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Clfisha's 100 Books in 2012

100 Books in 2012 Challenge

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Jan 2, 2012, 8:55am Top

Another exciting new year for books and how can I stay away from the 100 book challenge?!

As per last year ratings will not be stars but: Bad, Average, Good, Excellant and Amazing. Oh and this year I using the Bechdel Movie test on books, which was discussed over in pammab's 12 in 12 thread. Rules are:
1. It has to have at least two women in it
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something besides a man

Edited: Jan 6, 2013, 12:24pm Top

Bechdel Test: Pass: 27 Fail: 33 Na: 9
Need to check: 12

This years list, in reverse order:
96. Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene (poor dec) fail
95. The Hobbit by JRR. Tolkien (good fail)
94. The Cuba Diaries by Isadore Tattling (ok dec) pass
93. Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth (Good 3/11) Fail
92. Dotter of her Father's Eyes by Bryan and Mary Talbot (good 18/11) Pass
91. Secret Circle by L J Smith (ok feb). ?
90 Lover Avenged by JR Ward (Good 10/2
89. Grandville by Bryan Talbot (good 18/11) fail
88. The House That Groaned by Karrie Fransman (excellent 16/11) pass
87. Fun home by Alison Bechdel (excellent 17/11) pass
86. London's Overthrow by China Mieville (good 18/11) na
85. we3 by Grant Morrison (Excellent, 12/11) Fail
84. This Book is Full of Spiders by David Wong (Excellent 8/11) Fail
83. How's the Pain by Pascal Garnier (Good 4/11) Pass
82. In the Cities of Coin and Spice by Catheynne M Valente (amazing 28/10) pass
81. The Road to Perdition by Max Allan Collins (author ) and Richard Piers Rayner (artist) (Good 28/10) fail
80. the Bookman by Lavie Tidhar (good 20/10) fail
79. Havana Noir edited by Achy Obejas (good 24/9 Pass)
78. The Underground Man by Ross McDonald (good 8/9) Pass
77. Seven Wonders by Adam Christopher ( average 6/10) pass
76 Household worms by Stanley Donwood (good 1/10) na
75. Blacksad by Juan Diaz Canales (author) (good 29/9) fail
74. Edge of Dark Water by Joe R Lansdale (good 28/9) Pas
73. Dante's Inferno by Hunt Emerson (good 30/9) fail
72. The First Quarry by Max Allan Collins (Good 28/9) fail
71. The Vanishing or Het Gouden Ei by Tim Krabbe (excellent 30/9) fail
70. The Celestial Bibendum by Nicolas Crecy (good 30/9)
69. Ghost Story by Peter Straub (average 30/9)
68. The Pirates! in an Adventure with the Romantics by Gideon (amazing 27/9) fail?
67. The Long Dark Tea-Time of The Soul by Douglas Adams (good 25/9) Pass
66. Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adam's (24/9 good Fail)
65. The brothers K by David James Duncan (amazing 19/9) Pass
64. Adamtine by Hannah Berry (excellent 12/9) Pass
63. The Two-Bear Mambo by Joe R. Lansdale (Excellent 4/9) Fail
62. Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey (Average 2/9) Fail
61. Astro City: Confessions by Kurt Busiek (Good 1/9) Fail
60. Among Others by Jo Walton (Good 1/9) Pass
59. Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig (Excellent 27/8) Pass
58. The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan (excellent 22/8) Pass
57. Fire Season by Philip Connors (19/8 Amazing) NA
56. Locke & Key: Clockworks by Joe Hill (author) and Gabriel Rodriguez (artist) (excellent 13/8)
55. The Alienist by Caleb Carr (Good 14/8)
54. The Devil and the White City by Erik Larson (good 11/8) NA
53. Mouth of the River of Bees By Kiji Johnson (Amazing 10/8) Pass
52. Holes by Louis Sachar (Good 23/7) Fail
51. Snuff by Terry Pratchett (ok 21/7) unknown
50. Babylon Steel by Gaie Sebold (Good 22/7) Pass
49. The girl who circumnavigated fairyland in a ship of her own making by Catherynne M Valenta (Amazing July) Pass.
48. The Walking Dead Volume 16 by Robert Kirkman (author) & Charlie Adlard (artist) (Excellent, July) pass.
47. Depresso by Brick (Excellent 15/7)
46. deadkidsongs by Toby Litt (Excellent 14/7) Pass.
45. Choker by Ben McCool (author) & Ben Templesmith (artist) (Good 5/7 Fail)
44. Metro 2033 by Dmitrij Gluchovdkij (Good 5/7 Fail)
43. Sum by David Eagleman (Amazing 27/6 NA)
42. The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan (good 21/6 fail)
41. True Grit by Charles Potis (good 19/6. Pass)
40. Moxyland by Lauren Beukes (good 18/6 Pass)
39. Pontypool Changes Everything by Tony Burgess (Excellent 17/6. Fail)
38. Death's Dark Abyss by Massimo Carlotto (bad 22/6 Fail)
37. The Mourner by Richard Stark (Average 14/6 Fail)
36. The Last Quarry by Max Allen Collens (Good 10/7. Fail)
35. Quarry's Ex by Max Allan Collins (Good, 8/10. Fail)
34. Darkmans
33. Fifty Shades Darker by E L zJames (Ok May. ?)
32. Fifty Shades of Grey by (Good May. Pass)
31. The Year of our War by Stephanie Swainston (ok may)
30. The Iron Will of Shoeshine Cats by Hesh Kestin (Good May)
39. Rogue Male by (Excellent 6/5. Fail)
28. Atlas of remote Islands by Judith Schlansky (Amazing 5/5. NA)
27. The Tigers Wife by Tea Obreht (average April. Pass)
26. Giant Thief by David Tallerman (Good 22/4). Fail
25. The Mesmo Delivery (Good, 20/3). Fail
24. The Scar by Warren Ellis (Good 18/3). ?
23. The Dark philosophers by Gwyn Thomas (Good 21/4)
22. Osama by Lavie Tidhar (Excellent, 19/4) Fail.
21. High Rise by J. G. Ballard (Good April) Fail.
20. Empire State by Adam Christopher (Good, April). Fail.
19. The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (good April). ?
18. Aya by Marguerite Abouet (Good, 21/3). Pass
17: The Confession by Domenic Stansberry (Good 18/3). Fail
16: The G String Murders by Gypsy Rose Lee (Good 16/3). Pass
15: Astro City: Life in the Big City by Kurt Busiek (Excellent) (11/3). Pass
14 The Unwritten Vol 5: On to Genesis by Mike Carey (author) and Peter Gross (artist) (Amazing 11/3). ?
13. Hospital by Toby Litt (Excellent 9/3). Pass
12. Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa (amazing 3/3). Pass
11. Blankets by Craig Thompson (Good 19/2). Pass
10. Pure by Andre Miller (ok 17/2).
9. The Situation by Jeff VanderMeer (Excellent Jan). NA
8. The Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses by Paul Koudounaris (Excellent 13/2). NA
7. AngelMaker by Nick Harkaway
6. Shades of Gray by Jasper Fforde (Average 5/2). ?
5. The Cave by Tim Krabbe (Excellent 2/3). Fail
4. Alan's War by Emmanuel Guibert (Excellent Jan). NA
3. The Price by Joseph Garraty (Excellent Jan). Fail
2. Ghost Milk by Iain Sinclair (Excellent 26/1). NA
1. Three Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Stories of the Fantastic edited by Eduardo Jimenez Mayo, Chris N Brown. Pass

Jan 2, 2012, 9:36am Top

Welcome back! The Bechdel test sounds so simple, like every book (movie, etc) should pass with flying colors. How hard could it be? Obviously the answer is "very hard". Even point number 1. I'll be interested to follow your Bechdel test ratings this year.

Jan 4, 2012, 1:29am Top

The Bechdel test sounds intrigueing. I am trying to remember how the books I last read did... My last one had a mother and a daughter talking, I think. I am not quite sure though, and almost everybody that mattered were men...
Anyway, welcome to 2012, have a great reading year!

Jan 7, 2012, 6:29am Top

Bechdel test? Sounds like a challenge.

Jan 8, 2012, 1:44pm Top

I cant do yet another challenge, I am overstretched! :) Maybe next year... Sadly my 1st book, Ghost Milk, is never going to fit as it's by a man. Oh well :)

Jan 14, 2012, 9:32pm Top

Oh, I love the Bechdel test! So simple, so hard to pass, and so obvious that it *should* be easy to pass!

Surely men can write scenes with two named female characters talking about something-that-isn't-a-man? It's probably less likely than in a book by a woman (sweeping generalisations here!), but I don't think one could discount it entirely.

Sorry I haven't popped in before, I only just found your thread! Looking forward to your 2012 reads.

Jan 15, 2012, 7:26am Top

as a man, I often find myself making excuses about the Bechdel test, explanations as to why this story or that movie shouldn't have the test applied... and while I'm sure there ARE legitimate excuses, and that a failure of the test doesn't automatically mean that a book or movie is a misogynistic piece of trash (witness my most recently completed book Oryx and Crake)... the overwhelming trend, if one is honest, is startling.

Sad to say, the English teachers and librarians in my school are unaware of the Bechdel test.

Jan 15, 2012, 3:24pm Top

I must admit I oly this had heard of it (thank goodness for LT). It doesn't totally dismiss sexism but it's a great start and a interesting basic test. Doesnt always work, I mean I am watching a great Danish thriller The Killer (passes Bechdel) but one of the subplots is the female cop who can't juggle family life and work.. Hmm.. On the other hand first person books are likely to fail without being sexist.

Oryx and Crake is an interesting one I would like to know why are there so few female characters..

7 No worries. I have I only just finished a book and yet to write a review! (hmm Sherlock's about to start not going to happen)

Jan 15, 2012, 10:29pm Top

Oh, the Bechdel test is awesome--makes you think about what you are watching/reading in a whole new way. (Though it's difficult to go back to talking about movies/books without referencing the so-obvious implicit sexism after getting in the habit of applying!) Good luck and happy reading :)

Edited: Jan 20, 2012, 7:55am Top

Well my 1st book finished (and its only 20th Jan!).

1. Three Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Stories of the Fantastic edited by Eduardo Jimenez Mayo, Chris N Brown

A collection to spread out and savour, to save for those brief quiet moments when you want to plunge deeply into delicious glimmers of oddness. While the title boasts of the fantastic many stories skirt playfully with fantasy, preferring to stay firmly in dreamy magical realism.

This may jar expectations but it doesn’t matter because this eclectic connection is of a very high standard, I found only a couple of stories not to my liking and most are so short they offer merely a taste, leaving more questions than answers. As to the Mexican theme, well while there are some folk tales here and some different take on existing tropes but really it wasn't dripping in easy to spot culture (I am not really familiar with Mexico)

It's hard to pick favourites really I loved the “Photophobia,” a beautifully written tale of ghostly apocalypse, and luckily you can read it here:

The book is getting mixed reviews but I still recommend it, I suspect like most collections you will find it a mixed bag but measure your expectations and it could well be worth it.

Bechdel Test: Pass

Jan 20, 2012, 9:54am Top

was that an ARC Claire? My amazon link says it hasn't been released yet... sounds fantastic though and will go on my list.

Jan 20, 2012, 10:00am Top

oops yep, Early Reviewer program

Edited: Jan 31, 2012, 8:44am Top

Look I finished another book (also in 1212 Challenge thread)

2. Ghost Milk by Iain Sinclair
Chewy, choatic, mesmering.

"When did it begin, this intimate liaison between developetrs and government, to reconstruct the body of London, to their mutual advantage? Dr Frankenstein with a Google Earth programme and a laser scapel."

Iain Sinclair is an utterly fascinating man but one that can't stick to the point for long. Compared to W G Sebald, beautifully decsribed by a reviewer as a 'gonzo Samual Pepys' he is an experience in itself. The book will not be to everyones tastes, but it's easy to read if nearly unclassifiable. At once a polemic against the grand project (the soulless, spin of commercial architecture) and in another part memoir, part mediation of relationship of poetry and geography, part eulogy of J G Ballard, part walkers diary. This is a mesmerising, chaotic, unfocused wander through the mind of Iain Sinclair.

"You have a name for your book?" Mimi said.
"Ghost Milk."
"What does this mean?
"CGI smears on a blue fence. Real juice from a virtual host. Embalming fluid.
A Soup of photographc negatives. Soul food for the dead. The universal element in which we sink and swim"
"Crazy, Mr Sinclair" Mimi said, "Crazy again"

He is a walker, deeply connected to his surroundings through art and history, walking through a multi-layered landscape and it is a joy to walk with him. He is self-deprecating, amusing, poetic, passionate, sometimes over the top and whether you agree with his politics there is some food for thought here; corruption and waste on a grand scale, erosions of freedom, ecological disaster, a dearth of future and a destruction of history.

"Dominent colours: dirt-rose, morbid soot, pigeon shit. The railway stations have been around so long they have become accepted natural features. Like cliffs or mountains. London grows its fossils by accretions of indifference"

He doesnt just wander Londons and look on horror at the olympic site, he visits other grand projects: millennium museums and coporate works of art, Manchester's old Trafford stadium, travels up the M62 to muse on the idea of Supercity ("Post-industrial muddle extended, in the London architect bloodshot eyes, into a single hallucinatory city"). He interviews artists and their fascinating interview excerpts and diaries dot the text. It's a pure melting pot, a maelstrom of ideas.

"The Trafford Centre has its own microclimate and it smells like dead television. Like the after-sweat of an Oscar ceremony; hope dashed, lust curtailed, fear tasted."

I do recommend it although perhaps start with his more famous works like London Orbital. Still it's an experience like no other.

Bechdel Test: NA

Edited: Feb 6, 2012, 8:16am Top

3. The Price by Joseph Garraty
Gripping Urban Horror

Jimmy has a talent, he can make inanimate objects do what he wants, which is useful skill to the mob open some locks, start a fire.. So they make an offer Jimmy can't refuse: safety, money and training in the arcane arts. Trouble is Jimmy doesn't know what he is getting in to, he doesn't know there's a price.

A fantastic, page turner of a novel with one foot squarely set in the mafia crime genre, one in urban fantasy and one in horror. The world of organised crime, of mob war mixed with magic fits brilliantly and ensure a fast paced, gripping plot. The characters are on the whole really good: Garraty not only manages the difficult task of keeping Jimmy sympathetic, there’s a great backup cast in the offing (his mob mentor is great, changing from terrifying to pathetic). However the real thing that shines is idea of The Price, the cost of magic, not a new idea but one brilliantly crafted imbuing the tale with an edge of horror, deepening the tale and characters and ramping up the suspense.

Highly recommend to those fans of urban fantasy, crime or horror. It's only available on e book at the moment which is a crying shame but one worth tracking down, worth every penny.

Bechdel Test: Fail

Feb 6, 2012, 5:00pm Top

Oh, I tried London Orbital. It was fascinating, but I couldn't face reading all of it! Does he write anything *short*? I think I could like a book of his if it was only ~200 pages or so. :)

Feb 7, 2012, 4:13am Top

I don't think so sadly. I have tried his Slow Chocolate Autopsy which is part comic but I have never got passed half way, too incomprehensible. I only bought Ghost Milk after hearing him speak, which was fascinating and of you ever get the chance probably the best way to get small doses!

Edited: Feb 7, 2012, 8:23am Top

4. Alan's War by Emmanuel Guivert
Memorable memoir

“When I was eighteen, Uncle Sam told me he’d like me to put on a uniform and go off to fight a guy by the name of Adolf. So I did.”

A chance encounter between comic creator and an elderly American gent not only cemented a lifelong friendship but produces this wonderful memoir of a young American GI who joined up during the last years of WWII. Cope is a wonderfully story teller and Guibert skilfully joins a series of vignettes into a flowing narrative, letting Copes voice shine through.

It’s a very personal account, Cope saw very little action but it’s nevertheless fascinating as it is moving. A coming of age tale just as much a tale of WWII. We follow his friendships, the banalities of war mixed with its sharp, sudden dangers, his blossoming love of Europe, his struggle to make a place in the world.

The art is deceptively simple and very beautiful; an image hanging in white space, concentrating the mind and allowing the imagination to fill in. I can imagine its very much what someone see as they listen to the story.

Highly recommended to everyone, even non comics fans will find something to like here. You can get a taster over at: http://us.macmillan.com/alanswar/EmmanuelGuibert

Bechdel test: NA (it's a bit mean to grade as it is in one mans' voice)

Edited: Feb 28, 2012, 9:13am Top

5. The Cave by Tim Krabbe
Brilliantly crafted, jigsaw thriller.

It starts off so average too, a guy whose lost everything making a play for small time riches, a geology teacher turned drug mule. We start by following him as he gears up for the drop, his fears of how bad it could get, his amateur plans and then BAM, we switch to another narrator, a different time and the nature of the story starts to become clear. This is not your average thriller, it’s an artfully and carefully constructed musing on fate, of the tragedy of what might have been, of the soul destroying aspect of 'doing your duty'. Gripping and powerful as we start to burrow down in time we see glimpses of story, until near it becomes clear and you read it desperately wishing that it wasn't the truth. Don't get me wrong this is not about 1 mans fall into crime, it's …. well that would be rather too large a spoiler wouldn’t it?

It's a short book, more novella but well worth seeking out. Highly recommended, especially to anyone interested in thrillers or story craft will lap this up.

