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Sorry folks, I’ve been incommunicado for several weeks. I am a little embarassed to look at the date stamp on the Shining review.

As far as explanations go, well, Steph and I moved back to Sydney and had a couple of hiccups with our internet service provider. All good now though and I have a backlog of reviews to get to – so time to kick this off once more!

Here’s a photo of Flann O’Brien…for no reason!

Flann O'Brien

Folks I am disappoint.

I had ambitions of ploughing through several books on the long air-journey home to Ireland. In the end a combination of tiredness and Etihad‘s in-flight entertainment service (“OMG – The Warrior’s Way…just try to stop me watching this!”) resulted in my reading only three books.

Which were -

Terry Pratchett’s Carpe Jugulum, the twenty-third Discworld novel. This one is about vampires and in the author’s inimitable style, becomes an essay on the limits of toleration.

Stephen King’s The Mist, a novella I have been meaning to read ever since I first flew to Australia and saw Frank Darabont‘s film adaptation (in-flight entertainment again). I was impressed by the film and thankfully enjoyed the book as well. Although I still don’t like King’s protagonists. He writes them with a series of flaws that are meant to express a sense of honesty I guess, but David Drayton just seems like yet another sleazy alcoholic to me.

Finally J.D. Salinger‘s The Catcher in the Rye. I remember reading this book when I was 12, on the bus from Rathcool village into Dublin city centre at 7am. It was dark and freezing cold. The material of my school uniform was pathetically thin and my coat did not stretch far enough to keep me warm (darn long legs). There I was sitting on the bus seat with my hands hiding the cover – because I thought The Catcher in the Rye was salacious! Reading it now my twelve-year-old self seems so naieve and yet I can still detect in Salinger’s prose this brilliant sense of iconoclasm, masked by the occasionally petulant thoughts of Holden Caufield.

I was also going to read Combined and Uneven Apocalypse by Evan Calder Williams, but at that stage my brain had gone to mush. It is a fascinating premise for a book – a political reading of the use of ‘apocalypses‘ (my thanks to Buffy the Vampire Slayer)  in film. Never fear, a review is coming.

I will write up more direct reviews of the three books in my usual manner in the next few days. This is just to let you all know I made it to Ireland and am happily sipping tea on a cold morning watching my dog snore in her sleep.

Take care everyone.

Well tomorrow night’s the night! I am about to crawl into bed before tomorrow morning’s early start and flying down to Melbourne for the launch of Joe Reich’s I Know Precious Little at 6.30 at Readings, 701 Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn, East Melbourne.

Oh and I will be presenting the author.

Now as for the future of this blog – I am going to continue writing reviews. Frankly I am having too much fun. I also have some news – Stephanie has set me yet another challenge! This time it is to see just how many books I can read on the 22 hour flight home to Dublin. I decided to visit my folks for a short holiday and she thought this a challenge almost as demanding as my two hundred and eighty seven reviews….well it will mean missing out on the on-flight entertainment.

Looking forward to what the future holds people.

And if you’re around tomorrow night in Melbourne, do drop round to say hello.

Some preamble: I was fairly daunted when I was asked to jump in and cover A Book A Day… for a post. As a habitual reader of his site, I was intent on ensuring that I got the full Emmet O’Cuana experience by following the house rules and reviewing a book that I had completed over the course of a twenty-four hour period (this was despite Emmet giving me close to a month’s notice to put this post together). With that, I diligently set about settling down to enjoy Fred Hoyle’s science-fiction standard The Black Cloud; before abandoning it in a fit of disinterest as I moaned to my wife about ‘diagrams having no place in a novel’. I’m being harsh – The Black Cloud is undoubtedly a good book, but I was struggling to keep focussed on it enough to finish it in a day.

With this realisation, things were looking grim for my contribution to ABADTICS (which is a great acronym), and I soared dangerously and embarrassingly close to turning in a review of Ted Hughes’ The Iron Man, knowing that I could at least cover it in one afternoon, possibly fifteen minutes if I didn’t stop for tea and biscuits. Scanning my book shelves, I was drawn to John Colapinto‘s About the Author – a book I picked up in my teens, read once and then recommended to everyone else for the next eleven years. For all the books that have come and gone in my personal library over the years I’ve never considered parting with it, based on one memorable reading of it in what seems an age ago. With that in mind, I was interested to see how an older, wiser and infinitely more cynical version of my young self would find it.

