Book Review: The House, by Simon Lelic #TheHouse

Publisher: Penguin

Publication date: 17/08/17 [Ebook] 02/11/17 [Paperback]

Once upon a time there were two people in the big city of London who found buying their first fairy tale property together a thoroughly dreadful experience. Then, after many, many disappointments, their dream came true when a detached house, complete with the previous owner’s creepy taxidermy, became theirs.

Those two lucky, plucky people are Sydney Baker and Jack Walsh and The House is where their nightmare begins…

I have one word for this book – fright-tastic. The couple’s alternating written monologue, entitled simply ‘Jack’ or ‘Sydney’ as chapter headings, relays their initial excitement from the shock of winning the auction bid and how that took a massive nosedive the longer they resided in The House.

At first I wondered why the story is being narrated in this weirdly dynamic fashion. I won’t elaborate simply because all becomes clear other than to say it kept me on my toes throughout. Their tale of terror is brought to the boil by casually inserting a few perfectly timed Stephen Kingisms into the dialogue, which raised a smile. And when situations begin to resemble Mr King’s creations you realise just how grim your world has become.

Jack and Sydney’s exchanges are naturally heartfelt and their fear so fresh I could almost smell it. The rhythm and pitch of their voices felt as if their account was being spoken aloud by them, not read by me. I could instantly tell when events unsettled them and they even revealed one or two unsaid things to each other as the true nature of the menace took hold.

This is the “Titanic” of home ownership, only the hazard manifests itself in a way no one could have expected. If only it was dry rot or a cockroach infestation they had to contend with instead of the alarming instances that would change their lives forever.

The House is a deviously chilling and hypnotic read. On the face of it, a young couple’s future is clouded by an unseen shadow. One that watches them, rattles them, and won’t let go – much like the story itself as I was bewitched from the first sentence.

Yes. Yes. I appreciate I have been deliberately cryptic, but that’s only so you can experience The House for yourself without any hint as to what you will discover when you visit. With its cracking momentum and a mystery that does a terrific job of keeping its guard up I liked this one, a lot.

Rating:  4/5

(I received a copy of this title from the publisher with my thanks. It was my absolute pleasure to read this book and provide this unbiased review.

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

THE PERFECT COUPLE. THE PERFECT HOUSE. THE PERFECT CRIME.

‘HUGELY GRIPPING AND SPOOKY AS HELL’ Mark Billingham

Londoners Jack and Syd moved into the house a year ago. It seemed like their dream home: tons of space, the perfect location, and a friendly owner who wanted a young couple to have it.

So when they made a grisly discovery in the attic, Jack and Syd chose to ignore it. That was a mistake.

Because someone has just been murdered. Right outside their back door.

And now the police are watching them…

‘AN INTRICATE AND POWERFUL THRILLER’ Tana French

‘TAUGHT, TENSE AND TERRIFYING, I LOVED IT’ Sharon Bolton

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(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Simon Lelic is married, with two young boys. As well as writing, he currently runs his own import/export business. Previously, he worked in London as a journalist for eight years, primarily on business-to-business publications dealing with topics relating to information technology.

Simon has a BA (Hons) degree in History and an MA in European Studies from the University of Exeter, and a Magistar in Sociology, awarded by the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, where he studied for four months. He also holds a post-graduate qualification in journalism.

Other than his family, reading is Simon’s biggest passion, but he also runs, plays golf and takes regular snowboarding trips. Otherwise, his main hobby is karate, in which he trains daily and holds a black belt.

Simon’s father was born in Slovenia, and moved to the UK when he was sixteen. Simon was born in Brighton, England, and recently moved back there with his family.

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Book Review: Broadcast, by Liam Brown

Publisher:  Legend Press

Publication date:  15th September 2017

Broadcast is a riotous victory for speculative live entertainment, delivering a sleek, alternative diversion for our appreciation. A streaming theatre without the prospect of an intermission becomes mind-cabaret for the masses, an innovation giving new meaning to the phrase ‘airing’ your thoughts.

Little by little our daily habits are already scrutinised, analysed and harvested until often they no longer feel like our own. With the rise of social media, You Tube, and Reality TV, the brave among us embrace this prospect when they volunteer to publicise moments of their daily routine in the name of recreation for a devoted audience. Staged bed hair and carefully placed brand placement is perfectly edited to present a censored version of their personality before any footage is Broadcast.

