As everyone who works in a school knows, the last few weeks of autumn term are simply manic! Normal lessons are interrupted for Nativity rehearsals, carol service rehearsals, trips, other Christmassy events, then the Nativity production itself which was sweet (as ever) and then this weekend we’ve had our staff outing back to back with the Christmas Bazaar which was manic2 ! We’re into the calmer final week with just the carol service itself, Christmas lunch and trying to rehome all the lost property to come, then I have to go into overdrive again for a few days to get our termly magazine done and sent to the printers by the end of the week before Christmas. But today, as the day after the Bazaar, at whichI took the opportunity to have a book stall, but only sold 17 books taking £99, which was a bit disappointing, despite having ‘curated’ (said with irony) my stock to fit the clientele, I’m having a breather and catching up on a pile of yet to be reviewed books. So here goes:
Sideways by Rex Pickett
This was our Book Group choice for discussing last week. The theme was ‘Grapes’ and this buddy novel about two blokes on a stag week road trip in California wine country fitted the criteria perfectly.
Miles is a unsuccessful writer, broke, suffering panic attacks, hoping his agent can finally place his book with a publisher – but that hope is getting fainter. His best friend is Jack, an actor, and Miles proposes a trip out to wine country for the week before Jack’s wedding to Babs on the Sunday after. Miles is a real wine snob, a pinot noir addict and he has a great tour planned for them. Jack, although he enjoys wine, is hoping to get his wedding nerves out of his system by sowing some last wild oats, whereas Miles is still getting over his own divorce from Victoria, a good friend of Babs. So off they go for a week of wine and sex for Jack – who soon hooks up with Terra, the friend of Maya, whom Miles had met on previous trips to the area. Jack keeps trying to convince Miles that Maya fancies him, but Miles can’t believe that she does. Needless to say, it all gets complicated, and Jack ends up in the ER when he gets caught with another married waitress… How will he explain his broken nose to Babs?
This buddy novel is very of its time in the early noughties. You may rail at Jack’s attitude towards women and all the drink-driving, but the women aren’t doormats either. There is a lot of wine talk from Miles as our narrator, which may bore non-drinkers, but there is plenty of snappy dialogue. I found it a light and entertaining comedy.
You may remember the 2004 film of the book, which starred Paul Giamatti as Miles – perfect casting. I liked the term ‘sideways’ for sloshed too. There are two more volumes of Miles’ wine adventures, which I’d happily read too. (7.5/10)
The Sleepwalker by Joseph Knox
If you like your police procedurals dark and gritty – Joseph Knox’s ‘Manc-noir’ books may be for you. But don’t start here – The Sleepwalker is the third in his ‘Aidan Waits’ series. Go back and read Sirens (review here) and then The Smiling Man (review here) first, you’ll miss out on the character building of Waits and his colleagues, and one influential local villain who recurs. I’ve previously described these books as The Wire meets Line of Duty in Manchester, and the third volume doesn’t disappoint.
Disgraced Detective Aidan Waits is normally rostered on the night shift, partnered with the awful DI Peter (Sutty) Sutcliffe, but as this installment opens, he is in hospital – by the bedside of mass murderer Martin Wicks (who is known as The Sleepwalker), tasked with extracting the location of his final victim before he dies. When an attack on Wicks leaves one police officer dead, and Sutty severely wounded, Wicks’ final words to Waits send him on a personal journey into his own past, which we’ve had hints of before too. Assigned a new partner, Waits finds it hard to trust DC Naomi Black; the Super is on his case again too. To solve these crimes Waits and Black will be tested to their limits.
Knox’s style is to write in short chapters, few are longer than a handful of pages. The pace is relentless, the underbelly of Manchester is laid bare; his writing is very visual, crying out to be adapted for TV. Waits is a very complex character, hugely flawed and nihilistic, always in danger of being kicked off the force, but useful to the Super. This is another fantastic addition to an unputdownable series – loved it! (10/10)
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy
I couldn’t resist buying this book for the drawings, but between its covers is a wonderful meditation on love and friendship, kindness and courage, telling the story of a lonely boy who meets a mole, then a fox and a horse. Four different characters who bring out the best in each other. It’s not a story as such, as a series of vignettes as the boy asks questions and the animals explain the world to him.
It could be terribly twee, but, remarkably, it’s not. I found it really rather moving, even inspiring. But it would be nothing without Mackesy’s exquisite artwork. The composition of his pictures recall E. H. Shepard’s Winnie the Pooh drawings, but freer and definitely more splodgy in a lovely way.
I particularly loved how he leaves the faint guidance circles he draws in, which seems to make the horse in particular feel full of movement.
This book is topping the Christmas non-fiction bestseller charts, justifiably I think, and it would be an ideal present for any age, or buy it for yourself as I did and wallow in the gorgeous illustrations and essential truths in the text. (10/10)