Review: Before & Laughter by Jimmy Carr

 

Title: Before & Laughter: A Life Changing Book

Author: Jimmy Carr

Published: 28th September 2021, Quercus Publishing

Status: Read October 2021 courtesy Hachette Australia

++++++++

My Thoughts:

 

I ‘discovered’ Irish comedian Jimmy Carr when I stumbled upon the panel show ‘8 Out of 10 Cats’ on YouTube only a year or two ago. The show opened up an entire collection of British comedy programs I promptly binged, and given the incestuous nature of the business, Carr had a role in many of them. Whether acting as a host or  panellist, he often makes me laugh out loud, even if his humour tends to be more on the deliberately offensive, smutty side.

Billed as a memoir and self help book, I was somewhat surprised to find Before & Laughter leans far more into the latter than the former. There are glimpses of Carr here as he touches on his relationship with his parents, shares the story of throwing in his corporate job at Shell to take a chance on comedy, offers a mea culpa for his ‘tax thing’, and speaks of his partner and child, but largely this is a book of advice on how to find your purpose and be true to yourself.

Before & Laughter is funny as expected, with Jimmy sharing plenty of humorous anecdotes, but it’s also surprisingly sensible and insightful. There isn’t anything particularly unique about the essence of Carr’s advice, but his frame of reference – stand up comedy – is something different. Carr has an interesting perspective on life informed by the nature of his work, which involves more intense labour than you would expect. Though I don’t care much for self help blather generally, I think Carr offers some sound advice for anyone looking to enhance or change their life.

Whether you buy into the motivational message or not, Before & Laughter is an entertaining read.

++++++++

Available from Hachette Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

Review: The Moon, the Stars and Madame Burova by Ruth Hogan

 

Title: The Moon, the Stars and Madame Burova

Author: Ruth Hogan

Published: 21st September 2021, William Morrow

Status: Read September 2021 courtesy WilliamMorrow /Edelweiss

++++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

The Moon, the Stars and Madame Burova is an engaging novel from Ruth Hogan about family, friendship and identity.

Billie is shocked when a letter from her father, passed on by the family solicitor, informs her that she was not the biological child of her late parents, but a ‘foundling’ discovered on the Brighton promenade, whom they adopted when she was just weeks old. Reeling with unanswered questions, a second letter follows from a Imelda Burova, purporting to have information for her. Though she suspects the woman, a fortune-teller with a booth on the prom, is just touting for business, Billie agrees to a meeting.

After more than forty years telling fortunes from her booth on the Brighton prom, as did her mother and grandmother before her, Madame Burova has recently retired but still keeps many of her clients secrets, amongst them is a gift for the infant she found abandoned in front of her booth. Sworn to secrecy, she can’t tell Billie who her mother is, but is willing to support her in her search for her father.

The story is told through two timelines, the early 1970’s and the present. The earlier timeline centers around Imelda and the entertainment employees of a Brighton holiday park, Larkins, where Imelda spends part of her time giving readings for guests, while the latter has Billie searching for information about her biological parents.

Unfolding at a good pace, there is a pleasing balance of drama, romance, tragedy and humour in the story, along with just enough tension to encourage interest. While the mystery surrounding Billie’s parentage is the main focus of the novel, Hogan also touches on issues such as racism, workplace sexual harassment, grief, and prejudice.

I liked both of the main characters well enough. Imelda is lovely, proving to be kind, thoughtful and loyal in both timelines. Billie’s upset at discovering her adoption so late in life is understandable, as is her desire to know more. I’m not sure where her affection for bowler hats comes from though. The larger cast of the novel is quite varied, with a handful having role in both timelines. Dog lovers will also appreciate Imelda’s relationship with her loyal and much loved canines.

I found The Moon, the Stars and Madame Burova to be a pleasant, entertaining read with an uplifting ending.

++++++

Available from HarperCollins US

Or your preferred retailer via

Booko I Book Depository I Indiebound I Amazon

Review: The Cat Who Saved Books by Sosuke Natsukawa

 

Title: The Cat Who Saved Books

Author: Sosuke Natsukawa; Translation: Louise Heal Kawai

Published: 14th September 2021, Picador

Status: Read September 2021 courtesy Pan Macmillan Australia

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

Translated from the original Japanese, The Cat Who Saved Books by Sosuke Natsukawa is a quirky, fantastical tale that celebrates the importance of not only books and reading, but also human connection.

