Thursday, 31 January 2013

Professor Moriarty The Hound of the D'Urbervilles - Kim Newman

"Barely ten minutes after my appointment as Chief Executive Director of Homicide, Ltd, I was awaiting our first customer."

For those who find goody two-shoes annoying, for those who like their adventure a little on the dark side, have I got a book for you!

Being a big fan of Kim Newman's Dracula novels, I was intrigued by this re-imagining of the Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes world from the perspective of the villain - Professor Moriarty. These dark adventures are conveyed by Moriarty's  killer off-sider, Colonel  Sebastien 'Basher' Moran. A vicious assassin with an eye for dangerous women, hunting, drinking and a flair for telling an intriguing tale.

Moran is the kind of muscle you could imagine being played by Vinnie Jones, a devil you can't help but like. The femme fatales are plentiful and there are a cast of bad guys to keep things interesting, favourites of mine included "that bitch" and Sophy Kratides (always handy with a blade).

I give this one a hearty 5 out of 5, crime certainly does pay at this particular firm.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Patricia Highsmith's Ripley's Game

"Tom had started the Trevanny game out of curiosity, and because Trevanny had once sneered at him - and because Tom wanted to see if his own wild shot would find its mark, and make Jonathan Trevanny, who Tom sensed was priggish and self-righteous, uneasy for a time."

Most annoyingly I seem to have missed book number 2 of the Ripley novels and moved straight to novel 3. Perhaps something happened in book 2 to cause the calculating murderer of  The Talented Mr Ripley to morph into a much more mellow assassin - I can only guess.

One fact remains, it is best to not appear on Tom Ripley's radar. Not if you want to live a long, murder-free life, as the slighted and sickly Jonathan Trevanny discovers in Ripley's Game.

Murderous mafia capers in Fontainebleau ensue and Highsmith's writing is as compelling as ever. What lengths will the everyman figure of Trevanny go to provide for his poor family? What sinister antics will Tom get up to this time?

You will have to pick up a copy and find out for yourself - I'm not going to spoil the fun of it. I'd rate it a 4 out of 5 and it only lost one mark because I like my Ripley even more dastardly. Apparently there are 5 books in total, so who knows what the others will bring?

Sunday, 27 January 2013

The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings

"It seems that I should feel something right now, like a deep chill, or a red heat, or a sensation like ice water surging through my veins, but the only thing I feel is that I've been told something that I already know."

I confess to being one of those traditionalists who likes to read the book before seeing the movie, however, that is not always possible. In this instance, it is unlikely I would have chosen to read a book about a man whose wife is in a coma and who he discovers had been cheating on him. I don't think I'm giving too much of the plot away - not to anyone who saw any clips from the movie in any case. Had I not fallen under the Clooney spell, I probably would never have discovered this delightful novel that really delves into grief, how much we don't know about the people we love in our life and wraps it all up in a delightful Hawaiian setting.

Reading at a frenetic pace, I was touched by the depiction of the father and daughters' relationship and how it perfectly expressed a feeling of being out of depth and torn between expectations and emotions. The main character is  self-deprecatory to such an extent that the reader can't help laughing along with him, even when you can't help picturing him as George Clooney. On a side note, I had a dream about him (the Cloon that is) the other night - I was at his house and he didn't have a nespresso machine and I was giving him some gravy about false advertising.

Back to the book, I wonder is Sid the real hero or the catalyst for action? In any case, I enjoyed the story ( it seems wrong given the subject matter to enjoy it) and I'm giving it a 5 out of 5.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban

It was either my skirt as the background or the lime green train seat - the skirt won.

"Next morning when I 1st come a wake I wer 1/2 thinking may be it ben a dream. Like when some thing harbel happens in a dream then you wake up and it aint nothing only a dream what a releaf"

It would certainly not be an exaggeration to say this is a difficult book to read. Written, as it is, in its own language (see the quote), the novel tells the story of Riddley Walker, a post apocalyptic figure attempting to make sense of the world around him with the help of Punch and Judy ( Punch and Pooty - in this case).

