Category Archives: Humour

There’s a Dragon in my Dinner!

You can do a lot with a Mini-Dragon. But even if it turns up in your dinner, it’s best not to take a bite out of it.

I enjoyed Tom Nicoll’s book debut very much. There’s a Dragon in my Dinner! is probably most suited for seven or eight-year-olds, but it worked really well for me too. It’s not every day you find a nice, easy to read, book for young (dare I say it?) boys, that is truly entertaining for the adult reader as well, while being both intelligently written and fun.

Tom Nicoll and Sarah Horne, There's a Dragon in my Dinner!

The Mini-Dragon turns up in the beansprouts, when the Crisp (yeah, I know) family orders a Chinese for dinner. Young Eric finds he doesn’t like beansprouts, which may be why he didn’t order any. But he quite likes Pan, the Mini-Dragon, although not to the extent that he eats him. (His little sister tries that…)

It can be fun to have a new friend who is only the size of a spring roll, one who has a lot of conversation and is good at all sorts of things. Pan sleeps in Eric’s sock drawer (by sheer coincidence I’d thought a lot about sock drawers just before reading this book), and when he doesn’t eat mountain goats, he eats school uniform.

How to introduce your friends and family to a Mini-Dragon though? It’s hard. And the dreadful boy next door? Even worse.

But all in all, just as well Pan didn’t end up in Mexico the way his parents had planned.

(Illustrated by Sarah Horne, who obviously has some experience of beansprout dragons.)

Jonathan Unleashed

Meg Rosoff’s Jonathan reminds me a lot of God. That’s God as in There Is No Dog. Or Justin from Just in Case. Young and adorable and a little useless.

Meg Rosoff, Jonathan Unleashed

Here, in Meg’s new novel Jonathan Unleashed, There Are Two Dogs, and thank goodness for that! Don’t know where Jonathan, or the reader, would be without them. Persevering with that dreadful funeral in celadon, most likely. Sorry, I meant wedding. A real-real wedding – of colour – to Jonathan’s long term girlfriend Julie, who is so wrong for him that it’s hard to know where to start.

And here’s the thing. You know when your favourite author changes genre? To the kind that you like the least. To me adult novels are full of angsty and weird ‘adults’ who worry about their relationship[s] throughout a whole book, with a bit of careers and sex thrown in. (When there could be ficticious wars and under-age sex between cousins. The odd wizard, maybe.)

So, Jonathan Unleashed is about an angsty young man, who is rather weird (his girlfriend points out, ‘you used to be less weird’), and who worries about this proposed funeral – pardon, wedding – to Julie, and about his job, and the dogs, with a bit of sex thrown in.

And you know what? It’s simply wonderful! I could read it again, and again. It’s only marginally more adult than the fairly adult YA novels Meg has written so far. It’s still as crazy, very New York, very Meg Rosoff, lots of dogs. How could you not love it?

Poor Jonathan works in marketing, writing the most soul-destroying lines to sell useless stuff. He lives in a flat that seems to be too good to be true (there is a reason for that) and then his brother moves abroad, leaving his two dogs Dante and Sissy with Jonathan.

He worries about them. That they might not be happy. Perhaps they are depressed? A bit of canine weltschmerz? He takes them to the vet, Dr Clare, to discuss the likelihood of this and whether they might one day rip a small child’s face off.

Now, that is as far from their minds as these dogs go. They have an agenda. They can tell Jonathan needs help, and they are prepared to provide it. They are not hypochondriacs. They know what they are doing. When professional wedding planner Julie suggests this funeral – sorry, wedding – for her and Jonathan, those dogs need to take action.

There is a French coffeeshop woman who is very lovely, there is Dr Clare, and there is Greeley, the uncertainly sexed new PA at work. Who’s it going to be, and can anything be done before Jonathan goes crazier still? I mean, you can’t have a hero going round speaking funny (even if it is stress-induced).

Limpopo gleam.

