Book Review: Of Mice and Me by Mishka Shubaly

I’ve become a fan of Shubaly’s work because he has the knack of mixing dark humour and scathing honesty with moments of fragile tenderness. This is evident in this short read, which is another slice of honest, introspection and tinged with a recovering addict’s regret and worry.

While staying with his sister and his family, Shubaly rescues a baby mouse from the pet dogs and decides to look after it. Nobody is surprised than he, as he lacks a nurturing instinct and keeps people at a distance. And yet over the following days he becomes devoted to his rodent son.

The mouse serves as a jumping off point for Shubaly to examine family and caring. He reflects on the once strained relationships with his family and how they have slowly strengthened and healed.

He examines his own ideas about fatherhood and his suitability as a father, with honest admissions of fears and flaws.

It’s a very touching, emotional book which is a captivating read. There are still glimpses of Shubaly’s jet black humour and the chaos of his past, but it’s a tender book without lurching into cloying schmaltz.

Verdict: A moving and charming short read, Shubaly continues to impress but shows a softer side here. Lovely stuff. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO. 


Book Review: Bag of Meat on Ball of Dirt by Mara Altman

I’ve read a fair few of Mara Altman’s Kindle Singles already, so I knew I was going to get a fun, warm and personable read. This book sees her travel to India to find people who are trying to find themselves.

It’s interesting and she has to overcome her own shyness to talk to strangers. She then interviews them about why they’re there. She finds a world of hippies, gurus and a few stereotypes, but it does raise the question of why it’s India people go on their personal quests? Can’t you find yourself anywhere?

  These snapshots of the travellers are quite entertaining but the book feels a bit aimless.

Why Altman chose this topic seems vague and unlike her other books it doesn’t revolve around a personal life event or experience. For me it suffers because of this as Altman feels out of place, and it lacks resolution.

It’s an entertaining enough quick read but it’s a bit something of nothing.

Verdict: Altman is a skilled and likeable writer but this book feels pointless and unsatisfying. Raises plenty of smiles but the weakest of her books I’ve read. 5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Kindle Single Bumper Edition

A little bit of a change today as I’m going to review three books in one post. Over the Christmas period I read a few Kindle Singles, the short books Amazon offer for their e-reader. I’ve grouped them together as I thought it would be better than trying to fit three separate posts in.

First up was I Murdered My Library by Linda Grant, a charming read which sees novelist Grant talk about the dilemma she faces as she prepares to move to a smaller place and realises that amazingly there is such a thing as too many books.

Grant describes her sprawling, book filled house in a way that would make a book lover green with envy and during her clear out touches on how the books we read and keep often carry more than what is on the pages in between. Writing with easy charm she talks about the memories attached to some of the books, how her personal library both shows how she has changed over the years while also influencing those changes.

What could just be one woman’s clear out is far more involving thanks to skilled writing with a light touch. Addressing changing attitudes to books and reading, the influence of new technology and the passing of time, Grant writes beautifully and in a way that reader’s who hoard books like me will relate to. 

While Grant talks of one woman’s small scale story, M. J. Foreman’s Bomber Girls deals with several women who played a part in a larger story. Shining a light on a corner of World War II that I was unaware of, Foreman writes about the female pilots of the ATA (Air Transport Auxillary) who during the war were responsible for transporting planes to wherever they were needed.

These brave women flew a variety of planes, often in poor conditions and with little training on that model. They encountered sexism and danger along the way, and while Germany and Russia had female fighters and bombers, the Brits refused to let the ladies carry ammunition, leaving them defenceless against attack.

Unfortunately the book highlights the flaw of the Single format as Foreman is unable to provide any real depth or insight into the women and their war. It’s an interesting enough read but really only a taster, and I feel that I’ll probably look into more books about these young women. Perhaps focusing on one or two pilots would have been better, but the scope is too broad and so we get intriguing snapshots rather than a detailed account. It also suffers as Foreman is a rather uninspired writer.

If Foreman’s prose feels flat this is not a problem afflicts Mishka Shubaly in Are You Lonesome Tonight? I’ve read a few of Shubaly’s Singles now, and while they’ve been a mixed bag there’s no denying that the man has a talent for honest, raw writing.