Bechdel Test: Fail

Edited: Feb 28, 2012, 9:14am Top

6. Shades of Grey by Jasper FForde
Dystopian for fans of world building

In a society where the colour you can see denotes your social standing we meet young Eddie Russet, a low-level 'red' who for anything else it's just a shade of grey, but he has strong ambitions (an advantageous marriage, a high colour score on his coming of age day) and if he can pull it off he will be set for life. Trouble is he has to travel to the outskirts for a lesson in humility and that’s going to change his life.

FForde has many many great ideas, a great turn of phrase and a good sense of humour. He knows how to tantalise a reader with just enough information for enjoyment but still have leave questions to ensure you to keep reading. However for all his tricks this book is just about world building, just a set-up the rest of the series and it’s going to depend on what you want for a book and your patience level.

Personally as more of story fan I need much, much more and as I read became increasingly disappointed. There is nothing here apart from strong imagination and good writing: no deep plot or characters, nothing to engage and no pay off. Ok so the plot does kick in towards the end and when it does the book (and the characters) come alive but the ending ends up being a deeply unsatisfying trailer for book 2.

It really doesn’t help the plot is a homage to other dystopian tales (1984) and is pretty dull just by itself i.e. guy falls for a girl and miraculously realises he is living in a dystopian society (well duh). It doesn't naturally lead to the most exciting protagonist and I have say Ffordes naive, young every-man is a perfect example of what can go wrong, bland isn't the word.

So in all honesty I don’t recommended it until book two is out and getting good reviews as otherwise it's practically just a long prologue. Having said that Fforde fanatics and lovers of clever setups will probably lap this one up.

Bechdel Test: cant remember!

Feb 13, 2012, 8:23am Top

I liked Shades of Grey a bit more than you did, but I agree, it is basic world-building. I can't wait for part two, because it needs a part two to be great.

Edited: Feb 28, 2012, 9:14am Top

21 yeah I might try the 2nd one, see what the reviews are like.

7. AngelMaker by Nick Harkaway
Extreme multi genre fun

“That is indeed wonderful. However it is also somewhat insane and a bit on the weird side”

This book is pure, joyful fun. A page turning exuberant, gripping story, with absolutely pitch perfect characters (best octogenarian ever!), a cracking plot, a masterful blend of seriousness and light-hearted glee and a much needed, refreshing, modern whirlwind of genres. Let's see; Steampunk gadgets? Tick. Doomsday device? tick. James Bond Spy thrillers Vs 70s cor blimey gangster flicks? Tick. Serious musing on the nature of truth? Of old age? Of following in father’s footsteps? Tick. Cults, serial killers, nuns, robots, elephants and small ugly dogs? Tick. A fantastic, over the top, show down at the end? Tick.

Harkaway knows his tropes and whilst readers will be familiar with much of it the joy comes from how he riffs on them, how they then come together to bring something new, something modern. It is at once funny, exciting, sad, joyful and outrageous all at once. One for story lovers and speculative fiction fans all at once. I think it’s going to take a second read to notice the faults so blinded as I am by the story, in fact my only gripe is sometimes the story didn’t do want I wanted :)

For those wondering how it compares to the brilliant Gone Away World it's a very different book. There’s no awe-inspiring twist here, but it is a much tighter book and though contains no ninjas Hardaway’s trademark eclectic tastes, great characters still stand out. In fact those who didn’t like his 1st book should probably give it a try, it’s extremely well honed and edited.

Recommended to everyone. Oh book trailer here (warning actually tells you what it’s about)

Bechdel Test: Pass

Edited: Feb 28, 2012, 9:14am Top

8. The Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses by Paul Koudounaris
Lush coffee table book

"These sites were intended as statements of hope and beauty, and it was important to me that I find a means through photographs and the writing of history to convey that: these sites represent death only in so far as death itself affirms life.”

An utterly beautiful (if beautiful is the right word) coffee table book, lovingly put together that makes it a strong temptation for anyone interested in the history and varieties of ossuaries and charnel houses. Not only is it packed with full photos and tiny old paintings and postcards but it contains stunning layouts of text. Koudounaris writes a fascinating, well researched history of all the reasons and various reactions to them, the war memorials, the catholic reminders of death (the memento mori), the secular fashions, the slightly distasteful personal monuments.

I guess I don’t need to recommend it, you know if it’s your thing. From my perspective it almost makes me not want to be cremated, making up a gorgeous chandelier or creepy cloaked figure sounds much more fun :)

Bechdel Test: NA

Edited: Apr 19, 2012, 8:39am Top

And now a book that walks hand in hand with the above, a fictional account of the creation of the Paris catacombs.

10. Pure by Andrew Miller
so so historical fiction

A few years before French Revolution, Les Innocents stews in a miasma of rubbish and the dead, an old unloved church and cemetery containing millions of dead. An outdated place that no longer fits with modern France, it all must be tidied away. Barratte is the ambitious engineer brought in to oversee it, a dark, fetid task that is going to change his life.

With an intriguing plot, slap bang in a fascinating period this book didn’t quite deliver for me; a slow moving tale with sporadic flashes of drama. Atmospheric to a point, but probably too much of horrid undercurrent, I like my light with dark, a rose amongst the manure so to speak. I found it a little tiresome and sometimes overblown. I suspect however it is a homage to a certain type of fiction I have never read (well I have listened to a Les Miserable’s CD once) and if you are familiar with that and with French history the story will be much richer. For everyone else it depends on your patience level. To be honest another reason I didn’t much care for it was the basic plot was just not to my taste. I find the character of innocent young man, surrounded by odd and exuberant characters maturing under life’s hardships, well a bit too dull. A personal thing definitely but one which sours the book for me, especially if there is not much action to balance it.

It is a fascinating period in history and is well written and lauded by others. Lovers of historical fiction, French 18th century fiction will probably heartily enjoy it, however I cannot recommend it. Instead I urge you to visit the Paris Catacombs.. at night..with a guttering candle :)

Bechdel: oops cant remember

Edited: Feb 28, 2012, 9:13am Top

11. Blankets by Craig Thompson
Lovely coming of age graphic novel

Beautifully drawn and extremely well crafted autobiographically coming of age story. A tale of a young teenager struggling to find his path and identity, themes well trodden but in this case deftly and quietly done. The hard topics of fundamentalist religion, of abuse, of social isolation mixes with familiar experiences of first love, of confusion over life’s future possibilities and personal faith and a burgeoning youthful confidence.

It really is a touching and thoughtful graphic novel, that doesn't need to shout to be heard and I recommend it to lovers of coming of age tale, whether you are a fan of graphic novels or not.

Bechdel Test: Pass (just)

Feb 28, 2012, 5:47pm Top

Blankets has been popping up in so many threads I've been reading lately. It has my interest because I've had my eye on Habibi for a little while now.

Feb 28, 2012, 11:11pm Top

Oh, I might be one of those who likes The Empire of Death, I loved the Paris Catacombs. And I must dust off The Gone-Away World!!

Oh, I read a YA novel last year that also takes in the Catacombs: Revolution. I enjoyed it, but the main character is a bit of a whiner, others have pointed out.

Glad you liked Blankets, even if you weren't as bowled over as I was!

Feb 29, 2012, 10:15am Top

hmm I am not usually a fan off YA so I might give Catacombs: Revolution a miss, but thanks for the recommendation. Although I am not usually a fan of coming of age tales either but I did enjoy (if not love) Blankets.

Oh and you are in for a treat with The Gone-Away World you have to stick with it though, it meanders for a while (although there is a reason!)

Edited: Apr 19, 2012, 8:38am Top

12. Feast of a Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa >
Stunning historical fiction

“The Chief cut the Gordian knot: “Enough!” Great ills demand great remedies! He not only justified the massacre of Haitians in 1937; he considered it a great accomplishment of the regime. Didn’t he save the Republic from being prostituted a second time by that marauding neighbour? What do five, ten, twenty thousand Haitians matter when it’s a question of saving an entire people?”

Beautifully written the story immerses you in the last days of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina, Dictator of the Dominican Republic from 1930 to 1969, when the Catholic Church and USA have turned their back on him and assassination plots grow thick. This is not a story to be read in snatches, take a deep breath and dive in as characters and time lines are expertly, thickly, layered to create one of the best, most exciting historical fictions books I have read in a long while.

The Dominican setting comes fully alive in Llosa's hands as do the multitude of characters. For he loves to get into the characters heads, to show you what they are thinking and where they have come from. This deepness creates a gripping and horrifying tale of the impact of dictatorship, of a endemic misogynistic culture, of the cruelty of international politics, that some things can never be forgiven.

The cast we follow is deftly chosen; Trujillo himself on his last day, the assassins waiting on a lonely road, an odious cabinet minster or two. He balances these characters, adding extra dimension to the tale by also following Urania Cabral who is returning to the Dominican Republic many years after these events, returning after the traumatic events forced her to flee. If it seems overwhelming it isn’t they all flow into just 3 story arch’s of Trujillo, of the murder and of the present. But Llosa doesn't baby the audience, you need to be awake for this, to do it justice. Llosa has this great literary trick used towards the end when a reminisces will segue present into past without breaking sweat, hammering home the impact to sublime effect.

I like it so much it’s hard to see where others may dislike it, the darkness could be a problem, the seeming complexity or the simplification of history (note I don’t know how accurate it is) or maybe they feel some characters to be superfluous. Still it’s worth a go and I highly recommend it, you don’t need to know the history (although nicknames can be confusing), this is a book to experience, to chew on and even to love.


Bechdel: Pass

Edited: Apr 19, 2012, 8:38am Top

13 Hospital by Toby Lit
Deliciously bonkers humorous horror

There is no way I can out do the blurb and so:
Hospital is about blue murder and saving lives, having sex and surgery, falling in love and falling from a great height, crazy voodoo and hypnotic surveillance – it’s about the last days and the first days. And the Rubber Nurse knows you’ve been very naughty and is going to teach you a well-deserved lesson. It’s the story of a lost boy wandering the corridors of a strange, antiseptic building, looking and hoping for a chance to get home. And also of a man who won’t wake up despite the best efforts of the hospital staff – and while he sleeps, a threatening darkness settles over everything...

If that sounds like your thing jump right in! Really do you need to know more?

Well if you do be comforted(?) that it’s not a deranged surrealist mess but a brilliant, gripping tale with a fight of good Vs evil, a closed, out of control immortality and set in a "soap opera" hospital. There are some beautiful stereotypes here; the handsome surgeon and love forlorn nurse, the evil and ego driven head Satanist, the naughty and erotic nurse all twisted into the tale. Amusing and horrific in turns it’s a delightfully imaginative and gripping tale not just because you want to see how the idea(s) grow but because it’s very well paced and very carefully plotted (although getting an answer out of the end up is up to you).

Anyone who loves the fantastical and are not overly squeamish (it has been called gorgeously grotesque by one reviewer) you should really check this out. It’s rare a book that leaps to this level of imagination, it’s very rare that book is this amusing too. I highly recommend it and huge kudos go to Anders who put this on my radar.

oh there is an excerpt here

Bechdel Test: um.. I think its a pass.. going to have to check

Mar 14, 2012, 2:24am Top

Thanks for the Feast of a Goat review clfisha, sounds great, will track it down, and my wife who enjoys history/historical fiction will love the book, keeping me in the good books !

Mar 14, 2012, 5:50am Top

Wow, Hospital sounds pretty amazing! And a great review of Feast of the Goat, I'm wondering why I haven't picked that one up yet! :)

Mar 14, 2012, 7:25am Top

Thank guys. I hope you wife enjoys it bryanoz!

and Tania Hospital was great fun, if wonderfully OTT!

Mar 14, 2012, 6:56pm Top

Feast of the Goat

all going on my decade list ... won't get to them this year I'm guessing

but they sound great!

Mar 15, 2012, 6:52am Top

Hope you enjoy them when you get round to them in 2022 :) I am just getting round to books I saw on LT 2 years ago. Still its nice to have so much choice!

Mar 19, 2012, 8:34am Top

14. The Unwritten Vol 5: On to Genesis by Mike Carey (author) and Peter Gross (artist)
Gripping, adventure comic. Brilliant meta-fiction.

Series Review

Imagine the worlds best selling fantasy series (yes witha boy wizard) was never finished, that the author disappearing into thin air. Now imagine that was your father and that character is based on you and your life is now one monotonous round of signings, interviews and fantasy conventions talks. Bad enough until you realise your childhood was a lie and someone is out to kill you.

One of the best comic series out there. Beautifully drawn, expertly plotted and with an intelligent and gripping tale. The playful merging of reality, or literature and storytelling makes a great base for a plot. There is myriad of styles from nods to classics of Moby Dick and Winnie the Pooh, to Nazi Propaganda and USA pulp fiction. Blend that in with cults, conspiracies, magic and the modern world (blogging, celebrity fandom) you a tale of hug breath and potential and Carey is an author that can pull this off.

For those who are have read up to volume 4

Although we get some gripping action this is a plot driven novel; we are digging in the past now and Carey is building up the story arch to great effect. The different styles and literary nodes are still here, this time we deleve into the era of pulp, there is some gorgeous artwork in the style of old comics to be found. A collection to satisfy and wet the appetite, all in all a subperb continuation of a fabulous series

Ah I love this series, please go and try it. I think you will all love it too

Edited: Apr 19, 2012, 8:37am Top

15. Astro City by Kurt Busiek
Brilliant look at the superhero world.

Busiek himself sums up this book in his brilliant introduction:
.. a wander off the main thoroughfare of a superhero world and see what stories have been waiting in the shadows to be told, what we can discover if we stop heeding the siren song of what happens next and start wondering what else is there..

He fulfils his aims brilliantly in a series of tales set in the same world. Busiek has a great eye to tales hidden between the dramatic fights and dramas of the superhero world and he has the skills to bring a short story to life. And although he protests of too much reality in the superhero genre, making a reader connect with it, making it believable is something that makes this comic shine. The world is deep and rich, with some joyously weird superheroes and it is exciting to think there is a whole series here.

You don't need to be a superhero fan to enjoy this (I'm not) and the standard tropes are all you need to know to enjoy. So we meet a superhero who never has time just to fly for the love it, a petty crook who finds out someone’s secret identity or an amusing look at journalistic ethics.

Highly recommend for comics lovers and those who are want to see past those superhero flicks.

Bechdel: Pass (I think, going to have to check!)

Edited: Mar 19, 2012, 7:56pm Top

@ 36: Ooh, I've had this on on my wishlist. I think I've been focusing on building up my comics and graphic novels collection this year (while I use the library for almost everything else). I promised myself no more than one new book per week, but I will be bumping this one up in the queue.

Mar 20, 2012, 12:27am Top

#38> Oooh yes, it's a great series! I owe Clfisha for the original recommendation that got it on my wishlist in the first place.

And that Astro City looks good, too!

Mar 20, 2012, 8:24am Top

I admit The Unwritten is added to my tiny "rush out and buy it as soon as its released" category! ;) I am pretty confident with Carey by now he can pull off the entire series but I guess there's always the its a unfinished series problems!

Mar 21, 2012, 5:20am Top

I have just received AngelMaker and your review has made me even more keen to read it soon. I did enjoy his first one, but it was so "different" that I was worried about this one.

Mar 22, 2012, 2:01pm Top

Astro City does look good. Check out that coloring!

So many good recommendations, here...

Edited: Nov 23, 2012, 8:57am Top

41 I think missed the sheer chaotic mess of ideas and boy did The Gone Away World blow me away plot wise. You do get the same tone, the same great characters and the same imagination but its tighter and there are less of them. There's not giant plot twists either... if you enjoyed the 1st one its still worth a go though.

42 its lush isn't it! Plus it's great that I found a whole new series to enjoy :) Maybe not great for my wallet..

16. The G String Murders by Gypsy Rose Lee
Fascinating 40s burlesque

Written by "intelligent stripper" Gypsy Rose Lee The G String Murders became a salacious best seller in 1940's. Vividly set in the deliciously seedy world of burlesque this is a crime story to read for its perspective. Don't get me wrong the plots fine and it edges into tense, creepiness towards the end but the star of the show is the time and place.

The characters are fab, a snapshot of the typical types you would find in the theatre and of a course written from a protagonist who I suspect mirrors Miss Lee quite closely. So you get the G string salesman, the ego inflated stage manager, the prima dona all clashing and fighting in between the murders. Then of course you get the titbits, the melting of their make-up to reuse, the soaking of breasts in cold water or petroleum to make them pert or the corruption involved in avoiding obscenity charges. You do also get Lee's wry humour and parting shots of hypocrisy and wealth but oddly you don ‘t get much of a feminist stance. I guess Lee putting her name to a story was enough in itself

It could be accused of being episodic but I didn’t really care less, it’s still good fun. On top of that you get a lot of great extras, background on Lee, amusing letters between her and her publisher. Lee is a fascinating character in her own right and her biography is now on the wish list.

All in all recommended.

Bechdel test: Pass

Edited: Nov 23, 2012, 8:57am Top

17. The Confession by Domenic Stansberry
Average thriller

Beautifully echoing the pulp fiction paperbacks of old with its small size and with a truly wonderful OTT cover (as are all the Hard case series) this is a book to pick up and proudly read on the tube. Well thats the reason I bought it. It's a shame the story wasn't a good fit. I mean the plot seems up to scratch, I could ignore the slightly suspect sex scenes (to be honest that can sometimes be part of the amusement!) but I didn’t really get on the with the main protagonist.

