I don’t know how I ended up becoming a chess book reviewer in my spare time, but it’s certainly a fun hobby. It’s gotten to the point that every now and then, I randomly receive a new chess book in the mail to take a look at – which, as any chess addict can appreciate, is awesome. And then, just recently, I got this letter:
“Dear Dr Smerdon,
I’m a big fan of your blog and noticed that you like reviewing things every now and then. So just on spec I’m sending you a free copy of my novel. It’s meant to be a funny book to make you think so I reckon you’ll enjoy it.
Enclosed was a thin novel with an intriguing title: Charlie Changes Everything.
Usually I don’t have time to read novels, but several aspects of this random gift were appealing. First, I like getting free stuff. Second, this is the first time anyone’s ever addressed me as “Dr” in a letter, and my ego is easily stoked. Third, the lingo in the letter strongly hinted at an Australian background (a fact soon confirmed). Fourth, it’s a kids’ book, and I hadn’t read one of those in ages. And fifth, the cover has a pretty picture with a rainbow on it. And who doesn’t like rainbows?
It was a really nice letter to receive. And reading the author’s motivations for this labour of love was also quite interesting:
My daughter wanted a story and it got me thinking about all the things I should’ve learned when I was growing up. I thought about the values and ideas I wanted to teach my children and this is the story I told her: a funny book for kids to help make their world a better place…
So, I read it. And then I gave it to my wife, and she read it. And guess what? It’s pretty cool.
I’ve got no experience at reviewing novels at all, but here goes. There’s Billy, who’s having a tough time in primary school because his teacher’s a super mean lady, and the girl he’s got a crush on doesn’t notice him. We can all associate with that. Then along comes Charlie, a renegade orphan with the sophistication and savviness of a British secret serviceman. Then there’s a war with the rival school, forbidden romances between the teaching staff, and a twisted web of intrigue in the ensuing battle between children and adults, culminating in a predictable yet delicious twist. Ta-dum.
Ok, summarising the plot wasn’t so hard. But more importantly, Robert did a great job at setting out to do what he intended. Not only is it a very nice, smooth read, but the values imbedded throughout the book are subtle enough not to overpower the story but strong enough to leave a clear message. And these aren’t just sugary meanings of the Aesop’s Tales garden variety, mind you. Climate change, religion, gender roles, child-rearing and the politics of war and conflict all see some light as both children and adult characters learn their respective lessons. All for just a couple of bucks for the Kindle edition. I don’t know what else to say about the book other than to say that I’d be very happy for my (future) children to read it. That’s a pretty good recommendation, right?