How to Suck at Business Without Really Trying Book Review

How to Suck at Business Marah Archer Book Review

How to Suck at Business Without Really Trying is, if it isn’t nakedly apparent from the title, a satirical text on breathtakingly bad business management.

Written in the style of a self-help business book, it’s designed to impart pearls of wisdom and innovative insights from a sociopathic entrepreneur who has grown their corporate empire from nothing.

These types of books, often penned by self-styled ‘LinkedIn Gurus,’ are ripe for parody and yet How to Suck at Business Without Really Trying falls flat. Amusing in parts, the book unfortunately leans into predictable satire that never truly evolves beyond the first joke.

How to Suck at Business Without Really Trying
Overview

From business strategy and HR policies (a particular highlight), to marketing and project management, Archer’s text features some of the most egregious, irresponsible, and morally bereft business advice, packaged as wisdom. That in itself has the potential to be hilarious.

It’s a social commentary on American workers’ rights, damning the power that unscrupulous bosses have over their employees.

This should be a fairly straightforward target for some sharp satire. And yet somehow How to Suck at Business Without Really Trying is to satire what a blunt instrument is to open-heart surgery, bludgeoning the same point over-and-over.

Even the title is problematic. The writer-character of the book is absolutely convinced he’s the world’s best boss, and yet How to Suck at Business Without Really Trying breaks immersion by implying that the ‘real’ author simply wants to vent at their experience of bad managers.

Still, it’s not an altogether bad book. There’s some solid social commentary and amusing remarks on business culture that, frustratingly, shows what this book could have been.

Like David Brent, but Without the Charm

Our main character, the self-proclaimed ‘world’s best boss’, reveals as much about his own life through his running commentary and actions, as the misery he piles upon his employees. He’s a seedy, tragically bad manager who has convinced himself that he’s an industry thought leader.

But he lacks any sort of charm to offset the lack of humanity. The boss of How to Suck at Business Without Really Trying is a straight-up terrible human being, without any vulnerabilities or complexities that would enable the reader to connect with him on any meaningful level. He’s insecure and hates his employees succeeding.

There’s a missed opportunity here to introduce doubt, or sincerity, like The Office’s (UK) David Brent. Brent is a pretty ethically and morally dubious boss, but he’s entirely sincere in his buffoonery.

How to Suck at Business David Brent
Like this guy, but not.

The boss in this book is only comparable with David Brent insofar that he possesses the same dated and misguided views, but lacks any corresponding charm whatsoever. The result is that the running joke quickly begins to grate.

Satire at its best works with a wink and a smile, straddling an uncomfortable gap of truth and exaggeration. The problem is that How to Suck at Business Without Really Trying keeps winking over and over, whilst holding up a sign daubed with “this is satire”.

Conclusion

Anyone who has worked for terrible (or hostile) management will find some relatability in this book. It runs the full gamut of areas in a business, with our main character naturally professing to be an expert in almost all areas.

However, the humour is very on the nose, and once you’ve read a couple of chapters, you’ve pretty much read them all.

A mildly humorous read, but not the most original.

2/5

Full disclaimer: A review copy was kindly provided by the author and publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Wild and Wicked Things by Francesca May Book Review

Wild and Wicked Things by Francesca May Book Review

Review contains affiliate links to bookshop.org. Purchasing the book through these links provides the blog with a small commission at no additional cost to you.

A reimagining of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby with a supernatural twist, Francesca May’s Wild and Wicked Things spins a compelling yarn about the bond between three women – Annie, Emmeline, and Bea. It’s a terrific tale of witches, blood magic, and small-town intrigue on the shores of the North Sea.

An atmospheric, slow burner that delights throughout, it’s clear that May has poured love and passion into building her characters, as well as the dark, moody setting of Crow Island. The result is a tangible and authentic world – a kind of richness that many authors dream of.

And whilst the aesthetic often recalls more Roaring Twenties America than its apparent UK setting, Wild and Wicked Things is a sensual and stylish Sapphic novel.

It’s an exceptional piece of writing.

