Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog CHOUETTE by Claire Oshetsky (@oshetsky) (@ViragoBooks) Disturbing, dark, difficult to categorise, but beautifully written #bookreview

Hi, all:

I bring you a book that is… well, special doesn’t cover it. I’m not sure it will the kind of book many of you would enjoy, but it raises important questions, and it is so unusual, I had to share it. Oh, and those covers!

Chouette by Claire Oshetsky

Chouette by Claire Oshetsky (@oshetsky

“Claire Oshetsky’s novel is a marvel: its language a joy, its imagination dizzying.” —Rumaan Alam, New York Times bestselling author of Leave the World Behind

An exhilarating, provocative novel of motherhood in extremis

Tiny is pregnant. Her husband is delighted. “You think this baby is going to be like you, but it’s not like you at all,” she warns him. “This baby is an owl-baby.”

When Chouette is born small and broken-winged, Tiny works around the clock to meet her daughter’s needs. Left on her own to care for a child who seems more predatory bird than baby, Tiny vows to raise Chouette to be her authentic self. Even in those times when Chouette’s behaviors grow violent and strange, Tiny’s loving commitment to her daughter is unwavering. When she discovers that her husband is on an obsessive and increasingly dangerous quest to find a “cure” for their daughter, Tiny must decide whether Chouette should be raised to fit in or to be herself—and learn what it truly means to be a mother.

Arresting, darkly funny, and unsettling, Chouette is a brilliant exploration of ambition, sacrifice, perceptions of ability, and the ferocity of motherly love.

Author Claire Oshetsky

About the author:

Claire Oshetsky is a novelist whose writing has appeared in Salon, Wired, and the New York Times. She lives with her family in California. Chouette draws on her own experiences of motherhood.

In her own words, in Goodreads:

Shy and nocturnal. Autistic. Demi woman. Avian.

I participate on Goodreads as the fashionably bearded “lark benobi” and you’re most welcome to come on over to my lark benobi page to follow my reviews and talk books with me.

If you have an interest in the music mentioned in Chouettehere is a playlist with most of it. The works by Patricia Taxxon are only available on the indie music site Bandcamp: Tiny hears “Cambria” by Patricia Taxxon when she runs into the gloaming as a child, and she hears “The Stars in My Head” by Patricia Taxxon at the end of her journey.

‘lark benobi’ is going to continue to be the place I hang out on goodreads, but since people are starting to follow me over here too I thought I’d use my ‘Claire Oshetsky’ zone to recommend books that people might like if they liked Chouette. Let’s call them “Bizarro Books.” Happy reading!

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and Virago for providing me an ARC copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

What a novel! I must confess I read a comment about this novel, saw the cover, and being crazy about anything owl I had to request it. It seems I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t resist the attraction of the cover, because many reviews mention it as well. Curiously, although the two covers of the novel I’ve seen are quite different (both have owls on the cover, but that’s the only similarity), they are fascinating and beautiful, each in its own way.

The brief description of the book made me think of a French film I saw quite a few years back (2009), called Ricky, directed by François Ozon, about a baby who grows wings and the effect that has on everybody around him, but… This novel is not like that. At all.

It is very difficult to review this novel because I am not sure how to classify it, and although that is often said, in this case, I believe it truly defies classification. lists it under three categories: Humorous literary fiction, contemporary literary fiction, and women’s literary fiction. I have also seen people referring to its style as “magic realism”, a category that seems to have many different definitions and conceptions. Having grown up reading Latin-American writers such as Gabriel García Márquez and Isabel Allende, I think of the genre as one where the story takes place in a world that is realistically rendered, but there are some events or characters that seem impossible, peculiar, or even magical, although that fact (that sometimes might be related to specific beliefs of the community, legends, stories) does not alter or transform totally the nature of the world. It is not a world of fantasy. It isn’t a story where somebody sees, does things, or has special powers that nobody else believes in, either. The whole world accepts what is happening as if it was the norm, and that creates quite a strange effect. (As I said, this is my understanding of magic realism, but not everybody thinks the same). With regards to the other categories suggested… Well, humorous fiction might apply, as there are some scenes that are so over the top and cartoonish, that although they are usually also very dark, they are funny. But there is so much disturbing and weird in the book, that I think most people wouldn’t think of it as a straight humorous read. There’s definitely no light humour here.

Literary fiction seems to fit well. This is not an easy book to read (it is quite short, but it makes one stop and pause often, and it’s difficult not to wonder and ponder at what might be going on), and the writing is precious, using sometimes pretty unusual and even out of place words (gendarme for a book set in California, for example), plenty of references to music (classical, contemporary, music from films, indie music…), and the main protagonists, both Tiny and Chouette, are women (well, or a woman and an owl baby, but a female owl baby), and a lot of the book centres around the notion of motherhood, educating and taking care of a child, a mother’s love, family and family relationships… There is something timeless about the book, and although it is not a piece of historical fiction, other than because references to artificial intelligence and to some of the other suggested therapies bring to mind our era, the story could be set years before or after, and it wouldn’t feel out of place (or rather, it would feel as out of place as it is in the here and now).

There are plenty of strange things happening in this book, but there seem to be two interpretations of what is going on. One, is what Tiny, the mother thinks. The other, what everybody else (or almost everybody else) thinks. Is this, therefore, a case of an extremely unreliable narrator? Some reviewers seem to think so and talk about Tiny suffering from some sort of psychotic break following her pregnancy and the birth of her child. Puerperal psychosis is a well-known diagnosis, as is post-partum depression. Because the story is told by Tiny (we never learn if she has another name) in the second person —as if this were a book she was writing to Chouette, her baby— it is possible that all the events she narrates, which seem to confirm that her baby is an owl baby (more owl than baby) were just in her imagination. (If you want to know what kind of things I’m talking about, I don’t want to go into a lot of detail, because some will probably be disturbing to readers, and I don’t want to spoil the story, but I’ll mention: the child hunting for small animals and feeding on them; attacking people, not only unknown people but also her own relatives and her parents as well; the fact that she never achieves her milestones and doesn’t develop as a “normal” baby; she can’t talk; she doesn’t walk and doesn’t seem to have normal limbs… There are also weird things going on in the house and some events from Tiny’s childhood that seem straight out of a dark and Gothic fairy tale, rather than a realistic novel, which also has a bearing on the story).

