Book Review: ‘Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder’ by Jo Nesbo

Jo Nesbo is no ordinary writer. For a start he is Norwegian and writes in Norwegian (how many successful children’s books here in the UK are translated from Norwegian?), and he has a degree in Economics and Business Administration; but that’s not all: he was a journalist and also a stockbroker; he is the lead singer in a rock band called Di Derre; he played football to a high level until a bad injury forced him to quit, and he is an accomplished rock climber.

His writings include seven novels featuring a detective called ‘Harry Hole’; five novels in the ‘Doctor Proctor’ series; two ‘Olav Johansen’ novels; short stories and stand-alone novels plus one work of non-fiction. What’s even more impressive is that his works have been turned into television series and films worked on (and possibly worked on in the future) by luminaries such as Martin Scorcese; Michael Fassbender; Rebbecca Ferguson; Charlotte Gainsbourg; Leonardo DiCaprio; Denis Villeneuve; Jake Gyllenhaal; Chaninng Tatum; Tobey Maguire and Baltasar Kormakur. He has numerous awards and nominations.

I picked up ‘Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder’ knowing none of that (there is no biography in the book) and simply because I thought it would be similar to my own stories ‘Evan And The Bottom Rockets’ and ‘Evan and The Bottom Rockets On Holiday’ (to be published soon I hope; see a synopsis on this site). I noticed it some while back on a shelf in my local Tesco’s, and although I didn’t buy it until recently, I knew that I would have to change the name of the doctor in my book from Doctor Proctor in its wake. The doctor in my book is now called ‘Doctor Bottom’.

Simon And Schuster publish the book and advertise it on its cover as being by a ‘number one bestselling author’ (always bound to drive up sales) and by quoting ‘The Guardian’ as saying that it is ‘hilariously funny’; and the Big Issue: ‘wickedly entertaining’.

Having just finished the book I have to say that my son didn’t laugh once, even when farting was mentioned. It makes me feel a lot better about my books because he was laughing hard throughout those. This is not just to boast or plug my books (well just a little bit) but to make the point that whoever reviewed it in The Guardian must have read a different version than mine, or perhaps his children have a totally different sense of humour to mine.

With these reviews I often wonder just how much of the books the reviewer has actually read and just how independent they are. Sometimes I imagine a bit of you-review-me-I’ll-publish-you or other hidden links behind the scenes: perhaps I am getting a bit cynical in my middle-age. I have noticed that once a writer/book/film has become relatively successful everything else that they do seems to be given gushing praise. Once you are a best-selling author they want to like you. Once a winning formula is found that makes money a bandwagon has been created and the bottom line is in sight. I digress.

As I began to explain, I don’t think this book is particularly funny. It doesn’t actually feature much farting or other bodily functions and little boy humour, and where there is some it isn’t particularly played for laughs in the way that it should have been.

My first impression of the book from the opening chapters was that for my son’s age group (he is eight) it is quite confusing. There is a breathless quality to it because of very long sentences that need careful attention. They take the reader on a visual journey that doesn’t seem to make much sense. From the perspective of the rest of the book it is easier to understand the beginning but any parent will testify to the fact that in order to get a child to commit to being interested in a book an author must capture them straight away, because it is hard to persuade a child to listen once they have made up their minds that they don’t like a story, and they make their minds up very quickly. My son, however, is as bright as a button (again I boast but it is true) and just about kept up.

Norway, Oslo, Akerhus Fortress, Sharpsborg, the Commandant, the white teeth in the sewer: its an unusual beginning. There is, however, a familiarity about the characters (a Roald Dahl familiarity), the sad lonely girl; the short boy always being picked on; the school thugs; the fat villain; and the nutty Professor, all these characters are stereo-types to some extent. That being said, Nilly in particular is very engaging when you get used to him, especially his clever exchanges with other characters either in authority over him or bullying children.

The plot doesn’t really have a great tension and resolve mechanism for me but at least children will appreciate the happy ending even if they don’t care quite as much as they could have done. The Professor (here comes a spoiler) riding away on his motorcycle to Paris to find his lost love will not be of much interest to a little boy who thinks those sort of things are just ‘yucky’.

Overall, the book has a unique quality about it but also stereo-typical elements. It isn’t particularly funny, and might be confusing for young readers. However, from an adult point of view, it is more interesting to read than some other books for this age group. The authorial presence is strong and whether you like that or not is an entirely personal decision. It has a cleverness about it and an energy, and that, I think, is why publishers and critics went for it.

Did it do enough to entice me into buying the rest of the series? No.

Have a read and feel free to totally disagree!