Drawn to Crow Island to settle some routine legal affairs following the death of her father, Annie Mason walks the shore of her holiday cottage, drawn along the beach to the revelries of the manor next door.

Cross House, home of the notorious Emmeline Delacroix, is renowned for its raucous parties and flowing of Kazam (an alcohol that may-or-may-not be laced with magic). Warned of this, Annie is nonetheless magnetised, pulling her into a world of illicit magic and forbidden romance.

With the exception of brief diary entries from a mysterious individual, the novel functions as a twin narrative, flowing between both Annie and Emmeline’s perspectives. Given Wild and Wicked Things’ predilection for revealing its secrets in a gradual manner, this style works well – each character’s perspective proffers pieces of a narrative jigsaw in an attempt to uncover the true nature of the mysterious bond between Annie and Emmeline.

Wild and Wicked Things might be a slower-paced novel, but it never wastes the reader’s time. Each conversation reveals aspects of character, driving the plot forward, or helps further build this marvellous world. Take your time with it – it’s a rewarding piece of writing that has been crafted meticulously to be enjoyed.

Something Wicca this Way Comes…

Being a Gatsby-inspired novel, Wild and Wicked Things is glamorous and raucous. In fact, May’s novel leans fairly heavily into the Gatsby-like influences early on. 

For example, there’s a purple light across the bay instead of a green one; Emmeline resembles Jay Gatsby in numerous ways, and Annie’s modest house, set across the way from Emmeline’s, is similarly placed to Nick Carraway’s own humble abode. Fans of Gatsby will find these references comfortingly familiar.

Still, because it’s so culturally intertwined with Roaring Twenties America, it’s difficult to divorce Wild and Wicked Things from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic American novel. Crow Island itself is a fictional place and therefore exists in its own spatial dimension. So whilst the setting feels authentic, it never feels especially British. 

This isn’t a bad thing at all, and it certainly doesn’t affect immersion – Wild and Wicked Things is a highly stylised novel that borrows ideas from The Great Gatsby and builds upon them in some really fascinating ways. 

Any surface-level influences eventually yield to reveal deeper, darker secrets. It’s when the parties are over and the lights are dimmed in the hallowed halls of Cross House that Wild and Wicked Things truly comes into its own, usurping readers’ expectations with a thrilling plot.

There’s also far more at stake than a linear plot about witches. Wild and Wicked Things is also a thoughtful, methodical examination of what it was to be LGBT in the early 20th century. 

Magic is often presented in the society of the novel as a frowned-upon practice, functioning as a smart metaphor for homosexuality. Indeed, Emmeline herself is often portrayed as a mysterious and malevolent force, her predation upon young women playing into age-old, harmful tropes that many will be familiar with.

It’s a social topic handled sensitively, with May’s novel challenging these tropes and social mores, engendering empathy in the reader thanks to fantastic, well-written characters.

To Bea or Not to Bea

It’s fairly clear when an author knows their characters, and May has evidently spent many a day and night with these individuals. These aren’t just characters on a page. From mannerisms and gestures to inflections in dialogue, they feel like real people, and that’s testament to the writing and world-building. 

Bea is insecure and desperate, but unlike Daisy, her counterpart in The Great Gatsby, it’s relatively easy to empathise with her.

Likewise, Emmeline is a complex woman, tortured by her past and haunted by her future. She’s strong but vulnerable, with a reputation as an Anne Lister-like sort; corrupting young women and ensnaring them into her cult of personality (if, of course, you believe the rumours). Naturally, the truth isn’t quite as clear-cut as that.

Annie, on the other hand, appears at first glance to be an inquisitive but shy young woman. But unlike Nick Carraway of The Great Gatsby, she’s an active participant in Wild and Wicked Things, driving the narrative and shaping the lives of those around her. Beneath her innocent, seemingly passive, demeanour is an influential, forthright woman trying to find her true self. 

Meanwhile, Isobel & Nathan, two of Wild and Wicked Things’ supporting cast, are excellent additions, playing off against Emmeline’s dark, brooding demeanour.

Conclusion

This is one of the books to read in 2022. Especially if you enjoy witchy vibes and magic realism. But it also features some fantastic social commentary.

