I know, I know: bad blogger, no biscuit.
Being back at work has meant less time to update my blog, that and actually reading more to keep up with what’s out there…and playing video games, just because.
So, over the past few months I’ve read a ton, and rather than produce a big old wall o’text, I will instead give a brief summation of the highlights and lowlights of the past few month’s reading.
The Passage, Justin Cronin: Mega-blockbusting ground-breaking, really? Ok, I’ve had a lot of time to mull this one over since finishing the book. I still prefer The Stand by Stephen King to an infinite extent. This made me want to read it again, which is a good thing. Also, Cronin really needs an editor who understands the difference between the words “wretch” and “retch”. The latter was the one he was looking for, the former is both mis and over used. The book starts off well, then gets bogged down in the second part. World-building is incomplete and seemingly done on the fly rather than considered and organic-feeling. There are good parts to the book, but on the whole it’s lacking. Not particularly interested in the next one. Ouch.
Lightborn, Tricia Sullivan: This is more like it. I own and love all of Sullivan’s books and was anxiously awaiting the chance to get my mitts on this one. It doesn’t disappoint. If you want to see great world-building you should take a look at Sullivan’s books. Like many a post-apocalyptic work, this concerns itself with resistance (to the “shine”, to the powers that be, to the idea of change, to the old ways or the new ones) and it does so in a very measured way. Sullivan’s books entertain, to be sure, but they also make you think – which is never a bad thing. Characters are strong, their motivations sometimes kept opaque to the reader as much as to the other characters, and the plot trucks along. I didn’t want it to be over, and I don’t often feel that way about books.
The Last Dragonslayer, Jasper Fforde: I love Ffordes Tuesday Next and Nursery Crimes books, and if there’s a writer out there who should be able to produce funny, appealing YA fare then he is it. In this first book (of a planned series), however, there is rather too much time taken up with scene-setting so that the main plot (with all the politics involved, sort of a lite version of those to be found in the Hunger Games) seems to ebb in and out of focus. Has a great independent heroine though (and, joy of joys no gratuitous love triangle) and is both a fun and a smart read. I’m interested to see where he goes next with it.
The Scarecrow and Nine Dragons, Michael Connelly: Playing catch-up on my crime reading, and remembering why I’d gotten disenchanted with Connelly, and also why I love his stuff. Confusing? Well The Scarecrow is vintage Connelly, dark, socially aware, smart, well-plotted, zinging pace and engrossing. Nine Dragons has a forced feeling to it, I kept putting it down and being ambivalent about picking it up again. On paper, it should have been fascinating, Bosch taken out of his comfort zone and on a mission in Hong Kong to save his daughter. Instead it’s clunky and transparent. A central “twist” is readily apparent and the other one is not particularly interesting. It feels like a book that doesn’t know when to end, rather than one you don’t want to end. One great, one bad. Same author. Go figure.
Broken, Karin Slaughter: Am I the only person in the world who feels compassion for Lena in the Grant County series? Actually had a higher-up in work snap at me that “Lena’s a bitch, she deserves all she gets!” when I asked how she was enjoying the novel. Slaughter kind of has a way of provoking strong feelings with her characters, and Broken is no exception to the rule. It’s fun to have Will Trent in Grant County, out of his element and struggling with trying to impress Sara and doing his job. The book is less grand guignol than a lot of Slaughter’s work, and is all the better for it (I’m sorry, she’s one of the few writers out there who makes me thoroughly squeamish to the point of having to put a book down).
I’ve also been reading a lot of Donald Harstad based on a friend’s recommendation and I really like his stuff. Carl Houseman is a great creation, not your usual detective, and you don’t come across a lot of crime fiction set out in the middle of nowhere (or in Iowa, which would seem to equate to the same thing), plus Harstads own 26 years as a cop give the books an unshowy veracity and a distinctive laid-back humour. If you haven’t read his books, try them.
Am also still devouring Nero Wolfe books as quickly as I can get my hands on them.
Having gotten my mitts on an e-reader, I’m also re-reading a lot of classics and trying to decide whether the benefits of being able to carry around lots of books without the aid of a wheelbarrow balances out the annoyances of flashing on page-turning and glare on the screen. I do like my e-reader, I’m just not sure that I’d ever plump for a digital edition over a real paper-based book. That said, it has been handy for getting Nero Wolfe books quickly and relatively cheaply so it has its upside.