Seventeen year old Rintaro Natsuki is devastated by the sudden passing of the grandfather who has raised him, and takes refuge in the second hand bookshop he has inherited. When an orange tabby cat slinks into the store and speaks to him, Rintaro wonders if grief and stress have taken their toll, but the cat, who introduces itself as Tiger, insists that Rintaro’s help is desperately needed, and leads him through the store into an alternate world to conquer the first of what will be four challenges to ‘free’ books from various states of peril.

Each ‘labyrinth’ requires Rintaro to convince someone to recognise that books are more than just objects, from a wealthy man who hoards books as a status symbol, to a publisher who discards the old for the new. There isn’t anything subtle about the observations made in The Cat Who Saved Books, and they express ideas most inveterate readers would agree with. Eventually Rintaro is required to convince a wizened but sinister figure that books and reading have value to humanity, and hold a unique power.

“I think the power of books is that- they teach us to care about others. It’s a power that gives people courage and also supports them in turn….Empathy – that’s the power of books.”

In between these quests, Rintaro who identifies as a hikikomori (a Japanese term loosely translated as a shut-in or extreme introvert) is left to ponder on the lack of balance in his own life from his own habit of taking refuge in books to avoid human connection and experience. This is illustrated by the connection he forms with a persistent classmate, Sayo Yuzuki.

Though I feel the tone is skewed towards a young adult audience, The Cat Who Saved Books is a charming, uncomplicated story that will speak to the soul of book lovers.

++++++++

Available from Pan Macmillan Australia

Or from your preferred retailer

via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

Review: See Jane Snap by Bethany Crandell

 

Title: See Jane Snap

Author: Bethany Crandell

Published: 7th September 2021, Montlake

Status: Read September 2021 courtesy Montlake/Netgalley

+++++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

Jane Osborne is desperately trying to preserve the facade of her ‘perfect life’, even though her handsome, successful husband of 18 years is sleeping with someone else (and not for the first time), her twelve year old daughter is getting in trouble at school, and, after a supermarket car park incident involving oranges and a purloined ecstasy tablet, she’s been ordered to attend a First Offender’s Group to avoid jail.

In this witty contemporary novel, Bethany Crandell explores the struggle of a wife and mother to keep it altogether while everything is falling apart. Jane is under tremendous pressure to protect her husband’s career, her daughter’s innocence, and her mother’s care needs, and expected to suppress her feelings of betrayal, guilt and anger. Though the specifics of Jane’s trials may not be familiar, it’s very easy to empathise with the strain she is under, and honestly who hasn’t been tempted to throw something at a person who insists on going through a 12 item only check out with twice as many groceries!

Jane’s parking lot meltdown, and the consequences of mistaking an ecstasy pill for Zoloft, had me laughing out loud. Though the event, and subsequent punishment, seems like it can only make everything worse, it serves as a catalyst for Jane to confront her situation, and figure out how to move forward. I really liked the friendships Jane developed in the group, and the unexpected romantic connection with her arresting officer. I was absolutely always on Jane’s side, and felt Crandell’s development of her character was thoughtful and realistic.

See Jane Snap is often funny but also provides some astute observations about the difficult balance many women face between the needs of others and themselves. This is a light, entertaining and engaging read.

++++++

Available from Amazon US I Amazon AU

Or your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: About Us by Sinead Moriarty

 

Title: About Us

Author: Sinead Moriarty

Published: 15th July 2021, Sandycove

Status: Read July 2021 courtesy Penguin UK

 

+++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

About Us is the fifteenth contemporary novel from Irish author, Sinead Moriarty, an engaging novel about three couples facing intimacy issues in their relationships.

Exhausted by the daily demands of caring for their four rambunctious young children, feeling inadequate and frumpy, Alice has an excuse ready every time her husband reaches for her. Niall, an ambitious lawyer, loves his wife but is hurt by her repeated rejection and desperate for something to change.

With her sixty fifth birthday approaching, her children living their own lives and her husband on the cusp of retirement, Ann is bored and restless but her husband is not the least bit interested in adventure or, it seems, her. Ken doesn’t understand why, after 39 years of marriage, Ann is no longer happy with the status quo, he just wants things to stay just as they are.

Orla has escaped her father’s boundless grief but not her mother’s legacy. She’s convinced that she’s a freak who will never have the only thing she wants – love, marriage and children, but Paul, the divorced father of one her students, wants the chance to convince her otherwise.