May has a wonderfully evocative style of descriptive writing that conjures vivid imagery at the mere turning of a page. The setting and aesthetics drip with detail, and the characters are fully-realised three-dimensional people. They have flaws, make terrible decisions, and it’s because of this, amongst other reasons, that they’re so much more believable. May takes all the time necessary to reveal their hopes and fears and the novel is far stronger for it.

In short, Wild and Wicked Things is a terrific novel that’s well worth your time.

5/5

Full disclaimer: A review copy was kindly provided by the author and publisher in exchange for an honest review.

How to Read Like a Writer by Erin Pushman Book Review

How to Read Like a Writer by Erin Pushman Book Review

How to Read Like a Writer, by Dr Erin Pushman, is a 10-chapter exploration of the pillars of creative writing which discusses how, by reading like a writer, you can improve your own writing skills.

With some excellent tips imparted in an easy-to-digest manner, this is a solid primer for the budding writer on how to read in a more analytical way.

But the retail pricing of the book raises significant questions over what the commercial market for this book is.

How to Read Like a Writer
Overview

If you want to be a writer, you need to read more – according to conventional wisdom. You also need to ‘read like a writer’. But what exactly does this mean in practice? 

Fortunately Erin Pushman has assembled a plethora of examples in this short but concise handbook. 

It’s a practical text that discusses topics including ‘pace,’ ‘theme,’ and ‘setting’ in sufficient detail, before assigning the reader a handful of post-chapter writing activities. These chapters guide the reader with some excellent bite-size analyses of each area of writing whilst the activities are thought-provoking enough to help the reader retain the knowledge.

One issue How to Read Like a Writer has, however, is repetition. Pushman frequently uses the same passages from certain texts to illustrate that chapter’s particular lesson. For example, an identical extract from Zadie Smith’s The Embassy of Cambodia appears at least four times across the whole book.

Whilst familiarity with a text makes it easier to comprehend the argument, it does make for incredibly tedious reading. Assuming a basic level of comprehension on the reader’s behalf, and using more varied examples, would have been far more effective.

Regardless, How to Read Like a Writer does a fantastic job of presenting an array of writing styles. This is not simply a how-to guide on writing a 300-page literary fiction novel. Pushman explores fiction (both genre and literary), poetry in its various forms, creative nonfiction, memoir, and so much more.

There’s a remarkable breadth of writing examples on show, and this has to be commended.

Commercial vs Academic Readership

There is one glaring issue with How to Read Like a Writer – and that’s that it isn’t immediately clear who the audience for this book actually is.

On the one hand, it’s published by Bloomsbury Academic, and certainly priced like an academic textbook with an RRP of £19.99 for the paperback and an eye-watering £59.99 for the hardback. Plus, with a bevy of post-chapter activities, the book appears to be designed for formal creative writing classes.

But here’s the thing – if you’re an established writer, you probably won’t need this book.

On the other hand, an aspiring writer who doesn’t have access to a university library is unlikely to drop a significant amount of money just to read this book. Especially when Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer and Stephen King’s On Writing are available on the shelf for the price of a regular paperback.

Comparisons with Reading Like a Writer

Purely because of the near-identical title, it’s inevitable that Pushman’s book will be compared with the veritable monolith of creative writing 101, Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer.

What is apparent from the beginning is that Erin Pushman’s tone and writing style is far more approachable and open-minded to different kinds of writing. Whereas Prose’s book comes at writing from a purely literary stance (and frequently comes across as hostile towards genre fiction), Pushman embraces writing of all stripes.

That’s one of the great things about this book – it’s designed to elevate the writer, not tell them that they’ll never be James Joyce. It’s inviting, convivial, and encouraging for a budding writer – if you can afford it.

And herein lies the issue. This is a book commercially aimed at the more costly academic market, and yet the content is more aimed at creative writing beginners. Meanwhile, Prose’s book – an arguably more reliable academic text – can be picked up for under £10.

Conclusion

How to Read Like a Writer is a solid primer on teaching readers how to read like a writer. It breaks down the various aspects of writing into digestible chunks and includes some brilliant exercises to reinforce the lessons in each chapter.

