“There’s Only Two David Beckhams” by John O’Farrell (2015)

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“Back when I was at school, the careers advisor asked me if I had any private hopes or dreams.”

My interest in sport is negligible. I’ve nothing against games, and even the Olympics is quite fun, but organised sport where billions upon billions of pounds are funnelled in to a handful of people running up and down a field – no chance. Football is that for me. I don’t understand the appeal. I don’t get the hours of coverage we need to explain why it matters that a ball did or didn’t go into a net. I don’t understand how teams can buy players like some kind of modern slave trade. I don’t get the appeal of a reheated meat pie and standing out in the drizzle, and I pray that if I ever have children, they don’t show any interest in the game. And yet, here I am, finishing up a book about football and admitting that it was all kinds of enjoyable.

Alfie Baker is a sports journalist who is the polar opposite of me in that he lives and breathes the beautiful game. We join him in 2022 at the Qatar World Cup, where against all expectations, England have made it into the final with a team that seems truly unbeatable. Alfie, however, has become convinced that there is more to this team than means the eye. Certain there is a scandalous secret behind the new line up, he finds himself threatened by higher powers in the government to shut down the investigation, but when the likes of Greg Dyke and Tony Blair start getting in touch, he realises that he really has uncovered something big. Perhaps it’s not just a coincidence that that midfielder performs just like David Beckham, and that defender uses the same techniques as Bobby Moore…

After years of wondering who the best English team would be, they’re finally here, but now Alfie is faced with a choice. All his life he’s wanted to see England win the World Cup – and they’re in the final against Germany, no less – but if he reveals the truth, it could see his dreams dashed. Will he choose love or duty? All’s fair in love, war and football.

From early on, you know exactly where it’s going, but you don’t mind. I’ve read John O’Farrell before and he’s effortlessly funny, no more so than here. I can’t pretend to understand every reference, and some of the prolonged scenes where there’s actually football being played and described in the painful detail that I can’t begin to be interested in are a bit much, but generally, this is a total riot, and not in the bad football hooligan way. The characters are daft, and the story weaves in real people with hilarious results. Packed with one-liners and full of silly ideas, it’s one of those books that I would press into many hands.

Some of the daftest stuff comes from the gap between the book’s publication (2015) and the current year (2020). O’Farrell has had to create the events of the 2018 World Cup, the 2016 and 2020 Olympics, and several other football championships to boot. (Question: why are there so bloody many?) He couldn’t have foreseen last year’s news that Russia wouldn’t be allowed to attend the 2022 World Cup, for one, but he does get a laugh from suggesting that the Vatican City finally field a team for the first time – only to beat England in their first outing.

It’s hugely satirical, pretty predictable, but too funny to dislike. It’s a love letter to a world that I will never be a part of, and there’s a lot in here about fairness, passion and patriotism, although the good kind. As Alfie himself says, “Patriotism is simple; you can be proud of anything and anywhere – just don’t ever use it to denigrate anyone else.” At the end of the day, that’s the best performance we can hope for.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows a man who is tired of being single while all his friends get married, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“Carry On, Jeeves” by P. G. Wodehouse (1925)

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“Now, touching this business of old Jeeves – my man, you know – how do we stand?”

Literature is full of iconic pairings. Benedick and Beatrice, Elizabeth and Darcy, Holmes and Watson, Poirot and Hastings, Thursday and Landen – all of them at their best when with one another. Jeeves and Wooster, however, are a cut above the others, having a symbiotic relationship that is for all time. It’s not a romance, and it’s not even really a friendship – this is a relationship drawn on professional lines – yet they stand together with loyalty and respect nonetheless.

Here are ten early stories about one of fiction’s greatest pairings, starting with the moment Jeeves walks into Bertie’s life and cures his hangover with a drink of his own invention. From that moment on, Bertie cannot live without Jeeves. Throughout these stories, Bertie finds himself in many a pickle, as do many of his friends including Sippy, Bingo, Bicky and Corky, and with little intellect of their own, they must routinely ask Jeeves for help. Jeeves, to his credit, always knows what to do and can always solve the problem thanks to his intelligence, wisdom, and a huge number of contacts with whom he is always in communication with. There are, as ever, a huge collection of overbearing aunts and dangerous misunderstandings in here too, and we even get to see Bertie out of his native England, with some the stories taking place in New York and one in Paris.

