A short, and very strange, story from the BBC Radio archives. This was originally transmitted in 2008 on Radio 7 but was available from the BBC's Radi...moreA short, and very strange, story from the BBC Radio archives. This was originally transmitted in 2008 on Radio 7 but was available from the BBC's Radio iPlayer now that Radio 7 is Radio 4extra. A departure for Dick – known much more for his science fiction – this is a spooky tale of an apple tree that is determined to survive. It does so by ensnaring a local woman into a sort of relationship – she certainly feels controlled by the tree and it's presented as a sort of abusive relationship – and somehow using her life-force to reinvigorate itself.
As an audio reading, William Hootkins has a fantastic voice for horror, able to push a fair amount of suspense into his over-dramatic style. Perfect for that slightly campy horror style. However, I struggle with audiobooks in general in that I just fail to maintain concentration. A couple of times this didn't quite keep me listening and I had to suddenly switch back into listening rather than thinking about something else.(less)
After nearly three years of living next-door to a library, it was about time I actually joined; I have this renewed fervour for reading all of a sudde...moreAfter nearly three years of living next-door to a library, it was about time I actually joined; I have this renewed fervour for reading all of a sudden. So, earlier this week when I found myself working from home to avoid an audit in the office I popped along with identification and asked to join up. My local library is a fairly pokey affair – the patrons outnumbered the staff three to one and the one member of staff seemed surprised to find so many of us there. Apparently it takes a while to type my name into a computer and print a membership card, so I was invited to "look around" while I waited. Once I'd finished, I looked around again (taking in the children's section this time for some variety) until the lady called my name. Of course, now I'd spent so long 'looking around' I felt uncomfortable just leaving with my new membership card. To have hung around for 30 minutes and not even come away with a book might imply I was wasting her time. Luckily, near the desk with a rack of 'Recommended Books' and on it was an attractive anthology of new and exciting London authors. Never mind that I already had a to-read list of over 100 books, or that published in 2003 none of them would be particularly new anymore, part of my unwritten contract with the librarian was that I had to take a library book.
Diaspora City is a collection of stories from the viewpoint of immigrant London. Predominantly poorer, generally illegal, the stories tell of the lives of people struggling to survive and make London their home. Isaac the Artist jobbing builder, Husman the Gambian cleaner on the Underground, Arnauld the French waiter selling his body to make enough money. Not all of them are first-generation immigrants, some second or more, but they are all tales of a rich multicultural London. The authors too, many of them never published before (a search of Goodreads suggests many of them haven't been published since either) represent, and speak too, their own British multicultural experience.
The first story in the collection sets the bar impossibly high. Rare Books and Manuscripts by Toby Litt is a bona fide 5-star story, it's the, almost unbelievably charming tale of unrequited love for a researcher at the British Library. She has developed a crush, almost an obsession, on a fellow researcher. She finds out his name and decides that to take their relationship to the next level she must make contact. Obviously, in a library, the way to do this is to put in fake book orders, under your crush's name, for books with just the right kind of title. Before long though, she receives a book she didn't order and she starts to understand that her plan may have not been such a good idea after all.
Unfortunately, the remaining stories never quite measure up. None of them are bad by any stretch, but they are a mixture of twos and threes; never quite measuring up to that initial five. Highlights of the remaining stories though are Richard Tromans's The River Underground tells the story of Husman, a Gambian cleaner on the Underground. He embarks on an unexpected rebound relationship with a girl who strikes up a conversation with him. Maggie Gee's The Artist describes the artist Isaac who paints and repairs the house for Mary and her husband. There is obviously something special about Isaac, and while Mary recognises that she can't quite connect with him. Charles Buchan's To Effervesce is a quirky story, more so in the telling than the content. Each letter of the alphabet is taken in turn to tell the story of Arnauld's life as a waiter, although why it suddenly stopped at V was beyond me. And Ursula Barnes's delightful tale of an old man who decides to help out in the local school, helping immigrant children speak English, in Every Colour Under the Sun.(less)
Nathaniel wanted uncle James to read him his new library book – Tiddler. The story is about Tiddler, a small fish who is always late for class. He mak...moreNathaniel wanted uncle James to read him his new library book – Tiddler. The story is about Tiddler, a small fish who is always late for class. He makes up increasingly tall tales to explain his lateness. Nobody believes him but his stories start to spread throughout the fish world. Sort of a Nemo who cried wolf story. Of course, eventually Tiddler is properly late and uses his previous stories to return home safely.(less)
Yikes, where to begin. As the film was released to such an iconic novel it seemed important to read the novel first (iconic enough to consider seeing...moreYikes, where to begin. As the film was released to such an iconic novel it seemed important to read the novel first (iconic enough to consider seeing a movie with Kristen Stewart in). Not only that, but the novel also appears on the 1001 Books: You Must Read Before You Die list. So, Amazon Marketplace to the rescue and a near-mint copy of the novel arrived in my pigeon-hole at work the next day. If only I'd known what it was going to be like – I joined the library the same week and should have saved myself the money by borrowing it from there – luckily, the book I did borrow from the library, Diaspora City: The London New Writing Anthology (recommended so far), provided a fantastic respite in the shape of some excellent short stories to read between sections of On the Road. In fact, I can't quite believe it took me two weeks to read this. I guess that's an indication of how painful a process it was, and that I kept taking breaks to read other short-stories.
Allegedly, On the Road is the American story of the search for self; the defining novel of the beat generation; or some such crap like that. In five parts, it's the tale of four different road-trips from 1947 through to 1950. In reality it's the irritating tale of Salvatore 'Sal' Paradise and his equally moronically named friends (Dean Moriaty and Carlos Marx anybody?) bumming their way across America – driving, busing, stealing, shagging, taking drugs, partying and generally competing to be the most self-obsessed, pompous, selfish, annoying, fuck-wit in the world (I think ultimately Dean Moriaty just edges it in this competition). Man (everyone's man), I did not 'dig' this book. It really annoyed me, or whatever the opposite of dig is.(less)
A very short story, Monsters, Finders, Shifters, by Nina Kiriki Hoffman, is the tale of a small village where sometimes monsters are born instead of h...moreA very short story, Monsters, Finders, Shifters, by Nina Kiriki Hoffman, is the tale of a small village where sometimes monsters are born instead of human babies. Deformed, damaged or broken these babies are either culled or forced out of the village to, hopefully, live wild in the surrounding forest. Some members of the village have developed and trained talents – talents to detect and find these monsters before they are born; talents to alter, or shift, these monsters so they comply with the village's human ideals. Bertram is becoming just such a person, a late developer, he ends up finding and shifting a monster before he is trained and has to live with the consequences of that action.
While Bertram is our first-person narrator, the audiobook edition (presented as a downloadable podcast) is read by Jack Kincaid – one of the editors of Lightspeed magazine. Slightly over-dramatic in places, nonetheless it was an enjoyable well-read story. I struggle to fit audiobooks into my reading schedule – they're okay for flights, but too distracting while driving so I find little advantage over 'proper' books or ebooks. However, at only 45 minutes, this was just about the right length to listen to.