Desperate to improve their situations Niall, Ann and Orla make an appointment with American sex and relationship psychotherapist, Maggie Purcell, who helps them voice their deepest fears, disappointments, wants and desires.

Moriarty writes with honesty and sensitivity about issues related to identity, marriage, family, and intimacy at different stages of life in About Us.

I thought the couples relationships were relatable, aspects of the issues in the marriages of Alice and Niall, and Ann and Ken are likely to resonate with many readers. Moriarty’s insights were thoughtful and genuine and she was pretty fair to each partner, though I had more empathy for the women, particularly at first.

Orla isn’t in a relationship, but she wants be. The issue that prompts her to seek out Maggie is a little known condition and one I’m glad that Moriarty addresses. I had a lot of sympathy for Orla, who has a tragic background, and though I didn’t really relate to her, I wished the best for her.

I liked About Us, Moriarty offers a story with emotional depth, written with warmth, humour, and honesty.

+++++++

Available from Penguin UK

Or from your preferred retailer via HiveUK I Book Depository I Booko I Amazon

Review: Who Gets To Be Smart by Bri Lee

 

Title: Who Gets To Be Smart: Privilege, Power and Knowledge

Author: Bri Lee

Published: 5th June 2021, Allen & Unwin

Read: June 2021 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

In Who Gets To Be Smart, Bri Lee explores the relationship between education, privilege, power and knowledge.

 

“Knowledge is power, and when powerful people are allowed to shape knowledge and restrict access to knowledge, they are able to consolidate and strengthen their hold on that power.”

 

Lee’s focus is primarily on the gatekeepers of educational access and success in Australia, and their role in determining who gets to be ‘smart’, rather than the contribution of raw intelligence to the equation. The majority of Lee’s observations about the ways in which knowledge is controlled by those with privilege and power seem obvious to me so I don’t feel the book offered me much personally in the way of unique insight, though I’m sure there are some who have never considered the correlation.

It seemed to me that Lee occasionally followed paths that didn’t really connect to the central premise. There were relevant topics I felt Lee didn’t acknowledge such as Australia’s secondary and tertiary scholarship options, and I think the HECS-HELP and VET schemes merited more discussion.

Lee’s own anecdotes and asides keeps Who Gets To Be Smart from being dry. Her research seems sound, and the information is presented in an accessible manner.

I found Who Gets To Be Smart to be an interesting read, I hope it sparks discussion about inequality in educational access and success that will lead to change.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

Review: Love, In Theory by Elodie Cheesman

 

Title: Love, In Theory

Author: Elodie Cheesman

Published: 25th May 2021, Macmillan Australia

Status: Read June 2021 courtesy Pan Macmillan Australia

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

Love, In Theory by debut author Elodie Cheesman is a sweet, if rather predictable, romcom that explores the age old debate of whether to place more trust in your heart or your head when it comes to love.

Cheesman introduces Romy, a single, twenty four year old junior lawyer who works and lives in Sydney. When Romy learns that, according to the theory of the ‘optimal stopping point’, she has only a few months to find her best chance at ‘happy ever after’ she decides it’s time to make a concerted effort to find ‘the one’. Unwilling to trust her own instincts, which have led her into previous disastrous relationships, Romy decides to eschew passion and rely on science to find a match.

Drawing on advice from family, friends, a book or three, and a workshop on Intelligent Dating, Romy starts her search for her perfect partner on Tinder. There are the expected bad dates – a bore, and a sleaze; before she meets Hans, who embodies her three most desirable traits – risk averse, emotionally stable, and agreeable,- even if he doesn’t make her heart flutter in quite the way that James, a graphic designer who doesn’t seem to be any of those things, does.

Life would probably be simpler if the question of love could be reduced to a neat algorithm, but a solution seems determined to remain elusive. Though the outcome is inevitable, I enjoyed Romy’s journey well enough. I did find her a little frustrating at times, particularly given she’s probably a bit young these days to be so worried about being alone for the rest of her life.

I did like the subplot related to Romy’s ambivalence towards her job working in employment law, including issues around #metoo, bad bosses, and work/life balance which provides more depth to the story.

Love, In Theory is a wholesome contemporary romance that will likely appeal to a twenty-something readership looking to be reassured ‘the one’ is still out there.