When you feel stupidly neurotic, it’s refreshing and reassuring to meet someone who’s got it worse.

Blimp. Pork toff.

The Dragonsitter to the Rescue

It’s the hotel’s fault; if they don’t want your dragon to come and stay, they shouldn’t say dragons are free. And they probably wouldn’t have, if they had an inkling that the very same dragon had just ruined its previous hotel, elsewhere in London.

Josh Lacey and Garry Parsons, The Dragonsitter to the Rescue

Dragons do. They don’t mean to, but it happens. They are big, and hungry, and they breathe fire. And if you’re a mummy dragon and your little Arthur is lost somewhere in London, you will do anything to get him back.

So will Eddie, in Josh Lacey’s latest Dragonsitter story. I think it might be the best so far (unless I say that about all of them, in which case it’s simply that they are all so wonderful that I get taken in by their charm), and I really enjoyed holidaying in London with Eddie and his sister, and their slightly useless dad, while their mum is romancing in Paris.

This was my second dragon book finished in one day. The other one was a longer, fantasy novel, whereas I’d label the Dragonsitter books as normal dragon stories. Totally realistic, and not fantasy at all.

Josh Lacey and Garry Parsons, The Dragonsitter to the Rescue

Eddie’s happy-go-lucky uncle Morton is off looking for Yetis in Tibet, having left his two dragons in the tender care of his nephew. Once more, I should say. He always manages to be incommunicado, as poor Eddie tries to sort out the latest dragon happenings.

(Would I love Ziggy and little Arthur so much if it weren’t for Garry Parsons and his illustrations?)

Traitor’s Purse

A S Byatt has a lot to answer for. I’ve now come across several reviews of Margery Allingham’s Traitor’s Purse, where the reviewer only read the book after her article in the Guardian last year.

Personally, I wanted to remind myself of the plot, so went to our Allingham shelf to reacquaint myself with the book, only to discover we didn’t have a copy. Hence its appearance on my Christmas wish list, and because it was the only item on the list issued to the Resident IT Consultant, I wasn’t massively surprised to receive a copy. Which, had been my plan all along. [Don’t give them a choice.]

Margery Allingham, Traitor's Purse

It’s been years since I read Margery Allingham’s Campion books. I loved them, and I rather loved him as well, being much more fun than Lord Peter Wimsey. And I obviously would have loved to be Lady Amanda; the girl who decided she was going to marry him.

In Traitor’s Purse, set in 1941, Campion has had a knock on the head and doesn’t even remember her, or his manservant Lugg, or who he himself is, let alone what he’s supposed to be doing. (Saving the country is what.)

Being a man, he doesn’t start asking useful questions like ‘Who am I?’ but sets about quietly grappling with each thing as it comes along. He makes the mistake of thinking Amanda is his wife, and his private fears about maybe losing her are wonderfully described. You take a girl for granted for years and…

This is a great detective trying to solve a puzzle in the dark. He works out who is good and who is bad, and almost what the problem is, but hasn’t got a clue what to do.

After this long away from Campion’s world, I noticed the social aspects much more. But it’s a marvellous story and the writing is as good as ever, and you have to overlook the fact that occasionally the upper classes are portrayed as more reliable than the rest of us. It’s the way it was.

But behind it all is the usual humour and courage and an exciting plot. ‘Good lord, he could climb like a cat!’ This is a handy discovery when you are forced to flee over the rooftops. Most of us will already know whether a route like that is likely to be successful, but Campion hasn’t got any idea of what he can and can’t do. He just knows he has to try.

My thanks to A S Byatt. I hadn’t read this one, and I’m so glad I did. Might be time to return to more old diamonds.

A Baby Ganesh Agency Investigation

This is India’s answer to The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Vaseem Khan has written a sweet and funny crime novel about Inspector Chopra, who is forced to retire on health grounds from the police in Mumbai. In his early fifties, he is an honourable man who has always tried to do the right thing, and who could never be bribed.