Short stories often suffer due to their lack of available words. Once you've put detail and character development in it's stopped qualifing for the description of short. However, in only 6871 words Hoffman has managed to cram an immense amount of story, character and even drama.(less)
It's hard to imagine a more 'explosive' start to a book about a rivalry between two of the greatest cyclists than the story of LeMond heading back to...moreIt's hard to imagine a more 'explosive' start to a book about a rivalry between two of the greatest cyclists than the story of LeMond heading back to the team bus with diarrhoea only to find the portaloo removed and instead having to take an enormous shit in a large box of promotional postcards bearing his rivals face – literally shitting on Hinault himself! Brilliant!
What follows is Richard Moore's exhaustively researched story of the 1986 Tour de France battle between Greg LeMond and Bernard Hinault. Hinault, the Badger of the title, is the defending champion; LeMond, L'Américain, his team mate and also his rival. Normally, you would expect team mates to work together and Hinault, who is close to retirement, had at the end of the previous tour appeared to promise that in his final year he would work for LeMond to win the race. Moore has spent some time interviewing everybody involved in the story: Hinault and LeMond obviously, but also other team mates, directeur sportifs and rivals from other teams. While that level of research shows throughout the book in the details that really bring the story alive to the reader, it is also the book's only slight weakness – at times, the book risks reading as page after page of quotes lifted directly out of his interviews. You start to wonder where the voice of Moore is in all this.
The book is split into three sections. Like a mini-Tour de France itself: a Prologue where the scene is set, the rivals are introduced and the two main interviews are begun; the rest of the book is split into two halves – the Départ delves into the history between the two riders starting on the Renault team under Cyrille Guimard up to the 1985 Tour de France back together again this time in the La Vie Claire team, and the Arrivée describes the events of the 1986 Tour de France, stage by stage, attack by attack. Early comparisons are made between Hinault and LeMond, one French Breton, stepped in the history of cycling and European (French) tradition. The other American, new to Europe, barely speaking French with no real idea of what he was getting into. Such different people and such different such different styles of rider, they were never going to be friends, having read the book it is surprising they managed to work together even as much as they did. In a way, Hinault's dominant personality and LeMond's more submissive side led into the patterns of behaviour that they never quite manage to break completely.
The 1986 race itself takes up only half the book, each stage gets it's own section and much coverage is made of the psychological battle between the two riders. While I was aware of the result of the race and the story of the broken promise, I wasn't aware of the detail, nor of the ambiguity of that broken promise. It seems Hinault was always hedging his bets and never promised to directly help LeMond win. Promising to mix things up so that LeMond can win is not the same thing at all. Hinault attacks LeMond, several times, but still can't seem to make up his mind. Maybe if he wins he can say that LeMond just wasn't strong enough and he had to take over, if LeMond wins he can say he kept his promise. More likely I think, Hinault just isn't the kind of rider who can gift the Tour to somebody. He needs to know that you deserved the win. Did he want LeMond to show more initiative and to counter-attack (or even attack first). LeMond and Hinault were just such different types of rider. Even approaching the end of the book, and knowing the ultimate result, I was still sucked into that feeling of urgency. I needed to get to the end to see who won! In the end I think Hinault won, LeMond may have won the Tour, but Hinault totally outclassed him in the battle of style and psychology.
Interestingly in today's climate, drugs are briefly mentioned. It seems that while their use was pretty widespread in the peloton at the time Paul Köchli, the directeur sportif, shows repeated evidence of a very strong anti-drugs stance on the La Vie Claire team. How able he was to enforce that remains open to debate. Especially in light of the team owner's, Bernard Tapie, apparent blatant disregard for rules or ethics in his other businesses or sponsorships.
Ultimately, it's not a definitive explanation of why what happened happened. Moore presents Hinault's view of things, and he presents LeMond's view of things. The two don't match up and there's not much Moore can do to pick a line between them. He presents his own view very briefly at the end, but like all of our opinions it's a cop-out because nobody really knows what Hinault was thinking.(less)
Regan Wolfrom writes a semi-regular free-stuff posting, where he collects all the free SF&F ebooks he's found on the Internet that week, on SF Sig...moreRegan Wolfrom writes a semi-regular free-stuff posting, where he collects all the free SF&F ebooks he's found on the Internet that week, on SF Signal. Conveniently, that means he gets to push his own stories from time to time. Gnome on Girl on Gnome: A Love Story was one of those that I downloaded, back in July, but hadn't got around to reading until now.
Marguerite is a girl who's never been in love. She wants to be, she just doesn't seem sure how to go about it, until while out walking she finds two plastic garden gnomes. I think we can all pretty much guess how the story pans out from the title, and it's too short a story for anything in the way of twists and turns. Although, the one swerve at the end (it's not unexpected enough to be a proper twist) saves the story from what would have been a disappointingly obvious ending.
My issues with the story were two-fold. Firstly, the sex was a little on the rapey side of things – Marguerite is a girl looking for love, not lust but love, (view spoiler)[yet she's down with the gnomes with barely a pause, let alone holding out for dinner and a movie, or even just getting their names (hide spoiler)]. Secondly, overall the story just feels too thin. There's obviously not much time for characterisation or world-building in a short story, but even Bradley the brother seems to have more depth than Marguerite or the gnomes do.
I feel slightly awkward writing this review now. The author has already commented on my 2-star rating to say that he's updated the story in the latest edition – as the short story is no longer available on Amazon I assume that he's referring to its inclusion in his new collection of short stories Catholic Guilt and the Joy of Hating Men. I think I have a tendency to be harder on short-stories than novels, but I didn't dislike this I just didn't actively like it. That said, I've got a few of his other short stories to read and I've entered the giveaway for his new collection, so it's far from a lost cause...["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
There can be few better recommendations for any book than that you continuously feel the need to read excepts out to those around you, no matter what...moreThere can be few better recommendations for any book than that you continuously feel the need to read excepts out to those around you, no matter what they are doing (or what else they are trying to read themselves). "Oh, this one is great."; "Just this one and I'll stop."; "Ah, wait, this one is really good too.". I've only felt the need to do this with two books this year — this one because I was really enjoying it, the other because it was just so ridiculous in places.
The Etymologicon is a book of words. Well, technically all books are books of words (except picture books), but this one is about words, words and phrases. The origins of words more specifically. Each chapter digs into the origin of a word or phrase, starting with the phrase "a turn up for the books", and exploring it's meaning, it's origin, other words or phrases that share the same origins and wandering around in a sort of a rambling conversation that is interesting, funny, and by chance also educational. Somehow, like that word game in the newspaper, Forsyth starts the chapter with one word and manages to wind the conversation through to end on another, explaining his train of thought as he goes. This final word, then becomes the starting word for the next chapter.
Some of the chapters about two-thirds of the way through feel a little short and rushed, but in the main each chapter gave me something to annoy Louise with. The final chapter contains the clever twist-in-the-tail, ending as it does with the start phrase of the first chapter. Neatly closing the loop.
