Saturday, 29 September 2018

the Realms of the Gods, The Immortals IV, by Tamora Pierce

"That's the trouble with being so tall, she thought, not for the first time."

Well I've finally cracked the one hundred mark. That is one hundred books read this year and this happens to be the very book in question. It also happens to be the final chapter in  The Immortals series, one which I very much enjoyed.
Daine has grown in age and ability since the first novel and now she is hanging out with the Gods in the immortal realm.
A fantastic reunion is afoot, along with mystery, war and just a hint of romance. Yes, this one packs a heck of a lot into 347 pages. The questions of Daine's parentage are finally explained and are pretty impressive. Indeed, this is anything but a boring read. My only regret is that I've finished the book and now my time is Daine's world is up.

 5 out of 5 talking beavers gods are unusual to say the least.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

“When I am optimistic, I choose to believe that every life I lead, every choice I make, has consequence. That I am not one Harry August but many, a mind flicking from parallel life to parallel life, and that when I die, the world carries on without me, altered by my deeds, marked by my presence”

Lately, I have a particular fascination with books about time travel or eternal youth, be they the Outlander series, the book I read this month How to Stop Timeor my ongoing appreciation of all literary vampires. I say lately, but honestly, I think the subject has always held my imagination in thrall. Now that I am beginning to see signs of dreaded ageing, my interest has been amplified somewhat and perhaps that is what drew me to this novel. I’d just finished the book in my bag on the train and was en-route to the dentist’s office without any supplementary reading material. A potentially horrid situation that was put to rights by a quick dash into Dymocks in Sydney. I’d seen this book before and managed not to succumb to buying it, however this was a book emergency and it seemed to fit the bill.
Harry August lives more than one life, none of which are boring. In fact, the first three quarters of the book were spellbinding. I mean a man who never really dies. Well he dies, he just remembers all his lives. He even becomes a spy — it is like this story was devised purely to tempt me. All was going so well, a secret society — oh you know how much I adore a secret society (and with a name like the Chronos Club —  so appealingly steam-punk) — was icing on the cake and then; well then, Victor came along. I’m not a fan of Victor. I’m not a fan of his tale. That didn’t stop me reading and it doesn’t make the book less than stellar, it is a mere quibble of mine about the story in its entirety.
Perhaps you will find Victor more intriguing than I did. Something about him gave me a faint whiff of  errant posh school boy and that was not a positive thought. Now, I’m not alone in enjoying this book, it was nominated for a raft of awards and secured the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (2015). I’ll be interested to see what my fellow fan of time-bending fiction, Nicki, thinks of this one when I lend it to her.
5 out of 5 deaths are permanent…or are they?

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Emperor Mage, The Immortals III by Tamora Pierce


"This close, the reek of mush and dead made it hard for the girl to breathe."

The third instalment is where things get really exciting. I was sitting on the train seething that I hadn't brought the next book with me to continue the journey - such bad planning on my part. This one has battles, storm wings, rats, gods, goddesses , you name it, Pierce delivers.
Heading to the realm of the evil Emperor to broker peace might seem like a fool's errand. How bad can a guy be who really loves his birds? They are sick and need help from Daine. Is this just a ploy? Who is the hag? What is going on? Will all the furry friends survive? Is someone really crucial to the plot going to die? Oh my goodness, so much going on! This is an intense read and so good. I cannot wait for the next one but unfortunately started a different novel in the interim - awkward.

5 out of 5 storm wings smell rather hideously.

Wolf-Speaker, The Immortals Book II, by Tamora Pierce

"A wolf's nature is opposed to mine, but that does not make wolves evil."

I must admit to absolutely flying through this second instalment of the Immortals series. Daine is called upon by the wolf pack she met earlier. Something is amiss and they need her help. Mining opals has the potential to put everyone at risk and Daine and friends must take on the combined might of the Lord and Lady of Dunlaith who appear to want to use their magical powers to overthrow the King. Things are getting serious, such that the charming Maura, Lady Yolane's little sister, is prepared to run away to resist the evil plans of her sister and her husband.
There's a dragon, Daine finds some new powers, basically it is all very captivating and I suggest you start reading now, or when you have a spare moment.

5 out of 5 times at Chinese New Year, I'm glad I'm a Dragon.

Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce

"Her hand was locked around something — a large animal's claw, or a semblance of one."