The rest of the world thinks that the baby might suffer from a metabolic and/or genetic condition affecting her growth and her development, and her father, who is the main advocate of such view, insists on trying to find a cure. (Of course, if we believe Tiny’s version, Chouette is not really the daughter of Tiny’s husband. But, I won’t reveal anything else). This causes some comedic moments, and some pretty tragic ones as well.

Is the whole novel a metaphor for what pregnancy and bringing up a baby, especially a baby with diverse needs, might be like? Tiny categorizes children (and by extent, people) into either dog-babies (those who are gregarious, love to play, chat, socialize, and achieve all their milestones at the required moments), and owl-babies (wild creatures who follow their own rhythm, don’t conform, and are not terribly sociable). The author’s biography and her comments seem to fit that interpretation, and there are moments in the book that felt quite recognisable to me. I’ve never had a child or been pregnant, so I’m not talking from direct experience, but from what friends who have children have told me, and what I have observed. There is much of the insecurity of not knowing if your approach to bringing up your child is right or not, of the exhaustion of having to be there twenty-four hours a day, or not being able to understand what is wrong and having to second-guess. Of feeling a fierce love and total frustration both at the same time. There are readers who subscribe to that view as well, and even reviewers who have strongly identified with the story. The fact that the author describes herself as “autistic” and “avian” seems to point in that direction too but… I am not sure I have decided what possible interpretation I favour, if I want to decide, or even if I need to.

Whichever interpretation readers give to the story, there is plenty to make people think. One of the themes that particularly grabbed me was the debate between Tiny and her husband as to the education and/or “treatment” for their daughter. Should they try to find a way for her to conform and become more like other children so that she can fit in her family and the society all around, or does she have the right to be herself and it is up to others to accept her and make her feel welcome, no matter how different from the norm she might be? What is “normal” after all, and who gets to decide and set the standards? This is one of the big questions that affect many aspects of our lives, in some hotly debated, highly controversial, and far from resolved, even in this day and age. There is no easy answer, but anything that can make us consider things from a different perspective is welcome.

If you want some facts to help you decide if you’d enjoy reading this novel, the book’s writing is gorgeous. I have mentioned the peculiar usage of words and the richness of the language, and although the images used can sometimes be extremely violent and disturbing, there are others that are breathtakingly beautiful. No matter what one might think of the story, or how puzzled one might feel by what is going on, there are paragraphs that I’d happily frame and hang on my wall.

Some random examples. Please, remember that this comes from an ARC copy, so there might be small changes in the final version.

Here, Tiny is watching her husband, before the baby is born:

I love to watch him shuffle the cards. I love the way he can fit himself into the world so rightly. He’s like a card in the deck that he has just squared up. I’m more like a card that somebody left out in the rain.

An example of humour (oh, and her husband’s family is a caution):

I’m the outlier. I’m known in the family as the tiny, fragile, photogenic little wife. My mother-in-law tends to seat me at the children’s table for family gatherings. I don’t think of it as a slight. It’s more like an oversight. My mother-in-law sees right over me. She is six feet tall and never looks down.

And last, but not least:

The days keep coming. You keep on living. Inside me is a damp and complex geography, a sweaty expanse of mixed feelings, uncertainties, and regret; and all of those feelings spread out from my body like the vast Serengeti, full of dark and danger. The edges blur. The truth is, I have no idea how to be your mother.

It is difficult to talk about the ending because it is left to one’s interpretation and to which version of the story we are going with. For me, it felt hopeful, but that is just my opinion. Oh, for those who love music, the author includes the playlist for the novel, so that is a definite plus.

Another random thought is that the author mentions on her Goodreads page, that she will include recommendations of books she thinks people who’ve enjoyed Chouette might like, and she refers to them as “bizarro books”. I have read reviews of some books that fall under that category, but I haven’t read any (they did remind me too much of some of the things I heard when I worked as a psychiatrist,, but I might try in the future), so this might be something to take into account as well, as that might offer another possible reading of this book.

Who would I recommend this book to? That’s not an easy question to answer. I agree with other readers that this would not be on my list of recommended novels for future mothers or those with very small children. On the other hand, mothers with a dark or alternative sense of humour, and whose children are fairly grown-up, might appreciate it. Readers who are weary of explicit violence, cruelty to animals, and those who prefer a straightforward narrative, should keep away from this book. But those who are happy to explore, are looking for a new voice, don’t mind weird and strange stories, love bizarro books (probably), and appreciate lyrical and gorgeous writing, should give it a go. See what you think. I’m sure it won’t leave you indifferent.

I found this review on Goodreads that provides extra information about the author, and you might find it interesting as well:

Thanks to Netgalley, the publisher, and the author for this unique book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, and keep smiling and safe!

Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview Fun with Dick by John Dolan (@JohnDolanAuthor) The darkest of humours and the most unforgettable character

Hi all:

I bring you a big by one of my favourite writers, who’s been having some fun…

Fun with Dick by John Dolan

Fun with Dick by John Dolan

Twenty-five-year-old Richard Blackheart – geek, wage slave and Superman wannabe – seems destined for a life of dull obscurity.
Then one day he hits upon an idea for the ultimate non-self-help book, ‘How to Die Alone, Smelly and Unloved’, and things start to change …

‘Fun with Dick’ is a heart-wrenching, hilarious and harrowing tale of one man’s struggle against gravity and cats. It is not recommended for people who are easily triggered. If you do read it, keep your shrink’s phone number handy.

Author John Dolan

About the author:

“Makes a living by travelling, talking a lot and sometimes writing stuff down. Galericulate author, polymath and occasional smarty-pants.”

John Dolan hails from a small town in the North-East of England. Before turning to writing, his career encompassed law and finance. He has run businesses in Europe, South and Central America, Africa and Asia. He and his wife Fiona currently divide their time between Thailand and the UK.

He is the author of the ‘Time, Blood and Karma’ mystery series and the ‘Children of Karma’ mystery trilogy.

