I love when an unfamiliar book’s dust jacket describes it as a mashup of my favorite things, because in my experience this is a great way to find new books I’m likely to enjoy. In the case of The Rook by Daniel O’Malley, it was described as “Harry Potter meets Ghostbusters meets War of the Worlds” – and that was it, I absolutely had to read it. It turns out my instinct was right! This is a great book, in large part because it has all the dry humor of both Harry Potter and Ghostbusters along with excitement and action of War of the Worlds. I saw elements of Kingsman in the mix as well – both feature the secret organization facing an unprecedented threat, and a mentor-rookie relationship that adds real pathos.
The book opens with a young woman finding herself in a rainy London park, with no memory of who she is or how she got there. She finds a letter in her pocket which opens Dear You, which turns out to be from her body’s former occupant, explaining that her name is Myfanwy Alice Thomas, and she’s a supernatural secret agent being actively hunted by an unknown enemy. This new Myfanwy must take over her predecessor’s complicated life and discover who wants her gone, all without letting anyone know what’s happened to her. Luckily for her, her predecessor was an excellent administrator and left many detailed notes and letters telling her everything she needs to know – if only she can stay alive long enough to read them.
Not only is this book funny and action-packed, the characters are widely diverse and supremely entertaining. The huge variety of supernatural powers that they display is staggeringly imaginative, and the personalities are compelling as well. I personally love that the main character, Myfanwy, remains confident, humorous, and decisive despite the fact that she’s lost her memory and is scrambling to get up to speed with the dangerous world she now inhabits. Whether or not her sanguine attitude is realistic, it makes for a much easier read than if she was dripping with angst and insecurity- and I find it somewhat inspiring! If only we could all feel confident that even if the worst should come, we can figure out whatever comes our way, and laugh about it. She also has a real knack for making friends, especially with the other strong women around her, which only increases the hilarity and inspiration. If you love Ghostbusters, Harry Potter, Kingsman, Doctor Who, Independence Day, or Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I definitely recommend you try this book — and its sequel, Stiletto.
Luc O’Donnell is a mess. The son of a semi-famous rock star, he’s been involved in various messy scandals including problems with too much drinking and questionable partners. When yet another scandalous photo of him in a compromising position appears in the tabloids, Luc’s employer, with it’s many respectable clients, insist that he clean up his act. Pronto.
Enter Oliver Blackwood, the friend of a friend who is in need of a date for an important family event. Oliver is a respected barrister from a prestigious family with a strong moral compass. It doesn’t hurt that he’s devastatingly good looking either. He and Luc have met briefly in the past and took an instant dislike to each other. However, desperate times.
And so, somewhat reluctantly and with many reservations, Luc and Oliver agree to fake date for a few weeks in Alexis Hall’s Boyfriend Material. At first they simply tolerate – barely – each other and view each other with a lot of suspicion. Luc is not used to a partner that looks out for him and is reliable and thoughtful and Oliver is surprised by Luc’s creativity and intelligence (which had never been on display before). Before long they become friends and then something more. But each thinks the other believes their relationship is fake and that it’ll end soon. Can they overcome the obstacles thrown in their path and see the truth?
This is a typical fake boyfriend trope that is common in romances. Boyfriend Material succeeds because of the likable characters, the devastatingly dry British wit and the funny situations they get themselves into. Hall pokes fun at the British upper class and makes several sly references to the film Notting Hill. And while this is an entertaining read, it has surprising depth too, about family and trust and acceptance. A lovely and charming book.
A librarian with a garden – how could I possibly resist? And there’s no need to resist – This Beautiful Fantastic is a charming, modern fairy tale about friendship and trust and finding beauty in the ordinary.
Bella Brown is a shy, reclusive librarian (disappointingly, a bit of a stereotype, although Bella is young and does not wear her hair in a bun!) whose dream is to become a children’s book author. Lacking the confidence to show her work to anyone, let alone a publisher, she stays hidden in the shadows, avoiding her neighbors and other people, following a careful routine of work and home.