A short review, because I really can't think of much I didn't like about this book, so my complaints are minimal. Absolutely recommended even if you have only ever had a passing wonder about language and where some of our more esoteric parts of that language come from.(less)
Having overdosed on the 2012 London Olympics, it seemed like an interesting idea to compare those with the London Games of 104 years before. After the...moreHaving overdosed on the 2012 London Olympics, it seemed like an interesting idea to compare those with the London Games of 104 years before. After the first Modern Olympics, held in Athens in 1896, followed by Paris in 1900 and then St. Louis in 1904, the 1908 Olympics were scheduled to occur in Rome. Unfortunately Rome struggled to find the funding. Luckily for the IOC (although far from lucky for Italy) the eruption of Vesuvius provided the perfect excuse for Italy to save face and give up their attempt to host it under the excuse of having to reallocate their funds to support the earthquake victims. Although, according to Kent, there never was any government money for the Olympics. The hosting then passed to London.
Kent's tale of the organisation of the Olympics suggests an almost unbelievable level of amateurism, yet somehow they seem to have come off. The Games even being moderately successful for Great Britain as we ended up with a haul of 56 gold medals – our highest ever. Less so for the United States however, their lower medal totals aside, relations between the US and Great Britain seem to have been strained by the Olympics not strengthened by it – hardly the Olympic spirit that the IOC were hoping for. Starting with their refusal to dip their flag to the King during the opening ceremony, and continuing throughout the Games with repeated official complaints from the US camp about perceived poor officiating, poor judging and general bias. The US did not feel they were competing on a level playing field. This underlying story of the Olympics as a struggle between the US and Great Britain is reinforced with each chapter starting with a quote from the post-Olympics report refuting one (or more) of the US's complaints.
The book itself is a humorous sporting fact-frenzy. Meticulously researched, Kent provides a fascinating journey through the 1908 Olympics. From the beginning he dives straight in with facts, figures and anecdotes – and it's far from being only about the US and Great Britain. The book does slow down a little in places, the first half is definitely the stronger, but the book as a whole is heartily recommended for anybody with an interest in how the Olympics has changed.(less)
Though classed as a novel, this is barely more than a shortish story – not much more than a couple of hours sitting in the sun one morning to tear thr...moreThough classed as a novel, this is barely more than a shortish story – not much more than a couple of hours sitting in the sun one morning to tear through it. Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson return to come to the aid of a young lady requesting that they accompany her to a clandestine meeting in response to a curious note that she has received. The note appears to allude to the death of her father, the mysterious pearls that have been sent to her anonymously for a number of years, and some alleged injustice she has been on the receiving end of. Before long, Holmes and Watson are chasing across London and back again on the hunt for some stolen treasure that has been smuggled back to England some years before. However, who is truely entitled to say that they 'own' the treasure, and how far will those who believe their claim is true go to recover it...
Holmes is at his most manic while investigating, and we are also introduced to some more background information on the man himself – that he had once boxed, quite successfully; and that he has developed a startling ability to go undercover and use costume to create cover stories and characters to aid in his investigations. Like Poirot, Holmes enjoys pitting himself not only against the bad-guy, but also against the police, and while never as patronising as Poirot, Holmes also enjoys drip-feeding the necessary information to Watson, as Poirot does to Hastings, to 'help' him come to the right conclusions.
The story is book-ended with two scenes, one effectively shadowing the other. Initially, Watson is berating Holmes as he sits in a cocaine haze – "Three times a day for many months". Holmes justifies it to Watson and himself because "he finds it so transcendently stimulating and clarifying to the mind ... I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation." At the end of the novel, with the crime solved, Holmes again reaches for the cocaine solution. While reading the novel now, the casual drug dependency is shocking, that a 'heroic' character would so obviously display his vices. Yet, when the novel was published in 1890, general cocaine use was still widely peddled as a cure-all – even if serious doctors (such as Watson) would already have been frowning upon such usage. Coca-Cola didn't remove the cocaine until 1903 (and still included trace amounts even beyond then).(less)
Like many people I had managed to absorb most of the Sherlock Holmes canon through popular media - television with Jeremy Brett and Benedict Cumberbat...moreLike many people I had managed to absorb most of the Sherlock Holmes canon through popular media - television with Jeremy Brett and Benedict Cumberbatch, and movies with Basil Rathbone and Robert Downey Jr. As such, I feel like I already know all the stories, the characters, the personality flaws and the arch-nemeses. Yet, I'd managed all of this without, apparently, ever having read any of the original stories. An even worse failing, as I have a Folio Society collection of some of the stories laying unread in my to-read pile for over ten years. It seemed about time to make a start with Holmes, and the best place to start is at the beginning, with the first novel: A Study in Scarlet.
The origin of the Holmes/Watson bromance, the story is told from Watson's point-of-view. Watson, returning from the war in Afganistan, needs a room mate and meets an old friend who tells him of a friend, Holmes, who wants a room mate too. And so begins the partnership. Holmes providing all the detectioning, all the sarcasm, all the rampant superiority (and all the drugs); Watson providing the everyman, the documentation, the questions we would ask if we were there and the spark to take Holmes from a detective who solves crimes from his bedroom, with no involvement or credit, to a detective who gets out there, gets involved and, through these stories, the credit for his cases. I was struck by the similarities though to the BBC's A Study in Pink episode which stuck very close to the origin storylines, if not the rest of the story.
Without providing too many spoilers, a man is found, presumably murdered in an empty house in Brixton. The word 'RACHE' written on the wall in blood. The police think they'll solve the case themselves, but we all know that any case with Holmes involved is going to be too complex, and too fiendish, for the police to solve without help. Strangely, the case itself is solved in, exactly, the first half of the novel. Then suddenly we are transported to Utah, and back in time by a generation, to be given the story that led to the crimes. It feels like an unexpected jolt. Watson is no longer our narrator, instead some unknown overseer provides the story until it catches back up to Holmes big reveal. Unfortunately, it does detract from the usual reveal that is always the right of the smartest detective in any detective novel. It's as if, even in his first novel, Doyle really isn't giving Holmes the respect he deserves. Hopefully, Holmes will have more scope to show off and be superior with a proper reveal in the next story.
For the record, Sherlock Holmes was Jeremy Brett. Downey Jr. and Cumberbatch are good, but they aren't Brett. Just saying.(less)
Another short story from the Mira Grant Newsflesh series. This one, also set during the year of the Rising: 2014. Instead of concerning itself with th...moreAnother short story from the Mira Grant Newsflesh series. This one, also set during the year of the Rising: 2014. Instead of concerning itself with the virus or any of the larger story of the Masons, this one tells the story of one of the early outbreaks - The San Diego Comic Con of 2014, the last ever Comic Con.
You would think this would be a perfect story for a series that has, so far, been far more about bloggers and nerds than zombies. Unfortunately, what starts out as an absolutely brilliant idea, fails to deliver for me. I have no complaints about the idea, the characters, the story or the ending. The one thing that spoilt the story for me was the the flashback point-of-view combined with the omniscient narrator. I can see what Grant was trying to do, but I've never really been a fan of stories where the flashback is such an obviously present device. Each section of the story is interspersed with our alleged narrator, Mahir Gowda (yes the same one from the Newsflesh series), interviewing a survivor of the Comic Con outbreak, Lorelei Tuff. Except she's not really a survivor, she only survived because she went back to the hotel with a headache. So the only real details she can provide are from before she left, the two phone conversations she had with her parents and the video footage that was recorded on her parent's friend's iPad. Yet strangely, Mahir is able to piece together parts of the story that he couldn't possibly know - the blind woman locked in the control room; the conversations between Elle and her group of friends; the thoughts and feelings of all sorts of other characters.