Finishing the novel was further complicated by the delightful distraction that was seeing Neil Gaiman live, in the flesh, reading his first 2 chapters of his soon to be released novel. I was way too excited about that and it made settling into reading this all the more difficult. Nothing like a bit of social activity with good company to hijack my reading time - but in a good way.

I'm guilty, as everyone is, of the odd spelling mistake/typo but Russell Hoban has created an entire new language with some really interesting traits and double entendres in Riddley Walker. Apart from really challenging the reader's concentration, it is a testament to the author that the story drags the reader into this strange world and still conveys meaning in a unique and interesting fashion. 

With the proviso that I hope creating new languages isn't something that overwhelms the bookshelves, I really think it was used effectively here and that this is at times both a challenging and rewarding read, which could bear repeating. After some deliberation,  I'd say 5 out of 5.


Thursday, 24 January 2013

Carry Me Down by M.J.Hyland

The cover is spot on.

" I look in the Guinness Book of Records and see whether there's anybody who has a gift for lie detection. There's nobody. I will write and tell them I can detect lies. If they decide to test me and I pass the test, I might get in the book, not for breaking a record (like eating the most hard-boiled eggs, or having the longest moustache) but for doing astonishing things."

This is a really interesting book by M.J. Hyland, which continually keeps you guessing as you try to ascertain John's mental state and what is really going on with his parents. Is his father as smart as he makes out, or is he in his own little world also?

At essence it is a dramatic depiction of problematic family life from the perspective of a child with a lot of issues, the least being his accelerated puberty. Given the somewhat unreliable nature of the narrator, the reader is often required to draw their own conclusions in regard to the actions that are taking place and the real motives behind them.

While very clever in its execution, the story just lacks something that would push it into the 5 out of 5 category and it isn't anything I can particularly put my finger on. There is a point where (possible spoilers) John's actions become extreme and as such there is a disconnect with the reader, where they may previously have been hopeful and supportive. Well that was my take anyway. So final score is  4 out of 5, but I suggest picking it up and letting me know what you thought. This would be such a good book club book - much as We Need to Talk About Kevin was.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

"But this manuscript put my belief in the alchemists' logic to the test. Each illustration had a least one fundamental flaw, and there was no accompanying text to help make sense of it."

My father glanced at me as I sat engrossed and this book and queried my fascination with the topic of witches as suitable reading material. "Escapism" was my excuse, but truly I love it when a writer can take the ingrained subject matter of paranormal romance and transform it into something both delightful and captivating. This book fits within those parameters.

Reasons why it is so appealing? Firstly, it makes being scholarly sexy - which certainly can't be a bad thing. Secondly it is about the power of books and reading - more brownie points from this reader. The characters are well fleshed out, they aren't sparkly teenagers, they have jobs and their supernatural adventures require excuses to account for their absences. There is a recognition of the real world and its interplay with this fantasy world that makes it so much more engaging.

The author can write! This doesn't feel churned out or formulaic. It is enticing and leads you on a merry dance. There is no compulsion to dive into the romantic portion without establishing a broader story and context that makes you generally interested in what will happen between the characters. Give me Matthew Clairmont any day over that clap trap idiot in the 50 shades of rubbish book. Oh, was that too harsh (never!!).

A book about magic, should be magical and that is how this feels. I think I'm hooked as I now need the next in the series and a hankering for fine red wine. 5 out of 5.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore

"Lucien didn't remember seeing him leave. He didn't remember the girl leaving, or going on to school, or his lessons from Monsieur Renoir. He didn't remember anything that happened for the next year, and when he did remember he was a year older, Monsieur Pissarro had painted his portrait, and Minette, the love of his young life, was dead from fever."

Let me commence by professing my love for the works of Christopher Moore, having first been introduced to his delights through "Bloodsucking Fiends". My favourite to date would have to be "Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal", which was just a complete crack up from cover to cover and decidedly irreverent.

Sacre Bleu explores the work of a fiendish colour man, a mysterious muse and the French ( and at least one dutch) masters in late 19th Century Paris. The Protagonist baker/artist Lucien is an appealing chap with a rather scary mother and some infamous friends and much of the action takes place in Toulouse Lautrec's haunts of bordellos and bars.