Sometimes you crack the pages of a series and think, I"m totally not going to be on board for this one. I don't need another fantasy saga in my life. In this, quite deluded state, you persevere, disregarding your initial thoughts that someone that speaks to animals and isn't Dr Doolittle won't hold your interest. This is a mistake because you will fall victim to the powers of this saga.
I''ve not had a decent night's sleep in the three days that I've read the three books in the series.
As such, I'm struggling to recall which events sit within which novel, however, I will give it a red, hot go.

It took a while for me to warm to the character of Daine (or her full name Veralidaine Sarrasi), but once in, I was in for good.Being of questionable parentage and feeling different due to her ability to connect with animals, Daine lives very much in the fringes until she meets the master mage Numair and her adventures begin. Have I mentioned there's a badger god in the mix. I refuse to spoil it for you, hurry up and rustle up a copy, you won't be disappointed.

Yes, I know its young adult fiction, so what. We all remain young adults at heart.

5 out of 5 talking badgers are compelling.

Sunday, 23 September 2018

The Night Sessions by Ken Macleod

"Drew Warsaw was the man, the king of the silent scene. He stood in the pulpit of the Liquid Cosh dance club and looked over a couple of hundred bopping heads."

Sometimes you read a blurb and get rather excited that this book could be the one. By the one, I mean a book that will deliver on its promise of entertainment. Upon reading the synopsis for this book, I was rather intrigued to get my teeth into the novel, so to speak.

It begins promisingly with space elevators and such and somewhere along the line,  I just lost interest. At that point it just became an exercise in getting through the pages so that I could finish and move on to something more entertaining - don't you hate when you read like that? I certainly do. More rational beings would just set the book aside, but I, I like to finish.

Perhaps my issue stems from a surfeit of religious fundamentalists on the daily news, and suggesting that the need for fictional ones is lessened somehow. Certainly, I just had very little interest in the story post the first couple of chapters which posed some interesting questions about Artificial Intelligence taking on a belief system, which is an intriguing conceit.

At least I ticked off another  novel from the Guardian's 1000 novels  you must read list - you know my penchant for lists by now, surely.

3 out of 5 religious zealots can be rather tedious.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw

“It was thrilling to chat with people she barely knew, and she began to imagine what some of them might be like — rich, handsome, successful.”

A gorgeous rich tapestry of stories that was a delight. I don't know if its because I recently read all the Crazy Rich Asians  books, or that I just got back from Hong Kong, but I feel like there's something captivating about Asia as a literary setting and I'm actively seeking out novels from that continent at the moment.

I particularly liked this one because it brought people from various countries together in the fast-paced surrounds of Shanghai, all with a view to achieve wealth and success.
The characters are beautifully expressed and I was particularly unhappy when the novel ended as I just wanted to keep on reading about this lives.

A place of reinvention, high highs and low lows. That makes for entertaining drama. The depiction of Phoebe's dating experiences was written so eloquently- hence my selection of the quote affixed above.

It has taken a while for me to become acquainted with this tome, even though it was long listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2013, and I look forward to reading more by Tash Aw.

5 out of 5, self help books sometimes pan out.

A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines

"And the hawk, alert to every movement, returned their stares until they turned away and passed on."

Life is pretty grim for our poor protagonist, Billy Casper in a poor English mining village. His one joy is tending for the kestrel that he has stolen from its nest. School is hell, and home isn’t much better. This is not the kind of read that will cheer you up my friends. Thankfully it is a very quick read, as I am currently not in the mood for suffering of any kind. Right now I love fiction that transports me to other worlds or happier ones at any rate.

His mother is powerless, his father is absent, and his brother is a horror. In fact, reading about his brother just made me super angry. Not crazily so as I was sitting in the GP’s office and apparently my blood pressure is just fine thanks for asking.

I’m waffling, aren’t I? I think this novel brilliantly captures a torturous upbringing and a feeling of being without options. The sense of purpose and joy posed by a pet brings only momentary respite and as you might imagine, and the ending did not inspire further joy. Having done such a brilliant job of writing this novel, I probably owe the writer the full five star rating and yet, it left me so glum that I had to deduct a point.

4 out of 5 birds can sometimes make you soar.

Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami

“Still, when you get to a certain age, and have created your own lifestyle and social standing, and only then start having grave doubts about your value as a human being.” 

