Retired actor Russell "Buffy" Buffery is in his 70s, has been married three times and has children with four, all adults now, some of them even middle...moreRetired actor Russell "Buffy" Buffery is in his 70s, has been married three times and has children with four, all adults now, some of them even middle-aged. When his dear friend Bridie dies and leaves him her B&B, Myrtle House, in a small Welsh town called Knockton near the border, Buffy decides - despite his children's scoffing - to pack up his dingy London flat and move there to embark on a new venture.
The hotel itself is an old Georgian building with dated wallpaper and a leaking roof. It does come with one blessing however, in the form of Voda, a local woman who had cooked and cleaned for Birdie and who is willing to come back and continue the job - and she's an excellent cook. Buffy quite enjoys playing the host and many times on a rainy day his guests end up in his back parlour, drinking wine and discussing their marital problems with him. When his daughter Nyange, an accountant, looks over his books and tells him he needs a plan quick-smart or the place will fall down for want of repairs, he comes up with the idea of offering courses to divorcees who are lacking the skill their partner contributed, be it cooking, gardening or fixing the car. The course Buffy himself is planning on teaching is one for the men on how to talk to women.
None of the classes go quite to plan, of course, but they are still successful in their own way. An unplanned side-effect is the number of people who come for a course and end up partnered - including his own step-daughter India, who arrives to help one weekend and ends up staying on. Along the way several people find happiness, often in unexpected ways, not least of which is Buffy himself, the quintessential lover of women even now.
I knew I was in for a good read when Moggach made me laugh within the first few pages. It has the taste and flavour of a good, solid BBC drama, one with a pleasing blend of rural life, quirky characters and humour. It wasn't the same as watching Hamish Macbeth or Heartbeat or Ballykissangel (you can tell how long it's been since I've had the chance to watch any British TV by how dated these examples are! Such a shame that Canadians don't watch much from there) but it had that kind of vibe, a mix of gritty real life and almost flippant, self-deprecatory humour. Having grown up on British TV as much as Aussie TV, I felt right at home. Deborah Moggach is probably best known for her previous book, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel which was made into a film with Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy, among others. I haven't seen that movie, and this is the first Moggach book I've read.
Buffy - a character from one of Moggach's previous books, The Ex-Wives - is such a character, surprisingly subtle rather than in-your-face, who manages to stay on good terms with his many exes, even the one who took his prized painting in the divorce settlement after claiming that she, a supposed artist, could better appreciate it. His children are just as wildly different as his wives - there's Quentin, forty-five and gay; Nyange who's half-black; Celeste, the daughter he never knew he had until she turned up on his doorstep in her twenties to meet him. And his thirty-something boys, Bruno and Tobias, who like to rib him. The only woman he didn't have children with was his third wife, Penny, a journalist.
Buffy remembered a rare family gathering, Nyange and Quentin sitting side by side, the black girl and the homosexual. Penny, his wife at the time, had gazed at them. 'Very Channel 4,' she had mused. 'Now all we need is the physically challenged.' She had glanced down at Buffy, who had ricked his back and was lying on the floor, propped up by cushions. 'Oh oh, there he is.' [p.9]
This isn't just Buffy's story; it alternates with the stories of Monica, an older woman who, as she thinks of it, gave away the best years of her life to a married man; Amy, a makeup artist on film and television crews who breaks up with her boyfriend after they slowly separate as friends and lovers; Harold, a writer whose wife Pia leaves him for a Japanese woman; and Andy, a tall, attractive postman who fell into marriage almost against his will and is the walking cliche of the quiet man suffering under his wife's constant barrage of demands and expectations. They are all very different people and come to different classes at Myrtle House - except for Andy, who is actually there for the fishing even though he could really use the class on talking to women.
There were times when I baulked at the casual use of relationship stereotypes, and yet Moggach always managed to rescue the story - and characters - from slipping too far in that direction. The saving was generally subtle and between-the-lines, like henpecked Andy, probably the most cliched of all the characters, who lives with a "blousy" woman who rather intimidates him. He can never seem to speak up for himself and be honest with her, and he seems to have no desire to really talk to her. All of that is perfectly clear, but is nicely balanced by the scene where he meets a local girl in Knockton and finds himself telling her things he's never told anyone before: what is unsaid but apparent is the simple truth that you don't have to change yourself to make a relationship work, you just need to meet the right person, someone you instinctively feel comfortable with and can trust. Andy didn't really need Buffy's course on how to speak to women, he just needed the right woman.
As entertaining as the story and characters and incidents are, it maintains a hardboiled realism throughout, a warts-and-all honesty that at times has an almost cruel humour to it, which you often find when the characters are middle-aged and older. Monica is the epitome of this, with her biting cynicism and prickly demeanour. It can be hard to get close and comfortable with these kinds of characters, but it's still easy to sympathise and empathise with them - and relate to them. This is a very human story, frank and open, and in that frankness humour comes easily. It also allowed for less predictability, and not knowing what was going to happen to the characters or where they'd all end up made it even more fun.
