Sunday, 3 October 2010

Bust, by Dearbhail McDonald, Penguin Ireland

TIGER cubs didn’t come any more tigerish than Breifne O’Brien and Fiona Nagle. The well-connected couple owned a family home in Glenageary, an apartment on Dalkey’s Vico Road and a golfing villa in Barbados.
They were always in the social diaries - Nagle with her exclusive PR and event management company (€2,500 minimum for organising a private party for six), and O’Brien with…
With what? Most of us have only the vaguest idea of how the complex financial dealings of the property and bank bubble worked.
But Dearbhail McDonald, legal editor of the Irish Independent, was in the catbird seat for all the court cases. She lays it all out in its squalor in Bust: How the Courts Have Exposed the Rotten Heart of the Irish Economy.
Ireland watched it all with a mixture of horror and schadenfreude: Nagle’s humiliation as she lost everything; the collapse of O’Brien’s investment schemes.
The fraud squad raided the family home; O’Brien handed over his Aston Martin DB7 to the County Sheriff and his art collection to Adams - it was the end of a glittering life.
“Why, Gardaí wondered, had O’Brien’s banks missed the signs,” McDonald writes. “Gardaí were staggered by the vast sums of money entering and leaving O’Brien’s bank accounts, of which he had close to 100.
“At the time of writing, O’Brien has not been charged with any offence, and investors are still being interviewed.”
McDonald segues from O’Brien’s Ponzi schemes to people like Caroline McCann, a barely literate young mother who was sued by a credit union - after borrowing over €18,000.
Between 2003 and 2008 the state jailed 1,138 people for debt-related offences, writes McDonald. In 2009, 4,806 were jailed for failing to pay court-ordered fines.
Readers start Bust with astonished laughter that gradually subsides to a sickened terror. McDonnell writes about developer Sean Dunne’s €1.5m party on the yacht Christina O to mark his wedding to former Sunday Independent gossip queen turned barrister Gayle Killillea.
She covers Liam Carroll’s Zoe Group’s 51 companies owing €1.1 billion to its creditors - and Carroll’s estimated debts of €3bn through his various business interests.
And she describes the suicides, including developer John O’Dolan, found hanged in a disused horse shed after his investment in Dubai’s The World archipelago went wrong, and he “felt under siege” from the bankers.
Seanie Fitzpatrick sauntered grinning out of the Four Courts last Wednesday. McDonald remembers how he was forced to resign after admitting that the bank had for years been transferring personal loans it made to him - worth more than €80m at their peak - to the Irish Nationwide Building Society balance sheet at Anglo’s year end, so their existence would not be discovered.
Anglo later turned on Fitzpatrick, and he was questioned by the Gardaí, just as it was revealed that Anglo was set to transfer at least €28bn worth of toxic property loans to NAMA.
The collapse of the economy leaves not so much a victimless crime, in Irish minds, as crimeless victims. But Dearbhail McDonald’s devastating scour of the courts shows otherwise.
Here were many criminals, and a plethora of hapless victims convinced by their sleight-of-hand, lies and scams.
The hero is High Court judge Peter Kelly, who followed the criminals down the dark trail of deceit and shameless greed.
If you buy one book about the crimes and schemes that underlay the Celtic Bubble, let this be the one.

Dearbhail McDonald interviewed by Matt Cooper on Today FM radio show The Last Word

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Love in the Making by Roisin Meaney, Hachette Ireland

