Review: Skippy Dies ~ Paul Murray

skippy diesISBN ~ 978-0141009957
Publisher ~Penguin Books Ltd
No. Of Pages ~660 pages
Links ~ Barnes & Noble, Amazon

Paul Murray’s Skippy Dies is a tragicomic masterpiece about a Dublin boarding school.  Long listed for the Man Booker Prize 2010 Ruprecht Van Doren is an overweight genius whose hobbies include very difficult maths and the Search of Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. Daniel ‘Skippy’ Juster is his roommate. In the grand old Dublin institution that is Seabrook College for Boys, nobody pays either of them much attention. But when Skippy falls for Lori, the frisbee-playing siren from the girls’ school next door, suddenly all kinds of people take an interest – including Carl, part-time drug-dealer and official school psychopath. . . A tragic comedy of epic sweep and dimension, Skippy Dies scours the corners of the human heart and wrings every drop of pathos, humour and hopelessness out of life, love, Robert Graves, mermaids, M-theory, and everything in between.

4 Thumbs-UpThis is the first book I’ve read written by this Author and, I’ll say this upfront, I’ll probably be hunting down some more of his books to read.

The whole book is centred on a group of teenage boys, one of whom dies within the first few pages.  However, this is not the last we read about this character as the book covers events leading up to the moment of his death.  Teenage boys are a totally different species to any walking the earth and the Author manages to catch their peculiarities perfectly in his character building.  He covers all those one would meet at a boarding school from the bookish to priests to parents, bullies and beyond; he then brings them to life and throws them into a story that grabs the reader from the very first.  The Author is able to capture their adolescent humour, their obvious obsession with anything remotely female (this being an all boy’s school) and set it down in a way that appeals to all readers.  Each of the characters is written skilfully, pulling on the different personality and traits that can be found in a variety of guises in this age group.  As a parent myself I remember my own son going through his teenage years and I picked him out of the crowd with no difficulty, along with a bevy of his ‘associates’.  The Author has managed to capture the classroom antics, attitude towards the teachers and classmate banter so well that there is no character that stands out from the others as the main protagonist; not even ‘Skippy’

This is by no means a ‘Lord of the Flies’ type book, and I would defy anyone not to be caught up in the humour of everything in this easy read.  Despite there being a huge number of characters, major themes and plot points the Author is able to juggle them all seamlessly and well.  I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who is looking for a light and humourous read.

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Review: Audacious Escapades in the Fabulous Columbia River Gorge ~ Marc E. Paulsen

Columbia River GorgeISBN ~ 978-0977473717
Publisher ~ Marc Paulsen Press
No. Of Pages ~ 124 pages
Links ~ Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s Books

Marc Paulsen has had a lifelong infatuation with the marvelous Gorge of the Columbia River, partly from many unique experiences on and near the old highway and also from his belief that the Columbia Gorge ranks among the world’s natural wonders. After countless trips through the Gorge covering 6 decades, he is still awestruck each repeat trip. May you enjoy Marc’s tales of youthful exuberance and humorous escapades…and allow a bit of charity in your judgments.

The book details some of Marc’s wilder adventures on the old road which will have to be chalked up to youthful exuberance and the reader must understand that he is a reformed man!

From its opening on July 6, 1915, first-time tourists unfailingly found the remarkable old Columbia River Highway awe-inspiring. To Marc at age eleven, the highway’s magnificence in beauty and construction struck indelible memories.

This book’s frontispiece is a reproduction of designer Lancaster’s lovingly created inscription to a friend. A supremely elegant execution of hand-calligraphy, he placed it in a 1916 edition of his detailed book telling his Columbia River Highway story. His superb hand lettering and the majestic highway he designed are one and the same in supremacy–masterpieces of artistic design and engineering. Even now, it is impossible to drive the few existing old highway sections without a warm feeling that one is rolling along cradled in the arms of this eminent design master. The highway and his brilliant plan for an artful Crown Point rest station enroute were so grandiose that it was as if Lancaster had borrowed concepts from the art world’s old masters. They were that good!

4 Thumbs-UpI first visited the Gorge last year, intending to be there for only two days we were snowed in, that is when I discovered this book in the hotel library.  If you live in Washington State or Oregon, this book is something you really need to pick up, even if you don’t live in these two states it is worth the time it takes to open the cover and dive in.

This is a little book full of history and anecdotes, and revisits a way of a life that children are not able to enjoy in this day and age; although humourous in parts this realisation of what children are missing out on today also makes it very poignant and a reflection on the world we now inhabit.  What really drew me into this book was the way in which the history of the Columbia River Gorge was laid out; it wasn’t stuffy or preachy but told in a way that encourages readers to want to get out there and experience the place for themselves, whether it be by car, bicycle or hiking on many of the trails mentioned.  To support the escapade and history telling the Author has included some wonderful pictures which just made this book all the more interesting.