But with the average reader priced out of the market and an academic writer not requiring a book to teach them how to read like a writer, who is How to Read Like a Writer actually aimed at? It’s not entirely apparent.

And yet, whilst it’s a little repetitive in parts, Pushman’s book is undoubtedly a useful point of reference for those looking to improve their writing craft.

3/5

Full disclaimer: A review copy was kindly provided by the author and publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Bibi Blundermuss and the Tree Across the Cosmos Book Review

Bibi Blundermuss Book Review Header

Bibi Blundermuss and the Tree Across the Cosmos, a middle-grade fantasy novel from Andrew Durkin, is a wonderful adventure that presents a compelling and well-crafted world, whilst telling a wholesome narrative.

Featuring a diverse cast and some great worldbuilding, Bibi Blundermuss and the Tree Across the Cosmos is a must-read for children aged 10 to 13, though adults will also appreciate the whimsical world presented by Durkin too.

Bibi Blundermuss and the Tree Across the Cosmos
Overview

Like many children’s fiction novels before it, the titular Bibi Blundermuss’s parents are missing. This is a familiar trope, but it’s written in a way that still feels fresh. In the meantime, Bibi lives with her Grandma, but longs for a reunion with her absent mother & father.

After her cat, Eek, is swept away to a distant world across the cosmos, Bibi is determined not to lose anyone else from her life. Following him, she finds herself embroiled in a longstanding conflict between creatures such as Elk, Lions, Spirits, and Arbor Guardians. It’s a really unique tale that successfully captures the elusive magic of children’s storytelling – thought-provoking, fantastical, and authentic.

In fact, with talking animals, a truly inquisitive lead, and some great writing, Durkin’s novel draws favourable comparisons with CS Lewis’s tales in Narnia. 

And similarly to stories like Narnia, part of the appeal of Bibi Blunderbuss and the Tree Across the Cosmos is the clashing of the divide between our rational world and the fey-like world of the Woodskulls and Trolliclawians.

This binary opposition of the ordinary versus the fantastical captures that wonderful childlike feeling that perhaps, just maybe, you too could stumble into a forbidden realm one day. It’s wonderful.

The world is beautifully rich and detailed, with Durkin creating unique animal tribes and presenting a mythos that’s interesting without being overly convoluted or complex.

If there were one criticism, it’s that the book is arguably a little violent for the age range. Animals wound each other, quite severely. Opinions will likely vary on this, but it’s worth mentioning.

Conclusion

Overall, Bibi Blundermuss and the Tree Across the Cosmos is a very good book, and a must-read for young readers.

It’s a fantastic example of diverse fantasy done well, with Bibi’s parents being of South African and Icelandic descent. Both the Zulu and Icelandic languages are included throughout the novel too, which is a nice touch.

And barring an aggressive overuse of the word hylophobia and an uninspiring title, Bibi Blundermuss and the Tree Across the Cosmos is a very well written book. The language is clear, concise, and highly descriptive – it’s a writing style that captures the magic of reading for younger readers exceptionally well.

Strong recommendation.

4/5

Bibi Blundermuss and the Tree Across the Cosmos is published by Yellow Bike Press, and can be purchased at Amazon UK.

Full disclaimer: A review copy was kindly provided by the author and publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Step Forward, Harry Salt by Ross Lowe Book Review

Step Forward, Harry Salt Book Review

Step Forward, Harry Salt is a bit bonkers.

And by this, I mean that there’s a character called Royds Spittoon and a horse drop-kicks a car.

Following the equally bonkers Seven Nights at the Flamingo HotelBearded Badger Books’ second published novel – and author Ross Lowe’s debut – sees the titular Harry Salt drawn into a Hot Fuzz-esque conspiracy amongst the hills of Derbyshire.

It’s sinister at times, tremendously daft, and a lot of fun.

Step Forward, Harry Salt
Overview

‘The Change’ is coming.

Millions of people voted for it but nobody really knows why – or what The Change even is for that matter. But the will of the people is to be enacted, whatever that will might be.

