Thursday, 30 January 2014

A visit to The Tree House Bookshop in Kenilworth

Round about a year ago whilst researching bookshops online I came across a local wannabe bookshop based in Kenilworth. This bookshop immediately stood out to me as the idea's that Victoria the owner had mirrored mine exactly. Used books, music, poetry, comedy, events, refreshments; basically a community hub. At the time I stumbled across her blog she had just started selling at Kenilworth's local market but after a few weeks it didn't seem to be taking off. I started to send a few tweets and emails to wish her luck and to stick with it and quite soon after, she managed to secure a premises. Although rocky at the start, the shop is now slowly getting more and more visitors and holds regular film nights and other events. After we'd been in touch for more or less a year I thought it was about time I took the 40 minute drive to go and introduce myself and see the shop.
The shop is a great space and is filled with bookcases of all shapes and sizes and several big comfy sofas and chairs to sit and relax (I think Victoria must have stolen my business plan). It's tucked away just behind the main street and at the moment unfortunately doesn't have a sign but Victoria tells me a local artist is knocking one up as we speak! It's all about getting the local community together. Once this sign is up I'm sure the shop will become the go-to place that it's set up to be. Although it was a cold wet Wednesday morning, there was a steady stream of customers, some obviously regulars, plus someone dropping off a bag of books. I spent a good half hour chatting to Victoria about setting up, opening and now the daily running of the shop. Her insight was really appreciated as it has given me more ideas to play with for The Big Comfy Bookshop. Victoria runs the shop on her own with sporadic help from volunteers and I will be in the same boat, at least at the start. She is currently looking for someone to help with events so get in touch with her if you think you could lend a hand.
I then spent half an hour browsing and came away with The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and Rupert Everett's first autobiography 'Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins', along with a free bookmark!
Bookshops ran by a sole individual are done so out of the love and care for the local community, with little if any monetary rewards, so I urge you to head on over to The Tree House Bookshop and see for yourself. You can even help yourself to tea and coffee.
You can visit the Tree House Bookshop at:

5-7 Abbey End,

As for my own shop, I will be visiting the Fargo Village site on February 11th for a walk around and get more info on opening. You can like me on Facebook HERE, follow me on twitter HERE and buy books from the website HERE.

Thanks again Victoria for the warm hospitality.


Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

This word of mouth Swedish hit was voted to be our chosen book in the book club for January and it definitely split the club in two, with half loving it and half having to give up on it! I was very much in the 'loved it' camp.
I can understand the dissonance within the book club as the story veers wildly between the ridiculous to the down-right unbelievable. Allan Karlsson is the centenarian of the title and we're lead through his life from a boy up to (and past) his hundredth birthday, but the story itself starts just an hour before his hundredth birthday party in his lodgings at an Old-Peoples home. Sick of being holed up, he simply opens his ground floor window and starts to walk off without a soul noticing. The first few pages reminded me of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce but it soon turned a dark comedic corner. SPOILER AHEAD! Although Allan has made it to the age of one hundred he is still very mobile and cognitively sound so he leads us through a small town to a train station where he inadvertently steals a suitcase from a gang member. I think the next 20 or so pages is where you'll either really enjoy the ludicrous ride we're taken on, or it'll frustrate you with how silly it is. Half of the book club read between 50 and 100 pages then quit. One book clubber stated in our chat "just that it was too farcical, too much repetition, characters that didn't appeal to me."
You are left with a question as to why he'd simply up and leave but this is answered by the alternating chapters of history and storyline. Although we start the book on his hundredth birthday, a few chapters later we are thrown back to when he was a small boy and introduced to his mother and father, who have a love/hate relationship. The following chapter returns to 'the current day' and Allen's unplanned journey. In turn, the chapters slowly reveal Allen growing up, and also his current day adventure. Although this may sound a bit twee the book is spotted with dark moments. But let's get on to the crux of why this book has become so popular and unpopular in equal measures. 
Author Jonas Jonasson
Allen's life story is unbelievable, yet mesmerizing. Well known International personalities and events throughout history are not only touched upon but well and truly ingrained into his life. He has dinner with no less than three American Presidents and becomes on first name terms with Moa, Kim Jong Il, General Franco, Stalin, plus chats away to Churchill and becomes best friend to Einstein's brother amongst others. You'd think that he was politically minded but actually he has no political bone in his body with his aim to simply to have a nice meal, a bed but most of all, some Vodka. He just goes wherever he decides and, through his expertise of explosives, is sought after by many people. His carefree attitude and willingness to try something with his motto of 'it'll all be fine' sees him through many close encounters. The book lives or dies on if you go along with this. There were two films that came to mind whilst reading it; Forrest Gump and Big Fish. The 'current day' story is no less preposterous involving several gang members, car crashes and even an elephant.
I was taken along with Allen and thoroughly enjoyed his exploits. I've given it a pretty big 8 out of 10 on the comfometer.

