Category Archives: Humorous Fiction

Pitch-Perfect Wry Charm: All Together Now by Gill Hornby

cover imageSome novels put the quirky charm front and center and try to win the reader over too quickly, but Gill Hornby’s All Together Now plays it cool in that stiff-upper-lip, British, deadpan way. The author wins over the jaded reader with irony, wit, humor, and a bit of pathos before getting the feel-good vibes really going.

The suburban, commuter village of Bridgeford is losing its small-town charm and identity to chains, superstores, and outside developers. At the same time, the members of this novel’s ensemble cast find themselves individually in flux – whether by their children growing into independent adults; their unhappy spouses asking for divorces; or their employers making them redundant. As a reader, I rooted for caustic Tracey, steady Lewis, do-gooder Annie, and bemused Bennett, while also seeing their annoying sides and sometimes wanting to shake them – because that’s what you do when you fall in love with a story and its characters!

The title comes from the Bridgeford community choral group that Lewis and Annie are in, which needs an influx of new voices and enthusiastic support to keep it from dying the death from attrition that seems imminent. Enthusiasm is in extremely short supply, but most of the characters are overflowing with guilt and self-reproach, so that works almost as well to keep them coming to rehearsals.

The author (wife of novelist Robert Harris and sister of novelist Nick Hornby) focuses on the personalities and drama within the community chorus/choir, much as she did with a group of school mothers in her first novel, The Hive. The St. Ambrose School and a couple of characters from The Hive make cameo appearances here, but this isn’t a sequel or even really a companion novel.

If you like novels by Anne Tyler, Ann Leary, Rachel Joyce, JoJo Moyes, and other wry observers of human nature you will enjoy spending time with the good (and not-so-good) people of Bridgeford.

All Together Now
Hornby, Gill
Little, Brown
July 21, 2015
9780316234740
336 pp.
$26.00 US/$29.00 CAN

Disclosure: I received a free advance reader’s copy for review from Library Journal, where I also gave it a rave review.

Other opinions:
Tales from the Reading Room

Two Weeks with New Yorkers in Mallorca: The Vacationers by Emma Straub

cover imageThe Vacationers by Emma Straub is the perfect beach read for people who like their escapist reading to take them to a villa in Mallorca on a family vacation with two generations of family, along with a long-time family friend, all suffering individually and/or as couples from first-world problems. Sun, sexy Europeans, Scrabble, and great meals are all included. Emma Straub, you can take me on vacation again anytime!

Inveterate New Yorkers Jim and Franny Post, a married couple on the verge of divorce, are taking one last summer vacation together with Sylvia – their teenage daughter who will head off to college in the fall – and Bobby – their older son – Bobby’s girlfriend, Carmen (the only outsider, i.e. non-New Yorker), and Franny’s old friend Charles and his boyfriend (now husband), Lawrence – who are both secretly waiting to hear about adopting a child.

I dogeared many pages of my advance reading copy to make note of sharp observations or cleverly worded descriptions that made me laugh, but I’ll just share just a couple of passages to give you a feel for the author’s style. This passage (a peek into Jim’s thoughts) is from just after they’ve arrived at the gorgeous two-story house on sunny, palatial grounds, and Jim sees Franny has settled in to sunbathe by the pool, looking relaxed:

“To say that Franny had been uptight in the preceding month would be too delicate, too demure. She had been ruling the Post house with an iron sphincter. Though the trip had been meticulously planned in February, months before Jim’s job at the magazine had slid out from under him, the timing was such that Fran could be counted on to have at least one red-faced scream per day. The zipper on the suitcase was broken, Bobby and Carmen’s flights (booked on Post frequent-flier points) were costing them hundreds of dollars in fees because they had to shift the flights back a day. Jim was always in the way and in the wrong. Franny was expert in showing the public her good face, and once Charles arrived, it would be nothing but petting and cooing, but when she and Jim were alone, Franny could be a demon. Jim was grateful that, at least for the time being, Franny’s horns seemed to have vanished back inside her skull.”

And this one, from the middle of the book, setting a scene where we find out what Carmen, Bobby’s girlfriend, is thinking:

“The chest in the living room had been well stocked with board games: Monopoly and Risk, Snakes and Ladders. Charles had made a brief but impassioned speech in favor of a game of charades but was quickly shot down. They decided on Scrabble, and Lawrence was winning, being the best at math, which everyone knew was all it took to truly succeed. He knew all the two-letter words, the QI and the ZA, and played them without apology, even when it made the board so dense that it was difficult for anyone else to take a turn. Bobby, Sylvia, and Charles all stared hard at their letters, as if simple attention alone would improve their odds.”

I enjoyed the family tensions, understated drama, and the witty humor of The Vacationers so much, I’m sorry that I haven’t already read the author’s two earlier books: Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures and Other People We MarriedThe Vacationers has blurbs on the back cover from Maria Semple (Where’d You Go, Bernadette), Maggie Shipstead (Seating Arrangements), and Elizabeth Gilbert (The Signature of All Things). It reminded me a bit of Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter; so if you liked that, you might like this one too.

Add The Vacationers to your beach bag or suitcase for your summer vacation reading, if you haven’t already read it!

The Vacationers
Straub, Emma
Riverhead Books
May 29, 2014
978-1-59463157-3
304 pp.
$26.95, hard.

Disclosure: I received a free ARC of this book through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program.

Other opinions (all good to excellent):
Bibliophile by the Sea
Lakeside Musing

nomadreader

Last Day to Enter to Win Yikes! Another Quirky Audio Book by Adele Park

cover image of MP3-CDToday is the last day to enter to win a brand-new, unopened copy of Yikes! Another Quirky Audio Book by humorist/author/radio personality Adele Park. Yikes! is a slightly risque audiobook, but nothing worse than your average Saturday Night Live sketch, so don’t let the mention of marijuana in the tag line scare you off!

For anyone who’s still sticking to New Year’s resolutions, this is a fun one to listen to while you exercise – no lengthy descriptions or literary phrasing. It’s all humorous dialogue. Please go to the Giveaways page to enter your name in the random drawing.Photo of author Adele Park

By the way, Adele Park featured Bay State Reader’s Advisory on her new blog, Adele Park’s Quirky Audio Books,  recently, which was exciting for me! Please check out her post about Bay State RA and her other posts on topics related to audiobooks, podcasts, radio, etc.