Friday, 22 May 2009

The More You Ignore Me by Jo Brand


Headline Review
She’s that angry stand-up comedienne?
The very one. Contrarian, self-deprecating, foul-mouthed, loveable in a hurt kind of way.
So a growly Doc-Marten-wearing novel?
It’s Morrissey in book form. Depressing, unstructured, dark, with weirdly funny moments.
And the story, the story?
It’s about Alice, a child growing up in the country. Well, no, really it’s about Gina, Alice’s psychotic mother. Or maybe Alice’s father Keith and his secret lukewarm passion for the local GP. Or Alice’s friend Mark, whose father wants him to be a macho man. It wobbles a bit - you’re not sure who’s at the centre.
Well, go on
We’re in the middle of hillbilly Herefordshire, where the only hurricanes that happen come from Gina’s family, especially her scary brothers Wobbly and Bighead - poachers, wild men, the terror of the village. At the other end of the social scale, the thuggish leader of the huntin’, shootin’ set is disgusted that his sensitive son Mark is hanging out with young Alice.
High points?
Alice and her hippyish, very English dad trying to get a naked Gina clutching a guinea pig down from the roof. A social worker driving through the countryside and seeing the grinning Gina bouncing along the road on a Space Hopper (on her way to find Morrissey - she’s become obsessed with him after Alice plays her some Smiths music.
An everyday story of country folk, then?
With forays into Manchester’s gay scene as the star-struck psychotic and her worried relatives seek Morrissey and find love.
Sounds like fun
If you’re a fan, you’ll probably love it.
And it’s based on…?
Jo Brand’s life? No. But her mother was a social worker, and Jo herself worked as a psychiatric nurse, so the psychotic behaviour is brutally realistic. And the Wildgooses (Wildgeese?) and their posh counterparts are familiar to anyone who’s lived in a village.
Spend my dosh or save it?
It’s your money, my dear, your decision.
Author's page

Friday, 15 May 2009

Tea Time for the Traditionally Built by Alexander McCall Smith


Little, Brown
I’ve lost my job!
Oh, pet! Here, have some tea… and cake, quick, cake.
I’m going to be back in work in a week - determined
Of course you will. But you need to recoup your forces after a shock like that. Comfort reading is what you need.
And you recommend?
Things are tough here, no question - but in Botswana, bordering on Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Zambia, the AIDS epidemic has cut life expectancy from 65 years to 35. They know about hard times.
This is supposed to cheer me up how?
The ‘traditionally built’ (22 stone) ladies of the No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency sail through life, oiling the wheels with kindness and courtesy. These are truly life-affirming babes.
Sounds serious
Funny, actually - a gently ironic humour based on Botswana’s sweet-natured way of doing things. In the 10th in the series, detective-in-chief Mma Precious Ramotswe and her trusty sidekick Mma Makutsi are trying to find out why the Kalahari Swoopers football team has lost its swoop and is losing every game.
Not a thriller, I’d say?
In its way. A ruthless man-stealer is moving in on Mma Makutsi’s fiance with her effective bed-selling skills. A client’s husband has invited his boss to dinner - not knowing that his boss is her husband too - she’s a woman rich in husbands. And Mma Ramotswe finds out that her own husband’s apprentices are more than they seem.
The writer is, um, Motswana?
Alexander McCall Smith was born in Zimbabwe, not Botswana, and is now Emeritus Professor of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh. But these books are gorgeous, just the thing to read when you’re in trouble.
You promise…
Go to bed with a pot of tea, a big box of chocolates and this book, and it will salve your wounded soul. By the time you’re finished, you’ll be ready to leap up and get that work.
Author's site

