Saturday, February 27, 2021


While being 11 is trying at times for everyone, Norman Foreman seems to have it harder than most.  Growing up in a single-parent household in the far southwest of England, he's never known his father.  A quiet and reserved boy, he also unfortunately suffers from a severe case of psoriasis which gets worse in times of stress (and also isn't helped by his love of cheesy toast).  The only bright spot in his life is his best friend Jax.  Jax is Norman's complete opposite:  loud, attention-seeking, and confident.  The two boys are united by their love of comedy and they make the perfect duo:  the natural clown and the straight man.   They set out a 5 year plan to perform a comedy routine at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival by the time they are 15.  While they have yet to actually perform in front of an audience, they spend all their time writing jokes, studying famous comedians, and planning their future comedy careers.  This all comes to an abrupt and shocking end when Jax suddenly dies.  

Norman, naturally, is completely devastated by the death of his close and really only friend.  His mother, Sadie, is at a loss as to how to comfort him.  Sadie has been somewhat adrift in life since becoming an orphan at the age of 19.  With no family, she set out on a reckless and self-destructive path that led her to having a son (with no idea who his father could be), and also dropping out of college with no qualifications.  She's worked for the past 6 years at a car lot, taking calls and commiserating with her co-worker Leonard about their boorish boss, Dennis.  Leonard is over 80 and responds to Dennis's inappropriate and demeaning insults with quiet acts of rebellion that Sadie sees and appreciates.

With the death of his best friend, Norman's 5 Year Plan can no longer be completed.  Sadie notices that he has amended the poster in his bed with a new plan, which includes finding his father and performing as a solo act at the Fringe Festival.  Sadie, feeling helpless in the face of her son's grief, decides to do what she can to help him fulfil his new plan.  She even confides in octogenarian Leonard, and he enthusiastically decides to become her helper.  So the three set out on a road trip to find the four possible candidates for Norman's father while at the same time getting him some "open mike" experience on their way to Edinburgh.  Because by the time they get there word will have spread about Little Big Man (Norman's comedy persona) and it will be easy to get a slot to perform at the festival . . . won't it?

Norman is a very likeable and eager-to-please boy who is also sensitive to the feelings of others.  His mother, Sadie, is somewhat scattered and disorganized, so it's lucky that the elderly, but encouraging Leonard agrees to go along on the trip and arrange the details.  I enjoyed the story, but it seemed to lose steam somewhat about 2/3 of the way through when Norman unexpectedly embarks on a caper with a new character.  I thought that part of the story deviated from the previous action and dragged on a bit too long.  Still, it was nice to follow Norman's adventures and to see him overcome the loss of his friend and become a more confident individual.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of The Funny Thing about Norman Foreman from NetGalley in exchange for this review

Sunday, February 21, 2021


Three generations of the Gogarty family of Dun Laoghaire, Ireland go through all manner of upheavals in Good Eggs.  Millie Gogarty, the matriarch of the family, has been widowed for a long time.  Boredom and some unknown drive causes her to indulge in the occasional minor bout of shoplifting.  Unfortunately, this has not gone unnoticed in the small family-owned shop that is her usual target, so when her latest excursion results in a call to the police, her only child, Kevin, is called to collect her from the police station.  Kevin has recently turned 50 and experienced another personal setback:  he's lost his longtime job at a magazine that focused on celebrity gossip.  Now he has to compete with younger, tech-savvy applicants for positions covering celebrities he's never heard of.  His wife Grace has a high-paying job that requires her to work long hours away from the family.   Three of Kevin's four children are still at home, but teenaged twins Nuala and Aideen seem to always be at each other's throats.  Sixteen year old Aideen, in particular, is moody and uncooperative.  Kevin is left to try to keep his mother out of jail, find a new job, and keep Aideen from getting into trouble herself.

Kevin tells his mother that the police have agreed not to charge her with any crimes, as long as she agrees to have a home health aide check up on her a few hours each day.  Millie is appalled, but soon begins to appreciate the cheerful, take-charge young American woman Sylvia, who is hired to look after her (and report any misdeed to Kevin).  Is Sylvia too good to be true?

Aideen, much to her horror, is soon packed off to a boarding school across town in order to separate her from her sister and also give her a chance to get her grades up during her last few years of school.  While Aideen didn't really have friends in her old school, physical proximity soon means she has a new friend in the rebellious and angry Brigid.  If Aideen couldn't stay out of trouble on her own, how much hope is there once she has a willing accomplice?

Aideen and Millie have a bond based on their shared feelings of anger at being threated with being sent away.  Kevin continually suggests to Millie that she might be better off in a nursing home where she can be looked after, but of course she wants no part of that.  Aideen is sent to the boarding school against her will, so she can fully understand her grandmother's concerns. 

As more and more problems build for the Gogarty family, can they all navigate their current problems and the new ones that are constantly cropping up?  The book was very entertaining and I really enjoyed seeing what was going to happen next.  Millie, especially, is a character and her constant escapades would make for an interesting series!

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Good Eggs from NetGalley in exchange for this review 

Monday, February 1, 2021


When teacher Margery Benson intercepts a particularly cruel drawing of herself circulating among her students, something inside her snaps.  The Miss Benson of Miss Benson's Beetle suddenly decides to give up her unrewarding career in education in order to fulfil a lifelong dream:  traveling to New Caledonia to discover proof of the golden beetle that has so far evaded capture.  As a 40-something spinster in post-WWII London, she knows she will need an assistant to help her on the expedition to the other side of the world.  She advertises the position and is somewhat dismayed to only receive three applicants: a someone peculiar former POW named Mundic, a flighty young woman named Miss Pretty, and (luckily) a perfectly competent woman named Miss Hamilton who is herself a retired teacher.  Just as everything is being arranged for the trip, Miss Hamilton drops out and Margery is forced to go with her second (and really only) choice, Enid Pretty.

Enid seems entirely unsuited to trekking in mountainous terrain in search of the elusive beetle.  She has died blonde hair, high heels, a tiger-print bikini, and does not stop talking except for brief periods when she is asleep.  Additionally, she brought along a great deal of luggage, including a red case that she never lets out of her sight.

On the ship during the first part of their voyage, it soon becomes apparent that the person who didn't get the assistant job is not going to take being passed over lightly.  Mundic stows away on the ship and keeps track of Margery's movements in a notebook.  At times he becomes confused as to where he is and if he's still being held prisoner, but for the most part his stalking of Margery remains his focus.

Once they make it to New Caledonia, Margery discovers that the majority of her beetle collecting and observation equipment has failed to arrive.  With limited supplies, she and Enid must rely on unorthodox methods to try to find the beetle before their allotted two months of searching is up.  Through rough terrain, dangerous weather and assorted disasters, Margery and Enid form an unlikely bond where secrets are revealed and a deep friendship takes hold.

I really enjoyed the story of Margery's unlikely search for the beetle that she'd only heard vague references to throughout her life.  The unusual cast of characters constantly threw up surprises and showed an unusual amount of resilience.  A mystery involving Enid also makes the story quite thrilling as we root for her while also fearing what she has in her red case!

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Miss Benson's Beetle from NetGalley in exchange for this review

About Me

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I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

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