My review:

I have read and reviewed all the books John Dolan has published so far (you can check my most recent review here), and you’d be forgiven for thinking that, after seven (well, eight, as he also co-authored one) books, he wouldn’t be able to surprise me any longer. Well, wrong! I kept reading the book and wondering what I was missing. Things couldn’t be quite as simple as they appeared. Of course, they couldn’t.

This is a novel that would be perfect for a book club because there are tonnes of things to discuss, but the book club would need to be pretty special. Some of the topics that are mentioned in the book, even if not described in detail or explicitly, would put off (or even trigger) some readers; and the novel is a nightmare for those who are sticklers for political correctness, because, humour or not, it is extremely dark, and it takes no prisoners. The cast of characters seems recruited from a variety of books in different genres: a Jewish psychiatrist, a bullying and unkind sister; an extremely overweight and lazy friend; the mother of said friend, who is a bit of a cougar (or a lot, as the protagonist knows only too well); a dismissive boss and a bunch of peculiar work colleagues working for the games’ industry; a girlfriend who is more interested in her ex than in the protagonist; and a central character called Dick Blackheart, who dreams of being a superhero with special powers but appears to be a looser. A passing conversation convinces him that he should write a pretty special non-self-help book (‘How to Die Alone, Smelly and Unloved’, and the title is quite indicative of the content, although perhaps not of how truly extreme the advice is), and somehow that seems to help him focus. Shortly after, things take a turn for him, seemingly a downward trend, and he makes a decision. He is going to travel to Thailand with his friend Nigel, who will serve as his experimental subject for the book, and finish it. And perhaps…

I won’t try to go into every single detail of the book, because readers should go into it without clear expectations and see what they make of it. I’ve mentioned the issue of the sensitive topics (the list is too long to include, but I’d suggest that if you can think of a taboo topic, it is quite probably there, or close to it), and the novel is narrated in the first person, so that might not suit everybody’s taste. Dick’s dead-pan style is very peculiar, and in a way, it makes his adventures, and his efforts at keeping up his mood and looking on the bright side, all the more affecting. Yes, there are very funny moments, although many of them are cringe-worthy as well. You are both laughing and horrified at your own laughter at the same time. You feel sorry for Dick and appalled by some of the things he says and writes. Is he joking or is he in earnest? There are subjects and topics most of us wouldn’t dare to joke about, but that does not seem to be the case for Dick. Why? He seems a pretty mild individual when we meet him, harmless, and unlucky when it comes to the things that make life shine. But be warned. You read on at your own peril.

I liked the way the protagonist drags us in, and we can’t help but watch as things unravel. We might feel appalled, dismayed, and disgusted, but somehow we need to accompany Dick in his trip of self-discovery (or self-revealing) until the very end. The extracts from his book are a must-read, and Nigel’s mother is quite a character, and not the only one. I also enjoyed the cameo appearance of David Braddock, the main character in the author’s other series. He wouldn’t have wanted to miss this for the world. The book seems to move from a pretty light beginning into darker and darker depths, and it takes a very skilled writer to pull the trick off and not lose the readers in the process. It also takes a pretty daring one. Oh, and I love the ending as well.

I don’t have any dislikes, other than the fact that the book is quite short, but that might work in its favour as it increases its impact, and I am not sure that most readers would have wanted things to get even darker (especially not at a moment like the one we’re living).

I recommend this book to Dolan’s fans, although with the warning that it is darker than most of his other work (or perhaps it appears so because it’s all packed in a very short length because, despite the sharp humour, the other novels are not easy reads either). Many sensitive subjects appear in its pages (trauma, parental loss, bullying, child abuse, violence, drug and alcohol abuse, prostitution, and more…), so it needs to be approached with caution. It is a fantastic read, and I recommend those who might harbour doubts about it, to check a sample, and see how they feel. It is not an ordinary novel, and I’m sure I won’t forget it any time soon. If ever.

Thanks to John for another fabulous book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, keep smiling, and take care!



Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview The Peasants’ Revolting Lives by Terry Deary (@penswordbooks) Remembering the forgotten in history with plenty of ‘dark’ humour #Britishhistory

Hi all:

I have promised you I’d read and review this book when it came out, and here it is.

The Peasants’ Revolting Lives by Terry Deary

The Peasants’ Revolting Lives by Terry Deary

‘Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets. The rich and the poor.’ – Benjamin Disraeli

Today we are aware of the habits, thoughts and feelings of the rich, because historians write about them endlessly. The poor are largely ignored and, as a result, their contributions to our modern world are forgotten.

Here, skilled raconteur TERRY DEARY takes us back through the centuries with a poignant but humorous look at how life treated the ordinary people who scratched out a living at the very bottom of society. Born into poverty, their world was one of foul food, terrible toilets, danger, disease and death – the last usually premature.

Wryly told tales of deprivation, exploitation, sickness, mortality, warfare and religious oppression all fill these pages. Discover the story of the teacher turned child-catcher who rounded up local waifs and strays before putting them to work. Read all about the agricultural workers who escaped the clutches of the Black Death only to be thwarted by lordly landowners. Follow as hundreds of children descend into the inky depths of hazardous coal mines.

On the flip side of this darkness, discover how cash-strapped citizens used animal droppings for house building, how sparrow’s brains were incorporated into aphrodisiacal brews, and how extra money was made by mixing tea with dried elder leaves. Courtship, marriage, sport, entertainment, education and, occasionally, achievement briefly illuminated the drudgery; these were the milestones that brought meaning to ordinary lives.

The oppressed and disempowered have lived on the very outskirts of recorded history, suffering, sacrificing and struggling to survive. The greatest insult is that they are forgotten; buried often with no gravestone to mark their passing and no history book to celebrate their efforts. Until now. The Peasants’ Revolting Lives explores and celebrates the lives of those who endured against the odds. From medieval miseries to the idiosyncrasies of being a twenty-first-century peasant, tragedy and comedy sit side by side in these tales of survival and endurance in the face of hardship.