+++++++

Available from PanMacmillan Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

Review: Flash Jim by Kel Richards

 

Title: Flash Jim: The Astonishing Story of the Convict Fraudster Who Wrote Australia’s First Dictionary

Author: Kel Richards

Published: 5th May 2021, HarperCollins Australia

Status: Read May 2021 courtesy HarperCollins Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

Though English has been considered the language of our country since it was invaded/colonised by the British in 1788, did you know that legally Australia has no official language? Neither did I! While our language today continues to adhere to the conventions of British English with regards to spelling and grammar, from very early on, Australian English began to develop its own unique quirks.

Slang, also known as flash and cant, was a term originally used to refer to the language used mostly by criminals in 16th and 17th century England and so it’s no surprise that it thrived in Australia, and took on a life of its own as British, Irish, and Scottish convicts mixed in the British penal colony.

In 1812 an opportunistic convict, James Hardy Vaux, heard the grumblings of the colony’s police and magistrates who were at a loss to understand much of the slang used among criminals, and always eager to press any advantage, presented his supervisor with ‘A New and Comprehensive Vocabulary of the Flash Language’ – Australia’s very first dictionary. Included as an Appendix in Flash Jim, browsing through the dictionary proves fascinating, revealing words and phrases both strange and familiar.

The bulk of Kel Richards Flash Jim however is a biography of James Vaux, drawing on several sources, mainly the man’s own published memoirs, ‘Memoirs of The First Thirty-Two Years of the Life Of James Hardy Vaux, A Swindler and Pickpocket; Now Transported, For The Second Time, And For Life, To New South Wales. Written By Himself.’

Flash Jim reveals a man who was an extraordinary character. Though born into a family able to provide him a good education and entry into a comfortable profession, James took his first step into a life of crime by embezzling from his employer at aged fourteen. Over the next few years, never satisfied with wages earned as a clerk, James indulged in a number of illegal activities from confidence scams to pick pocketing, with reasonable success, that is until inevitably, his luck ran out. Not that even being sentenced to transportation to New Holland on three separate occasions, seemed to deter his criminal impulses. Vaux, who used a number of aliases over his lifetime, seemed to have possessed an uncanny charm which often saw him turn even the most dire of circumstances to his advantage. I was absolutely fascinated by him, and his antics, marvelling at his ego and nerve, though as Richards regularly reminds us, Vaux’s own words can hardly be trusted.

It’s unclear just how much of Richards own creativity informs the retelling he has crafted, though I imagine he has taken some liberties. I thought it read well, though personally I would have preferred for the author to have found a way to integrate the story of the dictionary more fully into the narrative of Vaux’s biography.

James Hardy Vaux is the sort of incorrigible, dissolute character that Australians delight in claiming as part of our convict past so I’m surprised that I hadn’t heard of him before now, particularly given his twin achievements as the writer of Australia’s first dictionary, and the first true-crime memoir. I expect Flash Jim will be enjoyed by readers interested in Australian colonial history, the etymology of Australian English, or just a bang up yarn.

++++++

Available from HarperCollins Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

Review: We Are Watching Eliza Bright by A.E. Osworth

 


Title: We Are Watching Eliza Bright

Author: A.E. Osworth

Published: 13th April 2021, Grand Central Publishing

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy Grand Central Publising/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

“‘But like–games. They’re never just games. Just like they’re never just memes or just a joke. It’s all the culture, you know? Like all this, it’s the fabric of our lives. It’s all a reflection of everything we do, everything we believe. It’s how we communicate what we value to other people. It’s the way we socialize, the things we talk about. You know it’s not just games.'”

We Are Watching Eliza Bright explores a tech industry scandal that begins when Eliza Bright is promoted to a small coding team at Fancy Dog Games. Her new colleagues are unimpressed, not only by her lack of formal credentials,  but also the fact she is a woman. Eliza isn’t sure how to respond to their first incident of sabotage, it’s a juvenile effort easily rectified, but eventually decides to complain, only to be indulged with a performative response. Eliza’s annoyed, but one of her colleagues in particular is reassured by the lack of consequences, and after Eliza speaks to a journalist about his venomous rant, she is fired, doxxed, and suddenly the target of a maelstrom of misogyny online, and in real life.

