The P45 Diaries by Ben Hatch is a revised version of his novel The Lawnmower Celebrity, originally released some years ago. A P45 is an unemployment f...moreThe P45 Diaries by Ben Hatch is a revised version of his novel The Lawnmower Celebrity, originally released some years ago. A P45 is an unemployment form in Britain I am told, and Jay, Hatch's protagonist, has plenty of experience with joblessness. 18 years old, having just lost his mother to cancer and utterly lacking in direction, Jay's current situation is a series of false starts and disappointments. He struggles to get some traction in his life, but just seems able to do so. One job after another is won and then soon lost, often as the result of Jay's humorous but ultimately self-destructive behavior. His perspective that everything seems so phony is very reminiscent of Holden Caulfield's in Catcher in the Rye, which Hatch makes no attempt to hide. Jay's gruff but loving father employs the "tough love" approach, but Jay rebels against it. His girlfriend Gemma nudges Jay more gently, but has to watch out for her own well-being at the same time, causing friction in their relationship. His other friends and family are also dealing with struggles of their own, and are unable to adequately give Jay the support he needs. Jay's one guiding star is that he wants to write for a living, but jumping on the moving train that is a writing career is predictably difficult. In the end, Jay needs to steel himself and take a big risk to actually start moving forward in his life.
As other reviewers have undoubtedly remarked, The P45 Diaries alternates between hysterical and tearjerking. While Jay's character is endearing and his actions are undoubtedly funny, there are many times the reader just wants to reach into the pages and shake some sense into him. Anyone who has been trying to follow a dream in the face of internal struggles and a world seemingly arrayed against him or her will be able to relate to Jay.
Ben Hatch hasn't really broken onto the American literary scene yet, which is a shame. If you are unfamiliar with him, you really should get to know his work. In addition to The P45 Diaries, he has also published two nonfiction works: Are We Nearly There Yet? and Road to Rouen, which chronicle travels with his young family throughout Britain and France, respectively. He also has a highly engaging Twitter account. Ben never fails to make me both laugh and think. He is definitely one to watch.(less)
This is a well-balanced, well-researched biography of a complex but ultimately admirable man. The recent attention paid to the 50th anniversary of JFK...moreThis is a well-balanced, well-researched biography of a complex but ultimately admirable man. The recent attention paid to the 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination spurred my interest in brother Robert, about whom I knew very little. Evan Thomas' biography of RFK, published in the late 1990s, is highly readable and very even-handed. Like most people, RFK was not a two dimensional figure, but complex and multi-faceted. He could be be a crusading advocate for the downtrodden at one point, and engineering a behind-the-scenes political maneuver to undermine an enemy the next.
I came away from this book feeling like I really got to know Robert Kennedy quite well. My interest in the man and his legacy grew as I read, and I plan to seek out more information about RFK in the near future.
If you are looking to learn about one of the most influential people in U.S. politics in the 1960, Robert Kennedy: His Life by Evan Thomas is an excellent place to start.(less)
As a lifelong Mainer, novels set in this state have always caught my eye. This multilayered mystery follows three generations of a family beset by tra...moreAs a lifelong Mainer, novels set in this state have always caught my eye. This multilayered mystery follows three generations of a family beset by tragedy. Set on Monhegan Island, in Aroostook County, and in Vietnam for a time, Dylan Boyd does a masterful job of drawing the reader into his characters and the setting. I honestly had no idea how this novel would end, or even how the different narratives wove together, until the final pages. Boyd's experiences as a lawyer lend real credibility to the courtroom sequences, although the legal detail does run a bit thick in spots. I highly recommend Blue Lobster to readers who enjoy courtroom drama or realistic Maine-based novels.(less)
Not too bad for a zombie novel. There is a great deal of fast-paced action, which is exactly what I would want in a novel such as this. The Wild West...moreNot too bad for a zombie novel. There is a great deal of fast-paced action, which is exactly what I would want in a novel such as this. The Wild West setting gave Gehenna a unique twist, and the characters, at least the two protagonists, were ones you could root for. I am looking forward to reading the next installment in Jason Brant's West of Hell series.(less)
I am developing an addiction to Terry Prachett! This is the third of his books that I've read, and the second I've read in the Discworld series. I bec...moreI am developing an addiction to Terry Prachett! This is the third of his books that I've read, and the second I've read in the Discworld series. I become a bigger fan with each one. The Light Fantastic is a more coherent story than the first in the series, The Color of Magic, due in part to the fact that Pratchett does not need to develop his characters and his world as much for the reader. Strongly recommended for fans of fantasy and satire.(less)
This book is a promise of things to come. I've heard nothing but rave reviews of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, of which this is the first. I've...moreThis book is a promise of things to come. I've heard nothing but rave reviews of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, of which this is the first. I've also heard that the series gets better and better as it goes along. If that's the case, I can't wait to keep reading more. The Color of Magic introduces us to the odd universe of Discworld, inhabited by some of the most quirky and interesting characters you can imagine. It's fantasy, it's parody, and it's comedy. I laughed on nearly every page, and marveled as a fellow writer at Terry Pratchett's incredibly inventive imagination and ability to describe outlandish things in a way that is both informative and almost poetic. If you are thinking of reading Terry Pratchett for the first time, this is a great place to start. It will not be the last of his works you read, I'm sure.(less)
Good Omens is the first book I've read by either Neil Gaiman or Terry Prachett, though I have heard the work of both of them raved about for years. I...moreGood Omens is the first book I've read by either Neil Gaiman or Terry Prachett, though I have heard the work of both of them raved about for years. I was not disappointed at all. It passed my foolproof litmus test for a great book: It kept me up way past my bedtime night after night.