‘George And The Dragon’ (Wormell, Red Fox, 2002)

According to Wikipedia Chris Wormell worked as a road-sweeper and rubbish collector (amongst other jobs) before taking up painting as a hobby. His first book: ‘An Alphabet Of Animals’, was published in 1990. Since then he has become a prize-winner with a long list of books and achievements including providing artwork for commercial advertising and designing the lion for Aston Villa’s club badge in 2016.

This particular book was published in 2002 and features a heroic mouse named George. George saves a princess (I am assuming that she is a princess) from the clutches of a huge rampaging red dragon by moving in next door it and asking for sugar. The dragon is terrified of mice and flees leaving the mouse to reap the rewards for saving the princess: lots of food and a ‘cosy little hole in the castle wall’.

The illustrations are excellent, particularly the mighty dragon and his destruction of the castle. The words are in a familiar style to young children: ‘Far, far away in the high, high mountains in a deep, deep valley, in a dark, dark cave…’ but the plot is a twist on the tale of brave St. George. A dragon being scared of mice is a device I will resist the temptation to analyse; suffice to say that very young children will love the book and adults will appreciate its brevity when reading the seventh story of the night; it’s the perfect length for its target audience.

It’s a pleasure to read but the audiobook is well worth getting also. The narration by Brian Blessed delivered with characteristic gusto.

Overall, ‘George And The Dragon’ is a book well worth buying for young children.

‘Wild Boars Cook’ by Meg Rosoff and Sophie Blackall (Puffin 2008)

Meg Rosoff and Sophie Blackall team up again for the sequel to ‘Meet Wild Boars’ in which the boars, ever hungry, cook their own food.

Boris, Morris, Horace and Doris spy a recipe for a massive pudding after Doris begins to eat a cookbook. Utterly obsessed by food, the wild boars fantasize about ingredients and somehow manage to create an enormous pudding – which they subsequently eat in ‘ten seconds flat’ and in the rudest possible way. Still hungry they find a recipe for a massive cookie.

The appallingly badly behaved boars are good fun and the illustrations are very cleverly done (how would you illustrate a wild boar being selfish?) throughout. Some prefer the first book (‘Meet Wild Boars’) but I found this to be funnier and so did my kids. We still talk about pizzas ‘as big as the moon’!

I would recommend this book for parents with small children up to the age of six.

Book Review: ‘Meet Wild Boars’ (Meg Rosoff and Sophie Blackall 2005 Puffin)

Two experienced and award winning women collaborated on this 2005 picture book introducing naughty, dirty and disgusting wild boars. Meg Rosoff is a well-known writer, mainly of novels, and Sophie Blackall is equally as well known for her illustrations.

Children will enjoy the stinky wild boars especially when they fart and poo (always gets laughs with children – and me actually) and are generally badly behaved. They do all the things that children would love to do but aren’t allowed; they are anarchic and foul, mean, and downright nasty.

The book is about as long as is required for a picture book and works well for children up to 7 I would guess. My young children loved it although it wasn’t one of my favourites.

Memorable moments include Horace farting and soaking himself in the toilet; stinky Doris; and the pile of poo on the last page.

Worth getting hold of!

Book Review: ‘The Emperor Of Absurdia’

Macmillan Children’s Books published ‘The Emperor Of Absurdia’ back in 2006. The author and illustrator Chris Riddell is award-winning and wrote another favourite of mine, ‘Wendel’s Workshop’. See that review for more information about him.

The illustrations are consistent throughout and done very well. Children will love immersing themselves in them.

The theme of absurdity is down to the concept of the child having a dream that is influenced by all the things in his bedroom: his toys, pictures and books. At the beginning the concept is that this is a story about a real emperor in a real but very strange world. The twist at the end is that it is all a dream.

The words and pictures work well apart from some pictures not having enough words underneath them. I found myself wanting to dwell on the pictures but needing to move on because the words had run out.

Some small children may be a little scared by the sequence with the wild-looking dragon but it does add a little excitement to the story.

I found that the pictures at the front and back were good to stop and look at because of the amount of detail in them.

The ending works and my children haven’t tired of reading it.

It’s very nice in the hardback version.

Very good but not quite 5 stars.

Book Review: ‘Christopher Nibble’ by Charlotte Middleton

Charlotte Middleton wrote and illustrated this excellent little book about a guinea pig saving the dandelion from extinction and learning to love growing things.

I’m not going to analyse the book and wax lyrical about its eco-friendly theme or regurgitate the blurb. I’m just going to mention what works.

The illustrations have a sustained and original style, which is good because it helps children to immerse themselves into its unique world.

The choice of guinea-pig pants in the front and end of the book is always of interest: “which pants would you choose daddy?”

The words are easy to read and the decision not to rhyme everything (like most children’s authors feel the need to do) was a good one.

The amusing books in the library are fun for adults to find too: ‘War & Pizza’ anyone?

