clfisha's 100 books in 2010
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Well I thought the 1010 (Step) Challenge would satisfy me but I keep reading books that don't fit the challenge and I just miss recording them all! I usually read speculative fiction especially anything a bit odd, but of course the 1010 is making me branch out a bit more (I will be including those reviews here too!). Feel free to recommend/comment, I love LT for expanding my tbr. Anyway without further ado lets start listing books..
Edited to add
It is of course extreme personal bias, I am not a literary critic and to be honest I am a fan of story over style. Plus this is an immediate reaction, I tend to change my mind after a few months!
1 will never appear because I couldn't finish it.
2/2.5 Not sure why I finished it, it bored me.
3/3.5 Nothing wrong with it, I enjoyed it. Ok it might be uneven, just plain good or in a genre I don't love.
4 - 5 Excellent, loved it. I lumped all together as 5 is very personal, I can guarantee you won't feel the same way :) so take 4+ as one grade.
This years list, in reverse order:
96. The Fry Chronicles by Stephen Fry 3.5*
95. The End of Science Fiction by Sam Smith 4*
94. Predator: South China Sea by Jeff VanderMeer 3.5*
93. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler 5*
92. The Last Christmas by Brian Posehn (Author), Gerry Duggan (Author), Rick Remender (Artist)
91. Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead By Barbara Comyns
90. Requim for a Wren by Nevil Shute 4* (for 1010)
89. The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen 3.5* (for 1010)
88. The Lost City of Z by David Grann 3.5* (for 1010)
87. Inverted World by Christopher Priest 3.5* (for 1010)
86. Soulless by Gail Carriger 4.5* (for 1010)
85. The Boys: Innocents (Vol.7) by Garth Ennis (author) and Darick Robertson (artist) 3.5*
84. Chew: Volume 1 by John Layman (author) and Rob Guillory (artist) 3*
83. The Walking Dead: Volume 13 by Robert Kirkman (author) and Charlie Adlard (artist): 5*
82. The Restraint of Beasts by Magnus Mills 4.5*
81. The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee 3.5* (For 1010)
80. The Ruined Map by Kobo Abe 2*
79. McSweeney's Issue 28 edited by David Eggers 4*
78. Ooku: The Inner Chamber, Volume 1 by Fumi Yoshinaga 2.5*
77. Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto 3.5 *
76. The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagan 3.5*
75. The Face of Another by Kobo Abe 4.5*
74. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami 3*
73. The Choirboys by Joseph Wambaugh 4* (for 1010)
72. If He Hollers Let Him Go by Chester Himes 4* (for 1010)
71. Black Swan Green by David Mitchell 5* (for 1010)
70. The Drivers Seat by Muriel Spark 3* (for 1010)
69. Night Visions 11 by Kim Newman, Lucuis Sheppard & Tim Lebbon 4* (for 1010)
68. Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente 5*
67. Izakaya: The Japanese Pub Cookbook by Mark Robinson 4* (for 1010)
66. number9dream by David Mitchell 5*
65. Ghostwritten by David Mitchell 4*
64. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell 5*
63. The pirates! in an adventure with Napoleon by Gideon Dafoe (For 1010) 5*
62. Zoo by Otsuichi 3.5*
61. The Walking Dead: Volume 12 by Robert Kirkman 5*
60. Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino 4.5*
59. McSweeney's Issue 23 edited by David Eggers 3.5*
58. Cotton Comes to Harlem by Chester Himes 3.5*
57. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell 4.5* (for 1010)
56. Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley 4.5* (for 1010)
55. Old man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway 1* (for 1010)
54. Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay 3.5*
53. Piercing by Ryu Muralami 3*
52. The Travels of Reverend Olafur Egilsson, captured by pirates in 1627 by Olafur Egilsson 3.5*
51. If on a Winter's Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino 4.5* (For 1010)
50. Among the Believers: An Islamist Journey by V.S. Naipaul 5* (for 1010)
49. Kraken by China Mieville 5* (for 1010)
48. Madam Samurai by Gary Young (author) and David Hitchcock (artist) 4*
47. Harker Book 2: The women in Black by Roger Gibson and Vince Danks 4*
46. Harker Book 1: book of Solomon by Roger Gibson and Vince Danks 4*
45. On Deception by Harry Houdini 3* for ER
44. Perfume by Partick Suskind 3.5* (for 1010)
43. Big Machine by Victor Lavelle (for 1010) 4*
42. Tales From Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan 5*
41. Sewer, Gas and Electric by Matt Ruff (for 1010) 4*
30-40. All 11 volumes of the graphic novel series Lucifer by Mike Carey (for 1010) 4*
29. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (for 1010) 3.5*
28. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
27. Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith 2*
26. We have always lived in the castle by Shirley Jackson (for 1010) 4.5*
25. Grass for his pillow : Episode 4 by Lian Hearn
24. Grass for his pillow : Episode 3 by Lian Hearn
23. Across the Nightingale Floor:Episode 2 by Lian Hear
22. Across the Nightingale Floor:Episode 1 by Lian Hearn
21. Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu
20. Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope 4*
19. The Forever War by Joe Haldeman (for 1010) 3.5*
18. Explorers of the new century by Magnus Mills
17. Infected by Scott Sigler (3*)
16. The photographer by Emmanuel Guibert and Didier Lefevre (for 1010) 5*
15. Ignition City Volume 1 by Warren Eliis (author) & Gianluca Pagliarani (artist) 3*
14. The Secret Lives of Buildings: From the Parthenon to the Vegas Strip in Thirteen stories by Edward Hollis. (for 1010) 4.5*
13: The Walking Dead: Vol 11 by Robert Kirkman (author) and Charlie Adlard (artist): 4*
12. The Wavering Knife by Brian Evenson: 3*
11. The River of Gods by Ian Mcdonald: (for 1010) 3.5*
10. The People of the Abyss by Jack London: (for 1010) 3*
9. All Quiet on Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque: (for 1010) 5*
8. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson: (for 1010) 2.5*
7. Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson: (for 1010) 3.5*
6. Shooting War by Anthony Lappe (author) and Dan Goldman (artist): 2.5*
5. Gil's All Fright Diner by A Lee Martinez: 3*
4. The Road by Cormac McCarthy: (for 1010) 4.5*
3. Finch by Jeff VanderMeer :(for 1010) 5*
2. Shriek by Jeff VanderMeer: 5*
1. Locke and Key: Head Games: 2 by Joe Hill (author) and Gabriel Rodriguez (artist): 3.5*
1. Locke and Key: Head Games: 2 by Joe Hill (author) and Gabriel Rodriguez (artist).
Wonderfully creepy graphic novel
(3.5 out of 5)
Second in the imaginative series taking much pleasure in devising fantastical doorways. Doorways to transform you into a ghost, unlock the mind or even just transport to your required destination. The plot centres on a suitably gothic house, a family shattered by tragedy and of course those who seeks its power. It's creepy, sometimes horrific but always lots of fun. The art' s good, the characters are believable and the pacing just great.
Recommended for lovers of creepy tales.
2. Shriek by Jeff VanderMeer
Re-read and still an amazing book (5/5*).
A bizarre, rich fantasy novel set in the baroque world of Ambergris, tropical, anarchistic and cruel. The idea? A desperate rush of a family memoir, written by one Janice Shriek (notorious failed gallery owner and forgotten tour guide) and annotated by her brother (discredited historian, infected by intelligent fungi). Both voices are wonderful, completely separate and utterly believable as they bicker across pages. The tale follows the rise and fall of the Shrieks, their myriad of careers, their constant obsessions. Tales of surviving a civil war brush against the desperateness of drug abuse and the bizarreness of academian infighting. If it sounds too heavy and too fragmented it isn't, it hangs together memorably, if it wanders it is after all a life. Humanity and the fantastical merge in the novel that became richer after a read through.
Highly recommended to anyone looking for something different in the fantasy genre. It can be read as standalone although I think it is worth tracking down City of Saints and Madmen first.
Reviewed in 1010
3. Finch by Jeff Vandermeer
Wonderful fantasy noir.
(5 out of 5)
“I’m not a detective.”
Heretic: “You’re whatever we want you to be, now.”
Jeff VanderMeer is one author I almost feel evangelical about, always playing with style and technique and inventing hugely rich fantastical worlds in which to set them. With Finch the hard boiled noir genre is twisted to fit the fantastical city of Ambergris.
Ah Ambergris, a mad chaotic city full of passion and cruelty. A city overshadowed by "the grays caps", the indigenous race masscred and driven underground by the 1st settlers. A cafe culture city that holds a festival to squid, where riots start over the death of an opera singer, where the fungus is otherworldly and seemingly sentient.
Or it was. In the power vacuum of a civil war the gray caps have risen, flooding and occupying the city. In the midst of this horror: the work camps, the traitors turned hybrid, the distant rebels, we meet Finch. A detective working with a gray cap boss struggling to find his way and suddenly facing an incomprehensible and extremely dangerous murder.
It's a slow burner of a book, gently reeling you in and until you suddenly realise you desperately care for the characters, that you are on the edge of seat, that you just cant put it down. It has a sparse, clipped style and a pervading feeling of numbness, of aftershock portraying an almost too real city under occupation. It's a story dripping with atmosphere. Oh its not all grey, there is illicit parties, rebellion, love and friendship. It's darkly humorous as well as horrifying, the characters are full and rich, the complex plot mixes murder mystery, thriller and fantasy genres deftly.
Ok it has its problems but I am overlooking them in face of the roller coaster ride I went through. Firstly I miss the veil of mystery surrounding Ambergris. Secondly quoting from Shriek (which I just finished) threw me out of the story, the emotional resonance of those paragraphs too different for me. Thirdly it personally took slightly too long to go from being great to amazing. Picky I know.
This is the 3rd novel set in Ambergris, a trilogy of sorts, and you don't have to read them in order but I do recommend it they will be all the better for it.
Go read the excerpt over at http://www.finchthenovel.com/readers/fin...
Edit: idiotic spelling mistake!
Reviewed in 1010
4. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
(4.5 out of 5*)
"He was just hungry, Papa. He's going to die.
He's going to die anyway.
He's so scared, Papa.
The man squatted and looked at him. I'm scared, he said. Do you understand? I'm scared."
Ah a book that lives up to the hype.
Taking the dystopian tropes of a dying world filled with marauding cannibalistic gangs and entwining it with an emotional father & son tale. McCarthy produces a highly stylistic, hauntingly beautiful and gut wrenching story.
I fell in love with the pared down style: no background, no names, dialogue shorn of anything extraneous. All serving to underline the horror of it but also freeing the story to simply explore its themes. Ok its not that subtle but never mires itself in preachiness, the characters maybe symbols but they are also very real and its this core humanity that holds the tale for me. The exploration of faith and hope seems very human.
Of course reading so quickly left me with many questions. Why the sudden insertion of overwrought baroque language? Should I take the ending at face value? Does vermiculate mean what I think it does? What McCarthy book should I read next? I think it says something that afterwards I am still motivated to answer them. Although I am not sure I could reread, surely it would loose it's impact.
So it's not for everyone. Probably for every reason I loved it some may hate it, too mysterious, too nasty, too minimilist, too repetitive.
Oh and for lovers of horror and of minimalist facts maybe I recommend Brian Evenson.
5. Gil's All Fright Diner by A Lee Martinez
Readable horror comedy
(3 out of 5)
Cute, perhaps too cute. A humorous take on all those horror tropes. So we have the oddball couple, a neurotic, uncharismatic Vampire and his extra large werewolf buddy stopping off at out of the way diner with a slight zombie problem. Zany mayhem ensues. I am being slightly unfair there are some cool touches, zombie cows and some nice dialogue but I barely raised
a smile or maybe I was in a bad mood after reading the road!
Fun for a few hours but not satisfying.
Hmm I don't really like Christopher Moore either...
6. Shooting War by Anthony Lappe (author) and Dan Goldman (artist)
So so political satire
(2.5 out of 5)
Set in the near future, lefty blogger Jimmy Burns shoots to fame after catching a terrorist attack on Starbucks on camera. Hot property he is snatched up by Global News corp he is sent to cover the lengthening Iraqi war.
Maybe it just hasn't aged well but I just didn't find this book amusing or insightful. It starts off well but never takes off. I guess in the end I was just expecting something different. There was no real exploration of citizen journalists/war correspondents but much lampooning of US mass media, western government policy in Iraq and our attitude to terror. I dunno it all seems beyond that now. The intentional(?) stereotypical characters bored me and there was some nasty lengthy exposition thrown in. Ok there were some funny bits: amusing scrolling TV captions or a David Hasselhoff PC background in a war torn Iraqi internet cafe but they were few and far between. The art however was amazing.
Reviewed in 1010
7. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Wonderful haunted house tale
(3.5 out of 5)
The Haunting (1963) is one of my favourite films and I have always been intrigued to read the source text. Luckily the book tells a wonderful tale, laden with atmosphere, dripping with menace and all encompassing heartbreaking loneliness.