The story would have worked a lot better for me if Grant had dropped Mahir completely and told the entire story in a straightforward third-person, or multiple first-person point-of-view narrative.(less)
Mark Hodder's debut novel, The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack, or should that be Spring-Heeled Jack? The front cover says hyphenated, the insid...moreMark Hodder's debut novel, The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack, or should that be Spring-Heeled Jack? The front cover says hyphenated, the inside says not. The page headers suggest hyphenated again, but the actual text contradicts. Obviously, this confusion isn't really a big enough deal to spoil my appreciation of the novel, but it's certainly something to ponder while reading. Luckily, the book is engrossing enough that for most of it, thoughts of hyphenation almost totally left my mind. The first in a trilogy, Hodder brings us a tale of mystery in a post-Victorian steampunk world. Something has happened to change history, Queen Victoria has been assassinated, and we're into an Albertian society instead. All the Victorian greats are here, although with their own little twists: Richard Burton (not the actor) is our detective hero, there doesn't seem to be any end to this man's talents – fencing, exploring, speaks dozens of languages, good at dressing up and now special agent for the King; Algy Swinburne is our poet sidekick – daring, over-excitable and an algolagniac (a condition where his body interprets pain as sexual pleasure); Isambard Kingdom Brunel has started a society of Technologists – pushing the advancement of technology with no constraints who have invented steam powered penny farthings and rotorships amongst other things; Florence Nightingale is the leader of the Eugenicists – giving us wolfmen, brain transplants and human-panther hybrids; Charles Darwin is the brains – in fact he has two brains thanks to Florence. There's no useful idea-stone left unturned in this novel, it's all here jammed in together. Along with time-travel, swearing parakeets, a secret union of chimney sweeps and even little Oscar Wilde the newspaper boy is enjoyable (if a little unnecessary maybe bearing in mind how much other stuff is already crammed in this novel).
Burton has been engaged by the King and Lord Palmerston, the Prime Minister, to investigate the wolfmen sightings (they are abducting the chimney sweeps) in the east-end as a sort of a detective without portfolio. After suffering a confusing attack by Spring-Heeled Jack himself the two cases eventually (and obviously) become one. The level of research throughout this novel just adds to the enjoyment – details from all the characters 'real' lives are incorporated – even the period bogeyman, Spring-Heeled Jack, is built into the story. Each character has layers built over the top of that reality as they adapt to the new timeline. The Libertines, Rakes, Technologists and Eugenicists all spring forth from one changed event in the past and carve their way into the new future.
The only minor flaws were some awkward chapter transitions. Chapter 13 didn't make sense to me immediately as it appeared to jolt back in time and cover the same ground as the previous chapter. Initially I thought they'd printed the chapters in the wrong order, but after forging on and some frantic page-flipping-back I realised that it was a slightly awkwardly done literary device. Half way through the book, the point-of-view completely switches to that of the eponymous villain Spring-Heeled Jack himself in Part Two. We find out who he is, where he came from and what he's trying to achieve. Initially it felt a little forced, an attempt to avoid the cliched exposition from the villain to the hero (or victim) just before he's beaten, that detective fiction so often suffers from. I wasn't sure about it at first, but actually it made sense as there's just too much story for Jack to get through any other way and provides a much more sympathetic insight into Jack that exposition ever could.
The book was an unexpected gift for Christmas last year from the missus, bought on the basis of one of those little bookshop recommendation cards. Proof, if it were needed, that bookshops do have a use and sometimes those unexpected recommendations can turn out to be gems.(less)
The next in the series, and Jack Reacher time has come around again. This time Reacher is approached by the Secret Service to perform a secret audit o...moreThe next in the series, and Jack Reacher time has come around again. This time Reacher is approached by the Secret Service to perform a secret audit of their protetion detail for the vice president elect. Reacher realises immediately that there's going to be more to it than that – in fact, Reacher audits the protection so quickly that it doesn't even make it into the book, instead he briefly describes his report to the agent in charge, M.E. Froelich.
We're reintroduced, indirectly, to Reacher's brother – M.E. and her colleagues all worked with him before he died in the first in the series, Killing Floor, due to the apparent connection between the Secret Service and the Treasury department – and consequently gain a little more understanding into both Reacher and his brother, as well as their somewhat distant relationship to each other.
While M.E. is obviously the 'love interest' for this novel, we're also introduced to Neagley – an ex-MP colleague, now working as a private contractor – who Reacher initially brings in to help with the audit. She's very deliberately presented as a character with issues that aren't explained to us in this novel (she doesn't like to be touched – at all), I assume that means that she'll be making a reappearance in a later novel so Lee Child can develop her a little more. Does Child have a recurring motif of sexual assault? It was a large theme of Running Blind and now my assumed background for Neagley.
Slower than some of the previous novels, more detective than thriller. I especially liked that we got occasional single paragraphs from the bad guy's point of view, enough to tease us but not enough to class them as a point of view character. Probably my new favourite in the Reacher series since Tripwire.(less)
While he's much better known as a poet, it seems that Philip Larkin wrote a couple of novels as well. Jill tells the story of a young man, John Kemp,...moreWhile he's much better known as a poet, it seems that Philip Larkin wrote a couple of novels as well. Jill tells the story of a young man, John Kemp, away from home for the first time, going up to Oxford to study English literature.
Published a few years after Larkin left Oxford, there appear to be many parallels with his own life: a less privileged background, from the north of England, studied English at Oxford - apparently wrote more than he studied - during the war and would have been at risk of having his home bombed. The novel could almost start to sound auto-biographical, though I suspect it's much more a case of 'writing what you know' and therefore pulling details from the author's life to populate the story.
Kemp ends up rooming with a confident public-school chap, Christopher Warner, and is immediately over-awed by his arrogant confidence. As part of a misguided attempt to impress him, John creates a fictional life for his sister, Jill, by writing himself detailed letters. Eventually he meets a girl who he thinks is everything this Jill should be and he develops something of an fixation on her.
While Larkin himself wasn't overly flattering of his first novel in the (excellent) introduction - asking us to be indulgent of his "juvenillia" - it is a great read. Larkin's ease with language is strongly evident, and while the subject matter is a simple story, the book is well paced and never feels slow.(less)
For the first, and only time I received an email to alert me to the fact that one of my Kindle books had been improved since I had bought it. My copy...moreFor the first, and only time I received an email to alert me to the fact that one of my Kindle books had been improved since I had bought it. My copy of The Mongoliad: Book Two had been improved with a short-story prequel called The Dreamer and a map (I love maps) – maybe these ebook things are the future of books after all. As I may have moaned about in my previous review, The Mongoliad: Book One, multi-point-of-view epic fantasy novels like this scream out for a map. As the characters move about you want to be able to picture their journey, you want to know how far apart different sub-plots are taking place – in short, you need a map, or two maps, or pages of maps. The map is nothing special, but it's certainly adequate. The Kindle only shows it in black and white, but I did discover that if you move the cursor onto the map and select it rotates the map to fill the whole screen – fabulous.
