Tag Archives: humour

How Hard Can It Be? – Allison Pearson

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Kate Reddy is counting down the days until she is fifty, but not in a good way. Fifty, in Kate’s mind, equals invisibility. And with hormones that have her in shackles, teenage children who need her there but won’t talk to her and ailing parents who aren’t coping, Kate is in the middle of a sandwich that she isn’t even allowed to eat because of the calories.

She’s back at work after a big break at home, because somebody has to bring home the bacon now that her husband Rich has dropped out of the rat race to master the art of mindfulness. But just as Kate is finding a few tricks to get by in her new workplace, her old client and flame Jack reappears – complicated doesn’t even begin to cover it.

This is a coming of age story for turning fifty. It’s about so much more than a balancing act; it’s about finding out who you are and what you need to feel alive when you’ve got used to being your own last priority. And every page will leave you feeling that there’s a bit of Kate Reddy in all of us.

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How Hard Can It Be? is a real treat and you may find yourself laughing out loud and crying in equal measure.

Kate Reddy is not without a few problems – teenagers and their problems (do you even know what a ‘belfie’ is?); an old house in need of upgrading and almost constant attention from Piotr the builder; a ‘drop out’ husband trying to find himself by studying mindfulness; ageing and ailing parents; trying to get back into work after years away; a big birthday (50) looming; and the menopause is approaching along with the forgetfulness that often accompanies it.  Modern parenting is definitely not easy.

She had once been a successful fund manager and now really needs to get back into the workplace and start earning to support the family. To give herself a chance of getting a job she knocks a few years off her age (and the ages of her children) and gets a bit creative with her CV.

She ends up getting a job at her old workplace where no one recognises her, the company having changed hands twice while she’s been away and her old colleagues long gone.  Her boss and colleagues are all so much younger and less experienced but she keeps quiet about her earlier successful career there.

Of course it seems her boss is trying to set her up to fail.  She gets the difficult clients and there are clashes with work and family life (and a few dilemmas).  It’s definitely not easy juggling work and the demands of family life and trying to keep everyone happy.

I think everyone will identify with at least a part of Kate.  I celebrated the big birthday long ago (and the big one after that). I was never really a career person; my children are grown up with children of their own and yet I can still recognise and sympathise with Kate’s predicament.

It’s brilliantly written and very funny but also quite sad.  Kate is a wonderfully vivid character, in fact all the characters (good and ‘bad’) have their parts to play.  It’s a really good, entertaining read.  I loved it.

How Hard Can it Be? was published on 21 September 2017.

[My thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for providing me with a review copy]

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Standard Deviation – Katherine Heiny

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A rueful, funny examination of love, marriage, infidelity, and origami. Simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking, this sensational debut will appeal to fans of David Nicholls, Nick Hornby, Nora Ephron and Lorrie Moore

Graham Cavanaugh’s second wife, Audra, is everything his first wife was not. She considers herself privileged to live in the age of the hair towel, talks non-stop through her epidural, labour and delivery, invites the doorman to move in and the eccentric members of their son’s Origami Club to Thanksgiving.

She is charming and spontaneous and fun but life with her can be exhausting. In the midst of the day-to-day difficulties and delights of marriage and raising a child with Asperger’s, his first wife, Elspeth, reenters Graham’s life. Former spouses are hard to categorize – are they friends, enemies, old flames, or just people who know you really, really well?

Graham starts to wonder: How can anyone love two such different women? Did he make the right choice? Is there a right choice?

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Although Katherine Heiny’s short stories have previously appeared in various publications, I believe Standard Deviation is her first full length novel and what a delight!

I really wasn’t sure what to expect but it is very funny; full of joy and love, but with just a few heartbreaking moments.

It’s a family story based around Graham, his second wife Audra and their 10 year old son, Matthew. ‘Standard Deviation’ is a reference to their son’s scores in various assessment tests which had led to a diagnosis of Aspergers.

Graham is a bit older and fairly quiet. His first wife, Elspeth was very cool, calm, collected and in control. Audra is the complete opposite. She never stops talking – about anyone and anything – the just opens her mouth and keeps going. Says what she thinks. She comes out with the most inappropriate things at the most awkward moments. If she doesn’t know the whole story she just makes things up. She thinks everyone should be a friend: talks to everyone, invites random characters to come for a meal or even stay with them, which leads to some great storytelling. She just has no filter. Volunteers for things, kind of meddles in things, even wants to become involved in the life of Graham’s first wife. At the same time, I really liked her. She’s not a bad person. In fact she’s a wonderful character but as I was reading I kept thinking, “Oh no. Don’t say that! Oh please!”

They worry about Matthew and want the best for him. Audra latches on to any interest Matthew might have and runs with it. He gets interested in origami so she finds an origami ‘club’ for him. We encounter more eccentric but wonderful characters and hilarious escapades.

It’s not all fun and laughter. There are a few thoughtful moments and some poignant episodes. It’s not all plain sailing but you just hope that things will work out well for everyone in the end.