Caught up in the middle of this moment of national celebration/crisis (delete as appropriate) is Harry Salt.

He’s a regular guy – pretty nondescript and bumbling through life – though far from dull. He’s your Martin Freeman-esque everyman and therefore the ideal protagonist for a novel like Step Forward, Harry Salt; a book packed with zany hijinks, set against the backdrop of Britain floating in a Brexity soup.

It’s a parody, though not a particularly subtle one. The novel re-treads familar arguments from the Brexit referendum and dials them up to eleven, pouring scorn and ridicule upon the pro-Brexit argument. 

Sometimes hilarious, other times a little on-the-nose, one thing is certain – Step Forward, Harry Salt is a brilliant novel, packed to the rafters with witty observations, brilliant characters, and a marvellous mystery.

Parental Poignancy & Parody

Step Forward Harry Salt uses a past/present twinned narrative, pinging the reader back and forth between Harry’s years as a child – his memories with his Father in particular – and the present day.

These memories feature some of the best writing in the novel. It’s often highly poignant, other times disarming – even troubling perhaps – but these passages feel reminiscent and personal; transposing Harry’s memories onto the reader in a nostalgic manner.

Meanwhile, in the modern day, the Ministry of People where Harry works, presents an almost Pratchett-like parody of Orwell’s ministries in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Whilst highly secretive, The Ministry of People is less overtly sinister than Orwell’s depictions of government – rather more bureaucratic and somewhat odd.

This ability to traipse the line between being disconcerting and humorous is disarming as a reader – it’s alienating, making for an interesting read.

Conclusion

Lowe has a lovely style of writing. It’s simple, cheerful, and witty – the sort of writing you really appreciate reading after a book like Dune Messiah; a novel with so much word salad, you could launch a vegan restaurant.

But truly, Step Forward, Harry Salt is a pleasure to read. It’s also fascinating insofar that it defies genre. 

There are Sci-Fi elements, political satire, fantasy, speculative fiction, and magic realism. It’s extraordinary, because the novel holds these elements together in a really authentic way, never feeling mismatched.

And because of this, the novel will appeal to a wide range of readers. 

It’s off-beat, but in the best kind of way. Great stuff.

4/5

Step Forward, Harry Salt can be purchased directly from Bearded Badger Publishing.

Winterset Hollow by Jonathan Edward Durham Book Review

Winterset Hollow Book Review Blog Banner

Winterset Hollow is a novel about a novel called Winterset Hollow.

Sound confusing? Don’t worry – it isn’t. 

Jonathan Edward Durham’s debut novel is, however, a fascinating blend of genres.

Dark fantasy meets metafiction, whilst whimsical children’s fiction meets slasher. The result of this rather outlandish experiment is a remarkable piece of fiction that sticks long in the memory.

Winterset Hollow
Overview

It’s Barley Day on Addington Isle – an isolated private island where reclusive author Edward Addington, the author once resided. Winterset Hollow, a popular in-text fictional novel, was once written by Addington and has since acquired a cult following.

Adored in particular by Eamon, our protagonist, and a plucky group of teenagers (as is customary), they plan a trip to the island to celebrate the novel, and commemorate its mercurial author.

But like all good horror tales, the euphoria of our emboldened cast of impressionable youths is short-lived, with things going south rapidly, and rather spectacularly.

Barley Day is, after all, a day of feasting, hunting, and extravagant celebrations. But this time, the anthropomorphised animals of Addington’s tale – Flaxwell Frog, Bing Bear, Finn Fox, and Runny Rabbit (amongst others) – are out for revenge, revolting against their own author, and its readership.

It’s as if Beatrix Potter’s merry cast of creatures developed a predilection for torture and violence. Disturbing, but admittedly a lot of fun.

A Horror Classic with Literary Merit

Despite its slasher elements, Winterset Hollow remains literary in its pretensions. It’s well written, explores metafictional ideas of authorhood, and challenges the morality & ethics of our own contemporary society.

The novel also utilises some fascinating meta-elements, not least by including a novel of the same name within the text. 