Real romance?
True love in all its forms and varieties. Hannah is about to open a cupcake shop -
What? Why?
It’s not the same way it takes all of us. Anyway. About to open her shop, when her utterly romantic, adoring boyfriend, Patrick, ditches her for a pregnant Other Woman.
Doesn’t sound that romantic to me
Kind of guy who brings you to the airport to meet a flight and whisks you away to Paris. Or in this case, whisks himself away to live with a masseuse.
Ooh, I see his point
Tut, you have no heart. Hannah, stunned with grief, sets up in business, baking pink cupcakes to soothe her troubled heart and feed her hungry customers. And Adam -
Who he?
Hannah’s best friend and non-romantic love - Adam moves in with her.
And they fall in love?
Not my job to tell you that, honeykins. I will say this - it’s a village story, so there are different storylines twining and twirling. There’s the shy, strict-looking clarinet player who’s wooed by -
Who? Who?
Whoops! Nearly told you. The ubiquitous taxi driver who’ll be a love interest. The sexy Scottish sax-playing carpenter who fancies Hannah. Seven months later, life has changed for everyone.
Plenty going on there
Too much at times - there’s a drunken car crash subplot that seems to have been imported from a completely different book. But it’s all as heartwarming as a cupcake sprinkled with silver spangles.
What’d she write before?
Kerry-born ex-teacher Roisin has six adult books and two for kids, selling worldwide in various languages. The Last Week of May, The People Next Door and Half Seven on a Thursday were all Irish bestsellers.
Worth a read, so?
Definitely - if you’re off to the beaches of Marbella or the dentists of Mardyke, bring this with you and sink into a world of sweetness where the good are rewarded and the bad get their comeuppance.
Author's site

The Man from Beijing by Henning Mankell, Knopf

Eh? China? Wallander?
You’re right, m’dear, this is by Henning Mankell, who writes those gloomy Swedish thrillers about depressed detective Kurt Wallander - but this time his lead is a woman and his villain Chinese.
A copper?
Not as such. Judge Birgitta Roslin, loosely associated with an extended family wiped out in a remote hamlet on the border between Norway and Sweden.
How loosely?
Her mammy was fostered by a couple now in the far reaches of antiquity, who are among the 19 members of the Andren clan to be sliced and diced. The police have a theory. Birgitta soon has a different one.
But Beijing? What? Where?
Meanwhile in Beijing’s wealthiest sector, a super-powerful industrialist is reading the diary of his ancestor, who was enslaved. The foreman of the railroad gang that destroyed his life was one Jan August Andren.
Straightforward revenge story then?
Indeed no - this is Mankell. Darker forces are at work. In Africa, the Chinese (nervous of internal revolution, as why wouldn’t they be) are preparing a plantation - they want to ship in millions of poor Chinese farmers.
To Africa? You’re joking?
They’re persuading the African leaders that it’s going to benefit their own people, because schools, hospitals, roads, telecommunications, etc will follow the planters to sparsely populated areas.
Mankell’s making this all up out of his head?
Hope so. Unnervingly, he has inside knowledge of Africa - the author lives part of his time in Mozambique.
It’s linked to the killings how?
The psycho who sent the killer is high up in China’s elite. And - well, read it for yourself.
Good, then?

Very good at times, but Mankell has trouble keeping all the themes - murder, Maoist theory, modern Chinese emigration, 19th-century exploitation - from spinning out of control.
Author's site

Horns by Joe Hill, Gollancz

Horny, eh?
Not like that. Ignatius Perrish wakes up after a night when he did ‘terrible things’, and finds horns growing on his head.
Not a good look
Actually, nobody notices. Except that they want to tell him their darkest desires and get his permission to do bad things. Like give that screeching kid one good slap.
Ig’s a bad boy?
Son of a legendary musician, brother of a TV star, he’s grown up in wealth and privilege. But Ig’s the kind of sweet innocent who is a beacon of truth. In fact, his evil friend Lee Tourneau - our villain - lives his life by thinking ‘WWID’ - What Would Ig Do - and mimicking his behaviour.
A good villain’s important
Lee Tourneau’s native water is deception. And there’s others: a few nasty cops. And Ig’s family don’t come too well out of it. Lots of badness.
And Ig…?
Everyone in town thinks Ig raped and murdered his girlfriend, Merrin, when she tried to break up with him.
What’s this girlfriend like?
They meet in church, where the pretty redhead flashes a message in Morse code using the gold cross she wears.
Small-town life, then?
All kinds of strange, dreamy magic happens, at the same time as a townie childhood of jokes and japes. Hill writes beautifully about the secret life of kids - the wild, dangerous things they do without their parents ever knowing. And about treachery.
Then he turns into Satan?
Kind of. But still a sweet guy. Hill, the writer of Heart-Shaped Box - a big hit last year (and Neil Jordan is going to film it) - and the Locke & Key comics, brings his reader on a hold-tight ride through the story.
Serious stuff?
With some jokes that make you burst out laughing. And a great story, with a spiralling series of shocking twists at the end that leave you open-mouthed and going “Wow!”.
A buy?
A definite buy.
Author's site

