Tuesday, 27 December 2016

R is for Rom Com - Dating Kosher, by Michaela Greene

Part Rom-Com, part inspirational, this vastly entertaining book follows an almost completely self-absorbed young Jewish Princess through her transition to a functioning adult. I could almost describe it as a coming-of-age story, but as the protagonist is around thirty, that wouldn't fit the commonly accepted paradigm.

Regardless, it's funny as all get-out, and there's not a dull page in it! The dysfuntional family is hilarious, and the protagonist is really relatable, even at her most childishly whiny; she is a rounded character and even at the beginning we see the seeds of a decent human being in her love for her cat. 

Whether you like a tale with a moral and a happy ending, or whether you just enjoy a fun read with lots of laughs, Dating Kosher is guaranteed to appeal. I really found nothing to criticise in it.

You can find Dating Kosher and Ms Greene's other books at AMAZON.

Monday, 26 December 2016

Q is for Quest - The Adventures of Llewelyn and Gelert series, by David Bell

Nothing beats a quest book, whether it's contemporary adventure, futuristic science fiction or, as in the instant book, historical fantasy. There is something so deeply satisfying about a quest story; it is one of the archetypical human experiences, one supposes.

In The Dog Hunters, and its sequel, The Dog Assassins, by David Bell, we have not only the fun of a quest, but we also have one of the most realistic, lovable hounds I have ever encountered in fiction. I say 'one of', because I like the hounds in my own work too. Gelert eats filth, rolls in filth, pisses, farts and generally expresses his joyously canine nature, and it is this earthiness that makes him special; yes, all dogs are earthy creatures, but this all too seldom really comes through in fiction. Bell has done a superlative job with this character.

I read the Kindle editions, but these are not what I recommend my readers to buy. The illustrated paperbacks are what you want, really. They're not just any old illustrations; they are beautiful, beautiful pen-and-ink drawings, lovingly created by the author, who is as talented an artist as he is a writer. You can get some idea of the wonder of these pictures by the two covers.

It's not often that I bang on about Christmas, and it's obviously too late for this year, but these books are just perfect for gifts, whether it's Christmas, Eid, a birthday, Chanukkah or whatever.


Friday, 23 December 2016

P is for Pussycats - Chicomadre and the Little Pussycats of Firenze

A good friend recommended this to me on the strength of cats being mentioned in the title. All my friends know I'll read anything with cats or dogs. 

I was a little disappointed at first, because despite the title the cats, although important, really don't occupy much space in the book. Instead of being all about cats, as I had hoped, it's about an emotionally stunted, shopaholic Mossad hitman. That doesn't sound like much of a recommendation, and I must admit to a moment of pure quailing as I realised what I was going to be reading. Nevertheless, the book held my interest right through. By the time the cats made their appearance, they weren't needed; I'd have kept reading anyway.

The emotionally deprived shopaholic hitman, after killing various people, starts to wonder if perhaps murdering people is a bit nasty. This happens by about halfway through the book, and the rest of the book deals with him basically trying to ignore his new social consciousness. Despite this, which ought to have been the kiss of death, the book held my interest. I'm not sure why, but it was a compelling read.

This, in my opinion, is all that needs to be said. Mr Vanounou, despite breaking practically every rule in the writers' book, has succeeded in writing a page-turner, and that, folks, is what it's all about. I'd certainly read him again, and you should, too.

Friday, 16 December 2016

O is for Ordinary - first-class Christian fiction

O is for ordinary, and when I say that, it is not a comment about the quality of this fine book. It rather relates to the way in which daily life, the quotidian, the normal, is used as a setting for a story which, on the spiritual level, is a roller-coaster ride of danger and excitement.

The danger portrayed in this book is one which every settled Christian may face. Probably devout people in other religions run the same risks, too - almost certainly, I should think. It is the danger of becoming smug, of stopping living on the razor's edge and falling into complacency. This is one of the most serious spiritual dangers there is, as many writers of devotional literature have pointed out, most notably C.S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters. Smugness and complacency in religion lead one into a deadened state in which acts of the most shocking wickedness can be committed, without even a faint awareness that one is sinning, and this is, in fact, what happens to the protagonist of The Christmas Dog. Happily, it all comes right in the end, but we are left with a dizzying sense of the protagonist's narrow escape. 

A valuable cautionary tale for any Christian. Or follower of other religions.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

N is for Nasty - three books with super-nasty villains

N is for Nasty, and what's nastier than a really evil villain in a work of fiction? I'll tell you what. Nastier than any fictional villain is a real-life one, and this is what we are shown in the first of today's offerings.


This was meant to be satire, but tragically, the main event has now come true. It's no longer funny, especially for America. However, for students of history, it will no doubt in years to come provide a useful and concise summary of the early part of the 21st century. Read it and weep.