Running through it all is a near-constant refrain, a recurring theme regarding the financial collapse of recent years and the fat bonuses the banks gave themselves despite it. It made the ending highly satisfying, even if I find it hard to believe that any executive would go along with it. It was probably the only part of the book that wasn't realistic, but it was a great way to end things. As for the Welsh setting, aside from the usual jokes about the unpronounceable place names, it wasn't very distinguishable from a rural English setting - the landscape isn't wildly different of course, but the culture didn't come across as very different either.
Over the course of the book, I came to feel close and familiar with Buffy and his sprawling family, as well as with those other, single characters that it focuses on. Between them they cover a wide breadth of relationship woes in many guises, between spouses, lovers, siblings and parent-children. The humour tended towards self-deprecatory and biting, almost snarky at times, and no one was safe from it. I found that the way characters ended up together often came across as a bit convenient, mostly because the story focused on the drama that led up to it, not the coming-together itself. This is no romance novel! But it was a bit neat-and-tidy at the end of the day, which is satisfying but also oddly disappointing. Sometimes you just want to see a character stay single and be perfectly happy with it, because there are people like that and they don't often get reflected in fiction - instead being single continues to be portrayed as a kind of failure, something that needs to be fixed. Still, overall I really enjoyed this and would definitely like to read more of Moggach's books.(less)
With a title like this, how could I possibly resist reading How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You? I'd never heard of The Oatmeal (Matthew I...moreWith a title like this, how could I possibly resist reading How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You? I'd never heard of The Oatmeal (Matthew Inman) before or his website, but I can easily see the popularity and I love when they take this kind of thing from a website and make it into a book, which I've always found much more accessible (to read, not to access - arguably websites are easier to access!).
I've lived with cats all my life, except for three years in Japan, one year in Melbourne, and now (we had to find homes for our three cats after Hugh was born - long story). I'm very much a cat person, even though I'm now allergic to them. They have so much personality, and if they only had opposable thumbs they'd take over the world. We've definitely had cats who had that "I'm coming for you" look in their eyes at times - or sure, it's just my imagination. OR IS IT??!! ;)
This book is a gathering-up of individual cartoon drawings, stand-alone sketches if you will (I can't think what the word is for them, if there is one), and The Bobcats, from Monday to Saturday. The Bobcats are two cats called Bob who work in an office and really, they fit right in:
The rest is a mix of one-offs, funny graphs and charts, and series of cartoons like the one showing how desperate for attention a cat can get when their human is glued to the internet:
A quick read that will have you giggling, I found it a mix of witty insights into cat (and human) behaviour, and some more ordinary, less clever jokes that were only mildly entertaining for being a bit too obvious. Overall - and the Bobcats carry the greater weight - it was a good chuckle-fest, and a handy book to have on-hand when you need a light distraction or a quick pick-me-up (of the good cheer kind, not the alcoholic variety).(less)
This was a random buy, picked up mostly because, flipping through it, the word Tasmania caught my eye - and then I read that the author is Australian....moreThis was a random buy, picked up mostly because, flipping through it, the word Tasmania caught my eye - and then I read that the author is Australian. For purely nostalgic reasons I just had to read it.
Amal is a year 11 student in her third term at a posh private school in Melbourne. She's also Muslim. An only child, her parents are health-care professionals, she has a large extended family and friends from all backgrounds and religions. Before third term begins, she decides she's ready to wear the hijab "full-time". She doesn't come to this decision lightly - okay, so an episode of Friends helped - but she's sixteen and there are some serious repercussions to her decision. Like, the stereotyping and insults she'll get at school, and trouble finding a job. It's 2001, before the attack on the Twin Towers, but prejudice has been a part of her life for a long time already.
Her friends Eileen and Simone stick by her and don't see her any differently, and after a few days, the boy she has a crush on, Adam, starts talking to her again. Her friends from the Islamic school she used to go to, Leila and Yasmeen, are different kinds of Muslim again - Leila is incredibly smart and wants to be a lawyer, but her mother is uneducated and comes from a traditional background, and keeps bringing eligible men over for Leila to marry, while Yasmeen has no intention of wearing the hijab at all.
A great many stereotypes and misconceptions are confronted, questioned and explored in this humorous book. Amal's voice is natural and believable, and her story is an open window onto what many young Muslims deal with - and others. Her elderly neighbour, Mrs Vaselli, has estranged herself from her only child when he converted to Jehovah's Witness; Josh has certain Jewish traditions to contend with; Adam's mother left when he was young without so much as a word - all he gets are postcards on his birthday. Eileen's Japanese parents have their own expectations of her, and Simone's mum constantly tells her she has to lose weight if she ever wants boys to notice her. There's a whole gamut of what teens go through and put up with in this book, and it may sound like it would be crowded, but it's not. It may seem kinda pushy and too in-your-face, too, but it's handled with both delicacy and Amal's flair which gives things a very fresh look.