The collection also contains “Bertie Changes His Mind”, the only time that Jeeves himself narrates the story. It’s really funny to see things from the other side, as we get to see Jeeves as not just being an almost supernaturally good valet, but actually being incredibly manipulative, if always for a good cause. He does seem to genuinely like Bertie, and his actions are always for his own good, whether that be discouraging him from taking in children to liven up the house, or getting rid of his purple socks.

As ever, the stories are charmingly hilarious and while Bertie would probably begin to grate after a while if I knew him in real life, on the page he’s a delight. Completely able to accept that he’s a bit of a “chump” and lacking in imagination and brain power, he knows that he wouldn’t be able to cope without Jeeves. In one story, he finds himself without him for a while and realises that some men don’t have a “gentleman’s gentleman”. He genuinely can’t see how they could manage.

Jeeves and Wooster are a dynamite pairing, and each would be lost without the other. I’m still fairly new to the series and am enjoying dipping in to the back catalogue, but they are books to be enjoyed sparingly like a good glass of port at the end of the day, not knocked back like cheap vodka shots. Wodehouse is one of the few writers that can make me genuinely laugh out loud, and it’s always a delight to spend some time in the company of his characters.

Blissfully silly stuff.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows a man who is tired of being single while all his friends get married, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“Twas The Nightshift Before Christmas” by Adam Kay (2019)

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“Christmas is the pine-scented, tinsel-strewn timeout where, like it or not, everything just … stops.”

This is Going to Hurt was a proper game-changing book of the last decade. Adam Kay’s diaries of when he was a junior doctor in the underfunded, understaffed, underappreciated NHS made us all sit up and take notice of what we’d been taking for granted for too long. With humour and powerful emotion, he showed us what the realities of being a doctor were and the book, quite rightly, became a huge bestseller. Because of the popular demand, a sequel was inevitable, and this stocking-sized book details some extra bits of his diaries, this time focusing on the six Christmases he was working.

Using just as much humour, Kay regales us with further stories of his time on the ward, including the romantic turkey dinner in the staff room, making decorations out of medical equipment, why gaffer tape is not the best thing to embalm yourself with, how to behave when the Health Minister pays a visit, and what to get a colleague you hate when you draw them in the Secret Santa. It’s not all humour, though, as he also talks about the difficulty of talking about death, the emotional maelstrom caused by a miscarriage, and how the job surgically removes your social life.

There’s not much else I can say, really, just that you should read this. And you should read his other book too, if you’re one of the seven people who hasn’t. Heartbreaking, hilarious and honest in equal measure, it will open your eyes to the reality of working one of the most demanding (and rewarding) jobs in the world.

All hail our NHS – we’d never survive without it.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows a man who is tired of being single while all his friends get married, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“The Wimbledon Poisoner” by Nigel Williams (1990)

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“Henry Farr did not, precisely, decide to murder his wife.”

Wimbledon, to most people around the world, is simply the place where the tennis happens. If you’re of a certain age, you may also associate it with the Wombles, the rodent rubbish collectors of the common. This fairly affluent area of south London became central to three of Nigel Williams’ books, known as The Wimbledon Trilogy. This suburban murder mystery is the first.

Forty-year-old solicitor Henry Farr is having something of a mid-life crisis. He has realised that his life has devolved to containing nothing but an unhappy marriage, a demanding daughter, an unfulfilling job, and weekend visits to Waitrose. The only thing that makes him happy is writing his magnum opus, The Complete History of Wimbledon, and even that has lost some of its lustre after it was rejected by a publisher. He manages to put most of the fault on his wife, Elinor, and decides that he needs to kill her. He debates strangling, electrocution and pushing her off a cliff before realising that his method should be poison, and before he knows what’s happened, he’s bought some thallium from the chemist and is smearing it onto that evening’s chicken.