RODDY MURRAY - A Snow White Scenario and Body And Soul

 In A Snow White Scenario, but even more so in Body and Soul, we are treated to some truly egregious nastiness. In fact, I do believe that the crime perpetrated in Body and Soul is the most evil crime I've ever encountered in fiction, and those responsible are some of the most repellent characters I've seen. Thundering good reads, both of them.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

M is for Music and also for Manning

Bernie Manning's seventh album is quite a departure from his previous work. Heroes is a tribute to, as the name suggests, Manning's own heroes. The lineup is an eclectic one: there's one political hero (Gough Whitlam, of course, who else - the hero of every thinking Australian), but most of the lineup is from the arts: a painter (Albert Namatjira), a filmmaker (Alfred Hitchcock), an author (Philip K Dick) composer George Gershwin, singers Billie Holiday and John Lennon, and the fictional James Bond.

The album opens easily with a spoken introduction by Manning, just as if it were a book, and this literary feeling persists through the album. Spoken tributes read by Manning are backed by music and sound effects, in each case reflecting the flavour of the subject. The artist's feeling for his subjects comes through loud and clear, but Manning is never mawkish; his love of his heroes is expressed throughout with dignity and restraint.

Several of the tributes include a tribute song, and these are so cleverly done, reflecting the unique styles of each artist, but never copying. I was particularly struck by the deft way the characteristic feeling of Hitchcock's theme tune was evoked. 

I don't share myself all of these heroes, but one whom of course I do share is that great man, Gough Whitlam, and his tribute brought tears to my eyes. My personal favourite, though, was the James Bond one. It has the unmistakable Manning humour; that same sharp, but ultimately kindly, humour that brought us Men's Secret Business. Those who have come to know Manning through his earlier work will not be disappointed.

Bernie Manning's Greatest Hits, Volumes One, Two and Three, are available from  Bernie's own website, however I could not find any links to the later volumes in the series. The site does have a contact form, however, and the records are also available at Readings bookstore.

Monday, 12 December 2016

L is for Love, Literature and Letting Go

Three disparate elements, yet oddly linked, for are not love and loss two of the great themes of literature? Today, I have three books to offer you, one for each of these concepts.


Stolen Hearts and Muddy Pawprints, by Georgina Ramsey, is a romantic comedy, yes, and it's got a love story - two, actually. It is also the second volume in the About Three Authors series, which is a series united by theme, and written by different authors. You never know, one day I may write one myself! I actually know who is going to be writing the third one, and I'm quite excited about it. But that is not my news to tell. In any case, this one, like the first book, is well worth a read. There is a reason I always call Ramsey the Queen of Rom Coms.


The Fourth Wall, by Tabitha Baumander, is a collection of short stories that, if you have any taste at all, will knock your socks off. I don't know when I've been so impressed with a new writer. Sadly, the book seems now to have been withdrawn from publication following some kind of contretemps with the publisher; it was published by JEA, who seem to be always squabbling with everyone, so I only hope Baumander has a decent reversion clause in her contract. It would be a tragedy if these stories were lost.


I was conflicted about this book. It's quite well done, but I found the notion of overhauling one's friends as one does one's wardrobe rather repellent. Nevertheless, where this book can be really useful is in evaluating one's own behaviour and performance as a friend. You wouldn't want to be one of the toxic people described in this book, no indeed. And with that thought, I leave it to your consideration.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

K is for Killer - Killers in Fiction

Of all the crime fiction that is written, murder occupies a disproportionately great part of the field. I've never really understood why that is. Is it our fear of death that makes murder such a fascinating subject? And yet many devout Christians, who ought not to fear death, devour Christie and all her get by the truckload. Is it simply that murder is the worst of all crimes? And yet, many consider rape a fate worse then death, but there are not the number of crime books about rapists that there are about murderers, not nearly. Is it just that death, physical death, is the worst thing that can happen to a person? And yet that isn't even an universal belief. History is full of people who considered, for example, dishonour worse than death. We wear poppies every year to honour them.

Be that as it may, when it comes to crime fiction, murder is always the chef's special. 

Killers in fiction, however, are not limited to murderers, and in the group of works I have to present to you today, other killers are also represented.


By an odd coincidence, both of these particularly fine murder mysteries are also historical fiction. The Summertime Dead, by Robert Engwerda, is a beautifully drawn portrait of life in a small Australian town in the 1960s. The Bookseller's Tale, by Ann Swinfen, is set in 14th Century Oxford. Both are meticulously researched and both are wonderful reads. 


In Trish Dawson's I Hope You Find Me, the killer is a deadly plague, presumably viral, which wipes out nearly everyone in the world. A handful of survivors is left to make their way forward. It's an exciting story, enlivened by a touch of the paranormal, but this is not allowed to dominate and the action remains firmly centred around the interactions between the human survivors.


This chilling short story deals with an unexplained plague of vicious monsters, who overrun everyone in their path, leaving a swathe of - well, not corpses - bloodstains on the ground after their prey has been ravenously devoured. Despite the extremity of the premise, it is written with restraint and beautiful timing. A teasing sampler of Tobin's work.