The problem was to make this unreliable narrator, this selfish, misogynist actually work he had to be guilty. The mystery didn’t quite manage to balance is he or isn’t it question and its simply just not interesting if he is innocent. I dont care about his fate, but I care he might be a murderer who got away.

Which is a shame because I like idea of the series I am definitely going to give it another go, with a different author. I just can't recommend this one.

Bechdel test: fail

Edited: Nov 23, 2012, 8:57am Top

Good gracious me I got round to do some reviews.. these are all on my 1212..

18. Aya by Marguerite Abouet

Set in the Ivory Coast in the good times of the 70s this is a tale of teenage years with differing dreams (rich wife or doctor), youthful lust and fears all rubbing against a clash of class of modern culture and traditions all set in the rich, evocative and, to me fascinating unfamiliar place. The art is as delightful as the characters, the historical period interesting (a great intro sets the historic scene if you are not aware) and I really want to see where Aya's life takes her and thank Kerry for the recommendation!

Recommended to comics fans, lovers of coming of age tales and anyone interested in Africa.

Bechdel: Pass

Edited: Nov 23, 2012, 8:58am Top

and now two books that fit together lovingly

19. Kavelier & Clay by Michael Chabon
A odd, endearing book.

With a endearing love of superhero comics Chabon deeply entwines a story of astounding (super)heroes and heartfelt personal dramas, of dramatic escapes and everyday torturous traps. It's part tale of deep friendships, a lecture in US comics history and the tragic tale of WWII. It’s has some big things to say (and explain) but has much fun along the way and lucky it grounds itself with rich and evocative settings and a grand cast of utterly human characters. So one minute we are dazzled by the manic dynamism of New York in the 1940s and next overcome by the cold, dark maddening isolation of the Antarctic. We meet and lose a lifetimes worth of people from the hard, cynical editor George Deasey to the glamorous, lonely radio actor of Tracy Bacon (love that name).

It's ambitious wonderful, clever and heartfelt and if it wasn’t so damn long, with a slow start, an uneven pacing and the odd brazen info dump this would be a truly wonderful book. It’s easy to forgive these faults and let it take your breath away, you don’t need to be a fan or even like comics, superheroes, WWII stories or romance it‘s superbly its own delicious thing and I highly recommend the experience.

Bechdel: Pass

Edited: Nov 23, 2012, 8:58am Top

20. Empire State by Adam Christopher
Fun Sci-fi noir

I love the new flood of genre mash-ups and this is a gem. It opens with a bang too as a gripping car chase rival gangsters is overtaken by a literally explosive fight between two superheroes. For this is prohibition era New York and things are about to get worse (and weird) for PI Rad Bradley, who is about to make a discovery that’s going to change everybody’s lives forever.

Sublimely meshing noir tropes with superhero conventions and twisting your typical mystery plot into a mind bending tale of parallel universes, odd cults, robots, airships, doomsday devices and really hard alcohol. It's a fun, fast paced, mind bending mystery. It has a fantastic sense of place with its rain slicked streets, eerily empty warships, gargantuan mansions and seedy speakeasies and they are all populated with some great characters, luckily my favourite being PY Bradley who really shines here. It’s real easy to slip into this world and bring it alive, Christopher manages to walk a tightrope of tricky character reasoning and motivation with a such a fluid setting.

I guess being a 1st novel there are some cracks, some of those great characters get lost and some just don't seem to fit. I felt the plot could have done with being a wee tighter or rather pruned/focused as there any dead wood in the thick plot. Personal taste also dictated a desire for a less snake like plot, which gave a me a headache but now I am just nitpicking. I meant it has a robot butler what more do you want?

All in all recommend to lovers of a rollicking story with a mind bending plot, sci-fi fans and lovers of noir. Christopher is an author to watch.

Bechdel Test: Fail
I can only think of 2 female character's and they don't meet.

Edited: Nov 23, 2012, 8:59am Top

21. High Rise J G Ballard
Interesting dystopia

The 1st line pretty much sums this up:
"Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months"

Written in 70s, set in the (then) futuristic vision of huge luxury high rises blocks which contain everything you need (schools, shops, restaurants) which soon breakdown into a hellish dystopia. If you have read Ballard before you can see how this goes: a violent, intense and dramatic breakdown.

It is fascinating as much for this societal breakdown as it is for the latter twist into more offbeat horror story. This twist in facts freshens the plot as much as it serves to jar narrative. In fact some of these later ideas are evocative enough to stay with me and make me wish for a survival horror game based on the book. Apart from the ideas the other highlight in the book is the use of setting; the fact that the building not only creates the initial conflicts but also drives the plot much more than his passive protagonists. The high rise grounds the more over the top happenings in reality, which it has to be said doesn't seem that out of date (people start film everything even if it’s not in digital).

Of course this brings me to the book‘s failures. A dystopia always requires disbelief in its setup and always leans towards exaggeration but you will have to cope with both aspects throughout the book. Although it is a sobering thought that he did witness societal breakdown and incarceration in camps during WWII, so how much of an exaggeration it is who knows. His characters are weirdly passive, misogynistic things who just ramble in and out of a tall tale. Getting 3 protagonists (male) gives a great multi view point of ongoing events and help to keep the pace up but they are all unlikeable, irritating and sexist. Now whilst you are really going to have accept the inherent sexism and move on (or giggle at it or maybe use as a case study in a certain type of male psychology) it’s hard to take the other faults. Well Ok it's a bit easier as we know it’s not going end well...

Oddly while I recognise I dislike some aspects of the book, I couldn’t imagine the book without them and enjoyed it because of them. In fact I will be picking up some more, probably drowned world and do recommend this book to horror and dystopian fans. Ballard is so widely influential it is probably worth trying him at least once, although lovers of The empire of the sun may be a bit shocked

Bechdel: Fail

Edited: Nov 23, 2012, 8:59am Top

22. Osama by Lavie Tidhar
Sci fi Noir

The premise is an intriguing one
“In a world without global terrorism Joe, a private detective, is hired by a mysterious woman to find a man: the obscure author of pulp fiction novels featuring one Osama Bin Laden: Vigilante..."

It's an odd book and the blurb tends to mislead; it's all smoke and mirrors not a concrete alternative history book, it draws on the terrorism subtext but mixes the topic with a deft touch, it is sci fi and noir but uses none of those writing styles. It is however a beautifully written tale, which plays with Noir tropes to tell a science fiction story and, yes, holds a mirror up to the effects of terrorism. It muses on trauma and death, the stark harshness of violence and fear, of love and the act of remembering. It is not titillating or harsh it is funny, odd, stark, dreamy and touching and I liked it very much.

The settings of this international thriller are fantastic (especially London which literally seeps off the page( but we also go to Paris, Kabul, Laos and to small extent the US. Tidhar deftly weaves the pressure and fullness of history, the locations are rich and deep and carry weight and secure the worlds dreamy unexplained place in a reality. I loved the small asides of historical facts which some obviously are wrong i.e. De Gaulle did not die in Algiers. I loved the nods to our stories, ones easily spotted and ones I probably missed. It’s not an annoying gimmick it feels right their world should reflect ours, the PI should buy a purple rose in little Cairo to mourn a lost friend.

The pace of story is well done, action in all the right places, short chapters and sections to keep the rhythm. The characters, fit their purpose. Fully realised, glimpsed and memorable, a stereotype subverted and made more real. The styles used are unexpected, the pulp fiction of Osama is written in factual, reportage style and it works much better than a jokey pulp would (I would love to know if the author tried it other way 1st). It also, as many things are, has a reason why which becomes clear much later. Indeed there are many unclear things, this is not a book for those who love explanations. Nor will it satisfy anyone looking for a thorough exploration of terrorism through fiction nor any hard science fiction fans. It is a twisted blend of genres and topics.

Still its hard to fault, it's just whether it fits your taste. All I can say is it’s not about the mystery, it’s about the journey, it’s about the PI doing right thing in harsh world and having to working out what the right thing is: down these mean streets a man must go.. and well there is delicious subversion to the that. A tale a old noir fan will adore. Everyone else will just merely enjoy it.

Recommended. Actually after writing that review highly recommended.

Bechdel: Fail

Edited: Nov 23, 2012, 8:59am Top

23. The Dark Philosophers by Gwen Thomas
3 Dark, bleak, funny novellas

Newly republished by the Library of Wales this is a dark, grim and sometimes humorous collection 3 novellas by Gwyn Thomas an author and playwright who was described as 'the true voice of the English-speaking valleys'. Born in 1913 the youngest son of a coalminer and struggling to find work during the 30s depression he is writing here, what he knows. This will do nothing to shift old welsh stereotypes of poverty stricken, downtrodden miners and huge numbers of unemployed living in tiny, cold damp houses amidst the much rained upon slag heaps but that doesn’t lessen its interest or value.

The longest story (The Dark Philosophers itself) is by far the best. The initial description of bunch of guys sitting around an Italian cafe discussing politics may not sell it. It is really a delicious tale of religion, politics, love and revenge with a very amusing, sarcastic narrator and populated with some real and interesting characters. A story to chew and relish in the up and coming ending. Thomas really shines here and it’s worth seeking the book out for this story alone.

The other two tales are shorter and less memorable. Oscar I read long ago and barely remember apart from the unremitting bleakness and downbeat ending, the flashes of humour passing me by as my modern sensibilities were overwhelmed. The last is the most shocking but suffers from the plot being obvious to a modern reader, still it’s an err.. entertaining tale of incest and murder in the valleys, rich in description and characters.

Recommended but I am not sure who to.

Edited: Nov 23, 2012, 9:00am Top

24. Mesmo Delivery by Rafael Grampá & Marcus Penna .
Violent action comic

The only problem about this collection is it's just too short for the cost, seemingly a collection of 2 whole comics plus extra covers and characters drawings. The actual short tale with a twist is well done, the fun is in the extremely well crafted action sequences containing much gratuitous violence, very visual and very well done.

25. Warren Ellis' Scars by Warren Ellis & Jacen Burrows

A pretty average story of conflicted detective hunting down an odious criminal. Well told, with great dialogue and nice art but a bit too obvious ending to make in that interesting. However it's elevated by Ellis comments, a page or two between chapters discussing the comics themes, a fascinating, engaging an autobiographical rant at the darkness of life. This lifts and enhances the comic, actually the comic becomes merely an extra filling to Ellis's writing. It’s a shame then that this stops two chapters before the end and the artist takes over, he is good but not really the same thing and so in the end I can’t recommend it.

Edited: Nov 23, 2012, 9:00am Top

26. Giant Thief by David Tallermen

Lured in by a fun title and silly cover but sold on the humorous excerpt I read. This is your typical fantasy setting, but no detailed world building and in-depth discussion of how the magic system works. Bang we hit the 1st fantasy trope (of hanging thief) before we are off on a wise cracking adventure set amongst potential civil war and the odd giant. If there are no surprises there is much relief that Tallerman delivers, the action is well done, the pace fast and the characters flesh out and (the most difficult) constantly amusing. Easie damasco is great rogue to hang a tale on and it doesn't even stop the humour or drag the story as he slowly matures. If fact it’s a hook to hang the next book on, one that I will be buying.

Recommended to fantasy fans and those looking for a fast paced read.

Apr 28, 2012, 10:02pm Top

Thanks clfisha. I hadn't heard of Gwen Thomas, I think I'll go seek some more.

Edited: Nov 23, 2012, 9:01am Top

Hope you enjoy it when you find a copy!

27. The Tigers Wife by Tea Obreht
Slow, distant magical realism

I am not usually a fan of magical realism and this book didn't change that opinion at all.

Beautifully written we meet Natalia a doctor in former Balkan state (unnamed) who has just lost her deeply loved grandfather and as she remembers narrates their lives and the two tales he told her; the tigers wife and the deathless man. So we get 3 deftly woven strands weaving in and of one man’s life and the themes of our relationship with death, of superstition, of mourning. The effects of war echo gently the setting, as does her coming of age tale, adding depth and layering meaning as does the historical changes that affect one man’s life.

So why didn't I like it? Well I simply found it dull, particularly the tale of the tigers wife and though there were flashes of interest they were severely overshadowed. Whilst I liked the narrator, others just felt too distant: the deathless man designed to be passive became merely boring, her ghostly grandfather too distant and there were far too many asides of background of minor characters. Of course if it matches your tastes than the miniature stories will add depth and resonance to a multi-layered book, personally the whole thing segmented like torn patchwork and yet its story pathways relatively straight with ending displayed, the magic overshadowed by more imaginative genre tales.

It is what it is; a slow, multi layered tale of a life, well written with many reflections on its themes. I can't recommend it but I suspect you know whether it might be your cup of tea.

Edited: Nov 23, 2012, 9:01am Top

28. Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky
Astounding glimpses into the geographically lost and lonely.

It is a beautiful object in and of itself, a lush coffee table with its own font, littered with enticing maps, a myriad of organic shapes encased in ocean. Whilst that maybe enough for map lovers this book is so much more, for each island has a tale to tell, a sliver of its lonely and isolated life. Whether of its natural wonder or human drama, a myth or historical fact, heaven and hell, discovery and forgetfulness. There are as many different types of tales as there are island shapes.

Each island has its own 2 page spread, the map on one and the tale on another with additional facts: its population, its timeline. A book whose meticulous research is only displayed judiciously and lovingly laid out so to entice and not overwhelm.

This is a book to wallow over, to use as a springboard to many many worlds and for us armchair travellers come highly recommended.

Edited: Nov 23, 2012, 9:05am Top

29. Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household
30s class thriller

The hunter becomes the hunted in this psychological, English classic tale of 30s.

A unnamed English gentlemen gets caught 'hunting' a powerful European dictator, his protestations that is was purely a sporting exercise is ignored as he is tortured and then pushed of a cliff. Murder attempt bodged he goes on run, dragging his broken body through Europe and fleeing for rural England where he goes to ground like a wounded animal. Wanted by the sinister foreign forces and UK police (for murder of aforementioned spies) we get not only a detailed look of the how but also the mentality, of the hunted man.

Understated though it may be it’s as fascinating as it is tense, the idealist discussion never overwhelm the drama and the ending is one of the most excruciatingly claustrophobic tales I have ever read. Oddly to its 1930s setting works in its favour as does its deeply, overtly masculine tale (no women allowed here). The characters are a dying breed of English upper class gent, the world is changing and he knows it. Not only does a doomed foreshadowing falls across the plot but it enforces a more believable character.

A well deserved classic tag, inspiring many tales in genre (oddly including Rambo). I haven’t read anything quite like this before and I recommend it to all fans of thrillers and hidden anglophiles.

Edited: Nov 23, 2012, 9:05am Top

30. The iron will of shoeshine cats by Hesh Kestin
Evocative, hard boiled jewish gangster

"To the members of the Bhotke Young Men’s Society, Shushan Cats was no criminal. The criminal statutes held no validity for those to whom the law meant only authorized starvation, torture, death. Everything done to the Jews of Europe … everything done to these had been absolutely legal, sanctioned by legitimate courts whose judges sat in black robes and vetted each and every decree as binding, fair, in the public interest, legal. Under these circumstances, that Shushan Cats was a Jewish gangster not only could not be held against him, but was a matter for celebration"

Evocative and entertaining, this is an amusing, gripping and unusual tale of the mob in 60s New York. Shoeshine cats, notorious Jewish mobster walks into the Bhotke young men’s society meeting and asks them take care of his mother funeral arrangements, outspoken Russell gets lumbered with the job and quickly gets sucked into the lifestyle as Cats takes him under his wing, grooming him for his own reasons.

Forget Godfather, this is superbly its own thing, with its own view of the world. Brilliantly written, with real but outrageously fun characters and pitch perfect hard boiled flowing dialogue that ensures you keep reading. Our narrator, Russell, is very endearing even whilst being an idiot, an essential fact in a 1st person story. The sense of place is imperative of a novel that is twisting mobster tale to show a different view, its historical and culture richness, the backdrop of huge events give an edge and again a modern sympathy to events. It’s a very well balanced novel, although for someone familiar that richness may irk.

The plot, well hmm for the 1st third its merely enjoyable and darkly amusing, intelligent story but trust me its swerves into a gripping, unputdownable tale and that probably spoils too much as it completely took me by surprise. All this deserves a brilliant rating but I felt a tiny bit unsatisfied by the end. Kestin manages to neatly tie up the wrong plot strands at the end.

Still it doesn’t really impinge on the enjoyment and I recommend this story to history and crime fans, lovers of hard boiled fiction and those wanting a breath of fresh air. Stephen King has been recommending it so it has just been republished in the UK. No excuses now.

May 29, 2012, 11:29pm Top

Great books, especially Shoeshine Cats. Will have to check that one out.

Edited: Nov 23, 2012, 9:06am Top

Thanks, hope you enjoy when you get round to reading it.

31 & 32. Fifty Shades of Grey & Fifty Shades Darker by E L Smith
Fun, fluffy, erotic romance

I am not sure why this book has attracted so much hype and hate it seems to be pretty standard in the erotic romantic fictions genre (although I don’t read *that* much). Plot and characters are all subsumed into the sole purpose of romantic wish fulfilment of boy meets girl, problems ensue all so they can then make up and in this case its spiced with some very tame BDSM. It’s a bit hard to review because it depends what floats your boat, characters fit their allotted role and no more, there is only the romance for a plot and the writing is ok as is the erotica. I guess the naive young heroine is stretched so far it could be astoundingly irksome (always harping on about her inner goddess) but for me that's part of the fun, and it is fun I enjoyed it in one huge gulp.