One day her landlord appears and tells her that she will be evicted in 30 days if she does not revive the badly neglected garden at her house (in British-speak, “garden” is what American’s would call a “yard” and in a city is usually quite small with lots of plants and a small grass lawn). Understandably, Bella is upset since she knows nothing about gardening and her first attempts are disastrous. Her grumpy neighbor watches in horror, makes unhelpful, scathing remarks and then, after Bella confronts him, agrees to help her (turns out he’s an expert horticulturist and had turned her in in the first place)
What follows is the blossoming of an epic friendship (yes! I went there! Bad pun!!), the meeting of two opposites that understand loneliness and isolation and tentatively learn to accept the other, blemishes and all and in the process, learn to let other people in as well.
This is a typical British comedy with eccentric characters, dry humor and quirky settings. The library that Bella works at is endlessly fascinating – and weird. I don’t know a lot about public libraries in England, but this library is obsessed with quiet (another stereotype!), is stocked only with very old books and has crazy hours. Also, Bella has apparently memorized the exact location of every single volume!
Bella is played by Jessica Brown Findlay who you might remember as Sybil in Downtown Abbey and the grumpy neighbor is expertly played by Tom Wilkinson; they are joined a cast of familiar British character actors. A delight for all.
Twenty years ago Gary King (Simon Pegg) led his four best pals on a “Golden Mile”pub crawl to celebrate the end of their adolescence. Since then, they have all seemingly moved on with their lives and have found varying levels of success. Well, all of them except King, who has never even tried to change.
Simon Pegg is always at his best in films he wrote with Edgar Wright and The World’s End is no exception. Foul-mouthed and drunk, Pegg’s King is delightfully unlikable and yet, it is easy to see why his friends are all willing to join him for one more pub crawl in their hometown of Newton Haven. King and his friends (each with their own royal pun moniker) Andy Knightly (Nick Frost), Oliver Chamberlain (Martin Freeman), Steven Prince (Paddy Considine), and Peter Page (Eddie Marsan) are all drinking their way toward the storied pub, The World’s End. When they arrive in Newton Haven, there are subtle changes to the town that seem to be for the better. But as the night progresses, the changes seem to take a turn for the sinister, and the friends find themselves increasingly in danger.
A huge fan of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, I went into this movie expecting to love it and was not disappointed. I might even say that it was my favorite of Pegg and Wright’s British bromances disguised as sci-fi and action spoofs. This movie is funny all the way through, and I’m hoping that it only gets better with repeated viewing.
Hey, Arrested Development fans! Ever wondered what would happen if Tobias Fünke had a brother who was accidentally mistaken for a shrewd businessman and gets sent to England by a strung-out Gob Bluth to sell a toxic energy drink with the help of a sweet cafe owner and a cheeky young bloke? Me, too! Thank goodness David Cross answered our pleas and created The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret starring himself and Will Arnett.
Hey, people who love both American and BBC comedies! Ever wondered what it would be like if a TV show combined the American sensibility for outrageousness with snarky British dialogue? Me, too! I absolutely adore fish-out-of-water stories, especially when they compare the differences between Americans and Britons. (Remember in Downton Abbey when Lord Grantham told Lady Cora “If you’re turning American on me, I’ll go downstairs” while arguing their daughter’s marriage? I giggled for days over that.) The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret manages to perfectly blend the cross Atlantic comedic styles so that I cannot decide if the show is more a British show starring an American or an American show set in Great Britain.
Hey, viewers who like shows with short seasons so they aren’t that big of a commitment! The first season of The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret is only 6 episodes long. However, there is a giant cliffhanger at the end, so be prepared to have to wait for the release of season 2 on DVD.
Due to some mature language/situations and offbeat humor, The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret isn’t a show for everyone, but I recommend giving it a chance if you are looking for some familiar funny faces in a fresh setting.
If you enjoy P.G. Wodehouse, you will love Simon Brett’s newest mystery, Blotto, Twinks and the Ex-King’s Daughter. Blotto is even more clueless than the aristocratic Bertie Wooster.
While Wooster has his butler, Jeeves, Blotto is also lucky enough to have a much smarter sidekick. In this case, the handsome son of the Duke of Tawcaster (pronounced taster) is guided by his sister, Twinks. She is not only smart, but beautiful and loves to use her analytical skills to solve mysteries. In this book, she feels fortunate to have a dead body right in her own home, Tawcaster Towers. Her mother, the Duchess, forces the local constable to spirit away the dead body before her dinner party adjourns for cigars.
Britain’s ruling class is parodied in a cheerfully absurdist writing style, and the time between the two world wars seems refreshingly innocent.