The Cut of Love by Helena Close


Hachette Books Ireland

No way!
Way. I thought the same before I started reading: “Eww, misery lit about a girl who self-harms” - and I was wrong. This is superb.
But I thought -
Yeah, I was going to tell you about Lee Child’s new Jack Reacher book, Gone Tomorrow. It’s great, full of blood and guts, especially guts. And Kazuo Ishiguro’s Nocturnes is delicate and gloomy and brilliant. And Claire Kilroy’s All Names Have Been Changed is darkly hilarious -
All right, I get the idea
I didn’t want to read this, but I got a tipoff, tried a couple of pages, and couldn’t stop reading.
Well, go on?
Two families in Limerick -
Eeek!
Stoppit. Twelve-year-old Leah’s brother is dead, and the family is coming to pieces in grief. And her best friend Jane’s separated parents are fighting all the time, and Jane is secretly cutting her arms.
Sounds cheery
Sounds dreadful. But you really like these people as you get to know them. And the tension has the torque of - whatever has a lot of torque. Alison, Leah’s mother, secretly watches her dead son’s Bebo page. And she’s going out and following two people.
These people are cracked
Cracking up, anyway. But it’s kind of funny and awful too. Jane’s father - too handsome to live - joins the kids’ karate class, to Jane’s mortification. He’s flirting with Leah’s mother, while giving Jane’s mother dog’s abuse. Every page you turn has something new to pull you in.
It sounds… real
It’s one of those books where you’re sorry it ends because you want to keep knowing the people in it.
Happy ending, then?
Oh, the ending is devastating. But you have to read it. This is powerful stuff - I’m just going to look out everything else Helena Close has written.
Which is?
This is her sixth book - four co-written with her best friend, using the pen name Sarah O’Brien. But she’s really hit the spot with this one. Buy it. Now.
Author's agent's website

The Fidelity Project by Susan Conley


Little Black Dress
Fidelity back in fashion in the recession?
Oh aye. Max and Jax, ace ad copywriters, are standing shivering on the chill cliff of recession, looking at the gulf of redundancy looming beneath them -
Enough of the metaphors, already
The agency’s downsizing. The ‘creatives’ are about to be out of a job.
Bummer. Dole time?
Entrepreneur time for feisty ladies. New Yorker Maxine and Dub Jacinta say “Hey, we know how to film ads - we could film our own TV programme!” The idea is to take a bunch of couples and talk to them - reality TV style - about their relationship, while secretly filming.
What are they like!
Indeed. Jax is engaged to gorgeous but wooden Fergal Delaney, who’s far away in Dubai. Max has her own secrets… And when Jax’s actressy mammy says she hopes they have a starring part for her - without realising just what they’re filming - well, little does she know.
I love go-get-em-girls books
This is full of happy success. The girls roller-coaster over every obstacle and you just know they’re going to succeed - when you can stop laughing. And they film some truly horrendous couples, who unwittingly reveal all.
Written by?
Susan Conley, who works with us here in the Herald.
A colleague? Biased much?
Hey! This is hilarious! Family-centred! Heartwarming! With enough hot sex to warm up a caravan on a rainy Mayo beach, if you can’t afford Lanzarote.
Hot sex? Now I’m interested
They need tech support - so they turn to trusty brown-eyed John Paul. His Holiness is well smitten - but I won’t spoil it for you.
And there has to be a villain?
Nasty Niamh, forever on the snoop around their workplace, puts her oar in and throws a spanner in the works -
What did I tell you about metaphors?
Sorry. Very funny, anyway, and all about Dublin - except when the mysterious Mr La Motta appears from Max’s past. Mm hmm.
Publisher's site