It’s clever, without being complex or gimmicky, and serves as a prism through which we, as readers, judge our own actions. The inversion of animals hunting humans being the most obvious social and ethical commentary.

Whereas the humans in the novel range from plot meat bags to endearing and relatable, Durham’s creature-characters are all a genuine thrill and the true highlight of the novel. 

Donny Darko Winterset Hollow Meme
The visual equivalent of reading Winterset Hollow

Lovingly detailed, Durham breathes genuine life into the full horror of Addington’s complex menagerie.

Consider the names Runny Rabbit and Bing Bear, for example. They conjure an image of a Saturday morning children’s cartoon; plush, friendly, and easy-going creatures. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth – these animals are cunning, gruesome, and violent.

And yet, they’re also extraordinarily charismatic, with motives that extend beyond a mere love of killing. Some, in fact, resent it entirely. Their behaviours, masochistic in practice, are underpinned by complex, albeit jilted, moral justifications.

This makes for a fascinating and thoughtful read.

Conclusion

Winterset Hollow is a truly unique novel. Blending the twee with the macabre, Durham has produced a delightfully dark fantasy that thrills.

The setting of Addington Manor is dripping with detail; it’s halls sinister and lonely. This level of rich detail is lightning in a bottle for any author, and Durham excels at it.

The characters are fantastic, for the most part, with Addington’s creatures shining the brightest. Eamon serves as a serviceable protagonist, whilst his companions aren’t quite so memorable. On the other hand, Finn Fox is a real standout. Creepy, unpredictable, and highly unnerving, he’s a persistent foil to the protagonists.

There are some minor pacing issues, mind. What begins as a slow burner, quickly pivots into an action frenzy and never really slows down. Revelations are made that perhaps deserved more time and consideration, but instead struggle to properly surface amidst the gluttony of action.

Some readers won’t mind this, however – especially because the novel is tremendously fun, and the writing remains of a very high quality.

A lot of love and attention has gone into Winterset Hollow, and it shows. It’s a fantastic debut effort, and I’d strongly encourage my readers to add this to their TBR lists – especially with it being available on Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited programme.

4/5

Winterset Hollow is available at Amazon in both paperback and eBook.

Full disclaimer: A review copy was kindly provided by the author and publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden Book Review

Mrs Death Misses Death Book Review Horizontal

Mrs Death Misses Death is the must-read book of 2021 and Tales from Absurdia’s Book of the Year. 

It’s a modern masterpiece that transcends form and genre. This is perhaps part of the reason that, despite having read Mrs Death Misses Death over 6 months ago, I’ve been mulling over the best way to review a book like this. Because this is, undoubtedly, a difficult book to review.

Salena Godden, a UK poet of great renown, wrote sections of her debut novel to music. This is especially apparent if you read the audiobook. At times, the narrative unfolds as prose. Other times, it manifests itself into Godden’s more familiar form of poetry. 

The tale of Mrs Death even transforms into a screenplay/radio drama of sorts for a brief period. There’s a fluidity to the writing that refuses to be pinned down and categorised by a mere review.

But don’t be mistaken – there is no pretense to Godden’s novel, nor is this an overly complicated book, requiring only ‘high brow’ tastes in order to read. This kind of exclusivity is what Mrs Death Misses Death rails against. 

Godden is merely inventive and explorative in the way that she imparts her tale. It’s clever, thrilling, and never gets in the way of the novel itself.

'Spoiler Alert: We all Die in the End'

Mrs Death Misses Death features two central characters. Wolf Willeford is the first; a poet and aspiring writer whose mother died in a fire when their block of flats went up in flames, echoing the tragedy of Grenfell Tower.

And then there’s Mrs Death herself. In spite of her name, she is not the wife of Death but death itself.

Wolf, author of the in-text Mrs Death Misses Death, transcribes the stories she imparts whilst reaping souls on her journey through history and time.

‘Mrs Death is the woman we hardly see, the woman we do not care to see. She is the person we ignore, she is the pause in the silence, she is the invisible woman. She is the refugee at the border. She is the cleaner. She is the backing singer we never bother to learn the name of.’