Mark Teppo's short-story, The Dreamer, is the tale of a visitor to the La Verna retreat of Saint Francis of Assisi. Set a few years before the events of The Mongoliad: Book One, in 1224, the story covers the arrival of the Crusader, Raphael, into the community of Francis and his Fratricelli, and the excitement that causes amongst the brothers. Alternate chapters are presented as flashbacks to the first meeting of Francis and Raphael, during the fifth crusade at Damietta through 1218–1219. Raphael is the same crusader who features in the Shield Brethren in the Mongoliad some years later (in 1241). I don't know exactly how the writing duties of The Mongoliad are divided up, but Mark Teppo seems to have an affinity with Raphael – I understand that Sinner concentrates on the same character as well – but this short story provides a fascinating insight into the origins of one of the epic's side characters.
Flash forward to 1241 – The Mongoliad: Book Two picks up the story from the end of Book One. My complaint that that novel didn't really finish is answered with the realisation that the trilogy is obviously going to be one continual story rather than three stories. That's fine, but I felt a little let down at the end of book one – I wanted some sort of resolution. I'm not expecting one this time. Again, chapters jump between a number of stories rather than specific character viewpoints. Firstly the new story is that of Ferenc and Father Rodrigo Bendrito having completed their difficult journey to Rome. A journey that seems to have almost cost the priest his life. Rome itself is under a siege – of sorts – the Cardinals of Rome are being held in conclave. The Pope is dead and a new one needs to be selected. However, there is intrigue that the Borgias would be proud of and the Cardinals aren't going to be allowed out until they have selected the 'correct' new Pope. We also get to meet a new character, Ocyrhoe, who appears to be a strong parallel to Cnán from the previous novel. Not only does Ocyrhoe pretty much replace her as the designated interesting female character, she also appears to be one of those strange Binder people that we didn't really learn much about before. Somehow she manages to communicate with Ferenc through a language of knots – I'm looking forward to finding out more about these Binders, but there's only the third book to go...
The second story splits into two, having won his battles in the Mongolian Circus in Book One, Haakon's reward appears to be that he's shoved in a cage and transported across the Mongol empire as a prize for the Khan. Meanwhile his companions are left behind with no idea where he has gone. Instead they are distracted with their quarrels with the Livonian Knights and their attempts to form an alliance against the Mongols with the Khan's prize fighters. In a fashion reminiscent of the Baker Street Irregulars, the orphans, organised by Hans, acts as the go-between between these prize fighters and the Shield Brethren.
The second group of Shield Brethren are still moving across the Mongol empire, with Cnán in tow (although she seems to play a much reduced role this time – possibly to make room for Ocyrhoe and Vera of the Shield Maidens). Having reached Kiev, they have liberated a group of Shield Maidens who were under siege by a group of Livonian Knights (these guys sound like right bastards) and are being chased by a group of Mongol warriors.
Finally, the continuing romance part of the story, between Gansukh and Lian, in the Khagan's party as he takes a spiritual journey back to his home. To try and put his demons to rest and rediscover his Mongol heart. He cannot remain the leader of the Mongol empire unless he can control his drinking. Meanwhile Lian would love to escape on the journey – but with, or without Gansukh?
Again, it's a transition novel. The stories introduced in the first novel are continued, but not finished. New stories are introduced in Rome, but also not finished. I couldn't put the novel down, and I raced through it. Each of the storylines is slightly different – presumably as a result of the, frankly massive writing cast splitting the duties between them. Apart from some slightly awkward similarities between Cnán and Ocyrhoe, neither the characters nor the storylines become blurred and all manage to retain their unique qualities. I hope the final novel ties up the loose ends, until then I'll have to hunt down the short stories.(less)
As a random, free download, on Kindle, I really wasn't sure what to expect from this. I'd heard of neither the Virex series, nor of Eric Brown before,...moreAs a random, free download, on Kindle, I really wasn't sure what to expect from this. I'd heard of neither the Virex series, nor of Eric Brown before, but I was going through a phase of eagerly downloading anything free and vaguely science-fictiony. Consequently, I ended up on holiday with a Kindle full of books that I couldn't have told apart in a line-up. Luckily I had a friend's daughter there to choose the next book for me, through the power of a complicated rhyme and paging through the list of books one by one until she declared this the winner.
Initially it seemed like it was going to be a hard slog. The book started out positively purple, with far too many adjectives per noun. Then Brown introduced a cast of alternative lifestyle lesbians and I worried it was going to end up one of those man-writes-in-too-much-detail-about-lesbians books. Luckily, once the plot kicked in I was left with a science-fiction crime-noir tale set in a run-down futuristic New York. Hal Halliday and Barney Kluger, both grizzled ex-cops, run a less-than-glamorous detective agency in the lower-rent side of Spanish Harlem. They specialise in finding missing people, however with the recent influx of refugees, this isn't as easy as they'd like. The story revolves mostly around the single case: Carrie Villeux has hired them to find her missing lover, Sissi Nigeria. As Carrie and Sissi are futuristic alternative-culture lesbians, this gives the two detectives plenty of opportunity to excercise their dated, paternalistic views, while still being the good guys and Brown is careful to not let the book stray into the horrible mess of stereotype and cliché it could have so easily been. Sissi is a leading engineer with a virtual reality company, which provides the convenient science-fiction hook. And before we know it we have multiple dead bodies and the case is much larger than they, or the police, have realised. A pleasant mix of Bladerunner, I Robot (the movie more than the book) and with a similar feel to Gregory S. Fallis's Dog on Fire (although nowhere near as well structured, written or characterised) - I found myself racing through the book to find out what happens in the end.
Annoyingly, the book contained a number of quite annoying typos and odd acronyms. The early, and repeated, use of 'ms' as shorthand for manuscript was very confusing - I had to look it up. The typos start about half way through, and increase in frequency as you approach the end. Either the editor had given up by that point, or had become so engrossed in the story that he had stopped actually checking the text.(less)
So again, George R.R. Martin is unable to write a book that can be safely published as a single volume paperback. Perhaps somebody should explain to h...moreSo again, George R.R. Martin is unable to write a book that can be safely published as a single volume paperback. Perhaps somebody should explain to him that slightly smaller novels, published more regularly, might keep the haters at bay - heck it might even make it less of a chore for him to write. As with the split of A Storm of Swords the second book was the better part of the novel. Although less markedly so this time I thought.
The first third of the book continues pretty much where A Dance With Dragons: Dreams and Dust stopped. The chapters concentrate on Theon, Daenerys, Jon, Arya and Tyrion to complete the catch-up with the parallel stories in A Feast for Crows. Only the second two-thirds really start to progress the story at all. Even then though the progress seems more limited that I'd hoped. Some of the characters almost seem to be stagnating. Martin seems to be holding some characters back from fulfilling their story-potential, in a way that starts to feel artificial. Like he doesn't want to start the next phases of their stories until the next book, but he feels he has to have them doing something to fill the chapters.