You’d think this kind of attention alone would feel intrusive. Yet the stars of these channels are the custodians of their own content and commercial destiny. They perform for their viewers, their ratings soar, along with potential advertising prospects.

I would imagine that maintaining that level of admiration would be exhausting, as YouTube star David Callow discovers. So when he is offered the opportunity that exceeds all others he jumps at the chance, as his current wavering success is no match for the possibilities of MindCast. Now anyone can tune in to see, hear and share the constant traffic of his thoughts 24/7, experiencing the unedited essence of David Callow, every silent judgement, aspiration, and caffeine craving now amplified.

Surely our minds should be the last frontier, even if the only protection that stands between social etiquette and oblivion is our mouth. But what if that were bypassed? Every reckless thought could escape into the wild – just think of all that uninhibited chaos your celebrity brain could cause!

This unhealthy brainchild is triggered by six rapid bursts of narration. The first is narrated in the third person until David steps into the spotlight to bare his soul for the remainder, and quite rightly so as he is the unique host after all. The story develops convincingly as the inclusion of ‘Plutchik’s Wheel’ (a scientific colour-code that classifies our primary emotions – yep, it’s an actual thing) shows how David’s initial thoughts were born as an embarrassing assortment of publicly identifiable hues before MindCast’s vision takes hold.

Not only is this book highly imaginative, it’s also one of my favourite reads this year. Terrific stuff!

Rating:  5/5

(My thanks to Tom Chalmers and Imogen Harris of Legend Press who kindly sent the advanced copy of this title. It is my absolute pleasure to provide an unbiased review.)

PLUTCHIK’S WHEEL

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

The idea behind MindCast is simple. We insert a small chip into your skull and then every thought, every feeling, every memory is streamed live, twenty-four hours a day. Trust me – within a few months you’ll be the most talked about person on the planet.

When David Callow is offered the lead role in a revolutionary new online show, he snatches at the opportunity.

Rapidly becoming a viral sensation, David is propelled to stratospheric levels of celebrity. However, he soon realises the downside of sharing every secret with the world.

A prisoner to both his fame and his own thoughts, David seeks to have the chip removed, only to discover the chilling secret lurking at the heart of MindCast, and the terrifying ambition the show’s creator has for him.

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(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Liam Brown is a writer, filmmaker and former-life model. His debut novel Real Monsters was published in 2015, and was followed by Wild Life in 2016; both were long-listed for the Guardian‘s Not the Booker prize. He lives in Birmingham with his wife and two children.

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Book Review: The Constant Soldier, by William Ryan

Publisher:  Panmacmillan

Publication date:  1st June 2017

Upon finishing this book in the early hours I found I had not only a lump in my throat, but I was speechless at the intensity of the narrative. This is not a book you can easily set aside and forget about (hence why I was reading until after 2.30 a.m.!)  The story remains with me even now and I’ve no doubt it will remain with me for some while to come –and I don’t say this lightly, it’s one of the finest books I have ever read.

Every striking scene, every imminent threat, every laboured dialogue exchange felt as though I were a fly on the wall observing the commands from the hierarchy worm their way downward the ranks only to become an act of obedience from the subordinates, regardless of the grotesque consequences.

How the handful of prisoners lived with the onslaught of fear and a routine so punishing – well, I don’t think I will ever comprehend. Ironically, even though this expendable workforce is exhausted, physically and mentally, it’s all to help the German officers recuperate in a rest hut to which The Constant Solider has been assigned.

Work detail is torturous, particularly for a one-armed, reluctant solider with burns covering most of his body. Not only does he have witness the ‘customary’ ill-treatment of the women prisoners as they carry out infinite housekeeping tasks to ensure a pleasant stay for the guests’, he recognised one of the spectral, emaciated frames inhabiting the raggedy prison clothes from his life before he was consigned to the army.

The Constant Soldier, Paul Brandt, is an especially distinctive character and represents the good / evil divide in the midst of war. The reasons why he came to serve in the army and then accept a position at the hut in spite of his extensive injuries are skilfully and sensitively depicted. It’s his expressions differ from the usual offerings. For instance, when his face expresses any kind of emotion a smile could easily be misconstrued a grimace as the skin on his face pulls taught emphasising his prior wounds.