However, Elinor is in one of her “moods”, and rejects dinner after all, much to the annoyance of Henry. Unfortunately, friend and local doctor Donald has popped in for dinner and eats the chicken instead, which proves to be his last act. Furious that his murder attempt has failed – and saddened by the death of his friend – Henry decides to make a second attempt. Soon, his friends and neighbours begin falling like dominoes and things begin to get out of control as he continues to fail in killing his wife. He needs to stop, not least because DI Rush from over the road has begun hanging around more often than usual, and Henry is sure that his taciturn nature is just a front for what he really suspects is happening in their quiet neighbourhood…

Suburbia is broadly assumed to be a very boring place indeed. It is a place between the city and the country where people have gone to raise families and absolutely nothing exciting happens at all. Therefore, in fiction, the suburbs are incredibly thrilling places, with all sorts of things going on in them, from wizards and vampires hiding among the normal people, to every other resident being a murderer. Williams really plays up the smallness of the situation, with Henry knowing everyone in the street and discussing them only in terms of their nickname and house number. We all have people in the street that we don’t really know the names of, but refer to as things like Jungian Analyst with the Winebox or Unpublished Magical Realist. Some of the names are brilliantly obscure and make little sense, their reasoning lost to time which feels very real. I think all of the action takes place in Wimbledon and it becomes the key focus of the novel in many ways.

Henry isn’t especially unlikable, but then again, not many of the characters are. You don’t wish any of them dead, sure, so you still have some empathy as the list of the dead grows, but you’d also be hard-pushed to find a solid reason to bring them back again. Of their time, while some of the characters have embraced feminism and environmentalism, most of the others are still small-minded, racist, sexist and unwilling to engage with modern society. I’ve recently binge-watched the entire series of Ever Decreasing Circles, and you get the same feeling of a “little England”, where everyone should be obliged to be white, straight, in steady employment and part of the local cricket team. Of course, at least there none of them were trying to kill each other (as far as we know).

The ongoing madness and the escalation of murders is done very well, and in some ways the book is a classic farce. Yet, as it becomes more objectively ridiculous, it stays engaging and still feels real. It’s effortlessly funny and it doesn’t need to reach far for the jokes, simply relying on observation and the interaction between the characters. We definitely need more comedy novels these days and while the likes of Jasper Fforde and Stevyn Colgan are doing their best, the wider publishing world seems to have little interest. The British are obsessed with murder and we pride ourselves on our humour – why are books like this not held in higher esteem or considered “worthy”? A mystery for the ages.

In the meantime, I recommend this delightfully dark and silly comedy of manners.

My second novel, The Third Wheel, is now available on Amazon and Waterstones! It tells the story of Dexter, a twenty-something teacher who is struggling with the fact that he alone among his friends is single and isn’t ready to grow up. But when aliens invade, it puts a lot of his problems into perspective. Mixing comedy, science fiction and horror, the novel promises to have something for everyone. I hope you’ll check it out!

“Meddling Kids” by Edgar Cantero (2018)

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“It starts when you pull the lamp chain and light doesn’t come.”

Didn’t we all want to solve crimes as a child? Television and literature alike have always been full of precocious children and teenagers who are able to solve mysteries that leave those who are meant to be solving them stumped. The villains always get their comeuppance and time and again spooky and supernatural premises are shown to have entirely mundane backgrounds. In Edgar Cantero’s second novel, he takes on the genre and wonders: what if it wasn’t quite that easy?

In 1977, the Blyton Summer Detective Club – a group of teenagers made up of Peter, Nate, Andy, Kerri and their dog Sean – stopped the Sleepy Lake monster, who turned out to be yet another greedy, desperate lowlife in a rubber mask who would have gotten away with it, if it wasn’t for those meddling kids. Thirteen years later, the young detectives have grown up but not forgotten their adventures. And the more they try not to think about them, they realise that maybe it wasn’t as simple as it seemed. The events can’t be explained away by a guy in a mask. Something weirder was going on.