All that said, the book is still enjoyable. Martin writes these characters well. The book builds up to a good, trademark-Martin, twist. Where another character previously thought to be 'safe' suddenly gets brutally murdered completely out of the blue. Although, obviously it's supposed to be a cliffhanger, so you're not going to be totally sure until the next book. Bloody typical.(less)
With only five months between my reading of A Feast for Crows and this, I dread to imagine how confused readers would be who'd been forced to wait th...moreWith only five months between my reading of A Feast for Crows and this, I dread to imagine how confused readers would be who'd been forced to wait the full five years between publications. I was confused as hell. I can see why George R.R. Martin thought he had to split books four and five this way - geographically - but I'm not convinced. This time the book focuses on the viewpoints that A Feast for Crows had ignored - concentrating on Jon, Tyrion, Daenerys, Bran and Reek (view spoiler)[(the wretch formerly known as Theon Greyjoy) (hide spoiler)] - and staying mostly around The Wall, the lands beyond The Wall and everything to the east of Westeros - is that Essos? But, for me it didn't work. I can see I'm going to have undertake a massive re-reading programme before Winds of Winter comes out, whenever that is. 2015 is my guess.
The characterisation and writing was up to Martin's usual standards, but by-and-large, the book felt like the collection of chapters that just weren't quite good enough to go into A Feast for Crows. I think a large part of this is because the story is covering the same ground as that book. A lot of what you're reading isn't exactly new or shocking. Instead it's stuff you were generally able to guess or surmise from the parallel chapters.
Combined with my previous complaint about Martin's book one of a pair, A Storm of Swords: Steel and Snow, the story is really only half the story. Instead of excitement and action, you've got a lot of Martin moving his pieces around the board of his world so that they're all in the right places for the finale. Except the finale never comes because that's supposed to be in the next half. There's no sense of arriving at the end of this book, presumably the publisher has just took a knife through the middle of the spine of the hardback edition and used that as their guide for the two paperbacks.
That said, there's a lot to like about this book. The characters you missed from the previous book are back. Tyrion is as delightful and witty as ever, Jon is further developing his third dimension and realising that being Lord of the Watch involves some hard decisions, while Theon may still be a complete shit, you do also start to feel a little sorry for him, and Daenerys continues to try and juggle the desire to be both a fierce warrior princess with her need to be a compassionate queen who looks after the people in her kingdom. In all, a good start, but not a complete novel.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Mur Lafferty was generous enough to make a bunch of her ebooks available for free earlier this year. Which was lucky, as I'd never really heard of her...moreMur Lafferty was generous enough to make a bunch of her ebooks available for free earlier this year. Which was lucky, as I'd never really heard of her before, but I seem to be suffering from an addition to free ebooks – the downloading more than the reading so far. However, sitting by the pool, having read all but one of my real books (always keep one real book back for the flight home – nobody can tell you to turn a book off during take-off) I was searching for something new to read on my Kindle and remembered Lafferty's Heaven. The first in a series of novellas, originally presented as podcasts before being updated for the ebook format.
Firstly, it's a novella, so it's short. There are no page numbers in my ebook, but I read it in a single sitting one afternoon. But, it's fun and it tears along at a pretty steady lick to keep you reading. We start out being introduced to our two protagonists: Kate who narrates the first half of the novella, and Daniel who narrates the second half. As we're introduced to them it's explained pretty quickly that they're going to die. After all, it wouldn't be much of a story about Heaven if they didn't get there pretty quickly. Consequently, Kate introduces the characters and narrates their deaths before describing her arrival in Heaven. Initially happy, she starts to feel it's all a bit, well, dull. So she starts to challenge the boundaries of her Heaven. Eventually, Kate and Daniel are charged with a secret mission from God. A mission that could mean the end of all the Heavens – yes, even doggie Heaven. Souls are disappearing and God's apparently a bit too busy to investigate himself.
Kate's narration suffers from two problems. Firstly, her continued and unspoken (except to us) obsession with Daniel gets irritating pretty quickly. And, secondly, Daniel himself is a bit of a dick. Actually more than a bit. However, the second half of the novella, into the main part of the mission itself, is narrated by Daniel directly. He seems a lot less of a dick when he's describing himself – maybe there's a message for us all in there – but it could also be that once he's got a mission to concentrate on, he's just got a lot less free time for being a dick.
Lafferty's Afterlife universe is fascinating. Multiple cultural Heaven's – all interconnected – some aware of each other, and others less so. The novella wraps up pretty sharply, a limitation of the form itself, but also the initial serialisation of the Afterlife series has led Lafferty to do the same with the novellas. Heaven ends abruptly and makes it pretty clear that the mission is far from complete. The title of the next novella, Hell should provide a big clue as to the direction (if that's not enough, there's a sneak peak of the sequel at the end).(less)
Waterstones was having a promotion of books featuring London and I'd heard good things about China Miéville so I added it to the pile. What I hadn't a...moreWaterstones was having a promotion of books featuring London and I'd heard good things about China Miéville so I added it to the pile. What I hadn't appreciated was that Un Lun Dun is in fact a children's book - maybe aiming for a slightly younger audience than the young-adult novels that seem so popular at the moment. While it's a whopping 521 pages, the print is somewhat large and the text is liberally littered with little sketches of something from that point in the story.
Once I got over the 'disappointment' that this wasn't a 'proper' novel, I was able to settle in to it pretty quickly. And it's a truely delightful story. Subverting and referencing so many of the genre tropes, it's a book that is literally packed with fabulously clever ideas. The worry is always that when an author is so keen to fit clever ideas into a novel that the plot and characterisation will suffer - not so here. Mieville has a clear plot laid out where two young London girls find themselves in a parallel Un Lun Dun world. Before long, of course, we find out that Un Lun Dun is a city in dire peril - although luckily there is a prophesy that a young girl, and her friend, will appear and save them. So far so predictable. And that's when Miéville takes his cue to start messing with the rules...
Delightful, again, is the key word for this book for me - the story, the characters (especially the vast cast of secondary characters) and the drawings too. Nothing feels wasted, nothing feels dumbed down for 'the kids'. My only real complaint is the use of 'youth language' - the "inits" just felt a little too forced, and a little too frequent. If this is how China Miéville writes children's books I'm going to have to add some of his older fiction to my to-read list.(less)
"Later, as he sat on the balcony eating the dog, Doctor Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months."
A casually disturbing opening line had me pretty much hooked from the start. While dystopian-future books are currently all the rage in science-fiction circles, this is more of a dystopian present. Although possibly seeming far fetched when it was written in 1975, now in 2012 high-rises are springing up all over the docklands area of London. Ballard presents us the first of such high-rises, built just near where I live - it's set in an unspecified dockland area north of the river on a bend. Sounds pretty much like Victoria Docks or somewhere very near there.
The titular high-rise, is the first of a two high-rise development. Once the tower is full, slowly things start to go wrong. Lift's break down, electricity supply failures, etc. Initially the residents blame these failures on the development itself, but before long they're blaming each other. Then then trouble really starts as the residents form into gangs and the whole apartment block descends into Lord of the Flies style chaos.
Living in an apartment block, the whole story rang all too true. The slightest problems with your neighbours rapidly escalate into all kinds of bitter blame games. Rubbish in the wrong bins, late night parties or parking in the wrong parking spaces - all things that you start to believe your neighbours are doing deliberately to annoy you.