“He is emboldened now that he understands what we have always understood: there is protection in the brotherhood of gaming…”

We Are Watching Eliza Bright is clearly inspired by #gamergate, as well as the #metoo movement, exploring the experience of sexism and harassment in a male dominated workspace that escalates into an online furore that then has terrifying real life consequences. It is both a frightening exposé of cultural misogyny and the increasing overlap between online and the real world, and a celebration of resilience, friendship and community.

“It almost doesn’t matter what she says; it almost doesn’t matter what we think of her. What we want is to put our eyes on her, to possess her, to be involved. We want to know everything.”

I have to admit the narrative perspective threw me and I never grew comfortable with it, even though I think is was a clever technique on the part of the author, emphasising the anonymous, voyeuristic way we consume similar real life scandals, while providing opposing viewpoints and insight. Much of the story unfolds from the perspective of the men in the novel, from the anonymous gamer mob who offer opinion, rumour and lies, fuelling outrage, to the seething toxicity of Lewis and the anonymous Inspectre, to the ‘good guys’ like Preston and Devonte, who don’t understand why their silence isn’t enough of an expression of their solidarity. Occasionally their voices are interrupted by a group known as the Sixsterhood, who protest the mob narrative and endeavour to defend Eliza. Transcripts of IM’s and texts highlight individual thought and opinion.

“They’ll see he’s not a monster; his only crime is being smarter than everyone, needing the challenge. And as long as she confesses her sins, says she won’t try to ruin the world for his brothers again,…. He thinks perhaps he’ll confront her—give her the opportunity to compliment his prowess. He imagines she’ll admit her own inferiority.”

The suspense lies largely in the escalating behaviour of an anonymous gamer determined to make sure Eliza, and all women, understand she is wrong – for speaking out, for invading his culture, for laughing at him. He has no doubt about the righteousness of his ‘mission’, and the outcome of such conviction is inevitable, but no less shocking for it.

“This—this is a feeling deeper than love. It is an obsession. A second life.”

With its unusual structure and provocative content, We Are Watching Eliza Bright isn’t an easy read, but it is a penetrating, thought-provoking and powerful exploration of modern culture.

++++++

Available from Grand Central Publishing

Or from your preferred retailer via Indiebound I Book Depository I Booko I Amazon

 

Review: The Best Things by Mel Giedroyc


Title: The Best Things

Author: Mel Giedroyc

Published: 30th March 2021, Headline Review

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy Hachette Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

“It’s the story of a family who lose everything, only to find themselves, and each other, along the way.”

The book’s strap line provides the perfect summary of The Best Things, the entertaining debut adult novel from British comedian, actor, and presenter, Mel Giedroyc.

Living in a palatial home in Surrey’s most exclusive gated community, hedge fund CEO Frank Parker is proud that his financial success ensures his wife, Sally, and teenage children, Chloe, Stephen, Michaela (Mikey) and (niece) Emily, want for nothing. Sally is conscious of the privilege Frank’s wealth affords her, but with household tasks managed by a contemptuous, territorial housekeeper, her mothering outsourced to an insolent Australian nanny, and her workaholic husband often absent, she’s popping prescription pills to avoid facing the emptiness of her days.

When the financial market suddenly goes to hell, Frank has a nervous breakdown,  and when Sally learns they are going to lose everything they have, she realises she has to regain control of her life before she loses her family too.

Giedroyc draws on the familiar cliche’s of ‘money can’t buy happiness’, and of course, ‘the best things in life are free’ in this ‘riches to rags’ story. The pace is a little slow to start as we are introduced to the Parker family, but begins to picks up as their life begins to fall apart. While I thought the plot was fairly predictable, they were some small surprises, some a little absurd, but there was not really much in the way of tension. There is however plenty of humour in The Best Things, as you’d expect from an author who made a living as a comedian, with some cracking quips and amusing banter.

Giedroyc leans quite heavily into the stereotypes of wealthy people, mocking their extravagant excesses, snobbery, and petty , and while I do think many of her characters tend to be quite shallowly drawn, there is some nuance to be found. Frank’s love for Sally, for example, is deep and genuine, even if the expression of his adoration, by removing any stress or challenge from her life, is wholly misguided. I wanted to like Sally more than I did though, I think Giedroyc took a little too long to have her shed her ennui and take some responsibility for her family and their situation. The children were a surprise though, they were probably the most genuine, and sympathetic, characters in the book.

I enjoyed The Best Things, it’s lively, funny and ultimately uplifting.

++++++

Available from Hachette Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I HiveUK I Amazon

Previous Older Entries