There is so much to like about this tale. The house itself is a master class of how to create a haunted house. It is odd, confusing and utterly menacing and it's history is only hinted at. Take the truly chilling homemade book of religious instruction from father to very young daughter and imagine the page on lust.. ugh!
The flexibility of leaving haunting is open to interpretation is not only a wonderful balancing act but also allows the relaxtion of inbuilt rules. Without these rules the suspense is high, it is hard to guess where its a going. Whether a descent in madness or a tale of true evil it doesn't matter the result is a disturbing horror tale.
I also adore the characters, culled from stereotypes but filled with life. Told from Eleanor's point of view, Jackson succeeds in making her believable and sympathetic, something which could easily have fallen into irritating farce. The other (small) cast support her wonderfully, including one of my favourite characters: ever the empathic but selfish Theo.
Of course there are things not to like. The sparkling witty dialogue, which works so well as a contrast to the setting, sometimes feels too unrealistic. Whilst the obvious dig at spiritualism seems a bit pointless. It also suffers from my preference for the film, I much preferred the films more likeable Theo and the change in plot professors wife.
Oevrall it's such a good horror tale and amazing film (I ignore the travesty of the later film. Bah!)
Edit: spacing errors.
Reviewed in 1010
8. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson touchstone broken!
Irritating over hyped thriller
(2.5 out of 5)
Before I start laying into it I must say I didn't hate this book, parts of it (especially the early half) I enjoyed, " ah a page turner " I thought but then the story slowed down and the faults started piling up. The good things? well the intro was good, the financial part was ok (bit too much wish fulfilment but hey), Salander became more er.. believable and interesting later on in the book. Um...
So to get it off my chest here's the things I most hated about it:
-The characters. Well they fell flat and ugh Blomkvist. You know, I cheered when he was being "menaced" by the baddie?
-The murder mystery was dull. Led to believe I was up for a fun (if confusing) family intrigue plot but instead got a ridiculously tiny list of suspects. On top of that I didn't I buy the plausibility of a "locked room mystery" and Blomkvist ran around being utterly stupid (what could those codes mean? I mean really)
-The Hackers. Well they are amazing aren't they? They can do anything, except from, you know, talk to people and wash dishes.
-The dialogue. At least I laughed when the baddie ranted on about "bourgeois conventions" which is more than I did from the clunky moralising one sided discussions between characters.
-The pointless detail. I do not need to have a page telling me, in detail, what laptop was purchased. I also do not need to know how many sandwiches were consumed.
-The law. Salander's case just does make sense, I don't care how many pages were spent telling me otherwise, it's stupid. Did her old guardian hate her or something?
-The statistics. Petty isn't it? but that last stat was completely stupid. They also really didn't fit, I mean what was the book trying to say? Some Men do horrible things to women? pleeeeeeeeease.
Both Reviewed in 1010
9. All Quiet on Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
(5 out of 5)
Stunning, horrendous, deeply evocative anti-war novel set in WW1. What else can I say? This book just took my breath away, made my heart beat faster and left my mouth open.
10. People of the Abyss by Jack London
Odd but interesting "poverty tourism*
(3 out of 5)
The premise is simple in 1902 Jack London, posing as an out of work American sailor, went undercover in the poverty stricken east of London.
There are much more interesting, richer and more detailed accounts of poverty out there (Henry Meyhew springs to mind) although this still an interesting read, even whilst being a dated and extremely flawed book. It's interesting because in spite of his many flaws Jack London is an engaging writer, his passion and horror at the poverty keeps the account painfully alive whilst his socialist views and lack Victorian prudishness is, for the period, deeply refreshing.
However it contains far far too much of Jack London and his giant ego. The tome veers wildly from boys own adventure (look how brave he is!) to heart wrenching accounts, to repetitive lengthy facts and figures. It can be funny but for all the wrong reasons, he seems to carefully select his interviewees and he has a bizarre superiority going on; our poor are better than your poor kind of thing.
To be honest the whole thing makes me wonder what he would thought he would achieve. He may be right but alienating people who can change things never helps. I mean he even criticises the King! Yes yes I know, how cruel ;)
A different and interesting account of poverty but one I would only recommend to Jack London fans.
* I liked the phrase so I am stealing it
Reviewed in 1010
11. The River of Gods by Ian Mcdonald
Fun, energetic sci-fi
(3.5 out of 5)
Huge, rich and vibrant. Ian Mcdonald takes the idea of India and twists it and throws it into the future. Rogue AIs (or aeai), water wars and extreme genetic engineering rub up against the caste system, Hinduism and bollywood. It's fun and energetic, packed with a multitude of Indian words (yes there's a glossary) that immerse you very quickly into the world. The story is split between multiple characters, each seemingly unrelated at first before they are dragged into the large, frenetic plot. This technique is artfully used to keep the tension and interest going - watching the characters intersect, wondering on the multiple endings. In fact I only felt the pace slacken once (good in a 600 page book).
If it falls down in anyway it was with the characters themselves, not because they were horrible people, or too unrealistic but they all just felt flat. A few felt undeveloped and sometimes overused. Shiv, for example, never went beyond stereotype, although to be honest this wasn't as much of a problem as the one of not caring or siding with any of them at all. And I know I am being unfair but since its set in a deeply sexist world a few more strong female characters would have been nice, you know more than say two main characters filling the roles of plucky scientist and fiery journalist.
However after all that moaning I must repeat that I did really enjoy it, I love the setting and the aeai's were just a lot of fun. I am definitely going to try Brasyl.
Nice reviews and some great-sounding books! I'll be following your thread with interest!
Welcome to the group! Some good reviews, I did have to agree with you about the *annoying* level of detail in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, only I did enjoy them regardless (still to read book #3).
I've got All Quiet on the Western Front on Mt TBR, and was going to bump it up higher since it's explicitly referenced in my latest read (Maisie Dobbs, which I thought was a very good read). I'll move it up a notch or two after your comments. (Which I think means it'll be next to read after bookgroup reads...)
Hi everyone & thanks for the warm welcome, hope you enjoy any books you read.
#wookiebender: be interested to see what you make of it, it was an intense reading experiance.
Two horror books up next.
12. The Wavering Knife by Brian Evenson
Disappointing horror shorts
(3 out of 5)
I wish I could use this review to sing the praises of Brian Evenson, he writes fascinating, sparse, intense stories that are in turns violent, haunting, outrageous and funny. However this collection fell flat with no particular highlights and many lows. No intensely atmospheric tales, no sparse horror, the humour just made me grimace and very few ideas caught my imagination. There were a few stories of academic obsessions that I just found over detailed, irritating and put me in a bad mood for the others. Ah such a disappointment.
So go read one of my favourite experimental stories
http://www.arthurmag.com/2009/08/11/younger-a-new-short-story-by-brian-evenson/ which although is atypical is very good and its in Fugue state a collection which I can recommend
to lovers of "quiet" horror.
13. The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman (author) and Charlie Adlard (artist).
Wonderful horror zombie comic
(4 out or 5)
Drawn lovingly in black and white this is an exploration of what happens after the zombie apocalypse, following a band of survivors as they try to make a life for themselves where all the rules have changed.
I admit for such a long series it has been a bit uneven but on the whole its extremely good and getting better all the time. The black and white art serves to lighten the visual horror and let the more psychological horror shine through. Plus the serialised comic format had given Kirkman more time to explore the many themes raised by a dystopian world: the effects of a violent world on ordinary people, on children, questions on law and justice, explorations of grief and hope and lastly just the pure fight for survival. Of course it is also just a great story, Kirkman can write exciting, gripping tales as well as slow thoughtful ones and he isn't afraid to remove characters. Always a plus.
Recommended for all dystopian, horror fans.
Changing pace I am now reading a bit of historical non-fiction: The Secret Lives of Buildings: From the Parthenon to the Vegas Strip in Thirteen stories by Edward Hollis.
edit: removed duplicate line!
Reviewed in 1010
14. The Secret Lives of Buildings: From the Ruins of the Parthenon to the Vegas Strip in Thirteen stories by Edward Hollis
Magical blend of myth and history
(4.5 out 5)
"I do not know what actually happened, and to answer such a question would be as useful as identifying the real Little Red Riding Hood. It is not the purpose of this book to deconstruct the stories (or the buildings) we have inherited from our forebears, but to narrate them, so that others can do the same in the future. Stories are like gifts; they must be accepted without scepticism and shared with others."
So Hollis says in his introduction and then proceeds to narrate 13 buildings from the historical idealisation of the Parthenon to the disastrous futurism of concrete tower blocks, weaving myth and history to bring our relationships with buildings to life. This is not a dry historical account but a poetic, highly stylistic telling. Hollis is passionate about change, not for him the architectural dream of preservation, buildings should be more than snapshots, they need to mean something and to be lived in.
His is playful in his technique: in the chapter about follies (in this case Frederick the Great's Sanssouci) myth is retold, updated and replaced by hard fact, all framed by the harsh reality of future world wars. Yet with the (UK's) Gloucester cathedral the steady march of history is echoed in a wonderful rhythmic repetition as Abbott replaces Abbott and the cathedral sprouts in complexity.
Such a forceful novel may not be to everyone's taste, you may find it overdone or forced and I admit I found it uneven as some of the stories just did not work as well (take the changing meaning of the Berlin Wall). Luckily Hollis writes in an engaging, wryly humorous fashion so I was never bored but sometimes restless for the dizzy heights of better tales.
However as a whole it was for me a truly stunning book, something so different from the norm, grabbing and melding literary styles and genres to make an engaging, interesting and often wryly funny story. However the best thing for me was his compelling and erudite arguments which made me think about architecture in a much different light.
Harper Collins have an excerpt over at:
edit: spellings mistakes, etc..
Wow, Claire, definitely some interesting books. I love your reviews--they give me enough information to know if I want to try the book or not!
Thank you both for the kind words, its always really nice to get feedback (and thanks to putting up with some glaring errors in the reviews which I have just spotted! Ahem).
..and now for two graphic novel reviews, both polar opposites. The 1st is an amazing piece of photo-journalism/memoir and the 2nd is much more traditional retro sci-fi fun.
15. The photographer by Emmanuel Guibert and Didier Lefevre
Emotional graphic novel memoir
(5 out of 5)
There is something truly wonderful that only comics can bring to a memoir, perhaps its the visual immediacy or the blending of fact and realistic fiction that provide a unique emotional resonance but whatever is The Photographer is an amazing example. It takes the tale of Didier Lefevre's trip to Afghanistan during the Russian-Afghan war in order to document the activity of the charity MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières). Black and white photographs mix seamlessly with colour illustrations to tell a simple but emotional tale. The book is split into 3 parts: firstly we follow the naive Lefevre as arrives in Pakistan and sneaks over the border to Afghanistan, then we glimpse the work of the MSF in harsh war torn conditions (warning often quite graphic) and lastly his solo trip trying to return home as quickly as he can. Lefevre is the perfect narrator, instantly identifiable as he struggles with the language and the culture. His naivety makes the story very approachable as we learn alongside him yet it also allows the tale to unfold without comment or bias, it simply just is. The glimpse of Afghan culture is fascinating and whilst not an historical account it does provides a good overview ,although perhaps more importantly allowing us to put human face to the current troubles.
Amazon US has an excerpt but so does MSF:
16. Ignition City by Warren Ellis (author) and Gianluca Pagliarani
Fun sci-fi comic collection
(3 out of 5)
Collection of the first five comics in this new science fiction series, think the wild west meets ray guns and rockets. It's fun, full of conspiracy and larger than life characters but somehow the twist (all space travel is banned) makes me sad. I want some retro space action! Maybe in the next volume...
Edited to fix touchstones
17. Infected By Scott Sigler
Gruesome body horror.
(3 out of 5)
Starting out life as a hugely popular podcast this is an enjoyable but highly gruesome, fast paced horror tale. One where parasites are turning ordinary Americans into crazed psychopaths. It follows three main protagonists: a tired CIA agent, the obligatory female scientist and a poor loser who suddenly gets a rash.... Sigler sometimes spends too much time explaining the basics and tends to gleefully concentrate on the poor infected chap at the expense of the other characters but its still a er.. fun read.
To be honest if icky horror is your thing I think you will enjoy it, otherwise avoid.
18. Explorers of the new century by Magnus Mills
An enjoyable oddity
(3.5 out of 5)
You know it's hard to review a book without mentioning the plot? Where to summarise it either under sells it or ruins it compelety? Well this is one books that relies on not knowing much about it beforehand.. and here's my attempt
at a non spoiler review.
Riffing off the Scott and Amundson's antartic race, we get two groups racing for the "agreed furthest point". Tongue firmly set in cheek there is much Victorian stiff up lip, a strictly enforced class system and much cultural superiority. It's a short book, filled to the brim with deadpan humour, sparse prose, an economical setting and characters that sit on the right side of wonderful pastiche. If I have any criticism its a bit short and the intentional sense of wrongness can be be just well a bit too odd. However is it high enough recommendation that I wanted to reread straight after I finished it?
So go and try but be wary of other reviews because to know to much would ruin it.