The only annoyances with the book were a couple of Americanisms - elevator rather than lift for example - and an annoying misprint half way through the book that duplicated the first half of a sentence at the expense of the second half. Neither of which really detracted from a fascinating idea that's excellently told.(less)
Piers Anthony is the man who just can't let a good finished series lie. Initially a trilogy, the Apprentice Adept series ends with Phaze and Proton se...morePiers Anthony is the man who just can't let a good finished series lie. Initially a trilogy, the Apprentice Adept series ends with Phaze and Proton separated forever, with no possibility of renewed contact. Five years after finishing the first three books, Anthony returns to the series with another trilogy and a final stand-alone novel. I read the initial trilogy back in the early 90s, and re-read them in 2011 in preparation for finishing off the series with these later books. Although nearly two years since I finished Juxtaposition it has been 20 years within the story. Stile and Lady Blue have raised Bane; Citizen Blue and Sheen have produced and raised their robot child, Mach.
The first chapter of the novel is almost entirely exposition, and not particularly well done exposition at that. I thought I had a pretty good handle on the ending of the previous trilogy and where everybody was, but reading the exposition in Out of Phaze made me doubt what I remembered and managed to confuse me no end. Robots now have serf status on Proton and aliens are also an accepted class of serf. The catch-up is presented to us as the young robot Mach explaining his world and his family to a new alien, Agape, he finds himself having to entertain at the game. Obviously, with the worlds split apart forever, Anthony has to find a way around his ending. This time, instead of any ability to physically move from one frame to another, we find that Mach and Bane – if they both want it and happen to be in the exact same place at the same time – are able to swap places psychically. Yeah, that's a lot of ifs, buts, conditions and coincidences.
Initially, Mach is surprised to find himself in the Phaze frame, and the fact that he is almost unprepared to accept what has happened means that he comes close to dying a number of times almost immediately. Bane, however, we find out when we switch to his PoV was really the instigator for the switch. He had been using his magic and tracking a sort of psychic 'feeling' of Mach to home in on his location. Almost immediately, both Bane and Mach fall in love with their counterpart's female friends (strong flashbacks to the first trilogy here) – Bane with the alien Agape and Mach with the unicorn Fleta. As with seemingly all Piers Anthony, there's a strong undercurrent of sex in the story. Bane appears to have indulged in a reasonable amount of casual bestiality with both unicorns and vampires. Mach has to indulge in a fairly heavy bout of bestiality with Fleta while she is in heat, in order to stop her having to leave to find another herd to 'service' her. It's never quite clear whether all this sex is while she is in her unicorn or human shape, but I'm hoping it was the latter. Meanwhile Agape almost immediately expects Bane to 'teach her the ways of human love' and he doesn't waste a bunch of time.
While the novel felt strongly that it was an attempt to extend the series beyond his original plan and consequently repeated a lot of those ideas, tweaked slightly. Somehow in spite of all its flaws, I enjoyed it.(less)
The first, and eponymous, novel in the Halting State series – Charles Stross's stories set in a slightly futuristic Edinburgh. Scotland is now an inde...moreThe first, and eponymous, novel in the Halting State series – Charles Stross's stories set in a slightly futuristic Edinburgh. Scotland is now an independent European state; the Police wear augmented reality glasses connected up to CopSpace; and a gang of Orcs have robbed a bank. A bank in a computer game. Think World of Warcraft (I assume, although I have seen the adverts), and a bunch of Orcs stealing game items from the safety deposit boxes in the game. Obviously, like now, these in-game items have actual value in the real world – the news is always keen to tell us tales of people buying and selling in-game stuff, on eBay, out here in the real world. Unfortunately (for the company that runs the bank) somebody decides to call in the police rather than keeping it quiet and our story begins.
We follow the story through three point-of-view characters – Sue, a sergeant in the Edinburgh police; Elaine, an auditor at the company that insure the company that run the bank, she is brought into the case due to her gaming hobby and then the rest of the team promptly dump the case on her; and Jack, a recently sacked genius game developer, just back from a somewhat bleary trip to Amsterdam to try and forget his firing, who is brought in as a consultant to the auditor Elaine as he just happens to have exactly the right skills. Initially, we're introduced to them apart; with Sue in Edinburgh, Elaine in London and Jack in Amsterdam but it's pretty obvious that they are all going to meet up before too long. And this is where it gets messy.
Each of the characters take turns to tell the story – first Sue, then Elaine, then Jack; and back to Sue again. However, each of the three points-of-view are shared with us in a second-person narrative. Instead of the much simpler "Sue did this, Elaine did this, Jack did this, someone else did something else" we're treated to repeated shocking leaps from inside one character on to the next. Each one, in turn, described to us as if it were us – "You do this, then You do that, then you do the other". Which would be less confusing if it were just one character for the book, but with three characters, you have to mentally keep track of which character you're supposed to be. There are fewer clues in the prose than with other narrative styles.
I can see why Stross thought it would be cool. With the major theme of the novel being immersive gaming it took me back to those choose-your-own-adventure books as a child – "You are standing in the nave of a seventeenth-century church, its intricately carved stone surfaces dimly illuminated by candles." etc. And to be fair to him, it kinda is a little bit cool. I think Stross is the only author I've ever read to use the technique (choose-your-own-adventure books aside), but it does get a little frustrating at times. And I'm not convinced it was every cool enough to justify the second book, Rule 34, being written in the same style.
I read the two out of order, but that certainly didn't matter. While Rule 34 is set in the same universe and uses one of the non-PoV cops from this story, there is no dependency or spoiler potential. Of the two I preferred this one. The second-person narrative seemed less awkward here. The use of geeky terminology seemed less forced. I think Halting State is just a better story. I think I may have overrated Charles Stross's Rule 34. I liked it too, but I'm not sure I really liked it as much as this one.(less)
The fourth Bourne novel, but the first without Robert Ludlum at the helm. Sadly it shows, and Eric Van Lustbader's inexperience shines through. Inexpe...moreThe fourth Bourne novel, but the first without Robert Ludlum at the helm. Sadly it shows, and Eric Van Lustbader's inexperience shines through. Inexperience, or possibly pressure from the publishers to get the book out there. Lustbader seems to feel nervous in the early parts of the novel and falls back on some overly purple-prose and alliterative-adjectives to cover up the lack of action. Instead these become a huge distraction themselves. Once the story kicks in the 'style' becomes much less obvious and Lustbader seems to find a pace he feels more comfortable with.
For no apparent reason Jason Bourne, as David Webb, is targeted for assassination by Khan (an uber-assassin (view spoiler)[who also believes he is Bourne's long-dead son (hide spoiler)]). However both Khan and Bourne are being played against each other by a shadowy, power-hungry, figure – Spalko – who is pulling their (and other people's) strings for his own, unknown, purposes. They are led a merry chase from the US to France, to Hungary and then on to Iceland for the well-telegraphed anti-terrorism summit.
While the story is exciting, and you're always rooting for Bourne (and at some points for Khan too), the story between Bourne and Khan is almost totally unconnected to the story with Spalko and the Icelandic summit. Spalko triggers the Bourne/Khan sub-plot, but it serves no purpose toward his main objective. He would almost certainly have stood more chance of success if he'd not tried to get Bourne involved at all. Bourne would have stayed at home mourning the deaths of his friends, but that would have been it.
After four novels of the series, we're all pretty aware that Bourne is a super-spy. His training from Conklin in Vietnam made him the best in the world. Yet, repeatedly, Khan is able to follow him without Bourne noticing. Khan is able to 'guess' the direction Bourne has taken. And all to often, Khan manages to get to where Bourne is going before Bourne does. Pretty impressive when you're following someone. Even more impressive when you're following someone who isn't too sure where he's going himself.