My first thoughts upon closing this gorgeous book of seven stories were expressed on the Goodreads website thusly: “His stories speak to the hidden loss, struggles and longings that hide deep behind men’s eyes. A vulnerability that reminds us we’re all just troubled humans deep down.”

A touching selection of short stories that can't help but have an emotional impact. There's something about Murakami's writing that transports you to a more interesting world than the grey, boring, mundane one that we spend our working weeks in.

5 out of 5 - I just want more Murakami please.

Monday, 17 September 2018

The Emerald Sea (The Glittering Court #3) by Richelle Mead

“The Temptation was overwhelming. I wanted to tell her and Mira both, to let out all the pent-up emotion that had tormented me these long months. And I wanted to clear the space between us.”

Finally the third instalment of the Glittering Court trilogy has found its way into my hands, thanks to my favourite book lender, the amazing Nicki. I think I should preface her name with “the amazing” from now on. Anyway, I had been counting down until this fictional fantasy flew my way and I wasn’t disappointed. I stayed up til 1:30am to finish it. It was cold and I was feeling a little lonely and so it seemed perfectly reasonable to lose myself in the world of Tamsin, Mira and Adelaide.

This final novel is from the perspective of, the possibly too good to be true, Tamsin. While she works super diligently she hides a scandalous personal secret that could bring her Glittering Court efforts to naught. Her desire to finish on top also has the potential to alienate.

Off she travels, after a bit of a stoush with Mira and Adelaide, on a separate boat to secure a proposal and the weather, it seems, has different ideas. Shipwrecked in foreign lands, Tamsin’s dreams of providing for Merry seem untenable. Despite the worst that one local woman threatens her with, her new formed friendships with the saintly Gideon Stewart and the rough and tumble, Jago Robinson will provide new sources of adventure.

Join Tamsin on her journey out of the wilderness and into….well, now, that would be telling wouldn’t it. Someone just has to buy the film rights to this series. The opportunity for three gorgeous and interesting female leads should be investigated.

5 out of 5 emerald really is the only green I can wear.

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Codename Villanelle by Luke Jennings

"Taking down the target is easy; it's doing so swiftly, silently and without collateral damage that's difficult."

If you loved the tv series Killing Eve as much as I did, then you are going to love the source material. This rather slim volume contains non-stop action and a welcome return to the intense world of female assassin, Oxana, otherwise known as Villanelle.

Whether she's executing her kills with a hair clip or kitchen equipment, Villanelle is one scary lady and a particularly effective assassin. Who she works for is more of a mystery and one that serves to drive the novel into the territory of potential sequels.

While the story is far more developed in the small screen version, this novel more than holds its own. I wonder if I would feel the same about the book, had I not seen the tv series. I guess I'll never know.

This was the perfect remedy for my post races hangover - it turns out one can really have to much french champagne.. just ask my stomach. 

I see that a sequel is in the works and due for publication next year.

5 out of 5 dangerous women can do anything.

Snap by Belinda Bauer

"Jack didn't want to play. But he also didn't have the words to tell her that their mother was dead."

I'm one of those people who want to read all the potential Booker prize winners before the announcement, just so that I can make my own mind up. With that in mind, I eagerly secured a copy of this novel, due to its inclusion in the longest, and got cracking reading it. I finished it in under a weekend and it makes for a thrilling and easy read. That being said, I have notes.

The writing has great pace, and yet seems like predictable, crime-thriller, beach-read in substance. It is procedural in nature and the cops are the least well rounded characters in the story.

The climate of fear is well established and the character of Jack, the child whose pregnant mother is killed, is perhaps the most intriguing character. In any case, the action maintained my interest as I sped through the pages.

So if you are a fan of crime thrillers you will undoubtedly enjoy this one. Just don't expect prose that will completely rock your world.

4 out of 5 custom made knives should serve as a red flag.

Friday, 14 September 2018

Noir by Christopher Moore

"I watched the Cheese step off the streetcar and look back over he shoulder, eyes hooded, like she was ashamed, and I felt as if I just threw a rock and busted out the streetlight that was the only light in my miserable life."

I am a keen fan of the Noir Genre and the comic talent of Mr Moore, so I was eagerly anticipating the release of this novel. So you can imagine my disappointment when I was just a little underwhelmed. I've given the matter some serious consideration and come to the conclusion that the style just seems to jar with Moore's humour a little. Part of the gumshoe style of the noir genre is its over the top tone and for me that jarred with Moore's style.

