Reviews

Two Mini-Reviews!! Rachel to the Rescue AND The Woman of the Wolf & Other Stories

It’s been an absolutely bumper month for books, with oodles of fantastic new releases hitting the shelves as we begin the run up to Christmas. It’s also been a bumper month for my reading life, with @laurenthebooks’s Cosy Reading Weekend, a fantastic @The_WriteReads gang buddy read of The Doll Factory, AND some fantastic Blog Tours for Blind Pool, Shades of Deception, and The Peacock Room.

In fact there’s been so much going on that today I’m bring you not one but TWO mini-reviews of some books I’ve recently finished. I don’t usually do multiple review posts but with a packed November calendar, I honestly don’t know when I’ll fit these onto the blog otherwise and I wanted to shout about them and share the book love!

Rachel to the Rescue by Elinor Lipman

Rachel Klein is sacked from her job at the White House after she sends an email criticising Donald Trump. As she is escorted off the premises she is hit by a speeding car, driven by what the press will discreetly call ‘a personal friend of the President’.

Does that explain the flowers, the get-well wishes at a press briefing, the hush money offered by a lawyer at her hospital bedside?

Rachel’s recovery is soothed by comically doting parents, matchmaking room-mates, a new job as aide to a journalist whose books aim to defame the President, and unexpected love at the local wine store.

But secrets leak, and Rachel’s new-found happiness has to make room for more than a little chaos. Will she bring down the President? Or will he manage to do that all by himself?

Billed by Stacy Schiff as ‘the Trump book that could only be published abroad’, Rachel to the Rescue is a bitingly funny satire on US politics in the Age of Trump. Reading it whilst waiting on the outcome of the US election (still undecided at the time I write this review) was both very on-the-nose and somewhat cathartic as an experience, as Lipman uses her extensive comic experience to mine serious subjects (corruption, bribery, the abuse of Presidential power) for their comedic potential.

Protagonist Rachel is sharp, smart, and full of just the right amount of cynicism and snark, whilst her delightfully doting parents fit the bill of comic sidekicks perfectly. Add in some match-making roommates, a new job working for a journalist seeking to defame the President, and an unexpected love interest, and the stage is set for a contemporary comedy that has all the hallmarks of the modern Rom-Com tradition, with a healthy dose of satire thrown in.

Given the contemporary setting, this is definitely a book of the moment and I’d urge readers not to be put off by to the political setting or connection. Whilst Rachel to the Rescue definitely takes some well-aimed swipes at the recent dramas of US politics – and the Trump administration in particular – this is a witty and mischievous comic novel that, at its heart, deals with one ordinary woman’s attempts to negotiate an extraordinary situation and that contains numerous laugh out loud moments to help ease the tensions of the current election cycle.

Rachel to the Rescue by Elinor Lipman is published by Lightning Books and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Bookshop.org, Hive, Waterstones, and Wordery. My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review.

The Woman of the Wolf and Other Stories by Renée Vivien, translated by Karla Jay & Yvonne M. Klein

A woman rides crocodiles like horses. A queen gives up her throne for her dignity. And Prince Charming is not who you might think . . .

The Woman of the Wolf and Other Stories, written in 1904, is perhaps the finest work by sapphic poet Renée Vivien. Blending myth, fairy story and biblical tale, Vivien creates powerful portraits of strong women who stand up for what they believe in – and of the aggrieved men who trail behind them.

Speaking of smart women, the second book I want to tell you about today is The Woman of the Wolf and Other Stories by Renée Vivien. Born Pauline Mary Tarn, Renée was a British poet who wrote in French and spent most of her life in Paris where her circle included the likes of Colette and Natalie Clifford Barney. This collection, written in 1904, has been newly reprinted by Gallic Books as part of their Revolutionary Women series and, for all that these stories were written over a hundred years ago, they feel as fresh and relevant today as they di when they were first published.

As Angela Carter does in The Bloody Chamber, Renée Vivien deftly re-works familiar materials to reflect her concerns and ideals. The collection contains stories based on biblical tales, adventure stories, classical myth, and the poems of Sappho – one of Renée’s favourite writers. In her tales, Renée Vivien recasts the roles of men and women and plays with expectations and familiar tropes.

As with all short story collections, I preferred some of the tales in this collection more than others. Renée writes a number of stories from the perspective of male narrators and, whilst these make for some of the most disturbing tales in the collection (Vivien’s men are invariably patronising and, often, murderous in their intentions towards women), they were also, for me, some of the most intricate and rewarding to read.