American Rust by Philipp Meyer


Simon & Schuster
American, eh?
Big American Novel of the year. Blurb by Colm Toibin - “dramatic integrity and pace” - lots of online play. One to watch. Carry this around and your cred is steady.
Male, then?
Very. Pals Isaac and Poe run into trouble when they meet some bums intent on exploring their bums.
Eww! Male rape?
Calm down. Nothing so graphic. Only murder. Isaac is running away to go to Stanford and become a rocket scientist. Poe’s the local football star.
I sense American heartland
Smart kid - yes, we’re in Pennsylvania steel country, where a generation ago skilled men could earn $30 an hour. Now it’s Depression country, with everyone fighting over a job in Wal-Mart.
Not a comfy family novel?
Plenty of family, though. Isaac is minding his grampaw while his brilliant sister makes a success after Yale. Poe’s mom has crazy sex with his transient dad in their double-wide trailer, while keeping the faithful sheriff on a string.
Cheery stuff
Mm. It starts “Isaac’s mother was dead five years but he hadn’t stopped thinking about her”. It’s gritty - but it’s really good, if you’re brave enough to read it.
Who’s this Philipp Meyer?
Volunteered in a trauma centre in Baltimore (where he’s from - the town The Wire is set in), went back to study English in Cornell, worked as a derivatives trader, builder, ambulance man, yada, yada.
Any hot sex?
Isaac’s sister comes home to sort out the problems. She’s married now - but she’s always been Poe’s sweetie, and their sweet tooth takes over. Hurt, Isaac heads for California again.
Problem solved?
Puhlease. This is the Great American Novel of the year. Problems don’t get solved in those, just probed like a sore gum. No, Poe is now in the hot seat, facing trial for murder if things go really wrong.
And do they?
What am I, your personal reader? Read it yourself and find out.
Publisher's site

Not Enough Hours by Owen Fitzpatrick


Poolbeg

Can’t talk to you! No time!
Disorganised, eh? Always catching up? Not oriented in time and space? You need this book.
Haven’t got time to read it! I just -
Less mouth, more ears! Owen Fitzpatrick, who wrote this, organises people on the RTE programme. Follow his guidelines and you’ll never be late again. All your work will be done perfectly, and on time. You’ll be happy -
All right, bossy-boots, what do I have to do?
“We are what we repeatedly do,” he says. “Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit. (Aristotole)”
Say again?
Set up a routine and you’ll get things done. I know, don’t look at me like that - they all say that. But Fitzpatrick says different people need different ways of organising, to suit their own way of seeing the world.
Here’s my list
Let’s see: ‘get the toilet fixed, make more money, bring the dog to the vet, save mankind, get married’ -
Eeek! I’m late for work!
Fitzer says you have to look at how you see time. Is the past behind you or on your left? How do you visualise the present?
Go on outa that
He swears it works. Actually he got one person to change totally just by reversing the order of how she planned her day. Look at your own list - some things are more urgent than others. All of them need different actions. You have to do the urgent ones first - then concentrate most of your work on the ones that matter most to you.
It all sounds very… controlled
Nothing wrong with control, my girl. Fitz managed to untangle a couple of workaholics on his TV show, and get them back spending serious time with the family. That can’t be bad.
But isn’t workaholic good?
Nope. Not efficient to spend every hour of your life working - you use up time in a flurry of emails, phone calls, meetings. You get more done if you work shorter hours, but organise your work.
So I should read it?
Put it at the top of your list.
Author's site

Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani


Simon & Schuster

Sexy Italian romance set in New York? Mmm!
Oh yeah! Valentine comes home to Greenwich Village from the horror of a family wedding - everyone asking why she’s not married yet - and goes up on the roof to water the tomatoes, naked.
As you do. The roof?
Flat roof, silly. It’s a lush garden where Valentine and Gram, her gorgeous grandma, grow enough tomatoes to feed every mama’s boy in Italy.
But naked?
She’s hot. In both senses, it turns out - the man of her dreams, Roman Falconi, is looking at an apartment in the empty building opposite. He sees her raining the water down on herself and her plants, and thinks: “Oh Mama, that’s a hot tomato.”
Is Roman romantic?
Full bodied with a great nose - and he sends her red roses and branches of baby lemons to fill a room full of scent and earthy passion. Roman’s hands are soon roamin’ over Valentina in his kitchen - he’s a top chef with his own restaurant.
But the course of true love…
Never runs smooth. La Valentina bella is a craftswoman - she and Gram run the family business, making wedding shoes. But her brother Alfred -
Alfred? Not very Italian!
These are American Italians - Roman, from Chicago, says he’s Pugliese. Anyway, Alfred wants the building sold and Gram and Valentine making shoes as a hobby.
But love triumphs?
Not saying. But throw in a trip to Italy - where Gram meets her old love and Valentine is courted by the gorgeous Gianluca - and a contest to design fashion shoes for a world fashion leader…
Who’s this Trigiani babe?
Factoid: the bestselling writer shares her writing studio with Michael Patrick King, who wrote the Sex and the City series.
So it’s a buy?
Si, si. Valentine is a nice kid who values manners, hard work and kindness, and you’re rooting for her all the way. And this is just the first of a trilogy, so there are two more books in her story.