The double page spread of Christopher blowing the dandelion seeds works nicely.

The end is nice if not spectacular, amusing, or unexpected.

This is a book that is a pleasure to read and doesn’t try too hard. The author is wise to understand that at bedtime a gentle story can be just the ticket.

I, however, won’t be wearing pants and wellies in the garden any time soon.

Book Review: ‘Pulling The Trigger’

This is a book for sufferers of OCD, anxiety, panic attacks and related depression, currently sitting on top of Amazon’s search lists for books on those topics. Adam Shaw, a successful businessman and founder of a mental health charity, reveals his problems with OCD and how Lauren Callaghan’s approach to treating him worked. The book was published by Trigger Press in 2016, which is a publishing company created by Shaw (Managing Director) and Callaghan (Director).

As a sufferer from obsessive thoughts, anxiety and depression, and diagnosed with BPD I bought the book hoping for at least something helpful.

Reading through the book I remember being very frustrated as page after page (85 of them including the introduction to be precise) just detailed Adam Shaw’s problems and kept saying how wonderful the new approach to treatment was without going on to spell it out. It actually made me quite angry.

In the second part of book the back-slapping continued. I finished the book wishing that they had just written: ‘Adam had OCD and Lauren told him to accept it’. It would have saved me a lot of time, effort and cash. The conclusion is all that you really need to read.

Accepting that you have OCD and panic attacks is very difficult. Embracing it feels wrong. It is not for the faint-hearted and I can envisage many feeling that this approach is not for them. I’m not criticising the technique because it obviously works for some people. I just think this could have been an article on a website and not a book because it keeps repeating itself all the way through.

I would advise people to google treatment for OCD and read about it online instead.

Book Review: ‘I Know A Rhino’ (2002 Gullane Children’s Books)

‘I Know A Rhino’ (2002 Gullane Children’s Books) is written and illustrated by the award winning illustrator Charles Fuge.

The book benefits from Fuge’s gift for illustration. His pictures burst from the page in a cuddly loveliness that children must adore. The different animals are drawn brilliantly in his original style that lifts this book out of the ordinary.

It was a pity that his words didn’t get edited well. The book is written in rhyming couplets but they occasionally don’t fit – something that would have been obvious and easy to fix. For example:

‘I know an ape and we keep in good shape, miming pop songs and dancing along to a tape’.

Why didn’t his editor suggest cutting out ‘and dancing’ to make it scan better? ‘Miming pop songs along to a tape’ works much better. Strange. There are other examples as well that could have easily been sorted out.

However, as imperfect as the book is it still had worked well enough with my children to be used regularly. It’s more for very small children but the ending will have to be explained to them. Despite this, they love it.

Good – but not quite great.

Book Review: ‘Bedtime Hullabaloo’ by Charles Fuge and David Conway (2010, Hodder Children’s Books)

‘Bedtime Hullabaloo’ by Charles Fuge and David Conway was first published in 2010 by Hodder Children’s books. It was nominated for two prizes.

The Nosy Crow website has this biography of illustrator Charles Fuge:

‘Charles Fuge was born in 1966 and grew up in Bath. He made his picture book debut in 1988 with Bushvark’s First Day Out, which won both the Macmillan Prize and the Mother Goose Award. Since then Charles has illustrated over thirty books, a number of which he has also written. He is the illustrator for A Lullaby for Little One, written by Dawn Casey, and he lives in Dorset.’

David Conway has been involved in several children’s book projects and nominated for a number of awards.

I first came across Charles Fuge’s work when I bought books from the ‘Little Wombat’ series. His illustrations are the best I’ve seen in children’s books and the prime reason for buying ‘Bedtime Hullabaloo’. They are simply gorgeous, beautifully done, colourful and I’m sure they make children want to leap into the pictures and cuddle the animals.

This is a picture book and as such will be judged on its pictures. It is also a reading book and so must be judged, albeit to a lesser extent, on its words. The words (written by David Conway) are not up to the standard of the pictures. Do small children understand, or need to understand words like ‘hullabaloo’; ‘din’; ‘clamour’; ‘hubbub’; ‘rumpus’; ‘raucous’; or ‘cacophonous’? Try explaining the difference between those. Also, the words sound clumsy in this context with occasional rhyming being particularly awkward. The words feel like they should scan but they don’t. Either rhyme all the time or not at all. The alliteration (‘zany zebra’) works well throughout. I find it difficult to read the snoring sections but you may not.

The story itself is perfectly entertaining but the ending misses the mark and is a little anti-climactic; that all being said, my children have enjoyed it, and the hard-back version presents the wonderful illustrations nicely. Worth buying but not five stars.