I wonder whether this was just a case of high levels of anticipation leading to disappointment. Sure there are some amusing notions, I just wanted something a little different and to be honest I can't put my finger on it. Certainly the snake was engaging and what's not to like about a dodgy visit to Bohemian grove?

Maybe I just wasn't in the frame of mind to be concerned with a skirt called the Cheese? Perhaps it stemmed from the annoying invisibility treatment I had to endure in Hong Kong from wait and hotel staff. Who knows?

I absolutely do love the cover though and I'm still a fan of Moore, I think I prefer his more supernatural efforts and perhaps that's due solely to my personal taste.

3 out of 5 deadly snakes should be safely stowed.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Zoo Time by Howrd Jacobson

"Those were no small transgressions: stealing a book, leaving out a comma, and scheming to misappropriate my wife's mother."

This was probably not the best choice for a holiday read. There were moments where I laughed out loud, and moments when I really hoped no-one was reading over my shoulder. A strange tale of a kind of grubby author who isn't sleeping with his wife (due to her disinterest) and is obsessed with sleeping with her mother. 

Guy Ableman, as a character, really annoyed me. He seemed so self-absorbed, grubby and just really annoying. He feels over-entitled and jealous and small. The few chuckles I garnered as I read, didn't really seem enough for me.

 3 out of 5 dirty old men bore me.

You're on an Airplane by Parker Posey

"I was sceptical about Blade: Trinity  but when I got my fangs, I got more into it."

I have been a long term fan of the theatrical stylings of Ms Parker Posey. In particular here work in Best in Show, For Your Consideration, A Mightly Wind and Waiting for Huffman. When I heard that she'd written a memoir, I quickly jumped online and grabbed myself a copy.
My friend purchased the audio book and apparently that is even more delightful thanks to the words coming straight from the artist's mouth. I just loved how delightfully scattered this book was and I have to say the photos are a hoot. Everything from aliens to puppies and yoga poses, prepare for a wacky ride.

I mean who doesn't love a woman with the balls to wear a turban!

5 out of 5 great comedic actresses are hard to find.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

"I have only been alive for four hundred and thirty-nine years, which is of course nowhere near long enough to understand the minimal facial expressions of the average teenage boy."

What a delightful and unexpected surprise this little treasure was. I noticed the signed copy at Kinokuniya, it is always dangerous for me to walk in there. Let's face it, I never walk out empty handed. So the premise here seemed irresistible, a man who doesn't really age; well he does, just at a fantastically slow rate. Given the fact that he looks 41 and is actually over four hundred years old, he's had to change names and locations often. It is interesting that he isn't a vampire, this is some kind of rare genetic awesomeness that is so secret it requires a dark organisation to keep it cloaked in the darkness.

Avoiding religious zealots and the prospect of loves that will age and die while you remain looking virtually the same is no mean feat and makes for an entertaining read. Believe the comments of the illustrious Stephen Fry, Graham Norton and Marian Keyes on the cover - this one is a keeper.

5 out of 5 lifetimes can be a wild ride.

Monday, 3 September 2018

House of Versace by Deborah Ball

"The medusa was an apt symbol of the Versace brand's sensibility, at once classical, alluring, theatrical, garish, and dangerous."

Late last night I reached the final pages of this interesting look back at the meteoric rise and untimely demise of Gianni Versace and his fashion label. Ball tells a compelling tale and provides intriguing insides into the business and emotional heart of the eponymous label.

The nineties were supermodels, George Michael's Freedom and Liz Hurley in a daring safety pinned Versace dress.To this day I can recall the footage of the funeral of Versace with Elton and Lady Diana. Ball provides an interesting insider perspective of these iconic moments in recent history. I was inspired to read this by the recent release of the mini -series , The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story , prompting my interest in securing a copy before I got around to watching it. I still haven't managed to watch and yet I'm looking forward to it after this.

In case you're wondering why I didn't give this particular book the full compliment of marks, I guess I just wanted more. I realise that's terribly unspecific and possibly unhelpful. What the book does fantastically is describe the family dramas and machinations, behind the scenes, in growing the Versace brand from its origins in southern Italy to its nineties worldwide peak. What is absent is much detail about the murder. The series is apparently based on Maureen Orth's Vulgar Favors, and now I think I want to read that.

4 out of 5 well draped clothing maketh the woman.