Newest Reviews

Kevin Ansbro, The Fish That Climbed a Tree

Literary Tour de Force of Magical Realism

Henry Drummond is a man that proves that every notion can be turned upside down. How? He is born with a manly endowment that hints at the original Priapus but has a character and an integrity that, in Greek sculpture, would be presented with a surprisingly modest phallus.

Henry is generous to a fault, loveable, and loving. He is also a genius writer in spe.

His parents die horrendous deaths at the hands of two villains that top every villain, I’ve ever read about. They will haunt Henry’s life too.

Over and above that, Henry has (older) friends and an unspeakable roommate. His love interest, Amber, must endure the boyfriend from hell.

This is the scenario Ansbro unfolds in brilliant writing and a fabulous plot arch. There are touches of paradise and hell, insane violence, bungled affairs of all sorts – from murder to petty theft.

Into this mix, Ansbro brings an idea of afterlife that is both enchanting and amusing, Angels that materialise as butterflies, and great personalities of the past (spanning from Elvis to Voltaire). There are nods to James Joyce as well as to Homer’s Ulysses. This is a book that will keep you in suspense and delight you. The literary allusions are strewn in with a deft hand and never get in the way of the tale. A book that makes you laugh and cry and bite your nails. It may not be for the fainthearted, but any adventurous bibliophile will love it from start to finish. 

*

John Dolan, Adventures in Mythopoeia

Myth-building Extravaganza

‘It was neither the best of times, nor the worst of times. It was somewhere in the middle.’ Thus, John Dolan starts his venture into mythopoeia, and what an adventure this is. From the Ancient Greeks, with a sniff at the Celtic pantheon, to the Arthurian legends including the quest for the holy grail, and an extensive visit with the knight of the sad countenance, as well as an unforgettable confrontation with Medea. Towards the end, Dolan throws in a few UFOs for good measure.

The reader is confronted with a three-part novel – without a doubt a nod to Dickens and other old-timers. That doesn’t mean that we stray far from our modern world, on the contrary, the large cast is as modern as it gets. We have a world peopled by misfits, from an ex-footballer to a male escort turned bank robber. There are sheep in several varieties, a hawk, and a talking cat. Add to the pantheon of Dolan’s mythopoeia a nineteen-year-old sufferer from progeria (the old/young man), a soothsayer and her daughter, the publican of the Green Man, Olympians and Titans, a cat lady who ‘discovered the recipe for contentment, and a few extra-terrestrials.

This allegorical read has characters with human flaws who are believable and often endearing. There is hair raising violence, young and old love, adultery, rune translations, and tarot cards. If this sounds chaotic, don’t worry, Dolan has a solid grip on his multiple characters and manages to tie up every sprawling red thread in his audacious plot. It may not be necessary to bring an umbrella but be prepared for criminals, gags, and enchantment, not to mention sheep.

*

Sheila Patel, The Magic Vodka Wardrobe

Surreal Screwball Short Story

The Magic Vodka Wardrobe is well-written – but endlessly repetitive. Vodka shots, dance floor extravaganzas, complete with glitterball. Vomiting, weeds, and fanciful clothing take Sharon (Shaz), Trace, and Kirsty (via Skype) on a wild ride together with their crazy aunt Sheila.

Aunt Fatima of the corner shop, the bearded barkeeper, the homeless and – knicker-less Sheryl, and Tattoo Tony with his rottweiler – Nobhead – admittedly enliven the action, but all in all, I’m not a vodka fan. The Wardrobe doesn’t feature furs, fauns, or a lion: instead, the entrance to the vodka bar is filled with ‘Primani’ shoes, handbags, and seventies’ fashion, including Madonna-inspired brassieres.

Visit The Magic Vodka Wardrobe if you’re in the mood for a light-hearted and slangy read and have nothing better to do. The Magic Vodka Wardrobe will entertain you for an hour or two.

*

Marcee Corn, Always Thaddeus: The Resurrection

Does Retribution Exist? Can Justice Prevail?

The sequel to Always Thaddeus is as compelling as the work it follows.

Who is Jane Doe? Who is Margaret Buchanan and or Beth Morgan? Was Andrew Morgan guilty? Whatever happened to Sandy? Who did Ernesto Chavez marry? Will he get a chance for happiness? Will Sanity prevail? How? Who will survive, and who will be forced to deal with a dual personality?

Coast guard petty officer Craig Hendershott and reporter Jan Smith of the Augusta Herald both search for answers – but will the answers make them happy? Is Thaddeus alive? Does the title hint at his resurrection?

To answer all the questions, one must go deep into the text and ponder the deep oceans of the main characters’ minds. There are losses to deal with, from Jane Does’ loss of memory to Andrew Morgan’s loss of freedom. Will the end give them the closure they dream of? What is the ideal outcome for a tortured soul – when everybody suffers? Always Thaddeus: The Resurrection is a grown-up novel that doesn’t give easy answers. It poses deep questions and leaves it to the reader to find the underlying truths. The easy answers aren’t forthcoming and that is the greatest strength of this unusual romance thriller. Still, this isn’t a book that leaves you feeling doomed. It points to hope as the best part of life.

*

Daniel Adam Garwood, A Faulty Eviction

Social Realism With a Twist?

A faulty eviction isn’t easy to pull through – even if it is within the letter of the law. Daniel Adam Garwood knows that “life swarms with innocent monsters” and sets that thought as the motto for his debut. The first chapter is short and to the point: after covering his first (the second) victim with a powder-blue panda throw, he announces that – all in all – three deaths will happen.