Those looking for anything more are going to be disappointed and for any S&M fan I would stay clear.. it’s not treated with a particular approving tone. I have read the 2nd book in the trilogy but to be honest it started to stretch everything a bit too far and I got a tad bored. Deranged ex-girlfriends and stereotypical villains to add danger didn’t really float my boat.

Bechdel: 1st book Pass, 2nd book ?

Edited: Nov 23, 2012, 9:06am Top

33. The Year of Our War by Steph Swainston
Un-engaging fantasy

A world with a Circle of immortals protecting the inhabitants from the Insects until God returns. An immortal messenger who’s drug takes him into another world where the boundaries are thin and where the answer to the Insects may lie..

For some reason I never connected with the author, everything seemed washed out and pale. I couldn’t seem to immerse myself in the world, root for the characters or engage in the plot. I couldn’t visualise or taste it and I didn’t care.

The plot seemed a thin delicate thing and not really the main show although what the main show was I don’t know but the pacing was off as insects overwhelm the world and then the circle falls to rather uninteresting infighting. The characters were universally flawed, not very fleshed out and well too few, although I did like the protagonist for being endearingly awful he was far too reactive to carry what was lacking in the rest of it. As to the world, well the City our addict goes to is tantalisingly interesting but sadly it was also fleeting. The setup of immortals could be good (they each have a purpose) but it was barely explored.

I guess the 1st in the trilogy is saddled with setting up plot and characters for the whole book but it has to contain something, hold some enticing promise of reward as well as being a great plot within itself and this did neither. I am mildy tempted to try the 2nd book out but really I don’t think I ever will.

Not recommended.

Edited: Nov 23, 2012, 9:08am Top

34. Darkmans by Nicola Barker
Ramshackle ghostly, wordy, epic, excellence
(Amazing. I think)

The truth' Peta informed him, baldly, 'is just a series of disparate ideas which briefly
congeal and then slowly fall apart again...'
'No,' Kane shook his head, 'I'm not buying that. What's been going on feels really ... really coherent, as if everything's secretly hooking up into this extraordinary ... I dunno ... this extraordinary jigsaw, like there's a superior, guiding logic of some kind...'

A chaotic, epic brilliant mess of a book. A book where history bleeds into the present, of cruel practical jokes, cold revenge, of ghostly possession. A book where language explodes onto the page, into the font, into the layout. Where characters stop half way through their sentence tripping over the sudden complex etymology of words.

"Yeah. My . . . uh . . . My bat . . . uh . . . my beit . . . bite . . . my boat. . . .

A book of lust and love, of extreme comedy, of dysfunctional families and embarrassingly accurate social scenes. A book where I have no clue what just happened but I love it.

For there is no nice plot summary here, they flow and eddy, are hinted it, disappear and sometimes come back and don’t expect them all to be resolved. The characters carry the novel and its themes enrich it. Barkers unusual style allows you to dive straight in their souls and swim in dirty waters. She has an ear for natural dialogue and knows how to write with and nail down social scenes.

"I couldn't play along because I didn't know what the rules were."

The cast isn’t large for a tome of this size but it feels beautifully stuffed. So we meet salad fearing Kurdish immigrant Gaffer, who goes into beautiful monologues in Turkish that no one can understand. We are pulled into upright, uptight Beede’s (non) relationship with his charming, drug dealer son and their love of Elen (a chiropodist, a witch?). There there’s her narcoleptic (possessed?) husband and their gifted son Fleet (who is manically building the medieval Cathedral at Albi out of matchsticks). No one is a kooky oddball stereotype and everyone is pulled into the Darkman's disturbing embrace. It's hard to pin down a favourite though: probably outrageous, chav Kelly who finds god in visions and coincidences or that mocking unseen narrator.

Kelly frowned and tucked in her skirt so the wind wouldn't lift it and
show off her thighs. It was a little short -
Should'a thought of that
-and the fabric was rather flimsy (for something supposedly military)
-although she'd never yet seen anyone wearing a mini-skirt in a situation of mortal combat.
Except for Lara Croft
Tank Girl
That pretty cow in Alias
-and she always did okay).

For such a weird book it flows well, Barker spends time at the beginning careful crafting the characters and building the world, layering its mystery. As a reader you have to relax and go with it, some of it is actually explained in the end and what isn’t well, choose your interpretation or wallow in lovely uncertainty. It’s never odd for oddness sake, its incredibly easy to read and look you can pay attention the 2nd time round.

It’s a brilliant book, quite unlike anything I have read and worth trying (50 page rule firmly in place). Lovers of oddity and language, history buffs and anglophiles will lap this up. Those who like neatish tales, wrapped up endings and tight action will probably want to steer clear.

Highly recommend and thank you to Anders & visbleghost for sticking it on my radar.

'The truth,' Peta smiled, 'is that there is no truth. Life is just a series of coincidences, accidents and random urges which we carefully forge - for our own, sick reasons - into a convenient design. Everything is arbitrary. Only art exists to make the arbitrary congeal. Not memory or God or love, even. Only art. The truth is simply an idea, a structure which we employ - in very small doses - to render life bearable. It's just a convenient mechanism, Kane, that's all.'

Bechdel: Pass

Jun 9, 2012, 1:39am Top

I liked Steph Swainston's The Year of Our War, along with the rest of the series. I suspect that if you didn't like the first you probably wont like the rest either though. I agree with the 'washed out' sense of place and characters that you get but put that down to us seeing everything from the protagonist's POV - he seems pretty blase about everything around him. Its kind of funny how that carries over to the second book when they go on a voyage of discovery and find a new land across the ocean with its own society and culture - again which only seems to hold the most cursory interest for the protagonist!

Jun 11, 2012, 5:29am Top

Actually I oddly hadn't pinned that feeling on the protagonist but your right he never really engages with anything!

Edited: Nov 23, 2012, 9:08am Top

I have been on a hard boiled crime fix.. so anyone who dislikes the genre please look away now :)

35. Quarry's Ex by Max Allan Collins
A plot so boiled it's pure hard crime essence.

"I don’t want to kill you.”
“That’s almost like…almost like hearing you say you still love me, Jack.”"

Based on the ingenious premise of an ex-hitman who now makes a living following his ex-colleagues, identifying their targets and letting them know their life is in danger so he can offer to remove the assassin and the person who hired them, obviously for a large fee.

It’s got an amazing opening, setting the scene and Quarry's character and them wham! Tone set for the rest of the book and your hooked, with pitch perfect dialogue and tight plotting and it doesn’t let up for its short (under 300pgs) length. There is no over the top action, but it is a darkly amusing thriller as we follow Quarry trying to work out the when and the how the hit will be made and then tracking down the instigator. Tripping over B movie actors, gangsters, bikers, harried movie producers and of course his ex.

Does exactly what it sets out to do and does it damn well and it’s got such a amazing cover. Recommended

36. The Last Quarry by Max Allan Collins

Quarry's finale timeline wise but not of course the last story. This sees a bored Quarry getting involved in one last job, foiling a kidnapping and taking on a hit. Nothing goes to plan, of course. Quarry is still a sharp character and the black humour and zippy pacing is all there but you can tell it's two shorts put together and the obvious last minute suspense twist is slightly irksome. Still a great, fast immersive read that gives nice closure to a characters story.. now pass me the Quarry tale please.

Bechdel: Fail

Edited: Nov 23, 2012, 9:11am Top

37. The Mourner by Richard Stark

Clunky story and a main character that’s hard to like hurt this book but doesn't devalue reading it.

Actual part of the fascination is oddly Parker; following this cold, murderous professional criminal through the story (a theft, a bit of espionage). This is a guy who manages to torture a women in the second chapter (off screen so to speak its not gratuitous). However to make up for no nonsense Parker we get a cast of overly gregarious odd beats: the femme fatale, her rich art collector daddy and the rotund foreign spy. Its not a bad plot, exciting set up and tense middle, sadly loose obvious ending. The misogyny is so over the top I actually laughed at the end (when he takes femme fatale to bed because he is feeling strong and virile.

I might try another one, hoping if the plot is tighter you could get real drama out of having such a ruthless main characters but I think I would only recommend this one to hard crime fans.

Edited: Nov 23, 2012, 9:11am Top

38. Death's dark abyss by Massimo Carlotto
Woeful Noir

An unpleasant tale of revenge and redemption from one of Italian's reputed masters. Silvano Contin’s wife and son were murdered in a botched robbery, only one guy (Raffaello Beggiato) went to jail and of course though guilty he blames his accomplice. Contin has never recovered and is living a tiny, lonely existence of banality to block out the pain but then the criminal gets cancer and wants to die outside. Can he forgive Baggiato finally or is it a chance for revenge?

Contin and Beggiato both narrate in their own short chapters, a technique that lends itself well to a faced past and gripping story. I admit this does flow well, the juxtaposition is very effective demonstrating the extreme opposites... and shocking similarities? thats the point after all. Now I rarely loathe a book because of its characters but that combined with slightly lifeless writing (maybe just translation?) I really didn’t see anything to recommend it, it meant I had no empathy/interest and no engagement with the plot. Of course characters which start out to be loathsome and stay that way are hard to take but what moved the this book from bad to "throw against the wall" was the misogyny.

Spoilers.. Yes this is a book where the criminals wife is blackmailed into sex and then brutally murdered (and yes then her husband), he sleeps with and then psychologically abuses a posh charity worker because he doesn’t like her politics and oh yes and has regular dehumanising sex with Beggiato’s ex-favourite whore (who is now ugly.. the crime). There may be in-character reasons for this but I don’t want to read about them, quite frankly I just feel dirty.

Not recommend unless you are cold and need a fire.

Edited: Nov 23, 2012, 9:11am Top

39. Moxyland by Lauren Beukes
Fast paced, futuristic thriller

Fast paced, near future sci fi, packed with ideas and cleverly weaving multi character strands in an emerging plot.

Taking the blurb
" In the near future, an art-school dropout, an AIDSbaby, a tech-activist and a RPG-obsessed blogger
live in a world where your online identity is at least as important as your physical one. Getting disconnected is a punishment
worse than imprisonment, but someone’s got to stand up to government inc., whatever the cost."!"

None of the characters are portrayed that sympathetically, they are mocked for their foibles, they are the warnings to this near future dystopia. Still you can’t hate them, Beukes makes them beautifully human. Sign up to be a living billboard but fail to read the small print, have high ideals but flail around ineffectively.

Told in 1st person(s) we get a dazzling array of views that slowly come into a coherent whole. So In the early stages we can lap up the world in all its frenetic glory and wallow in all those ideas. Real world issues, rub up with soon to be problems and frightening exaggerations of dystopian warnings. The book feels at once old school cyberpunk and cutting edge sci fi.

‘This is an unlawful, unlicensed gathering. You are advised to disband immediately.’ It’s pre-recorded. Legislation bars the cops from opening their mouths unnecessarily. There’s too much room for human error, which means ammunition for the human rights groups.

This is a wry, cynical book with political bite and yet I found it oddly endearing. It's not perfect though, partly because I am not a huge fan of this type of book but also I found where the book was heading a bit too obvious. Maybe if there had been a coherent thread and protagonist to root for it wouldn't have mattered, but in the end it was somewhat unsatisfying.

In the end recommend for lovers of Science fiction and futuristic thrillers and those who think corporations have your well being at heart.

Edited: Nov 23, 2012, 9:12am Top

40. The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan

“Reader, I ate him.”

Jacob Marlowe is the last werewolf. At 200 years old, tormented and lonely all that’s left to do is die. But as he awaits the murderous attentions of the hunters murder and intrigue coalesce around him.. not everyone wants him to die...

“The form and scale of its occupancy shifted. Sometimes its legs were in my legs, its head in my head, its paws in my hands. Other times it was barely the size of a kitten, heartburn hot and fidgety under my sternum. I’d wake and for a moment feel my face changed, reach up and touch the muzzle that wasn’t there.”

A sublime idea; take some heavy themes mix with an action pack thriller, take the protagonist straight out of wise cracking Noir and bam! You get a modern, intelligent and take on a unloved genre making Werewolves look sexy again. It’s a novel as a balancing act: philosophy versus sex and violence, beautiful descriptions against wise cracking dialogue, deeply amusing cynicism entwined with hope and love.

Anatomical Latin’s an un-judgemental friend if you have to rip people apart and eat them.

Its beautifully written, sometimes too much as the complexity overwhelms the straightness of the plot. Duncan gets in the head of both human and werewolf, the smells and feelings. Its uncomfortably realistic portrayal of the beast inside man, he doesn’t duck the fact that he lead eats people once a month, he embraces and turns it into a story you can empathise in.

“You know why they invented the phrase 'case closed'?
“So that the audience would know it wasn't.”

Self referential, Duncan knows his genres and how to play with them. If works very well as deliciously amusing commentary and when twisting expectations but I think failed when the plot (and background) lays itself out at your feet. It's too good, I thought to follow obvious pathways. There are a few pacing’s issues too, maybe have a low intolerance to philosophical, atheistic, immortal angst but felt Marlowe wallowed a bit too long. He need to change faster or just the lower the tone more for the action to kick in (which Duncan does extremely well, it’s almost cinematic). I didn’t get bored exactly just impatient..

“I suppose the word "unbearable" is a lie by definition. Unless you kill yourself immediately after using it.”

Major major major Spoiler Alert
No really its a huge spoiler..

It’s a hard thing to kill to get the killing of the narrator right and just swapping to another person was fundamentally irritating to me. Pet hate yes and maybe unfair but I still ground my teeth in frustration. Still at least he didn’t carry on narrating as I have seen in some authors..
End Major Spoiler Alert

Sexy, violent, damn funny and thoughtful I recommend it to practically everyone.. except perhaps Vampires and the French... (well ok joking about the French)

“I'm still bothered"
"You're French. If you lot stopped bothering the coffee and tobacco industries would collapse.”

Jul 4, 2012, 1:33pm Top

Wonderful review of The Last Werewolf. I read it a few weeks ago and really enjoyed it.

Jul 4, 2012, 2:08pm Top

:( I am looking everywhere for The Last Werewolf (I don't like shopping online, I'd go overboard) and can't find it... I so want to read this book ;D

Jul 5, 2012, 4:34am Top

@69 Thank you. I found it quite refreshing.. not sure about the sequel but I am intrigued so will probably try that and other Duncan books.

@70 Drives me mad when that happens! Luckily I tend to buy less books online than when I am browsing in a store.. at least that's my excuse :) I did try to order form bookshops but then I had to go into a book store to collect and it got messy..

Edited: Nov 23, 2012, 9:12am Top

41. True Grit by Charles Pontis
A true American classic

Told in memoir format, this is a tale of 14 yr old Mattie Ross who sets out from Arkansas in the 1870s to avenge the death of her father. Its short, amusing, harsh and terribly endearing. It's very easy to see why this is a much loved (and much filmed) book.

Mattie's character is simply wonderful, I can't better the description of "harsh innocence and indestructible vitality" and set against the wild west of bounty hunters, hanging judges and criminal gangs she shines like pure gold. Draped in an adults fore-knowledge adds added poignancy to what could be just a coming or age adventure we can root for and sympathise for at all ages, it also gives the story a deeply satisfying ending. Her co-stars, one eyed, drunk maverick "Rooster" Cogburn and pretty boy LaBoeuf, are perfectly drawn opposites; sniping and rubbing up against each other whilst she runs rings around them.

Character driven though it is, plot is tightly packed and the action sequences superb (if you can ever get the dramatic climax out of head I will be surprised). It’s a book that stays with and makes smile in a sad/happy way. Highly recommended, forget the films just grab the book.

Edited: Nov 23, 2012, 9:12am Top

42. Pontypool Changes everything by Tony Burgess
Superbly bonkers zombie horror

"It gestates in the deep structures prior to language. Or, at least, simultaneous with language. In the very primal structure that organizes us as differentiated, discontinuous copies of each other. The virus probably enters, in fact, among paradigmatic arrangements. And then, almost instantly, the virus appears in a concept of itself. This causes all sorts of havoc."

It a delicious premise: a language virus that its 1st symptoms are manic déjà vu and aphasia followed by the revenge of cannibalism. This book is in some respects jaw droppingly brilliant, gob smackingly horrific (yes my mouth was open) and book throwingly frustrating (yes that IS a verb). Burgess doesn't want to concentrate on one story, oh no, and he will dash off into future musings, surrealist asides and whip up the odd chapter of meta fiction in and then kill everyone off (err.. probably) and start again. A bit like this review which I have only started to write 10 times..

But look don't be put off because it’s not too insane, or disjointed it does manage to depict an overarching story of the slowly unfolding apocalypse.

Split into two halves, the 1st is more focused, taking its time and setting the scene. Fewer characters, a tighter plot and hair pricking horror moments make this my favourite part of the book though it soon touches on some wacky (and fun) literary experiments. It also contains my favourite character a barely sane anyway, a recovering schizophrenic who has seen all this before and just goes to find his son. Madness Vs Zombies.. Brilliant. The second part zooms out not only with people but also in tone. So shift from sleazy TV host Grant Mazzy, the soon to be zombie teenager (and his guardian angel) and then to red neck survival horror (truly ugh!).

This chaos is just part of the fun, frustrating but it allows many ideas and arresting vignettes. Every time I look for a quote I keep rereading the damn thing. From the dying view of a zombie to horrifying last moments of an old couple hiding under the bed this an unforgettable book.