Finally, further proof to me that this book was a rushed job, with the Ludlum estate pressuring Lustbader to get something out there quickly to capitalise on the success of the Bourne Identity film, was that the book having been split into three sections, had them labelled: parts one and two, but followed by book three? The book reeked of rushed cashing in – the only saving grace being the somewhat exciting pace of the story.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
With both lesbians and a stereotypical black reverend from the West Indies, Unnatural Death was always going to generate strong opinions in some revie...moreWith both lesbians and a stereotypical black reverend from the West Indies, Unnatural Death was always going to generate strong opinions in some reviewers. The lesbian characters are generally handled by Sayers side-stepping the subject completely. They are friends, companions, even devoted to each other, but the L-word is never used. It's clear to us what they are, just as it's clear to us that one of them has murdered the other – the only questions are how and why? I think Sayers tries to side-step the race issue as well – the Reverend Hallelujah Dawson is a convenient hook for the story. A character that can be both foreign and illegitimate (to avoid the inheritance issues) as well as somebody the reader can find above reproach (as a reverend) but who the characters and storyline can easily try to frame exactly because he is all of those things. The side-stepping works much less well here though, some of the descriptions and choice of words will leave a modern reader cringing. Obviously, Sayers is a product of her time – as are her characters – aren't we all though?
The novel otherwise is my favourite Lord Peter Wimsey story, so far. Clouds of Witness fell short for me due to the lack of regular doses of both Wimsey and Bunter. Along with Parker, they are much more apparent in this story. Driving the story forward much more than previously – sometimes dangerously so. Maybe this is just part of Sayers becoming comfortable with Wimsey and his cast of regulars – this is only the third book in the series after all. Instead of the conventional who-dun-it formula, Unnatural Death is more of a how-dun-it. We know pretty early on who the villain is, mostly because everybody who's investigating it has clearly made up their minds – it couldn't be anyone else unless Sayers really has got a weird twist at the end – instead Wimsey is trying to find out why (I mean, a little deeper than just for the money) and how she killed her partner.(less)
This book broke my heart. Twice. Pantani was one of my favourite cyclists to watch - not always sensible or successful, but when he attacked, he could...moreThis book broke my heart. Twice. Pantani was one of my favourite cyclists to watch - not always sensible or successful, but when he attacked, he could be like poetry on a bike. Unfortunately, like Pantani, this book is inconsistent, and only 'good in parts'. Firstly, as others have pointed out, the first third of the book is a struggle to read. Rendell has obviously been meticulous in his research. Interviewing people, who I'm surprised would be willing to speak to a journalist. And that shows. But somehow that passion for the subject never quite translates onto the page. Instead what we get is a pretty disjointed list of facts and quotes. Interspersed in a way that makes a dry presentation just confusing. In his appendix, Rendell admits that that book was delivered under very tight deadlines and it certainly shows in the first third of the book. The notable redemption is the incredibly fair and balanced way Rendell treats each of his sources - quotes that are obviously coloured, biased, or frankly misleading are presented without disection. You never feel that he's using or looking down on his interviewees, they are all part of the story of Pantani, and all have their own reasons for wanting to remember things the way they do.
The middle section, where Rendell has Pantani moving from his amateur career into the professional peloton, undergoes a stark change of style. I wonder if this is the point where Matt is able to write from his own direct experiences, rather than relying on the interviews of the first third. Suddenly, the passion that Matt threatens to write in the first third appears here. We get the same detailed and balanced explanation of Pantani's career, but the confusing sections of quotations are significantly reduced, and there is a strong sense of being there as Pantani races to his wins and as he crashes and burns in the losses. Here we are introduced to the beginning of Pantani's downfall. The rumours of drug use, the pschological problems, the managers and support staff who seem more interested in keeping him racing than keeping him sane. Throughout it all, Rendell continues his same presentation of facts as a balanced account, not actively judging, but leaving the reader to decide for themselves. While the drugs and the psychological problems aren't really going to be a surprise to anybody even vaguely interested in Pantani, I was surprised during this section, to get the feeling that Rendell was hinting at a possible homosexual leaning for Pantani - although never actually stating it - a suggestion that he also returns to in the appendix where he says there were rumours at the time.
The final section broke my heart again. It describes, as best it can, Pantani's descent into the personal hell that led to his eventual death in that hotel room. The repeated missed opportunities to take action to help Pantani, completely ignored by those in position to help him. Each time preferring to ignore the problems, sweep them under the carpet, assume they'll just disappear if not really dealt with. Family, management, friends, colleagues. All of them fed his addictions, ignored his psychological problems and forced him to keep cycling even though he was in no condition to do so. Rendell may not judge them, but I found it hard not to after reading this book.(less)
Having just read Lee Child's Echo Burning, Bob Quinn's Talisa Creek felt very familiar. Both set in the same location - a small farm in Texas. Both fe...moreHaving just read Lee Child's Echo Burning, Bob Quinn's Talisa Creek felt very familiar. Both set in the same location - a small farm in Texas. Both feature Armadillos. Both feature abused wives. Both feature very nasty land owners. While Echo Burning had Jack Reacher as it's protagonist, Talisa Creek starts our introduction to Drummond "Drum" Chase. Drum is an English journalist who travels to Talisa Creek to find his estranged brother - John. The comparison is interesting though, as Quinn appears to be trying to step into the same mould as Child with this thriller.
As a debut, self-published, novel I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting. The spate of self-publishing recently appears to have led to a large increase in the number of books being published - and the quality isn't always that even. Editing (or lack thereof) is a regular complaint, and this book is no different. Too many typos and malformed sentences; sections that probably confuse the reader more than adding anything to the story - the introduction for example. That said, Talisa Creek is a solid entrance for a new author, Quinn redeems himself with some solidly interesting characters and a suspenseful plot that keeps you guessing to the end - I genuinely feared that it might not come good in the end...(less)
Many years ago my dad went through a phase of trying to improve me - sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't. One of his attempts was this book. H...moreMany years ago my dad went through a phase of trying to improve me - sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't. One of his attempts was this book. He bought it for me as a present back in 1986. Twenty-six years later, I've just read it, and I don't think it worked.
Willy Loman is a salesman at the end of his career and his life. A life he's spent chasing 'the American Dream' apparently pretty unsuccessfully. He's full of big dreams and an over-exaggerated sense of past achievements. His family all seem to buy into this vision, yet they seem to be living a pretty hand-to-mouth existence. Willy and Linda's children, Biff and Happy, both seem to have struggled to live up their father's optimistically high expectations for them - Biff is an itinerant farm-hand and Happy is a office assistant. Biff is struggling to come to terms with the fact that his choice makes him happy but disappoints his father, while Happy appears to be heading down the route of emulating his father's behaviours. These mismatches, between what he believes he should have and what he actually has, also appears to have driven him into a state of clinical depression.
As other reviews have already suggested, I imagine this works much better on the stage than on the page. None of the characters are particularly likeable, or even that interesting as individuals. Hopefully the benefit of a cast brings a level of depth to the characters that allows the play to work.(less)