video

Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani

Simon & Schuster

Sexy Italian romance set in New York? Mmm!
Oh yeah! Valentine comes home to Greenwich Village from the horror of a family wedding - everyone asking why she’s not married yet - and goes up on the roof to water the tomatoes, naked.
As you do. The roof?
Flat roof, silly. It’s a lush garden where Valentine and Gram, her gorgeous grandma, grow enough tomatoes to feed every mama’s boy in Italy.
But naked?
She’s hot. In both senses, it turns out - the man of her dreams, Roman Falconi, is looking at an apartment in the empty building opposite. He sees her raining the water down on herself and her plants, and thinks: “Oh Mama, that’s a hot tomato.”
Is Roman romantic?
Full bodied with a great nose - and he sends her red roses and branches of baby lemons to fill a room full of scent and earthy passion. Roman’s hands are soon roamin’ over Valentina in his kitchen - he’s a top chef with his own restaurant.
But the course of true love…
Never runs smooth. La Valentina bella is a craftswoman - she and Gram run the family business, making wedding shoes. But her brother Alfred -
Alfred? Not very Italian!
These are American Italians - Roman, from Chicago, says he’s Pugliese. Anyway, Alfred wants the building sold and Gram and Valentine making shoes as a hobby.
But love triumphs?
Not saying. But throw in a trip to Italy - where Gram meets her old love and Valentine is courted by the gorgeous Gianluca - and a contest to design fashion shoes for a world fashion leader…
Who’s this Trigiani babe?
Factoid: the bestselling writer shares her writing studio with Michael Patrick King, who wrote the Sex and the City series.
So it’s a buy?
Si, si. Valentine is a nice kid who values manners, hard work and kindness, and you’re rooting for her all the way. And this is just the first of a trilogy, so there are two more books in her story.

Loser’s Town by Daniel Depp


Simon & Schuster

Daniel Depp? I know that name!
Johnny’s big brother, indeed.
Oooh, a babe?
Mmwell, when the talents were divvied up in Clann Depp, Johnny got a fair share of the handsome gene. Daniel has more of a Bilbo Baggins look - if you like ‘em short, plump and beardy, he’s the man for you. But he has a lovely personality.
Hmm. Can he write?
Hilarious and dark and heroic. ‘Loser’s Town’ is Hollywood - and Depp knows La-La-Land from the inside. As one of the characters, a gangster turned producer, says: “Movies make heroin and cocaine look like child’s play.”
Yeah, yeah. But is Johnny in it?
Heavens, no. Just a superstar called Bobby Dye.
Bobby Dye, Johnny Depp. No resemblance
Actually, no. Johnny Depp is a nice guy, from all accounts. Bobby is a weak little sniveller who’ll compromise his every friend for the sake of his career. And Hollywood is run by the Mafia.
So far, so noir
Yeah. Bobby’s getting death threats - “You’re going to Die, Dye!” So our hero - tall, taciturn, rock-like white knight David Spandau, a heartbroken former stunt man who’s now a detective - is brought in to help.
All so typically American
Ah, but there’s an Irish angle. Spandau’s sidekick is wee Terry from Derry, who learned martial arts in the IRA -
Eh?
- and now lives on a houseboat in Ventura, listening to Bach and reading Tolkien and longing for love. And overcoming big guys with magical kung-fu grace.
My kinda guy
Don’t get too attached. I warned you it was noir. But the writing is gorgeous. When a criminal psycho meets the girl he loves as he’s on his way to do a murder, he “felt happiness come over him like a cool mist”.
And funny too?
Really funny - full of bitchy cracks and crazy scenarios, and you like the characters - even the creepos. And written like a bullet: hard and fast.
Worth buying?
Run, don’t walk, and be first to grab it before it goes.
Publisher's site