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Room by Emma Donoghue, Picador

Kidnapped and hidden? Like that Austrian kid?
Like Elisabeth Fritzl in Austria and Jaycee Lee Dugard in America and Deirdre Crowley in Ireland, the girl in Emma Donoghue’s Booker-shortlisted bestseller Room has been kidnapped and hidden.
It’s what they call their little world. Five-year-old Jack and his mother, Ma, live in Room, among their friends - Rug and Wardrobe (where Jack hides when the kidnapper Old Nick might come), and Meltedy Spoon and Lamp.
Oh, sad
Ma turns the lamp on and off at night, trying to signal through the skylight. They watch TV - but not too much because it rots your brain - they was their hands, and wash their teeth after every meal.
Trying to be a good mother?
Making a pretty good fist of it too. But Jack - though he’s super-bright, has a huge vocabulary and understands a lot about the mysterious world outside, and everything about their own Room-world - is a weird little kid.
They’re in Room for the whole story?
No, halfway through they work out an escape plan. It’s not spoiling the story to tell you this - you can look forward to it, in fact. It’s the best part of the book, sheer terror.
So they’re happy then?
Ah no - this is where Emma Donoghue - a fabulous writer, this is her seventh book - gets her teeth into western society. Ma and Jack become celebrities, in the same way that Jaycee and Elisabeth did, and she agrees to go on TV.
Not so bad?
They need the money - this is America; they have to pay for hospital, and have to save for their college fees. Ma was a 19-year-old student when she was snatched; now, at 27, she wants to study again.
So they’re stars?
The media treat them like freaks: “The despot’s victims appear to be in a catatonic state,” one newspaper blared; the TV show host probes droolingly, is it true that Ma still breastfeeds Jack. “In this whole story,” Ma asks mockingly, “that’s the shocking detail?”
Eww. But they now have a family?
Kind of. Some of that is traumatic - Jack’s grandfather is sickened by the sight of him. Some is very funny, like Jack’s first day out shopping with his uncle and cousins.
A buy?
A definite buy. A brilliant book, moving, true, funny, desolate and unmissable.

Video of Emma Donoghue talking about Room

Monday, 6 September 2010

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger, Jonathan Cape

Evil twins?
Eerie twins anyway: Elspeth and Edie, identical and inseparable, had a catastrophic row sometime in the 1980s. Edie, it seems, split for Chicago and married Jack, father of her twins, Julie and Valentina.
Wow, twins within twins
And wheels within wheels. Elspeth dies, and leaves her flat beside Highgate Cemetery in London to her nieces. So Julie and Valentina head for London, to live in the flat for a year.
Oooh, wish someone would do that for me
Careful what you wish for, babes. Elspeth isn’t a very nice person. The girls move in. Upstairs are Martin and Marijke, downstairs is Robert, who was Elspeth’s lover.
All pair off neatly?
Not so. Martin suffers terribly from obsessive-compulsive disorder, and as we meet her, Marijke is leaving him because she can’t stand to live this way - she can’t even enter the flat without platic bags over her feet.
Bags? What?
To keep the place super-clean. Meanwhile, Robert - much younger than his late lover, and haunted by the astonishing similarity between the new twins and Elspeth, is fascinated by them.
Good thing she can’t see that
Ah, but she can. Elspeth has awoken as a ghost in the flat. And from then on it gets weirder and weirder. Niffenegger, author of cult bestseller The Time Traveler’s Wife (Now a Major Movie) and other hits, knows how to spring a stunning surprise.
And does it end happily?
It does. A wonderful ending - though it comes after quite a long saggy time in the middle of the book where I was muttering “Ah, get on with it”.
And shockingly?
Certainly that. You’ll puff out your cheeks and go “Whoo, wasn’t expecting that at several points.
Good characters?
I particularly liked the Little Kitten of Death, a feral white kitten that comes in from the graveyard and is captured by the ghost and the twins. And the cemetery staff are nice old codgers.