I would have liked to maybe see some actual trail recommendations in the back of the book, for those who were inspired to experience the beauty of the Gorge for themselves, but unfortunately there were none which makes a visit here something that needs to be planned precisely; this was reason for the 4 thumbs review.  Apart from that I will be getting my hands on a copy for my bookshelves, and would recommend this to anyone who is looking for a travel book, that really isn’t a travel book.

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Review: A Charm of Powerful Trouble (The Harry Reese Mysteries #4) ~ Robert Bruce Stewart

A charm of powerful troubleIt’s not surprising that a case that begins with a killing in a faux Chinatown and ends in a séance would include a generous helping of farce. But not even Harry Reese—a man well used to a life only loosely tethered to reality—is prepared for what he encounters that autumn in 1902. Before it’s over, he’ll meet cricket ranchers, vaudeville artistes, white slavers, morality crusaders, circus roustabouts, and wayward Utopians, and frequently become sidetracked by the need to rescue his loved ones from jail, or the clutches of a ruthless tong. Is it any wonder the case was put in motion by the machinations of his dear wife Emmie?

4 Thumbs-UpI have been known to review one or two books in a series, but with this review comes my third in the Harry Reese Mysteries, and no I am not being paid to write them; they are just plain and simply a darned good read.  Like the other books in the series I have reviewed this one does not need to be read as part of the series, it stands on its own very well indeed.  This means that, if after reading this you have no interest in any of the others before it; it will have no adverse affect if you read those following.

Once again, the Author has painted a vivid picture of the time in which the novel is set, and transports the reader fully into the locations and events that take place in this novels pages.  I learnt more about cricket ranchers than I ever realised I wanted to know, and chuckled at the shenanigans and predicaments the dynamic couple found themselves in.

Magnificently and skilfully the Author has managed to continue to keep the main protagonists in this recent instalment right on track, there is nothing added to their personalities or traits that would make a loyal reader of this series think they had missed something in previous books, or the newly initiated reader feel they have to read its predecessors.   Despite the feeling sometimes given that our ‘Detective’ is ruled by his wife, in this novel the impression comes across that he enjoys her side tracking although not encouraging it.  Once again I thoroughly enjoyed the character of Emmie, and still feel as if this is one woman who I could really get along with in real life.

I would highly recommend this novels to anyone looking for a good and easy read that moves along at a fast clip but is laced with humour and mystery.

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Review: Exsanguinate – World of Blood (Book #1) ~ Killion Slade

ExsanguinateA Halloween scream night theme park adventure for software gaming developer Cheyenne O’Cuinn reveals a hidden supernatural reality she never dreamed existed. Recovering from a vicious attack and her sisters’ abductions, Cheyenne must rescue her sisters from vampiric kidnappers before they’re used to breed warmongering dhampirs.

Betrayal lurks in every corner. Cheyenne must evade attackers by unconventional means through her online role-play game. She must navigate through virtual, tortuous clues and mailed body parts, which cross over from her virtuality into reality. Can a team of dragons, vampires, and werewolves come together to help her? Who can she trust? Will the help from her virtual lover become compromised when he learns of her new immortal existence and crush the fragile love they share?

Amidst an impending vampire apocalypse, Cheyenne finds herself both in conflict for survival and for her heart. Will her immortal self derail any hope of solving the multiplying puzzles before time runs out to save her sisters, herself and her humanity?

5 Thumbs-UpLet me get this out there right from the start of my review, I absolutely hated this book!  It wasn’t the book itself I despised; it was what it turned me into.  As an online gamer, and a casual one at that, I hold no love for those that crow about their access to areas of the game I can only dream about; they like to call themselves the L33T!  This book turned me into one of these people, but in the book world, and I loved it.  In the pages of this book I was able to experience content that I KNOW there are a few out there will not be able to access, and it made me feel like a God.

Urban Fantasy novels are really not my usual thing, but I was so glad I read this book.  The characters are realistic and full of humour, sadness, secrets and guts.  They are written in such a way that you feel as if you know them, or may have even grouped up with them in your online game of choice.  The Author invested a lot of time into making sure the characters in this novel were true to life representations of the gaming community, and made sure they did not fall into the stereotypical portrait most people have of gamers, that they are loners with no lives living in their parent’s basements.  With a skilful use of words the characters show that a wide variety of people game, and without overloading the reader with technical terms and phrases, he painted these characters as intelligent and likeable people who the reader would want to socialize with.  The main protagonist of the novel is a strong, smart woman; however she is also extremely loyal and once she gets her teeth into something sticks with it to the end.  On the flip side of her personality is a woman who is also a little unsure of herself, especially when it comes to the area of romance, and one who is determined to confront the fears she has of the main driving tool behind the project she is working on.

