable women? Leslie Knope would never.) Also, while we regularly see elements of Pawnee that are less than wonderful - eg. its genocidal origins - the dearth of scandal presented here makes Leslie's unwavering pride in her hometown veer from endearing to maniacally naive.
That said, certain sections brought me unmitigated joy, particularly the dossier on Pawnee's raccoon infestation and the feature on the years the town was run by a cult who worshipped the six-tentacled lizard god Zorp. I'd definitely recommend it to fully-fledged Parks devotees, but it's not essential reading for the casual viewer.(less)
I read this for my book group, and found it a fairly enjoyable - if not especially well crafted - read. Despite having been into crime fiction for eon...moreI read this for my book group, and found it a fairly enjoyable - if not especially well crafted - read. Despite having been into crime fiction for eons, I'd never read a PD James before. She's always come well recommended (and is apparently a delight to talk to!) but for some reason her books have never appealed enough to coax me to pick one up. On the whole, Death Comes to Pemberley hasn't made me want to rush out and read more of hers, but I probably wouldn't judge her straight crime fiction on the basis of it either.
This was definitely a cosy enough read, and the scene setting was spot-on - atmospheric and very evocative of the Pemberley estate. The core plot had a decent enough hook: Six years after the wedding of Darcy and Elizabeth, Pemberley is preparing for the annual ball, when Lydia Wickham appears unexpectedly out of the dark, stormy night, screaming that her husband has been murdered. Drama!
It's been a couple of years since I read Pride and Prejudice so I can't speak for how well she captured the characters - but on the whole, it did rather feel as though they could have been anyone, with the names Darcy and Elizabeth slotted in. The only character that really, truly, rang 100% faithful to Austen was the odious Mr. Collins ("He began by stating that he could find no words to express his shock and abhorrence, and then proceeded to find a great number, few of them appropriate and none of them helpful. ...He went on to prophecy a catalogue of disasters for the afflicted family ranging from the worst - Lady Catherine's displeasure and their permanent banishment from Rosings - descending to public ignominy, bankruptcy and death.") Ha. Wonderful.
My main issue with the book is that the weight of it felt off. We go from the discovery of a body, to an arrest, inquest and trial - and when the thing feels all but over, there comes another sixty pages of info-dumped exposition explaining everyone's actions and motives in great detail, delivered essentially in a series of incredibly long monologues. There is enough in the way of clues early on that readers can probably have a good guess at how the thing really went down, but this great wave of revelation felt excessive and, honestly, a bit fatiguing to wade through. It took me rather by surprise, as I'd have assumed that as a crime fiction legend, James would have her plotting down pat.
On the whole though, it proved pleasant enough (although there are some dreadfully on the nose passages! "If this were fiction, could even the most brilliant novelist contrive to make credible so short a period in which pride had been subdued and prejudice overcome?" Goodness me.) If you like both P&P and crime fiction, by all means give it a go - just don't expect to be overwhelmed by the plot.(less)