The group have changed, however. Tomboy Andy is wanted in two states after she broke out of prison. Kerri was once a child genius but now drinks away her problems in New York, accompanied by Tim, a direct descendant of the original dog. Nate is locked up in an asylum, but still has contact with Peter, which is probably a bit troublesome as he died two years ago. The surviving members of the detective club decide that they can’t hide from their demons any longer and head back to Blyton Hills to finally put to rest the trauma that has haunted them for half their lives. The town has changed and so have they, but the danger remains as real as ever, and they are soon once again meddling in things that no man or beast should ever meddle with.

Although I’m painfully averse to Scooby Doo (it’s entirely irrational, I just never liked the series), I was always a fan of Enid Blyton’s young detectives, and upon reading this you realise who close the two teams were. Both featured two male and two female characters, alongside a dog, and solved crimes that the authorities could never deal with. Here, Cantero updates the concept by throwing the amateur detectives right into an H. P. Lovecraft novel and letting them fight their own way out. The characters are rich and funny, particularly Tim, the dog, who has an enormous amount of personality without ever being overtly anthropomorphised. The humans feel real, despite the unreality of the plot, and are as likeable as they are broken.

Although already very funny despite the horror, the greatest stylistic device is that the book is very self-aware, pointing out its own construction and breaking the fourth wall so naturally that you completely buy into it. Cantero slips in stage directions, title cards, references to the very paragraphs and sentences he’s writing, and at one point even ends a chapter, only to have one of the characters refuse to let it end there and carrying on regardless. He’s also got an absolutely sublime way with words and can turn absolutely anything into a verb or adverb. A character doesn’t “tell” a story, they “once-upon-a-time” it. Jar lids marimba when there’s a tremble underground, and at one point characters see books “lemminging” off the shelf. It’s a masterful grasp of language made all the more impressive when you learn that his first language is Spanish. Like Douglas Adams, he makes you realise what words are actually capable of. I’m jealous.

If you grew up on The Famous Five, Scooby Doo or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, this is the book for you.

My second novel, The Third Wheel, is now available on Amazon and Waterstones! It tells the story of Dexter, a twenty-something teacher who is struggling with the fact that he alone among his friends is single and isn’t ready to grow up. But when aliens invade, it puts a lot of his problems into perspective. Mixing comedy, science fiction and horror, the novel promises to have something for everyone. I hope you’ll check it out!

“Oh, I Do Like To Be…” by Marie Phillips (2019)

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“It was a hot day in the summer, one of those days that glimmers like a mayfly, only to be trampled under the heels of an unseasonal downpour twenty-four hours later.”

Marie Phillips is responsible for one of my favourite books about the Greek myths – Gods Behaving Badly – so it was nice (if surprising) to see her appear on Unbound with a new novel. Once again she’s taking someone from history and putting them down in the modern world. Once again, she does it with style, humour and fun.

Billy is a modern day clone of William Shakespeare. His sister, Sally, is from the control group, cloned from a hair found on a bus seat. Since realising that his creator and mother Eleanor doesn’t think Billy will ever live up to the original, the pair have spent the last five years travelling around Britain, stopping in at seaside towns where Billy can seek inspiration and finally write a new Shakespeare play. Unfortunately, the town they’ve chosen this time has a problem – and the problem is Bill and Sal.

Bill and Sal have no idea that they are clones of Shakespeare and a random hair, but Bill is a successful writer anyway. When Billy meets Sal and Sally meets Bill, things begin to unravel with frantic speed as the pairs enter into a farce of epic proportions where no one is who they seem, misunderstandings are frequent, and it’s very possible that at least one of them is going mad…

I love a book with a silly premise, and having clones of Shakespeare wandering around in the modern world is a good one. It’s not been done since Jasper Fforde had a go, but with vastly different results. It takes a sharp mind – and, I imagine, a lot of post-its – to keep track of a farce like this and they’re much easier to do on stage and screen than on paper, but Phillips does wonders with the concept. Fittingly, it gives the whole thing a sense of a Shakespearean play, given he had a fondness for long-lost twins and confused identities.