"And so, now that I have been asked to write this afterword, I realize it has to be an apology, not for the book, which can't be helped, but for the fact that I was unfaithful to its first virtue: I have asked you to read it, and now, sitting here at the end, I am telling you that it might be a mistake that you did"

Ignore the author, what does he know? A must for horror fans and lovers of the strange and experimental. Those who are squeamish or require an a straight plot should steer clear, everyone else it’s going to be a 50/50 chance of love/hate.

Jul 10, 2012, 11:35am Top

42. Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman
Stunning “what if” shorts

Prepare for gushing..

These contains 40 perfectly formed stories, exuberantly exploring the "what if" of our afterlife’s. Each exceedingly short tale (2-3 pages) not only contains a gem of an idea and is beautifully written but manages to twist and turn in wonderfully surprising ways. Not just a cool premise but a brief exploration of it, of what this idea could really mean.

Written by neuroscientist David Eagleman to fit into his idea of "Possibilianism", straddled between fundamental atheism and religious belief.. "with Possibilianism I'm hoping to define a new position — one that emphasizes the exploration of new,
unconsidered possibilities. Possibilianism is comfortable holding multiple ideas in mind; it is not interested in committing to any particular story"

You don’t have to care a jot for the reason behind the book, you can take joy in the stories. Only a strict fundamentalist could be offended, there are gods and a God, there are aliens, secret masters, robots and well just us.

It’s hard to pick a favourite but to give you a flavour (skip to the next paragraph if you want no idea spoilers) I loved the delicious view that in heaven God venerates Mary Shelley because he understands Dr Frankenstein and shuddered at the thought of an eternity where we live with all possible versions of us, so we always compare ourselves against the ones who did better & loathe the ones who failed.

Highly recommended to everyone, It is a joyful celebration of us and our imaginations and our ability to spin yarns.

Edited: Jul 16, 2012, 4:48am Top

43. Metro 2033 by Dmitrij Gluchovskij
Superb dystopian world building, average boys own adventure

All nuclear war has left are the last dregs of humanity who huddle in the Moscow metro, penned in by rats, radiation and strange mutations. Artoym lives at isolated VNKDh, but the station is under threat from the "dark ones", the undead seeping in from outside and must get out to warn the whole station but in a place with many political factions and constant dangers that is not an easy task

Dripping in atmosphere, we are immersed in a world not fully understood by its protagonists. We follow stories told around fires, old news spread by merchants and refugees and slowly through experience we begin to understand it for ourselves. The books main strength is this fabulous dystopian creation, detailed yet engaging, full of mystery and promise.

The plot is uneven, or rather it depends what you like. After a perfect start it settles into an adventure tale, really an exploration of the world through a series of interlinked adventures as we follow Artoym on his travels flitting from one drama to the next. There is nothing wrong with this: ideas are exploding all over the place, the action's exciting, the characters good and really the world is so damn fine. However it's such a long book I found the pacing started to drag..

I loved the delicate walk between supernatural and science. The psychological problems and walking through a dank, dark tunnel with unknown dangers. I loved the small, claustrophobic world slowly expanding and the mental effect it has. I became a tad irritated by Artoym’s passivity and, good reason or not, all that luck he had. I was bemused by misogyny, no female characters? eh what? If the odd crying child, topless prostitute or hysterical mother hadn’t appeared I would have thought they had died out.

Recommended. Well worth seeking out for just for the setting but you dystopia & Horror fans (don’t worry it’s not gory) will lap this up.

Bechdel Test: Fail (there are no female characters)

Edited: Jul 16, 2012, 4:49am Top

44. Choker by Ben McCool (author) and Ben Templesmith (artist)
Fun noir cyberpunk comic

Think dark and grimy near futuristic city, rife with corruption and full of seediness. Think bitter ex-cop with alien hand syndrome. Think super drug causes destruction in a failing city and then add a old boss who seems desperate for help and a promise of a bright future.

Planted fully in the hardboiled noir genre and splashed with science fiction and wry dark humour we get a neat story that whilst may follow standard lines is highly enjoyable. All the characters are dark, (anti-heroes and villains) but they are fun to be with and root for. It's also beautifully drawn by the iconic Ben Templesmith, his artwork a perfect fit for this dark tale.

Recommended to lovers of the genre(s) and anyone with who likes a bit of dark humour.

There is an interview with the creators here:

Bechdel Test: ?

Jul 13, 2012, 6:07am Top

I never realised the movie Pontypool was based on a book! By the sound of it they have made some changes to the plot (almost the entire movie takes place in a radio station). But it looks like they've retained the mechanics of the zombie virus (if one can call it that) and some of the satire. Anyway, it was a movie I enjoyed. The book sounds even more interesting!

Jul 13, 2012, 8:40am Top

The author wrote the script so it does have the same kernel of the idea but is a bit different and more cohesive, I am not sure anyone could actually film the book!

Jul 14, 2012, 8:54pm Top

If you liked The Last Werewolf you must read Talullah Rising. It is as good, if not better than the first!

Jul 17, 2012, 8:10am Top

79 Its on my wishlist!

45. deadkidsongs by Toby Litt
Pitch black, humourous, tale of childhood
(um.. it's brilliant.. I think)

I am still digesting this chewy, gruesomely compelling, ambitious and ambiguous book.

Framed as a chaotic memoir, discovered after a fathers suicide. It is a tale of "Gang", 4 young boys growing up in 70s England. Think long summers, madcap adventures and bike rides, secret camps and crushes on the opposite sex, think of dead kids, because as we are told very quickly by the end of the year two of them will be dead.

If that doesn't add a frisson of drama nothing will. The world slowly unfurls and as it deepens becomes utterly gripping.. pivotal moments hit to ensure you are going to get a bit of surprise. At least I didn’t see it coming. Still it's more than a dark tale, an anti-coming of age novel. The writing is fantastic as usual, vivid and packing a punch, the characters are deep and fit their allotted roles. The dads may represent different ends of the spectrum but they are real dads, horrifying though that might be.

It's ambitious too, Litt is doing interesting things. Not only is he is playing with childhood, with fatherhood, with summer idyll and cold war terror, looking through the dark glass at old age and the young. He is playing with narration, as 3rd person "We" slips into 1st person accounts and morphs into official Gang "reports". We get shifting tones of adults and of kids and they are unreliable narrators because it’s all dotted with contradictory facts.. except isn't this written by one person?

I can see how this could end in frustration not delight, the shifting sands are jarring and you might feel the book isn't hanging together. For me it gave a nice(?) edginess and is needed to prepare for end.

Highly recommended. This is a gripping, utterly compelling, humorous, disturbing and intriguing tale. This is not for the squeamish nor for those who need neat plots.

PS Now I hear it’s been adapted for a play. I have no idea how they are going achieve the same effect, but I cannot wait to find out.

PPS. You know dead kid songs is an actual collection of 428 poems put to music? go google Kindertotenlieder..

Jul 17, 2012, 11:47am Top

you're reading lots of interesting stuff Claire! Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives looks really good ... it went on my list, as does Pontypool Changes Everything!

Jul 18, 2012, 7:55am Top

Oh I hope you enjoy them! There are 2 short stories from Sum here:
and here:

I think Amazon has a look inside for Pontypool Changes Everything if you want to know if you would like the style, although I thought it was pretty OTT the 1st two pages.

Jul 18, 2012, 8:09am Top

46. depresso by brick


This is a rare thing as it‘s not only an informative look at depression it’s also an engaging, humorous account. Brick, a UK cartoonist, uses his experiences to create Tom Freeman, from his initial worries to where hope starts to seep in. We follow over the next few years, moving home, travelling to China, hiding in bed, talking to an imaginary lizard and through the general chaos that ensues; the zombfying drugs, the horrifyingly slow NHS care, odd cures, his friends reactions and general stigma. It's vivid and very human but throughout there's a wry self deprecating humour that elevates it.

The art is drawn in friendly black and white and gives a edge of comfort whilst effortlessly highlighting mood & obsessions, adding the odd joke, and splashes of madness against everyday obsessions.

Highly recommend to comics & memoir fans and anyone interested in mental health.

There's a great and longer review here:

Jul 19, 2012, 9:00am Top

47. The Walking Dead: volume 16 by Robert Kirkman (author) and Charles Adlard (artist)
Fantastic long running zombie comic

Series Review
A fantastic exploration of what happens to a group of survivors during and after the zombie apocalypse. We are at volume 16 now and there hasn't been a dud volume. Kirkman likes to explore and see where it takes him, the potential issues survivors face and the impacts, it’s as much character driven as plot driven. He can shock and it obviously can get dark but this is a zombie apocalypse right? Do you want fluffy bunnies and candy? The artwork is consistently fab: black and white which really works well to counterbalance the horror and allows some great detail.

Those TV fans will obviously find the differences jarring, (I only watched 1/2 of the 1st series), it moves faster, is less of a soap opera (i.e who loves whom) and makes some different choices.. sometimes more interesting darker ones.

Volume 16 Review
Kirkman manages to insert needed energy into a series that has been concentrating on character for a while, whilst they acclimatise to relative safety. As usual its a new direction not a rehash. More and more this comic is about exploration of apocalypse survival and less about eating brains and I love it. Long may it continue

Highly recommended to horror and comics fans.

Bechdel Test: Pass

Edited: Jul 23, 2012, 10:20am Top

48. The Girl Who Circumnavigated a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente
Stunning subversive family fantasy

Valente's 1st YA is stunning, a feast of modern day storytelling, beautifully written and intelligent, fun and heartfelt.

Once upon a time, a girl named September grew very tired indeed of her parents' house, where she washed the same pink-and-yellow teacups and matching gravy boats every day, slept on the same embroidered pillow, and played with the same small and amiable dog.

September is carried away by the green wind one day, an opportunity to have adventures in fairy land is not to be missed and yes once there she makes friends, undertakes a Quest and tries to thwart the evil ruler.

This however being Valente an old old tale is turned upon its head. The characters are delightful and nuanced, the plot, with short chapters speeds along at a fair old pace, mini adventures segue with the big one and at the end it’s hard to put down. Each chapter has a gorgeous illustration too and I defy you not to want your very own library wyvern.

As all mothers know, children travel faster than kisses. The speed of kisses is, in fact, what Doctor Fallow would call a cosmic constant. The speed of children has no limits.

Enjoyed by everyone familiar with fairytales. Adults will enjoy it, for its sheer delight but also the knowing narrator and its adults wisdom, a nostalgia for childhood things and a mothers heartache. Children will enjoy it for its playfulness and mad inventive fun and for the newness of discovery, (new words, techniques and ideas). It’s not for the easily frightened for there are dangers and not for those only ready for a single truth and a neat happy ending for its bittersweet and satisfyingly untidy.

"All stories must end so, with the next tale winking out of the corners of the last pages, promising more, promising moonlight and dancing and revels, if only you will come back when spring comes again

Highly recommended, I may gush because I am a fan of Valentes brand of tale but this is her most accessible book yet.. just dive right in.

Bechdel: Pass

Jul 23, 2012, 5:37pm Top

Great review clfisha, I've got the book sitting on the shelf,
I'll start today !

Jul 24, 2012, 4:06am Top

Hope you enjoy it! ..bites nails nervously.. :)

Edited: Jul 27, 2012, 8:53am Top

49. Babylon Steel by Gaie Sebold
Fun, raunchy fantasy

Babylon Steel is a pretty good example of modern fantasy, released from the shackles of patriarchy and rigidity of certain races (oh ok there is 1 fey) we get a fun, racy adventure romp set in multi-planar universe and cuddling up close to crime genres. Babylon Steel is an hugely engaging protagonist, ex-mercenary brothel madam who has to take one last job so she can pay off the high taxes but you know it’s not going to go well and oh her past is about to catch up with her too.

In fact the characters are the best thing, Sebold is rather good creating characters very quickly and making you care. From the small cast of the brothel to rugged chief of police its very enjoyable to spend time with them. The second great thing is the deft pacing, switching between past and present you get hooked into two plots at once and yet it never loses balance with either. The plot is less satisfying, a bit unfulfilled and the endings too rushed and too pat. You can see the puppets strings. Still there is so much going on that until the end is nigh it doesn’t really matter.

Recommended for fantasy fans.

Bechdel: pass

Edited: Aug 2, 2012, 4:40am Top

50. Snuff by Terry Pratchett
Average fantasy

I have been a fan of Pratchett’s irreverent brand of Fantasy for a long time, in fact since Colour of magic came out. I particular have a soft spot for the Guards series (of which is this one), not only funny, fast paced, adventures with a hugely engaging cast of characters but managing to get its teeth into some fundamental important issues.

Snuff sees Sir Commander Vimes moving into the country, so we get amusing digs at Jane Austin like society, country living mixed up with class issues, smuggling and slavery. The characters are of course great, many we have seen before. Some parts are very fun indeed, I especially liked Vimes asking high society ladies what they did for a living and then going off on a bit of a rant.

However I think we are starting to part ways, not only could this book do with a bit of pruning (it takes a while to get moving and tends towards exposition) the generation gap is showing. There is a peculiar sexism I recognise from my parents generation, where husband and wife fall in to allotted roles and men don’t seem to have any common sense or willpower when it comes to not dying overeating fat.

Overall only recommend to die hard fans, but then it’s not that accessible for those who haven't read the previous books. Don’t let this review put you off Pratchett though, I think there is one of his books out there for everyone.

Bechdel test: I really cant remember

Edited: Aug 2, 2012, 4:41am Top

51. Holes by Louis Sachar
Solid YA adventure fun

"Stanley Yelnats was given a choice. The judge said, "You may go to jail, or you may go to Camp Green Lake." Stanley was from a poor family. He had never been to camp before."

Except Stanley has made a mistake; the lake has dried up, everything’s dead and the only camp activity is digging.

Sachar throws you into a hot desolate wasteland. Digging in the extreme heat, eking out your ration of water, the constant ache and the multitude of blisters, the smell. Day in day out, never ending. I winced as the endearing Stanley tries to give it his best, rooting for him all the way in this boys own adventure of secrets and escape. It is a tightly plotted story, maybe obvious to us adults but still great fun and Sachar evocatively manages to captures childhood perfectly, grounding the tale amongst schoolyard politics and looming adults. There is humour here too, especially from the social worker as he tries to turn thoughts to the future during mind numbing work.

Recommend to YA fans.

Bechdel test: Fail
Two characters: Evil camp owner and Outlaw never talk to each.

Aug 4, 2012, 12:58am Top

Another lot of good books here as usual! I have wishlisted no 45; sounds like I'll love it. And no 48 looks like one for me as well. I do like some strangeness occasionally.

Edited: Aug 14, 2012, 7:55am Top

@91 Hope you enjoy deadkidsongs is a little intense and towards the end gory.. so steer clear if you hate that kind of thing.

52. The Mouth of the River of Bees by Kij Johnson
Excellent dreamy, fantastical shorts

Note: Part of the LT Early reviewers programme

Kij Johnson has won a few awards for her short stories and after reading this book I can see why. Mostly they edge towards the fantastical, spanning a long inventive career. These tales aren't trick ones but are heartfelt, the writings lovely and characters shine through. There are short ones, meta ones, heart breaking and creepy ones, there is romance, whimsy and many journeys, they shift in tone from the delightful innocence to something rather more adult and dance through the fantastical genres with delight. Animals centre quite heavily, but so does finding a home, love and death and acceptance. It is a heady book of people in fantastical situations and though of course mixed, there are enough superb tales to make this a great buy.

My favourites? oh so hard.
The novella “The Man Who Bridged the Mist,” where an architect's bridge changes everything hit me hard emotionally, "The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park After the Change" an eminently disturbing tale of love and murder when pets learn to talk and the amusingly, mysterious tale of magic and monkeys in "26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss”. I still cried at the end of the “river of bees” even though it’s one of my least favourites.

What's even more brilliant, that to entice you, you can read some of these stories online, links collected here:

Highly recommend to buy, but you must at least try one the above.

Bechdel Test: Not every story passes but overall it does

Edited: Aug 9, 2012, 10:24pm Top

Atlas of Remote Islands Ohhh, this sounds good, I love cartography... though I have been sadly neglecting my National Geographic magazines in my push to read, read, read books.

And, applause for your thoughtful reviews... I feel so bad mine are so brief.. one liners for the most part. I didn't know we were supposed to review each book so thoroughly too!

Edited: Aug 10, 2012, 4:39am Top

I think you would love Atlas of Remote Islands, its a great mix, stories facts and gorgeous maps. All bite sized :)

and thank you for your comments, there is no one way to review, that's what I love about LT the variety! I love the short quick reviews and the very organised ones and when I have the longer ones. It's all good.

I started out writing a few lines and just kept writing more and more i.e. bloating! ;-). A bit like reading, I find it relaxing a space to think but not about life in general.

What I don't do is comment enough on LT. ahem.

Edited: Aug 14, 2012, 7:55am Top

53. The Devil in The White City by Eirk Larson
Engaging historical non-fiction

It’s a interesting premise: Take a shining light of the late 19th Century, Chicago’s world fair, and juxtapose it against one of the darkest, serial killer H.H. Holmes. It almost works. Larson is an engaging writer, he knows how to weave a story and brings the alive the fairs complex creation and its fleeting existence. The historical setting is fascinating, the politics and sweeping changes, the new technologies matched against the huge ambition and the sheer unbelievable scale of it. It is place that showcased modern electricity, Ferris's new wheel, German giant machines of war, a colourful multitude of cultures and managed to entice the largest crowd the world had yet seen. The tale was simply engrossing, that Larson brings the many strands together whilst imbuing the main players with so much character is simply wonderful.