Tongue in cheek as ever - don't get me started on the colour man's method of scaring the help, nor the donkey's - this is a delightfully fantastic read boasting some fabulous artworks scattered within. My edition was complete with pictures!

For more info on the author you can check out his facebook page on including a delightfully large graphic of the cover art which I found very appealing.

"Blue, blue my love is blue" as the song goes and I loved this 5 out of 5. Pour me some more absinthe and thank the lord no one dies of syphilis anymore.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Old Man's War by John Scalzi

"Finally, forget everything except to follow orders, kill anything that's not human and stay alive"

Forget retiring quietly into your twilight years. At the age of 75, John Perry signs up to go fight in an intergalactic war, with a revamped body and a whole new lease on life. After the death of his wife, the thought of facing off against untold alien enemies in far off galaxies holds a certain appeal for the ageing writer.

Green skin, cats eyes and a revamped libido are just some of the features of John's new body, along with a helpful voice in his head called "Asshole".
Basic training, nifty weaponry and boom its time for non stop action!

This is sci-fi with a great mix of science, guns and aliens, along with a novel and exciting way of avoiding heading to a nursing home. 5 out of 5 - get a copy in a galaxy near you.

The Dark Heroine: Dinner With A Vampire - Abigail Gibbs

"Twenty-four hours ago and I would have laughed at that thought. Vampires were works of fiction meant to frighten children. Vampires were mythical creatures girls drooled over. They weren't meant to be real"

So I picked this book up at an airport between flights, I have a sad predilection for novels of the vampire variety: Dangerous, sexy vampires a la Anne Rice, Scary vampires - like Fevre Dream, and even cute, southern vampires as per Charlaine Harris. What really gets my goat however is poorly written pulp fiction designed to jump on a trend. 

I was not aware before commencing this novel that its author was 18 and still at university, however the sex scenes really should have been a clue. One stretch of a few pages had the same bra being taken off at least 3 times. The heroine is 17 yet shifts in demeanour from virginal to  worldly-wise from page to page and back again.

The volume of this work would have benefited greatly from some serious editing. This work reeked of an eagerness to get on the shelves to milk the teen twilight fans market. The story is your typical vampire romance but lacking the romance to really captivate or the spice to really sizzle. I kept reading to the end, waiting for it to get better or go somewhere interesting and was pretty disappointed by the pay off. A 2 out of 5  from me, at least the vampires don't sparkle.

1835 by James Boyce

“Melbourne was not founded, like every other Australian capital city, by government-sanctioned settlement parties sent from London or Sydney, but instead by private adventurers from the notorious penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land.”

This multi-award winning non fiction work delves into the initial establishment of the city of Melbourne. Discussing particularly the impact on the indigenous population and the interactions with squatters and would be settlers. I was tempted to pick up a copy after watching the author accept his Age Book award at the opening of the Melbourne Writer's Festival last year.

The social and political climate makes for fascinating reading, whilst painting a sometimes grim portrait of the actions fundamental to the city’s foundation.

A measured and interesting look into a fascinating period of history. 4 out of 5.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

How NOT to write a novel by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark

In which I diverge from the fictional path on a short sojourn into the world of non fiction...

"If you are irresistibly drawn to exploitative material, you are far better off openly celebrating your sleaziness than using your fiction to stage a war between your id and your superego."

I've had this book for a while and been really tempted by its blurb to commence reading. It hilariously describes some of the many stumbling blocks would be authors encounter in the quest to create their first novel.

Writing a novel has always been a long term goal of mine and reading this book - while it had me in stitches - reminded me of all the many times I'd commenced writing a story only to discover the plot grew tedious after a few pages, the voice shifted persons,  and the descriptiveness required by a Jackie Collins style sex scene might prove too embarrassing to share. This book covers all these kinds of eventualities and more in a delightfully tongue in cheek fashion. I really enjoyed it and gave it a 5 out of 5.  