That’s it for this round-up, I’m loading up my e-reader with digital proofs at the moment, so should have more to report once I’ve read them.
Ok, the past few weeks have been spent in shameless indulgence; hitting Nero Wolfe books as though they were crack-pipes, mixing in a bunch of old-school noir (Chandler, Hammet and a Jim Thompson I’d never read before), with a side of Lovecraft, just because.
I was starting to think in a time-warpy sense and when I found myself just shy of telling people that my new job involved “measuring the long green for paper peddlers” I realised I should probably read something a bit more recent. Trouble is, when you’re reading classics (and those are all classics, canon bedamned) reading something newer can be problematic. How many current writers are there who produce work (especially in crime fiction) that one can see being read twenty, thirty, fifty years from now?
Not too many. You can probably count them on both hands (being generous, I can count the ones I’m sure of on one).
Go from reading Rex Stout to James Patterson (say) and you’ll be woefully disappointed. I would say go from reading the back of a cereal box to reading James Patterson and you’ll be disappointed, but there are legions who would disagree with me. Maybe I shouldn’t have picked him as an example ; )
Anyroad, we got a bundle of proofs sent to us by head office, and plunder the bundle we all did. I came away with some interesting stuff that I’ll review over the next while, but the one I read first was the new Kate Atkinson. It’s called Started Early, Took my Dog (ooh, an Emily Dickinson quote, and I actually spotted it!), and is due to come out in August (I think…I passed the proof on to someone and can’t check), and it is (bookselling shorthand here…) “a Jackson book”, as in it features Jackson Brodie (ex-cop, sometime sleuth, now poetry-reading, cathedral-visiting man of leisure) the lead from her most recent novels. This one not only follows Jackson, as he tries to trace the roots of a New Zealand client, but also introduces ex-cop and now security supervisor at a shopping mall Tracy Waterhouse. Jackson Brodie is the kind of man any reader would like to spend time with, and Tracy is every bit as well-drawn and fascinating as he is. Supporting cast (and plot threads) include the heart-breakingly sliding-into-dementia Tilly, the internal monogue of whom reduced me to tears several times. I’m not going to spoiler anything here, if you’ve read Atkinson you’ll be familiar with the verve, wit, pathos and heartbreak of her books, and be well aware that she writes crime novels that don’t feel like “crime novels”. This is everything you could hope for if you are a fan. Laughter and tears both, and mysteries solved.
Last weekend I finally got my mitts on the new Alex Barclay book, which as it turns out, is called Time of Death (there was a lot of confusion about the title over the past year), it’s the second Ren Bryce book (to see what I thought of the first one click here). I was all agog to read the next one, and a little bit worried in the back of my mind that I was expecting too much. Stupid mind. I stayed up far far too late on Friday night reading it, lost a train journey to it on Saturday (even getting grumpy when I arrived at my destination because I had to stop reading), and finished it that evening. Not quite gulping it down in one sitting, but as close as circumstances would let me get to it.
There were many reasons why I loved the first book, and they’re all still present and correct in the second. This one, like the last, contains not just one mystery, but several, and the various strands are juggled seamlessly. That’s no mean feat, even for a writer with three previous books under her belt. As far as I can make out, the author’s preferred title for the book was Black Run, and I can’t help but feel that it’s more apt than the one it’s being sold under. Mayhap not everyone would get the skiing metaphor, but for those who do, it’s a straight clue-in to the pace and feel of the book. Put bluntly, Ren Bryce, who due to biology is always at the peak or trough of a very steep slope (she’s bipolar) is given a push off the top of an extremely precipitous peak in the opening pages, and everything she holds dear (her job, her family, her sanity) is placed under threat. Starts fast and doesn’t let up.
The main mystery is the murder of Ren’s psychiatrist, Dr Helen Wheeler, and Ren was the last person to see her alive. Not only has she lost her anchor, but circumstances seem to have been contrived to ensure that the murder will lead to the “outing” of Ren as a liability to the Safe Streets Task Force and the FBI (unmedicated, mentally ill, questionable judgement, and licensed to carry a weapon – oh my!). Not only that, but her family are under a cloud of suspicion in relation to a cold case in her home town, and it’s not easily cleared up since the family member concerned (Ren’s brother Beau) took his own life decades before.