19. The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
Interesting old fashioned sci-fi
(3.5 out of 5)
William Mandella is one of the first conscripted soldiers sent far into space to fight an alien enemy, but where Mandella is experiencing months Earth is experiencing centuries...
Told in an increasing matter of fact tone, with very little in the way of a supporting cast and no nail biting heroics this still manages to be a gripping novel. This is not a character driven story but an expansive ambitious space opera commentating on, the then, current Vietnam war. Luckily the clever depiction of the alienation of returning soldiers and the inhumane bureaucratic mess of war still manages to feel fresh. In fact it is solely dated by a vision of the future firmly set in our past. However this bizarre future is easy to ignore when compared to the fascinating exploration of the effects of time dilation on man and the war, which was for me the main strength of the novel. A more widely read science fiction fan may have seen this done better but I haven't.
So highly recommended for anyone interested not only lovers of classic science fiction or anti war tales but anyone interested in the Vietnam war.
20. Prisoner of Zenda by Hope
(4 out of 5)
Do you enjoy tales of adventure and romance? Handsome heroes duelling charismatic rogues? Political intrigue and beautiful women? Witty banter and heartfelt pleas? Well this is novel for you. Written in the 1894 this is an eminently readable, fast paced and highly enjoyable novel which oddly seems rather modern. Highly recommended.
21. Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu
Classic vampire tale
(3 out of 5)
Short and sweet, this an interesting and atmospheric precursor to Dracula*. I am not widely read in the genre but whilst there were no surprises having both vampire and victim as female was refreshing, although both seem oddly passive. The narrator, our heroine, is wonderfully done. Full of youthful naivety and trembling passion she fills the story with lightness to contrast the dark and through her eyes the Vampire is made much more sympathetic yet somehow more terrible. If it falls down at all it's because it all feels rather too short and insubstantial, with peripheral characters little more than names on a page and the ending is rather abrupt (being mostly an info dump).
Still recommended for anyone interested in the Vampire myth.
*Philistine that I am, I found Dracula quite boring.
I will have to check out the Graustark novels, haven't heard of them before, thanks!
I haven't reviewed Lian Hearns any of the mini books in the Tales of the Otori series yet so we are jumping to number 26..
26. We have always lived in the castle by Shirley Jackson
Wonderful intense gothic horror
(4.5 out of 5)
Cue lengthy but wonderful quote:
My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cap mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.
So starts the this highly atmospheric, disturbing gothic tale of mental illness. A story made disturbingly vivid by the memorable narrator Mary who toes the line between a worrying childlike simplicity and a sharp adult perception.
Jackson expertly uses the 1st person to ensnare our empathy and twist the tale so to fit Mary's point of view. It is very hard to break away from Mary, to view other characters and actions without her taint, an unsettling feat to achieve. Small things menace and odd actions soothe and then everything gets very very tense.
The mental illness depicted in the novel is uncomfortably realistic seemingly echoing Jackson's own neurosis and if the end (minor SPOILER alert!) is an agoraphobics flight of fancy well that's what a unreliable narrator is for and makes the tale even more creepy.
I can't highly recommend this enough, although I cant pin down why I haven't given it 5 stars (slight SPOILER!), maybe it's because I was misled to be believe there was a twist but lets face it it's all quite obvious.
Ok be warned this is a rant..
27. Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
Ugh. A bland thriller
(2 out of 5)
Ok I have learnt my lesson popular thrillers are not for me.
Set in Evil Stalinist Russia (TM) with a truly unbelievable main character and his token wifey, add some poor innocent murdered children, the insane serial killer and evil nemesis to do a bit thwarting and viola you have a book that's good for throwing at walls.
No ok I am being unfair, this seems a well researched book but it all seems so umm.. transparent and simplified. The authors puppet strings are far too much on show for my liking.
For me I guess it all starts to fall apart with the main character. A deeply patriotic war hero who now works for the MGB (precursor to KGB) and believes that unpleasant acts are sometimes necessary (you know unseen torture, gulags, mass shootings, war crimes etc..). Ok I thought, interesting idea, an unpleasant anti hero investigates a crime which at this time cannot exist (because there is no crime) but the author seems to go overboard trying to make him noble and misguided or maybe just very very stupid.
Of course he needs to go up against the state to investigate a crime that cannot exist, so when finds himself capturing an innocent man (his 1st) and is made to witness his suitably PG rated torture then he has a change of heart. Ok I simplefied but I mean really, how pointless.
This type of manipulation of interests seems to affect all the other characters as well, although I wasn't to worried because although not 2 dimensional I found most of them a bit flat.
In fact the only interesting character is his wife, a women trapped in the powerful machinations of state and just out to survive. I kept wishing the book was about her or just more of her point view*
I guess it comes down to this obvious point: this book is just not for me. This was made even more explicit in the author Q&A when he says he found it more interesting gicing the killer story related reasons for his insanity. Myself when the secret is revealed I wanted to throw the book across the room and then maybe go jump up and down on it for catharsis.
*Spoiler! well I did until she dutifully falls into line as loving wifey (sick bucket please!)
28. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
Fascinating historical political theory
(4 out of 5)
I do not often (or um ever) find myself reading political treatises but the evils of Machiavellian politics is so hyped I was intrigued.
Broken down into different methods of acquiring, then keeping land, then to turning to discuss various details such the merits of fear or how to gain nobility its a short, eminently readable and fascinating account of politics of a very different time.
Its not really evil, more that the morality question is just ignored. Take his wonderful advice on keeping your word: Don't (although the trick is you must always been seen to be keep it). So immoral and it cynical maybe (whether meant as a satire or not I cannot comment) but I found it hard to be offended by it, especially if viewed in a historical context and it definitely needs that context otherwise it would be a much poorer book.
So highly recommended to anyone interested in what behind the hype and although I hear it's different from his other books I am definately going to search out more. Any recommendations?
29. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Uneven dystopian tale
(3.5 out of 5)
I have mixed feelings about my first Atwood, I did end up thoroughly enjoying it but boy it took me a while to get there.
I took a while to get into the story partly as the initial dysfunctional "coming of age" tale didn't really interest me, even with added near future spice. Luckily as past and present started to converge the better it became, the tense present situation leeching excitement into a known past.
It also helps that as the story geared up much of what I found irritating receded. Whilst I have seen others call it a satire sometimes it all just seemed a tad tired: the jokey product names, the banality of future internet the exaggerated over the top death of proper art all just looked a bit out of date, a tad snobbish and sometimes nonsensical. Maybe that was the point and I was being grumpy, oh well.
However whilst I found the cute name syndrome annoying the endless march of new biological inventions was just plain cool. The coffee wars felt awfully realistic, the chicken nubbins made me laugh (being a smug non meat-eater) and the Crakers well they were just inspired. The whole plethora of biological ideas made it easy to cope with the terribly unsubtle "do not play god environmental" message. Or was it? I have a nervous feeling I missed the point.
As to the characters well there is really only one and that's Jimmy. All the others are just his opinions and as a device it didn't always work. So removed were they, so ephemeral that sometimes they just felt flat, Jimmy's parents anyone?. (Also on a side note whilst Oryx works well as "deified" character her tale of abuse and refusing to be a victim feels oddly out of place, like a tacked on afterthought).
But all this is secondary because it is interesting (and novel) to see the events surrounding an apocalypse , mix in an exciting plot and loads of ideas it is at the heart a satisfying story. Especially when we come to the end: a wonderful, perfect setup that whilst heavily inferred allowed a delicious pondering of possibilities. And it's primarily which is why I am going to track down Year of the Flood.
I enjoy your reviews. It's been a long time for me since Oryx and Crake, and also Machiavelli. Have you read Moore's Utopia? That is also the second thumbs up for "We have always lived in the castle" I have seen recently, so I must pounce next time I see it.
Edited, forgot the touchstone.
Heh I was just perusing you thread :) Some good revies in there.
I haven't readed Utopia, thanks for the recommendation it looks interesting.
Just catching up. Funnily enough, I just wrote a quick review for We Have Always Lived in the Castle - I read it some weeks ago though (MUST catch up with my reviews!) so I'd completely forgotten that very creepy opening. My feeling is that there is still a twist, it's just that we've gotten better (more experienced, maybe more cynical) as readers over the years, so it's no longer a surprise. Maybe if I was 16, maybe if I'd read it in the 1960s, I would have been deliciously shocked, but not now as a 40+ year old in 2010. :)
I have Child 44 and Oryx and Crake on Mt TBR. You haven't bumped them down any further (the good comments are still outweighing the bad on Child 44, and, well, Margaret Atwood books are never very high on Mt TBR for me anyway).
Well, I agree with both wookiebender and clfisha on the not hot hot on Margaret Atwood, but I will say that the "courtship Dance" - or more specifically the "flapping blue p***s dance" - from Oryx and Crake still gets mentioned in my household randomly as an in joke.
That's a great in-joke. Now I'm thinking maybe I should bump the book up a notch or two in Mt TBR... :)
Ha! that was a memorable moment it the book. What with Watchman it could almost be a theme in itself! (ahem yes I know it was just in the film)
@32 you are quite right to ignore my feelings on Child 44, I really seem have a problem with crime thrillers. I think I was the only person who disliked The Girl with Dragon Tattoo :-)
30 - 40 All 11 volumes of the Lucifer graphic novel series by Mike carey
(Overall 4 out of 5)
Taking Lucifer from the pages of Neil Gaiman's Sandman (don't worry its stand alone), Mike Carey weaves a fun, vivid tale of a struggle between free will and predestination (no black and white good versus evil here).
Carey's Lucifer is one of the most memorable characters in comics, successfully making what could be an unlikeable character utterly cool, fascinating and always believable, exuding heaps of charm and a single minded ruthlessness. He isn't the only great character of course, we get wisecracking humour from fallen cherubim Guadim, a myriad of strong female characters from his consort Mazikeen to Elaine Belloc, fascinating enemies from Fenris to Japanese deity Izanami-no-Mikoto. Yes Carey doesn't focus solely on the Christian mythology but seamlessly incorporates Japanese, Norse (and some Aztec myth), throwing in some very interesting storylines.
However it is a hard series to review as it showcases Mike Carey's development as a comics writer as he goes from strength to strength. Initially it's a good, solid comic, has a bit of a dip around volume 3 (hell as feudal system never worked for me) and then starts to picks up and become a truly superb story (so if you find the early series just ok stick with it). Sadly though the artwork never really soars.
So highly recommend, its a different, intelligent comic series drawing from a vast array of sources and avoiding the banality of black and white morality. Of course I don't need to say that the easily offended should stay away?
Wiki has a really nice intro for those who are interested
41. Sewer, Gas and Electric by Matt Ruff
It is hard to summarise this wilfully chaotic, amusingly energetic book. On the surface we get a near future consipracy thriller starring: Harry Gant, a dreamer billionaire addicted to building the worlds highest skyscrapers, his ex-wife who is investigating some Gant related suspicous deaths and her two sidekicks: Ayn Rand (yes the author) and a one armed 181 year old civil war veteran. But then we also get stuff about mutant sewer sharks, eco pirates marauding around in Howard Hughes's old submarine, a racist plague and ironic homicides.
Yes it is the ideas that make this book, there are so many characters and subplots and fun asides that I found it hard to worry about the so so but admittedly amusing plot. Unfortunately this chaos does makes it a hard book to read for long periods, which doesn't make it a bad book just an very odd one. There is a lot here and Ruff doesn't seem to want to keep a tight rein on any of it (Note it's quite different from his two later books I have read)
Also he does spend quite a while taking the mickey out of Ann Rand's Atlas Shrugged, which was still amusing even though I have never read it.. Of course Ayn Rand fans and fanatical capitalists may want to skip this one.
Overall recommend for lovers of the weird.
42. Tales From Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan
Beautiful, imaginative illustrated shorts
(5 out of 5)
I adored Shaun Tan's stunning and evocative art in the wordless The Arrival so I was excited when I bought Tales From Outer Suburbia in which illustrates his own short stories.
Luckily it live up to my expectations, I simply sat down and didn't stop reading until I had devoured it all. It is such a delightful, clever and enchanting book and very hard to pick a favourite. We get get tales of the life of hidden and destroyed poetry, childhood adventures of exploration, wise water buffalos and foreign exchange students. They are all good, Tan has a deft, emphatic touch able to mix the fantastical with the mundane and letting us see the world afresh.
I cannot recommend this book enough for adults and older children it's truly stunning and my review cannot do it justice.
For a taste the Guardian has mini version of "Eric" here:
and more images from the book here: http://www.shauntan.net/books.html
re: Child 44; I've not read this book, but the descriptions of the PG torture remind me a bit of some of Tom Clancy's stories... especially the one where the terrorist has been captured by the good guy operative and is tortured to reveal the details of the plot (I disremember which book it was). The torture was described as "breaking and manipulating the bones on the pinkie finger of one of the hands of the terrorist". That was it. Tom didn't want to get too dirty did he? Also, a book that I've read recently The Hadrian Memorandum, torture was hinted at and threatened, but was never actually used, even by really bad guys in pursuit of world domination.
