Earth is the loneliest planet of all*

the humas

THE HUMANS BY MATT HAIG

The Humans is quite simply one of those novels that you wish you had written. Remarkably inventive, heart-warming, very funny and gripping right up to the last page. Matt Haig’s fifth book is really something special.

One Friday night Professor Andrew Martin is found walking naked through the streets of Cambridge. He feels lost amongst his new species. He is repulsed by human food, clothes, their appearance – and even by his wife and teenage son. In fact he hates everyone and everything except his dog, Newton.

But as he sets about the tasks that he has been sent to Earth to complete, he gradually starts to change his mind about the human race. Haig uses this fantastic story to explore what it is to love and be human and all that is weird and wonderful about that. Like looking at our planet through an outer body experience (from outer space). Continue reading

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Perfectly English but lacking intrigue

THE GRANTCHESTER MYSTERIES: SIDNEY CHAMBERS & THE PERIL OF THE NIGHT

BY JAMES RUNCIE
Grantchester starts as a new series on ITV soon. I kept hearing about these detective stories and decided to investigate further. The results were disappointing and twee-er than Midsomer Murders and Doc Martin put together.

Canon Sidney Chambers is a young loveable priest and part time amateur sleuth. In this book, the second in the series, he is called upon to investigate the death of a Cambridge don who falls from the chapel roof, an arson, a poisoning at a cricket match and a web of spies. He also has to make up his mind on a trip to Berlin whether he is actually ready to marry the charming German widow.

Set in post-war Cambridge, this is light, fluffy and nice enough. The setting is all cricket on the green, meat paste sandwiches, lardy cake and trusty Labradors. Perfectly English and pitched well, it is a welcome step back in time but could do with a lot more guts, pace and intrigue for me.

SOUTHSEA BOOKWORM RATING: 5.5/10

Notes on the author – James Runcie

  • Head of Literature at the Southbank Centre
  • Award winning film maker and author of 6 novels
  • Lives in London and Edinburgh

 

Art heist loses the plot

DON’T POINT THAT THING AT ME: THE FIRST CHARLIE MORTDECAI NOVEL

BY KYRIL BONFIGLIOLI

Dont point that thing at me

I came across this new reissued edition of the first Charlie Mortdecai novel when the new covers got tweeted by Penguin UK. I bought it on a whim the next time I was out book-shopping and looked forward to it being as the New Yorker says: “an unholy collaboration between P.G. Wodehouse and Ian Fleming.”

Well, it kind of was, and those were the aspects that I did like in this short novel.

Charlie is a criminally-minded aristocratic art dealer who likes art, money, dirty jokes and heavy drinking. Here we find him up to his neck in it with Chief Superintendent Martland on his tail after the theft of a Goya painting. Unfortunately for Charlie and his violent manservant Jock, possessing the canvas sees them in trouble not just with Martland’s boys in blue but also with some very nasty armed men.

The prose here is indeed witty, sometimes amusing and the violent endings that many who cross Charlie and Jock’s paths meet with, sets it apart from a straight up Jeeves and Wooster type tale. However what I didn’t like was that the plot was very far-fetched, difficult to follow and we are presented with no sympathetic characters to root for.

This is the first book in a trilogy first published in the early 1970s – I don’t think I’ll be pursuing the next two books. I would, though, recommend this for someone who just wants a short novel to read in a day, perhaps atop a narrow boat soothing through the Norfolk Broads or at a picnic under a tree. It’s funny in places, sometimes gripping, raunchy here and there with some quite tasty shootings and beatings if you like that sort of thing.

SOUTHSEA BOOKWORM: 5/10

Notes on the author – Kyril Bonfiglioli

  • Born in Eastbourne in 1928 to an English mother and a Italian-Slovenian father
  • He studied at Oxford University, spent 5 years in the army and then became an art dealer like his creation
  • An accomplished fencer, shooter and “serial marrier of beautiful women.”
  • He died in Jersey in 1985

Adrian Mole meets Mary Poppins

LOVE, NINA : DESPATCHES FROM FAMILY LIFE

BY NINA STIBBE

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In a London bookshop I challenged my husband to find a book he thought I’d like. Minutes later he returned with “Love, Nina.” The cover art included a tube of Toffos, a strip tease pen and glowing praise from one my favourite authors, Nick Hornby. He knows me so well – I was sold! Always judge a book by its cover.