By taking ordinary words and using them to extraordinary effect, each sentence embodies courage, commitment, misery, atonement, regret and sacrifice. This haunting novel shows how circumstances conspire against the intended course of your life and how humanity still lingers in remote quarters, while offering reflection from allies, prisoners and oppressors who have become tangled in Hitler’s wicked and tyrannical ambition.

Feel the partisans’ breath on your neck, the boot of an SS guard, and the rattle of the window panes as an underestimated opponent grows near – then feel the impression The Constant Soldier will leave on you.  HIGHLY (& ABSOLUTELY) RECOMMENDED.

Rating:  This is one of those awkward situations where a book has once again broken my rating system. Quite frankly it exceeds 5/5 – seriously, just read it immediately!

(Huge thanks to the author and publisher for arranging this review copy for which it is my absolute pleasure to provide an unbiased review.)

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

‘Haunting, passionate, William Ryan’s The Constant Soldier is a subtle WW2 thriller of horror and love with an utterly gripping countdown to Gotterdamerung. One of my favourites of the year’ Simon Sebag Montefiore

1944. Paul Brandt, a soldier in the German army, returns wounded and ashamed from the bloody chaos of the Eastern front to find his village home much changed and existing in the dark shadow of an SS rest hut – a luxurious retreat for those who manage the concentration camps, run with the help of a small group of female prisoners who – against all odds – have so far survived the war.

When, by chance, Brandt glimpses one of these prisoners, he realizes that he must find a way to access the hut. For inside is the woman to whom his fate has been tied since their arrest five years before, and now he must do all he can to protect her.

But as the Russian offensive moves ever closer, the days of this rest hut and its SS inhabitants are numbered. And while hope – for Brandt and the female prisoners – grows tantalizingly close, the danger too is now greater than ever.

And, in a forest to the east, a young female Soviet tank driver awaits her orders to advance . . .

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(Courtesy of author’s own website)

William Ryan’s Captain Korolev Novels have been shortlisted for numerous awards, including the Theakstons Crime Novel of the Year, The Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award, the Ellis Peters and John Creasey Daggers and the Irish Crime Novel of the Year (twice). William teaches on the Crime Writing Masters at City University in London. His latest novel The Constant Soldier has been described by AL Kennedy as “a nuanced, complex and gripping tale of guilt and love that captures the chaos at the end of World War Two”.

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Book Review: Shelter, by Sarah Franklin

Publisher:  Bonnier Zaffe

Publication date:  27th July 2017

From the rustic window of this rather exquisite cover lies a magnificent view of the purity of nature, its shifting seasons mirroring the struggles of life, as the shadow of a brutal foe falls upon our shores.

Shelter. A simple one word title captures the underlying theme perfectly: the canopy of trees where apprentice Lumberjills are schooled, the welcome the foresters extend to an outsider or the protection offered by the woodland itself, no matter where your own roots may lie.

Narrated throughout the final year of conflict, with fleeting periods of reflection, the ravages of World War II compel the characters to confront the consequences of their actions, stretching their resilience until they rediscover the true meaning of home.

The ancient forest has witnessed significant changes over time yet it perseveres, regenerates and passes no judgement, much like its dependants. The existing species proudly stand guard but they are rivalled by new specimens in the form of the dynamic and determined, Connie, a grounded but troubled POW and closet woodcarver, Seppe, not to mention the unexpected gifts the uncertainty of war can deliver.

It’s a beautifully composed story, almost a forestry guide of challenging reluctant happiness. The locals have a wonderful way of speaking, especially contemplative Amos whose spare room was commandeered for the tornado of the timber corps, Connie! The author has serenely animated the forest and its inhabitants, showering an otherwise two-dimensional page with an energy that leaves its impression on all five senses.

Even though patience, sacrifice and love offer their own rewards, finding Shelter in the most unlikely places proves to be unfamiliar territory for some as there are times when they just can’t see the wood for the trees.

I loved it, and I’m more than happy to recommend.