I'm not going to retell the whole plot, since I detest reviews that do that. Let's just say that this is a very offbeat story about a somewhat froofy angel, a slick but likable devil, a kindhearted antichrist (aged 11), a reluctant witchhunter with a lousy car, and a number of other very memorable characters, as they face the long-expected end of the world. I laughed out loud in almost every chapter of this book, and was genuinely sad to see it end. You can bet that I'll be looking up many more titles by both Gaiman and Prachett very soon.(less)
Jason Mulgrew cracks me up, plain and simple. I really enjoyed his first book, "Everything Is Wrong With Me", and I liked his latest, "236 Pounds of C...moreJason Mulgrew cracks me up, plain and simple. I really enjoyed his first book, "Everything Is Wrong With Me", and I liked his latest, "236 Pounds of Class Vice President", even more. Mulgrew's latest memoir focuses primarily on his awkward teen years, and I could definitely relate to many of his ups and downs. Written in an engaging, conversational style, I couldn't believe I finished it as soon as I did. It's not Shakespeare or Chaucer, but "236" is a fun read for a spring weekend, looking back on those years that make many of us cringe. I challenge you not to laugh out loud while ready this down-to-earth, funny memoir.(less)
I work with animals for a living, so That Bear Ate My Pants! was a no-brainer reading selection for me. It's the story of twenty-something Tony Slater...moreI work with animals for a living, so That Bear Ate My Pants! was a no-brainer reading selection for me. It's the story of twenty-something Tony Slater, a British guy who spends a year volunteering at an animal refuge in Ecuador. He was looking for some adventure, and certainly seems to have gotten it during his time at Santa Martha.
Throughout the book, Slater describes with good-humor the widely varied experiences he had with animals such as a lovable but stubborn bear, a battalion of turtles with loose bowels, an overweight puma, and a sick crocodile in need of stitches and twice-daily antibiotics. The animal anecdotes are the backbone of the book, and definitely the best parts. Slater's descriptions and witty commentary made what would have already been interesting events even more entertaining.
Slater also writes frequently about his supervisors, fellow volunteers, and labor at Santa Martha in That Bear Ate My Pants!, but I sometimes found my interest flagging during these episodes, particularly when describing the more difficult people and complicated projects. A subplot involving his affair with a woman he met in a nearby town never really went anywhere in my opinion as well. I was ready for the book to be done at around the 2/3 point, as the storyline itself seemed to bog down to the point where the animal tales struggled to carry it.
That Bear Ate My Pants! was good for a chuckle, and I recommend it to fans of humorous animal stories and travel memoirs. (less)
In Matinicus, Darcy Scott has written a novel that is not only an outstanding murder mystery, but also a fascinating picture of life on a real and qui...moreIn Matinicus, Darcy Scott has written a novel that is not only an outstanding murder mystery, but also a fascinating picture of life on a real and quite isolated island off the coast of Maine.
I am hesitant to give too many details here, as I always am when reviewing a mystery. In short, this is the story of Professor Gil Hodges, who makes a summer trip to Matinicus Island under the guise of cataloging the variety of flora there, but more accurately to find himself again and do battle with some of the personal demons troubling him. Somehow, Gil winds up entwined in the community on the island, knee-deep in a string of murders, a lobster war, and even a haunting. Along the way, he discovers an old diary, which gives him insight into both the past and present of the island.