But (and it is a large but) the juxtaposition fails. Serial killer H. H. Holmes story may sound fascinating: a man who built a murder hotel, a place with gas chambers and a too large a furnace in the basement, but so little is known about Holmes and so much of it hard to swallow that Larson's technique falls flat. Yes it’s meticulously researched and carefully reconstructed but it feels lacklustre and often resorts to repeatedly mentioning his suave charm and cold, devilish icy blue eyes. The end chase, away from Chicago and after the fair is the most interesting but sadly feels out of place.

I am not sure I would recommend this book, the fair seems to warrant more concentrated exploration but this is as good as place as any to get a glimpse. Also what is it with the lack of photos? Larson’s good but not fantastic at painting the scene, all I can say is thank goodness for google.

Bechdel: NA

Edited: Aug 14, 2012, 7:59am Top

54. The Alienist by Caleb Carr
Fun and fascinating historical crime

Late 1890s New York This is the heady days of corruption, where poverty is rife and bigotry ensure selective blindness to certain crimes. Profiling and fingerprinting are just a glimmer in the eye’s of oddballs but soon everything will change and the time is right for (secret) experimentation.

It's an evocative and interesting time and Carr makes the most of it, with a secret team fighting against the old guard and the gangs to try their fanciful new techniques. The characters are great fun (look a strong female character!) and work well together as team, from the controversial Alienist, oddball early forensic detectives and the endearing (if slightly dim) reporter. Engagingly written and easy that although the plot is fairly gripping it’s simply a pleasure to watch their first steps at direction. It refreshing in its way; a reboot, a beginning of all the those tired serial killer tropes.

Recommended to historical and crime fiction fans alike.

Bechdel Test: Fail.. I think
1. It has to have at least two named women in it.: Sara Howard & Mary
2. Who talk to each other. Well Mary has difficulty communicating.. and I cant remember a time when they tried chatting.

Edited: Aug 15, 2012, 5:44am Top

Locke & Key: Clockworks by Joe Hill (author) and Gabriel Rodriguez (artist)
Excellent, beautiful, dark fantasy comic

Series review
A great comic series taking much pleasure in devising fantastical doorways and beautiful magical keys. Doorways transform you into a ghost, a giant, swap race or gender, they unlock the mind and open dark doorways. The plot centres on a suitably gothic house, a family shattered by tragedy and of course those who seeks its power. The artwork is beautiful, the writings wonderful and the characters are utterly superb.

Volume 5 review
Hugely better than the last one, a collection of satisfying stories filling in with fascinating background, about their father, about how it all started and expanding the story and hooking me in again. The pacing has been slowed so it can spring towards the finish line and I am on tenterhooks. It’s still beautiful, it sill demands spin off stories on all those keys, and I still want my own lovingly crafted key. http://www.skeltoncrewstudio.bigcartel.com/product/legacy-edition-head-key-comin...

Bechdel: Pass.

Edited: Aug 18, 2012, 9:17am Top

#96 Yes I did find that book quite good as well, even though it took a long time (since i was mostly reading SF/ Fantasy when it came out) i did get around to reading it, picking it up at the train station one time when out of books, and remembering a friend who had kept recommending it. If you like it you will probably like the sequel The Angel of Darkness

#97 Sounds interesting. Sadly i haven't been in a comic book shop in ages. Wow.. Neat Keys!

Aug 20, 2012, 4:50am Top

oo thanks I wasn't aware there was a sequel.

Aug 20, 2012, 12:01pm Top

56. Fire Season: field Notes From a Wilderness Lookout by Philip Connor
sublime musings of a fire lookout

'I've seen lunar eclipses and desert sandstorms and lightning that made my hair stand on end. I've watched deer and elk frolic in the meadow below me, and pine trees explode in a blue ball of smoke. If there's a better job anywhere on the planet, I'd like to know what it is.’

Philip Conor is fire lookout in USA's Gila National Forest, 5 months of the year he spends his days, miles from civilisation looking for wisps of smoke. It’s a stunning piece of nature writing; blending an engaging memoir, fascinating histories, wry musings on solitude, evocative descriptions of the wild and passionate pleas of conservation. His enthusiasm and literary flights are always grounded in irony, humour and robust facts.

'For most people I know, this little room would be a prison cell or a catafalque. My movements, admittedly, are limited. I can lie on the cot, sit on the stool, pace five paces before I must turn on my heel and retrace my steps. I can, if I choose, read, type, stretch, or sleep. I can study once again the contours of the mountains, the sensuous shapes of the mesas’ edges, the intricate drainages fingering out of the hills.'

A beautiful, bittersweet eulogy to a life he loves. Perhaps not for those who dislike a gentle pace, intolerant of a tiny amount of repetition (how bad fire repression is) and the odd, uneasy digression. It is on the whole is almost perfect. Highly Recommended.

Bechdel: NA

Aug 28, 2012, 12:33pm Top

57. The Brides of Rollrock by Margaret Lanagan
Fabulous modern myth making

Misskella is a witch, she can create selkies, beautiful people hidden deep within seals but there is price, there is always a price and she is not alone in paying.

Lanagan writes a heart-rending, beautiful multi-layered story. Framed through diffent characters, spanning generations, the motivations, choices and their impacts. A story of enchantment, love and revenge.

The multi viewpoint works extremely well, still coherant and flowing beautifully we get a deeper more mysterious tale. Something so black and white is opened up. How can we hate Misskella when we see her beginnings? How can we still empathise with men who choose beauty and compliance and then shackle it? So pick up a copy and ponder the meaning of love, of settling for unreal perfection, of enforcing your will on others and the hard choices we make in the dark. It's not all doom and gloom, real life in all its beauty, happiness amongst the hardness.

“All the years to come crowded into that time, and I lived them, long and bitter and empty of him. The rightness of what I had done, and the wrongness both, they tore at me, and repaired me, and tore again,
and neither of them was bearable.”

I have no idea why this is just marketed as a YA, its complex and beautiful and something in there for adults as well as teens. I would hate to think of people missing this book, with its insipid cover and bizarre title (I prefer Australian one of Sea Hearts)

Recommended. To those who love fantasy and myth, romance and deliciously crafted novels this is for you.

Edited: Aug 31, 2012, 7:28am Top

58. Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig

This a refreshing modern fable. A fast, furious fantasy/horror, hard boiled and spat out.

Meet Miriam Black, every time she’s touches someone she sees their death, in glorious, bloody, technicolor. She has given up trying to save people, drifting across America living off the dead (and their wallets) but then she meets Louis and in the vision of his horrid torture he calls her name. Is she the torturer’s next victim?

OK I am sap for fiery female protagonists but Wendig here makes Miriam captivating, so dark, so lost and so utterly vibrant. The situation provides reason for this darkness, you understand and need her to find a bit of redemption. Not that much though, you don’t want her to lose her sass, the delicious spikiness and inventive foul mouth.

And let’s face it, it’s a great idea, the immutability of fate. The drama, tragedy of it and your nail biting need for it to be false. For it is gripping, the pacing is so expertly done. It’s a shifting thriller of a plot, that builds and twists and never puts a foot wrong.

Oddly I can see the highly crafted story could not be to some tastes (too much of an authors hand) and for a book with a great female protagonist there are a tad too few females here so it feels slightly unbalanced but all in all it’s a fun ride and I am going to be seeking out book 2.

Recommended to fantasy, horror and crime fans, although look at that cover? how can you not buy it?

Bechdel: Pass

Sep 3, 2012, 12:19pm Top

59. Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey

James Stark has just spent 11 years in Hell, double crossed by his old magic circle he is back and out for revenge. But it’s not going to be that simple, heaven wants him to do as he is told, his old friends want him dead and hell.. well hell might just want him back.

Short review:
Solid urban fantasy that deeply annoyed reviewer, because reviewer is too jaded.

Long review:
This is a solid urban fantasy set in a fun world of magic, Christian mythology with some cool monsters along the way. Various groups and bad guys add complexity and keep the action-packed plot fresh. You will be familiar with the characters: anti-hero PI, megalomaniac nemesis, bad ass uptight angel, wiser older friend etc.. but that's no bad thing. The plot is a bit uneven and needs some tightening up, a few parts seem sadly unexplored and characters disappear but it's a series and I can see promise. On the whole if you really enjoy the genre and want some fun you might enjoy it.

However I am not one of these people and need to rant so... Ok admittedly I was expecting something edgier, something like a character out of a Richard Stark novel. I wanted a character that when they say he has been brutalised in hell, it actually shows that. I don't care if it ends with them cuddling kittens by the end I need to see it and just killing bad guys and being ambivalent towards heaven/hell means he got off lightly. So I am a bit miffed, but you know does he also have to be an idiot? He is no way funny enough to make it up for watching him wandering around feeling a bit violent and sulking whilst falling into things and getting lucky. I got fed up with the familiarity rather than embracing it and needed some meat rather than lightness.

Also whilst I am picking holes can we just kick that misogyny habit into the long grass and move on? No? Perhaps just stretch to pass the Bechdel test? No? oh well at least don’t try to riff off Raymond Chandler lines. Oh.

Not for me. I am the type of person who got bored pretty quickly by Jim Butcher's Dresden series. Give me Mike Careys' edgy Castor or The Price by Joseph Garraty any day.

Still I feel better for writing this review, whether this is a recommendation, that’s up to you.

Bechdel Fail.
Rules are:
1. It has to have at least two women in it:
Pass. Allegra, a couple of witches and the vampire like 'monster'.
2. Who talk to each other.
Fail. At least can't remember this happening. Maybe one of the goth lolita's talk to each other?

Edited: Sep 4, 2012, 11:58am Top

Category 3 Elmer by Gerry Alanguilan. Tag: Comic

60. Astro City: Confessions by Kurt Busiek (author) and Brent Anderson (artist)

Astro City is a metropolis filled by a multitude of superheroes and dastardly villains. It’s a place where Busiek explores the genre, the cracks in between the stories and how real people would fit into and react to such a world.

Confession is the 2nd in the series but I think can be taken standalone. We follow young Brian Kinney running from his past to become something big in the city and so he does.. sidekick to mysterious The Confessor.

It’s another great multilayered tale with luscious artwork. A tale of sidekicks and their teachers, of what it means to be a hero and if we can ever recognise those that are. It's a commentary on popularist politics, a fun superhero fight to save the world and an intriguing mystery.

Personal preference means I preferred the short story approach in Volume 1. However there is an extra separate story at the end of book, a lovely heart-rending story of loss and the comfort of memory. Gets extra brownie points for that.

Highly recommend this series to even non superhero fans.

Bechdel: Fail (I cant think of many female characters in this)

Edited: Sep 5, 2012, 11:30am Top

61. Among Others By Jo Walton

“Tolkien understood about the things that happen after the end. Because this is after the end, this is all the Scouring of the Shire, this is figuring out how to live in the time that wasn’t supposed to happen after the glorious last stand. I saved the world, or I think I did, and look, the world is still here, with sunsets and interlibrary loans. And it doesn’t care about me any more than the Shire cared about Frodo.”

Short review:
A well written, quiet and thoughtful coming of age tale, framed in magic and drenched in the love of books.

Long Review:
1979 finds Morwenna forced to live with her estranged father and facing the horrid prospect of a posh English boarding school. It's also the aftermath of a magical battle with her cruel mother, one that left her crippled and her twin sister dead. The only thing keeping her together is her love of books.

It's a great setup but one that’s likely to confound your expectations. A tale that accepts fairies and magic as part of life but isn't about that. It's a coming of age tale but minus the teenage angst and pat homilies. It’s a story about books but about discovery not escapism how they open our horizons, allow us to chew over new ideas. Ignore the blurb and sink right, this a quiet thoughtful award winning book.

“There are some awful things in the world, it's true, but there are also some great books.”

Walton can write (I was hooked from the 1st page) and she also has a deft touch with story. Morwenna is a hugely likeable character who we want to be with as she recovers from her ordeal(s) and starts finding her feet. The past is kept murky but slowly unfurls as she becomes stronger and the balancing by doing this is superb. It never falls into the trap of mawkish tragedy but stays truly touching. Bibliophiles will obviously fall in love, instantly empathising even if you haven’t been reading 70s SF/F and I can see why it is being raved about on LT. I am not in love with it because I am really not a fan of the genre but the fact I did enjoy it says a lot.

Highly recommend to all those who love fantasy, stories, gnarly fairies and childhood.

Bechdel test: Pass

Sep 5, 2012, 11:42am Top

62. The Two-bear Mambo By Joe R. Lansdale

Short review:
Playing on conventions of hardboiled crime mysteries and North American small town racism this book likes to throw a curveball and deliciously undermine you. It’s also takes turns being bloody funny and depressing.

Long review:
Charlie came over to me, gave me a sad look, sighed, pulled out a cigarette, stooped, lit it off the little guy's head, and said, "I'm fucking tired of this, Hap. Leonard's giving me gray hairs. What with the Chief in cahoots with the bad guys and Lieutenant Hanson acting like he's got a weight tied to his dick all the time, I can't think straight.
Get your foot off that fucker's neck."

We meet Hap and Leonard, two highly likable protagonists, wise cracking as they beat the dealers running from their burning crack den and since this is the 3rd time they are about be arrested unless they help out a friend on a missing person case.

Sharp dialogue, deliciously surreal conversations, deep dark humour, great tense (and sometimes horrific) action sequences keep this all moving at a cracking pace. Hap is an easygoing and evocative narrator, he keeps this character driven story moving and engaging although the mystery is nicely sign posted but that isn't the main show.

It’s a wild ride and I loved every bit of it. I mean where else can a guy persuade dumb red necks there is a mutant killer ant problem on the way? Where else does a cop have a hobby of shadow puppetry? Where else does the testosterone dip down enough to show the nasty after effect of violence?

This is 3rd in the series, but my 1st try and didn't have a problem dipping in. I do have a problem not having anymore of Lansdale’s books on my shelves.

Recommended. Fans of noir, great literary partnerships and those with a darker humour will love this.

Sep 5, 2012, 12:14pm Top

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Edited: Sep 14, 2012, 8:14am Top

63. Adamtine by Hannah Berry
A superb, creepy, unsettling and mysterious tale.

Four strangers find themselves on a train, in the dark, their carriage isolated, their phones dead. Moon is found not guilty for mass murder, he says an unknown agency, a monster gave him those harsh, judgemental notes they found amongst the missing peoples possessions. The bereaved families however disagree, they want revenge.

Interweaving story, the tale slowly and creepily unfolds. Not that it gives you many answers, oh no, and that's part of the appeal and the reason for its horror. It is a story to read twice (because you will miss things) and one that will hauntingly bubble up as you go about your daily business; Why? How? & who?

The art of course is beautifully drawn and laid out, gloomy colours bleed into the edge of the panels darkness. Oddly the visual medium suits quiet horror, you would have thought it needed a monstrous reveal or the grotesque spectacle of gore, but no technique is used quietly and vividly works.

My only criticism is that there needs to be more differentiation between some of the characters, a couple of times I had to flick back to see who was who. Also the lack of answers will annoy some and I suspect un-satisfy others, finding its touch to be too ephemeral.

Highly recommended lovers of ghost stories, horror and superb intelligent comics. Although Lovers of Britten & Brulightly will find this much darker, without the lightening of humour.

Bechdel: Pass

Sep 21, 2012, 10:31am Top

64. The Brothers K by David James Duncan
Stunning, epic storytelling

A book so full of life it almost bursts out of its 650 pages. It's a story about the 8 wildly different members of the Chance family and it’s a huge discussion on faith. Oh and politics and love and war. It has the darkness of insanity and abuse and the lightness of hope and friendship. It follows a variety of wildly different coming of age stories. It spans continents and lasts decades. It is so self aware it will stop you in your tracks. It will bring you to anger, make you chuckle and force a tear down your cheek. It masquerades as story of baseball but turns out to be about life. When I say Epic, I am not lying.

Narrated by the observant, quiet and honest Kincaid, number 4 in the family. The 1st third of the book provides snapshots of events, a memorable day spent with dad or a dull (but funny) morning in Sunday school. Engaging if bitty but still an enjoyable build up, providing glimpses of the whole story before slowly coalescing into a magical whole. It truly becomes hard to put down and even harder to stop thinking about.

The characters are all so different, the fervent fundamentalist mother, the ascetic Buddhist brother, the son who goes to war, the son who runs. Yet it never feels that contrived or stereotyped just interesting. This is down to the writing of course, it is beautifully and cleverly written. I could easily double the length of the review talking about the style and the plotting: the way he intercuts POVs or intersperses the commentary with essays/letters. I could spend hours looking for quotes.. still here's just the one to wet your appetite as Kincaid watches his father practice after the operation

"There is a part of me that wants to state flat out that I learned more in the hedge about the defiance of dullness and career death, about the glory hidden in defeat, about the amazing inner capacities of a straightforward no-frills man—even a man stripped of hope—than I've learned anywhere since."

Highly recommended, I cannot think of anyone who would hate it.. well maybe those with short attention spans.

Bechdel: Pass

Sep 22, 2012, 1:16am Top

Thanks for the great review clfisha, I will find this book !

Sep 25, 2012, 4:48am Top

Hope you enjoy it!

Sep 25, 2012, 6:09am Top

My libraries know it not so it may take some time !

Edited: Sep 25, 2012, 8:17am Top

That's such shame! I guess it's only really known well in USA :(

65. Dirk Gentleys Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams

“Let's think the unthinkable, let's do the undoable. Let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.”