For reasons that will become obvious, I find it difficult to write about Stewart. Well, I find it difficult to write about anything, God knows. But Stewart presents special problems. Do I speak of him as I later came to know him, or as he appeared to me before I learned the truth, before I stripped away the mask of normalcy he hid behind? For so long he seemed nothing but a footnote to my life, a passing reference in what I had imagined would be the story of my swift rise to literary stardom. Today he not only haunts every line of this statement, but is, in a sense, its animating spirit, its reason for being.

About the Author tells the story of lothario bookstore clerk Cal Cunningham. Cal prides himself on his aspirations of bestsellerdom but lacks the literary inspiration to achieve it, so when the opportunity to pass his dead roommate’s manuscript off as his own work of genius, he does so with little hesitation and to wild success. In true ‘…but the  past ain’t through with you‘ fashion however, the decision haunts the rest of this story. Wielding themes of identity, envy and ambition, in hindsight it shares much in common with Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley, but differs in that this thriller expands to more psychological Hitchcockian proportions. As our hero spirals further out of control in his quest to keep his misdeeds secret, he finds himself living a proxy of the life of the man whose work he stole, and refreshingly things escalate in a way that never seems forced or trite. Most of the supporting characters are lightly sketched to varying degrees of effect – a rambunctious literary agent comes across just right in his one-note shallowness, but he’s the only character that truly works in spite of not being fleshed out. That said, there’s enough conflict in our main character’’s actions and thoughts – the story is told from Cunningham’s viewpoint – for Colapinto to sink his teeth into, and it makes for a compelling read overall.

The envious and ambitious traits of the lead character certainly struck a chord with me in my latter-day blogger guise. One thing that surprised me as I reviewed this retrospectively was how I interpreted the protagonist’s actions when I was younger – Cal Cunningham is no longer some enfant terrible anti-hero as I once saw him, in fact now he just strikes me as a pretentious jerk. Whether this is a concious choice by Colapinto or not, I’m not sure, but the fact that the book works despite my dislike of its hero is testament to the author’s plotting and ability to ratchet the tension from zero to panic in a stroke. Hollywood agreed to an extent – a film adaptation has been languishing in development limbo since publication despite a script from the reliable Patrick Marber.

About the Author remains to this date John Colapinto’s sole fictional novel, and that in itself is a shame. A substantial cut above your beach holiday thriller fare, it’s well worth seeking out and heartily recommended. However, heroically reading a book in a one day and then blogging about it I’ll leave to the professionals.

Colin Bell writes over at It’s Bloggerin Time – go pay him a visit.

Folks I have some exciting news. Author Joe Reich, whose book I Know Precious Little I reviewed for the blog, has invited me to speak at the book’s official launch at Readings Hawthorn in Melbourne.

As you can imagine I am ridiculously excited about this and eager to try out my Irish brogue on a live audience.

The event is set to commence at 6.30 at Readings, 701 Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn, East Melbourne. So if you’re in town, do come along for chat.

Right I am going to start practicing my vocal projection exercises…

 

When Emmet first put out the call for fellow bloggers to cover his gruelling book-a-day regime while he and his lovely bride, Stephanie, enjoy some much deserved time off renewing their vows, I thought: “Yippee, now I can review a grown-up fiction book!”

I thought to heck (as we Canadians rarely swear outright even in our thoughts) with my blog manifesto, for once I’ll review some great Canadian adult lit.  I worked myself up into a fervour thinking of all the wonderful works of fiction I could cover and how I could finally write about all the great things (sexual proclivities, adultery, drugs and the other perversities of humanity) that adult fiction has to offer (although I do review many a YA title that covers that stuff too!)

I started making a short list, I racked my brain and I eagerly fingered titles in the bookshops and library looking for just the right book.

What a rush!

Then my Canadian sensibilities and a little serendipity took over and I found the perfect children’s book to mark this occasion and thus, just like that my short-lived dreams of moving over to the adult sphere (however briefly) dissolved.

It was just that Better Together by Sheryl and Simon Shapiro and illustrated by Dušan Petričić (ISBN: 9781554512782, Annick Press, 2011) fit so perfect, it was a crying shame not to review it!

Written by the Shapiros, who have themselves been married for 34 years, this charming book of short poems celebrates the beauty when two (or more) substances come together to create something new and wonderful.

I know right? It was fate!

I love books with poems for young children. They love the bouncing, rhyming text and adult readers love the read-out-loud fun factor (anyone with a toddler knows that it’s essential to have books around that are enjoyable to read for the parents because you will be reading them…a lot!)