Becoming Scarlett by Ciara Geraghty, Hachette Books

Scarlett O’Hara, no less. Daughter of retired actor (resting, dahling) Declan O’Hara, heartthrob of ladies of a certain age. And now staring in horror at the blue stick of a pregnancy test.
She doesn’t want a baby?
She’s all on her owney-o, after her beloved - plain-speaking John Smith - left her, the rat. And as it rapidly transpires, she’s not absitively sure who’s the father-to-be of the sprog-to-be.
Ouch! How so?
She had a little pity party, during which she was comprehensively pitied by -
Don’t tell me: Rhett Butler?
Close. Daniel Butler, universally known as Red Butler for his flaming hair. And soon to meet Scarlett again under circs embarrassing enough to make both of them live up to their names.
Who wrote it, btw?
Dubliner Ciara Geraghty, rumoured to have a six-figure deal with Hachette for two books, Saving Grace (her first, about a girl who falls for the office geek) and Becoming Scarlett.
How does this Scarlett make the redsers?
A popular job in chicklit: she’s a wedding planner. Now working on the ‘Smithson-Carling wedding’. High-end. Martello towers. Glam. And she’s in line for promotion.
All going well, then?
Hmm, not quite. The boss’s lover is also in line for that promotion. And no partner to help Scarlett raise the sproglet. So organised organiser Scarlett, determined not to have her five-year plan thrown out of synch, heads for the abortion boat.
Not! In a chicky book?
When she faints at the airport, disaster strikes… but I won’t spoil it for you.
Worth it, then?
Quirky characters - love the chip-shop heiress who’s one of Scarlett’s clients - heartrending turnarounds, and an ending that’s far from traditional. The supporting actors - including dad Declan and mammy Maureen, his femme fatale muse - are charming.
Publisher's site

Plum Spooky by Janet Evanovich, Headline Review

Haunting and deathless?
Neither. Stephanie Plum, heroine of the world’s best-selling comedy mystery series, is hunting a paranormal murderer. Or maybe he’s hunting her.
Paranormal how?
Gerwulf Grimoire likes to kill people by wrenching their heads around backwards and leaving a burned-in mark of his hand on them. Disappears in a cloud of smoke.
But Plum has the help of Diesel, Wulf’s cousin, who’s just as paranormal, and has the hots for her. And there’s a monkey.
And monkey business?
Plum, oddly, never seems to get any except from her long-suffering cop boyfriend, Joe Morelli. But Joe is currently babysitting a cousin of his own, who’s been thrown out by the wife.
But this monkey?
Carl is a monkey who’s all too like a small boy. He spends most of the action playing Mario Brothers, when he’s not intervening to save Plum from the villains.
These villains…
Wulf is truly evil. He’s bankrolling the weather experiments of nerdy Martin Munch - together they hope to blackmail governments by threatening them with demonic storms.
Explain again why Plum’s involved?
Ah. Yes. Plum is a bounty-hunter - her job is to bring in folks who’ve forgotten to appear for their court dates. She has two big jobs on at the moment: Munch, who’s disappeared with his employer’s caesium vapour magnometer, and Gordon Bollo, who’s run over his ex-wife’s new husband. Twice.
All is clear
And the monkey was doorstepped on her by a former client, who is on her honeymoon. Quite normal.
Good fun?
Goodish. Starts strong, some very funny moments, but towards the end you get the feeling that Evanovich is thoroughly sick of Stephanie Plum and all to do with her. Which is fine, because there’s going to be a movie soon, starring Katherine Heigl. Now that should be fun.
Author's site