Aside from teen issues, the racial and religious prejudices are equally visible, appearing in many subtle and overt ways. I particularly loved the conversation between Amal and the school president, Lara, after 9/11 - Lara wants her to give a speech on the topic of Islam and terrorism, mistakingly making the connection, as many did/do, that since she's Muslim Amal must therefore understand why they did what they did. Her response was excellent:
"You're Christian, right?" "...Yeah... what's that got to do with anything?" "OK, well I'll give the speech if you give a speech about the Ku Klux Klan." (p256)
That Abdel-Fattah had an agenda in writing this book is obvious, and quite welcome too. It's a book that needed to be written. Some of it shocked me - the misconceptions and attitudes, I couldn't believe Australians - anyone - would think, say and do those things. But of course they do. It's a balanced approach, though - Leila's family shows that there are some who fulfill negative expectations, though the emphasis is made on the difference between Islamic teachings and cultural traditions, which are often confused by some Muslims themselves, like Leila's mother. Amal's parents are always encouraging her to see other people's perspectives and understand them better, where they are coming from and why they say and think as they do.
It's a quick read, and entertaining, and Amal is a great character. It's written well, over the space of a few months, and really engages you to think, question yourself, and react. A great book for teens and adults alike - and one Rosalind Wiseman should definitely add to her glossary of books to read at the back of Queen Bees & Wannabes.
I have only two issues: firstly, this edition. There's a reason why I don't like Scholastic books. Namely, they're cheaply put together, the pages are crinkled and they start to fall out. If you can get hold of a different edition, you should get it instead.
The second is the translation. You've heard me rant and rage about this before, but here's a prime example of Americanising a text until it's virtually unrecognisable. Even though there were familiar place names like Bridge Road and Luna Park (I used to live not far from St. Kilda, in Elwood - beautiful suburb!), so much had been changed I often forgot it was set in Melbourne at all. If something can be depersonalised, this book has been de-place-ised! It was so jarring I actually wrote the changes down - and the words that hadn't been changed, which was sometimes even stranger.
Aussie word: --- Changed to: serviette --- napkin primary school --- elementary school tram --- streetcar kilograms --- pounds ABC/SBS --- PBS (not available in Australia) biscuit --- cookie grade/year 11 --- eleventh grade rubbish bin --- trash can milk bar/corner shop --- convenience store mum --- mom maths --- math roundabout --- traffic circle university/uni --- college car park --- parking lot pedestrian crossing --- crosswalk 000 --- 911 fringe --- bangs plait --- braid take away --- take-out mobile (phone) --- cell phone nappy --- diaper 4WD/four-wheel-drive --- SUV thongs --- flip-flops chilli --- chilli pepper rubbish --- garbage
I don't want to know what would happen if a tourist, needing urgent help, was to dial 911 in Australia, but changing it in books is not doing anyone any favours. I actually think it's irresponsible and dangerous - and who couldn't figure out, at least from context, what was meant by "000"?? Also, changing "ABC documentary" (or SBS) to PBS really jolted me - I'd never even heard of PBS before moving to Canada; we certainly don't get any US channels!
Also, they put in some brand names we don't have, like Chips Ahoy, Q-Tips (which are commonly called ear buds or cotton buds) - I'm sure they would have changed "Vegemite" if they could have! They put in "medical school" and "pre-law" instead of ... whatever they replaced - in Australia, both law and medicine are offered as undergrad degrees, medicine is an 8-year degree, law 4. In short, I don't think you'd actually learn anything much about Australia from this book.
Curiously enough, there were some words they didn't change, including: four-wheel-drive (they used this once, and in another place changed it to "SUV" - a slip?) doughnuts beanie mince wuss (maybe not as Aussie as I thought?) veggies lollipop lady fish and chips
Plus a couple of cultural references, such as Luna Park, Women's Weekly and Home and Away. Having been dislocated from the country itself by all the other changes, seeing these words made me even more confused. I wish they'd just leave well enough alone!!
While the storyline in this one isn't as fresh and exciting as the first one, it still holds solid and Mae hasn't yet changed much.
It takes place only...moreWhile the storyline in this one isn't as fresh and exciting as the first one, it still holds solid and Mae hasn't yet changed much.
It takes place only days after the end of the previous book - I have a quibble with how fast everything moves, and how soon this could have happened - when Mia learns that her mum is pregnant with her algebra teacher's baby. They decide to get married on Halloween at City Hall and keep it quiet.