Book Review: ‘What Does This Button Do’ by Bruce Dickinson

Things We Don’t Learn About In Bruce Dickinson’s Autobiography

Bruce Dickinson is the singer with one of the world’s most popular bands: Iron Maiden. Iron Maiden has sold a staggering 90 million albums. In 2017 he published his autobiography, ‘What Does This Button Do’, (HarperCollins) having written it out longhand on notepaper filling seven A4 notebooks.

1. Details about his relationship with the rest of the band

Steve Harris is the bassist and founding member of Iron Maiden and pursues his creative vision relentlessly and stubbornly. Both Bruce and guitarist Adrian Smith left and re-joined the band in a turbulent period for Iron Maiden in the 1990’s and Steve Harris’ creative control was one of the issues.

In the book Bruce describes nearly coming to blows with Steve early on in his career with Iron Maiden over Steve’s habit of standing in front of him on stage.

The only other places in the book that Bruce even hints at openly disagreeing with Steve is when he describes being ‘cross and frustrated at the melodies and lyric’s produced by him, and when describing the cover of ‘Dance Of Death’ (2003), suggesting Harris pushed for something that Bruce describes as ‘embarrassing’. We would have liked more about his evolving relationship with Harris but Maiden’s management probably vetoed that particular notebook. Perhaps Dickinson still has a picture of Steve on his dart-board? In interviews he hints at a better relationship and that may well be the case.  However, we don’t learn about it in this book.

The rest of the band are conspicuous in their absence.  They are all mentioned, but only briefly. Perhaps this is down to the fact that the book is relatively short and is not supposed to be a history of Iron Maiden, rather than it being a deliberate Stalinesque erasure of their existence.

2. Anything about his private life

In his ‘Afterword’ Bruce admits that he ‘made a personal executive decision…no births, marriages or divorces, of me or anybody else’. He claims that it is because the book would have been too big, the type that ‘people use to commit murder, or help change tyres on London buses’. So we learn much less about the man and about Iron Maiden in the context of his life.

3. The full story behind his departure from and return to Iron Maiden

In ‘What Does This Button Do’ Bruce chooses to give only a brief explanation for his departure, citing questions over the band’s relevance and interest in his own solo projects.

Bruce’s departure, his solo career, and his return to Iron Maiden seem to be presented in little more than a sketchy fashion. Bruce gives us more detail about flying (which, when you read the book, is what seems to interest him more than Iron Maiden).

Why did Bruce even consider returning to Iron Maiden (a band he describes as having a ‘dwindling audience, particularly in the USA’) when he was producing arguably the best work of his career, possibly better music than Iron Maiden at the time, with his album ‘The Chemical Wedding’ (1998) showing that he was at the peak of his creative powers? He describes it as showing him that he ‘really did have a purpose, a meaning and a real career as a solo artist‘.

Was the real reason, then, the size of the deal that he made with the band’s management, which must have been very tempting considering the drop in income he must have felt following his departure from the band (even though he had earned a relative fortune by this time) and his potential cut in future earnings?

4. Anything about his multi-million pound fortune

Dickinson is worth 75 million pounds according to ‘The Nottingham Post’ and 115 million dollars according to ‘Celebrity Net Worth’. We learn nothing about his houses, cars, or lifestyle.

5. How he writes songs

Following winning an electric piano signed by Jamie Cullum at a charity auction hosted by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver Dickinson wrote ‘Empire Of The Clouds’ (the eighteen minute epic on ‘The Book Of Souls’ 2015) on it in a ‘two-fingered’ style. He wrote ‘If Eternity Should Fail’ as a solo work but gave it to Maiden. He doesn’t say how he wrote that or any of the other great songs he wrote in the Iron Maiden catalogue. Fans would have liked an insight into how he went about writing ‘Revelations’ or ‘Powerslave’ for instance. It’s disappointing that the whole writing process receives little attention in the book.

6. When he plans to retire from Iron Maiden

Dickinson turns sixty in 2018. At sixty-five drummer Nicko McBrain is the oldest member of the band. In recent interviews he has confessed to having arthritis in his hands and sees Iron Maiden’s future as being less than ten years. In interviews Dickinson tends to be non-committal and vague on the subject, which suggests that there genuinely isn’t a definite plan yet. Steve Harris suggested that they might record an album after quitting touring. Undoubtedly Bruce will remain busy!

If you want an insight into Iron Maiden (and Iron Maiden fans will be the main audience for this book) you will be disappointed.  His early years are covered in some detail but the creative process and relationships within the band are glossed over.  We learn more about the recording studio and where he lived during recording. If you want to read about flying you will be happy.  Surely there is another, larger, more candid book bursting to come out, and crying out to be read – even if it might be used to commit murder with or to assist in tyre related problems around London.