You seem to be on a roll with some really interesting reads. I'll have to keep an eye out for both the Shaun Tan and Matt Ruff books. I've been working my way through The Sandman over the last few months and found the Lucifer character and Hell storylines very interesting, so I'd be keen to see how the series goes. So much to read, so little time, sigh!
@39 Ha! I haven't tried any Tom Clancy, I know there is a balance to kept so you don't tip over into gratuitousness but it is frustrating if you sense a white wash. I guess in this case I may of been a little unfair as they use a drugs with horrendous side effects but it just seemed a little too easy for a MGB agents 1st time at torture, kept his hands a bit too clean if you see what I mean.
@40 thanks! I think the Sandman series is one of my favourite comics, in fact Worlds End got me back into reading comics when I was an adult!
My first Shaun Tan was The Lost Thing, which is truly beautiful art and remarkably wonderfully easy to read aloud. The language just flows so effortlessly. We got it out from the library once, and then had to buy our own copy.
Oh deary deary me.. my last post was so long ago.. and I have only managed to finish two whole books..
43. Big Machine by Victor Lavalle
An amazingly beautiful err.. conspiracy thriller, um noir with some supernatural, horror and romance elements.
(5 out 5)
I don't think I have read many books like this, I certainly haven't read enough. Mixing mysticism with harsh reality and a heavy dose of redemption, this is a funny, dark, honest and beautiful book and an ambitious one.
Really that's all need you know.
oh well if you must..all I am saying about the plot is this: It starts with Ricky, a mysterious invitation and the utterly cool line "Don't look for dignity in public bathrooms" and then a master class in mystery writing unfolds.
I knew next to nothing about the plot and I found it fascinating, memorable and truly odd. From the beginning you are kept on your toes and in dark yet I never once felt frustrated, Lavalles timing is just too perfect. The characters are vivid, interesting, deeply flawed and always terribly human (even the peripheral characters seem to shine) and whilst there are so many obvious monsters the book rarely takes the easy black and white way out serving to make events even more startling.
Ok it's not a manic whirlwind of a thriller but it's a steady, fair paced tale which hooks you in and is terribly hard to stop thinking about. I highly recommend this book to err.. to well everyone: the deft blending of so many genres, the darkness and ugliness is elevated by the light, everyday reality is spiced with the bizarre, faith and passion mixed with doubt. To be honest what's not to like?
44. Perfume by Patrick Suskind
Highly stylised bemusing tale of perfume and murder.
(3 out of 5)
This is a highly stylised but well written, passionate and evocative tale that is shot through with a wry, dark humour, cleverly ducks readers' expectations and contains much fun and imaginative use of smells. From stenches to simulate a humanities stink, to the overwrought sublime smell of the innocent it's all here in glorious detail and is a book that makes you wish they would hurry up and invent smellovision, even if it makes you retch.
But (there was always going to be a but wasn't there) I just didn't like which surprised me greatly as this book should of been a perfect fit. Unfortunately its high artifice did not suit. Like its perfumes the story is too obviously pruned and tweaked to fit the authors poetic desires, so all Grenouille's masters meet their amusing random deaths on cue, as if God were in on the joke and the suddenly humour becomes just too all knowing from a winking author. Add to this Grenouille was kind of boring, having only one vice.I just found it all rather irksome. After all there is no suspense in something so obviously following whims of the author, all you can do is relax and enjoy the ride. In the end I was left feeling bemused and unsure if it was worth reading.. I however now I have a desire to see film, just so I can answer the question why anyone would want to film it..
45. On Deception by Houdini
(3 out of 5)
A beautiful Hesperus edition containing a a tiny sliver (75pg) of thoughts from the master of escapism Houdini himself.
It has a wonderful introduction by the unsettling Mentalist Derren Brown however the rest is a bit of a let down. Houdini's style is rather conversational unfortunately does not flow very well at all. He starts off in short, choppy bursts uncovering some rather mundane scams and then goes onto explais some tricks of his trade. Unfortunately his descriptions can be somewhat confusing, maybe it's down my poor visualising skills but I still have no idea how to get out of a straightjacket, lets hope I never need that particular skill eh? In fact it isn't until the latter half that this book starts to shine. The combination of Houdini's ancedotes and a fascinating brief history of acts such as fire eaters or snake defiers are a wonderful combination and allows his huge personality to shine through.
So although I will be on the look out for the other books in the "On" series, this book is probably only of interest to die hard fans.
46. Harker Book 1: Book of Solomon and
47. Harker Book 2: The women in Black both by Roger Gibson and Vince Danks
Witty, fun detective graphic novel.
(4 out of 5)
These two collections tick all the boxes of what makes a good comic: lovely dialogue, superb black and white art with great use of panel design and good plots both having much fun with literary horror conventions. The first introduces us deftly to DCI Harker and DS Critchley (cue witty, dry banter) and their investigations into a suburban Satanic murder (cue playful Dennis Wheatley riffs) and its all set in a beautifully rendered London. The two cops bounce of each other quite wonderfully and carry the plot at a fair old pace, keeping the reader unsure where its all going to end up. What's not to like?
Both collections are standalone stories but of course you get that warm glow of recognition from reading them in order. Highly recommended for comics,
horror and crime fans. There's a nice excerpt over at: http://www.arielpress.com/store.html and it can be purchased there too.
48. Madam Samurai by Gary Young (author) and David Hitchcock (artist)
Beautiful Victorian/Japanese revenge tale.
(4 out of 5)
It's an interesting premise take a Japanese feudal revenge tale and weave into a Victorian Jack the Ripper crime story: what if the ripper wasn't from the West? It's beautifully drawn (again in black and white), wonderfully capturing both starkly different settings, unlike photo realist drawings of Harker it's full of movement and magic. This first book is really just setting up the tale so it's hard to comment on the plot and characters but it was enjoyable and intriguing enough for me want to see where it goes.
edited to make a bit more sense! and actually increment the book number
Message 45 > That's an interesting take on Perfume. I accepted the artifice uncritically, and enjoyed exploring that one idea imaginatively. Although, yes smellovision PLEASE. What does intoxicating innocence smell like?
Message 46 > I am addicted to series like this - the Penguin series - all those volumes together makes me swoon. I like the idea of Houdini setting it down, even though it's not polished. And all the other "ons", especially when they are not writers, but writing about what they know.
I asked for the Houdini book, but didn't get it. (I did get Jerome K. Jerome's On The Art of Making Up One's Mind though, so there is a happy ending. :) I might still keep my eyes open for it, I loved Houdini as a child.
Big Machine sounds *fascinating*, but I can't see it available at my favourite bookshop! Oh no!
@48/49 I asked for the Chesterton one as well, and I am such a fan of his I am still going to buy it :) I do like Hesperus books too but they can be dangerous to the wallet!
Two reviews next both for the 1010 Challenge
49. Kraken by China Mieville
Chaotic, inventive, urban fantasy utmost in its squidity
(5 out of 5)
If like me, the thought of a new Mieville books brings excitment (even more so when it's a tale of squid, magic and cults) then you should drop everything and buy this book now. Really go on, go and and order it.
Of course I might be biased. I mean I adore museums that display dead things in jars.
So opening in the awe inspiring setting of the (fictional) Darwinian museum the story hints this be will be another City and the City, straight in both language and tone. But then the language shifts and the tale twists into chaotic, baroque, urban fantasy. It's here that the novel starts to truly take off because not only is it a tightly plotted fast paced tale, with a lovely everyman protagonist, great villains and characterful city of London, it is also packed with a barrel load of inspired, inventive ideas. So we get many many cults all vying for their version of the apocalypse, a wonderful playfully literal attitude to magic and magical creatures (guess what the knuckles head are?), a nod to old steampunk fusions, a great meeting of politics/magic and ancient Egyptians gods, and of course new and interesting words. I mean how can you hate a book that invents(?) the word squidity.
The lack of concrete examples or even a plot summary is because this a is book to enjoyed as fresh as possible and I already fear I have said to much. So go buy it. Mieville fans I hope will be impressed and for everyone else I hope it's an enjoyable madcap ride (although bring dictionary).
50. Among the Believers: An Islamist Journey by V.S. Naipaul
Insightful, stunning travelogue
(5 out of 5)
Travelling through Iran just after the revolution as well as Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia where he meets up with those caught up in the push for Islamist nations: Shias and Shi'ites, communists and apostates, youth organisers, mullahs and government officials. Asking them about their lives, looking at their hopes and dreams and always questioning their reasons.
It's a fascinating time: we glimpse the aftermath of the Iranian revolution, visit Pakistan in flux, in the grip of the army and struggling to be a Islamic state and then see an Indonesia caught between old and new and looking for a way forward. Obviously it's deeply topical but not only for providing historical grounding on Islamic fundamentalism but also asking questions about that fundamentalism and ones that still haven't been answered.
It's not a hatchet job, Naipaul is kind, highly intelligent, sometimes superior, honest, deeply insightful and always questioning. For those used to the uncritical simplifications of today's portrayal of Islam this a most refreshing book and because Naipul looks at the Islamic faith itself, I found I learnt much. If I have made it sound dull and worthy I apologise it's eminently readable, very human but it is serious as well as fascinating, troubling as it is enlightening and the questions it raises can be applied to all fkavours of fundamentalism.
I really cannot praise this enough but maybe if you are familiar with both the faith and the history it will not be as good. Still it's worth reading as a simple, interesting, travelogue.
Well, that sounds like a must read. I think I would prefer to read something like this, then the fiction around these Islamic countries that have been all the rage lately.
51. If on a Winters Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino
Post modernist bliss
(4.5 out 5)
It starts with a beautiful description of a reader, a long eulogy almost to our wants and needs, our tortures of the to be read list (and has a wonderful list for next years 1111 challenge!) and then the story begins.. or not. Instead it's a description of the noir tale "If On a Winters Night A Traveller". A sublime piece of Metafiction
But then a horrid jolt a printing error, the 1st chapter repeated forever without end. So the reader (a version of "you") goes to investigate, the original noir tale genre bleeding out into reality with a femme fatale and a mystery: the book you started wasn't even the book by Calvino it was someone else entirely. So there's a replacement and we (you) restart it but guess what? Oh yes your right: it isn't the same and also, well it seems to have a printing error too.
So it begins, a constant starting of stories connected through the tale of one readers life. Names, themes and styles echo each other throughout this book. The tropes of westerns and conspiracy's, Russian literature all effect the main tale, which is told in torturous yet sublime 2nd person. There is wry humour, much musing on the nature of reading and of authors and many many pastiches. Each beginning is tantalising (if sometimes uneven) and I admit I wasn't familiar with all the styles. Still it was a lot of fun and the writing was superb (think wonderful long flowing sentences that were both a joy to read and sometimes too hard).
I guess in the end liking this book depends on how much post modernist antics you can take, whether the constant restarting of the tales annoys or amuses you and whether the thought of 2nd person makes you shudder. Personally I loved it, it made me gleefully read bits out to boyfriend and lets face it the main protagonist was just great ;)
I still want to know how If on a winters night a traveller ends though.
I was reading If On a Winter's Night a Traveller on a train platform, and something had made me laugh out loud, so the person next to me asked me what I was reading. I told him the title, and he asked me "what's it about?"
What an impossible question to answer! Anyway, I loved the book too.
52. The Travels of Reverend Olafur Egilsson, captured by pirates in 1627 by Olafur Egilsson
Historical memoirs of slavery
(3.5 out of 5)
In 1627 Algiers slavers came to the southern shores of Iceland to take whatever they could get, over 200 people were captured and sold into slave labour. Reverend Olafur watched as his son was sold at a slave market before being forcible separated from his wife and two very young children and sent to collect a ransom from the Danish king.
Translated from archaic Iceland into modern English this is his account of his travels back to Iceland from North Africa. Its brief (not every page made it to the present) and as it's mired in grief, urgency and lack of money it isn't an enthusiastic travelogue. Plus its continously but understandably interrupted with much praise to his God (Christian). It is interesting though for a view into slaves & ransom and for a description of 17th century Europe. Also because of what he doesn't or cannot bring himself to say there is an added emotional weight to the tragedy. As a bonus the book also contains maps of the journeys and terribly sad, hopeful letters home from slaves waiting to be ransomed
All in all an interesting look into into the almost unthinkable tragedy of slavery but has a downside as this book seems only to be available in Iceland!
@56 what a great place to read it too :) I must admit the review gave me a headache to write!
I love post modern antics, and have carried Calvino's classification of books (from this book) around since high school, thinking that it would be the ultimate library. Calvino writes some nice things about loss and transience.
Book 42 sounds very interesting, I didn't realize there would still be personal accounts from that time (although why not? probably more just a case of never thinking about it). When you say, only available in Iceland - are you reading it in English or Icelandic?
And I was reading up on V S Naipul, and it seems a lot of commentators are in agreeance with you, he should go back and update it once again.
clfisha, good review of If On a Winter's Night - it's a very difficult book to summarise! I was going to go and thumb your review, but you haven't put it in LT's reviews page!