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt

By Beth Hoffman
I’m fated to go mad.
Why so, my dear? You seem sane enough to me. Well… relatively.
You don’t know my family
Ah yes. The genetic taint. You fear that you’ll be struck down by mental illness because it’s in the family? What you need (apart from learning about genetics) is Saving CeeCee Honeycutt.
Which is?
A cosy novel of the American Deep South. CeeCee - 12-year-old Cecelia Rose - is minding her increasingly disturbed mother at the start - her dad has taken it on the lam, and is present only in maintenance cheques.
And this will help me how?
Be calm. CeeCee’s mother is killed, and her great-aunt Tootie swoops in and brings CeeCee to Savannah, Georgia, to a world run entirely by ladies.
Georgia? KKK fanatics?
Of course the racism question raises its head soon - Tootie’s housekeeper, Oletta, is black and proud. But in this simple story, simple decency wins out.
How unlike life
Not always, honeychile. Oletta, Tootie, their appealingly nutty neighbour Miz Goodyear, Oletta’s friends in the old folks’ home, all help to heal the troubled child.
Sounds sugary
Certainly not safe reading for diabetics. But kindly and reassuring for anyone too taken with the current craze for seeing DNA as an unstoppable force.
No villains?
A horrid neighbour, Miz Hobbs, is a saccharine racist. But CeeCee gets her revenge by kidnapping her bra and photographing it in many appealing locations, and sending nasty Miz Hobbs the photos with nice notes.
Beginning to like the sound of it
It’s a big hit in America, where its simple story chimes with the nostalgia for a supposedly kinder past. All the problems - like those of CeeCee’s beloved old neighbour from the icy north - are solved with a smile and a generous offer.
Best thing?
The sense of place - interior designer Hoffman’s writing brings Savannah and its people lovingly into your mind. A gorgeous book.

Friday, 12 February 2010

The Dating Detox

by Gemma Burgess
So dating is toxic?
For lonely London ad copywriter Sass, it is: she’s just been dumped for the sixth time straight. This time after finding her current squeeze shagging another, dressed only (him) in a judge’s full-bottomed wig.
So Sass swears off men. After Arty Jonathan, Rugger Robbie, Smart Henry and the others, she’s had enough. Sass and her friend Bloomie make a 10-point plan: the Dating Detox. No More Men - for three months.
That works?
Like dreams, it goes in reverse. Instantly, Sass is the cynosure of all lusts, with men panting after her looking for her phone number.
Nice guys?
Most of them the usual bastardos. But Sass has a good line in put-downs. To a man who says he doesn’t believe in global warming, she withers: “It’s not the tooth fairy. ‘Believing’ makes no difference.”
Writing that down now
Irish chick-litterateurs had better watch out - Gemma Burgess is about to eat your cake. Smart, plotty and funny, The Dating Detox is the work of a master. And it’s her first book - started when Gemma’s sky-high heels put her back out and she wrote a couple of chapters for fun.
Knows her stuff?
In what they call a ‘recursive metaphor’, she has her heroine describe chicklit: “The girl is somehow identifiable. The guy is somehow unattainable. There is fashion. There is a dancing scene… a klutzy friend.”
Whoah! Every single film -
“Then somewhere along the line, there is a fear that he’s messed up forever and has to prove himself to her to win her love.”
But wait - she’s not dating. So how -
Fear not. When she meets spicy Jake - very tall, with broad shoulders and dark hair, crinkly-round-the-edges eyes, teeth almost straight and very white…lips look like they get sunburnt a lot. In short, attractive as hell -
Mm. Get the idea.
And before you ask, yes, buy it, read it, love it. Brilliant fun.

Author's site

Thursday, 11 February 2010

The O’Hara Affair

by Kate Thompson
Quiet village life?
Not! A glamorous film is being made in the village of Lissamore in ‘Coolnamara’, and the streets are full of sexy stars and slimy Tinseltown types. And hopeful actresses-to-be with stars in their eyes.
Magic is right, and Fleur O’Farrell, née Saint-Eveurte and otherwise known as Flirty, proprieteuse of stylish designer shop Fleurissima, is preparing to tell fortunes.
For charity. Fleur logs on to Facebook and discovers the secrets of villagers and visitors, and she’s able to magically manipulate lives like a kindly fairy godmother.
Whose lives?
Mainly mouselet Bethany, a bullied teenager who blossoms into a gorgeous creature under Fleur’s care. Meanwhile, Dervla Kinsella, heroine of Thompson’s The Kinsella Sisters, reappears - newly married, and struggling with minding her husband’s senile mother.
I sense a political tone
You do. I bet the next in the series will have Dervla - a go-getting former estate agent - in politics and fighting for the rights of the aged.
Gritty real life
Real and online - a chunk of the book is lived in the ghostly online world, where you can be who you want, and do what (or who) you want. Until the fairy godmother catches up with you.
And a bad guy?
Fleur’s tycoonish lover, Corban O’Hara, one of the film’s producers, is far more flirty than Flirty knows, and as she wanders the cybernetic corridors of Second Life, she discovers secrets she might not want to know.
Ooh, bad boy
And a bad girl - the star Anastasia Harris, commonly known as Nasty, though she’s out-nastied by Corban, a mind melder of the first order.
Scary guy?
The kind of manipulator who should have Garda crime-scene tapes around him at all times.
But a happy ending?
This is a cuddly, kindly book. Don’t worry, good will triumph and the bad will pay.

