After a long time away getting real-life affairs in order (too many to go into without boring the pants off you, believe me. Besides, this post-slash-review will be long enough as it is. Oh, and I also have no desire to see you in your pants), I’m finally in a position to get some semblance of online access (even if it is only via my local library, but you know what they say beggars can’t do…) so the first thing I’m doing is not only revive this blog to keep y’all posted on the progress of my endeavour to become a children’s author, but to add to the site’s repertoire by adding book reviews: I’ve definitely got a lot on my shelves to choose from, both old and new, but I thought I’d start off with a book you can’t even get in stores yet!

That’s right – the kind people over at HarperCollins Children’s Books agreed to let me review an advance copy of one of their author’s upcoming books. I wasn’t expecting them to do this without evidence of prior reviews, so I feel that I really owe it to them to make this review worth their time. That isn’t to say I’m just going to suck-up to them and sugar-coat a review if the book itself is really awful: if the book is terrible, it will be announced as such, and I’ll have to deal with the consequences (I think I can see the folks over at HarperCollins sharpening their pitchforks already…)

How fortunate, then (for us both), that this first book is amazing. It’s called ‘Casper Candlewacks In Death by Pigeon’, by debuting author Ivan Brett. Yes, you read that right, the book is called ‘Death by Pigeon’. If you think that’s weird, I have reason to believe Ivan’s middle name is really Cecil, but that’s neither here nor there.

Now, before I can continue with this post, a word to the wise: in case you haven’t realised this by now, this isn’t going to be your average, run-of-the-mill review. But, then again, if you knew me you’d expect nothing less; this review is going to get random at times, downright silly at others (there’s a difference, trust me on this), but don’t despair, it is an honest review at the core, and I’ll try to keep it grounded as much as my few remaining strands of sanity will allow. But no promises…

Anyways, without much further ado – on with the review of ‘Casper Candlewacks In Death by Pigeon’ by Ivan (Cecil) Brett! Where to begin…?

Idiots.

Not you, personally. But we all know or have met an idiot, haven’t we? Guys who believe iceberg lettuce is actually grown in icebergs; people who believe that the silver-linings in clouds are made of real silver; folks who believe that stewed rhubarb is really mashed brains, even though they know it was grown in our back-garden just because I told you it was (sorry, sis*); fools who truly believe ‘Joey’ is vastly superior to ‘Friends‘ … the list goes on, and I’m sure you all have your own examples. Luckily for us, these people are few and far between, and thus easily more tolerable than they have any right to be.

Now, imagine if you not only lived in an entire village populated by these Grade A dunces, but that you were the only one for miles around with any shred of common sense. Nightmarish, isn’t it?

Welcome to the world of Casper Candlewacks, our intelligent hero in a village gone mad. That village is called Corne-on-the-Kobb, where idiocy is the norm, and being normal is odd. Naturally, this singles poor Casper out as a freak (I know, the irony is not lost on me, either), and it’s not long before we see him being subjected to cruel and unusual punishment for just being an average person. If that wasn’t enough, the entire village is gearing-up for the arrival and performance of the famous, the astounding, and the downright baffling ‘Great Tiramisu’, an Italian magician (complete with the obligatory ‘-a’ suffixes in his dialogue).

The Great Tiramisu… now there’s a character! Imagine the bizarre magnitude of David Copperfield mixed with the unbelievable obnoxiousness of… well, most politicians, and you have the Great Tiramisu: sure, his magic is both amazing and inexplicable, but it’s soon dampened by his overbearing pomposity which makes you wonder, just like Casper, just what everyone sees in this conceited chap.

After a series of events that lead our hero to make an ill-fated decision, the Great Tiramisu places a horrific curse on the people of Corne-on-the-Kobbe (Curses, for those not in the know, was first discovered in 1362 by Alfredo DiCurser who stubbed his toe on a chair. Overcome with rage, he bellowed “Damn the carpenter who made this blasted chair!” The next day that very same carpenter, a Lucas Woodenhands, drowned when a damn blasted apart**). This curse soon begins to manifest itself in a wide number of strange ways (my uncle used to live in Strangeways…), the most noticeable of which being a never-ending rain and killer pigeons.

Ah, pigeons. You know, I never trusted pigeons, with their horrid red eyes and uncanny ability to get back home no matter how far you take them (I flew one to Mars once – it still got back). My Science teacher taught me how to make pigeons blow up with fizzy drinks. Apparently they have no way to… expel the gas, if you know what I mean, and they go bang!

If only Casper had known this fact, maybe the book would’ve been a lot shorter, but also nowhere near as much fun. But he doesn’t, so it was and it is (I think that made sense).

When the podgy finger of blame for the curse is placed firmly on Casper’s father, he is quickly sentenced to the titular death by pigeon. Evidently the residents of Korne-on-the-Kobbe haven’t seen a pigeon try and eat anything soggier than a wet chip – it takes absolutely ages. And I know we’re dealing with killer pigeons here, but unless they each stole two metal teeth from Jaws (the Bond villain, not the shark – where would a shark have gotten hold of metal dentures?), the villages are going to be standing around for months. But then again, what can you say? They’re idiots, each and every one of them.

Oh, and when I say he’s quickly sentenced to death, I mean rocket-fast – at midnight, to be exact, giving his son only hours to find a way to lift the curse, save his dad’s life and, ultimately, the day.

What follows is a madcap dash that I won’t go into for fear of covering too much of the book already. If I’ve done that then Ivan and HarperCollins, I apologise; I just loved this book too much not to go the whole hog. I’ll try to restrain myself next time.

But anyway, enough about the story’s premise, what about the actual writing? Well, in case you hadn’t guessed it from the plot itself, the book is humorous adventure story, and it’s genuinely funny from page one, and that’s just full of pigeons – but the first page of the actual story is funny, too. There’s a joke in every paragraph, sometimes on every line, and if you think that would cripple the writer’s ability to tell an engaging story then you don’t know Ivan Brett, which I guess is forgivable seeing as how this is his debut novel.

Brett has fun with his world, and this is plainly evident in the vibrancy of each and every word. Whether it’s wacky characters, silly scenarios or faulty factoids, you don’t once feel he’s forcing a joke in for the sake of it; every one is lovingly crafted and handled with expert precision that’s only going to improve with leaps and bounds as the adventures of Casper Candlewacks continues. And there’s going to be more – I have it on good authority (ie: the Big Man himself) that Casper sequels are in the works and I, for one, eagerly await each one.

Thank you, Ivan Brett, for proving that children’s comedy books can still be funny whether you’re nine or ninety-nine.

‘Casper Candlewacks in Death by Pigeon!’ is available from April 28th, and is published by HarperCollins – stay tuned for an interview with the author, Ivan Brett, closer to the release date!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I really must put some cola out in a bowl for some certain feather friends…

Dave

* – Over fifteen years have passed. She has never touched rhubarb since.

** – Read the book when it comes out on April 28th, and that will make much more sense. Trust me. He does it better.

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