A rollicking good science fiction mystery brimming with Adamsesque humour. The packed, mystery twists inventively and is held up by a decent cast, in particular Gently and the old professor. There are enough wry observations, and cool ideas to keep it ticking along nicely.

"It is difficult to be sat on all day, every day, by some other creature, without forming an opinion about them. On the other hand, it is perfectly possible to sit all day, every day, on top of another creature and not have the slightest thought about them whatsoever.

Adams has such a cool view of the world it’s a pleasure to read even though it’s a bit clunky in places. It is a bit dated but nothing troubling, Adams was so forward thinking in his approach to technology you just get a bit nostalgic, Lotus eh? Having to look phone numbers up in a phone directory.. the horror!

The Electric Monk was a labour-saving device, like a dishwasher or a video recorder. Dishwashers washed tedious dishes for you, thus saving you the bother of washing them yourself, video recorders watched tedious television for you, thus saving you the bother of looking at it yourself; Electric Monks believed things for you, thus saving you what was becoming an increasingly onerous task, that of believing all the things the world expected you to believe

Recommended to lovers of science fiction. It you need to start with Adams though go and find the Hitch Hikers Radio play (not the books) it’s utterly fabulous.

66. The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams

"The explosion was now officially designated an "Act of God".
But, thought Dirk, what god? And why?
What god would be hanging around Terminal Two of Heathrow Airport trying to catch the 15.37 flight to Oslo?"

More Dirk Gently but this time Adams pushes playfully with the fantastical. Again much going on, many playful ideas, a lot of humour. It fact it seems a better book all round, if you can cope with a rushed ending. I presume he got bored, wandered off and someone else had to tie up some of the loose ends.

It's all worth it though, the character of Dirk expands to fill the story and everywoman Kate carries the ludicrous occurrences as a straight women should. To do this day I still want to have a bath, as Kate does, that uses every single bath product I own and then wallow in it :) I may be overly nostalgic as in this I encountered some modern fantasy tropes here for the 1st time, the other world so closely linked to our own.. old immortal gods who are still with us and I still find it utterly refreshing whilst at the same time comforting.

It can be read standalone and maybe a good book to try if you have run away in horror from his others. Highly recommended.

Sep 25, 2012, 8:47am Top

I have always meant to read these and never got to them, thanks for the reminder !

Sep 25, 2012, 2:45pm Top

I love Douglas Adams!

Sep 28, 2012, 9:06am Top

He fab isn't he. I keep meaning try The Salmon of Doubt but I am nervous

Oct 2, 2012, 9:11am Top

67. The Pirates! in an Adventure with the Romantics by Gideon Defoe

You haven't heard of The Pirates! series? splutters incoherently.

These short, sublimely bonkers books which are nothing short of hilarious. They are filled with irreverent looks at history, literature and pop culture and they delight in messing with various tropes, genres and your head. We have had Darwin and Ahab mocked, Victorian society and now the Romantics and um monster movies.

Early next morning the pirate with a scarf found the Pirate Captain pacing back and forth across his cabin, like a hairy metronome, or a sad polar bear. So far as anybody could tell, they still weren’t on an adventure, and the Captain was worried that if a grisly murder or a woman with flashing eyes didn’t turn up soon then the Romantics might start to have second thoughts about the entire business.

This time Byron, Percy & Mary Shelly meet up with the Pirates to seek adventure! (Switzerland is boring) They join
up with Charles Babbage to seek Plato's lost work on how to pull girls and end up in trying to track it down in Dracula's lair..

Her eyes lit up like candles - that being the one of the only things that eyes could light up like before Edison

Yes it is silly, it is childish but it’s very very very funny. Defoe knows many facts (and discards most of them), full of
fascinating footnotes, running gags, amusing drawings and a index that bears no relation to the book but tells its own story. It manages to mock Victoriana and science and romanticism all in one and I devoured it in an afternoon and it managed to cheer me up no end. Humour is so hard to review and this book hard to quote on as the jokes are built so well so I urge to try a bit here: http://www.gideondefoe.com/page17.htm

Babbage’s three laws of difference engines
First law: A difference engine must have at least six cogs.
Second law: A difference engine must be able to operate a loom.
Third law: A difference engine must be able to kill a man, should the mood take it.

Recommend for anyone in need of cheering up or maybe try the 1st one (although you don’t have to really) The Pirates! in an Adventure with Scientists. Yes it was an Aardman film (very good btw) but the humours is quite different so go check it.. out.

Anyway last word is Mr Defoe's
Women in diaphanous nighties running down corridors! Brooding men with dark hair! Ghostly banging noises! A bit where the Pirate Captain dresses up as a sexy fireman! The fifth book in the Pirates series contains all of that, and as a special bonus comes with the semblance of an actual plot.

Go read.

Oct 3, 2012, 10:13am Top

68. Ghost Story by Peter Straub

I am not a huge fan of supernatural horror and sadly this classic 70s tale didn't change my mind.

It's has a cool premise, The Chowder Society meets every month to talk and reminisce but after a mysterious death of one their members they start telling ghost stories... ones which start bleeding into real life..

Starting with an odd, disturbing intro of a kidnap girl and distraught author we are instantly put on edge.. we know something is wrong with the girl but we don't know what. It bleeds out its atmosphere into the early part of the book where we meet the Chowder society and bear witness to their increasingly disturbing dreams and ominous future.

Straub manages to create some creepy, unsettling nightmares and tales and manages to keep the suspense going for the first half of the book but as soon as it starts becoming clear what is going on I just lost interest. No spoilers but supernatural shenanigans easily bore more so it takes a bit to keep me interested.

However this book has other flaws and so..
1) Changing points of view doesn't help. We start with the lovely Hawthorne who then seemingly disappears and isn't replaced by anyone that interesting.
2) It's too long and the pacing is off. Time goes by and the protagonists just sit around waiting for their fate, it’s unengaging and dull. Also when they do stop being apathetic they have the vaguest plan known to mankind.
3) Also the opening and heavy foreshadowing remove most of the mystery on how it’s going to end, oh X and X die do they.. then 400 pages later character X goes “oh well I will just pointlessly go off by myself, in a snow storm ”. Yawn.
4) As well as the DOOMED ones, it's nice to know that only the stupid, selfish and obsessed humans die because I was going to worry about brazen, young X who is going to go to college next year.
5) It’s sexist. Well I suppose it was the 70s and it’s playing with old horror conventions but still. A sexy women... THE HORROR, RUN FOR THE HILLS etc.

So anyway I didn't like it much, I skipped over most of the two last chapters. I am not even sure if they win or forgot to kill the sexy women so she can come back and be sexy at people again.

So only recommend to horror fans. It does have some rave reviews and it does delight in updating some of the old stories, I can see the appeal if you are a fan.

Edited: Oct 3, 2012, 10:50am Top

69. The Celestial Bibendum by Nicolas Crecy

It’s about a young seal pup who heads off to the city for adventure but is lured into becoming the idea for "love", causing a war between The Politician and The Devil. No wait it’s a story narrated by a disembodied head who is hired by what I think are penguins to narrate a heartfelt tale. No hang on it's a story of origins and of a tale for equality between dogs and those that appear humans.. No its really a.. oh blow it all.

Look it has beautiful outrageous art, it is absurd, baroque and surreal. It can be ugly but is full of striking imagery: the politician being, made up from small innocent voters, is the besotted pig. It is all wrapped in a gorgeous oversized book that makes me feel like a kid again.

I loved it, it’s absolute bonkers. Who cares if the seal pup turns out to be a set of moulded tires I don't (clue is in the title obscure word fans) Recommended to comics fans and lovers of strange stories.

Oct 3, 2012, 7:37pm Top

That Pirate book sounds great, Hope I can find a copy, thanks !!

Oct 4, 2012, 9:44am Top

Hope you enjoy it! I think the 1st was has been published under the movie tie name. Pirate and the band of misfits or something.

70. The Vanishing or Het Gouden Ei by Tim Krabbe

What happens when someone you love vanishes into thin air? What would you give to know what happened?

This is a short, truly disturbing thriller. A pared novella that hones events into sharp focus ramping up the impact. The obsession of having to know, the shocking evil someone can commit. The mystery is of course is what exactly happened and Krabbe keeps this under wraps until the end. The mystery centres a story that flits through time and points of view, it’s not complex; more carefully disjointed. I cannot really fault it, although it’s hard to like poor Rex (the guy who is left behind).

Highly recommended to thriller/horror fans. It has been made into a very good Dutch(?) movie and an OK American one, that though different from the book are still worth seeking out.

Oct 5, 2012, 8:01am Top

71. The First Quarry by Max Allan Collins

Like your crime short and boiled hard? Then this is the book for you.

A prequel to a great series looking at Quarry's 1st assassination job. A job that just climbs in complexity as the target’s life gets in the wife. Mobsters, cute college girls, an angry ex-wife and even a PI all get in his way. Violence and seduction ensure.

I am still liking the series: a great ferocious blast of hard crime with a lurid cover to satisfy any crime cravings I get. We get enough back story, action, sex and violence to keep it a rollicking ride going throughout and I like young, cold hearted quarry with his twisted morals Not exactly an easy feat for an author to pull off. Of course women fall at his feet and men underestimate him but frankly who cares, it what it is and it does it very well.

Hard-boiled fans will love it. Recommended.

Edited: Oct 5, 2012, 10:08am Top

72. Dante's Inferno by Hunt Emerson
A fascinating and funny take on a classic (part of LT early reviewers)

Ever been intrigued by Dante's classic? A big fan already but want a clever, serious yet irreverent take on it? Then this graphic novel is for you.

Eye catching and funny, Emerson has style all of his own. Perfect for comedy (all those visual gags and bad puns) as well as capturing the gross hellish cycles with a deft modern, touch. He manages to stay faithful (ok ok I have only read 1/2 of Dante's Inferno), although some bits are chopped it's still a perfect intro into the text. There is a great commentary at the back by Kevin Jackson too, to give some much needed background and info on who who's.

Highly recommended. Take it however you want, even ignoring the original it’s a great, classic tale that has had huge influence. Plus it's lots of fun.

Edited: Oct 9, 2012, 6:34am Top

73. Edge of Dark Water by Joe R Lansdale
Addictive "hillbilly" noir

It is a pivotal moment when Sue-Ellen finds the murdered body of a friend. Nobody seems to care about anything but the stolen money, money that’s going to get Sue-Ellen away from the wandering hands of her father and a future of domesticated drudgery and violence.

I wasn't sure about this at first: narrated by a 16 year old, uneducated, Texan girl and I just wasn't sure if I was going to get along but Lansdale is consummately skilled at character and any issues vaporised as the plot drew me in, my assumptions quite nicely destroyed (I love a book I can't predict).

It is a fantastic, well plotted story. Meandering as much as its river but still managing to grip, delighting and scaring as its fancy takes it. It’s a very cinematic story, with vivid actions scenes, quiet moments of unsettling horror all cut with flashes of dark humour. I can smell the bad guy (Skunk), hear the roar of the river and the cadence of speaking and feel the terror of the chase.

I mentioned the great characters from Jinx who just delights with her bluntness, to the lost Preacher. It's a story where you root for the motley collective, whatever they have done, you can empathise with the fear of the unknown and that they hold themselves back rather than face a strange unimagined future. I have no idea how authentic Sue-Ellen’s voice is, nor how playful the story is with depression era setting or how much it riffs off Huckleberry Finn. It’s just a fine story, well told.

Recommended for crime/horror/thriller lovers

Bechdel :Pass

Edited: Oct 9, 2012, 6:33am Top

74. Blacksad by Juan Diaz Canales (writer) and Juanjo Guarnido (artist)
Beautifully drawn noir tales

I have to say the main draw of this is the artwork. Blacksad anthropomorphises its characters, in fact the animal is a clue to character and it's this depiction that makes Blacksad so delightful. The art is lovely but the expressions and movement are in a class of its own, Blacksad goes from rueful handsomeness to angry, fangs and teeth and it seems so natural.

The stories? Well it’s a collection of 3 noirish tales. The first a pretty standard crime tale of murdered femme fatale, revenge and obsession. The other two branch out.. a tale of McCarthyism and one of a child kidnapping caught between race wars of the Whites and the Blacks. All good fun, and nailing the 50s era even though this slims down the choice of female characters and doesn't seem to suffer from translation (originally written in French.. although it’s a Spanish comic!)

Recommend to comic fans and crime lovers. This is the 1st collection, another Blacksad: Silent Hell has just been released.

Bechdel: Fail

Oct 10, 2012, 8:44am Top

75. Seven Wonders by Adam Christopher

Seven Wonders, the world’s last great Superhero team and Ventura's only hope against the last Supervillian The Cowl. When Tony Prosdocimi wakes up one morning with powers his 1st act is to take down The Cowl and finds to his surprise the local hero's aren't that pleased.

Hmm I think Christopher's style just isn't for me as this is a great modern superhero tale, with enough twists to keep plot moving, fun action sequences that just call out for a double edge, eye popping spread. It has some wonderful villains & heroes, tired cops and new kids on the block to keep everyone happy. Nor do you miss the visuals it fits perfectly into a novel format. It is neither sarcastically knowing it really just is fun but.. it just didn't grip me and it’s hard to identify why.

I could point to fading in and out of characters which is a bit jarring, slight reliance on set pieces rather than the whole or the fact that I am not a fan of superhero comics but to be honest I just find it a bit slow. Maybe it is because I find it hard to connect with the characters and so care where it goes. Take for example The Cowl, I really liked his journey but then the story sweeps away from his POV and so his ending feels a bit too tidy, too quickly resolved. This happens a lot and then mix in unlikeable characters and some simple stock ones.. well it’s pretty but I am just not engaged, I think Christopher is interested in different things than I am and I am not hooked.

Anyway I hesitatingly recommend it to superhero and speculative fiction fans.

Oct 18, 2012, 5:51am Top

76. Household Worms by Stanley Donwood

Disturbing, intriguing flash fiction run through with a self depreciating humour. Modern day horrors, snippets of almost poetry, twisting short tales all dark all quite beautiful. It's a book to dip into and savour, to laugh at life’s dark heart and his true yet exaggerated take.

"I am the noise you hear at night. I am the lights, you wish in your heart, we're an identified flying object.
Oh yes. It's me. It's not distant thunder and it's not a further distant atomic explosion.
It's me, in an aeroplane, bored nearly out of my mind,
And it's so beautiful up here."

Two of my favourites showcase the expanse. One is a mere three quarters of page, a musing of love versus life’s darkness shot through with dark humour on how silly we can be and then a frisson of oddity, of a disturbing narrator. The second (one of the longest stories) is a tale of having to take an awful job to pay the bills and having your worst fears come true, no pay, bullying, incompetence and murder, yet funny.

Highly recommended for those with a darker humour, a love of language or short sharp, surreal shocks.

Oct 22, 2012, 7:17am Top

77. The Underground Man by Ross Macdonald

When Lew Archer witness the abduction of a boy he is drawn into a tortuously complex case of murder hidden amongst the wealthiest families of small town California.

I rarely like a Noir book for the plot but I enjoyed the way this twisted and unfurled, like the forest fire it’s set against it rapidly breaks out in all directions and tries consumes all. Although sedately so, one of the key joys is the pacing, the steady unfurling or what could easily be a torrid soap opera of a plot. Affairs and loveless marriages, blackmail, murder and rape, mental illness are all slowly unearthed but Lew's humane pragmatism ground it. It is a tale with a strong theme as one generations sins hit the next and then next.

It's hard to pick out a negative part, it is what it is after all and has aged well. This story does hang towards the end of a series but that didn't negatively impact the tale and I am intrigued to try an early one and see how the character starts out.

Bechdel: Pass

Edited: Oct 22, 2012, 7:48am Top

oops read this ages ago and forgot to review it!

78. Havana Noir edited & translated by Achy Obejas
Short tales of darkness set in Cuba.

Not the standard take of Noir, it’s not criminal mysteries here but life’s darkness and it’s an interesting blend that has resulted. The authors are a good mix of male/female, old and new and of those that stayed and those that fled. All translated with care and I think it’s worth seeking out for anyone interested in stories set outside the usual cultures. This wholesale capturing of different styles and stories means that it will be uneven just because of the readers taste. Sure there are one or two clumsily written ones but on the whole all are well written (and translated). Oddly though the theme of bleakness means the trouble of communist Cuba is a general theme and I don’t recommend you read it one go because I found myself yearning for a story on new Cuba, a positive one at that. It is a very dark book and some tales were too bleak even for me, not gratuitous but horrid.

I do recommend it, if you like to dip into the dark side of another culture

Oct 26, 2012, 10:44am Top

79. The Bookman by Lavie Tidhar
Deliciously exuberant steampunk

Have an urge for wild adventure? Need to rub up against pirates, anarchists, poets and automatons? Fight shadowy forces fighting against the British Empire firmly in control of sentient Lizards? Want to ride strange steam powered contraptions and float high in secret, silent airships? See what inspired Jules Verne and terrified Irene Adler?

This book is a must if you want a fun, playful, lovingly written adventurous tale seeped in a rich world bursting with Victoriana. Take delight in spotting all the references and just wallow in the novelty of it all. It’s packed to the rafters with ideas, some vivid set pieces, a multitude of characters and to be honest it’s hard to find fault.