Author's site

Saturday, 6 February 2010

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

by Muriel Barbery
Europa Editions
The what of the what?
French bestseller - it keeps selling and selling. Now it’s here, and is building slowly, and is about to take off big time.
And is it worth it?
Run and buy it quick. Very funny, full of fantastic juicy insights, tres tres French.
Et cet ’edgehog?
That would be Renée, concierge of a fabulously upmarket apartment block where the future prime minister, the country’s top food critic and other luminaries reside.
Why hedgehog?
As Pandora, the little girl who is Renée’s co-narrator, explains it, spiky Renée “has the same simple refinement as a hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary - and terribly elegant”.
How does Pandora know?
She’s 12, and plans to commit suicide and burn the place down on her 13th birthday. Yet she’s a lovely child - she just feels that life has no meaning. Then she meets those who gives it meaning.
But funny?
Slapstick sometimes - an encounter with a Japanese toilet that plays Mozart’s Requiem, hiccups on a proposal of love - but mostly it’s the way Renée and Pandora satirise the world of the shallow, cruel rich.
Secret lives?
Renée is doing an ace imitation of a typical concierge: flat feet, dull stare - while secretly living the life of an aesthete. Pandora is a manga fan, super-bright, witty, almost always silent.
And then…?
And then, for the first time in generations, an apartment is sold, and a Japanese gentleman moves in. He’s the hub that connects and humanises the residents: the idle rich, the tramp who sleeps outside in his cardboard box…
Plotty and gripping?
Oh no, this story moves gently along, interrupted only by the reader’s guffaws as Renée and Pandora slice into the false lives of the rich and the affectations of the intellectual.
It’s a buy?
A wonderful book.
Publisher's site

Friday, 29 January 2010

Am I the Only Sane One Working Here? by Albert J Bernstein, PhD

Always wondered that
New work year is here, and it’s time to deal with those work issues. Al Bernstein, psychologist and conflict resolution specialist, gives his ‘101 Solutions for Surviving Office Insanity’.
Solutions? There are solutions?
Turn straight to Albie B’s ‘Worst Case Scenarios’ chapter - losing jobs, losing work, losing income, facing the dole - Bernstein’s advice is so useful.
Like what?
Simple advice in the first place: don’t get stuck in one stage of dealing with things, take rumours with a grain of salt, know you’re in charge of your own feelings.
Sounds like flabby self-helpism to me
Some of it is. Some not. In ‘Companies that Offer Human Sacrifice’ he talks about how to survive the ‘dangerous ritual’ of random sackings and ‘appease the angry gods’.
Funny! And how?
He says these Aztec-style companies value workers for loyalty, not competence (not a good sign for the company). If you’re in a firm like this, he says, keep your network and CV up to date - and if you lose the job, ‘make finding a job your new job’.
It all sounds so sensible
Bernstein also has good advice on alcohol, work affairs (‘Flirting with Doom’), temper tantrums, office parties. All those things that make working life the joy it is.
All for the workers?
Most of it, in fact, is for managers, including how to criticise (four praises for every criticism), how to be promoted (be a positive-thinking conformist), how to get slackers to work.
You can do that?
So he promises - and Bernstein is writing with the expertise of a professional. Really a pretty useful book.
What else has he done?
Emotional Vampires: How to Deal with People who Drain you Dry; Dinosaur Brains: Dealing with all those Impossible People at Work; Neanderthals at Work - you get my drift.