Rating: 4/5

(I was lucky enough to win a gorgeous hardback copy of this title via the publisher’s website – ‘Reader’s First’ – and it’s my absolute pleasure to provide this unbiased review.)

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Perfect for fans of Early One Morning by Virginia Baily and the novels of Maggie O’Farrell.

Led here by necessity, she knows she cannot stay. Brought against his will, he never wants to leave.

Early spring 1944.  Connie Granger has escaped her bombed-out city home, finding refuge in the Women’s Timber Corps. For her, this remote community must now serve a secret purpose.

Seppe, an Italian prisoner of war, is haunted by his memories. In the forest camp, he finds a strange kind of freedom.

Their meeting signals new beginnings. But as they are drawn together, the world outside their forest haven is being torn apart. Old certainties are crumbling, and both must now make a life-defining choice.

What price will they pay for freedom? What will they fight to protect? 

The world was alive out here, the scent of bud and blossom in every breath a stark contrast to the thud of bombs into sandbanks, or worse, the iron tang of blood.’

‘This was a place where you could hide, where you could start again . . .

Shelter is a captivating and tender novel about love, hope and how we find solace in the most troubled times. 

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(Courtesy of Reader’s First Website)

Sarah lectures in publishing at Oxford Brookes, is the host of Short Stories Aloud and a judge for the Costa Short Story Award. She has written for the Guardian, Psychologies magazine, The Pool, the Sunday Express and the Seattle Times. In 2014, Sarah was awarded a Jerwood/Arvon Mentorship on the strength of her opening pages of Shelter, and worked on the novel for a year with Jenn Ashworth, amongst others.

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Book Review: The Keeper of Lost Things, by Ruth Hogan

Publisher:  Two Roads

Publication date:  26th January 2017

Source: Kindle [Own purchased copy]

I flocked to The Keeper of Lost Things like a ravenous magpie as the cover and synopsis projected instant, heartwarming appeal. Who can resist a curious story where discarded, random objects find a foster home with an author who collects ‘lost things’ while he walks each day? 

I just adored the care he took to label them with a description of the ‘find’ together with the date and its location before neatly storing it in its own drawer, with the hope that one day they may be reunited with their owner, of course.

But just how crucial is it that a hair bobble, jigsaw piece, or button is reunited with the person it once belonged to?

These unlikely treasures have their own unique story to tell, some with both positive and negative attachments. It offered me a new dimension to the things I take for granted when I’m on my own travels, making me consider how many hundreds of mundane items I have stepped over and never given a second thought to…

What if those inoffensive hair bobbles had fallen from someone’s ponytail if they were running, and was it toward something or away? Was it a significant day that would change their life, or perhaps it was just one like any other? What’s its story, and more importantly that of its owner?

The reason for the collection obsession is this: once upon a time the ‘keeper of lost things’ mislaid something of his own and despite sharing his life with Laura his assistant, Freddy his gardener, and Sunshine, who beautifully refers to herself as a Dancing Drome instead of having Downs Syndrome, he has never been able to find that ‘missing something’ and his heart aches dreadfully.

It’s part love story, part reminiscence and is balanced with sadness and hope. With underlying hints of an unusual clairvoyant perspective it shows how the little connections we make in life can leave behind a legacy of memories that are reawakened at the most unexpected moments.

Overall this book delighted me as it had a curious story-line that is both uplifting and thought-provoking. And yet, like The Keeper of Lost Things, I found myself looking for something; as threads from the past are spun with the present the fascinating and unique stories behind each abandoned object created a very pleasing fabric, just not the luxurious one I had been expecting.

Rating:  3/5

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Meet the ‘Keeper of Lost Things’…
Once a celebrated author of short stories now in his twilight years, Anthony Peardew has spent half his life collecting lost objects, trying to atone for a promise broken many years before.

Realising he is running out of time, he leaves his house and all its lost treasures to his assistant Laura, the one person he can trust to fulfil his legacy and reunite the thousands of objects with their rightful owners.

But the final wishes of the ‘Keeper of Lost Things’ have unforeseen repercussions which trigger a most serendipitous series of encounters…

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(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Hello dear readers, please allow me to introduce myself…

I was born in the house where my parents still live in Bedford. My sister was so pleased to have a sibling that she threw a thrupenny bit at me.