@59 It's odd as it is a very comforting book in a way, accepting as it does loss is a part of life, one of things i liked about it. Gosh I wish I could remember some quotes.
RE: Icelandl: It its English but I picked it up whilst on holiday in Iceland and I don't think its available outside the country, can't see it on Amazon :(
@60 thank you. I have now added it, I do tend to forget with the popular books, they dont seem to in need of a review as badly as some.
I am now buried in Cloud Atlas which I had to pick up after reading If on a Winter's Night a Traveller inspired him.
You know I might catch up with reviews at this rate!
53. Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay
(3.5 out of 5)
The premise is an interesting one. Told from the point of view of a serial killer who has a stick code to only kill murderous criminals and struggles continuously to portray himself as a normal, feeling human being. An extreme anti-hero if ever there was one.
Being a fan of the TV series means it’s impossible to review the book without comparisons, but luckily whilst similar the book holds up well.
Dexter feels immediately different from the TV show, edgier, more sarcastic and much more of a loner. Told from his point of view we only get glimpses of other characters as Dexter isn't close to anyone and doesn't care to understand them. This works really well for some characters (his girlfriend) but edges into stereotype with some (Laguerta ). It doesn't really matter though as this is a fast paced, gripping tale, although I thought slightly too quick to finish, I would loved some more build-up to rack up the tension and the end felt too abrupt, too unrealistically tidy. Still I will be keeping my eye out for next one in series as I eagerly wait for the next season to start in the UK.
54. Old man of the sea By Ernest Hemingway
(1 out of 5)
Nothing insightful to say really but I loathed this book. I guess I missed the point but really I found it boring and slightly distasteful. The main protagonist is a ridiculously passive, saintly and not too bright old man who leaves his poor but honest surroundings, his scarily over adoring young boy and goes to sea to pursue his manly career of being cruel to fish. Much eulogising of mans fight against noble creatures ensues, much anthropomorphising of fish and some trite sentiment. He also gets cramp at one point. I consider it to be the highlight.
I only kept reading hoping he would die (preferably horribly), the boat would sink and it would be turn out to be a study of life's futility (ok it is in its way). But no nothing happens apart from some manly shark killing and everyone gets to secretly admire him in the end. My 1st and I suspect last Hemingway
Excellent, consider your review of If on a Winter's Night thumbed by me! I read Cloud Atlas at about the same time, and I almost took it back to the shop to get a new copy, because mine had *obviously* been misbound. Ahem.
Haven't previously gotten into Hemingway's fiction, but am still determined to give him another chance. I hope this wasn't the wrong choice!
@63 ha ha! The 1st chapter does stop mid sentence :)
I think it was the wrong choice for my first Hemingway, I have A Farewell to Arms in my tbr. It has a plot and more than 1 character so I am more hopeful ;)
55. Piercing by Ryu Murakami
so so psycho thriller
(3 out of 5)
Having thoroughly enjoyed the eerie, soullessness of In the Miso Soup I jumped at the chance to pick this up cheap. I wish I hadn't bothered.
Part of the problem is that it starts with such a strong image: It's midnight and a father is staring down at his new born child, not with love but horror he is holding a ice pick and he is terrified he will use it.
After this tense, frightening beginning the book seems to loose aim, the plot shifts and as he struggles to cope and suddenly we are dealing with the beginnings of a serial killer. Then just as the tensions start to bleed through again Murakami shifts the plot yet again to, well I am not sure what, an odd sort of psychopathic farce? He meets stereotypical messed up abused girl and hilarity ensues as they misunderstand each other. Yawn. It's banal in its kookiness, clichéd instead of clever and tries to hard to be surreal.
Don't get me wrong it wasn't that bad just dissatisfying.
56. Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley
Wonderful modern noir
(4.5 out of 5)
"When he looked at me I felt a thrill of fear, but that went away quickly because I was used to white people by 1948"
This is a fantastic piece of noir, written in the modern day but set in the noir heyday of the late 40s it combines pitch perfect noirish tropes with extra frisson gained from modern sensibilities. This is a dark, violent and sexy tale, oh nothing gratuitous but nothing is hidden away either, no flirty subtext here.There's extra edginess from having a black protagonist in the 40s, the stakes seem much higher, racism is endemic and there's no such thing as a good cop. Mosley's writing is superb, I was right there in the 1940s rooting for Easy to get the bad guys, save himself from the cops and pay off his mortgage (Oh the contrast of this banality and crooks, speakeasy's and femme fatales is just delicious).
Ok I adore a good noir (they are so rare) so I may be a tad gushing but this is must for crime fans, in fact its well worth anyone's time, this is a great showcase for the genre.
Right I am now caught up on reviews.
A Farewell to Arms is the only Hemingway I can stand at all. I hate Hemingway, and I've had to read a lot of him for different classes in high school and college. All of his books, to me, are about variations of manly shark killing and manly being cruel to fish, even if there are no actual fish or sharks in the book. If that makes any sense.
And his sentences are too short - he definitely isn't Calvino.
Oh, I've been trying to find Devil in a Blue Dress second hand, but to no avail!! I may have to just break down and buy it new now...
I've read A Moveable Feast and rather enjoyed it, but the only fiction I tried of Hemingway's was To Have and Have Not because I loved the Bogart/Bacall movie when I was a teenager. Did not like the book as a teenager, however. I've since bought A Farewell to Arms and I am looking forward to trying it... one day...
For Whom the Bell Tolls is my favorite Hemingway... not so much manly being cruel to things, but certainly a statement on the cruelty of war.
@66 I do know what you mean and not very enjoyable to have to read. I am so glad we didn't touch him at school! and well maybe I actually will try A Farewell to Arms instead of letting it gather dust :)
@67 I sadly always weaken if I cannott find a book secondhand, I guess you could always try Abebooks.
@69 I am beginning to think I may have picked the worst one to try!
so far behind on reviews ..
57. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Wonderfully ambitious linked shorts
(4.5 out of 5)
It's a hugely ambitious book: Mitchell takes multiple short tales that span centuries and genres, then packs them together like Russian dolls and on top of all that, tenuously links them. It is almost like watching a man juggling 7 flaming chainsaws whilst blind-folded and standing on one leg, it looks great but you are pretty sure it's all going to end horribly. But no Mitchell astoundingly and seamlessly pulls this off: there are no bad stories, no hiccups in flow, no irritating transition between stories. It is an extremely satisfying book.
So how to actual summarise the story? well.. (warning contains minor spoilers)
The book opens as diary, written in 17th century in a Caribbean back water, by an American traveller stranded and waiting for ship repairs. We read of his prudish horror at the godlessness of sailors, his is musing on natives, his awfully polite Victorian dinner conversation and follow his adventurous misguided wanderings. All slightly tongue in cheek and much fun and I was thoroughly enjoying his naive adventures until the tale stop abruptly. In mid sentence no less and we realise this is just a referenced text in a series of 19th century letters from a poverty stricken composer to his old lover, which is enjoyable decadent romp until it stops and we realise these letters are being read by an investigative journalist involved in a deadly conspiracy in the 60s which in turn stops and we realise .... and on and on marching into further and further into the future.
It is a giddy, dizzying novel and one that makes you actually feel time stretching out all around you, which for me was the highlight of the book. In addition because of the nature of the structure a mirror effect is created as the stories are reflected and reframed in each other and later on themselves, enhancing and renewing the story. If you also consider the beautiful unreality gained by each tale being solely a story found in the next and the book becomes something special. A surreal house of cards that could almost be true but isn't.. a musing on possibilities and legacies. Of course post-modern techniques and philosophical ponderings aside this book works from a pure piece of great storytelling and because of that I highly recommend this book to well absolutely everyone.
You know I no longer remember why I just gave this 4.5 stars... hmm
58. Cotton Comes to Harlem by Himes
Gritty wonderful noir
(4 out of 5)
Himes's novel is hard hitting, edgy and vibrant tale of two black detectives trying to keep the peace in crime ridden, poverty stricken Harlem. They are asked to swallow their pride and baby-sit a ex-con preacher from his old gang, but first they have to find him..
Precursor to Walter Mosley's black PI and reminiscent in tone of Dashiel Hammett this is a great combination of hard hitting noir and exploration of racism in the 60s. Hime's anger imbues novel with something special, edgier and more real. There is a fantastic contrast of petty (and not so petty) criminals depicted against law abiding insidious racists who are trying to claw back plantation workers by any means necessary and this gives the story a greater depth than it would otherwise had. Don't get me wrong it IS also just a great story, with a multitude of fun, semi-flawed and deeply flawed low-life's populating the pages. Its setting is brought vividly to life and enhanced with lovely little details on the eras typical scams and robberies. I was also struck by the book having such a strong female protagonist who was not at all a victim but was just as bad and mean as the men. OK it is still a noir and therefore misogyny is rife but more recent writers should take notes (Mr Mosley I am looking at you).
Highly recommended to all crime lovers.
Oh, I'm glad you liked Cloud Atlas, that's been a recent favourite of mine. (Although I nearly took it back to the shop to complain it was misbound at the end of the first section. Luckily I was stuck on a bus without a backup book, so thought "well, I may as well just keep on reading" and then realised it was all intentional.)
The Cotton novel sounds fascinating too, and the library has a copy... Oh dear, Mt TBR still keeps on growing!
59. McSweeney's Issue 23 edited by David Eggers
Lush fetish short story book
3.5 out of 5
This was solely bought because of its looks. The cover alone is amazing: it must be opened out to beautiful presented poster containing many David Eggers tiny tales and on top of that there are thick lush pages, gorgeous graphics book ending stories, a ribbon book mark and a small inserted chapbook tucked in the back. It has been sitting on a bookshelf for a while though because, well who wants to ruin the mystery and heavy expectations by actually reading the thing.
Well I finally dipped my toe and was rather startled by the 1st story being very good so, enthused, I continued and apart from the last two stories (and sadly the chapbook) they were all excellent and varied. Whilst none really strayed into "genre"* territory they all had wonderfully refreshing look at life. Two highlights were for me firstly a charming and amusing tale by Roddy Doyle dealing in a light-hearted way with 1st love & bigotry (think disabled kid shoplifting to highlight stereotyping) and the outrageously, deeply wrong and yet very funny letter from estranged father to teenage son on the subject of sex. Oh make that three highlights, after all there was a poster filled by David Eggers vignettes.
So all in all whilst not perfect, entertaining and it looks sooo good how can you resist?
Mcsweeny's is a American quarterly hardback magazine and whilst I am not sure I would subscribe its definitely worth buying the odd copy. I now
own Mcsweenys 19 which is a gorgeous box, containing letters, oddball historical documents (USA guide to the middle east) as well as a book of short stories. So much fun! http://store.mcsweeneys.net
*I hate the expression but it is a short way to say horror, sci-fi, fantasy etc..
well this was horribly difficult to review..
60. 15614::Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
Inventive and dreamy musings on stories and cities
(4.5 out of 5)
"Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else."
Like Scheherazade we find Marco Polo regaling Kublai Khan with tales of cities that he seen or imagined. At first there is no common language and so he mimes and uses props to spark the Khan's imagination to create his own cities but later this gradually shifts and Polo can spin his tales over chess.
There is no plot, no characters, no static point in time yet it's utterly enchanting. This is a book to savour, to dip into and bathe in the lyrical, absurdly rich musings on Polo's cities. Themes are are openly stated with headings such as 'Cities and memory 2' or 'Cities and Signs 3' within these 55 tales we replay a myriad ideas, explore our relationships with urbanity and visit many an inventive city. So from the city that starts out to amaze but soon becomes mundane as through repetitive use our eyes are drawn down from the colourful flags and balconies to dirty streets and gutters to an seemingly abandoned city made solely of water pipes but which you get glimpses of women bathing in bathtubs and showers.
It is a beautiful read, post-modern and surreal it maybe but it is also great fun.
61. Zoo by Otsuichi
Creepy horror shorts
(3.5 out of 5)
My first taste of Otsuichi and definitely not my last. The shorts are consistently good and varied dark horror tales. There are darkly humorous tales of choosing your death, a quirky whodunit farce, twists on modern horror tropes, a wonderful creepy fairytale (a house made out of the freshly dead anyone?), stories playing with memory and a nasty, tense sawesque serial killer. Throw in a sci-fi tale of apocalypse and you have an enjoyable mixed bag that should appeal to most horror and dark fantasy fans.
62. The Walking Dead: Vol 12 by Robert Kirkman (author) and Charles Adlard (artist)
Superb ongoing zombie comic
(5 out of 5)
Well we are at book number 12 and Kirkman is still consistently writing a interesting and exciting tale exploring the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. On top of this number 12 is probably one of my favourites of the whole series for the way he has taken expectations and twisted them even further. To be honest I am in awe!
It's a must for horror and zombie lovers, the characters are incredibly well drawn, especially since we have grown with them. Adlards art is impressive and the black and white artwork serves to lessen the gore but increase the horror. All in all an impressive series, start with Volume 1 and make sure you read it before you see the TV series.