Now as someone who reads more crime novels than anything else, I like to think I have various plotting possibilities down pat… I love to read Alex Barclay because whatever I think I’ve figured out, I’m usually wrong, and not just wrong but waaaay off-base. I started reading this and thought “Aha! Simples! This all comes down to blah!” only to be chastened and then intrigued as the real solutions came to light. It doesn’t hurt that Ren Bryce is one of my favourite characters in recent memory, smart, cheeky, by turns self-sabotaging and ambitious, considerate and hard-nosed. She’s complex and not in the way female heroines of crime series usually are. There’s nothing lazy or sterotypical in the descriptions of bipolar disorder and the way it affects people, nothing saccharine about the description of bereavement to suicide and the long, inky, stifling shadow it projects. Barclay consistently manages to keep it real in places where other authors can’t be bothered, and she does it all with an engaging blend of wit, compassion and hard-boiled pacing. Like Kate Atkinson, she pulls off the rare feat of making a crime novel into something more than what you expect, there will be tears and laughter for anyone reading this one too.
Tl;dr : Buy, read, enjoy!
Oh, and in case it wasn’t clear, Atkinson and Barclay are both on my “These will be classics” list. So’s Tana French. You can try to guess the other two!
I’ve been on a bit of a classic crime bender of late, and have become throughly addicted to Rex Stout’s novels featuring Nero Wolfe and his assistant Archie Goodwin.
For years I’ve seen Wolfe mentioned by crime writers and readers alike as a source of joy and/or inspiration, and so was very curious to actually read some of the books myself.
Dipped my toes into the water with Murder by the Book, a classic hardback pulp-fiction-jacketed find in a second-hand bookstore, and have since devoured four more…and am jonesing for the next one I can find. Jonesing being accurate as these things are like paper-based crack.
The stories are smart, Nero and Archie (and Inspector Cramer, Purley Stebbins and all the rest of the supporting cast) are compellingly drawn, complex and utterly believable characters. The dialogue is razor-sharp and noir-ish, and often laugh out loud (and quote at people) funny. For books originally written from the thirties through to the late fifties (at least the ones I’ve read), they are still fresh today. Of course, there are eyebrow raising moments when considering certain attitudes of the time etc. but on the whole they feel far more modern (or less stuffy?) than Agatha Christie or her ilk. It’s a real shame that the books seem mostly to be out of print these days, but I’ll happily keep sourcing them both second-hand locally and online.
So far I’ve read: Murder by the Book, Red Threads (which has Inspector Cramer as the lead), The League of Frightened Men, Before Midnight and Under the Andes (which was written before the first Nero Wolfe book), which means I have around 50 (!) more books to try to get hold of. That should keep me busy!
If you, like me, frequent second-hand bookstores, and come across a Rex Stout book while roaming the stacks, do yourself a favour and buy it.
….it feels darned good.
As I tweeted last week, the bookselling gods have a wonderful sense of irony. My first day back bookselling was also the day the new Stephenie Meyer book went on sale. Yea and I did also have to wear the t-shirt for the past couple of days.
Most minor of all possible annoyances (and I never thought having to wear a Stephenie Meyer t-shirt could be a mere irritant) since absolutely nothing is wrecking the buzz of being back among books and dealing with readers on a daily basis.
I have had hugs from customers who are thrilled to see us again, have had positive comments from people on the street, the guys in the local corner shop and the coffee shop I get my daily java fix from were all grinning and high-fiving me (I guess it’s good for them too, more money = more spending on what they sell).
So yeah, this post: unvarnished positivity.
It’s great to be back : )
But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading, or that I haven’t been up to other bookishly geeky things.
Let’s see, I got to meet David Mitchell a couple of weeks ago, thanks to a friend who is a rep for Hachette (hey Siobhán!) and the very lovely Ruth Shern who was bringing him around stores to sign stock. The man is an absolute gent, and a complete sweetheart. I am now a very chuffed lady with three signed books, one of which has a very very cool inscription : )
That evening (it was a bookish day) I went along to see Alan Glynn and Declan Hughes interview one another as part of the DLR Library Voices series in Dun Laoghaire. They both read from their books (Declan from his latest – The City of Lost Girls, and Alan from a work in progress called The Blood Fields, or is it Bloodland, darn, I knew I should have blogged about this earlier..) and given that they are old college chums, the mutual interview was most interesting indeed. I haven’t read The City Of Lost Girls yet, but I’m looking forward to it based on the excerpts read from it. Where Alan Glynn is concerned, I’ve read both his books and started re-reading The Dark Fields the other day because it’s such a great read, and because when I was talking to him he was telling me about visiting the film set – so given that a film is coming out, I thought now was as good a time as any to take another MDT-48 trip with Eddie Spinola. For those of you who read and loved Winterland, you should really check out The Dark Fields, it’s every bit as good, as smart and as deep as his second book, and I simply love Eddie Spinola, so reacquainting myself with him is a joy in itself.