Agree? Comment below or shout at me on Twitter @Bigcomfybooks


Tuesday, 28 January 2014

An Introduction to The Big Comfy Bookshop

For those that often seek answers online to 'when, where, why and what' about the bookshop, instead of crawling through the blog you can now view all the info in 4 minutes and 5 seconds in this brand new video blog. It was very off the cuff and I enjoyed it more than spending a few hours editing my previous vlogs, so I will stick to this way for future vlogs as it's definitely more 'me'. I mention where I'll be moving to, who's cakes I'll be selling, where to find me online and introduce my cats.

You can view the previous vlogs over on my YouTube channel HERE. Please subscribe to it!

Hope you like it and please share it on your own blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and all in between.


Thursday, 23 January 2014

Let Me Off At The Top! by Ron Burgundy

I received this book at Christmas from my best friend/confidant and fellow Barricades Rise member Jonathan Coates (he's a great photographer, here's some lovely pictures he took of my son and I). At University we were both huge Will Ferrell fans, starting from a little known classic called Night At The Roxbury. We devoured all 'Frat-pack' films, usually containing at least one of the following: Vince Vaughan, Will Ferrell, Owen Wilson, Ben Stiller and later Seth Rogen. The one film that has stood the test of time and become a cult classic is Anchorman. It's the story of Ron Burgundy, the anchorman of said title and his crew, as they face challenges in the late 1970's from fellow news crews, bears and most importantly, Feminism. With the belated release of 'Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues', this 'autobiography' by Ron Burgundy hit the shelves.
'Every word in this book is true. You can fact-check most of it but much of it lives within my brain. Fortunately for you my memory is infallible. With the exception of people, places, situations and dialogue, I'm like a walking encyclopaedia of facts.'

I was a little dubious of the book as another fake autobiography I've read, I, Partridge by Alan Partridge AKA Steve Coogan, was patchy. There was always something telling me that, although it's funny, it's all fake. The difference between Partridge and Burgundy though is that the latter can go off on a ridiculous mythical tangent and still remain 'in character' due to the character's roots and the film he was born from. The film, although set in reality, has several off kilter moments (Jazz Flute!).
First lets start with the positives. The book alternates between biography and tips or musings. The biography part, especially his early beginnings, had me laughing out loud. SPOILER AHEAD! Verging on, then completely falling into the ridiculous, Ron's time at school was explained with more than a hint of Star Wars. The school in question was named Our Lady Queen of Chewbacca and his classmates ranged from Vinny Cithreepio, Brad Darklighter, Luke Walker and Lando Calrissian. Reading in Ron's voice it all became a lot funnier. He looks back at these times with fondness. The preposterous nature of the book does not die down. If anything it accelerates. A story about Bobby Kennedy, Peter Lawford and himself going out hunting in the desert for the (may or may not be mythical) Jackalopes really had me frowning at the start but by the end the conviction he writes with, often saying 'and this bit was definitely true' had me in pieces. The book doesn't touch any part of the film which I'm glad about, although it often mentions characters from it, especially his news crew and wife.
There are equal misses as hits especially when talking about his tips. One extremely funny chapter is named 'My Twelve Rules for Living Through a Prison Riot', yet the majority of his tip chapters fall flat. 'My Hair' tells about his majestic mane but becomes limp. As the book draws to a close it starts to lose focus and pace. The chapter on the nineties starts pretty funny, with stories of political cover ups and how Ron was involved, but quickly burns out and the joke just doesn't die. SPOLIER AHEAD! In one chapter he goes on about how he hates Mexico and how no-one should ever write about it, then he talks himself into writing it himself and towards the end actually uses a chapter as the intro to this new book. The set up was really well played but the final output is lame. I also had problems finding certain things funny due to it's American nature. Most celebrities he names I had never heard of yet after Googling several of them they are household names in the US.

The book is only around 220 pages and I ran through it quickly, finding it laugh out loud as well as tiresome, pretty much what I thought of I, Partridge. I would definitely recommend it for fellow Burgundy fans but otherwise I'd give it a miss.
One final grievance is the cover. It's made to look like a 1970s biography with it's black background and ugly font and although it fits in with the time of the film, aesthetically it's really off putting.

A middle of the road 5 on the comfometer.

Stay Classy.