This is a very imaginative novel, full of strategy and clues that span not just the online role-playing game in the book, but also the real world lives of the characters.  I was delighted at how well the Author brought the vividness of these games to life and managed to get across to the reader just how many people are involved in the playing of them.  They also managed to convey that for some people this is not just a game, but a form of connecting with others around the globe; a kind of social media tool with quests thrown in.  Blending them well together, the book has just enough humour its pages to stop the horror aspect of it from becoming overwhelming; the humour is laugh out loud funny and the horror is blood chilling made even more so as at some points in the action you are not sure if you are in the virtual world or the real world.

This book creates its own world and mythology, but uses well-known creatures of the supernatural to do so, and this serves to make the reader feel they are experiencing something new that has a familiar feel.  The real novelty in its pages though was the inclusion of the ‘quick mark’ tags, this enables the reader with a smart phone access to hidden ‘Easter eggs’ which include additional pages of the novel and numerous other hidden goodies on the book’s website; this was the part that made me L33T!  Flawlessly bringing fantasy, horror, humour and action together the Author has done an outstanding job of putting together a highly absorbing and entertaining read.

I would highly recommend this book to readers of all genres and lovers of epic series as I am sure this is going to be among the greats.  I will definitely be reading the remainder of this series as it is published.

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Review: Family – The Ties that Bind…And Gag! ~ Erma Bombeck

Family Motherhood: The Second Oldest Profession Bombeck here takes a look at the family grown and comes up with characteristically incisive, irreverent and pertinent wisdom. Her three children, now adults, and herself at the age where “you look wonderful,” she provokes thought about the shifting family. Intergenerational relationships; Bombeck’s with her parents; hers with her children and the amorphous family constellations of the ’80s are explored by a master of the art of domesticity. Adult children who return to the empty nest, technology that needs to be mastered in kitchen and family room are grist for Bombeck’s ever-ready mill.

A cherished family reunion sets the stage for Erma Bombeck’s predictably hilarious recollections of raising a family – that is, strangers who know each other intimately, but who have nothing in common (and want to keep it that way!). Erma’s conclusion: families-you can’t live with them, you can’t live without them… or can you?

4 Thumbs-Up

This is the first book that I’ve read by this Author, and it had me chuckling happily from start to finish.  What needs to be remembered though, by any reader picking it up, is that it is a 1980’s book filled with 1980’s humour and references.

As it is a hilariously funny snapshot into the Authors Family life during this time period, there are no characters that have to be developed, as each member of the clan brings their own baggage with them which is tipped out in front of the washing machine for the reader to pick through, or not as they see fit.   It is a book to appeal to everyone, regardless of the type of Family they were raised; anyone that reads this will be able to relate to and recognize at least one member of the Authors’ Family that resides in their own.  The book also has appeal across the genders; women will recognize their part in the whole play unfolding before them and men will be able to know profess to understanding the reasoning behind why their womenfolk do the things they do.

It doesn’t matter that, at times the stories being told in this book appear to go off at a tangent and never return, it just adds to the humour and reality of what is being written about; after all how much of our own families lives follow a logic and direct route to any point in time, I know our family doesn’t.  Through the laid back writing style of this Author, the reader is shown that’s is OK to have a dysfunctional family and that it’s also OK to be able to laugh when things go wrong; even in the most mundane of situations humour is always there to be found.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys laughter in their lives, and doesn’t mind laughing out loud in public.

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Review: The Nine Lives of Alexander Baddenfield ~ John Bemelmans Marciano, Sophie Blackall

9 livesAlexander Baddenfield is a horrible boy—a really horrible boy—who is the last in a long line of lying, thieving scoundrels.  One day, Alexander has an astonishing idea.  Why not transplant the nine lives from his cat into himself?  Suddenly, Alexander has lives to spare, and goes about using them up, attempting the most outrageous feats he can imagine.  Only when his lives start running out, and he is left with only one just like everyone else, does he realize how reckless he has been.

4 Thumbs-UpThis book is aimed at middle school grade age children, and is one of those books that every child should be allowed to enjoy and revel in at least once in their lives.  And at 135 pages in length, it won’t take too long for the more experienced or confident reader in that age range to get through.

The character of the title is spoiled, mean, despicable and downright disobedient; everything parents don’t want their child to be.  However, the Author does take the time to fill the reader in on the back story of the Family, and in doing so tries to explain why he acts the way he does.  As is the case with books for this age range, there is little to no character development and that is just fine with this reader.

Yes, the book is slightly cynical and downright morbid at times, but this is part of its charm, and why so many children would enjoy it; Alexander is able to do and get away with things that can only happen within the pages of a book, and in this sense it really lets the reader’s imagination run riot, not only during the reading but afterwards.  The illustrations in the book do every word justice and, in themselves would be worthy of a 4 thumbs rating.

So if you are looking for something darkly funny to either read yourself or with your children, check this book out of your local library and sit down to enjoy the laughs.

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