I love the notion of making chemistry entertaining and breaking down some of the wonderful creations in life into their components. Once wee readers get a handle on chocolate milk, cinnamon toast, music, mud, well the world is their oyster.

I also adore the ink drawings that accompany each short verse and illustrate the steps of these mixtures coming together in a fun way. Petričić has a knack for appealing to the child’s eye and mind. It’s no wonder as this award-winning illustrator of such children’s classics as Mattland and Rude Ramsay and the Rearing Radishes authored by the Canadian great, Margaret Atwood (sorry Emmet) began drawing at age four and has never stopped!

Sheryl and Simon Shapiro are also the perfect example of two very different elements can come together to create some beautiful things!

When they met over 35 years ago in South Africa they had very different interests, but over time, their interests changed again and branched into various arts and found lots of common ground. One of their own great creations, their son Stephen who was born and raised in Toronto (Ontario) is also a published children’s historical author.

Over the years, this couple has found many commonalities to enjoy (a must-have for a successful marriage I think) including writing humorous rhymes for special occasions. So when the opportunity came up to write a book together, this children’s book designer and computer programmer cum photographer, jumped at the chance.

They also agree that working separately could never have produced the amusing book proving once again sometimes we are just better together.

The Shapiros are now working on another rhyming picture book.

So Emmet and Stephanie, as you celebrate your first year together (really after the first it’s all gravy) and many, many more after that I look forward to all the magnificent mixtures/creations you two come up with (and no, I’m not talking about children – Canadians are too polite for such personal discussions) and wish you the best!

Oh and Emmet, I will leave the grown-up book reviews in your very capable and clever hands as I never tire of reading them!

SM from Word of Mouse Book Reviews.

A Spot of Bother is Mark Haddon’s unforgettable follow-up to the internationally beloved bestseller The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Here the madness (literally) of family life proves rich comic fodder for Haddon’s cracling prose and bittersweet insights into misdirected love.

Unnoticed in the uproar caused by his daughter’s controversial nuptials, sixyt-one-year-old George Hall discovers a sinister lesion on his hip, and quietly begins to lose his mind. The way these damaged people fall apart–and come together–as a family is the true subject of Haddon’s distrubring yet amusing portrait of a dignified man trying to go insane politely.

Are you familiar with the term “you can’t choose your family?” I am. And I am reminded of it every time I’m forced to attend dinners, parties, funerals–and the absolute worst: weddings.

(Just a reminder, happily married aunts and uncles, single people don’t like being reminded that they’re single. And for the record, having “you’ll find someone” said to you just makes the situation all the more sad.)

This, I think, is one of the reasons why I related so much to Mark Haddon’s A Spot of Bother, where everything starts falling apart for the Hall family when daughter Katie announces she’s marrying again–to a man no one thinks is right for her.

When I bought the book, and before I started reading it, I thought the whole thing would be told from the perspective of George, the person who is “trying to go insane politely”. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the point-of-view revolves around the four members of the Hall Family.

I’m not always a fan of multiple perspectives when it comes to books. I like having an anchor when reading, not minding if I don’t know what’s happening somewhere else because it makes me feel all the more involved in the fictional (or non-fictional) world I’m reading. But with A Spot of Bother, I thought the fact that the point-of-view went around the main characters made them feel more complete, more real–more complex.

Characters lie. When you read a book with a perspective, your main character is always described with rose-tinted glasses. Sure, they can be flawed–who likes perfect protagonists anyway? But they’re always doing things that are explainable. But that’s not the case in A Spot of Bother.

When we’re reading with George, we see him as a man who just wants to be a better father than his dad; someone who likes the quiet, and for life to be as uneventful as possible. But when we switch to Jean, the wife, we see him as someone who doesn’t appreciate having a wife. From Katie’s point-of-view, he’s someone who never cared–because he’s always so reserved. And for son Jamie, George is someone who can never understand what it is to be gay–and to be happy about being gay.

Having met George through these points-of-view, he is suddenly more than just someone who wants to be a better dad. We see the life choices he made, the mistakes he will commit–we really get to know George. And while we root for him not “to go insane politely”, we’re also wishing that he’d make an effort to save his family.

Reading A Spot of Bother, I find that I like the book a lot for its character studies. Mark Haddon populated the book with almost stereotypes, but gives each character such color that you feel you’re reading about actual people.

And as for the story… Well, it serves its purpose. It takes these five characters who could’ve been one-dimensional and boring, takes them on a journey, and makes them realize that sometimes doing the polite thing just doesn’t cut it.

A highly enjoyable quick read.

Jason Lim blogs at Blurred Lights.

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