Obviously, you might wonder why. It’s all down to the landlord at the refurbished brewery, Pendrick Court. Meet money-grabbing Kevin Douglas, also the owner of several corner shops, who wants to evict all his tenants. Will he succeed? The answer forms and decides the plot of A Faulty Eviction. The action spans two weeks, the aforementioned three deaths, a heightened media circus, and ten irate residents, including the landlord’s son. Not only that, but DAG also supplies an abundance of quirky details and a few rather disgusting actions.

Elements of farce, black humour, satire, tragicomedy, slapstick, and serious exhibits enliven the conflict. The characters are believable, notably Nigerian-born Anah Agu and her eccentric cat. Around her crowds hypochondriac Edna, dysfunctional couple Megan and Jack, incongruent Susan and Robert, Paul Stokes – plumber and engineer, Sean who uses his flat as storage for his father’s shops, retired Alan who enjoys the odd glass, as well as trendy Jessica. Barring the villain of the piece (Said Kevin Douglas) – the quirky cast is singularly attractive.

Well-crafted and well-written, A Faulty Eviction is a remarkable debut.

*

Stella Gibbons, Cold Comfort Farm

Wicked, Wonderful, and Witty

Flora Poste finds herself poor at the death of her father. She must survive on an income of one hundred pounds a year and it is up to her to decide whether to work or live off her family. Visiting a friend, she writes to several distant cousins in the hope of finding somewhere to live – as a cherished guest. Nothing appeals to her until she receives a letter from the Starkadders at Cold Comfort Farm. She goes to Sussex and finds a vast canvas for her inventiveness.

Here are a few examples: a three-legged cow, a farmhand who cleans the dishes with a stick, Urk with his water voles, Amos who has a penchant for preaching, his wife, Judith, who sees trouble everywhere. Aptly named Elfine is dishevelled but a beauty and a budding poetess. Lustful Seth and land-loving Reuben complete the main characters together with old Ada Doom – who “saw something nasty in the woodshed” when she was a kid.

Stella Gibson created a sensation when Cold Comfort Farm appeared in 1932, and no wonder. In it, Ms Gibson took on a long tradition of gloom and doom novels and turned the rural misery topsy-turvy with her sophisticated wit. Her futuristic ideas about ‘air mail’ and ‘twistable television dials’ are as clever as is her idea of the Anglo-Nicaraguan war of 1946.

One thing is clear: when visiting Cold Comfort Farm, it is important to bring gumboots. This novel was a revelation to me – and completely different from my expectations. There is nothing like being surprised by an entertaining and significant author.

*

Chariss K Walker, Purple Kitty – Blue Cadillac

Dystopian Crime with a Vengeance

Meet Serena McKay former police officer turned PI. Meet a cast of the extremely rich and the equally poor people. Indulge in a vision of the future that will make your hair stand on end. In August City there are four areas. One for the super-rich, one for those who are wealthy, and two for the poor and the destitute. Life is good in the rich areas and dangerous everywhere else.

August City was built on the ruins of another city and the underground is a labyrinth of immense proportions. This scene-setting, which is reminiscent of certain European cities and has a literary association (think Victor Hugo), provides a picture of the dark minds that live in August city. The characters represent abusers and those who are abused. The scale of violence rises throughout the two novels.

Serena must face it all to save herself and those closest to her.

Chariss K Walker dissects the brutality and poverty of a city, close to its downfall. She ponders the variations of gender and the neglect that can origin in denying that humans are diverse. She takes no prisoners in these books – except her readers. Her writing style is concise, but her thinking reminded me of some of Agatha Christie’s darkest novels, ‘And Then There were None’ as well as ‘Endless Night’. Highly recommended if you aren’t faint of heart.

*

Sue-Ellen Welfonder, Tara Scott, Allie Mackay The Marriage Maker

Napoleonic Romance with Comedy Elements

The Marriage Maker is a four-part box set, and the four books are also available as single instalments.

A light-hearted romp that centres on the marriage maker of the title finding suitable husbands for Charity and her three younger sisters. Sir Stirling, the aforementioned marriage maker, wants to marry Charity, who is unwilling to marry. Being the eldest daughter and heiress to her father’s, the Duke of Roxburgh’s, title she fears that her suitor is only interested in the dukedom. Also, she dreams of independence.

What does Charity do? She sets Sir Stirling a task that she believes he can’t accomplish. In only one month he must find suitors for her sisters and ensure that they get married within this time frame. Each sister has her own novella, in which to fall in love, marry, and get deflowered. Each sister is the heroine of her story, and the titles, ‘Worth of a Lady’, ‘The Marriage Wager’, ‘A Lady by Chance, and ‘How to Catch an Heiress’, refer to the young women as they appear.

No doubt this is entertaining, but that is all. My main bugbear is that the four brides go through similar experiences: first unwilling to marry, then intrigued by their fiancés, then sexually aroused, and finally in love. All this within a day or two. OK, there were slight variations. Love at first sight is an element in one or two of the novellas. The first man was youthful and rich. The second was a privateer turning into a businessman, the third a destitute landowner with a private ghost, and the last was (obviously) the matchmaker who arranged every match, to the abhorrence of his beloved.

My problem is that books that make me think are my favourites. Admittedly, there’s a guilty pleasure to such light and fluffy concoctions, but they aren’t exactly nourishing.

*

©HMH, 2021

2 comments

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.