"The reader also knows everyone poos. But if the first thing a character does is poo in front of the reader, the reader will think of him as the Pooing Character forevermore".

Friday, 18 January 2013

Cover Her Face - P.D. James

"It was Deborah who was the enemy. Deborah who had been married, who had at least had her chance of happiness. Deborah who was pretty and selfish and useless. Listening to the voices behind her in the growing darkness Catherine felt sick with hate."

Family drama aplenty is exposed within Martingale Manor House upon the death of the new parlour maid, Sally Jupp. Reminiscent of an episode of Revenge, the plot twists and turns to reveal the many secrets hidden behind daily village life and allows Detective Chief Inspector Adam Dalgliesh to unmask the culprit in James' first novel. Who could resist opening the pages of the gorgeous faber firsts edition I had before me?

While the novel was a little sluggish to begin with, by the final chapters I knew I would have to forgo an early night to find out what really happened to the parlour maid. Had she been "done in" because of her recent pronouncement that Stephen Maxie had proposed? Who was the father of her child? Which one of the Maxie family or their guests had indulged in a little strangulation? Was it a stranger?

Well it would seriously be no fun of me to reveal the answer! However, I will allow a 4 out of 5. Who said village life was dull? 

Wednesday, 16 January 2013


Progress to date on the reading front for 2013

2013 Reading Challenge

2013 Reading Challenge
Kristine has read 10 books toward her goal of 250 books.

Mona Lisa Overdrive - William Gibson

"Kumiko tottered along beside him on black French patent spikes. As she'd predicted, it was virtually impossible to navigate the glass-hard rippled patches of ice in these boots"

I have been a fan of William Gibson since first discovering the cyberpunk legend that is Neuromancer whilst at University. This third instalment in the Sprawl series left me a little cold. I wanted to warm to the characters and stories yet felt strangely remote from the action. Uninterested, a fraction bored. Perhaps I missed something. I finished this waiting for someone in a medical centre - not exactly the setting to inspire a tonne of interest, although conversely I was desirous of escapism. 3 out of 5 for mine.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Zelda Fitzgerald's Save me the waltz

Jazzy cover - I like it


"Possessing a rapacious engulfing ego their particular genius swallowed their world in its  swift undertow and washed its cadavers out to sea. New York is a good place to be on the upgrade."

Zelda Fitzgerald's one and only published novel was a must read for me after watching "Midnight in Paris" and doing a little online research into this fabulous party girl. Discovering her tragic back story made the book of even more interest.
I know many people lurrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrve her husband's works and I believe they have their moments but they are not my favourite cup of tea - each to his own.
Save this waltz began with such dense prose that I thought I would really struggle to finish the book in a timely fashion. I was wrong. The descriptions are rich, and filled with emotion and insight. I'd even consider reading this twice - which is something I usually avoid.

There is something timeless about the insanity and excess of David and Alabama's party lifestyle. Likewise Alabama's errant child to respectable staid parents brings an inherent truth that stands the test of time.

Apparently, Alabama's mania for ballet reflects Zelda's own somewhat futile efforts to embark on a dance career.

I think that it is sad that Zelda's work is not held in as high esteem as that of her husband's, whilst they have different perspectives on the same time (and their somewhat crazy relationship), there is something so compelling about this book that definitely deserves exploration. Weirdly, when I compare how I scored The Great Gatsby and this work, I've given them both 4 out of 5.  Keep the champagne following.

" She felt as if she would like to be kissing Jacques Chevre-Feuille on top of the Arc de Triomphe. Kissing the white-linen stranger was like embracing a lost religious rite".

Sunday, 13 January 2013

I'm not scared - Niccolo Ammaniti

I was so scared, I had to stay up all night to finish it!


"The dead boy's skin was dirty,caked with mud and shit. He was naked. About the same height as me, but thinner. He was skin and bone. His ribs stuck out. He must be about my age."