In this book Shubaly opens with an angry, tear filled argument in the street and a suggestion of lies being revealed. He then jumps back to meeting and connecting with a woman online. Detailing their online communications and his growing affection with open emotion the reader sits uncomfortably, drawn into his warm words but aware it will end badly.

The bad ending arrives with a surprising twist at which point everything crashes down around him and the recovering addict struggles with a tumult of emotion. It’s written in such raw terms that it’s like watching a friend break up, feeling their pain but unable to help. That’s not that Shubaly is a whining heartbroken wreck, his writing is well done with a good eye for metaphor and visceral description and also some dark humour. A great read of heartbreak, betrayal and obsession.

Verdicts:

I Murdered My Library: Well written and relatable look at books and our relationship with them. Book lovers will find themselves nodding along. 7/10.

Bomber Girls: An interesting story but handled poorly, with not enough depth to satisfy. 5/10.

Are You Lonesome Tonight?: Brilliantly written and involving, Shubaly is a gifted and genuine talent. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: The Big Race by Michael Brick

A cross country motorcycle race featuring a host of odd characters from across the USA. The whole thing set up by a man with a questionable past and dodging allegations of being a con man, but who claims to be doing it to help the Native American community that adopted him. 

That all sounds very interesting doesn’t it? That’s what attracted me to pick this up on my Kindle, but unfortunately as a read it doesn’t quite measure up to the premise or reader expectation.

It’s a Kindle single so part of this is down to length but a larger problem is that Brick never probes that deeply. There are hints that the organiser of the challenge is an eccentric, suspicious chap but it never gets to whether he is a con man or not.

In fact Brick struggles to capture a sense of any of the players beyond brief, simple sketches. And as the book unfolds all the questions that are set up go unanswered. Worst of all the writer is quite a way from the action of the race.

Brick talks about wanting to work out more about Jim Red Cloud, but never delves that deep and instead relies on a couple of hints and a sneaking suspicion he holds, but the man remains a mystery.

The writing is readable and unfussy, which isn’t always a bad thing, but here it just feels flat in places and the lack of humour or genuine insight makes this an immensely forgettable book.

Verdict: An intriguing premise is let down by shallow examination and lack of any real narrative arc. Too brief and light to make much of an impact or satisfy the reader. 3/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Baby Steps by Mara Altman

This is the fourth book I’ve read by Altmann and like the others it sees her respond to a personal issue by researching the topic and writing about it. In this case, the fact that everyone around her is having babies and that, newly married, she is being asked about her own plans around children.

Altman talks to family, friends and experts about society’s obsession with babies and the pressures on women to become mothers. It’s personal and humourous but it touches on some big issues about parenthood and gender roles.

Throughout Altman asks herself whether she even wants kids herself, and flip flops back and forth on this issue. To see if she’s suited to motherhood she tries on a fake belly, looks after a robot baby and these are quite interesting side stories but really this is about her weighing up her options and trying to make the right decision for her future.

It’s a Kindle Single so rather short, and some ideas are half explored, but it’s still a warm and entertaining quick read.

Verdict: Altman writes with warmth and humour, and this is a quick and entertaining read about one woman deciding what she wants to do with her life. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Shipwrecked by Mishka Shubaly

This is the fourth book I’ve read of Shubaly’s as they are quite cheap on the Kindle and make good quick reads. The title for this book is not a metaphor, in 2001 our alcoholic hero finds himself on a remote beach after the ship he’s working on runs aground.

As the youngest of the group he volunteers to walk what they imagine to be 25 miles to the nearest town and find help. What follows is a long, arduous walk under the blazing sun and with only half remembered survival tips for help.

It’s a quick read, an anecdote really, but Shubaly writes with engaging, vivid energy that keeps you involved and he gives background information about what else was going on with his life, highlighting his skill as an honest storyteller.

Some might feel it lacks drama or the depth of a book like Aron Ralston’s Between a Rock and a Hard Place (filmed as 127 Hours). But for a short story of one man’s misfortune it works and it holds the attention,  and Shubaly has skill as a writer.
Verdict: A little brief and low on incident, but it’s well crafted and makes an engaging short read. 6/10.

Any thoughts?  You know what to do. BETEO.