As a child I read everything I could lay my hands on. Luckily, my mum worked in a bookshop. My favourite reads were THE MOOMINTROLLS, A HUNDRED MILLION FRANCS, THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE, and the back of cereal packets, and gravestones.

I passed enough A levels to get a place at Goldsmiths College, University of London, to study English and Drama. It was brilliant and I loved it.  And then I got a proper job. I worked for ten years in a senior local government position: a square peg in round hole, but it paid the bills and mortgage. In my early thirties I had a car accident which left me unable to work full-time and convinced me to start writing seriously.

It was all going well, but then in 2012 I got Cancer, which was bloody inconvenient but precipitated an exciting hair journey from bald to a peroxide blonde Annie Lennox crop. When chemo kept me up all night I passed the time writing and the eventual result was THE KEEPER OF LOST THINGS, my first novel, which was published in hardback and ebook in January 2017 and is coming in paperback in September 2017.

Next year I will publish my second novel, A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO DROWNING and you can pre-order the book now.

I live in a chaotic Victorian house with an assortment of rescue dogs and my long-suffering husband. I am a magpie; always collecting treasures (or ‘junk’ depending on your point of view) and a huge John Betjeman fan. My favourite word is ‘antimacassar’ and I still like reading gravestones.

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Book Review: Lucky Ghost 👻 (The Martingale Cycle #2), by Matthew Blakstad

Publisher:  Hodder & Stoughton

Publication date:  27th July 2017 [Kindle & HB]

Source:  Goodreads giveaway

In The Martingale Cycle the spectre of the past, present and future fictionally predicts the rise of a new brand of economic and social manipulation that is lurking right around the corner. While I don’t object to cyber pioneering I can’t say I’m entirely comfortable with its potential consequences either…

This next instalment (Book 2) sees a generation of technology where ‘feelings’ become a commodity that can be traded online. The philosophy may not allow us to quite sell our souls yet, but Lucky Ghost comes pretty close. 

The author has imaginatively offered the population’s changeable mood a safe haven, a place where users can take a time out to heal or feel empowered while earning virtual monetary rewards in a simulated place called “The Strange”.

This initiative of interactive emotional roleplay for “Strangers” was coded by Dani Farr, the original creator of the Parley App (an advanced form of Twitter) in Sockpuppet. As her previous venture proved that even the most fortified system may have an Achilles heel, you’d think any idea for a new online platform would scream “expect the unexpected”. [Cue evil laughter]

Farr’s brainchild encourages the virtual to seamlessly overlap with reality. Psychologically speaking it’s difficult to determine whether the adverse side effects of this game makes it worth playing – forget how enticing taking an emotional holiday may sound for a moment and consider how extortion, greed, and human fatality can be a bit of a downer when you’re just trying to give yourself a break.

Lucky Ghost is way more visionary than its predecessor, Sockpuppet, yet its thought-provoking prophesy remains both powerful and effective. Tablets are upgraded to hands-free ‘Crablets’ that hug your limbs, delivery drones provide a solution to the increasing demands of online ordering, and extreme retro cosplay is a deathly serious business. Events are as varied as its cast with a vlogging newshound, a teenage hacker with an animatronic pet, and the elusive counsel of a curious online identity taking one step closer toward the inevitable abyss.

What was that? A tad fanciful, you say? Well no, not really. Take a moment to consider the possibilities that are already within our reach: the evolution of the internet – a search tool to locate your nearest takeaway now presides over our security, finances, knowledge and communication. All aspects of our life can be converted to a data exchange on demand, but at what cost?  Sinister stuff – and not an Amityville post code in sight…

Rating:   4/5

(I’m hugely grateful to have won an early copy of this title via a Goodreads giveaway – a copy of this review was posted there on 27th June 2017. My thanks to the publishers for selecting my name as one of the Lucky [Ghost] Winners.)

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

The extraordinary new novel from the incredible author of SOCKPUPPET. Perfect for fans of BLACK MIRROR.

Early one morning, blogger Alex Kubelick walks up to a total stranger and slaps him across the face. Hard.

He smiles.

They’ve both just earned Emoticoin, in a new, all-consuming game that trades real-life emotions for digital currency. Emoticoin is changing the face of the economy – but someone or something is controlling it for their own, dangerous ends.