It's Mia herself who blurts out the news not just to her dad and Grandmother but millions of other people - on an interview with a tv news program. Her grandmother then embarks on plans for a full scale royal wedding
In her own private life, Mia is getting secret admirer mail from someone at her school, and she hopes it's Michael, Lilly's older brother whom she has a crush on. Meanwhile Lilly keeps disappearing with Mia's hunky cousin Hank, and Mia's feeling a bit peeved at all the secrets.
Princess in the Spotlight has all the trademark Mia quirks and humour, but sometimes she does get a bit repetitive. Background from the previous book is worked in adroitly but if you've just recently read it, like me, then it still feels a bit like being banged on the head with it all. Wouldn't hurt to space these out a bit I'm thinking.
I'm hoping the next book will move on a bit. Considering these books only cover a couple of weeks, and Mia is only 14, there's plenty of room for Cabot to stretch this out, but I hope she doesn't. At least it is moving forward!(less)
An entertaining, funny and courageously honest story about four women who meet regularly in a chocolate cafe called Chocolate Heaven, run by a gay cou...moreAn entertaining, funny and courageously honest story about four women who meet regularly in a chocolate cafe called Chocolate Heaven, run by a gay couple, and devour amazing chocolate creations while sharing the latest ups and downs in their lives. A simple enough pretext for a book. Their lives are a bit of a mess really. Lucy is a temp at a rather horrible IT company, her boss flirts shamelessly with her, and she's just caught her boyfriend Marcus setting up a romantic dinner for two and she's not invited. Nadia, who married a white man against her family's wishes, discovers he's addicted to online gambling and they owe 30,000 pounds. Chantal, a rich and beautiful ex-American, loves her husband Ted but has no idea why he's not interested in her, and in her attempts to satisfy her sexual hunger ends up getting robbed. Autumn works at a centre that helps kids break their drug and petty crime habits, while her own brother is dealing from her apartment.
Most of the time the plotlines revolve around love and relationships. Lucy, despite her fairly low self-image, is romanced by Marcus, her boss, Aiden, and a sexy man she met at Chocolate Heaven, Jacob. Autumn has the hots for a charming man at the centre, Addison. Nadia still loves her husband, Toby, but he can't admit he has a problem. And Chantal is driven to extremes by her frustration. All their stories are believable and, to varying degrees, familiar.
Yes, there are similarities between this and Bridget Jones's Diary - it has the same playful, humorous, slap-me-in-the-head-for-being-so-stupid tone, and Lucy is quite similar to Bridget in temperament and personality but she still maintains her individuality. Being set in London with the same use of Britishisms also prompts the comparison. But they are different enough stories, just as funny but also sometimes heart-breakingly awful, and I did laugh out loud at times, and grin often.
I love chocolate, if you didn't know, though I'm also very snobby about it. There's amazing chocolate, good chocolate, bad chocolate and fake chocolate. I have to make an effort not to eat too much of it - I can't even eat it every day, not even a single bar, because I have pretty much no metabolism whatsoever and my exercise is limited to a 15 minute walk to the subway in the morning - and a 15 minute walk home after work. The amount of chocolate the women eat in this book was actually a bit nauseating. Especially Lucy. I'd be sick on that much chocolate.
One of the peculiar things about this book is the point-of-view switches. Lucy narrates her story in first-person present tense. Which actually works surprisingly well. Chantal, Nadia and Autumn's chapters are all in third person past tense. Which jars a bit, and was confusing at first. I'm not sure why it was written this way, or if it was the only way it could have been written, but strangely enough, once you stop wondering about it, you don't even notice it. Lucy is the ringleader, the founder of the club of chocolate addicts, and definitely a protagonist - it's she who comes up with a dare-devil plan to get back Chantal's jewellrey after the "shag and shaft", as she so delicately puts it. Because Lucy's chapters are in her voice, they have more flavour and humour than the other women's and more spunk too. Yet without the others it'd be a shallow story, and you can't tell them all in first person. Why Matthews opted for present tense for Lucy is also odd, but strangely that works as well. It actually makes the past tense chapters sound odd instead, and gives Lucy's personal life a sense of urgency.
My biggest problem with the book is the men. They're not half as well developed as the women and for the most part come across as selfish arrogant two-timing bastards, while the women are victims. This isn't true, but because the stories are told from the women's perspectives the men don't really get much of a chance. I felt so sorry for Jacob, too. (Maybe I was a little slow in picking up on what he did for a living - end of their second date, it was - and maybe not.) There is a sequel to this book, The Chocolate Lovers' Diet, and maybe they get more of a chance there. But probably not. Also, I hated their nickname for Lucy's boss, Aiden: Crush. Ugh. Really tacky, not at all sexy. Made it hard for me to remember that he's supposed to be a handsome, charming man. But I do give Matthews kudos for creating a character who comes across as sexist and sleazy in the beginning but who, as the story progresses and Lucy's own attitude starts to change, clarifies into a lovely, considerate, fun-loving guy. Seriously, keep an eye on Aiden. He's worth watching.
