Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Book Review Club (June Meeting)

Welcome, welcome one and all to our FIFTH get together! I know, it's incredible. Well, really, it's not all that incredible. You take a bunch of good books, a bunch of enthusiastic reviewers, and toss them out in the blogosphere and, pouf, you have our amazing Book Review Club.

So, grab a cup of coffee and a cookie or two, and settle in for some terrific reviews. This month, we'll be talking young adult and adult. And even about a picture book. We'll bring you mysteries and historicals and biographies and more. Fair warning. Your to-be-read pile will grow!

Before beginning, though, I have some sad news. Last Friday morning, my high school English teacher died in hospital. He was sixty-eight. Today is his funeral. Mr. Peter Magee was an awesome awesome teacher. If it weren't for him and his passion for reading and writing and creativity, I wouldn't be a writer. I'm truly honored to share that the acknowledgment to him at the front of I So Don't Do Mysteries will be part of the eulogy. I wish I'd written more. I certainly could've. I will do a proper post about Mr. Magee. But I didn't want the day of his funeral to come and go without paying some tribute on the blog. At eleven o'clock Eastern Daylight Time, I'll have a moment of quiet time in his honor.

Condolences to all his friends and family. Especially to David.

And, now, a book review.

A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby was published in 2005. It is his fourth book.

The plotting is exquisite. The dialog is a work of art. The voices of each of the four characters is unique. And in first person, which I love. The humor is biting and wry. If you haven't figured it out yet, A Long Way Down is my favorite Hornby book.

From the New York Times Book Review: One New Year's Eve, four people with very different reasons but a common purpose, find their way to the top of a fifteen-story building in London. None of them has calculated that, on a date humans favor for acts of significance, in a place known as a local suicide-jumper's favorite, they might encounter company. A Long Way Down is the story of what happens next, and what doesn't..."

The four characters are Martin Sharp, Maureen, Jess Crichton, and J.J.

Martin is a middle-aged British TV personality who made the huge mistake of getting involved with a fifteen-year-old girl. He spent three months in prison, ruined his career, his marriage and his relationship with his two young daughters.

Maureen is a fifty-one, a single mother who has given years of her life caring for a severely disabled son.

Jess Crichton is an angry self-centered eighteen year old. She's the daughter of a local politician and does not get along with her parents. Her sister went missing a few years prior.

J.J. is an American musician who's delivering pizza in London. His band broke up and his girlfriend dumped him.

At the end of Act I, Jess convinces everyone not to jump, but to help her find her ex-boyfriend. And, thus, this oddball group joins forces and agrees to climb down from the roof. They plan to meet at regular intervals. And each meeting is zany and poignant and never what I'm expecting.

This review is definitely not capturing the humor in the book. Sorry about that. A Long Way Down really is funny. For example, at the end of Act I, they decide to give life another six weeks and arrange a Valentine's Day get-together. From the book:

Martin shook his head, but it was to indicate defeat rather than refusal. "We'll all live to regret it," he said.

A Long Way Down will probably be made into a movie. Yay. Johnny Depp bought the film rights. More yay.

From the author's website, here's a description of a typical day: 'I have an office round the corner from my home. I arrive there between 9:30 and 10 a.m., smoke a lot, write in horrible little two-and-three sentence bursts, with five-minute breaks in between. Check for emails during each break, and get irritated if there aren't any. Go home for lunch. If I'm picking up my son I leave at 3:30. If not, I stay till six. It's all pretty grim! And so dull!'

If you'd like to read an online interview with Nick Hornby, click here.


Below are links to our wonderful and amazing reviewers. Enjoy!


Sarahlynn of Yeah, but Houdini didn't have these hips: A SOUP OPERA by Jim Gill


Linda McLaughlin: THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman (middle grade)

Ellen Booraem of Freelance Ne'er-do-well: NATION by Terry Pratchett. Includes an interesting look at his books for adults vs. his books for kids.

Stacy Nyikos: SHIFT by Jen Bradbury

Thao of serene hours: TWENTY BOY SUMMER by Sarah Ockler

Kathy Holmes: GIRLFRIEND MATERIAL by Melissa Kantor


Sarah Laurence: DUNE ROAD (USA)/GIRL FRIDAY (UK) by Jane Green. Includes an author interview.

Sandy Levin of Peaceful Heart Stained Glass: THE ULTRAMIND SOLUTION by Mark Hyman, M.D.

Jenn Jilks: THE MIND OF NORMAN BETHUNE by Roderick Stewart (biography)

Beth Yarnall: SURRENDER TO A WICKED SPY by Celeste Bradley (historical)

David Cranmer of The Education of a Pulp Writer: L.A. OUTLAWS by T. Jefferson Parker

Scott Parker of SF Safari: COUNTDOWN (the Star Trek graphic novel) by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman

From the Desk of Bee Drunken: HEARTS AND MINDS by Amanda Craig

Alyssa Goodnight: THIS ROUGH MAGIC by Mary Stewart

Keri Mikulski: THE YEAR OF THE FOG by Michelle Richmond

Kaye of the Book Review Forum: WILD INDIGO by Sandi Ault (mystery)

P.S. If I left you off the list by mistake, just leave a comment. I'll get it right!


  1. So sorry to hear about your English teacher, but how comforting to have kept up with him. I have no idea what's become of my favorite teachers.

    And I will definitely have to read Nick Hormsby - I can't believe I haven't yet. And I, too, adore, first person.

  2. Isn't it wonderful that human beings like Mr. Magee pass through our lives and enrich us with their presence. Such inspiration. I will look forward to your post on him and my condolences to his family.

  3. So sorry to hear about your loss. Your teacher sounds like he left quite a legacy and made a difference in people's lives. Sending hugs.