Wednesday, 22 January 2014

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (J.K.Rowling)

November's book club choice was this detective thriller by Harry Potter author J.K.Rowling, using her pseudonym Robert Galbraith. Crime thrillers are one of my favourite genres and although slow burning, this didn't disappoint.
A bit of back story first though. Harry Potter is the work of UK author Joanne Rowling and is one of the worlds most recognisable brands, with billion dollar films adding to the millions of books sold. It was always going to be difficult for Rowling to escape Harry. Her first book since the series finished, The Casual Vacancy, was received with a lukewarm reception. It's still on my 'to-read' list. Under the guise of Robert Galbraith, J.K.Rowling released The Cuckoo's Calling to critical acclaim, yet commercial failure. At the time of publication, no one knew her moniker. The Book Riot website has a good blog regarding why it didn't fair well with the public which can be read HERE. Once her cover was blown however, the sales started to soar. The film rights bidding war sprang up almost immediately so expect it to hit the pictures in the next few years.
The latter Harry Potter books, The Half-Blood Prince in particular, seem to add more prose than necessary, taking it's time dragging itself to the finale. This has continued in The Cuckoo's Calling but, unlike The Half-Blood Prince, I think it increases the ambience of the tome and helps develop the characters and plot at a controlled and diligent pace. I was expecting a romp through London with chases and murders but what I got was a restrained, airy detective noire(ish) mystery. The protagonist comes almost as a complete package.

SPOLERS AHEAD! Cormoran Strike is an ex army doctor turned private investigator. Unlike a lot of detectives in the genre, he doesn't have a vice that he's driven by. Whilst serving, his lower leg was damaged beyond repair and amputated so he's unable to run far, often stopping to help his 'stump' heal. Instead of becoming angry and resentful, Strike has accepted this, never saying out loud how much it's affecting his abilities. He sometimes becomes frustrated but we only hear this through his inner monologue. We meet Strike just as he has left his long term girlfriend and in a lot of debt. This is all written with precision by Rowling, who never lets me feel sorry for him, as he doesn't feel sorry for himself. He's down on his luck when a temporary secretary turns up just at the same time his first job in a while does. A very well paid job.

The plot surrounds the suicide of popular model Lula Landry. Strike is hired by her brother to find a possible killer. All evidence points to a suicide and it's up to Strike to prove otherwise, to gather all the evidence after the police have closed the case and delve into the world of celebrity. One thing Rowling does well is pepper the plot with interesting characters ranging from the grandiose fashion designer Guy Some through to the esoteric Landry Family and Lula's boyfriend Evan Duffield (he has to be based on Pete Doherty, no?). Even secondary characters have quite a few pages and discussions dedicated to them as Strike gathers as much information form every aspect of Lula's life. Strike leaves the person he's interviewing to talk, regardless who it is, letting them fill any silence. Not once does he turn cold, aggressive or obtuse. I thoroughly enjoyed being in his company.

However, there was one aspect of the book that took me a while to warm to. His new temporary secretary (who he can't afford) read often like Andy Sachs in The Devil Wears Prada, although they have very different circumstances. Robin Ellacott has just become engaged and is temping whilst she looks for her perfect job and she's all flowers and rainbows. There is little literary meat on her bones and she's a little sketchy. After Strike has had several temps Robin is viewed by him initially as the same, but once she cleans the desks, files properly and has an amazing ability to Google things, he see's something different in her. She tags along on a few interviews and becomes integral with her knowledge of popular culture and chit-chat with fellow ladies. Although this is the first in a series and her character needs time to develop, Robin will need more than the ability to type 80 words per minute to become integral in the second book. The next Cormoran Strike book will be published this year.

In our book club chat, Richard (@mr_spoon) felt that if it was an unknown author then it wouldn't have been pulished, yet I was captivated by the free flowing plot and I've given it a 7 on the comfometer. I hope the series does continue.

Agree? Comment below or tweet me @bigcomfybooks

Join the book club on Facebook or Goodreads.


Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Batman:Year One by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli

