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: 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. 


Book Review: Cautionary Tales by Stephen Toblowsky

You probably don’t recognise the name but you’d know the face, Tobolowsky has appeared in films like Groundhog Day and TV shows like Glee. He also has a podcast where he tells anecdotes and stories and that’s what this book is, a few short memories.

Tobolowsky tells three stories all related to sex, but far from bragging tales of former conquests. He discusses awkward moments and does so with wit and warmth.

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His writing is honest and funny and while this is ridiculously short I found it rather entertaining. Tobolowsky has some insight and captures the awkwardness of young men with charm, it made me smile and chuckle a few times and I would be keen to read more of his stuff.

Verdict: Very short, but quite fun, Tobolowsky is a funny and engaging writer sharing some quirky tales from his past. 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Kinky Chipmunks and Horny Goblins by Dave Fox

I picked this up on a whim as part of my Kindle Unlimited deal, and it proved to be a decent read.

It contains ten random humour pieces by Fox on a variety of topics, ranging from car problems to David Blaine.

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Fox’s writing is rather fun, easy fare that isn’t profound or utterly hilarious but it’s amusing enough and a nice book to dip into when you have a few minutes spare. The ten articles are quick and we’ll crafted and raise a few smiles, which is what you’re promised and the roots of it as coming from his website are clear. Perhaps as a website you’d be less analytical and just enjoy, but as a book you hold it to a higher standard which I suppose is unfair.

Fox has also written a travel book and on the basis of his easy, amusing style I will probably check it out at some point.

Verdict: A quick, easy read which is amusing enough and Fox has talent as a writer. 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Guns by Stephen King

Last month I got sucked into a Twitter spat about US gun laws, after their most recent mass shooting. From a British perspective it just boggles the mind that the same cycle repeats with nothing done about it. I was ten when the Dunblane shooting happened, and I remembered being stunned and scared, but reassured that afterwards stricter gun laws passed. There hasn’t been a similar event since.

In the US, they happen with depressing frequency, and the pattern repeats over and over again. It’s this pattern that forms the first chapter in Stephen King’s essay on guns. With a depressing, cynical view King runs through the routine of what happens in the wake of a mass shooting.

Like King’s fictional work there is no shortage of flair on show and his writing is skilled and engaging. King’s stance on guns is pretty moderate, and governed by common sense. He understands the need for sensible controls on guns but accepts that little will change in the current climate of US politics.

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It’s here King suggests a novel idea that both political wings should be forced to watch the other’s media for a year in order to close the gap a little and encourage a proper conversation.

Throughout King shows wit and passion, writing convincingly and entertainingly he cuts to the heart of the problem and suggests possible solutions but mainly he points out the idiocy of some view points. It is a man who is tired and frustrated by the seemingly endless cycle of tragedies and inaction.

King also discusses an old novel of his that dealt with a related topic and was found in the possession of some shooters. He talks about his decision to pull it and his feelings about it.

It’s a quick read but well worth it and King impressed me with it.

Verdict: Impassioned and sensible, King writes a great essay about gun violence and the reasons why nothing seems to be changed. It’s an entertaining and involving read. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: The Girl at Rosewood Hall by Annis Bell

Finally…a Kindle free book which I actually enjoyed, after months of duds.
This book was a decent enough historical mystery thriller which benefits from some good characterisation and a fast pace which makes it a quick, enjoyable read.