Buy Am I The Only Sane One Working Here? on

Monday, 18 January 2010

Luna sits

Not a review this time - I was going to post this on my LiveJournal blog, which is more personal, but LiveJournal doesn't seem to allow the use of home videos.
I love training animals, though 'training' is the wrong word - it suggests a stern, ordering process:
"Sit, sir. I say, Sit."
Clicker training is different.
Since I read Don't Shoot the Dog, Karen Pryor's book about using positive reinforcement to train, I've learned a new and getter way.
Training is a question of treats and fun, and a bonding of love between humans and pets.
Here's a video of me training my cat Luna.
Luna came to me as a terrified little animal. Her real owner had migrated back to America, and Luna was suddenly homeless. She spent most of her first six months under my bed.
By the time she died - I think a car got her, but it might have been a simple heart attack - some months ago, Luna was outgoing enough to come downstairs and touch noses with my dog and play chasing games with her. Luna's 1,000-yard stare had become the smiling face of a happy cat.
This is the second session of training to 'sit'. After this one, she'd always sit on command - though 'command' is the wrong word to use for a cat, of course. She'd sit if I said 'Sit', and gaze up at me with a joking look, as if we shared the same in-joke.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

I See Rude People by Amy Alkon

McGraw Hill
Don’t we all
See rude people? All the time. But Amy Alkon, ‘The Advice Goddess’ of Good Morning America, The Today Show, MTV, etc, sees them like the kid in The Sixth Sense says “I see dead people”.
They haunt her?
Seemingly. One story is about her battle with Bank of America after a toothless fat African-American claimed to be skinny redhead Amy. Seven withdrawals later - one in Texas (Amy’s in California) she was down $12,000.
Now that’s rude
The bank failed to help her find the fraudsters, she writes, then the letters from credit card companies thanking her for her ‘application’ started. A privacy researcher told her she could be legally responsible for crimes committed using her fake ID!
Madness! What did she do?
She got her boyfriend Gregg - researcher for detective novelist Elmore Leonard - on the job. He and others easily withdrew money using inadequate ID and blurry signatures.
Couldn’t happen in Ireland, right?
Amy also rails against people who share their lives in mobile phone calls on buses and in cafes and shops. “Just because you have a self doesn’t mean you have to express it,” she tells them.
And online boors?
Amy helpfully describes step-by-step how she tracked down people using their work computers to abuse her online, and rang them at work.
Amy actually succeeded in getting money out of them - she put herself on the ‘Do not call’ register, and when telemarketers called her, she traced them, and charged them for her time.
My hero
She’s a decent skin - she saw a citizen bargaining street artist Gary Musselman down to a tenner and blogged about it, illustrating the story with his work. A day later he had sold $1,500 worth, and had free legal service and his own blog.
Worth a buy?
You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll grind your teeth with rage. V worth it.

Author's website

Buy I See Rude People on

Thursday, 7 January 2010

The Gates by John Connolly

Hodder & Stoughton

I forgot to buy the nephew a pressie!

Fear no more, my child, your fairy godmother is here, and the present you need (*pouff*) is The Gates, by John Connolly, a magical tale that will scare the hell out of the poor child.
Don’t want that, do I?
Ah, but it does it in a cosy, reassuring, Englishy kind of way, and on the road to redemption the little one will learn lots of physics.
Do tell
You know the way many boys and girls love abstruse facts? This is riddled with physics stuff, told in exactly the right confiding whisper.
And is there a story?
Indeed there is. The Large Hadron Collider and Satan have got together, in the unlikeliest pairing since 50 Cent said he wanted to take Susan Boyle clubbing.
Or one of the Evil One’s other trade names. Unfortunately, as the residents of 666 Crowley Avenue dance in a pentacle at the same time as the Hadron Collider is doing its thing, there is a watcher.
Our dashing hero?
Exactly. Young Samuel Johnston and his trusty dachshund Boswell are peering through the window, having received a cold refusal while trick-or-treating.
How young?
Eleven; young enough to have a babysitter, the unspeakable Stephanie. Lots of evil in this story. Including the ex-residents of Number 666, who have been gobbled up and replaced by decaying versions of themselves.
Eee - don’t want to give the nephew nightmares
If he’s a delicate, nervy child, steer clear. If he’s the usual gruesome-loving little boy, go for it. Adult thriller author John Connolly struck the Dahl note in this kids’ book.
How does it end?
That would be telling. I can reveal that Johnson is a misunderstood hero in the tradition of Camus, and that a secondary demon, Nurd, is sulkily ready to thwart the plots of the Great Malevolence (alias Satan).
Worth buying?
I’d give you 666 to 66 that the nephew will love it.