Despite this, I did really enjoy the book. While some plotlines got wrapped up and some came to a sort-of resolution, I definitely want to read the sequel to find out what happens, because it certainly isn't over.(less)
If you've seen the movie version, this book takes up about the first third or maybe half of the movie (from what I remember), but don't let that fool...moreIf you've seen the movie version, this book takes up about the first third or maybe half of the movie (from what I remember), but don't let that fool you into thinking nothing much happens in this book.
Mia Thermopolis lives in Manhattan with her artist mother Helen, going to a private school called Albert Einstein High and spending the summers with her father and his mother at her chateau in France. She knows they're rich, but she thinks her dad is just a politician. At school she's unpopular and has "triangular" hair; her best friend Lilly has her own tv show and is trying to expose the racism of the Chinese owners of the deli across the road for discounting Asian students 5 cents; she's in love with the most popular boy at school, Josh, who doesn't even seem to know she's alive; she's failing Algebra; and her mum is going out with her teacher Mr Gianini.
Life is already a bit of a strain and when her dad tells her he's the crown prince of Genovia and, since his testicular cancer has left him unable to have more children, Mia is now the heir to the throne, it becomes even more unbearable.
She's seriously not happy about the news, but makes a compromise with her Dad: that she'll keep going to school like normal, but would spend the summers in Genovia doing the princess thing. She wasn't expecting her formidable grandmother to come to New York to give her princess lessons, and she wasn't expecting the same grandmother to leak the story to the press. Now she's suddenly popular but it's the last thing she wants.
Mia is effortlessly engaging, her voice and personality coming through strongly in her diary entries. She's funny without meaning to be, insightful without realising it, reveals more than she intends, and so allows the reader to not only really get to know her but also see what's going on more clearly than she does, as she's blinded by her own interests, passions and opinions. It's actually very cleverly written, and very funny.
The grandmother is a scary character - Julie Andrews really toned the character down for the movie - she wears a purple turban, smokes a lot, drinks her favourite cocktail all the time, and comes across as somewhat harsh and even cruel. She certainly intimidates her son, Phillipe, and anyone else who crosses her path. She may have met her match with Mia - and I can see that as Mia slowly grows, matures and, yes, transforms, she'll probably have a softening effect on her grandmother as well. She's certainly got an interesting past, but we only get hints of it at this stage.
Essentially, what saves this book from being just another YA journal-style teenage girl gushathon is Mia's liveliness, her spirit, her humour and, well, her. She's a wonderful protagonist and a good role model - not that she doesn't make some pretty silly mistakes and choices along the way. She's also a familiar character, and reminds me that what's considered "ordinary" usually disguises something pretty extraordinary. Plus, I love her summing-up of Marx's contradictions of capitalism; despite the fluffy pink cover, this is no Gossip Girls kind of book - Mia's not into having the latest crap: she's a conscientious worrier, and wants to join Greenpeace to save the whales. She's a bit of a dag, really, and that makes her infinitely likeable, even loveable. (less)
Betsy has had a bad day. She gets laid off from work and then hit by a car and smashed into a tree. When she wakes up in a coffin at the funeral home,...moreBetsy has had a bad day. She gets laid off from work and then hit by a car and smashed into a tree. When she wakes up in a coffin at the funeral home, wearing a ghastly pink suit and her "stepmonsters" cheap pink heels, she thinks she's a zombie and tries to top herself. Again and again and again. It takes a six-year-old to point out to her that she's got fangs and is a vampire.
That's just the beginning of Betsy's really bad week. Her best friend Jessica takes it all in her stride, and so does her mum, but she discovers there's a power-hungry, badly-dressed vampire king who sees her as a threat and has put a price on her head - because all the usual weaknesses don't affect her: the sun doesn't burn her, crosses and holy water don't affect her, she can control her thirst and dogs just love her. She may be the prophesised queen they've been waiting millennia for, but all Betsy wants is to rescue her collection of designer shoes from her stepmonster and resist the lure of one oh-so-sexy vampire, Sinclair.
Undead and Unwed is flippant, irreverent, funny, sexy and very very annoying. That is to say, Betsy is very annoying. She's caring at heart, but her superficiality does not make her a likeable character. Her flippancy does, though. It's a tough juggle, humour and sexiness, but Davidson just manages it. I have to agree with most of the other characters, though, when they tell Betsy to SHUT UP! God she can talk!
