Friday, 30 August 2013

Speaker For The Dead by Orson Scott Card

"When she called for the Speaker for the Dead, she had wanted him to discover the truth about Pipo; instead, he had come and discovered the truth about her."

I remember being a massive fan of the first of the series, Ender's Game  and being particularly excited that a) a movie version was in the works and b) that there was more to read of the series. In between reading the original and this sequel I've seen a lot of information on the Internet about the author that has been less than flattering, and I feel it has somewhat tainted my enjoyment of the sequel.

I thought nothing of the aliens being called "Buggers" before reading about the author's anti-gay stance which sadly infused some really negative connotations into my reading of the sequel.

Putting that aside, because I think it is possible to appreciate a work of fiction as distinct from an appreciation of its author's sentiments and beliefs, I still enjoyed the sequel. Not as much as the original and I query whether that was due to the pacing, the awkward multi-lingual conversations, or a reflection of the impact of some of the things I'd read online.

Winner of both the Hugo and Nebula awards, this novel remains intriguing and provides a very different perspective from the coming of age of Ender in the original versus the fully grown, 35 year old Andrew Wiggin.

4 out of 5 talking trees can be deadly.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Obsidian Butterfly by Laurell K Hamilton

"My hormones, my fault. I needed more hobbies, that was it, more hobbies."

It has been quite some time since I visited with Anita Blake, vampire exterminator and necromancer. I think I'd had enough of her lady doth protest too much attitude towards the sexy vampire Jean Claude. Given my propensity for sexy vampires, not the sparkling, holding hand kind, it was time to check in on volume 9.
Quelle surprise, this novel sees Anita away from her entertaining and always traumatic love life with Richard the werewolf and the delightful Jean Claude and this time she's off visiting the exterminating Edward, or his alter ego Ted in his home town. Queue way too much gore and way too little actual sex - Anita seems to feel guilty, a hell of a lot, about her lustful urgings, but there are way more pages devoted to her gruesome detective work and very little action for this pent up supernatural chick.
Yes, clearly this is not a literary masterpiece, but it is rather a speedy read. Ah will Anita's return to her home at the ends of the novel lead to some more fireworks with Richard and Jean Claude . I realise this sounds like a cross between bad soapies, bodice rippers and detective procedurals and that would just about sum it up. An easy escape from a busy week at work.
 3 out of 5, watch out for those body skinning freaky supernaturals in New Mexico.

Monday, 26 August 2013

The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson

"On the contrary, financial history is a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs, bubbles and busts, manias and panics, shocks and crashes."

Niall Ferguson's brief financial history of the world makes for compelling reading, something which I found a pleasant surprise. In general the prospect of diving into a non-fiction treatise of the economic persuasion would fill me with dread, however I was prompted to check this out due to its inclusion in the Independent's 10 best history books. You know how I loves me a list.

Looking at the origins of the current financial debacles through the prism of the past was no only educational and at times scary, it was also entertaining. Don't think too hard about how crazy it is that no-one learns from history and you'll enjoy it even more ;)

 5 out of 5, its all about the Benjamins

Friday, 23 August 2013

The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham


"If she had gone down with a twisted ankle, or had simply tripped I should have run on, to her. But this was so sudden and so complete that for a moment I thought, idiotically, that she had been shot."

Small town village life gets a big upset with the strange goings on in the town of Midwich. After an unidentified exclusion zone prevents access to the little hamlet for 24 hours, every woman of child bearing age wakes up pregnant - must have been quite the night! Were randy aliens to blame?
Fast forward to the births of some creepy golden eyed kids and its time to discover exactly what is going on in the strange little town. One of the really great aspects of this rather skinny volume was the reaction to the pregnancies by the women and their husbands (if they had them). There was something very credible and immediate about the way they acted, calling up the title's reference to cuckoo birds that lay their eggs in the nests of other birds.
The sense of fear and impending doom is well realised and I ripped through the pages to see where it would all end. My only quibble was the ending, coming as it did, so abruptly.
 5 out of 5 kids don't always look like their dads.

A Mere Interlude by Thomas Hardy


"She did not pronounce a clear affirmative. But that she consented to the novel proposition at some moment or other of that walk was apparent by what occurred a little later."