Picture of author Terry Deary
Author Terry Deary

About the author:

Terry Deary is an actor, TV presenter and author. He has written 325 books, both non-fiction and fiction, for children and adults. His famous Horrible Histories books have sold over 35 million copies in 45 languages since their launch in 1993 and have appeared as an award-winning television series, theatre tours and a movie. He has also written fifty professional plays, the TV series Terry Deary’s Twisted Tales and has designed museum exhibitions based on themes from his books. He was born in Sunderland in 1946 and as a young lad helped out in his father’s butcher’s shop, which he credits as having imbued him with a sound work ethic. The Peasants’ Revolting… Lives is his second book for adults for Pen & Sword, after The Peasants’ Revolting… Crimes (2019).

My review:

Thanks to Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for sending me an early paperback copy of this book, which I freely chose to read and review.

A while back I read and reviewed Deary’s book The Peasants’ Revolting Crimes (you can read my review here) and mentioned I was looking forward to this one as well. And it does not disappoint. Although Deary is better known for his books for children (the Horrible Histories series), his very personal style is also well suited to adults, and this book is proof of it. His sharp wit and strong opinions take no prisoners, and there is nobody sacred or spared when Deary starts dissecting the history and society of Britain since the Middle Ages (and many of his reflections reach the present as well).

This book is a companion of the previous one, although they can be read separately. As was the case with the previous book, Deary explains in the introduction that people tend to idealise past historical eras, based on the version of events traditional histories and historians have created, always centred on the lives of kings, nobles and the rich and powerful upper crust. As he observes, the lives of the top 1% (or whatever the equivalent percentage was in the different periods) have always been pleasant and exciting compared to that of the peasants, but in some historical periods, life for those at the bottom of society’s pyramid was ‘revolting’ to say the least. Tellingly, the subtitle of the book is ‘Stories of the worst of times lived by the underclasses of Britain’, and to make matters worse, the efforts and the hard work of those individuals are not acknowledged by official historical narratives.  And, no matter how much humour Deary introduces in the book (and it’s quite dark at times), he is in earnest when he dedicates the book to them.

Deary follows a similar structure in this book, with an introduction, ten chapters that cover different general subject (the main topics discussed in each chapter follow a chronological order, but relevant, and sometimes less relevant, references to other eras are also included): work, entertainment, courtship, sickness, housing, religion, food, sport, warfare, and education, there is a very apt epilogue (comparing Lord Nelson to another naval hero, Jack Crawford, from Deary’s native Sunderland, a man of humble origins whom almost nobody knows about), and an index, for those looking for specific information.

Deary has a talent for finding the perfect quote, and although I was familiar with a few of the ones he uses, he manages to make them shine and finds some true gems totally new to me. He manages to create a clear picture of life in different historical periods without getting lost in lengthy descriptions and can turn little-known historical events into memorable nuggets of information in only a few words.

If the last book dealt with “crimes”, this time he focuses on life as it was for a large part of the population, picks up certain events like the peasants’ revolts (there have been many over the years, and although the protagonists have been different, the reasons behind them, and the consequences for the less powerful hardly change), but also talks about general subjects, like health, education, even housing (he has plenty of fun talking about the materials used in construction), football (it has often been banned; and it’s not surprising, to be honest), Ireland, children’s work, the police force… As I have said, this is a book for adults, and some of the content can be quite disturbing, so I don’t recommend it for those looking for a light and gentle read.

Despite the witticisms and the great quotes (and I have marked far too many to mention), this is a book intended as a sincere homage to those who are often left out of most conventional History texts. It is informative, entertaining, fun, and also poignant at times. Although the author’s style and his sense of humour might not suit everybody (I’d suggest readers try a sample to see how they like it before purchasing it), I recommend it to anybody interested in reading a different kind of British History (in particular, although much of the information would be relevant to European History in general), and are not looking for a fact and data-heavy academic tome, but rather for a memorable peek at those parts of the population often forgotten in official chronicles.

As Deary says:

The poor, the ignored and the forgotten, struggle to squeeze onto the shelves. Yet some of those peasants did something the ‘great’ and the good would have failed to do if their roles had been reversed. They survived.

You and I might not last a week in the world of a peasant. A week without our takeaways, our underfloor heating, our antibiotics…and, of course, our smartphones.

Just for a change, and just for a while, consider the life of the peasant rather than the life of a king or a conqueror.

You may be inspired by the courage and fortitude of our fellow humans.’


Thanks to Rosie and to the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and feel free to like, share, comment, click, and always remember to keep reading, reviewing, smiling, and to remain safe. 


Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog The Peasants’ Revolting Crimes by Terry Deary (@penswordbooks). Fun historical facts with a twisted sense of humour #history #non-fiction

Hi all:

First of all, HAPPY NEW YEAR! I’ve been working on a present (well, of sorts) in the form of a free read for all, but due to technical problems with my internet connection it’s taken me a bit longer than expected to get it ready, so I hope to bring it to you very soon (perhaps next week), but in the meantime, I have a recommendation that might work as a present for history buffs with a sense of humour, or for yourselves. As I warn in my review, though, this is not a book for children or an illustrated book. Don’t let the cover fool you.

The Peasants' Revolting Crimes by Terry Deary
The Peasants’ Revolting Crimes by Terry Deary

The Peasants’ Revolting Crimes by Terry Deary

Popular history writer Terry Deary takes us on a light-hearted and often humorous romp through the centuries with Mr & Mrs Peasant, recounting foul and dastardly deeds committed by the underclasses, as well as the punishments meted out by those on the right side’ of the law. Discover tales of arsonists and axe-wielders, grave robbers and garroters, poisoners and prostitutes. Delve into the dark histories of beggars, swindlers, forgers, sheep rustlers and a whole host of other felons from the lower ranks of society who have veered off the straight and narrow. There are stories of highwaymen and hooligans, violent gangs, clashing clans and the witch trials that shocked a nation. Learn too about the impoverished workers who raised a riot opposing crippling taxes and draconian laws, as well as the strikers and machine-smashers who thumped out their grievances against new technologies that threatened their livelihoods. Britain has never been short of those who have been prepared to flout the law of the land for the common good, or for their own despicable purposes. The upper classes have lorded and hoarded their wealth for centuries of British history, often to the disadvantage of the impoverished. Frustration in the face of this has resulted in revolt. Read all about it here! This entertaining book is packed full of revolting acts and acts of revolt, revealing how ordinary folk – from nasty Normans to present-day lawbreakers – have left an extraordinary trail of criminality behind them. The often gruesome penalties exacted in retribution reveal a great deal about some of the most fascinating eras of British history.