Maybe I was just in the mood for it. I grew to enjoy the passive main character because it perfectly suits the world and I blinked happily over tiny bits of info dumping. Ok it’s gently paced at 1st, with the winding plot/short chapters stopping the whoosh of a fast paced story but that’s no bad thing. No I guess it's just down to taste: there IS a lot going on, characters can swish in and out, the main character is a poet with a lost love and I guess it depends whether a missed reference will drive you to insanity and despair.

Actually if you don't like this book it will be like kicking a puppy. A mechanical puppy, that probably turns out to be a cool explosive device but still a cute one with doleful eyes. So recommended. I mean royal lizards! Come on!

Oct 26, 2012, 7:45pm Top

Many great books and reviews in this thread clfisha, thanks for bringing them to my/our attention !
The Bookman sounds fantastic !

Edited: Oct 29, 2012, 11:16am Top

Hi Bryanoz & thanks :) I am really starting to like Tidhar as an author & can't wait to check out the sequel.

80. The Road to Perdition by Max Allan Collins (author ) and Richard Piers Rayner (artist)
Interesting historical crime comic

Drawn in highly detailed, stark black and white, this is an arresting crime story of revenge, of family in an evocative time of corruption and poverty, of Elliot Ness and Al Capone. It's theme of father/son relationship set in a deeply violent world twists and softens the revenge story of ex-hit man and his young son going after their families killers. It is a great tale too, one where you can feel time slowly running out, where doom is on the horizon but you are still gripped. Does he get revenge? Will he get redemption? Will the son follow the father?

There is slight repetition in the narration but really that's the only complaint. The setting is superb (the historical research shines), the characters (real & imagined) feel spot on and the dialogue is hard and reassuringly familiar from all those gangster flicks. Indeed they made this into a rather famous film, which I haven't seen but cannot for the life of me picture Tom Hanks as the 'Angel of Death'

Recommend to all loves of gangster tales.

Note: the graphic novel was redrawn (in a less detailed style) by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and sold in 3 parts.. No idea why.

Oct 30, 2012, 10:50am Top

81. In the Cities of Coin and Spice by Catherynne M. Valente
Beautiful, modern, intelligent, nested fairy tales

Not a sequel but a continuation of The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden, you cannot dive right, nor do I recommend
a long gap between. So read my review of the 1st and apply to second... If you liked it there will be no stopping you moving to 2nd, if you are ambivalent.. well it doesn't change.

Review: http://www.librarything.com/review/77310206

"There is always a moment when stories end, a moment when everything is blue and black and silent, and the teller does not want to believe it is over, and the listener does not, and so they both hold their breath and hope fervently as pilgrims that it is not over, that there are more tales to come, more and more, fitted together like a long chain coiled in the hand."

Oh amen to that.

Do I need to say this comes highly recommended?

Nov 7, 2012, 11:16am Top

82. How's the Pain by Pascal Garnier
A slim full bodied taste of French Noir.

Simon (whose business is to exterminate "Vermin") is at the end of his life and on his last job but on a whim he decides that he needs a driver and asks his very new young friend, guileless Bernard, to take the job.. but life (and death) has its own plans.

Caught firmly between life's hope and its inevitable darkness, this is an amusingly dark novel, punctured with flashes of violence that still manages to retain a soft spot for human frailty. It's really the tone and structure that standout, as Simon's cynical observations and desperate nostalgia rub against Bernard's youth and optimism. Two characters, one of whom wants a future and another who needs an ending. Although It’s not really an odd couple story, all characters are wonderfully skewed (but never over the top) from the elderly taxidermist who needs love to Bernard’s alcoholic mother, no it’s more clash of plans versus life’s chaos.

The structure just adds an extra thoughtfulness to the novel (end at the beginning). May I add that personally it was refreshing to read a non USA noir, although it took me a while to visually swap to a French background! The translation seems good too, although some English words felt a bit jarring i.e. dole (meaning benefits)

Recommend to genre fans or wanting a quick, immersive, morally ambivalent read.

Edited: Nov 14, 2012, 7:01am Top

83. This Book is Full of Spiders by David Wong
Amusing and refreshing slacker horror

"You know how sometimes when you’re drifting off to sleep you feel that jolt, like you were falling and caught yourself at the last second? It's nothing to be concerned about, it's usually just the parasite adjusting its grip."

There really is no better mix of cleverness and stupidity out there. It may start out with an invasion of invisible parasitical "spiders", violent deaths and a chase by a giant turkey monster but soon twists into refreshing, thoughtful take on the tired ol' zombie mythos; musing on societies fears, on the morals of how to control an epidemic, on why we need zombies (or do we?). All wrapped up in a gripping, carefully constructed chaotic plot with different timelines and multiple unreliable narrators (yes even the dog). Oh yes and penis jokes too. Well ok just 1. Sorry penis joke lovers.

"And you have no idea what it does?"
"Let's just say it's magic"
"Let's just say that I need a little more explanation than that if I'm going to go along with this"
X sighed "Okay, have you heard of nanotechnology?"
"Yeah. Microscopic robots, right?"
"Right, and imagine they can make millions of these robots and embed them in a liquid, so that you now have a liquid infused with the power of all these machines. Got it?"
"All right."
"Now imagine if, instead of tiny robots, it's magic"

David and {Name Redacted to remove spoilers} make such endearing pair of losers and, along with the more intelligent Amy and Molly easily shoulders both low and high brow humour. I mean who can do an Aliens parody with a straight face? It may not be as hilarious as the 1st book John Dies at the End but it’s far more cohesive and interesting.

Issues? hmm. It contains gore, sarcasm and some really bad jokes. It still struggles to contain itself (sometimes the highbrow stuff went on a wee bit too long) plus the multiple narrators jars a bit probably only because I adore Wong's voice. You don't have to read the 1st one before this but why wouldn't you? Mind you could just wait for the film.

"That is why we fear the zombie. The zombie looks like a man, walks like a man, eats and otherwise functions fully, yet is devoid of the spark. It represents the nagging doubt that lays deep in the heart of even the most zealous believer: behind all your pretty songs and stained glass, this is what you really are. Shambling meat. Our true fear of the zombie was never that its bite would turn us into one of them. Our fear is that we are already zombies.”

Oh by the way it has an absolutely amazing book trailer here:

John Dies at the End film trailer (contains spoilers though)

Nov 14, 2012, 3:30pm Top

Sounds great, thanks for the excellent reading recommendations in this topic/challenge/list clfisha !

Edited: Nov 21, 2012, 9:17am Top

84. we3 by Grant Morrison (author) and Frank Quietly (artist)
Simple, savage and stunningly beautiful

Stunning graphics and eye popping layout, combined with a short hard hitting, visceral story of animal rights and dastardly military experimentation this is a slim comic collection worth seeking. Slightly silly premise at 1st of household pets (a rabbit, cat & dog) enhanced, wrapped in exoskeletons and weaponised to the extreme, when they are decommissioned they seek to escape but are relentlessly pursued by a terrified military; think what the media could do with a story like that.

This is not an anthropomorphic tale, refreshingly even though trained to speak they are animalistic. Much more interesting and provides more of an emotional punch in what is very much an action comic. A good comic but what made it a great one are the gorgeous and eye popping "3D" graphics; as the super fast characters break out of panels and scatter-shot detail overlays gunfights capturing the fast, bloody chaotic detail of battle. There are quite a few techniques here and its absolutely fascinating eye candy, especially since it was very new to me.

Recommended to comics fans.

Bechdel: In no way does this pass. It has one female character. 1. All other scientists, soldiers, policemen, innocent bystanders and homeless people are men. I expect there was a plague or something.

Nov 19, 2012, 6:26am Top

85. Category 1 The BldgBlog Book by Geoff Manuagh. Tag non-fiction, architecture
London's Overthrow by China Mieville

A polemic essay, a snapshot of London in 2011; the aftermath of riots, a precursor to the Olympics and right in the middle of harsh austerity cuts. It is of course beautifully written and interspersed with delightfully murky and often blurred snapshots of London.

This is an era of CGI end-times porn, but London’s destructions, dreamed-up and real, started a long time ago. It’s been drowned, ruined by war, overgrown, burned up, split in two, filled with hungry dead. Endlessly emptied.

A book for hard core Mieville fans only, as it’s a very pricey essay and one you can find on the internet. Although I would seek it out there, unless of course your politics leans hard right. Those who have never set foot in London will still get the gist, this books speaks of the universal city and is soaked in familiar politics. Of course you can also just admire this poetic plea.

The link:

Bechdel: NA

Nov 21, 2012, 9:19am Top

86. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Hugely thoughtful and carefully crafted graphic novel memoir

Two weeks after her mother requested a divorce, her father stepped into the path a truck and was instantly killed. An ambiguous end but one Bechdel believes was suicide, this is a deconstructed look at their strained relationship, her coming of age, both of their journeys with homosexuality and the tired old gender roles and well many many other things. It joyfully entwines her many literary influences as well as proving fascinating insight into USA LGBT history and pulls of a structure that only a comic could achieve.

Awkward familial relationships may be the bread and butter of memoirs but I seriously would not over look this one. The non-linear narrative with a whiff of unreliable narrator is compelling and deliciously complex as each chapter revisits & refocus their relationship, showing many new facts along the way. You can see the story tellers puppet strings is a superb(doesn't make sense). Its wryly amusing, tragic, matter of fact and overall hugely interesting. The art is deceivingly simplistic black & white that compliments and plays of the text.

For those unaware Alison Bechdel is probably most famous for the Bechdel test (a litmus test of sexual equality in films) but also her long running, popular LGBT comic strip. This is her 1st self contained graphic novel and instantly hit bestseller lists.

A real gem for comics, memoir fans and anyone interested in LGBT fiction or history. There is err.. a sequel Are You My Mother? this time about her relationship with her mother and I cannot wait to get hold of it.

Nov 26, 2012, 4:34am Top

Well I just realised I cannot count.. my numbering is out by 1 so I am just going skip a number here.. I may be bothered to go back and renumber the whole thread..

88. The House that Groaned by Karrie Fransman

For a book that covers body image & loneliness this is a darkly amusing and beautiful book. It’s deceptively simple in one way with, using stereotypes and simple character backgrounds to set off a whole heap of chaos. Its juxtaposition here, the exaggeration and interaction, the lovely washed out blue artwork at odds with the text that make it a delightfully exciting read. The glutton hoax calls the dieter during midnight feasts, the Barbie doll starts a doomed relationship with her neighbour who only ensures perfection retouching photographs, the ignored old lady literally fades into the background (have fun spotting her whilst feeling guilt at her awful situation).

It not really for the faint of heart (one of the characters sexualises the diseased & dying) but it’s interesting and err.. fun and comes very recommended. It's got great reviews from those new to comics.. if you want to dip your toe in.

It has a website over at

Edited: Nov 29, 2012, 8:24am Top

89. Grandville by Bryan Talbot
Fun Steampunk graphic novel

You know the Steampunk drill by now, airships and adventure, conspiracies and corsets. This a hugely fun take on the genre set in an alternative universe where Napoleon won and the UK has just broken away as a terrorist state. Oh and of course our hero is a Badger investigating the murder of a British spy, unearthing dastardly French plots and falling in love with sexy badger actresses. Chases, explosions, automatons you name it, this tale has it.

It is a nice tale and is great a setting up the world for the trilogy(?) and leaving with a world (well Europe) shattering ending. It has some nice touches, amongst the anthropomorphic animals are the drudge human slaves "pale faces", then there’s the odd amusing reference to archaic, unused English. The art of course is lovely, this is Brain Talbot after all and the giant size hardback makes me deliciously feel like a kid again. All in all good fun.

Recommended to adventure, Steampunk and badger lovers everywhere.

Dec 3, 2012, 6:56am Top

90. Dotter of Her Father's Eyes by Mary & Bryan Talbot

A Sad, amusing and fascinating entwining of two women’s biographies. both connected through ages by James Joyce, one his daughter, one (Mary Talbot) a daughter of a pre-eminent Joycean scholar.

These two tales, interesting in themselves, play off each other with stark similarities and hopeful deviations. They both have difficult relationships with their fathers, they both wish to have a career, straining against societies inherent sexism and class riddled rules. Only one manages to have happy ending.

But if this sounds too bleak and serious it isn't. The art is yet again (it is a Talbot book) lovely and deftly underlines & expands the story. Is therefore all the more interesting when Ann amusingly comments where Bryan (her husband) got it wrong. For this book is also about their relationship and their love. It not only documents it but is a part of it. How can you not want to read an intelligent and beautiful book that has come out of love?

The only caveat I have is it seems too short, that they could have been more to say & explored. Maybe however it is just suffering needlessly in comparison to the excellent (and completely different) memoir Fun Home which I just read.

Recommended to comic fans, literary lovers, historical fiction fans and anyone interested in feminism.

Books website
Fascinating interview & excerpts over at:

Dec 4, 2012, 6:56am Top

91. Day of the Jackel by Frederick Forsyth
Dated yet compelling thriller

Ever wondered how to assassinate the French President? Then this book is for you, oh and as a bonus you get a fascinating, page turning, thriller as government and assassin play the ultimate cat and mouse game.

Set in the 60s the book starts off with the true account of the terrorist group, the OAS, failed attempt on the French presidents life but soon wonders what if they got an outsider? A professional political killer?

The writing is sparse yet detailed, factual and deadpan and yet manages to fascinate, captivating you and slowly ramping up the tension. The book is fantastically cut, rather like modern TV as it dynamically switches between groups. It’s masterfully done, there are very few action sequences, really its the thrill of detection, of escape. From watching British & French police try and uncover the impossible to watching suave, sophisticated cruel killer get closer & closer to his goal.

If it wasn't for the obvious 60s morality i.e. bad guys never win, they are all guys and the idiot braying politician is always the one to muck up it would be superb. As it was the tension starts to drain out towards the very end and the last 2 page are a bit of a damp squib (obviously I need explosions). Of course it’s dated in other ways.. but oddly that doesn't matter yet. I wonder if the lack of biometrics and mobile phones will mystify soon or just enhance its mystery.

Recommended to crime lovers and would be time travel assassins.

Dec 4, 2012, 8:24am Top

I missed reviews out on:
92. Secret Circle by L J Smith which was far too young for me as a YA USA paranormal romance with extra teenage angst.

93. Lover Avenged by JR Ward which is a great racy adult vampire series with actually a great piece of world building.

Dec 14, 2012, 5:14am Top

Well I have limited access to the internet after today & since I am still reading the fabulous (but lengthy) The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass. I may be a while :) I will be popping back in Jan to update and add some reviews.

I doubt I will get to 100 but probably just a few books short..! Oh well that's life. I really haven't had enough time to catch up on this group too which is sad, Category challenge has sucked what spare time I have!

Anyway if I don't log onto again Merry Xmas and happy New year & I hope you all get the lots of lovely new books.

Dec 14, 2012, 5:39am Top

Hope you are enjoying The Tin Drum clfisha, I found it a great read!

Dec 25, 2012, 12:42am Top

Glitterfy.com - Christmas Glitter Graphics

I want to wish you a glorious celebration of that time of year when we all try to unite around a desire for Peace on Earth and Good Will Toward All. Merry Christmas, Claire!

Edited: Jan 6, 2013, 2:03pm Top

Gosh bit late but here, for completeness sake are my last 3 reviews.

94. Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene (poor Dec) fail

British Everyman vacuum cleaner salesman is enticed to become a spy in Cuba. He needs money you see to create a secure future for his head strong beautiful daughter. The more reports & agents the more money and so he begins to invent them, which is fine until these things start becoming true.

This is exactly the kind of English novel I dislike.. whereas Eric Ambler had the every-man spy thriller down pat, this is almost a farce. The Kafkaesque nature of spying is writ large but the plot is a tad obvious these days and there isn't anything else there. The characters fulfil their allotted rolls and no more, the Havana setting seems tame and banal compared to what I imagine it should be like at the time period (maybe because I read it in Cuba, I demanded more).

Not sure if I want to try anther Greene, this one just falls flat.

95. The Hobbit by J.R.R.Tolkien (ok dec) fail

A classic children's tale. An epic fantasy quest, with dwarves and dragons. An endearing main naive main character to cheer along as he grows and saves the day. A plot surely well known, they are fights with goblins, escape from giant spiders and riddle competitions.

Simplistic, episodic but still holds a slight enjoyable charm.. this is a reread that showed me it doesn't hold up and I am not sure I would give it to a kid today. There are surely much better books out there? Ones with girls and characterisation and plots that make sense, plots that are paced better too. Still I enjoyed it as a kid, it excites the imagination.

So not entirely recommended, nevertheless its a quick read and a classic one.

Note: If you have seen the film (before reading the book) be warned much has been improved and tied in with LOTR (so it makes a bit more sense).

96. Cuba Diaries by Isadora Tattlin (poor Dec)

Set just after the special period (when the Cuban economy collapsed) these are the diaries of American born X, wife

A fascinating time to be in Cuba and Tattlin is an engaging writer. We start off not only with insights into what it was like to be in Cuba at that time but also a family adjusting to a different way of life. However this interest starts to wane, the diary format keeps (?)in broken and repetitive, their privileged position and the limited travel means they only see so much. It needs something more but as the family is kept at arms length, there is not enough story there either. In fact the only glimpse don't exactly put her husband in a great light which is off putting to say the least.

However I did read it in one go, I suspect this maybe be better as a book to dip into. Not really recommended unless interested in a look at being a foreigner abroad & Cuban life.

Right that's me caught up, over to the 2013 challenge.

Group: 100 Books in 2012 Challenge

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