In The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra we meet him on his last day, as he agonises over what will become of him, now that he no longer has a job to go to. His wife, Poppy, is rather pleased he will be staying at home, but of course he ends up doing no such thing.

Vaseem Khan, The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra

First there is the baby elephant. His uncle has sent this large gift for a reason. It’s just that ex-Inspector Chopra can’t work out what that is. And on his last day in the office he meets the distraught mother of a murdered young man, and rashly takes on the task of finding the murderer.

Chopra is a brave and determined man, who will let neither a bad heart or old colleagues stop him from doing what’s right. And then there is Ganesha, the baby elephant. The Chopras live in a tower block, so keeping even a small elephant is tricky, but Poppy is as determined and fierce as her husband is honourable. There is a priceless scene when she and Ganesha sit down in the living room to watch Bollywood films together while snacking on goodies!

The murdered young man leads Chopra to many bad and seemingly impossible discoveries. And who can he trust, when everyone can be bought?

This is a nice, comfy kind of whodunnit, set somewhere exotic to the European reader, and very satisfying. Described as a Baby Ganesh Agency story, I wonder if there will be more? There certainly could be. Elephants are as loyal and dependable as the former Inspector Chopra.

(And the food! Poppy prepares the most wonderful dishes for her husband. He has little time to eat while out solving crimes, but oh, how delicious it sounds.)

Mog’s Christmas Calamity

I was pleased to see that the new book about Mog – Mog’s Christmas Calamity – is a little different from the television commercial. I suppose in much the same way most books differ from the film. I have no idea if Judith Kerr wrote it for television, or if she wrote a Christmas story featuring dear Mog, and it was then adapted for the small screen.

Judith Kerr, Mog's Christmas Calamity

Some of the laugh-out-loud comedy is not in the book, which feels right, as that would have made this new book different from its predecessors. What there is, is pure Mog, and a proper Christmas tale, with misfortune and a solution.

Book-Mog doesn’t look like her television actor either. (Who would play you in the film, Mog?)

This is – naturally – a lovely picture book, and I hope many children will be given a copy. Not just because it’s a sweet story, but because the proceeds go towards child literacy.

Buy one for every reader you can think of. It’s not every day Mog rises like a phoenix. Make the most of her.

W.A.R.P. – The Forever Man

That FBI. It gets everywhere, including the 17th century. But that explains a lot, actually. And it’s lucky they wear those fetching overalls, with the letters on the back, so you will know it’s them. And there is always one more wormhole through which any combination of characters can fall, to some time other than their own. Quantum foam. Hah.

Yes. So Eoin Colfer thought it’d be more normal to write about time travelling FBI agents than leprechauns. It’s easy peasy getting your head round tunnelling dwarves and foil-clad centaurs, but my head always gets confused when it tries to think about time travel. Like, if so-and-so did this then something would/would not happen. And you mustn’t meet yourself.

Eoin Colfer, The Forever Man

I enjoyed The Forever Man, which is the last instalment of Eoin’s W.A.R.P., the time travel-based witness protection scheme which put people safely in Victorian London. I wasn’t sure I would, as the time travel slipped back to Cromwell’s days – which I’m not keen on – and Riley’s old boss was going to reappear. I’d really hoped to have seen the last of him. But that strange thing happened; where you find yourself almost fond of the baddie, because you go a long way back and familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt.

So – the now unkillable – Garrick is back, and his latest hobby is to burn witches at the stake. And he decides Agent Chevie is a witch. Riley needs to free her, but the trouble is that he and Garrick know each other so well, that it’s almost impossible for one to trick the other. Luckily the FBI has one or two tricks up its sleeves, and not everyone in this witch-hunting village believes that burning witches is a marvellous idea.

This is exciting, and romantic – yes – and funny. It even restored my faith in the FBI.

Eoin; please consult me if you need more timetravelling Swedish bores. Sorry, boars. Or similar. Especially if they are to be called Olaf.