Picture of author Terry Deary
Author Terry Deary

About the author:

Terry Deary writes both fiction and non-fiction. The Fire Thief was his 150th book published in the UK, this was followed by Flight of the Fire Thief and The Fire Thief Fights Back. Terry’s books have been translated into 28 languages. His Horrible Histories series has sold 20 million copies worldwide. Terry has won numerous awards, including Blue Peter’s Best Non-fiction Author of the Century.

My review:

Thanks to Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for sending me an early paperback copy of this book, which I freely chose to read and review.

I’ve long been intrigued by the Horrible Stories books, and when I saw the stage adaptation advertised, I thought about going to watch it, but, as was the case with the books, I never managed to make it. That, combined with my interest in criminology and the criminal justice system (particularly in the UK), made this book irresistible. Although I cannot compare it to other books by the authors, and must warn readers that this is, by no means, a book written for children, I loved every minute of it. The author combines a vast number of UK historical (and also some fairly recent) facts and events, with a sharp sense of humour (beware of papercuts. Some pages ooze poison), to the point of crossing into satire and black humour at times. The book shows a great deal of social consciousness, and it is far from complacent with the status quo, but it does not glamorise “peasant criminals” either, and it is harsh on popular renderings of figures like the highway man (Dick Turpin is no favourite), or pirates.

Deary explains in his introduction (after three great quotes, and there are many interspersed throughout the whole text) the reason why he decided to write the book. He observes that most books and plays featuring crimes and criminals tend to focus on kings, queens, or high-class characters (he mentions Shakespeare and Agatha Christie), and even when lower class characters are mentioned, they are not usually the heroes or the central figures. And he decided it was time to put it right, and here we have this book. As you can imagine from the topic and the title, there is plenty of gore, detailed accounts of crimes and punishments, and despite the wit and the humour, I’d recommend caution to those who prefer a truly light and cosy read.

The book is divided into seven chapters, plus the already mentioned introduction, an epilogue where the author reflects upon how little things have changed over the years, and an index. The chapters seem to follow a chronological order (or almost): Norman Nastiness, Mediaeval Misery, Wild Women, Tudor Twisters, Sinful Stuarts, Quaint Crimes, Georgian Jokers and Victorian Villains, but the content of each individual chapter is not limited to the period mentioned in the title. Every chapter focuses on a series of crimes that became typified or described for the first time in that historical period, or that are particularly associated with it, but Deary sometimes includes recent examples of similar crimes, to compare the types of punishment then and now or to emphasise the fact that history repeats itself and certain things change little, if at all. Although I have lived in the UK for many years, I didn’t grow up here, and there are periods of UK history and events that I’m not familiar with, so it is likely that much of the information that was new to me might be well-known to others, but the author presents it in an entertaining and seemingly light-hearted manner (I’d leave that to readers’ interpretation and opinion) that makes the book impossible to put down and the facts stick in one’s mind.

I, for one, was fascinated to read about football hooligans and their shenanigans as far back as the 1100s, about clan clashes, to discover the origin of ‘brawling’ (quarrelling in a church or a churchyard), to read about wife-selling (and how it often seemed to be a good option if divorce was not an option and both parties wanted out, no matter how illegal)… And yes, husband-selling also took place. Deary writes also about peasant revolts, about the machine wreckers of the Industrial Revolution era, or the many attempts on Queen Victoria’s life. I don’t want to spoil the book for you, so I won’t go into more detail, but apart from managing to cover a lot of ground, and having a knack for finding the perfect quote, Deary’s sharp wit and his talent for highlighting the connections between historical events and the present make this book a must read for those interested in crime, criminology, and UK history in general. Especially if they have a slightly twisted sense of humour.

I marked so many pages of the book that I had difficulty choosing a few to share here, but I’ll try to give you some sense of what you might expect from the book.

Here is one of his notes (they are priceless) in reference to Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus.

Some critics interpret eating your sons, not so much as ‘cannibalism’ as ‘incest’. Whatever the legality of eating your children, just don’t try it at home.

In Chapter 2, Mediaeval History:

Peasants were at the bottom of the feudal system pyramid. And if you were at the bottom of a pyramid you’d be crushed. As if that weren’t enough, your evil lord made you work like a slave labourer; meanwhile, your Good Lord sent you something to help relieve your misery. He sent you plagues.

This reflection seemed particularly relevant to some recent events in my country.

The Seditious Meeting Act was passed in March 1817. What constituted ‘sedition’, you might ask? Well, like ‘treason’, pretty much anything the Lord Lieutenants of the counties fancied, really.

The book ends in a hopeful note, well, sort of, but not quite.

In summary, this is a great book for people interested in the history of crime and the criminal justice system (and history in general) in the UK, particularly if they enjoy a humorous and ironic take on received wisdom. I am sure fans of Deary will enjoy it as well, but, despite the cover, this is not a book for young children, and I’d advise parents to check it out to decide its suitability for themselves. The book’s back cover states that the author is working on The Peasants’ Revolting… Lives, and I’ve added it to my wish list already.

Thanks to the author, to Rosie, and especially to all of you for reading, and remember to share with anybody you think might be interested, keep reading, reviewing, smiling, and especially enjoy 2020!

Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE GREAT DEVIL WAR, BOOK 1 AND 2 by Kenneth B. Andersen. #RBRT Fun story, great setting, and a reluctant hero/villain you’ll get to love. #YAFantasy

Hi all:

Today I bring you the two first books in a series. I don’t usually read a lot in this genre but I’m pleased I decided to read these ones.

The Devil's Apprentice by Kenneth B. Andersen
The Devil’s Apprentice by Kenneth B. Andersen

The Devil’s Apprentice: The Great Devil War I by Kenneth B. Andersen (Kenneth Bøgh Andersen)

Philip is a good boy, a really good boy, who accidentally gets sent to Hell to become the Devil’s heir.
The Devil, Lucifer, is dying and desperately in need of a successor, but there’s been a mistake and Philip is the wrong boy.
Philip is terrible at being bad, but Lucifer has no other choice than to begin the difficult task of training him in the ways of evil.
Philip finds both friends and enemies in this odd, gloomy underworld— but who can he trust, when he discovers an evil-minded plot against the dark throne?