But Mrs Death, a shape-shifter who reconfigures her appearance throughout the novel, is tired of reaping the departed. She’s saddened by the deaths in Syria, and the suicides of people gone long before their time.

This is a dark tale of violent imagery, crippling poverty, and sexual exploitation. The Tale of Tilly Tuppence is particularly emotionally challenging to read.

Ir’s also an essential book for the modern reader – Godden raises a mirror, forcing a confrontation between the reader and the injustices they’ve witnessed in life, and probably ignored.

The pronoun ‘we’ is used persistently throughout, thrusting culpability upon the reader, not dissimilar to the way Albert Camus’s Jean-Baptiste in The Fall scolds the reader for their hypocrisies.

It’s deeply personal, and deeply unsettling.

'Mourn the dead and fight like hell for the living'

In spite if the unsettling content here, it’s worth mentioning that Mrs Death Misses Death is not a nihilistic book in the slightest.

After all, this is a novel penned by the writer of Pessimism is for Lightweights: 13 Pieces of Courage and Resistance.

“Mourn the dead, and fight like hell for the living”, Godden inscribes in the front of the cover, urging us to look forward and focus our energies on improving the lives of the living, rather than lamenting the dead. Because ultimately, this is as much a novel about life as it is death.

Mrs Death Misses Death is also hilarious, alarmingly so considering the subject matter. The introduction, punctuated with witticisms such as ‘Spoiler alert: we all die in the end’, is quite possibly my favourite passage in literature – let alone this year.

This wry, acerbic humour punctuates the entire book, reminding the reader that finding humour in adversity is one of the greatest emancipators of our species.

Conclusion

What makes Mrs Death Misses Death book of the year, outstanding name aside, is its poignancy.

The final pages of the novel are left entirely blank, reserved for the reader to write down the names and dates of loved ones passed on.

In the context of the time that this book was published, at the height of the COVID pandemic, this is a remarkable gesture and testament to the novel’s mature treatment of both life and death. 

Given the scale of loss we’ve suffered collectively as a species in recent years, this is particularly poignant. In pathos, Mrs Death Misses Death encourages us to celebrate life – and cherish the things we love. 

That’s a special kind of optimism we all need right now.

5/5

Mrs Death Misses Death is available at Bookshop.org in both paperback and hardback, or at Audible.co.uk for the audiobook.

T is for Time Travel Book Review

T is for Time Travel Stanlei Bellan Book Review

T is for Time Travel is a curious collection of short stories by Stanlei Bellan that spans the fullness of space and time.

Included are a colourful array of stories that range from the abstract to the profound. And for a book that stands at circa 120 pages, Bellan is able to extract a bevy of interesting time travel-related hijinks and present them in a concise manner.

It’s thought-provoking without being complex – its simplicity belies the genius contained within.

T is for Time Travel
Overview

I’m sometimes quite suspicious of time travel in fiction. Too often it creates unnecessary complexity, and in the worst cases, problematic plot holes.

So what’s fantastic about T for Time Travel is that it leans into, and even acknowledges some of these shortcomings in the genre with a dash of irony, whilst still providing some genuinely fascinating tales. 

It’s evident that T is for Time Travel was, no doubt, a lot of fun for the author to write. And that comes across to the reader. It’s playful, self-referential, and emotionally satisfying. whilst still not taking itself too seriously – and that makes for a great read.

Bellan experiments with changes in tense, metacommentary throughout, and direct address to the reader – mostly with great success, making T is for Time Travel intellectually stimulating, whilst also spinning a good yarn or two.

The Tales of T is for Time Travel
Rapid-Fire Review

Most of T is for Time Travel’s ten short stories are highly entertaining. 

The first, Another Time, was a little abstract. However, later entries are progressively more interesting and build a wider metanarrative not unlike Cloud Atlas, albeit on a far smaller scale.

Particular highlights include Time Cleaners, which was uncannily reminiscent of the Disney+ Loki series, Wishful Timing, and Tempus Pompeius.