In 1982 Nina Stibbe, aged 20, moves from Leicester to London to work as a nanny for a brilliantly eccentric family with famous connections. She could not cook and had no idea how to look after children, or who the strange guests that called round were. “Love, Nina” is the collection of letters she wrote home to her sister Victoria hilariously describing her new domestic life. From turkey mince to Geoffrey Chaucer, swearing in German to Trevor Brooking, every letter is crammed with batty anecdotes from 55 Gloucester Crescent.

Nina obviously adored her employer Mary-Kay Wilmers (Deputy Editor of the London Review of Books) and her two children Sam, 10, and Will, 9. There was also the hated cat Lucas, competing nannies in the Primrose Hill area, literary students and Alan Bennett – a neighbour who appeared at supper times and whose discussions across the dinner table with the kids are absolutely priceless – as is his on-going critique of Nina’s cooking.

This cast of (real-life) characters is rich and Nina has a turn of phrase and writes with a tone that is nothing short of comic genius. Every page is an absolute hoot and I read and re-read every letter in a bubble of sheer escapism and joy. The many 1980s references throughout the book also filled me with a sunny, happy nostalgia. As Nick Hornby said; “I adored this books and could quote from it forever.”

So could I but I won’t here. You need to buy this, read it and laugh yourself silly or ROFL as the kids say. One of the funniest books I’ve ever read.

SOUTHSEA BOOKWORM RATING: 9.5/10

Notes on the author: Nina Stibbe

  • Studied at Thames Polytechnic and worked in publishing
  • Now lives in Cornwall with her family
  • Look out for her next book – a novel called Man at the Helm released in August 2014

The times they are a-changing

BREWSTER 

BY MARK SLOUKA

Brewster

A critics quote on the back cover of this book said: “Reading Brewster is like entering the very heart of a Bruce Springsteen song – all grace, all depth, all sinew.” I bought it on the spot. Sounded perfect to me.

Brewster is a coming of age story set in small-town America in the late Sixties. Like the Dylan records they listen to by the reservoir, the times they are a-changing for Jon Mosher and his best friend, local legend Ray Cappicciano.

Set against the backdrop of finishing up school, long summers, track running, fist fighting and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Fortunate Son,’ Mosher and his pals dream of a way out of their tragic home lives – with abuse and bereavement at the heart of this novel.

What follows is an intense story, one written with devastating patience that burns slowly and brilliantly. The narrative is gripping and Slouka uses minimalist but excellent prose to conjure up the mood of the era.

Surprising and dramatic events in the final chapters finish off a terrific read. One to devour.

SOUTHSEA BOOKWORM RATING: 9/10

Notes on the author: Mark Slouka

  • Author of two other novels – Lost Lake and The Visible World
  • Contributing editor to Harper’s
  • Lives in upstate New York

The best 9 books to read with your kids

THE QUENTIN BLAKE TREASURY BY QUENTIN BLAKE

One of the best gifts The Southsea Bookworm received from Santa this Christmas was an anthology of drawings and verse from my favourite illustrator, Quentin Blake.

qb treasury

Undoubtedly best known for his artwork that accompanied Roald Dahl’s wonderful collection of children stories such as The BFG and Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, Blake fills every page he’s ever published with wit, wonder and joy.

This beautifully presented volume of nine books showcases his other work from his very first picture book through to his most recent short stories, poems and songs. And I can tell you that the drawings and rhymes here are an endless delight.

Here is what you’ll find included in the Treasury:qb treasury 2

  •  All Join In
  • Quentin Blake’s Nursery Rhyme Book
  • Patrick
  • Angelica Sprocket’s Pockets
  • Mister Magnolia
  • Quentin Blake’s ABC
  • Cockatoos
  • Angel Pavement
  • Mrs Armitage Queen of the Road

“All join in” and “Cockatoos” in particular made me yearn for childhood again. The witty rhymes are full of cheeky mischief and things like banana fizz and people with alligators in their pockets. His drawings as ever are stunning and hilarious – the kind of pictures you can look at for hours and suddenly see a bird hiding in the corner or a snake slithering up someone’s trouser leg. This Treasury is totally fun, very silly and enormously clever stuff.

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