63. The Pirates! In An Adventure With Napoleon by Gideon Defoe
Short, sweet and awfully funny
(5 out of 5)
The Pirates! series has a warm soft place in my heart, anytime I need cheering up I can pick up a tiny tale and be heartedly amused. The constant build up of jokes and silliness guarantees to bring a smirk and then a giggle. Of course liking the books solely rests on whether you a) like Pirates and b) enjoy rather silly over top humour, with running gags, odd footnotes, idiotic names ("Pirate who like sunsets & kittens" is my fav), tiny hand drawn maps and wild historical inaccuracy. The plot? Well after another disastrous Pirate of the year competition, the Pirate Captain decides to give up life at sea and become a bee keeper but then he hasn't reckoned with a retired attention seeking Napoleon..
Personally I find it extremely hard to describe humour so I think I will just handover to a quote...
"Unpack the boat, lads,' he roared, banging his cup of tea down on the mantelpiece, because banging things was always his favourite way of illustrating those moments when he made a particularly important decision. 'We're staying!'
The pirates all seemed to deflate where they were sitting, like a row of pirate-shaped balloons.
'Come on, don't all look so dour. And if it helps to get you to turn those frowns upside down,' he added, 'then try to think of this as a very long, uneventful adventure on an exotic island. You know, like in that Robinson Crusoe book. But with better hats, and less narrative thrust.'
oh go and read the extract over at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/may/09/extract
Damn, The Walking Dead sounds good, but the (usually very reliable) comic shop in Sydney doesn't have them listed online!! I hope they're in the shop. (Comics don't count as books in my "no new books" resolution, do they??)
I've got The Pirates! In an Adventure with Whaling (I prefer the American title with "Ahab", not "Whaling") on the shelves somewhere. Must get to it one day!
Walking Dead is a phenomenal series. I read it in single issues up to about #50. Then it just got a little bleak for me. I go through phases with both books and tv shows where I can't do the high-tension stuff, usually based on how much stress there is at work. It's no reflection on the book/show itself.
@78 Yeah it's a dark series, I think issues 40 - 50 were very bleak and shocking as you say that doesn't make it bad but you do have to be in the right mood.
How funny, just a few weeks ago I was complaining that the local (excellent) comic book shop in Sydney didn't have The Walking Dead and then I popped over to their website today, and what do I see? The Walking Dead plastered all over the front page!
Can't buy it for myself, but can buy it for my husband for Fathers' Day (early Sept). Yes, we have a different Fathers' Day in Australia compared to the rest of the world.
Just caught up on all of your reviews, and added several to my list. Can't believe I've not yet read If on a winter's night a traveler, but just reserved it at the library. Can't wait! And loved your paean to the Pirates! Truly, they are the best answer to a bad day.
82 I hope u enjoy it, it's a very odd book but a charming one.
I defy anyone to not to become amused by the Pirates! His website is quite funny too ;)
and look I have actually written some reviews! I have been putting off writing this next one because the book is soooo good I cannot do it justice.
64. A Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell
Astounding historical fiction
(5 out of 5)
Edo Japan is cloistered society, no one is allowed in or out. Foreigners...or rather traders.. are only tolerated on tiny claustrophobic Dejima. a place full of eccentrics, criminals and corrupt company men. rThe Dutch have won a lucrative claim to tade but the Companies in trouble .. but then so is their homeland.
Mitchell seems to have thrown the literary rulebook out of the window and still managed to create a wonderful book. Structurally dis-jointed with a story cut into three acts, each with a seeming new plot direction, a different tone & pace plus constant extra characters thrown into the mix. Then there's the small wee info dumps of historical oddity, loose ends, a chaotic meandering to different genres and somewhat oddly gentle beginning.
Quite frankly the man is an alchemical genius. This novel is utterly amazing, a wonderful historical fiction with battles, adventure, romance, political intrigue and with a soupcon of the fantastical. Mitchell's writing is wonderful (as usual); with cinematic cityscape sweeps, vivid and intense glimpses of 18th century life, impressive meshing of the myriad characters and plots, all effortlessly juggled right up until end. And my what an end, I doubt even a life threatening event could of dragged me away!
The highlight for me was watching Mitchell breathe life into the different languages: the difficulties and misunderstandings that result are so sharp and vivid you can almost taste it. The depth that this brings to this historical tale can not be downplayed.
This is a deeply rich, rewarding novel. A stunning piece of storytelling wrapped around a truly fascinating period of history. I recommend this to practically everyone although as this is not your typical David Mitchell, fans maybe be disappointed. Although whilst I really enjoyed Cloud Atlas I simply adore this.
65. GhostWritten by David Mitchell
Wonderfully varied interlinked shorts
(4 out of 5)
Essentially a series of short stories, albeit ones that rub up against each other with characters and themes interlinking. It's all very much chaos theory in action or one of those 90s Indie films with a multiple interweaving storylines or even maybe just a flash of unreality in the minds eye.
This sadly wasn't as interesting as it sounds.. their impact on each is very slim and whilst it was fun to spot references to this (and Cloud Atlas) it did not really enrich the stories, plus the overarching plot is a bit of a let down: the suggestion of unreality seem tagged on.
So these stories really had to stand on their own two feet and at first they were a rather mixed bunch, soon however you start to find some absolute gems: a simple tale of a ladies man falling in love, a immortal ghost searching for his roots, a girl living through tumultuous times in China, a radio phone-in show with rogue AIs.
A theme of places is used to frame these tales and the linking gave a post modern edge but in the end I felt this was a fun and rewarding short story collection nothing more. Although who knows maybe I will get more out of it in a second reading? I do heartedly recommend it though, because when David Mitchell is good he is very very very good.
hmm still 1 more David Mitchell to write (yes it was very good too :)
66. number9dream by David Mitchell
Playful, gripping post-modern coming of age tale
(5 out of 5)
19 year old Eiji Miyake has left his small isolated island for Tokyo, to search for a father he has never met. Split into 9 chapters, each one different, and told in 1st person we follow Eiji through his past, his fantasies and of course reality...
The fun, hiccupping start to this novel left me joyfully wallowing in uncertainty. This novel could go anywhere, do anything and for one dizzying moment could be any genre. The characters and plot flow deliciously between mundane reality and movie outrageousness. In this tale facts can be slippery things and to be honest I can't wait for a reread as I devoured this novel so quickly.
Mitchell has created a wonderfully deep character in daydreaming Eiji, we follow Eiji at so many levels (dreams, reminiscences even his reading material) it's almost like reading in 3D and as the story grows, so does the reader's understanding and attachment. The emotional impact of this story is strong: a lynchpin to the chaos.
Sadly this organised chaos didn't always work: a children's story inserted late in the book was quite frankly dire. Meta fiction it may have been but I hated the style, story, characters and interruption of pacing. Although this didn't lower its overall mark because I am ridiculously happy to read this book.
You may hate the uncertainty, the small interruptions, the ending (oh my what an ending!) or even find parts too violent or too raunchy but it's definately a novel worth trying: it's fun, it's different, an 'emotional roller coaster' I believe is the cliché to use here.. and it's great for a bit of post reading discussion :)
hmm life keeps getting in the way of reading and LT. stupid life ;)
67. Izakaya: The Japanese Pub Cookbook by Mark Robinson
Wonderful Japanese cook book
(4 out of 5)
An eulogy to the Izakaya. A japanese place where food and drink are given equal importance, a place to gather and meet with friends or grab a quick bit to eat. The authors visits his favorite establishments covering the variety of places, interiews, historical facts and mouth watering descriptions abound admist lovely photographs and tasty 'small plate' recipes. Its a fasicinating and entertaining read, the few recipes I have tried are great and theres a good mix of meat/fish and vegetarian. Highly recommend for fans of Japanese food but I have to say not much here for anyone else.
68. Palimpsest by Catherine M Valente
Lush, overpowering, odd adult fantasy
(5 out of 5)
It's not for everyone, this beautiful, chaotic, often too rich novel. A slow magical dance that draws you in until you are there amidst a whirling dervish. Patience is required, take in the sights, make yourself at home, get to know the characters... and you will be richly rewarded.
The story is narrated by a proud mysterious narrator and through "her" we meet four characters scattered all over our globe from San Francisco to Kyoto, all who have 'caught' Palimpsest, a patchwork city of the fantastical. The premise is startling as it is inventive, palimpsest as a sexual transmitted disease. One night of passion with someone who is 'infected' and you could wake up with a strange map like brand. This is the doorway. To enter again is an act of passion and to navigate the city you must find the right map. How far would you go to get what you want?
There are some stunning ideas here, wrapped in gorgeous imagery, from the river of old clothes to a bamboo forest of the dead. The story is rhythmic, set into a pattern with each chapter starting with a glimpse of city, a city guide told by our unseen narrator. Each character has their allotted turn and when all have been visited time moves on. It an interesting stylistic choice but one which works well, smoothing the pacing and adding excitement with potentials.. if character a is doing x what will character b do.
There are negatives (although not for me). The writing style may not be to everyone's tastes, the seemingly unrelated guides to the city, the not always likable characters. It maybe too fantastical for some but for me the whole thing works like clockwork. Reality grounds the baroque, the premise adds a stark darkness and the story flow beautifully because of the dreamy poetic style.
ok last one... for now
69. If he Hollers Let Him Go by Chester Himes
Frightening portrayal of racism.
(4 out of 5)
The first novel by Chester Himes is a powerful, scary and deeply angry book about endemic institutionalised racism in 40s America. Told in 1st person we meet Bob Jones, an ambitious, intelligent, if violent man. Newly promoted and dating a rich beautiful girl he is on the up and up, but he soon finds the promotion is just a sop to the black workers and the promise of equality is a facade. He still has to know his place and the tragedy is he just can't.
This is where its genius lies, the constant build up of slights, pettiness and downright nastiness. How it shapes what he thinks and how it imbues every aspect of his life. You know he should stop but you know that he can't and more importantly why should he? Comparing it to your own life it leaves a bitter taste, the only thing that stops my going to a nice restaurant is money.
It's really the first book I have read that brings everyday bigotry to life and for that fact alone I would highly recommend it . The characters are great, the constant simmering tension makes a great thriller and if sometimes it descends too much into a straight mouth piece, it's still a great story.
One thing though don't read the back, giving endings away is annoying.
70. The Drivers Seat By Muriel Spark
(3 out of 5)
Sadly this tale was an example of a personality clash, I could appreciate it but not like it. The writing style expertly reflects the main character: with clean, matter of fact sentences ones but
felt short and skittish, even though when I look back aren't *that* short. The character was too far removed from my experience, I could not relate at all. Perhaps the tale was set too much in
the 70s with alienation of modern, secular life amd something that I cannot share constantly connected to the world as I am. The impact of the 'why' dunnit plot also sadly fell flat, as I quite familiar with it, good ideas never die after all.
I must stress that its not a bad book though, the twisting of modernity and it's freedoms, the rejection of standard female story tropes. There is no white knight here and family or love is not a glib panacea (which is refreshing even if men get short shrift).
So I will be trying more Murial Spark but this one was not for me.
71. Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
Gripping coming of age tale.
(5 out of 5)
David Mitchell is at heart a superb storyteller and this semi-autobiographical 'coming of age' tale is no exception. It doesn't matter it's set in boring old England or that it ticks all the standard tropes (you know the kind of thing boyhood adventures, bullying, family problems and first love) it is a captivating, emotional and fun tale.
We follow thirteen months of the life of 13 yr old Jason Taylor, a chapter for every month. At first this technique is jarring, especially as the 1st story stops so abruptly (familiar eh?) however as story progress the plots and themes mesh wonderfully into one strong linear tale and all you are left with are the hooks of our unanswered questions, with which we are occasionally rewarded a answer.
The setting is pitch perfect, as a child of 80s Britain myself I found the decade brought vividly and scarily to life. From food and music through to the Falklands war and bitter antagonism with gypsies, it's all there. Sadly this means it's hard for me to say whether the colloquiums are too much, I don't think though do.
One warning, I would read his other books first, because he does reference them. Characters such as Frobisher's love from Cloud Atlas make an appearance and this does impact your view of the story. On one level a dizzy sense of time flowing is gained, Black Swan Green is their past or their future and events outside Jason's world. On another level a question of unreality seeps into the novel, were these events inspiration or do these parts indicate the falsehoods in the tale.
These feelings are also enhanced by the rare sentence commenting on events, assuring us
this event did or did not happen. Mix this with a sometimes profound and mature musing, sudden awareness of an authors presence and his manipulations. It maybe be obvious that memoir isn't always true but this deft touch adds insecurity and depth to a simple memoir.
Or course after my blatherings I must add it's not a tricksy post modernist book, it's just a damn fine tale and can be enjoyed as such.
Extract over at:
Thank you. I often feel like a magpie when it comes to books, I have a huge tbr but as most bibliophiles I keep finding shiny new ones.
Great books. And good to know that the Mitchell's seem to feed off one another.
oh dear my reviews are all out of reading order
72. The Face of Another by Kobo Abe
Fascinating, pyshcological horror.