    Thanks for the review. Sounds like a good one. :)

  4. Sorry about your teacher. I fondly remember your interview with him.

  5. Is that the same teacher that you interviewed, I mean, Katie Couracs sister interviewed a while ago? I am so very sorry. You have spoke of him often.

    Okay, you convinced me, I'll read the book!

  6. My condolences on the loss of your English teacher. But what a wonderful tribute to him! As a retired English teacher, I can tell you that the best thanks a teacher can get is learning that he or she made a lasting impact on a student.

    I've never read anything by Nick Hornby before, but this certainly sounds like a funny and quirky book. You're right--my reading list is growing and growing. Sorry I didn't participate this time; I've been so busy in the garden this past month that I'm ashamed to say I haven't finished a whole book!

  7. so sorry for your loss, barrie... i have no teachers i can say were special to me :(

  8. Thanks, Fearless leader, for keeping us all organized :-) A Long Way Down really does sound like it's right up my alley. Johnny Depp and a movie, eh? Almost as good as Notting Hill.

  9. I loved A Long Way Down. (Love all Hornby’s books.)
    Will check out the other book reviews.

    Sorry to hear about your teacher. I had a teacher like that in high school – how fortunate we are to have had such people in our lives.

  10. I am so sorry to hear about Mr. Magee.

    And thank you for hosting your Book Review Club again this month!

    One little correction. My book is A SOUP OPERA by Jim Gill.

  11. Sorry to hear about the loss of your teacher, Barrie.

    Thanks for the review; the book sounds really interesting.

  12. Sorry to hear about your teacher. I hope he rests in peace.

    And I love the book review. Anything fun is for me. The plot seems so nice and I like the fact that it has 4 main characters.

  13. Barrie, I’m so sorry about your loss. It is wonderful that you were able to thank your teacher in your book acknowledgment before his death. I’m sure that meant a lot to him. You are lucky to have had such a good teacher at that formative age.

    I loved Hornby’s High Fidelity so I’ll have to check this one out, but I sort of wish you hadn’t told us that they didn’t jump. Not that I like suicide…just suspense. I love the premise and the characters from your description. Thanks for bringing the book to our attention and for hosting another book review club.

  14. Sorry, as well, to hear about Mr. Magee. My inspirational teacher was my 10th world history teacher, Mr. King. He set me on the trajectory that led me to earn two degrees in history. Then, one day, while I was in grad school, I saw him. I reintroduced myself to him and let him know that I was there because of him. He got a kick out of it.

    And thanks to you for keeping this initiative going.

  15. Oh, Barrie, I'm so sorry to read about your loss. My condolences to you and to Mr. Magee's family and friends.

    And thank you for posting a review about A LONG WAY DOWN. Just this weekend, I was telling my husband that I'd never read a Nick Hornby novel and really wanted to! Sounds like a good one to start with...

  16. How wonderful that you kept in touch with a teacher who inspired you. I remember a few who stand out for nudging my writing along and giving me suggestions on expanding my reading horizons and, most importantly, offered new ways of seeing the world. I'm sorry I lost track of them. So I will offer up a generic thank you to all teachers who may never know what a difference they made.
    Now on to "A Long Way Down." You just gave me a rec for my bookstore coupon. Yay! I love the sound of this tale and its humor. I will most definitely check it out. And, whew, the daunting list of other reviewed books. I think my summer, fall and winter might be spoken for. Cheers.

  17. Bina: yes, yes this is the teacher interviewed on this blog by the trashy Kelly Couric!

    Sarahlynn: yikes!! So sorry. Corrections made. Thanks for pointing them out.

    Sarah Laurence: Don't sweat the spoiler. It's nothing you wouldn't have known from the back of the book. :) A Long Way Down is more about what happens to the characters after they decide to keep going.

  18. Barrie, sorry to hear about Mr. Magee's death. 68 is way too young.

    I haven't read Hornby, but I loved the movie version of ABOUT A BOY. I've updated my review with the permalink for the June meeting and the news that The Graveyard book recently won two Audy awards. One small correction, technically it's middle grade fiction, not YA.

  19. I read an article once that described how many writers cited their high school English teacher as a MAJOR influence.

    As for Nick Hornby, I love his books. I think that this is the only one that I haven't read -- so a timely review! (His comments about the dullness of the writing process were spot-on funny.)

  20. Seeing his name in your acknowledgements probably was one of his biggest thrills, Barrie. What a lovely tribute for a teacher.

  21. I've never read anything by Nick Hornby, but this sounds like it has the potential to truly be hilarious. Thanks for the recommendation.

    And I'm so sorry about your teacher--I hope he knew how much of an impact he'd made on you.

  22. Sorry about your teacher!

    --I've heard of this book before, but it sounded ridiculously depressing. Your take is much more refreshing--and makes me want to check it out!

  23. Oh, thank you for writing about Hornby's process! That's maybe my favorite explanation of such . . . EVER. Excellent! (I'm suddenly feeling like slightly less of a hack.)

  24. nice to have you back :) great review, I'm going to need something light-hearted to read after the wedding is over.

  25. I LOVE this idea....

    so sorry about your old teacher........

  26. I'll have to come back on Saturday and check out the reviews.

    Think I'll drop a note off to my fav teacher while I'm thinking about it. Thanks for making me remember.

  27. Lucky you to have a teacher to inspire you! I'm sorry he's gone, but your work is a tribute to his!

    I've never read a Nick Hornby book. Yes, that shames me.

  28. Barrie, I was sorry to hear about your English teacher. My high school English teacher, Elsie Park Gowan, had the same impact on me.

    My sincerest condolences to Mr. Magee's family.


Comments are always welcome!