Fans of Angela Carter are sure to find similarities between her work and that of Renée Vivien and will enjoy to fantastical symbolism of these stories, whilst readers seeking to rediscover an important female voice will be richly rewarded with this collection.

The Woman of the Wolf and Other Stories by Renée Vivien is published by Gallic Books and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Bookshop.org, Hive, Waterstones, and Wordery. My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review.

Before I sign off for this post, I just wanted to drop in and say that, whilst I’ve put in links to some brilliant independent online retailers above, if you are able to please support a local indie bookshop and/or publisher by ordering from them either in person or online!

Lockdown 2.0 has come at just the wrong time for booksellers so it’s more important than ever to show our indies some love. Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books. If you’re unable to order direct, consider using Bookshop.org or Hive, both of whom give a proportion of sales made on their websites to independent booksellers.

This is also a great time to be supporting small and independent publishers. The two books featured today come from independent presses, both of whom have direct ordering on their websites at Eye & Lightning Books and Gallic Books. Some of my other favourite independent and small press publishers include Honno, Salt, and Louise Walters Books.

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!! Hire Idiots by Prof. I. M. Nemo

HireIdiots-ForWeb Front‘This is a work of fiction.Any resemblance to the living or the dead is purely coincidental and ought to make you ashamed at the comparison.’

PROMINENT PROFESSOR STABBED TO DEATH AT KINGSLEY COLLEGE

Unfortunately, the murder may get lost in the confusion of new vice presidents, marketers, focus groups, assessors and protesters as the administration tries to make education profitable.

There’s no time for mystery! Professor Clarence Van Dyke finds himself bewildered by the changes, but determined to get to the bottom of the killing. He wants his friend to rest in peace – or perhaps he just wants to spend more time with the attractive Detective Riordan. But isn’t he the primary suspect?

I don’t often choose to review ‘funny’ books. Humour is such a selective thing that it can be difficult to covey on the page so I’ve often picked up a novel that is billed as ‘hilarious’ and it’s failed to raise even a smile.

I couldn’t however pass up on the opportunity to read Professor I. M. Nemo’s (yes, it’s a pseudonym) Hire Idiots, a darkly comic novel set in the world of academia. As a PG student, it’s a world I know well and so I figured I’d get the in-jokes – and dark humour tends to be my sort of thing. And I did, indeed, get a good chuckle out of the book on more than one occasion.

Brimming with snark, Hire Idiots takes a sidelong glance at the world of academia, using the murder of a prominent (and, therefore, intensely disliked) academic as an opportunity to take a dig at the commercialisation of education and the ridiculousness of long-held academic traditions. Along the way there’s also some joking at the expense of the murder mystery genre, the study of English Literature, and the many stereotypes associated with university education.

Some of the jokes did, I have to admit, fall a little flat for me. In particular, whilst I appreciate that it is meant to reflect the personality and insecurities of the main character, I didn’t like the fact that nearly every female character is introduced via a description of how physically attractive (or otherwise) they are.

Nor did some of the characters come across as particularly well-rounded – but then this is a novel that is meant to ridicule the one-note nature of some parts of academia and is deliberately using that to create its satire. As I said at the beginning, humour is a very individual thing, so what didn’t land for me may well have others in peels of laughter.

And a lot of the book did make me laugh. To get the most from the jokes, I think some experience of higher education helps – although there’s quite a lot of digs at the general absurdities of workplace culture as well. And Hire Idiots is, for me anyway, definitely at its strongest when it is sending up the absurd nature of corporate ‘Newspeak’ and the sort of  ‘Blue Sky’ thinking that sees thousands spent on marketing whilst no one thinks to put pennies towards actually delivering the services being advertised.

Plus there’s a tidy little murder mystery that is filled with some nice jabs at the tropes of the genre as well.

A quick read that whips along and neatly satirises both the absurdities of academia and current trends in working culture, Hire Idiots is sure to offer a chuckle and raise a wry smile amongst readers looking for an amusing way to pass an evening or two.

Hire Idiots by Professor I. M. Nemo is published by Fox Spirit Books and is available now in paperback and ebook from all good booksellers and online retailers including the Fox Spirit store and Amazon

My thanks go to the publisher for providing an e-copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, as well as to Emma from Damp Pebbles Blog Tours for inviting me to take part in, and organising, this blog tour. The tour continues until 29 September so check out the other stops along the way for more reviews and content!

Hire Idiots banner