The Insider by Ava McCarthy


Harper

A tense, riveting thriller?
Shh, I’m reading. Yeah, finished in a minute. G’way. I can’t put down The Insider, Ava McCarthy’s cracking first thriller.
With a lovely love story?
Far from. A story where you clutch the book, eyes bulging, tongue sticking out of the corner of your mouth, not realising you’re holding your breath until you gasp with horror.
Plot twists? Thrills?
More twists and turns than a property developer’s back pocket. More thrills than a day in Limerick. Geeky grrrl Harry Martinez is pursued by a maniac who signs threatening anonymised emails ‘The Prophet’, and kills her friends.
Can’t she, er, hack The Prophet back?
You’d think so - but the emailer knows all about the €12 million her father and his rogue trader pals stashed away in a numbered account.
Of course, €12 million goes nowhere nowadays
Oh yes it does - it appears in Harry’s own bank account, then, just as she’s arranged to pay it back to the bad guy, *pouf*, it disappears again.
Trouble coming every day. But a tough babe has her ways?
Oh yes. Harry would mind mice at crossroads - and hack into their user accounts while she did it. She follows the money all the way to the Caribbean - but I won’t spoil it.
Wait - what about the da? Wouldn’t he know who’s after the €12m?
He’s the last thing Harry wants to see - a gambler who lost the house when she was a kid, and now a thief. Also he’s due for release from Arbour Hill, and she doesn’t want to queer his pitch.
Blood will tell?
You might say. Harry has inherited his creative way with a problem, and he taught her to be a poker ace when she was in nappies.
The writer knows her stuff?
Yup; an analyst programmer for the London Stock Exchange’s trading division; she got a first in physics and a masters in nuclear medicine - and she can write.
Is it a buy?
Mos’ def. Right to the end - where there’s a fabulous final twist - she keeps you hanging on.
video

A Bit of a Scandal by Mary Rose Callaghan


Brandon €22.94

Holy God, she didn’t get off with a priest?
Fraid so - baby journalist and part-time waitress Louise in Mary Rose Callaghan’s hot novel A Bit of a Scandal slides into love with Father Peter.
The bold strap! Based on a mediaeval love story?
Supposedly. Abelard and Heloise.
She a pale rose, he a gallant knight?
Not quite - he a trendy philosopher, she a scholarly young wan; due to a tragic misunderstanding, her family castrated him.
Ouch. Well, families are like that.
Maybe your family.
And this happened in Dublin?
No, no, you’re not listening. Abs and Helly were back in 11th-century France. The pair in the darkly funny Bit of a Scandal are modern - well, fairly. They fell for each other in the mildewy Dublin of the 1970s - he a Canadian monk, she a freelance for a Catholic paper.
So she got off with him? Scarlet woman.
Ah now. There was a pair of them in it.
True love?
Sorta kinda. He’s wedded to the Church, but there are three of them in this marriage.
Sounds like a tormented thing - Brief Encounter for the 1970s?
Callaghan puts a funny spin on it. Fr Peter’s constantly trying to convert her. On a bus, he veers from “Oh, God, you’re sick? You’re pregnant!” to “You have to invite Jesus into your heart - if you did it’d blow your mind!”
Lovely.
On a visit to a German family, he follows her up the stairs, goatily touching her behind, then they go back to sing Grace to the tune of Eidelweiss.
Been there.
He patronises her - “Your degree? You never get beyond the empirical” - tells everyone else that she’s a recovering addict or alcoholic.
Oh. Haven’t been there.
This guy is some tulip. At one party, he pushes past her into the loo - “Oh my God, you’re wearing stockings!” and as they make out, he shouts hoarsely to the person pounding on the door: “I’m counselling Miss O’Neill, I’ll be down in 15 minutes.”
Saucy! So it’s a buy?
If you like it funny, it’s a definite buy.
Publisher's site