Our book club choice in December was Batman:Year One, a graphic novel and retelling of the origins of Batman. For the book club it was a little different from what we normally read. I admit, I added it to the choices as I've wanted to read it for ages. Several times I've picked it up in a book shop and skimmed through but never bought it, but now I had an excuse to!
I'll state from the start that I am very much a novice when it comes to graphic novels. The term Graphic Novel is also one that is not always accepted, some say that 'Comic' should suffice. There is a great Radio 4 Open Book debate about it which you can hear HERE, it starts at 13 minutes 50 seconds in. Regardless, that's for another time, I'm happy to call it a graphic novel. My graphic novel reading history can be counted on one hand: Maus by Art Spiegelman (a classic), Neonomicon by Alan Moore (bloody horrific, mesmerizing, disgusting, yet mostly fulfilling), a few Buffy series 8 volumes (meh) and half of Watchmen. I'd read reviews on Year One and was excited to read what many believe to be a masterpiece.
Lets start with the story. I knew it was an origins story, and I knew that Chris Nolan had used it as the springboard to make his Batman Begins film, which I adore by the way. I think because I knew the film so well, I put too much stock into the novel taking the same steps and thus here is where I struggled. Literally from the start I had Batman Begins, the film, in my head; the images, the dialogue etc. It quickly became clear that the film was only loosely based on it, and had taken more the aesthetic rather than rigorously stick to the storyline. I'm no Batman aficionado and always considered Commissioner Gordon to be a quiet hero who steered clear of the grey area, the middle ground. Well this was firmly beaten out of me as I'd estimate over 50% of Year One is based on Gordon. SPOLIER AHEAD! In Year One we see him cheat on his wife, constantly, knowing she is pregnant. We see him take revenge on a dirty cop. Although in the film (and previous films) Gordon does exact revenge, he does it through Batman, as they work (kind of) together. In Year One he has no problem beating the crap out of his corrupt partner, albeit after he himself has taken a beating. I think this alone made the story jar with me. As stated earlier, what I know of Batman comes from the films, so my preconception was very biased. 
As for Batman himself, his transformation from Bruce Wayne into the Dark Knight was satisfactory. Yet again my film experience overshadowed the book. If I had read it pre-Batman Begins I'm fairly sure it would have been a more enjoyable read. But it wasn't all a negative experience.

I was surprised and intrigued by the introduction of Selina Kyle AKA Catwoman, and how she became embroiled in the Batman universe. SPOILER AHEAD! Selina was introduced as a gritty, oppressive prostitute. We first see her looking through a window eyeing the street below and her fellow comrades, whilst a client is in the room, unseen. Down below, Brice Wayne, pre-Batman but still with his idealistic vision of cleaning up the streets, is provoking the girls pimp. Once a few fists are exchanged the girls attack Bruce and in a flash Selina is there to the help the posse, throwing her karate expertise into the mix. Her own revenge mission becomes distorted later in the novel as the public are never really sure who she is or what she's fighting for, a cause that I've never known myself! It was mentioned in the book club chat over on Goodreads that as there were so few woman in the book  it was depressing to see the most influential or well known female character in such a grim role.
The book is nearly 30 years old (published in 1986) and as I do not really understanding the techniques of graphic novels, I thought some of the panels were a little dated, moreover, some of them are fantastic. Overall I was disappointed, but I still enjoyed it and it's not put me off Batman, or graphic novels. I've given it a 6 on the comfometer.

Do you agree? Let me know in the comments below, or tweet me @bigcomfybooks using hashtag #ComfyBookclub.
If you'd like to join in the book club then go to our Goodreads page and add yourself. Alternatively add yourself to the Facebook group. Books are voted for from a handful of choices once a month, with our discussion taking place on the last Sunday of the month on Goodreads.


Thursday, 16 January 2014

My Book Quest 2014

My task in 2013 was to read one book a week. I failed quite spectacularly, I didn't even manage 1 book a fortnight. All in all I read 22 books last year. I started off OK, devouring the massive Time Travelers Wife, and I kept it up for a while, then life just took over round about April. I struggled with The Great Gatsby and even the great Hunger Games took a while to consume. Anyway, that was then and this is now.

I have the same agenda, but tweaked it a little bit. Once more I will be aiming for 52 books (at least) read in the year. I'm taking my own advice (from this post) by turning off my phone at night and also having more books dotted around the house. Instead of just setting the standard 52 book rule, I'm also naming specifics.
Here's a list of books on my Book Quest 2014.

The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy
2 huge classic tomes a la Middlemarch/Don Quixote
The ENTIRE Ian Rankin or Lee Childs novels
All the books I've bought but never read

I'll also be sticking in my book club books (join here!). Now this is quite a task and adding up all these books it will take me over the 52 book mark. I am also yet to decide on the classics to read, suggestions taken.

There will be pitfalls. This year I will be opening the shop (Hooray!) so my time will be used up considerably. Also, my child is 2. That's all I need to say. 

It's got off to a slow start I'll admit. It's now January 16th and I've read 2 books, one of which I started early December. Sure it's on track but I wanted to get an early head start to compensate for later in the year. All books will be reviewed on the blog and kept on the review page. I update twitter with my current reads and thoughts so follow @bigcomfybooks to get up to the minute, blow by blow action on reading. Also like on Facebook.

If you have set yourself a target for the year then please share it with me!
Finally, browse the online shop

Wish me luck, and a (belated) Happy New Year to you all.