Thursday, 29 June 2017

This Census-Taker by China MiƩville

"That first night alone with my father I sat in the kitchen without hope".

This is a very unusual novella that seems almost cinematic in scope. It begins with vivid movement and  despite its meagre size, the book brings a sense of energy, reminiscent of the child running down the hill -  the tale's opening.
That sense of movement is at the centre of this story's pull and feeds into the reader's sense of unease and confusion. It is rare to experience such a tasty little morsel and it is a rather different one. Go on, grab yourself a copy and see for yourself.

5 out of 5 good things come in small packages.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

The Last Bar in NYC by Brian Michels

"I might've looked the part when I was hired at the new hot spot and I was plenty capable of handling the same old work but I didn't know a thing about biting my tongue or keeping my dick in my pants."

Firstly, for transparency I will note that I was given a copy of this by the author and I would like to thank him for that. This was just the tonic (gin and tonic?) I needed this week and will undoubtedly appeal to anyone who has a misspent youth and a thirst for vodka. 
Can our protagonist be a bit of a jerk at times? Oh yes, and yet you, dear reader, will enjoy the ride.His personality wavers between extreme cockiness ( of the 'oh yeah, I totally can bang three broads at a time' kind of scenario) - to conflicted  ('oh dear,  should I really be doing this  and does coke make it really all better?') to a guy who starts to get his act and bar together - or does he - read it and find out.
Sometimes the chapters are a little jerky in their transitions and it takes a few pages to re-orientate, however that is only a momentary distraction and problematic only in the sense that you want to know what happens in the interim. The writing is great, there's a real sense of immediacy and you feel that you've been to every dive bar, sports bar, hooker hangout, cramped sleeping quarters and hostile lesbian bar, standing right alongside the narrator.

5 out of 5 cocktails are the answer.


Last Orders By Graham Swift

"When you've been thinking about the dead you notice how the living hurry"

This is one of those very rare occasions where I enjoyed the movie a hell of a lot more than the book. I'm probably doing the book a disservice, to be honest, because I don't think the tale of a group of friends carry their mate's ashes around is the most uplifting material to read when you are in a bit of a funk.

Last Orders  brings a lot of voices to the party, as all the players in Jack Dodds' life reflect on his life, and their own. All the secrets and dramas of life and long term friendships are eventually laid bare while they go about their journey to the seaside with a quick side trip to see a hard to find war memorial up a rather large hill.

Perhaps the work of Helen Mirren ( I do so love her) et al in the film version coloured my appreciation of the source novel. I found it difficult to reconcile the two versions at any rate.
Perhaps I just wasn't in the mood for a book that discusses the minutiae of life - love, war, motorcars, butcher shops, abortions, and trips to Margate, at a time when I prefer my reading to be slightly more escapist in subject matter.

3 out of 5 pints might help.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

The Black Dahlia by James Elroy

 "I remember moving toward him and I remember picking him up two-handed by the neck, wondering how hard you had to squeeze a dog's throat to make its eyeballs pop out."

I used to be a massive fan of film noir and love L.A. Confidential  also based on an Ellroy novel. I have vague recollections of seeing the cinematic rendition of this novel and yet the plot seemed completely new to me as I read the book.Perhaps it was a little forgettable.

Unfortunately, the last few weeks and months have been a little fraught with drama of a non literary variety. That might be one of the reasons why it took me such a long time to finish this novel. Even the opportunity to tick off another 1001 list book wasn't enough to increase my speed of consumption.

Another reason, in these rather sombre times where the horrors of watching people die in a burning building in real time on the television is the new reality, the idea of reading about a violent murder, combined with a tonne of other violent acts and sad loveless couplings just wasn't the kind of thing I was inclined towards. Ellroy's stock in trade is grimy violence and lately, I'm not sure that's what I need.

Is it well crafted? Why, certainly. There were moments, particularly the seedy bars and sweaty boxing matches, where , as  a reader, I felt completely immersed in the tale. There were other times where I felt like perhaps I needed a long, hot, bath and a course of antibiotics.

 3 out of 5 cover ups are murder.

Monday, 19 June 2017

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

“Books’ll be back,” Esther-in-Unalaq predicts. “Wait till the power grids start failing in the 2030s and the datavats get erased. It’s not far away. The future looks a lot like the past.” 

This is a book, I mean, if you threw it at someone it could do serious damage. Don't take that as a critique by any means, I've rather loved the journey through time and lives and unravelling the mystery across its many delightfully written pages.
It is also a gorgeous experience that has got me through a rather crappy vortex of a shit storm that has been my life of late. The weather is clearing, fear not.

Reading this at odd intervals, sometimes a page or two, sometimes a hundred pages, probably added to the confusion of the non-linear story and yet somehow also made me love it even more. I appreciated this escape into another reality where underlying forces are waging war within the bodies of mere mortals without them even knowing. It is a fascinating conceit, potentially extrapolated from the notion of bacteria and/or even particles. My science is iffy - so seriously, don't quote me on that.

Regardless the writing is beautiful and offers delightful morsels of insight on everyday life in between the action. Other readers have fallen in love with Mitchell's Cloud Atlas,  which left me a little cold, despite my love of time travel, or rather, my love of reading about the idea.
I lacked the tenacity to stick with that novel and yet this one I found more approachable. I'm not sure whether that is indicative of greater patience on my part or a different style of writing or a more approachable subject. There is something vampiric about the "villains" of this piece that was always going to draw me in. I don't know why I'm always attracted to that trope and yet who could resist the opportunity of reading up a storm that eternal life would facilitate?

5 out of 5 Holly's journey drew me down the rabbit hole.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Only Dull People Are Brilliant at Breakfast by Oscar Wilde

"Men marry because they are tired; women because they are curious. Both are disappointed."

An absolute delight and how could it not be? A collection of Oscar Wilde's witticisms makes for fifty two pages of curated brilliance. No-one could coin a phrase quite like Wilde and this gorgeous little book clearly illustrates his amazing talent. Oh to be able to travel back in time and hang out with Oscar, or better yet, transport him to the present day where hopefully he'd find an easier life.
I could re-read this over and over again and will no doubt be stealing quotes from it at every possible occasion.

5 out of 5  - "One should always be a little improbable"

Thursday, 8 June 2017

The Dark Circle by Linda Grant

"One floor above Lenny and Colin, Miriam was screaming that she wouldn't get undressed."

So, by now you will no doubt have read that the winner of the Bailey prize has been announced, and here am I still not through the shortlist! The Dark Circle,  did not take out the prize and I'd have to say I definitely preferred The Power and am not surprised that it won. Now to the matter at hand, I have to admit to being a little nervous about reading this particular novel due to the subject matter. Reading the synopsis - a brother and sister being sent to a post war tuberculosis facility in Kent - did not send me running to the bookstore for a copy. Nevertheless, the novel is intriguing and surprisingly drew me in.

The writing seemed a little uneven, much like the plot and while there is much to recommend, ultimately this tale left me a little cold.
I found it difficult to relate to the protagonists and that distanced the story somewhat. What is far more successful is the sense of youth trapped in a cage, as Lenny and Miriam come to grips with their unusual new surrounds, peopled with characters very different to their familiar circles.One of the quotes on the cover makes reference to the great sense of atmosphere and I'd have to agree that Grant's strength is creating a sense of place.

I will be looking forward to see what my reading buddy Nicki thinks of it when I lend it to her.

4 out of 5 patients have patience.