 Another 1001 list book that proves I am on a roll with choosing interesting reads this year. The 225 pages flew by into the night as I immersed myself into the world of Michele and his little friends. Playing with his friends in the small village in which he lives, Michele chances upon a shock discovery and the reader is propelled into a climate of fear and edge of the seat suspense.
This is a dish best served clueless, so I will not go into detail about what happens. In the words of Molly Meldrum
"do yourself a favour"
and check this out, you really won't be disappointed. Ammaniti really captures the voice of a young child - tis amazing. This is perhaps getting a little predictable, but I'm going 5 out of 5 yet again!

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

"After I returned to New Jersey, I thought I was safe, because I did not think Kenny G could leave the bad place, which I realise is silly now - because Kenny G is extremely talented and resourceful and a powerful force to be reckoned with."

I am one of those purists who loves to read the book before I see the movie. Having said that, it was the ads for the movie that prompted me to read the book - nothing like cross promotion!

I really loved this book, particularly all the references to classic novels. It is interesting to approach them from the point of view of the protagonist without preconceived notions. Pat People's journey back to normality after the "alone time" from his wife and the reasons behind it which he can't remember makes for a moving and compelling story.

If I had merely read the blurb of this book, I probably would not have picked it up and as such I would have really missed out on a delightful read. This is the antidote to a dose of the blues, and the perfect read for anyone who is driven mad by Kenny G. 5/5.


The Chemistry of Tears by Peter Carey

"There was no one I dared turn to. I thought, I will work. It was  what clocks were good for, their intricacy, their peculiar puzzles... I buried my nose inside Matthew's hat. 'Snuffle' we would have said. 'I snuffle you'. 'I snuffle your neck'."

The untimely death of her lover coincides with the arrival of a new and exciting project for Catherine. Wracked with grief for her deceased, married lover, she throws herself into discovering the secrets of Henry Brandling's automaton.

This was not the first Peter Carey novel I have read, yet I found it more engaging than Oscar and Lucinda. The inability of Catherine to deal with her grief that she must keep hidden from her colleagues and the spouse of her dead lover, is palpable and painfully realised through her increasingly erratic behaviour. The juxtaposition of the Automaton story makes for a really intriguing read and provides an avenue of escape from an otherwise depressing subject.

Check it out 5/5.

Cause for Alarm - Eric Ambler

"His was a curious, deceptive mind. He had a way of exploiting the standard emotional counters that was highly disconcerting.You could never be quite sure whether his acting was studied or not, and if it was, whether for emphasis or concealment"

Nicky Marlow is just an ordinary engineer that needs a job and times are tough. Without options he takes a role in Italy, far away from his soon to be wife, and with a strangely shady firm. Things seem weird, and that's before he meets the locals or learns the fate of his predecessor. Cue, shadowy espionage fuelled action which grabs you from page one and doesn't let go until the epilogue.
This was my second foray into the works of Eric Ambler and I loved it just as much, no strike that ,  more than Epitaph For A Spy. In an atmosphere of fear and distrust, the ordinary Mr Marlow is propelled into extraordinary circumstances. Who knew engineering was such a dangerous profession? Reading the book reminded me somewhat of Hitchcock's Saboteur - possibly due to the industrial setting and climate of fear. In my imagination, Nicky was a David Tennant look alike - I'm not sure how much of that was influenced by the author's depiction, and how much was due to a mild infatuation with the 10th doctor.

Upon his death in 1998, the NY Times described Ambler as
"[A] worldly Englishman, [who] is generally credited with having raised the thriller to the level of literature. He brought intellectual substance to the genre at a time when it often suffered from shortages of surprise, maturity, verisimilitude and literary skill. He did that by writing half a dozen eloquent novels that were published, and widely applauded, between 1936 and 1940."

Another gem from the 1001 novels to read before you die list, this one is 5 out of 5.

Ursula Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness

A mystical looking cover for a magical book

  "For us to meet sexually would be for us to meet once more as aliens. We had touched, in the only way we could touch. We left it at that. I do not know if we were right.”