On a completely unrelated note, you don't fill a teapot with water and put it on the stove to boil. That's a kettle. And, as far as I was aware (maybe this is a cultural thing?) a handbag is a largish bag with a long strap that can hold wallet, keys, tissues, lipstick etc., and a purse is the feminine version of a man's wallet, not the other way around. Oh, and the past tense of "tread" is "trod", NOT "treaded" - which isn't a word. (less)
Alice, I Think is a quirky story about a quirky fifteen-year-old girl called Alice MacLeod, who records her day in her journal in her original style....moreAlice, I Think is a quirky story about a quirky fifteen-year-old girl called Alice MacLeod, who records her day in her journal in her original style. It's hard to describe Alice and do her justice, but let me try. Starting school in grade 1 dressed as a hobbit pretty much formed her life: after being bullied and teased and then hit in the head with a rock, she's home schooled by her ex-hippie parents. She has a therapist, a government-sponsored one (this is no tale about a spoiled rich brat) who has a breakdown which Alice really doesn't think could be blamed on her, and her new therapist, Bob, just wouldn't be able to cope without her. He's encouraged her to create a list of Life Goals, and she goes about fulfilling them in a kind of accidental way. She's also trying to read The Lord of the Rings, but only manages five pages in a week. She's someone who has learned mature concepts without actually understanding them, and likes to think she's worldly than she really is. "Maladjusted", is how she describes herself: she knows full well her head's not screwed on completely right, but that's about as far as her self-attunement goes.
That Alice sees the world around her in her own way, with a mix of innocence, irony, misguided insights and some rather odd expectations, gives her one of the more unique voices I've come across in YA fiction. Alice reveals a lot without realising it, and she's what you'd call an unreliable narrator, though because the book is cleverly written you get a very clear idea of what's really going on.
It's a funny satire, not to be taken seriously, but amongst the irony is a girl who is trying to find the courage to experience life, and as such she's familiar and oddly reassuring.(less)
A wonderful, priceless book, full of wit and philosophical musings and profound observations.
One morning at the small village of Glennkill, Ireland, a...moreA wonderful, priceless book, full of wit and philosophical musings and profound observations.
One morning at the small village of Glennkill, Ireland, a small flock of sheep wake up to find that their shepherd, George Glenn, has been murdered. With a spade through his guts. Miss Maple, the cleverest sheep in Glennkill, decides they should investigate and find his murderer, because even though George was a bit of a peculiar and irrascible bastard, he was still their shepherd, and who would read "Pamela novels" (romances) to them now?
So begins an interesting week of discoveries, where through the sheep's observations and investigations we learn about the townsfolk, and that some odd things were going on, and that there are mysteries beneath the mysteries. The sheep too have their own secrets, and fears, as well. Perceptions aren't static - as we learn more about George you can't help but become fond of the man, and I like his style of shepherding! Gabriel, another shepherd whom the sheep always admired, turns out to be less than worthy of their admiration. Bible-thumping Beth, as George always called her, isn't so straight-forward either.
The sheep themselves have delightful personalities, and although Swann's descriptions of raising sheep don't always coincide with my own knowledge from growing up on a sheep farm, a lot of the mannerisms and peculiarities were very familiar and often had me laughing out loud. There's Othello, a black ram with four horns who was once in a circus (part of a knife-throwing act that left him scarred); Maude and her incredible sense of smell; Sir Ritchfield, the lead ram, who's mostly deaf but still has good eyesight; Mopple the Whale, who can remember everything; Lane, the fastest sheep in the flock; and Zora, who has a ledge above the cliff from where she gazes out over the "abyss" and watches the cloud sheep.
Because the sheep have an almost childlike and very logical way of observing humans and their behaviour, it's often very humorous and also profound. The nice thing about this novel is that, aside from the sheep's ability to understand human speech and to ponder human matters, they haven't actually been anthropomorphised - they're still very much sheep, not sheep behaving like humans. Equally hilarious are the humans' perceptions of the sheep and their behaviour, which the story manages to convey with great comic timing. Using the sheep also enables clues to turn in on themselves, or be obscured until the sheep figure something out, and so on, which really keeps the detective side of the story humming along nicely.
I don't usually read crime novels of any kind, especially the generic kind, but this one I could happily re-read and notice more each time. Knowing the "whodunnit" side of things doesn't spoil it at all, because Three Bags Full is so much more than a detective story. (less)
Lamb starts with one of my favourite quotes, which sets the scene very aptly: "God is a comedian playing to an audience that is afra...more**some spoilers**
Lamb starts with one of my favourite quotes, which sets the scene very aptly: "God is a comedian playing to an audience that is afraid to laugh" (Voltaire). A deceptively slim-looking book (but one that is absolutely heavenly to hold - no pun intended - with it's glossy floppy cover and delicate leaves), Lamb is, as the title says, the (fictional) story of Christ's childhood as told by his best friend Levi who is called Biff.
Now, Moore doesn't mention Monty Python anywhere, but I'd wager he's seen Life of Brian. Whether he liked it, got it or appreciated it, I couldn't say, but it's a possible inspiration. It doesn't have the clever wit or irony, or the sheer genius of Brian, but it does have the irreverant humour. That aside, Lamb is a great story, made up but oddly plausible.