As Alex picks apart the tangled threads that hold the virtual game together she finds herself on the run from very real enemies. It seems only one person has the answers she seeks. Someone who hides behind the name ‘Lucky Ghost’.

But Lucky Ghost will only talk to a young hacker called Thimblerig – the online troll who’s been harassing Alex for months.

Will Lucky Ghost lead Alex and Thimblerig to the answers they seek – or to their deaths?

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(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Matthew writes pacy, character-driven fiction that explores the impact of technology on how we live and who we are. His first novel, Sockpuppet, is out in May 2016. Sockpuppet is book one of the Martingale Cycle, a series of interconnected novels exploring the life of computing pioneer and political radical Elyse Martingale – and her strange afterlife in the 21st century. Matthew’s first career was as a professional child actor. From the age of ten, he had roles in TV dramas on the BBC and ITV, in films and at theatres including London’s Royal Court. After graduating from Oxford with a degree in Mathematics and Philosophy, he began a career in online communications. He now works in the public sector, helping people understand and manage money. 

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Book Review: The Ascent of Rum Doodle, by W. E. Bowman

Publisher:  Vintage Classics

Publication date:  1st April 2010

Source:  Paperback [My own purchased copy]

The Ascent of Rum Doodle is a jaunty parody of inept mountaineers, who couldn’t organise a raffle at a village fete let alone master the 40,000 (and a half) ft climb to the peak of ‘Rum Doodle’.

These ‘professionals’ have the most ironic surnames like Burley, who was was anything but as he was out of sorts after failing to acclimatise to any step of their journey, the team’s medical assistance was provided by a Dr Prone who contracted everything from mumps to malaria, while Constant unintentionally offended the local porters at every available opportunity with his professed linguistic skill, and their navigator, Jungle, aptly couldn’t find the wood for the trees.

The ‘Rum Doodle’ campaign reaches farcical proportions as their specially selected liabilities hamper progress at every possible turn. The team leader, Binder (his radio code name), is a naïve shepherd with a flock that regularly outwits him. He is blissfully unaware of the reverse psychology they apply in order to avoid sharing a tent with his inexhaustible counsel.

The greatest threat to their party wasn’t in fact Binder, the altitude, or mutiny every time Constant opened his mouth, but Pong, a cook with the most frightful culinary ability to ‘demoralise’ all grown men. Strategies were developed to minimise exposure of his contribution to their endeavour but his presence was ludicrously unshakeable.

And with the exception of Binder’s incessant obsession for dredging up every team member’s fiancée status (regardless of how curious their replies are) this story is completely dominated by men. I can honestly say I hadn’t noticed the omission of female characters until the end as I was busy being carried away by their absurd behaviour and the futility of meticulous planning!

There were  memorable gems of recklessness and ridicule throughout, but my absolute favourites were when the team had diagnosed the doctor as having hopes of a recovery on the basis that he hadn’t expired yet, and the moment Binder’s tears secured his face to the ice during a momentary lapse of emotional composure. Plus this one, where the leader is once again trying to raise morale …

Poor Prone seemed quite low, and to cheer him up I encouraged him to talk about his home. Had he a fiancée? I asked. He said, no, his wife was the unsympathetic kind and his children considered one mother quite enough.

Binder’s valiant efforts to provide his calamitous conquerors with the necessary encouragement turned into an ascent of endurance rather than an expedition. I mean, exactly how many people can you lose in a crevasse before something twigs?! Loved it! 😀

Rating:  5/5

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

An outrageously funny spoof about the ascent of a 40,000-and-a-half-foot peak, The Ascent of Rum Doodle has been a cult favourite since its publication in 1956. Led by the reliably under-insightful Binder, a team of seven British men including Dr Prone (constantly ill); Jungle the route finder (constantly lost), Constant the diplomat (constantly arguing) and 3,000 Yogistani porters, set out to conquer the highest peak in the Himalayas.

http://www.rumdoodle.org.uk/

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(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

W. E. Bowman (1912-1985) was a civil engineer who spent his free time hill-walking, painting and writing (unpublished) books on the Theory of Relativity. He was married with two children.

RUM DOODLE WEBSITE