The Devil’s Apprentice is volume 1 in The Great Devil War-series.

The Great Devil War-series is a humorous and gripping tale about good and evil, filled with biblical and historical characters, such as Judas, Goliath, and Pontius Pilate, as well as modern figures such as Elvis Presley, Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, and many more.

The Great Devil War-series is a Danish bestseller, topping library and school reading lists among teens and young adults. The books have been published in more than ten countries and have won numerous awards.

Author Kenneth Bøgh Andersen
Author Kenneth Bøgh Andersen

About Kenneth Bøgh Andersen

I was born in Denmark on a dark and stormy night in November 1976. I began writing when I was a teenager. My first book was a really awful horror novel titled Nidhug’s Slaves. It didn’t get published. Luckily.

During the next 7 years, I wrote nearly 20 novels–all of which were rejected–while working as a school teacher. The rest of the time I spent writing.

In 2000 I published my debut fantasy book, The Battle of Caïssa, and that’s when things really took off. Since then I’ve published more than thirty-five books for children and young adults in genres ranging from fantasy to horror and science fiction.

My books have been translated into more than 15 languages and my series about the superhero Antboy has been adapted for film, which is available on Netflix. An animated tv series is currently in development.

A musical of The Devil’s Apprentice opens in the fall 2018 and the movie rights for the series have also been optioned.

I live in Copenhagen with my wife, two boys, a dog named Milo and spiders in the basement.

You can read more on my English website

My review:

I am writing this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you’re looking for reviews, I recommend you check her amazing site here), and I thank her and the author for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This is a fun book. Written in the third-person form the point of view of Philip, a thirteen-year-old boy who lives with his mother and who lost his father when he was very young, this novel is suitable for younger readers and also for adults. If you have given up on new adult stories because of their heavy reliance on romance and low-grade erotica, you are safe with this book. Yes, there is a love interest, but the book is a great adventure first and foremost. Rather than a reluctant hero, we have here a reluctant villain (well, more or less). A tragic mistake makes Philip end up in a situation that is totally out of his comfort zone, and he has to undergo a training that I’m sure many boys and girls would take to like a duck to water, but not him. He has to learn to be bad, and it is a challenge.

There are some world-building and some wonderful descriptions (of locations, like Lucifer’s castle, a church with a very interesting graveyard, the doors of Hell…), but it is not excessively complex, and it does not slow down the adventures. Philip, like the readers, is totally new to this place, and his descriptions help us share in his adventures more fully. He gets a variety of guides and people explaining how things work there: Grumblebeard, the hospitable devil guarding the doors of Hell, Lucifax (Lucifer’s wonderful cat), Satina (a young female demon and a Tempter) and Lucifer in person (in demon?). Everything is dark and night (people do not wish each other good day, but good night, you don’t write in a diary, but in a nightary…) everywhere, there are many types of demons, each one with his own characteristics and roles to play, and bad humans (and there are a few not-unexpected jokes about politicians, although some of the others who end up in hell might be a bit more surprising) get punished in many different ways, but Hell itself is a place where demons go about their daily lives, have their jobs, go to school, get married, tend to their gardens… It is a place full of dangers but also full of interest, and Philip gets to experience plenty of new things, not all bad.

The book’s view of Heaven, Hell and moral issues is far from orthodox. Personally, I did not find it irreverent, but it is a matter of personal opinion. Even though I did not necessarily agree with all the views exposed, these are issues well-worth thinking and talking about and I am sure those who read the novel will feel the same. I enjoyed the sense of humour, and I liked most of the characters, from the secondary ones (I’ve already said I love Lucifax, but I grew fond of most, from the cook, Ravine, to Death himself), to the main protagonists, like Lucifer, wonderful Satina, and Philip. He is not perfect (well, he is perhaps too perfect to begin with, and then he turns… but I won’t spoil the book for you), and he learns important lessons on the way, and he is not the only one. Although I felt at first that some of the changes that take place in the book stretch the imagination, when I thought more about it, time in Hell moves at a different pace, and for a character who is as inflexible and extreme as Philip, for whom everything is black or white —at least to begin with— the process he goes through makes sense. And by the end of the novel, he has become more human and more humane.

The book is a page-turner, there are heroes and villains (or baddies and really evil characters), a few secrets, betrayals, red-herrings, tricks and deceits, an assassination attempt, and a mystery that will keep readers intrigued. And a great final twist. (Yes and a fantastic ending. I had an inkling about it and about some other aspects of the plot, but the beauty is in how well they are resolved). The novel is well-written, flows well, with a language of a level of complexity that should suit adults as well as younger readers, and it managed to make me care for the characters and want to keep reading their adventures.

A few quotes to give you a taster of the style of the pitch of the book.

“Let that be your first lesson, Philip. Down here, humor is always dark.”

“God and the Devil roll dice at the birth of every human being,” the cat explained. “A one-hundred-sided die determines the degree of evil or goodness in each person. The results fix the nature of each individual.”

I particularly loved this accusation addressed at Philip:

“You look like a devil, but you’re not one. You are nothing but a sheep in wolf’s clothing.”

I am not surprised that this book is a popular read in Denmark. I expect it will do well in its English version too. And I’ll be eagerly waiting for the adaptation to the screen. I recommend it to anybody who enjoys well-written YA books in the fantasy genre, without an excessive emphasis on world building, who don’t mind some creepy and dark elements and appreciate a good dose of dark humour. I have a copy of the second book as well, and I can’t wait to see what Philip and his underworld friends get up to next.

The Die of Death. The Great Devil's War Book 2 by Kenneth B. Andersen
The Die of Death. The Great Devil’s War Book 2 by Kenneth B. Andersen

The Die of Death: The Great Devil War II.

Philip’s adventures as the Devil’s apprentice have changed him—in a good way. Although he misses his friends in Hell, he has made new friends in life.
But when the future of the underworld is threatened once again, Philip’s help is needed. Death’s Die has been stolen and immortality is spreading across the globe.
Philip throws himself into the search—and discovers a horrible truth about his own life along the way.