Ok, I also said I’d post a review of Kate Atkinson’s Human Croquet when I’d finished it, so here you go….
While the book shows all of Atkinson’s linguistic and imaginative bravura, and is a joy for it, and while the theme of secrets kept rotting the hearts, pasts, and futures of all concerned is beautifully conveyed….there is a problem with the structure. It’s kaleidoscopic and wonderful to start, but towards the end it becomes frustrating. Not wanting to give too much away, but I found myself becoming irritated at one stage and then totally exasperated at another. All my issues are with the last hundred or so pages, so be aware that there is much there to love, and I even liked the ending itself (she is soooo good at tying everything up in an atypical fashion) and that the book is well well worth a look, even with the structural caveat it stands head and shoulders above the majority of stuff out there.
I also read The Lady of Sorrows by Anne Zouroudi, a pleasantly enjoyable “cosy” mystery set in Greece and starring her series regular Hermes Diaktoros, or “the fat man”, which is what he is consistently referred to as in the text. Consistently, over and over, as in: the fat man bought an icecream, Blah person looked at the fat man, the fat man put whitener on his tennis shoes etc. etc. It’s not such a good thing that most of what I remember about the book is the phrase “the fat man” and how much its overuse bugged me. The marketeers suggest a comparison with Andrea Camilleri or Alexander McCall Smith, but I feel they’re reaching a bit. For all its good humour and its nice depictions of the locale and the locals, this one (the only one I’ve read) felt more like one of those disposable American “cozies” (as they call ‘em) than anything else. To be fair, it’d be a great beach read, and especially so if the beach happens to be in Greece (like the hidden cove the protagonist and his girlfriend find to spend an afternoon in).
Also, I’d like to apologise to Robert Rotenberg for getting the spelling of his name wrong in an earlier post. Damnation and oops. I’ve fixed it now. Thank you Robert for dropping by!
I have also read another four (!) Nevada Barr books, and they were all most excellent, so I’m not going to rave about her anymore than I already have.
And there you have it, that’s me up to date.
And no, I’m not back selling books again yet, though I hope to be in the near future.
Been laid up with flu, and unable to read much (fuzzy brain from space) and so I decided to use my time to create something that would enable me to keep this blog free of my (admittedly infrequent, but still…) posts about games and geekery.
This was partly inspired by a bit of drama going on around my favourite game at the moment (that’d be Fallen Earth), prompting me to think seriously about creating a fansite for the game, both as a resource for new players and a one-stop links-shop for players familiar with the game.
Hey, I have time on my hands, may as well try to be slightly productive with it.
Have added the site to my blogroll in the sidebar, but you can also get to it by clicking here in case you’re curious.
This place’ll be freed up nicely for my witterings about books and other non-game things, and as soon as my brain is functioning enough to allow me to read, full service shall resume.
While cleaning up my flat after (yet another) leak followed by ceiling collapse, followed by messy plastering (by now an annual event), I came across a stack of books and wondered why I had never gotten around to posting about them. This post is an effort to make up for that.
Warning (in advance): This will be looooooong.
First up is Sarah Pinsborough’s A Matter of Blood, a proof copy of which I read back in early February. It’s the first book in a series which will go under the collective moniker of The Dog-Faced Gods, and a rip-roaring start at that. The book is set in a dystopic future London, where cops and gangsters have reached an uneasy agreement that allows the cops to have a decent salary and the gangsters free to pursue (some types of) crime with near-impunity. The country, and indeed the world, is run by a single conglomerate, known simply as “The Bank”. The lead character DI Cass Jones, finds himself battling both criminals and The Bank when a serial killer starts operating in the city, and the finger of suspicion for some of the murders is pointed squarely at him. Clearing his name means tracking down a killer who leaves nothing of himself behind at crime scenes except for microscopic fly-eggs impeccably placed on the eyeballs of his victims and messages written in blood. Given that everyone in the book is compromised in some way, untangling leads from red herrings and figuring out who (or what) could be responsible for the murders is a task not easily faced. The books deftly establishes its setting, adroitly mixes crime, the supernatural and a dash of of dystopic sci-fi, which coupled with deeper-than-your-average characterization and the author’s unflinching ability to wreak havok in the head of her protagonist as well as her readers makes it a gripping, compulsive read.