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Set in the 1860s it follows Lady Jane, a strong willed young woman who chafes against the confines of the strict societal rules forced on women. An orphan, she has been living with her uncle, but as his health fails, she faces a tough decision. She will lose independence and her life controlled by her jealous, greedy cousin.
Her only hope is marriage, but that would also be surrendering control of her future.
During a winter party a disheveled, starving girl named Polly arrives at Rosewood Hall. She babbles about having escaped a cruel master and other things before dying, including wanting to keep her friend Mary safe. To avoid scandal and worsening her uncle’s health, Jane is aided in covering it up for the evening by Crimean war veteran Wescott, a friend of her uncle and a dashing, mysterious man.
Wescott proposes a unique deal, a show marriage. Allowing Jane to claim her inheritance, and the only condition is that she accompany him on social events.
Jane begins digging into the girl’s disappearance and begins to uncover signs of a conspiracy involving the trafficking of young women as servants and playthings for deviant aristocrats. Can she find the dead girl’s friend and keep her safe?
Meanwhile what is Wescott up to? And can she trust a virtual stranger?
I dug this book, which was a quick enjoyable read. The story unfolds at a decent pace and Bell makes her characters engaging and believable. Her writing is simple and unfussy, but she has a knack for characterisation and building tension with easy skill.
Lady Jane is a good protagonist, strong willed and smart, she throws herself into the mystery and shows resourcefulness. What I liked was that she has flaws, acting too quickly, suspecting the wrong people and endangering herself.
There are a few predictable turns, but a couple of genuine twists, and it’s all a perfectly fine genre piece. Bell also has a few threads which  are still untied, leaving it open for a sequel.
The ending is a little bit rushed, but it’s the only flaw in a thriller which works perfectly well, even if a tad predictably. What impressed me most is that it’s been translated, but you can’t really tell and nothing is lost in switching to English.
Verdict: Moves at a decent pace and keeps the reader involved throughout. It has enough mystery to keep you guessing and the characters are well rounded. The ending is a little rushed, but a decent thriller. 7/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Unfinished Business: The Kindle Firsts Edition

A while back I joined Amazon’s Kindle First newsletter, which sends you an email at the start of every month giving you a choice of four new books which you can have for free until the end of the month.
It’s a good idea as the books tend to be from lesser known authors meaning that they get exposure and some customer reviews on the site. That probably makes them more likely to sell better after, or that’s the only logical thinking I can work out.
Anyway, it’s a great idea, I get a free book every month.
The problem is that since joining I’ve gone 0-3 on the deal, getting three disappointing books. I’ve only made it to the end of one of those.
In the first I lost interest too early to even write an “unfinished business” review. On the second I stuck with it, but it wasn’t a satisfying read.
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For the third I decided to call it a day a few chapters in. It was partly my fault, as I had chosen a fantasy novel.
In many ways I’m a stereotypical geek, but the one area I’m not is that I don’t really like fantasy books.
As a kid I loved the Redwall series, and the Harry Potter books, but since then fantasy books which worked for me have been few and far between. I blitzed The Hobbit in a weekend, and while it held my attention I can’t say it blew me away and some of it felt like a slog (and that was with me skipping the same songs). I took an abortive tilt at Lord of the Rings, but a few chapters into part 2 I decided I’d had enough and would wait for the movie.
Now I dig Robert E Howard’s Conan stories, but aside from that the writer has to be better than average to win me over.
This can either be due to their wit, humour and invention, like Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, or else by strong characterisation and wonderfully intricate plots like George R. R. Martin.
But in the July crop I decided to take a punt on the fantasy novel as the others didn’t take my fancy.
When it finished downloading I realised it was longer than I’d thought and a few pages in I feared I’d made a mistake. It was all elves and warriors, and I found myself struggling to get into it.
The writing didn’t help, being largely uninspired. I don’t want to be too harsh, as author Bernhard Hennen is German and writes in his native tongue, so it may just be a case of something getting lost in translation.
Anyway, a few chapters in and The Elves wasn’t working for me. I didn’t really care about the protagonist and none of the characters went much further than shallow sketches.
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What didn’t help was the Kindle percentage bar at the bottom, because I was always aware that I’d barely scratched the surface and had lots to go. And so I decided that it wasn’t worth it and moved on to something else.
The Kindle firsts are a great idea, but you’re flying blind, and it’s luck of the drawer in the end, so here’s hoping August brings a better book. Or maybe I’m just a harsher critic when I haven’t paid for it? That having invested my own money I’m more likely to give something a chance or keep going for longer?
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.