The Die of Death is volume 2 in The Great Devil War-series.

The Great Devil War-series is a humorous and gripping tale about good and evil, filled with biblical and historical characters, such as Judas, Goliath, and Pontius Pilate, as well as modern figures such as Elvis Presley, Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, and many more.

The Great Devil War-series is a Danish bestseller, topping library and school reading lists among teens and young adults. The books have been published in more than ten countries and have won numerous awards.

My review:

When I reviewed the first book in this series for Rosie’s Book Review Team, the author was kind enough to send me the second. There are, at least for the moment, four more to come (you can check them in the author’s website), and I, for starters, I’m looking forward to them.

The second book in the series picks up where the first one left, a few months after the protagonist, Philip visited Hell, and we see what has happened to him when he went back to life. Things are looking up for him. He has made some new friends, and he has become more popular. But then, strange things start to happen, he cheats death a few times, but eventually…

This time he is brought back to the Underworld (well, Underworlds), by Death himself, because Lucifer and Mortimer (Death) think he is the boy for the job. This time, the job involves retrieving the die of death (as you might have surmised from the title) that has been stolen. With Satina’s help (his girl-demon-friend) he starts investigating, and the search gets more desperate when the stakes become much higher and more personal.

I really enjoyed this book. Although there are reminders of what had happened in the first book in the series, and I guess regular readers of the genre might be able to pick up the clues quickly enough and follow the story, I would advise reading the books in the right order. There is much background covered in the first book that is relevant to the second book’s adventures, one gets a much better sense of how the different characters have evolved, and there are beautiful details and insights that would be lost if this book was read on its own.

For those of us who enjoyed the first book, this novel allows us to meet some of our favourite characters again (and some, perhaps, not as favourite), we discover some wonderfully creepy new locations and characters (death’s horse and his home are chilling, but I was particularly taken by the Purgatory), there are new dark jokes, and we get to know the fate of some interesting historical figures, like Hitler, Epicurus, and even Elvis!, and there are plenty of adventures. There are red-herrings and betrayals as would pertain a book about Hell, but I was gripped by some of the themes touched upon, like immortality (and, of course, mortality), fate, sin and guilt, getting old. If you’ve always wondered what it would be like to be immortal, this book will give you pause. (Yes, in most stories, the immortal are eternally young, but what would happen if they grew old?)

Although the book starts slowly, because trying to find clues about the whereabouts of the die proves hard and frustrating, the adventures soon pick up, and there are rich details all throughout the story that we need to pay attention to if we don’t want to miss anything. The rhythm increases quickly, and once Philip returns to Hell, we know we are in for a wild ride.

As I said when talking about the first book, this is a book for young adults and adults, especially those who enjoy dark adventures and fantasy with paranormal elements included. But, although the cruelty and violence are not described in extreme gory detail, this is a book that some would include into the horror category, and I would not recommend it for children or adults who are squeamish or scare easily. Some of the topics are also quite difficult, as we have broken families, illness, death, and matters of heaven and hell, and I’d recommend parents to check the book first themselves.

The book is well-written, has great characters (we get to see a more reflective Philip, who has to confront personal challenges and make some extremely difficult decisions), and it succeeds in building up the world of the series and in increasing its complexity. We also get a sample of the next book in the series, The Wrongful Death, which is scheduled for publication in the spring of 2019, at the back of the novel. Personally, I can’t wait.

Thanks to Rosie, to the author, and especially to all of you for reading. If you’ve enjoyed it, remember to like, share, comment, click, review and always, keep smiling!



Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview RAGDOLL by Daniel Cole (@TrapezeBooks). Weird murders, a London setting, a ticking clock, and a morally ambiguous hero #amreading

Hi all:

I seem to be reading a lot of thrillers recently, although this one had been on my Kindle for a long time (and I’ve read it will become a TV series…)

Ragdoll by Daniel Cole
Ragdoll by Daniel Cole

Ragdoll: The thrilling Sunday Times bestseller everyone is talking about (Ragdoll 1) by Daniel Cole

‘A brilliant, breathless thriller‘ MJ Arlidge, author of Hide and Seek

‘The most exciting debut we’ve read in a long time.’ Heat Magazine

‘Highly anticipated debut that is surely bidding to be the year’s most gruesome thriller.’ Metro

Terrifyingly brilliant. I dare you to turn the lights out after reading!’ – Robert Bryndza, author of Cold Blood




A body is discovered with the dismembered parts of six victims stitched together, nicknamed by the press as the ‘Ragdoll’. Assigned to the shocking case are Detective William ‘Wolf’ Fawkes, recently reinstated to the London Met, and his former partner Detective Emily Baxter. The ‘Ragdoll Killer’ taunts the police by releasing a list of names to the media, and the dates on which he intends to murder them.

With six people to save, can Fawkes & Baxter catch a killer when the world is watching their every move?

For readers who were gripped by PunishmentThe Guilty WifeThe Girl Before and Dark Matter

‘A first class, dark thriller.’ Emlyn Rees

‘A high concept solution to a mystery.’ Sophie Hannah

Gruesome, twisty and wildly addictive… I couldn’t put Ragdoll down.’ Lisa Hall, author of Tell Me No Lies

I loved Ragdoll. A rip-roaring, inventive and riveting read.’ Jill Mansell, author of Meet Me At Beachcomber Bay

‘A star is born. Killer plot. Killer pace. Twisted killer and a killer twist. Kill to get a copy.’ Simon Toyne, bestselling author of Solomon Creed

‘Give an arm or a leg to get hold of a copy… An exciting thriller.’ – Linwood Barclay

What readers have to say about Ragdoll

‘Quite simply one of the best books I have read for years – and I read a lot of crime novels.I can see this being made into a film. Looking forward to reading the next one.’ Amazon, 5 stars

‘Brilliantly written. Very clever police procedural, crime writing at its best. Murder mystery, psychological thriller, a touch of romance. I can’t wait for the next book.’ Amazon, 5 stars

‘I think this is going to be one of the most memorable crime novels of 2017.’ Goodreads

‘This better be the first in a series Daniel Cole, I want to see Wolf again soon.’ Goodreads

One of the best stories I’ve have read in a long time! A masterpiece if I can say that.’ Goodreads