(4.5 out of 5)
What happens when someone 'looses' their face. Scientist Okuyama has a terrible accident with liquid nitrogen leaving his face covered in keloid scars. His loss of face, of his identity is slowly alienating him from society, but he has a plan, all he needs is a new face.
Written as a letter & diaries we are deeply and firmly placed into the character' s head and one that is deeply unpleasant, self cantered, intellectually superior, extremely misogynistic and filled with flawed logic. We are drawn through his philosophical musing, his research and his flawed logic into watching a descent into madness and the creation of a monster.
It's an intense, interesting novel. All the better for being cold and clinical and torturous. The plot itself is pretty obvious early on but this is not detrimental as narrative shifts breathe life where needed (and to be honest it's all the more unsettling when you can see the end).
The diary/letter format is a clever technique: there are really just two characters the writer and the reader. Drawn unpleasantly to ride with the narrator we automatically empathise with the intended recipient since,
technically this person is us. It provides a space for us to stand apart from the narrator and to mock him, giving the book its cold intensity.
Written in Japan in the 60s it could of been a terrible outdated book but although a product of its time I think it still packs a punch. The question of identity hasn't changed that much. Rather you will hate this because of it's clinical nature or the themes it concentrates, if you aren't interested in the topic or require a complex action packed horror avoid. For me it was completely refreshing.
edited to say
I was going to recommend reading his more famous The women in the dunes first but having read last years review I can't I gave it 3 due to long ponderous musings!
73. The pillow book by Sei Shonagon
Fascinating 11th century Japan diary
(3.5 of out 5)
Sei is a terrible snob, highly intelligent and idealistic and much fun and this is her 'pillow' book: private musings and observations of court life. So mixed in with descriptions of clothes, gossip and romantic tales we get brief lists of beautiful words for use in art of poetry. For Sei poetry was a deeply important, much admired skill for a noble women; from a quick witty response referencing a famous poem, to the artful courtship of letters or just entertaining the empress with word games, poetry could enhance ones reputation and standing.
This skill of this particular translation makes all this accessible and interesting to the laymen. Puns on obscure Chinese poetry can be ignored or followed with no impact on enjoyment. The multiple appendices on Heian court are well worth a look though, adding much more depth to Sei's diary.
I feel bad for rating this so low. Its a fascinating and interesting read, translated well, packed with notes appendices and written by an engaging author. It is what it is though, a series of lists and vignettes of Japanese court life in the Hein period and whether you like this book depends how interested you are in the period.
74. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
Pretty dull tale of love and loss
(3 out of 5)
Nostalgic reminiscences of 60s Japan, a tale of tragic young love and merging sexuality and to be honest I felt a flat, empty sort of book. Part of the problem was this kind of plot doesn't really appeal, fictional teenage angst/naval gazing makes me bad tempered and prone to wishing horrible things would occur.
Of course the main flaw was the characters, partly because the main two characters were irritating to say the least but mostly because there seemed to be only one voice, the author putting on silly voices and talking to himself. A rather solipsist experience.
It also had the rather unpleasant side affect of misogyny, since all the female characters seem bizarrely unreal
or rather men in drag talking about their periods and bad hair days.
Not that it wasn't emotional, the later half half of the book it started to come gather. More characters clashing meant a more interesting tale and sometimes a feeling of reality shone through (the sad reality of Xs father). Which to be honest saved the book for savage review.
Of course it's problem could be down to the translation, but as it was approved by Murakami himself I am doubtful.
Oddly this is the second Murakami I have read but I can't remember for the life of me anything about the other one.. maybe this author is just not for me.
75. Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto.
Two short novellas on love and death.
(3.5 out of 5)
This short book suffers from putting two terribly similar novellas together, forcing us to view the same ideas and themes within different plot. Alone they are enjoyable, comforting tales on life and love and coming to terms to death. In the first two people are thrown together due to the tragic death of their loved ones, the second one, a magic realist tale of a girl trying to come to turns with the sudden death of her boyfriend.
The first is the best, sadness and joy are perfectly mixed and the characters are just zany enough to be fun and endearing without being annoying. It's a great love story with a joyful open end romance mixing reality with storybook cutenessand is a pleasure to read. In fact you feel it could be much longer.
The second has light touch of magic to aid the grieving process but sadly not a very interesting one and it's peripheral characters do stray too far into oddball territory. Not bad but not great and takes the score down.
Some great reviews! I wasn't fond of Norwegian Wood either, for the same sort of reasons that you cited, but I've really enjoyed all his others. There's a thread of surreality in his other books that I like.
A japanese bender! I must say, japanese authors have never been my cup of tea, although my sister is a great fan. Still not moving up the list.
Well it was holiday reading :) Sadly I can't really persuade you to change your mind about Japan nothing really stood out apart from the Kobo Abe book, which it looks like I am the only person to love!
nearly caught up with my reviews!
76. Ooku: The Inner Chamber, Volume 1 by Fumi Yoshinaga
wince making manga
(2.5 out of 5)
Take the sci-fi trope of a sexist plague wiping out a large portion of the male population and using it to explain why medieval Japan was so isolationist should mean we get a interesting historical fiction tale with a twist. However we manage to get an awful translation, a bland plot and quite amazingly: misogynistic overtones. Quite a feat when you think about it.
The translation isn't the books fault but old Japanese has been converted to a Disney version of ye olde English (forsooth etc.. ) that's just irritating, although with luck it does fade. Then we have to put up with a simplistic main character, who is far too noble and manly and who strides forth amongst the weak, the petty and those simpering homosexual types. I mean what this book needed obviously was more stereotyping (bordering on homophobia). Of course there are some women lying around err.. sadly just a very manly Empress and the bland girlish cipher love interest.
Then of course there's the plot, which being a setup for the series is practically non-existent. Oh and I found the actual premise a bit stupid as twisting the facts to fit actual history doesn't seem to work: all the women in power take a mans name and aren't allowed to talk to foreigners. I mean who owns who here?
Of course it's had rave reviews and since I am not a huge fan of manga you might want to ignore my ranting (I keep trying though, any recommendations?)
edit: now with added punctuation!
77. McSweeney's Issue 28 edited by David Eggers
Beautiful tales of fantasy and horror
(4.5 out of 5)
To be honest a book which I am going to hang on the wall gets some kudos before I even open it. This time from Mcsweeny's (quarterly books of short stories), we get four small books which joined together make a picture
and, like a box of chocolates, underneath there is another 4 forming a new picture.
Each small book, like a child's fantasy book has a short tale, heavily and wonderfully illustrated. The stories like most short stories are mixed but nothing is bad and as everything is so short it's such fun trying the next
tasty morsel. So from Brain Evensons black fairy story and a girl trying to survive the apocalypse to the Arthur Bradford's tale of a women who gave birth to an octopus, they are all worth a try.
#66> Ouch. I've not read much manga, but I did like the Lone Wolf and Cub series very much. Classic stuff from several decades ago, well translated. There's about 25 installments all up, and they were recently re-issued (well, probably over five years ago now).
78. Night Visions 11
Three novellas: 1 good, 1 bad and 1 average means its damn hard to rate this book, so I am going to rate individual stories.. overall it gets a 3.
Swellhead by Kim Newman
I really love Kim Newman's fun, playful attitude to horror. Newman is a hugely knowledgeable horror fan & film critic and his genius lies in mixing up his imaginary world with other fictional characters, playing with tropes and clashing genres together. The result is usually a fresh, original tale and damn fine stories.
Ok enthusiastic pimp over. This novella takes one retired paranormal nvestigator, a stereotypical James Bond setting, a whiff of politics, a touch of reality TV hell and adds dash of horror and the result is a great, fast paced horror tale. There are some great characters (it even has a strong female lead, blimey) a wonderful use of cheesy plot and a high body count. Gets 4.5 stars from me.
In Perpetuity by Tim Lebbon
Awful. I can't really review it since I very quickly gave up and started skimming. Plot is one of loving father challenged by an eerie curio collector to bring him "proof of love" and was not for me nor did the writing do anything to engage me. Tedious. 1 star.
Hands Up! Who Wants to Die? by Lucius Shephard
This sci-fi story mixed with a low-life road trip romp works really well. The beginning certainly grabs your attention, a suitably mysterious house hidden in the sand and an odd meeting with strangers. All the characters are fun, if not deep, and the great group dynamics drove a lot of the story. It's just a pity the end fell a bit flat with a sudden dash into paranormal banality. Maybe I am just a jaded cynic. 3 stars.
79. The Ruined Map by Kobo Abe
(2.5 out of 5)
An exisistentialist crime novel should on the face been an interesting if not enjoyable experience, sadly my patience was all used up by the end of the book and I resorted to the crime of skimming.
It started of promisingly: a missing person case with no clues, suitably noirish characters and set in a depressing backdrop of Japan's impersonal post-war modernity. Abe takes the detective tropes of clues and playfully uses it test boundaries of reality. What does this number on the matchbook book mean? What is the meaning of the yellow curtains? In the beginning this creates a a wonderful claustraphobic, intense, OCD feel to the plot. This atmosphere gives the story a wonderful edginess, as banality and high drama rub shoulders as the plot unfolds.
Since it's told in the 1st person, the other characters fade in and out and are never truly fleshed out or explained adding a slightly surrealist view. Unfortunately this unreality means when the novels plot sadly falters 3/4 of a way through there is nothing to hold on to, the uncertainty and lies pile up and we are back where we started, with nothing. An interesting idea if the book had stopped there but sadly the futility of investigation continues and it just becomes irritating. Even the obvious twist ending, which could have been fun to explore, made me roll my eyes in frustration.
This book may succeed in it's intention, in an intellectual exercise but as a story it fails and I cannot forgive that so two and a half stars from me.
Gosh I read this so long ago ... oh well luckily it's quite memorable.
80. The Choirboys by Joseph Wambaugh
Dark, funny & moving 70s crime story
(4.5 out of 5)
Written in the 70s by an ex-cop, this is a darkly funny and bitter book, with a sharp edge of reality. 'Choir practice is where your average cop meets up to let off steam through drink, drugs and group sex. It's a secret and by invite only so when something bad happens, all hell breaks loose.
There are two great things about this: firstly the mix of tone from intensely funny to sad and disturbing and secondly the odd story structure. I was doubtful at first as it indicated a short story approach as each pair of partnered cops get their own chapter interspersed with glimpses of choir practice. But to my surprise the author makes it work very well, gently building layers upon layer of character and plot until the we catch up with current events. So as understanding grows so does the plot and you are slowly reeled in and hooked, especially towards the end as we begin to understand what happened and what the outcome will be.
All of the cops are flawed, some are deeply unpleasant sadists but at heart sympathy lies with them, highlighting that the number one cop killer is suicide. All the authors disgust for the upper echelons of the police force and it's here that the book really shines. Cops on the beat are ignored and blamed with equal measure and that makes a dark reality invade the book and gives even more of an edge.
A must for any lover of crime novels or black humour. This is a great big noisy book, that gets in your face and won't let go. Highly recommended.
81. The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee
Light, joyful memoir/history of bookshops
(3 out of 5)
How much milleage you get out of this book depends on
a) how much bookshops and the publishing world interest you
b) if light on detail, nostaligc, genteel reminisces float your boat
Personally I can take it for about 150 pages before my eyes glaze over. A few wonderful biibliophile phrase do not a book make.
The history was well told but light and a bit dull (see a) but there were some interesting tales buried such as the printing of ulysees. The memoir is, well it's ok, no fun tall tales here, just some experiences that entwine the history. Although at one point he takes to listing great bookstores... Yawn.
Another problem for me it was written in an odd time for publising: 2004 and by a nostalgic, entrenched book lover. The 'stick head in sand' attitude with the future of books was intensely irritating and was only saved by a new and thoughtful postscript. I guess, though, this is not what the book is about. It is a celebration books and the places that sell them. Nothing wrong with that, it's just not for me.
82. The Restraint of Beasts by Magnus Mills
Subversive dark humour
(4.5 out 5)
Two printable comments that immediately spring forth when I finished was an angry "What the.." and "I cannot believe he just did that". Yet half an hour later I was smugly basking in the glow of having just finished a wonderful book, deliciously imagining what exactly was going on. This is not a book for people who like neat & tidy plots, nor those who do not appreciate black humour. It's a wonderful piece of misdirection really.
Through deadpan humour and tight sentences we follow the our narrator who has just been made foreman of two lazy ne-er do wells in a small high tensile fencing company. Yes it's the exciting world of building fences, mingled with that great British past time of pub drinking. And quite frankly it's great.
The characters are superb, the plot amusing and an un-nerving feeling that clashes wonderfully with the every day. It's a great book to try Magnus Mills plus it's quite short so what have you got to lose? Fans of his will of course have read this already....
Great review, claire! God, I love Mills. (And um, not a frequent reader of this thread, but I wanted to comment on that review somewhere :)
Thanks, I am beginning to love Mills too and I have many more to read. I did try and squeeze it in somewhere in my 1010 but sadly to avail.
Excellant I have the The Maintenance of Headway next and then I can go and buy some more ;)
And now for some comic reviews..