I have really enjoyed all the Ursula Le Guin novels that I have had the priviledge to read to date. This critically acclaimed novel exploring the political machinations of a far away planet peopled with ambisexual beings makes for a compelling read. The people of Gethen are completely uninterested or motivated by sex except for certain times of the month where, coupled up, their bodies take on traditional male or female roles in order to procreate. The fact that anyone could potentially become pregnant encourages a society of equality and these social aspects make for an interesting speculation.

That having been said, it is the story of Genry, the envoy from outerspace, that is at the core of the story. The fish out of water must come to terms with a society that is so different to the one from which he hails, with the central tension of whether he will survive his efforts to convince the Gethenians to join the Ekumen ( a conglomerate of 83 worlds).
I am certainly not alone in my praise for this book, since its publication in 1969, it has garnered significant accolades including winning the 1970 Hugo Award and the 1969 Nebula award. I was drawn to it by its inclusion on countless must read lists including the 1001 books to read before you die, The Guardian's 1000 novels you must read, Bloom's western canon and pringle's 100 top science fiction novels.

Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil

“I found Bombay and opium, the drug and the city, the city of opium and the drug Bombay” 

My impetus for reading this novel was its short listing for the 2012 Man Booker Prize. I really struggled with it and it took much longer than usual for me to finish. Looking back now I wonder whether this could be attributed to the fact I was reading it on my mobile phone rather than in book format. The hazy daze of prose is reminiscent of a drugged out trip and while with hindsight that does seem rather brilliant given the topic, it just really didn't capture my interest. So, it was a 2 out of 5 for me.

Camp David by David Walliams

" I do ladies things"

I've always enjoyed the craziness of Little Britain and was looking for a light comedic read in the form of David Walliams' autobiography. In true tears of a clown style, however this book is fraught with a great deal of trauma. Having said that, the immediacy of his writing style really draws you in. I read this in a day and am eager to see a happier sequel from an older and more content Mr Walliams (fingers crossed). I'd rather not give too much away, check this out 5 out of 5. 

Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon

Enter the world of Sam Spade, where dames are all dangerous

"When a man's partner is killed he's supposed to do something about it. It doesn't make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you're supposed to do something about it. Then it happens we were in the detective business. Well, when one of your organization gets killed it's bad business to let the killer get away with it. It's bad all around-bad for that one organization, bad for every detective everywhere."

What a way to start the year book wise. I was not a Dashiell Hammett virgin - I absolutely loved The Thin Man (the novel and the movies) and Red Harvest and of course the unforgettable Bogart vehicle, so I was eager to immerse myself in the world of Sam Spade.
The noir voice that permeates will undoubtedly be familiar to most aficionados. This hard living, hard drinking pragmatist with a soft spot for the ladies is a delightful anti-hero. Women are two-faced, sexy, mysterious and compelling. What is Miss O'Shaughnessy's real story? Tearing through the book at a cracking pace, I found this book certainly did not disappoint. I can't quote directly from it, as I'd lent it to my father immediately upon completion - it was too good not to share.
For some further insight check out the Richard Layman, Library of Congress Web cast  - The Maltese Falcon at 75. His description of the novel as
"the most successful early hard-boiled detective novel, that violent subgenera characterised by a down-and-out detective who is nihilistic, hard drinking and a loner"
is a neat, summary of the Sam Spade character and the broader genre.

There is something smoky, mysterious, dangerous and seductive about Sam Spade's world that will no doubt ensure its continued popularity as a place to visit. 5 out of 5 for a quick visit to the shadier part of town.


Hello Blogging Universe

Dipping my toe into the blogging universe to see how the water feels.
Last year I read 121 books, this year I intend to beat that and reach 200. That may seem like quite a lot, actually, it probably is. Unlike last year, I thought this blog might provide a forum to record my thoughts on books read this year in an effort to combat my goldfish like memory.

My reading list is cultivated from a host of must read lists, along with random bookstore purchases. My handbag is never short of a paperback and then there are ebooks on my phone. I think this obsession with reading as many books as possible stems not only from the enjoyment they bring, but also harks back to my participation as a child in the MS Readathon every year. While my height made me a passable netballer, my ability to speed read has served me well throughout my life to date.

Right, now on to the books....