Keeping to the "known" facts and not interested in questioning your faith in any grand or cynical way, Lamb is told by Biff, resurrected today by an angel so he can write down his version of events. Given the gift of tongues, Biff writes it in contemporary American idiom, which saves the story from being dry and boring. He claims to have invented sarcasm, and encourages Joshua (later Jesus) to have a sense of humour. The best bit about this book, though, are the adventures the two friends have.
At about 13, they set off to find the three Wise Men who had been there at Joshua's birth, in order for Joshua to learn how to be the Messiah. They spend years in a cave-like fortress in Afghanistan with Balthasar, more years at a Budhist temple in the mountains with Gaspar, and yet more time in India in nooks in a cliff with the seagulls learning from Melchior. They learn Confuscius from Balthasar, Biff learns about poisons and alchemy from Balthasar's Chinese concubines, and they encounter a very hungry demon They meditate and study Budhism from Gaspar (as well as kung-fu and "Jew-do" because Joshua doesn't want to hurt anyone) and encounter the last Yeti; and rescue children from the Hindu god of destruction, Kali, before finding Melchior, who teaches Joshua how to fit himself inside a wine bottle and multiply food - which comes in handy later, that's for sure - while Biff learns the Kama Sutra.
Biff is the perfect counter-point to the more serious, naive and well-meaning Joshua, whose mother brought him up from birth to believe his father is God, not her husband Joseph. Although Moore admits it's hard to write a story set in this time and place because of the lack of knowledge of the period, he does an admirable job and it's entirely believable. I did find it a slow read at times, but I definitely found myself laughing as well. It also gave the best explanation of the Holy Ghost, or Holy Spirit, that I've ever heard, and suddenly it makes more sense. More to the point, though, it makes Joshua - Jesus - more human, and thus more sympathetic. That matters to me, though it might not to other people.
It got so that I found myself really caring for this character, and the others - especially Maggie (the Mary Magdelene), their friend from childhood. The final scenes, when you're suddenly reminded of how the story ends, creep up on you and settles like a lump in your throat, and I totally felt for Biff and understand why he did what he did at the end - though interestingly enough, despite all he'd seen Joshua do, and despite the fact that he had always believed in him, he did not believe Joshua could really bring himself back from the dead. And so, in the end, he did not have faith. A slight irony.
Despite Biff's silly humour and the occasional fart joke, Lamb is written with maturity, compassion and skill. The setting, landscape and supporting characters immerse you in the story, the period and the upheavels. More to the point, it's a nice (comforting) thought that Jesus might have had as good and loyal and silly a friend as Levi who is called Biff.(less)
To be honest, I never heard the panda joke until this book came out. The Australian version is a bit different - not as clever and involved, perhaps,...moreTo be honest, I never heard the panda joke until this book came out. The Australian version is a bit different - not as clever and involved, perhaps, but funny nonetheless. It went something like (and I am the worst person at re-telling jokes, I always forget bits. Usually the punchline): What does an Aussie bloke have in common with a wombat? They both eat, shoots and leaves. Except that's not quite it cause the grammar is off. Never let me tell a joke, I'll always ruin it.
Anyway, to the book. Wonderful, wonderful book. Hilarious, absolutely hilarious. And, as a bit of a "stickler" myself, very welcome too.
Eats, Shoots & Leaves covers the apostrophe, the comma, the semicolon and colon, the hyphen, dash and bracket, and even the question and exclamation marks. If you have always struggled, or sometimes doubt, how to use any of these, this is definitely the book for you. If, like me, you read it and get awfully chuffed with yourself for using them (almost always) correctly, you'll still want to keep this little gem around, either for back-up in those arguments with other sticklers (or punctuation-impaired people), or for a laugh. It's an easy-going, ironic book, full of tongues-in-cheeks and witticisms and puns - intelligent puns.
One of the things I love about this book is how Truss captures the punctuations marks' true characters. Giving marks personalities is a great joy to me - the only reason I used to fly through the times table every morning in primary school was because all the numbers had personalities and characters, and when they times'd by each other it was like a dramatic scene in a play; that was how I remembered it all. I can't say I do the same with punctuation, but I totally agree with Truss' personifications. For example:
Now, there are no laws against imprisoning apostrophes and making them look daft. Cruelty to punctuation is quite unlegislated: you can get away with pulling the legs off semicolons; shrivelling question marks on the garden path under a pwerful magnifying glass; you name it. ... the tractable apostrophe has always done its proper jobs in our language with enthusiasm and elegance, but it has never been taken seriously enough; its talent for adaptability has been cruelly taken for granted; and now, in an age of supreme graphic frivolity, we pay the price. [p.36:]
... if you feel you are safe paddling in these sparklingly clear shallows of comma usage, think again. See that comma-shaped shark fin ominously slicing through the waves in this direction? Hear that staccato cello? Well, start waving and yelling, because it is the so-called Oxford comma (also known as the serial comma) and it is a lot more dangerous than its exclusive, ivory-tower moniker might suggest. [p.84:]
There are times ... when the semicolon ... performs the duties of a kind of Special Policeman in the event of comma fights. ... One minute the semicolon is gracefully joining sentences together in a flattering manner ... and the next it is calling a bunch of brawling commas to attention. [p.125:]
I love it! It also does wonders for understanding how to use the fiddly little things, if you've ever had trouble - and let's face it, who doesn't? And while Truss' tone may often be light and playful (even a little frivolous), this book is hip-deep in interesting historical background, usages and common mistakes, and entertaining examples of real-life punctuation boo-boos that, if you care at all, will actually make you tense up in indignation.