A delightful little collection of 3 short stories by Thomas Hardy acted as a pleasant tonic to an otherwise drama filled week. I know I'm supposed to be reading my study notes for uni, but I did fit this in on public transport and the like and it was a slim 125 pages long.
My favourite tale was the title story with its amusing take on the ramifications of keeping things from your intended, their secrets might be even worse. Is omission the same as a lie, I've always felt that it isn't, but clearly it is grey territory.
On a positive note, these Penguin Great Loves books are easy wins when it comes to adding to my tally for the year.
 5 out of 5 - poor Baptista has rotten luck when it comes to honeymoons.


Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Crome Yellow by Aldous Huxley


"A novelist could have made his fortune out of them, and even if I were to tell you, in my bald style, the details of  these adventures, you would be amazed at the romantic tale."

There are so many unknowns in life, so many unexpected events, some delightful, some devastating, others mostly quotidian. I greedily partake of the pleasant events and this week, discovering this little gem certainly tugged at my heartstrings.
Having only previously encountered Huxley via Brave New World  this much earlier work was a complete surprise to me. Reminiscent of Waugh, and crazy young things in a country house, but peppered with such insightful and delicious moments. Seriously, you could eat this book up with a spoon.
What particularly stands out is that Huxley wrote this novel in his early twenties and yet possessed such clear insight into the dynamics of his world. There's an almost jaded remove that allows for that clarity of view. Denis' silent sufferings, Anne's ability to dispose potential suitors unlikely to bear fruit, these characters display traits which are just as true today as in the twenties when they were created. Did I forget to mention that its hilarious? I think I will definitely be digging into the rest of his back catalogue!

 5 out of 5 everybody loves a house party.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

The Seducer's Diary by Søren Kierkegaard

"Young girls give me pleasure more than ever and still I have no desire to enjoy them."

Poor Cordelia, like so many young girls, falls victim to the attentions of a creepy, immature Johannes who believes he is the ultimate master manipulator when it comes to the fairer sex. In his sad little mind, women are only of interest when they are young and innocent enough to put up with his pathetic poetry and game playing. I did not enjoy this book and it is a SLIM volume.
While he might provide linguistic aerobatics going from one language to another, there is something really annoyingly self important about the narrator that brought on my gag reflex. This is particularly hilarious when you consider I was reading American Psycho  at the same time. Perhaps it is that he puts so much emphasis on trying to excite interest and then not really making good on it - he appears only in it for the self satisfaction  attained through the power he has over others.
The Penguin Great Loves series takes some pretty wide views on the nature of love, which is intriguing I suppose and yet this one did nothing for me.
1 out of 5 flowery prose is pretty but the sentiments are a little empty.

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis


"She isn't wearing the Karl Lagerfeld suit I expected, but she looks pretty decent anyway: a silk gazar blouse with rhinestone cuff links by Louis Dell'Olio and a pair of embroidered velvet pants from Saks, crystal earrings from Wendy Gell for Anne Klein and gold sling back pumps."

This novel has been in my to-read pile for quite some time and I admit I've been reticent to dive in. I remember the huge furore when it first came out and when it was first sold in plastic wrappers. The sex and violence is of the highly graphic variety - as you might expect from Easton Ellis and let's face it cannibalism is really an unappetising subject.
Despite the icky stuff this book is amazing. It perfectly encapsulates the coke fuelled arrogance and detachment of a man who has everything that anyone is supposed to want in the world and is moved to extremes to end the monotony. Yes, the extremes are ridiculously extreme and Patrick Bateman is a horrific character, yet his annoyingly superficial yuppie friends are, it could be argued, just as horrible, albeit slightly more banal.
I have to say, the novel was probably not the most appropriate reading material at the hairdressers today. It did feel weird reading quite depraved depictions of grotesque violence while going blonder- Patrick would probably describe my do as newsreader coiffed perfection, but would baulk at the lack of recognised labels on my person.
The discussions on Huey Lewis and the News and Phil Collins are epic, as is the conversation with Tom Cruise ..."bartender".... oh I laughed.
5 out of 5, gruesome, grotesque but good.

Louis Theroux - The Call Of The Weird


"In my conversations with the women, I was aware that I, as a man, was in a small way being hustled, and in none more so than with Hayley."