Another Time ⭐⭐

Time to Light ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Time Cleaners ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Wild Times ⭐⭐⭐

Time for Everything ⭐⭐

Better Luck Next Time ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Only Time Will Tell ⭐⭐⭐

Wishful Timing ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Tempus Pompeius ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Behind the Timestream ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Conclusion

T is for Time Travel is well worth your time (pun intended).

It’s smart, well written, and raises some genuinely fascinating time-related conundrums.

The inclusion of a crossword at the end, with clues littered throughout the text, was a particularly impressive (though unexpected) addition. 

Some may find this a little gimmicky; I think it’s a fun experimentation with structural form that encourages re-reading the book. It helps that the stories are, for the most part, well written and exciting to read.

If you’re remotely interested in time travel-related speculative fiction, then definitely give it a go. 

In any case, it’s only just over 120 pages – what have you got to lose?

4/5

T is for Time Travel is available at Amazon in paperback, hardback and eBook. 

Full disclaimer: A review copy was kindly provided by the author and publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Children of Dune Book Review

Children of Dune Book Review

A return to form, following Dune Messiah.

Title: Children of Dune
Author: Frank Herbert
Pages:
408
Published by: Orion Books (1976)

Children of Dune is the third & final entry in Frank Herbert’s self-styled ‘magnificent Dune trilogy’ (confusingly, he did of course go on to write three more Dune books).

And, for the most part, Children of Dune represents a return to form after the breathtakingly uninteresting Dune Messiah.

A host of exciting characters from the original Dune novel return, whilst new characters such as Paul’s Atreides’s children, Leto II and Ghanima, are surprise highlights.

Meanwhile, the Atreides reign of Arrakis is beginning to wane – their influence spent.

Herbert’s writing style continues to frustrate, however – often getting in the way of what is a decent story.

End of an Era

There’s a sombre undertone to Children of Dune. House Atreides is weary in the absence of its leader Paul Muad’dib, whilst the planet Dune itself has been altered irreversibly from an endless desert to lush greenery.

Liet Kynes’s dream of a Dune full of water, plants, and vitality has come to fruition, but it’s all gone horribly wrong. Dune’s worms are dying, fenced in by the little remaining desert. The all important Spice therefore, is in increasingly short supply.

Meanwhile, the cult of Muad’dib has been corrupted, co-opted by opportunists, merchandise sellers, and other untrustworthy riff-raff. 

Verily, is Children of Dune an end of an era. It’s nostalgic for a long-forgotten past, as the new slowly, reluctantly, erases the old. This ennui permeates through the novel, and it’s a tone that works really well.

Herbert’s third novel also manages to strike a solid balance between its two predecessors.

It succeeds in being an intellectual book (which Dune Messiah largely fails) whilst telling a compelling story not dissimilar to the first book. Leto’s II’s own journey mirrors his father’s, providing some great callbacks to the original novel.

And whilst it’s not perfect, Children of Dune provides a satisfying end to the trilogy, echoing elements of a Shakespearean tragedy.

Herbert's Writing Style Still Frustrates

Herbert is a frustrating writer. 

He’s highly intellectual, clearly, and as a big fan of philosophical novels, I can respect that. But he has a tendency to let esoteric ideas and tyrannical prose get in the way of the story & world-building.

This is a problem for all but the most patient readers.

Vague meandering and extended monologues, continue their tyrannical reign in Herbert’s third novel, which is massively frustrating.

Unfortunately, if you didn’t like the writing style in Dune or Dune Messiah, you’ll have the same difficulties with Children of Dune.

Conclusion

Children of Dune is a solid entry in Herbert’s Dune universe. As ever, it’s thought-provoking and atmospheric.

And yet I can’t help but feel that I like the idea of Dune, more than I like Dune.

The world-building is undeniably excellent, but there’s a fog that settles over the reader of Herbert’s writing. Its vagueness has a tendency to get in the way of the plot. The dialogue is grand, but inauthentic. Motivations are unclear and sometimes illogical.

But one thing Dune cannot be criticised for is its depth. And whilst, at times, Herbert’s trilogy threatens to stumble over its own ambition, its scope has to be commended.

It’s very flawed brilliance.

3/5

Dune Messiah is available at Bookshop.org in paperback and hardback.