She also has a friendly dig at Australians and our tendency to turn statements into questions, which the British fans of Neighbours have picked up, much to her chagrin:
Increasingly people are (ignorantly) adding question marks to sentences containing indirect questions, which is a bit depressing, but the reason is not hard to find: blame the famous upward inflection caught by all teenage viewers of Neighbours in the past twenty years. Previously, people said "you know?" and "know what I'm saying?" at the end of every sentence. Now they don't bother with the words and just use the question marks, to save time. Everything ends up becoming a question? I'm talking about statements? It's getting quite annoying? But at least it keeps the question mark alive so it can't be all bad? [p.141-2:]
I laughed and laughed.
I did feel a bit ashamed when Truss disparagingly brings emoticons into the discussion - I have used a couple of smileys and the like on occassion. But it's not easy getting tone across in written words - or, rather, it kinda is (isn't that what writers accomplish all the time?), but in emails etc. it's more personal, and you can't read body language or facial expressions, and these people you are chatting away to are so often strangers, that it is so easy to be misconstrued, misunderstood, and a whole lot of other "mis-es".
Another thing I appreciated was that, this book having been written by a Brit, it hasn't been Americanised. That would be a completely different book. But Truss does make distinctions between American and British usages which are very helpful, and interesting too.
This book reads a bit like an essay, the kind famous writers write so that we'll all be awed by the intellectual genius behind their Great Works - except Eats, Shoots & Leaves is not at all pretentious; on the contrary, Truss confesses several times that she herself has doubts, and still learns that what she thought was wrong is actually "correct" (such as it is). What I mean, is that this is not some dry reference book - and the panda joke on the back cover prepares you for that. Even so, this is perfect reference material for students, teachers, copy-editors, journalists, proof-readers (please!), sticklers and, well, anybody. I learnt a lot from it but had fun learning, which should actually help me remember it all.
And I just can't believe I never noticed that the movie Two Weeks Notice doesn't have an apostrophe (which I very nearly typed in myself just now), or that Who Framed Roger Rabbit doesn't have a question mark. I think my brain put them in for me, which is why I'm very surprised to find these punctuation marks are missing.
Recommended for everyone, even people who are bored shitless by anything to do with writing.
I was so happy to finally get a copy of this book, after coming across it in little Cosmos bookshop in St. Kilda about 2 years ago, even though I coul...moreI was so happy to finally get a copy of this book, after coming across it in little Cosmos bookshop in St. Kilda about 2 years ago, even though I couldn't get an edition with the nicer tractor cover. I just find it tacky to print the first two sentences on the front cover, even though it is a catchy beginning.
It was certainly not quite what I was expecting - because it was nominated for the Man Booker Prize last year, I guess I was expecting something a bit heavier, more depressing. But this book is hilarious. It's heavily ironic, surprisingly dialogue-based, yet so much is revealed in subtle ways.
Nadezhda (Nadia for short) and her Big Sis, Vera, lost their mother two years ago and have been fighting ever since over the will. Now they are brought together by a common goal: to prevent their 84 year old father, Nikolai, from marrying a Ukrainian gold digger with big boobs. Their words, not mine. Nadia's story is interspersed with excerpts from her father's work on tractors (he was an engineer), and the tale of her grandparents, parents, the war and how they came to be in England.
This story is so neatly balanced between the humour and farce of the present "situation" and the scary, desperate past. The past sections are not told in a morbid fashion, though. It's hard to put my finger on what it is exactly, but the narrative has that almost stale taste you acquire when telling a story not your own: Nadia was the Peace baby, Vera the War baby, and Big Sis is very tight-lipped. Nadia has to piece together the past, and Vera's account doesn't always match their father's.
Another thing I loved was the familiarity of the English world: although I have never been, I found great heart in the fact that the text had not been altered for a North American readership. Words like "capsicum" are still there, little golden nuggets to stumble across in the story. (For anyone who doesn't know, capsicum is the "real" word for "pepper", as in, bell pepper. The capsicum family, it is. It's the word we use in Australia, too.)
I loved this book, but I'm having trouble getting past my positive reaction to really understand it. I'm sure there's more to it than what's on the surface.(less)