I have always enjoyed the documentaries of Louis Theroux. Is it his boyish good looks, his awkwardness, or his foot in mouth style approach to interviewing that makes him so appealing? I wondered this as I explored this book, basically the written version of his travels to re-visit former interview subjects.
I really wanted to love this as much as the TV version, however, there was something missing. I queried whether my response to Louis was perhaps a littler too superficial? On reflection it seems that my lack of affinity for this written incarnation stemmed from the fact that the weird characters - in print - lose some of their weirdness.
It is still rather an interesting exploration of how people in out there sub cultures end up modifying their behaviour - in the most part - to get along with the rest of the world.
 4 out of 5 - I'd prefer to see you on the screen Louis, but I still think you are great.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

The Son by Philipp Meyer



"The Comanche had no ceremony for ending boyhood - no vision quests or hooks through the nipples- when you felt like it you started going on raids, watching the horses until gradually you were allowed to fight."

When I heard Philipp Meyer had a new book out I was eager to get my hands on a copy. I was, partially put off by the cover and the subject matter, hardly believing I would be drawn into an epic family saga across 3 generations, commencing in with some rather horrific scenes as young Eli is abducted by a Comanche tribe after the gruesome rape and murder of his mother and sister. I was wrong!
It is Eli's story that really held my attention the most - not that the others aren't compelling, his voice just seems more immediate. Perhaps it has something to do with how foreign he initially finds life amongst the Comanche, much like the modern reader, or perhaps it is his path to adulthood and feeling of alienation within his own society.
I literally devoured this book, completing it in 2 nights and I would need an arsenal of superlatives to describe how good I think it is. Scalping, oil rigs, an expansive time frame and a whole lotta drama, I recommend this if you want to read some fabulous writing or just want to experience a cracking tale.
5 out of 5 ...superb - get yourself a copy - or it might just make the perfect Father's day gift ( then you can borrow it later).

Monday, 12 August 2013

Love and Monsters: The Doctor Who Experience, 1979 to the Present by Miles Booy

"You can, if  you're so inclined, follow Doctor Who's  same journey back to the centre of national culture not through public events but through academic criticism."

I am a sucker for all things whovian and was enthusiastic at the prospect of delving into this treatise with the catchy name. For a speed reader like myself this particular work took what seemed like an age to finish. Perhaps there was a hole in the space time continuum? Perhaps I needed a longer coloured scarf? More likely, this book read like an exhaustive university essay, dull and colourless and completely unlike the addictive program it discusses.
The book seems to take a comprehensive view of the impact that fanzines and the like had on the development and re-birth of the show, and interesting concept but lacking something in delivery. Despite the funky Warhol like cover, this book put me to sleep on a number of occasions.
2 out of 5 "I'm gonna wipe every last stinking Dalek out of the sky!"

Saturday, 10 August 2013

The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien

"I must have come back sufficiently from death to enter a healthy tiredness again for I did not hear the policeman coming out of the bedroom again and crossing the kitchen with his unbeholdable and brain-destroying bicycle."

Murder, mayhem, death, academia and bicycles make for a strange and fantastical journey in this at times almost incomprehensible novel. That is not to detract from the delight it may deliver.
There is something of the shaggy dog tale, a nod, a wink, an Irish lilt that will have you turning the pages and muttering to yourself repeatedly "what now... what is going on... Who's a bicycle"?

Having completed this while rather tired, I feel I need to re-read in one uninterrupted session to get a better perspective of the tale as a whole. I have read some reviewers who reference Laurence Stern's Tristram Shandy in the same breath and  they do share that comical, non-linear and completely absurd perspective - although I prefer Stern if truth be told.

Much of the novel is made up of footnotes detailing the works of De Selby - the subject of the narrator's fixation and his reason for committing murder. The unnamed narrator kills a man with the intention to rob adequate funds to finance the ultimate study of De Selby. A man (De Selby) who at times cannot tell the difference between genders, is obsessed with mirrors and walking backwards and whose reasoning is " difficult to get to grips with".

If this book were a song it would probably be a re-mix between the Beatles' Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds , the Prodigy's Firestarter, with some traditional Irish refrain thrown in for good measure. There are moments that will make you laugh, do a double take and finally settle down and just enjoy a rather different experience.