Editorial Reviews


“Briskly paced. . . . Cole’s grim yet humorous first novel offers a fresh take on British detective drama that is bound to attract admirers of Robert Galbraith and Clare Mackintosh.” (Library Journal)

“A smart, psychologically complex read. Think Luther (BBC) meets Harry Bosch, and toss in some dark, old-country folklore for good measure.” (Booklist)

“[A] strong first novel. . . . Cole uses the rising tension and the mystery of the killer’s true identity to create a page-turning narrative.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Daniel Cole’s Ragdoll is a bold first step in what is liable to be a spectacular career. Disturbing, taut and compelling, this book took me down the rabbit hole as only the best of thrillers can. Bravo, Mr. Cole.” (John Hart, bestselling author of Redemption Road)

“I’d give an arm or a leg to get hold of Ragdoll. . . . An exciting thriller.” (Linwood Barclay, bestselling author of the Promise Falls trilogy)

“A star is born. Killer plot. Killer pace. Twisted killer and a killer twist. Kill to get a copy.” (Simon Toyne, author of Solomon Creed)

“A gruesome delight! Daniel Cole’s thriller Ragdoll, in which gritty detective William “Wolf” Fawkes comes upon a single corpse stitched together out of six bodies, had me flipping pages furiously. It’s an impressive debut, dark, propulsive, and surprisingly funny.” (Gregg Hurwitz, bestselling author of Orphan X)


Author Daniel Cole
Author Daniel Cole

About the author:

At 33 years old, Daniel Cole has worked as a paramedic, an RSPCA officer and most recently for the RNLI, driven by an intrinsic need to save people or perhaps just a guilty conscience about the number of characters he kills off in his writing.

He currently lives in sunny Bournemouth and can usually be found down the beach when he ought to be writing book two instead.

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Trapeze for offering me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

This novel had passed me by (my to be read list is getting longer and longer) when it was first published, but I have been reading quite a number of thrillers recently, saw this book mentioned, and remembered I had yet to read it.

The ARC copy I read includes a funny introduction by the author, which sets the tone for what is to come quite well, although I did not see it in the look inside feature at the front of the published e-book version. The novel is a hard thriller but with a considerable amount of dark humour thrown in (a very British version of it as well). The initial premise is gripping. We have a brief prologue that introduces us to a past case and a deranged detective, and then we discover that four years later he’s back at work, and he has to investigate a very bizarre case. The ragdoll of the title is the name given to the macabre discovery of a body composed of the parts of six different victims. Not happy with that, the killer also releases a list of names of people and the dates when he intends to kill them. And the said detective (Wolf) is the last one on the list. The methods the killer employs are also very imaginative, and there is plenty of violence (and pretty extreme at that).

This thriller, set in London, follows the format of a police procedural novel, but as some reviewers have noted, it does require a certain amount of suspension of disbelief. The fact that somebody who was as disturbed as Wolf, and who very seriously assaulted a suspect in front of a whole courtroom, is allowed to go back to work, stretches the imagination. The way the team works, that seems confused and disorganised, also will surprise those who appreciate the attention to detail and authenticity. As a psychiatrist who has worked in the UK, I didn’t find the portrayal of the mental health secure unit where Wolf had spent time very realistic either (although one could query the fact that he was not well at the time, and other than a brief visit by one of the members of the team, we don’t have any objective accounts of it), and one hopes that news agencies will not be like the one depicted in the novel either (Wolf’s ex-wife works for a TV news station and becomes involved in the case also). But, if we accept the premises of the novel, and forget about how likely it is that this could happen in the real world, it is difficult to fault the book for its imagination, pace, energy, and for the way it grabs and keeps the reader’s attention.

This novel keeps taking us back to the past, and at some points it felt as if it should have been the second novel in the series, as it is evident that what happened four years earlier has a lot to do with the current events, and the way the narration is structured, around the previous case, is one of the strong points, in my opinion. It is as if the whole department had been affected by what happened to Wolf and it has become something of a dysfunctional family. Although there are things that seem far-fetched, on the other hand, the general feeling of pressure, desperation, media attention, cover-ups… felt very real. I have mentioned dark humour, and there is a very cynical undercurrent permeating the whole book, which suits it well and, perhaps, will be easier to appreciate by those who live in or are familiar with the UK, its politics, and its current social situation. I felt as if it was almost a caricature of the truth. Exaggerated and taken to the extreme but easily recognisable nonetheless.

Although it is not a psychologically complex story (and many of the characters play to stereotype: the older detective who is about to be retired, the young rookie who’s just been transferred from a different section and is a stickler for details and rules, the young attractive female detective who looks up to the lead investigator but whose feelings are unclear…), there is plenty of action and many twists and turns, characters, locations, and the ticking clock makes it a rather tense and intense read that will keep most readers guessing. There are a large number of characters, and although we get to know the members of the New Scotland Yard team fairly well over the novel (although quite a few of them keep secrets and are contradictory at best), victims, witnesses, characters from the personal lives of the detectives… all are given a bit of space, and it is important to pay attention not to get lost, especially because of the way the story is narrated.  The story is told in the third person but from quite a number of characters’ points of view, not always the main characters either, and although I did not find it difficult to follow and it is a good way to keep the intrigue (by switching points of view and giving us snippets of information only some characters have access to), it means readers should not miss a beat.

Notwithstanding the dark and sharp sense of humour, there are some introspective moments, guilty feelings, and characters wrestle with the morality of the situation, although I do not think it breaks new ground or is the most successful attempt at delving into such issues. At some point, the novel seems about to enter into paranormal territory, and it did remind me of Jekyll and Hyde, as there comes a moment when you have to wonder what it takes to make somebody step over the fine line between fighting a monster and becoming the monster. I don’t want to go into too much detail to avoid any spoilers, but let’s say that good and bad are not ultimately such clear-cut concepts as we would like to believe.

This is a very enjoyable page-turner, especially recommended for those who like a tense and gripping read and are not put off by some over-the-top characterisations and some stretching of the truth, and who don’t mind graphic violence and dark humour. And if you enjoy a London setting, even better.

Thanks to NetGalley, to the publisher, and to the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, and REVIEW!

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