Aside from the obvious plot, it’s also a great insight into the nature/nurture debate in psychology. Billy knows he is Shakespeare and then feels threatened and creatively crippled as he can’t ever do as well as the original. Bill knows nothing and yet manages to produce copious plays, poems and novels. I like the argument Eleanor makes that if Billy can’t do it, it proves that whoever it was who wrote Shakespeare’s plays, it wasn’t Shakespeare. I’m firmly on the side that says he did, but a friend and I got to debating last week. The book also seems to be a love letter to the seaside towns of Britain that most of us have visited at one time or another for family holidays as children and the like. It conjures up a world of ice cream vans, bucket and spade shops, and picture postcards that automatically stir up feelings of nostalgia.

Daft and wonderfully clever, as only Marie Phillips can do.

My second novel, The Third Wheel, is now available on Amazon and Waterstones! It tells the story of Dexter, a twenty-something teacher who is struggling with the fact that he alone among his friends is single and isn’t ready to grow up. But when aliens invade, it puts a lot of his problems into perspective. Mixing comedy, science fiction and horror, the novel promises to have something for everyone. I hope you’ll check it out!

“The Diary Of A Bookseller” by Shaun Bythell (2017)

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“Orwell’s reluctance to commit to bookselling is understandable.”

Wigtown in the Galloway region of Scotland is a town of just one thousand or so residents that would be another one of the many fairly remarkable, but historic, towns that make up the United Kingdom. As it is, it has been dedicated as Scotland’s Book Town, like Hay-on-Wye in Wales. This means it has an enormous number of bookshops. One of these is simply called The Book Shop and is said to be the largest in Scotland. It’s run by a man called Shaun Bythell who isn’t quite on par with Bernard Black in terms of grumpiness, but he’s not far off. You may know him as the man who shot a Kindle and hung the remains like a hunting trophy. This is his story.

Detailing a year in the life of a Scottish bookseller, these memoirs focus on the day to day running of a bookshop housed in a centuries old building and all the problems inherent in this. There are leaky windows, disrespectful staff, misplaced novels, book purchases to be made, and that’s all before you get to the customers. Bythell is rarely judgemental towards his customers, merely observational (his words) but he does record a great number of incidents where customers are shown to probably be somewhat insane. There are those that ask him for books without knowing the author or sometimes the title, those that haggle (or even adjust the prices themselves), those who ask for things he has and then leave without them, or those who simply come in to tell him that they don’t read.

If you’ve never worked in customer service, you won’t believe a word of it. If you have, you will.

Most of all though, the book does shine through with Bythell’s passion for books. Frequently he has to visit other towns in Scotland to look through collections of books that people are selling. Sometimes all he finds is dross, or forgotten tomes covered in dust and cat hair that he could never make a profit on. Other times, he discovers rare antiquities and visibly becomes excited at meeting them. He is, naturally, a keen reader himself and has a love of not only books but the whole second-hand bookselling industry. He laments the changing ways and how modern technology – particularly Amazon – is rendering bookshops obsolete. As someone who still supports brick-and-mortar bookshops – especially independents when I can – I hope that his fears are unfounded, although truthfully I can see how much harder it is becoming to run a bookshop when everything is available online with the click of a button. Still, I find that Amazon tells you what it thinks you’ll want, whereas any true book lover knows that you can’t beat browsing physical shelves where you stumble onto something you didn’t even know you needed to know about.

A charming and hilarious book that has shoved Wigtown still higher up my list of places to visit, and also made me reconsider the available option of running one of the town’s bookshops for a holiday. I fear I’d never get any work done in a place like that … it sounds ideal.

My second novel, The Third Wheel, is now available on Amazon and Waterstones! It tells the story of Dexter, a twenty-something teacher who is struggling with the fact that he alone among his friends is single and isn’t ready to grow up. But when aliens invade, it puts a lot of his problems into perspective. Mixing comedy, science fiction and horror, the novel promises to have something for everyone. I hope you’ll check it out!

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