83. The Walking Dead: Volume 13 by Robert Kirkman (author) and Charlie Adlard
(5 out of 5)
Forget the dull TV series the comic is where it all started and it just keeps getting better. For those who have never heard of it, The Walking Dead is an exploration if what happens after the zombie apocalypse, think a more gritty World War Z. The core world and the characters are utterly believable plus Kirkman is brave and skilled enough to pull some audacious, gripping plot twists. The art is great and fits perfectly with the genre: black & white lessens the zombie gore but encourages detail. So please just go and get a copy of the Walking Dead it's the best comic series out there plain & simple.
Volume 13 review..
So the story continues straight from the last comic, ramping up the tension and throwing in some delicious curve balls. *Minor spoilers* Can the group who spent so long surviving now adjust to the relatively peaceful existence? Themes of justice, changing morality, mourning, domestic violence and insanity wind deliciously against the backdrop of the ever present zombies.
84. Chew: Volume 1 by John Layman (author) and Rob Guillory
(3 out of 5)
The tantalising premise, of a detective who is able to see the past of what he eats, is not enough save this comic. The story is hopelessly choppy and jumps breathlessly to the next scene all the while yelling loudly to get attention. Yes yes he eats disgusting things, isn't there anything interesting you can say about it? I guess those interesting bits didn't make the cut as the fast paced story misses much that potential fun out. It also ensure there's no atmosphere and exaggerates the plot's many faults. This problem could of course be fixed with practice but I can't be bothered to stay around. The arts good though.
85. The Boys: Innocents (Vol.7) by Garth Ennis (author) and Darick Robertson
3.5 of of 5
The gratuitous fun of being horrible to superheroes is starting to wane for me and whilst a well needed plot twist has been added I am fast losing interest. The overall political manovering of the main groups (superheroes, evil conglomerate and the Boys) is getting less exciting by the minute. I will probably give it one more chance though, you never know.
I hate it when comics series go bad.. I always wonder if I should keep the old ones. I mean who wants to reread a story that doesn't finish?
86. Soulless by Gail Carriger
Fun urban fantasy
(4.5 out 5)
Isn't it sublime when book fits your mood exactly?
Let's see we have vampires, werewolves, a wonderful strong female heroine, government bureau, steam punk, mad scientists, romance, shallow dizzy sisters and a neurotic mother. Oh and I believe the Queen makes an entrance at one point. Yes it's a genre trope mash up but one written with consummate skill and I personally loved it, I mean how could I not? After all it is a sexy, fun, urban fantasy mixed in with a comedy of manners, unashamedly feminine and utterly modern. It has a gripping and fast paced plot, it's very funny, quite steamy in places and sets the next book up perfectly. Ok so the next books are called, changeless and blameless (wince) but I can't wait to pick up the next one.
87. Inverted World by Christopher Priest
World building is all
(3.5 out of 5)
Imagine a city that must forever move forward, winched along it's old re-used tracks. To ensure this happens it's rulers have created a closed, fundamentalist society, a hidden world where only the few will ever be allowed outside to know that it moves and why this must be so.
Whether you'll like this depends on what you need from a book. For this 70's sci-fi the world is all: the plot, the characters and their conversations all feed into the world building and this leaves time for very little else. Now this isn't really my type of thing but even I have to admit it's a good, satisfying story with a premise that even after all this time I found original and interesting.
Set into four parts which meander from 1st to 3rd person presenting differing views, we gradually get a very believable view of this strange world. However his 1st section build up takes an age to get anywhere and the main characters has the misfortune of being the cipher in which we explore the city i.e. not very fleshed and and he is also amazingly attractive to all women.
In fact flagging how awful of sexual inequality is juxtaposed with the inherent misogyny brings out the teeth grinding in me. Ahem. Anyway halfway through the book we swap out of 1st person and suddenly the story takes off and the plot becomes quite gripping. The slow build up then starts to work well in its favour as we are so grounded in the world and it builds up to what is a very very cool ending. It's just a pity about the beginning.
If you are lover of idea based sci-fi then this book is for you, everyone else will spend an interesting few hours with a neat idea. Oh hard sci-fi fans I have no idea if it all holds up.
Mills' latest novel is the only one I haven't read. Will look forward to reading your review!
88. Lost City of Z by David Grann
Disappointing historical adventure.
(3.5 of 5)
In 1925 Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett and his expedition party (including his son) entered the Amazon in search of The Lost City of El Dorado and never returned. Countless lives have been lost searching for them and for the fabled, mysterious and of course very rich lost city.
I did enjoy this book. It's an easy read about a fascinating and vivid period of history. The author starts off well, setting the scene and evoking the furore of a trip to discover the lost city. He then slowly weaves his tale to follow in Fawcett's footsteps and at first these two stories balance well.
Sadly after about 1/3 of the way through cracks started to show, partly through boredom as I am slightly familiar with the period but also (and I can't believe I am going to say this) it was really too much like an adventure story and.. well .. real life isn't just like that. Take for example the authors comic, naive bumbling organising his trip to the Amazon, amusing at first but it soon feels so contrived. I am presuming it's true.. but it *doesn't* feel true and loosing faith in the author is always a bad sign
Also neither story lives up to their promise. Fawcett's tale because of the way his story is presented. For me his flaws were address so late in the book, that the reality of obsessive, poverty stricken, ego-maniac doesn't sit well with the beginning. Yes it's supposed be a nice bit of juxtaposition but I simply found it a tad irritating. Then theres the authors story which oddly never managed to be that evocative, odd because he does manage to bring Fawcett's trek alive. I know not much happened but seeing the Amazon from the everyman should of been much more fun than it was.
Oh there are other things wrong with the book but to be honest it's just nitpicking and I did enjoy this book, (no really) but I was heartedly disappointed. Others have given this book rave reviews and I do recommend it for anyone who loves a sense of adventure but maybe go and read The Lost World instead, much more fun :)
89.The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen
3 fantastical horror tales
(Average of 3.5*)
I am going to be annoying and review them separately as well as a quick review. Machen's main strength is melding the everyday Victorian World with the supernatural.
The 1st (and longest) story about a medical experiment gone awry, is his most famous and inspired many a horror writer from Lovecraft to king. Published in 1894 it holds up remarkably well, although sadly not that scary (a sexual women, dear god!). However Machen is great at building atmosphere and only hints at the real horror: the God Pan can loom as large in your imagination as you wish. It's quite gripping as we watch the main protagonist drawn deeper into a dangerous mystery but it's a pity that the ending feels so hurried. 3.5*
The 2nd is nice little mystery involving mysterious signs, a disappearing girl and frightening ritual. It's an enjoyable quick read but not high on atmosphere and(?) a bit of a clumsy mystery. 3 *
The 3rd is a mixed bag, starts off with dull dialogue (read lecture) about the nature of real evil and suddenly switches to a 1st person account from a young girl and her experience with the little people. Sadly Machen cannot write in the voice of a young girl, its bad enough to make you wince but oddly this is the bit of the book that I enjoyed the most. Machens description of a dark, eerie landscape captures the imagination vividly and gives a tantalising hint of the unknown which deepens the sense of mystery and keeps you turning over the story in your mind long after you close the book. I can't rate this one ;-) perhaps 2-4!=3
Ok here goes.. all my reviews in one go..
90. Requiem for a Wren by Nevil Shute
Emotional historical fiction
(4 out of 5)
I think sometimes Nevil Shute books should carry a tear jerker warning, quite frankly this one is terribly depressing and yet very, very good.
Alan Duncan returns from England to his families ranch in Australia, but his happy homecoming is marred by the housekeepers suicide. He takes it upon himselg to track down her diaries and letters and to follow her self destructive journey that ended so tragically far from home.
For those who have never read Nevil Shute before I can only provide a bemused blank stare. Admittedly he is not for everyone; he wrote about a time and place that is alien to us and to be honest had disappeared by the time he wrote it, but in this case it works in its favour. Shute vividly captures Britain in WWII, it's effects on ordinary people and he does this so well that you are caught up in tragedy hoping for a happy ending you know doesn't exist. Not only this you are also learning a great deal about a slice of history, part of Shute’s brilliance is to take dull facts and mesh them into a highly emotional story.
He does have his faults, the plotting on this one is a little forced although ultimately forgivable and whilst he tries to provide a glimmer of hope I quite frankly didn't notice through the tears. Still at least it's not as depressing as On the Beach.
Mandatory reading for all history buffs, but also anyone who loves a good weepy.
91. Who was Changed and Who Was Dead by Barbara Comyns
Unique Surreal Masterpiece
(4.5 out of 5)
"The ducks swam though the drawing-room window"
So starts one of the most delightfully oddest books I have ever read. A story of the moneyed Willoweed Family that begins in a flood and is soon caught in horrific tragedy as a fatal madness rips through their small village. Yet this is not horror but darkly funny surreal tale, told with a child like joy; how wonderful life can be but also how cruel.
The style is at first disconcerting, words tumble about like the flood they describe, but very soon it eases and the story becomes a joy to read: full of beautiful quirky descriptions and odd asides. We follow the story from a multitude of view points, which is never confusing and seems the most natural thing in the world. In fact natural is a good word for this book even though it's very surreal. Plans go awry and life gets in the way. Lessons are not always learned and amongst the happy endings there are awful ones.
It maybe a short novel but it packs a punch. Highly recommended to just about anyone.
92. The Last Christmas by Brian Posehn (Author), Gerry Duggan (Author), Rick Remender (Artist)
Santa vs Zombies
(4 out of 5)
Whether you will like this comic rests solely on how much you like the idea of
one bad-ass suicidal Santa fighting off Zombies in a Mad Max apocalyptic world. Personally I loved it. Tongue set firmly in cheek, with bad puns, gratuitous comic violence and wonderful garish art this is a refreshing comic for when the saccharine of the holiday season becomes too much.
93. The big Sleep By Raymond Chandler
It's impossibly hard to write a review of an author you love so much and a book you have read so many times. No one comes close to Raymond Chandler, his style is unique, his pitch perfect, his plots fun and importantly his idea of what noir should be is (for me) wonderful. Anyone with an interest in crime fiction should try him at least once and this, his 1st novel is not a bad place to start.
As Chandler says himself in his definitive essay A simple art of murder:
"..down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man."
Amen to that.
94. Predator: South China Sea by Jeff VanderMeer
(3.5 out of 5)
Ok technically not my sort of thing but I am a Jeff VanderMeer fan and whilst I didn't see much of him in this novel it's still a quick, fun easy read. The plot is tight and moves at a fair old pace, the characters are a good mix and there's enough for a high body count, plus (shock horror) there are few strong female characters. Ok I do harp on about such things but it's so rare. The end is satisfyingly over the top and having seen the latest Predators movie I deeply wish someone had filmed this version instead.
95. The End of Science Fiction by Sam Smith
Apocalyptic murder mystery
(4 of out 5)
A young girl is found brutally murdered the same day it’s announced that the universe will end in just 6 days. When there is no future what need to find a killer?
It's a fantastic concept well done. The mystery is satisfying but it’s the effects and exploration of the end of the world scenario that really makes it shine. Against the backdrop of disintegrating society, with no reason for going on, finding what makes you tick becomes all important. The characters need to be strong to hold this plot and luckily they are; from the main protagonist happy in his routine relationship with his wife to his partners inherent loneliness, they are all full realised. Of course it’s interesting too to ponder what you would do this situation, I mean you may consider your own mortality but the negation of everything? The end of the future? That’s a stark thought indeed.
96. The Fry Chronicles by Stephen Fry
Well technically I didn't read the book, I read the iphone app and that rather changes the whole reason for reading and so also the review. Stephen Fry is a well known British writer, presenter, comedian and actor and this memoir follows on from his first memoir (which I haven’t read and I suspect should be read 1st). If you don't know him or like him this book/app is not for you.
The app cuts the book down (sadly no photos either) into bite sized chunks for those on the move, you can read in page order or by themes such as Cambridge, smoking, fryisms etc.. The theme bit doesn’t really work so well so I stuck to page order and I have spent many many enjoyable months dipping into it. It’s an approach that worked well as it's easy to pick up where you left off. If you do try to read it in one go it doesn't flow together as neatly as I suspect the book does. Fry’s style of writing is fun and friendly, with plenty of asides and the odd large obscure word. If I do have a complaint with the book is he spends far too much time apologising for being himself. The app, whilst gorgeous, is very hard to navigate. Each snippet is a spoke on a wheel and you must very carefully select, you can not automatically move onto the next bit but must navigate back to the wheel. Very tiresome.
Right that's it for me, Happy New Year and I off to have a early night with some lemsip. Here my most memorable top 10.
Finch by Jeff VanderMeer
Kraken by China Melville
Restraint of Beasts by Magnus Mills
We have always lived in the castle by Shirley Jackson
The Secret Lives of Buildings: From the Parthenon to the Vegas Strip in Thirteen stories by Edward Hollis
Big Machine by Victor Lavelle
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchel
Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente
If on a Winters Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino
The Walking Dead comic series
This topic is not marked as primarily about any work, author or other topic.