Writer's site

An Elegy for Easterly by Petina Gappah

Faber and Faber
Out of Africa?
Zimbabwean writer Petina Gappah won the Guardian First Book award with these stunning short stories.
A troubled land
In one story, the narrator’s aunt boasts that her daughter sent her a present of Z$250 billion - equivalent to £200 with Zimbabwe’s raging inflation.
And the words?
Lovely spare stuff, simple sentences piled on each other, making stories that take your heart out.
What kind of stories?
In the same story, a family is waiting for ‘something nice from London’ - the body of their son. And if he doesn’t turn up soon they’re going to go broke, because a host of hungry relatives are staying and feasting until they can bury him.
Like a lot of stories by the young, these are in no way cheery. But they’re brilliant. In one, the widow of a hero of the revolution attends his funeral - they’re burying a sack of earth, for political reasons.
The Party insists he be buried in the equivalent of the Republican Plot in Glasnevin; the family that he be buried in his home place. All very Soldiers of Destiny.
I feel almost at home
In another story, ‘Harare’s finest blackmailers’ - traffic cops - extract ‘fines’ from hapless motorists. In another, a man dances himself to death.
Eee! Too sad!
Oddly, not. The stories are so fascinating, the characters so entrancing, that their dark subjects don’t infect you. Even while you’re watching a successful young couple scammed by a would-be illegal emigrant, you’re laughing.
And the writer?
Lawyer with degrees from Graz, Cambridge and Zimbabwe Universities, works in Geneva for a body that gives developing companies legal aid on international trade law. Currently working on her first novel, The Book of Memory.
A buy, you say?
An antidote to our own sorry-for-ourselfness. And a fine work from a new voice. A buy.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Total Oblivion by Alan DeNiro

Ballantine Books
Scythian warriors in Minnesota? Really?
Unreally. As America gets weirder, genres are collapsing into each other. Westerns set in space, zombie private eyes, vampire porn.
But Scythians?
In this teen novel, 16-year-old Macy has the life so familiar to our own children from TV: the mall, the branding, the whole culture. Then the world changes, and her family are refugees.
Happens a lot
But not usually to Americans. Ancient Scythian and Thracian warriors ride in, giant wasps sting people who turn to paper and die, bizarre plagues sweep the land. Fast-food joints are the only restaurants left open.
Dystopian stuff
Nearly as dystopian as what we’re living through. All speckled with brilliant stories. Example: a coal miner finds a diamond. Inside is Satan’s head. Satan says “Bring me to the surface and you can have one thing.” The man agrees, and he’s never heard of again.
It sounds a bit - uncentred?
That it is. A lot of the time DeNiro is having fun telling tall tales and riffing on the tropes of American culture. But it’s fun.
Tropes? Eh?
Cultural metaphors. Like Macy’s family take a riverboat for St Louis, a la Huck Finn. Her dad has a job waiting for him in the astronomy department. (He then turn his hand to astrology - handy in the new dispensation.)
And family life?
Macy’s brother Ciaran turns into a tangler who fixes deals between all the factions; her sister gets sold into slavery; Macy and her mother catch the plague. Life, you know.
Healthy children’s reading?
Not if you’re concerned about drug use and foul language. But for older teenagers and those who can distinguish fiction from reality, it’s a rattling yarn.
The author?
DeNiro’s first hit was with a strange little book of stories, Skinny-Dipping in the Lake of the Dead and he runs the Goblin Mercantile Exchange blog. One to watch.
Author's site