4 out of 5 half human bicycles might get the odd puncture.

Friday, 9 August 2013

The Juliette Society - by Sasha Grey

"Because there's no point in banging hard on the accelerator if you don't know how to apply the brakes, turn the wheel or shift gears."

This is a far better product than the immensely popular trite that is Fifty Shades of Crapola. It's easy conversational tone is compelling - albeit overly peppered with the same words over and over again.  If you did a word count on "pussy" or "wet" I'm fairly sure the results returned would be a large percentage of the total volume.

I first heard about the author when  Stephen Soderberg's The Girlfriend Experience  (photo below) provoked copious amounts of press coverage  for the cross over career of its star, but other readers may have a broader knowledge of her earlier, more salacious works.

Banking on the infamy of its author - the rather stunning Sasha Grey -the novel veers firmly in the one handed read territory that you might expect from an ex adult film performer.
Having said that, the plot is engaging and the film student heroine references some classic films that I love. The rosebud story was not news to me - I thought everyone knew that one.

Catherine is a heroine who finds her self initially in circumstances most women could relate to - things have gone off the boil with her boyfriend and she's feeling a little neglected and fantasises about her good looking college professor. Things take a turn into far  seedier territory when she befriends the gorgeous and mysterious Anna.

A whole new underworld opens its doors to Catherine including interactions with a creepy pornographer, eyes wide shut style parties and even a horny midget. Things will never be dull, but is all this lunacy leading somewhere? Her sexual liberation carves a path to potential ruin and blackmail for survival. Wow, this sounds like a morality tale.

The author is at her best when referencing Belle de Jour - I love that movie and Catherine Deneuve - and this book draws consistent parallels with Séverine's secret other life and the destructive impact  that surrendering to it provokes.

4 out of 5 - a promising start for a first-timer, not so sure about the climax.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes

"I was the gnat in the ear of the wounded Elephant of my own Incomprehension."

I would love to share with you some intelligent musings on reflection of this book of poetry. That being said, I had a rather busy weekend and am struggling to engage the cogs of the brain. Warm summer days where the sun shines, the bird sings and the world seems like a gorgeous place to live in are ill suited to the discussion of poetry.
I wanted to read this because I had never previously read anything by Ted Hughes, although I'd studied the poetry of Sylvia Plath - really something not suited to a sunny day.
 I had read the usual stuff about him being a bit of a lousy husband and jealous of her success and a contributing factor in her self destruction, so naturally I was a little curious.
I don't know why, but I got the distinct impression that here was a man that would chronicle your life in a dispassionate fashion. The overwhelming feeling that the majority of works within the collection brought out was a sense that I would really not want to be part of his world.
3 out of 5, well formed but threatening to kill my good mood.


Friday, 2 August 2013

Light Years by James Salter

"Life divides itself with scars like the rings contained within a tree. How close the early ones seem, time compacts them, twenty years become indistinguishable, one from another."

Reading this in snippets on the bus to and from work was probably not the best way, in hindsight, to enjoy it. Yet, this fragmented approach did not entirely detract from what is an amazing book. In truth, I had to re-read aspects of it - I found the names a little bit of a distraction - Viri, Nedra, Franca etc.
So what makes this book amazing? It is the dreamlike snapshots that so perfectly capture the way we remember the passing days of our lives. The inappropriate thoughts that pepper our subconscious, the biased perspectives of our own memory - these characters envelop these notions and make them their own.

Life is not all sunshine and roses, Salter seems to draw out the heights of ecstasy and the lows of agony in an almost tangible fashion. The fear of ageing is really at the heart of this novel and no where is that more apparent when Franca becomes "stricken by a young man" and the passing of time becomes signposted to Viri. Indeed, the end of the novel draws the curtain on life itself and yet retains a slightly optimistic note by virtue of the beauty of the writing and the sense that the lives of the characters have been rich in tone, colour and action.

While some consider this a masterwork, I still have to say I preferred A Sport And A Pastime, but I think that has more to do with the subject matter. The deterioration of marriages and the passing of youth are not the most upbeat of subjects after all.

5 out of 5, strange names, luscious prose, light years pass like minutes.