Next up, Old City Hall by Robert Rotenberg, a thriller set in present-day Toronto, where an immigrant newspaper-delivery man happens upon a celebrated radio-show host who tells him he has just killed his wife. The wife is indeed dead, and scandal erupts. Sorting out truth from misdirection and cover-up are a wide cast of characters, each with their own part to play. There’s the cop, the DA, the radio-host’s defence lawyer and a journalist determined to get himself back into his editor’s good graces. Rotenberg does a great job of making each character distinct, a tough job when people are constantly dropping in and out of the story, and the links between the protagonists could come off as cheesy, but in his hands they don’t. The plot itself is solid thriller fare, with the distinction that even though the ending may telegraph itself a bit, the ride is enjoyable and the characters interesting enough to merit sticking it out. The blurb on my ARC says “Each character has an extraordinary back story and could quite easily stand as the hero or heroine of his or her own novel”, if I had a criticism it would be that there’s sometimes too much time spent making each of these characters special enough for their own book. Too much exposition of back-story, but it’s well-written exposition so it didn’t irritate me too much. Worth a look.
Finished the new John Connolly a while back, it’s called The Whisperers, is another Charlie Parker novel and is on sale now. Let me start by saying I’m an utter and complete geek for Sumerian mythology, and I loved the fact that Connolly touched on some of it in his last book (The Lovers), it’s to the fore in this book, which opens with the looting of a museum in Baghdad, leads into the death by apparent suicide of a number of men from a US army unit that were on-site of the looting, and continues with the father of one of those dead asking Charlie Parker to find out what killed his son. Along the way we meet a new villian, and his sidekick, there is water-boarding and a couple of threats to rape people to death (seriously, I actually stopped reading to boggle both times the threat was mooted), Angel and Louis come on board and forces are joined with someone you would not expect (if it weren’t for the fact that the blurb tells you to, at least on my ARC) in order to solve the mystery. Connolly works very hard to set the scene in Baghdad, and he succeeds (the looting scene is almost as good as the one done by Michel Faber in The Fire Gospel), it’s just that after that there is an abundance of shoehorned-in research and social commentary that detracts from rather than enhancing the story. Connolly is more than capable of writing rip-roaring yarns, he’s generally very good at it, but with The Gates (which is, y’know, for kids), and now this, it seems he’s lost the lightness of touch he once had when it comes to incorporating research in favour of a heavy-handedness that does neither him nor his story any justice. The Sumerian mythology in this feels somehow tacked on, a mere device, whereas in The Lovers it added layers to the intrigue. Maybe this is why I found the ending hollow, anti-climactic and well….pretty meh actually. I hope the next Parker novel finds the author on better form.
I also recently read The Book of Proper Names by Amélie Nothomb, the first of her books I’ve read in translation, and I really enjoyed it. Nothomb’s books tend to be slim (in terms of pages) and deceptively simple in terms of execution. They pack a punch well above their small size and I find myself thinking about them for days after I’ve finished them. The Book of Proper Names is no exception to this rule. It follows the life of an orphan called Plectrude, raised by her aunt and uncle, she is the product of a tragic past that affects her view of her own destiny once it comes to light. We follow Plectrude from childhood into adolescence and see the weight of dreams (her own and her aunt’s), fate and the dynamics of a dysfunctional family push and pull this dreamy (and dreamlike) girl in all directions at once. The translation misses none of the lyricism of Nothomb’s language, her kooky characters are vivid and the fairy-tale feel of the book is sustained without ever becoming cloying. Loved it.
At the moment I’m reading a Kate Atkinson I managed to miss out on, Human Croquet, and am enjoying being bowled over by her inventiveness and wit (as ever).This is a dark tale, clad in quirkily humourous garb, and I’m lapping it up. I’ll probably post a review when I’ve finished it.