As with all good mysteries, Matinicus is full of fascinating characters, unexpected twists, and of course red herrings galore. I truly did not know "whodunnit" until the very end. Being a frequent visitor to the Maine coast, I was especially fascinated with the carefully researched facts of what life is like on islands like Matinicus, as close-knit communities deal with the harshness of the environment, changes in the world as we know it, and the extreme closeness they have to each other.
Matinicus by Darcy Scott is a classic mystery which I would recommend to any fan of the genre, or of Maine-based fiction in general. I am looking forward to her next novel featuring protagonist Gil Hodges, which I believe is set for release soon.(less)
I am a sucker for nostalgia, especially at Christmastime. The Plight Before Christmas by Canadian humorist Gordon Kirkland was a terrific choice for t...moreI am a sucker for nostalgia, especially at Christmastime. The Plight Before Christmas by Canadian humorist Gordon Kirkland was a terrific choice for the week before the holiday. It's the tale of the Kelly family, specifically father Charles and son James, and a wacky series of misadventures that befall them just prior to Christmas in the early 1960s. The misfortunes cause Charles to look at how he has treated his family in general and Christmas in particular with some regret, and he decides to make some changes. These changes lead to no small amount of confusion for his family, especially young James, in the days leading up to Christmas.
While this is very much an original story, Kirkland borrows some spirit from Jean Shepard's Christmas Story and Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol to great effect. The Plight Before Christmas is a heartwarming novel with just the right balance of sentiment, humor, and trips down memory lane. I highly recommend it, and plan to read it again next year during the Christmas season.(less)
As an "adapted from the screenplay" novel, my expectations for The Clone Wars were not very high, but this was actually pretty good. Karen Traviss too...moreAs an "adapted from the screenplay" novel, my expectations for The Clone Wars were not very high, but this was actually pretty good. Karen Traviss took a story that was essentially devised as a means to introduce characters and scenarios for a then-new animated television series and turned it into a serviceable sci-fi novel. Traviss takes us inside the heads of the characters in some depth, which adds a whole new dimension to an otherwise straightforward storyline. I especially enjoyed the attention she gave to the Clone Troopers and their take on the horrors of war, as well as the sense of responsibility that Anakin Skywalker feels for the troops under his command. In most Star Wars novels and movies, the countless clone troopers are merely background decorations or cannon fodder, but not here.
There are better novels out there written for the Star Wars universe, but The Clone Wars is a pleasant diversion that broadens the mythological sweep of the saga.(less)
It's been quite a while since I've picked up a young adult novel, but I struck gold with this one. I'll spare you the plot overview. Plenty of other r...moreIt's been quite a while since I've picked up a young adult novel, but I struck gold with this one. I'll spare you the plot overview. Plenty of other reviews can supply that. Suffice it to say that Jolted is an original, quirky, witty, and charming adventure/coming-of-age novel about a likable teenager plagued by a very unusual family curse, on top of the normal obstacles that come with growing up.
I knew Arthur Slade was a terrific author after reading his novel Dust some time ago, and Jolted reaffirmed it for me. I am going to hand my copy of Jolted over to my nephew, who I know will love it, and highly recommend it to anyone looking for a fresh, clever adventure with heart.(less)
Words nearly fail me as I attempt to describe this outrageously silly and highly entertaining Thanksgiving novel. "Weird", "gonzo", and "bizarre" all...moreWords nearly fail me as I attempt to describe this outrageously silly and highly entertaining Thanksgiving novel. "Weird", "gonzo", and "bizarre" all come to mind, though I mean them in a positive way.
Lick Your Neighbor is the story of a very, very bad day in the life of Dale Alden, an average, mild-mannered guy and direct descendant of one of the Mayflower pilgrims. In essence, he is accused of a crime (and eventually several crimes) that he did not commit, and has no choice but to go on the runa dn team up with his "out there" lawyer brother-in-law Randy to clear his name and get to the bottom of the unusual happenings going on around him.
This is no typical mystery/thriller, however. There are turkey ninjas, malicious clowns, and catapults, to name just a few of the elements that make this novel stand out.
My best comparison of Lick Your Neighbor is to the novels of Christopher Moore. Chris Genoa is a bit more high-volume than Moore when it comes to action and silliness and gives less attention to development of characters and plot points, but in this novel, it mostly works. People and events careen from one oddity to another, though it all ties together. Some reviewers have referred to it as a wild ride, and I'd agree with that assessment. Personally, I would have liked fewer characters and more depth to the ones that remain.
While based on a Thanksgiving theme, Lick Your Neighbor is a novel that fans of absurd humor and action will enjoy at any time of year.(less)