I really enjoyed the book. It’s a well written, entertaining novel with interesting characters and good dialogue. It made me laugh out loud a few times. I certainly wouldn’t mind if there was a sequel. In fact I would be delighted!

Standard Deviation is due to be published in hardcover on 1 June 2017

[My thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for an advance copy]

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French Rhapsody – Antoine Laurain

 

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Middle-aged doctor Alain Massoulier has received a life-changing letter—thirty-three years too late.

Lost in the Paris postal system for decades, the letter from Polydor, dated 1983, offers a recording contract to The Holograms, in which Alain played lead guitar. Back then The Holograms had believed in their cutting-edge sound. However, the music industry remained indifferent, and eventually the band split up, each going their own way.

Alain is overcome by nostalgia, and is tempted to track down the members of the group. But in a world where everything and everyone has changed . . . where will his quest take him?

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I’m not sure exactly why, but I loved this book. It’s an effortless read and very entertaining.

Alain Massoulier is a middle-aged doctor who leads a comfortable, if perhaps predictable, life in Paris.

Out of the blue he receives a potentially life-changing letter that had been posted 33 years earlier and had languished in the French postal system all these years. In 1983 he had been a member of a band The Holograms and the letter was from Polydor offering them a recording contract – 33 years too late as having failed to make a name for themselves as a band, they all went their separate ways.

Alain is thrown by this letter and becomes quite nostalgic, searching the house for a box of band photos and a cassette recording, desperately wanting to listen to a particular track that had been playing in his head since the letter’s arrival.

As he reminisces we learn how the five band members from very diverse backgrounds got together to form the band. The more he thinks of the past and the letter, the more he experiences feelings of fury and injustice. He has thoughts of what might have been. I liked the lines in the book, “You think you have buried your youthful dreams, that they’ve dissolved in the fog of passing years and then you realise it’s not true! The corpse is still there, terrifying and unburied.” He decides to search for his former bandmates and try to make contact to tell them what has transpired. He is also hoping that one of them will have a copy of “Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made On”, the track that had impressed the record company.

I was never in a band, I’m not a doctor, I’m not even in my 50s (I’m older than that) but somehow I could connect with the story – maybe it’s wondering what might have been if another path had been taken? The book is funny, nostalgic, charming and at there’s a bit of satire in there too. It’s well written and has some great characters.

The characters are all very diverse. Some have made a name for themselves in the 33 years that have passed. They are all interesting and well drawn. I love how the present and the past are interwoven almost seamlessly. Oh yes, and there are a couple of nice twists in the story.

The book was translated from the French by Jane Aitken and Emily Boyce. Publication date is 11 October 2016 but it is available now from Gallic Books

(My thanks to NetGalley and Gallic Books for providing me with a review copy)

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The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83¼ Years Old

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‘Another year and I still don’t like old people. Me? I am 83 years old.’ 

Hendrik Groen may be old, but he is far from dead and isn’t planning to be buried any time soon. Granted, his daily strolls are getting shorter because his legs are no longer willing and he had to visit his doctor more than he’d like. Technically speaking he is … elderly. But surely there is more to life at his age than weak tea and potted geraniums?

Hendrik sets out to write an exposé: a year in the life of his care home in Amsterdam, revealing all its ups and downs – not least his new endeavour the anarchic Old-But-Not Dead Club. And when Eefje moves in – the woman Hendrik has always longed for – he polishes his shoes (and his teeth), grooms what’s left of his hair and attempts to make something of the life he has left, with hilarious, tender and devastating consequences.

The indomitable Hendrik Groen – Holland’s unlikeliest hero – has become a cultural phenomenon in his native Netherlands and now he and his famously anonymous creator are conquering the globe. A major Dutch bestseller, The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen will not only delight older readers with its wit and relevance, but will charm and inspire those who have years to go before their own expiry date.

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The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen is a wonderful book.  It is sad, happy, poignant, funny – I laughed out loud a few times. There’s even a love interest. It’s a work of fiction by an author whose true identity is not known but it is so well written, it’s easy to believe it is all true.  It’s also very entertaining.

Initially I thought the first few pages seemed a bit monotonous. I was wrong. I think that is deliberate to give a flavour of life in a residential home for the elderly. The story gets better and better as we get to know the main characters and they start venturing further afield.

Hendrik has been in an Amsterdam care home for three years. He’s considered courteous, polite, helpful, civil and he keeps quiet to avoid confrontation. He rarely says what he would really like to say. You get the sense he is a bit of a worrier and doesn’t like to upset the apple cart.

Then he decides to keep a diary – an exposé of a year in the care home and it’s residents – to allow his true voice to be heard.

I love the opening lines:

“Another year, and I still don’t like old people. Their Zimmerframe shuffle, their unreasonable impatience, their endless complaints, their tea and biscuits, their bellyaching.”

“Me?  I am eighty-three years old.”

Initially his diary entries document the complaints and petty squabbles of some of the residents, and the routine of the care home with all the rules and regulations regarding what residents can and cannot do. It all seems a bit monotonous (possibly an accurate description of life in some care homes!).

Early on, even Hendrik suggests his diary entries are a bit gloomy however the book is by no means dismal or depressing. It is written with humour and the other residents are described brilliantly.  You really begin to care about some of them.

When Eefje Brand moves into the home Hendrik considers her to be pleasant and like a breath of fresh air. He also finds a spring in his step and a reason to look forwards.

There is also Mrs Stelwegen, the director of the home who becomes something of an adversary when Hendrik and a few friends form the Old-But-Not Dead Club as an alternative to the rather boring activities and entertainments that occasionally take place in the home. The Club members plan excursions and escapades away from the routine of the home.

Firm friendships are formed among the club members. We also get glimpses of the friends’ personal stories and how they came to be in the residential home. I found Hendrik’s story very moving – especially given the quiet way he revealed his circumstances.

There are ups and downs for the club members. It’s sad when the inevitable happens and friends pass away but the Old-But-Not Dead Club will continue, there are more excursions to plan and Hendrik is now looking forward to the Spring – and he’s going to start a new diary.

An excellent, entertaining read.

UK Publication date:  25 August 2016

[My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher Penguin UK – Michael Joseph for a review copy of this book].

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The Little French Guesthouse

Description:  Sun, croissants and fine wine. Nothing can spoil the perfect holiday. Or can it?
When Emmy Jamieson arrives at La Cour des Roses, a beautiful guesthouse in the French countryside, she can’t wait to spend two weeks relaxing with boyfriend Nathan. Their relationship needs a little TLC and Emmy is certain this holiday will do the trick. But they’ve barely unpacked before he scarpers with Gloria, the guesthouse owner’s cougar wife.

Rupert, the ailing guesthouse owner, is shell-shocked. Feeling somewhat responsible, and rather generous after a bottle (or so) of wine, heartbroken Emmy offers to help. Changing sheets in the gîtes will help keep her mind off her misery.

Thrust into the heart of the local community, Emmy suddenly finds herself surrounded by new friends. And with sizzling hot gardener Ryan and the infuriating (if gorgeous) accountant Alain providing welcome distractions, Nathan is fast becoming a distant memory.

Fresh coffee and croissants for breakfast, feeding the hens in the warm evening light; Emmy starts to feel quite at home. But it would be madness to walk away from her friends, family, and everything she’s ever worked for, to take a chance on a place she fell for on holiday – wouldn’t it?

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After reading a few crime novels (mostly very good) The Little French Guesthouse made a lovely contrast. It was funny, warm, sad, poignant and very satisfying.

I found myself quickly becoming immersed in the story. There is no slow introduction. The first page starts with Emmy’s shocking discovery on the roof terrace.

Emmy and Nathan are spending two weeks at a beautiful French guesthouse in the Loire region run by Rupert and his wife Gloria in the hope that a break from work and stress will re-energise their relationship.

A few days into the holiday Rupert collapses in front of Emmy clutching his chest. She goes searching for his wife and is shocked when she finds Gloria and Nathan ‘romping’ on the roof terrace.

Rupert is taken to hospital where he is found to have angina but he has also damaged a ligament in his leg when he collapsed and can barely walk. This is a problem because Rupert did all the cooking. It would seem Gloria is just there to meet and greet and look decorative.

A few days later, shortly after important guests have arrived who are very demanding and will expect the very best of food and service, Nathan and Gloria have run off together and Emmy feels sorry for Rupert and ends up helping out by shopping, cleaning, cooking under supervision rather than returning home early.

What starts out with Emmy feeling she has to help Rupert run the guest house for a day or two until he can arrange for other help leads to her staying on for the duration of her holiday and then being asked to extend it by another week.

In a very short time she has made new friends and she feels settled and comfortable. She helps Rupert but also takes time to relax in the beautiful surroundings. There is even some love interest.

All too soon Emmy has to go back to her well paid job in the UK. . Rupert comes up with a plan that would enable her to relocate to France and help him run his business and perhaps cultivate her own business interests. There is much agonising as Emmy considers her options.

I like the writing style.  Helen’s description of the guesthouse and its surroundings is wonderful. I really wanted to be there, in fact I felt I could be there, sitting reading in the peaceful garden, the bees humming, the gardener working somewhere nearby or enjoying the town on market day with all the noise, bustle, smells, having coffee, chatting. Sounds idyllic.

The characters were well drawn and easy to visualise. Caring, thoughtful, hardworking, capable Emmy who mucks in when things need done and endears herself to everyone. She sounds wonderful, someone you would want to be friends with. Owner Rupert I think is usually larger than life, congenial, friendly, appreciative, well known and respected in the area.

Nathan came across as arrogant, snobbish, mean, selfish – not so much of a sympathetic character! Gloria seemed more self-centred, lazy, and probably a little past her prime. I got a sense she was disappointed with her life at the guest house.

I liked the fact that all the characters are easy to visualise. The writing was so good.

This is the first book I have read by Helen Pollard but I’m sure it won’t be the last. It is everything it says on the cover: The perfect feel good summer read.

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