Tag Archives: Hear… Read This

Hear Read This is Back… And We Would Love You To Get Involved!

I hope all your turkey and trifle are settling down. I have to say I feel ridiculously full after two Christmas dinners and I have another coming on Wednesday with my mother. I may explode. Anyway, I thought I would pop a quick post up between reviews and my forthcoming best of 2015 lists to tell you the exciting news that the podcast Hear Read This is coming back very soon. First with an A Little Life special and then a new series in 2016. Hoorah.

Now if you are wondering what on earth I am talking about, firstly shame on you though you now had a backlog of podcast listening, let me explain. Many of you will know I host The Readers with Thomas, and before with Gavin, where we talk all sorts of book based banter every fortnight. Interspersed with that I also make the podcast You Wrote The Book where I interview an author (the latest one is with Michel Faber which the recording of was one of my highlights of the year, one of my fav authors – whose books I do not seem able to review – who was wonderful to spend time with) and chat about their books and the like for 25 minutes or so. On top of that once a month I have been known to join Rob and Kate of Adventures with Words along with Gavin to record Hear Read This; a podcast where four hosts discuss two books over one episode… well we used to.

We have had a break but have decided, after recording a very fun (for us anyway) Christmas special of Adventures with Words that we will be back in January with a bit of a twist for the return. Firstly we will only talk about one book a month; warts, spoilers and all. We shall still sing a books praise (A Month in the Country) or slate it from the roof tops (The Martian) or bicker and differ if the case demands it we will just go into it all in more detail. The other change is that each month we will each suggest a book and you get to vote for which one we read. Here are this months choices…

Which could possibly be my choice?

So which is it to be? Will it be some good old gothic with ghosts, apocalypses and more in Shirley Jackson’s The Sundial? A thrilling, dangerous and illicit love affair in Patricia Highsmith’s cult classic Carol? A collection of mythical beasts from all over the world in Gods, Memes and Monsters? Or will it be a world in where the Nazi’s won the war as envisioned by Philip K Dick with The Man in the Castle? You can choose by voting on the Hear Read This post here. And I would love, love, love you to vote – though I can’t tell you which one is my choice, though some of you may guess.

You have until the special A Little Life episode of Hear Read This with Rob and myself, where we come at the book from almost polar opposite opinions, which will go live soon. The winning title, along with how else you can be involved, will be announced on New Years Day, so you (and Rob, Kate, Gavin and I) can get spending your book vouchers asap and get reading! So which book is it to be?

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Hear... Read This, Podcasts

The Martian – Andy Weir

This post should really be called, why I hated The Martian so much I couldn’t finish it. In fact this shouldn’t really be called a review post as it is probably going to be a big old rant and as I said, I didn’t finish it. Anyway, are you ready? Here goes…

Ebury Publishing, paperback, 2014, fiction, 384 pages, bought by myself to troll myself with apparently

Imagine you are caught in a freak storm and you become lost from everyone you are on an expedition with, note – they have searched for you and think you are dead. Now imagine that this happens to be on Mars and your expedition have gone back to the nearest spaceship, which is headed back to earth and you can’t communicate with them anyway as your suit and communication kit was damaged in the storm. That is the position in which astronaut Mark Watney finds himself at the start of The Martian and this is what he thinks about it…

I’m pretty much fucked.
That’s my considered opinion.
Fucked.

Now I have to say that at the start of this book I was pretty keen on it and hooked. I had loved watching Gravity and I thought that James Smythe’s The Explorer was a bloody marvel and I am not known for my love of books set in space. So I had high hopes. As Mark starts to look at ways to survive, both using the kit he has and also his bodies natural matter and chemicals, I was initially fascinated and even laughed a lot (there was a lot of poo being used as manure to grow plants science, thats my kind of science) as it went on. Then I started to get really, really, really bored.

Firstly there was the science stuff. I was not very good at science at school, my step father who was initially my science teacher (work that one out) would say this is because I didn’t apply myself, I would say I am just not very interested in science. I’m still not, unless Mary Roach is writing about it. So whilst I tried to keep up with all that ‘survival on Mars science’, which I couldn’t tell you if was realistic or not let’s be honest, I just couldn’t. It became repetitive, dull and frankly (and indeed literally in one respect) up its own bottom. I just couldn’t penetrate the monotony of it, here is an early example…

I even beefed up the MAV fuel plant compressor. It was very technical (I increased the voltage to the pump.) So I’m making water even faster now.
After my initial burst of 50 liters, I decided to settle down and just make it at the rate I get O2. I’m not willing to go below a 25-liter reserve. So when I dip low, I stop dicking with hydrazine until I get the O2 back up to well above 25 liters.
Important note: When I say I make 50 liters of water, that’s an assumption. I didn’t reclaim 50 liters of water. The additional soil I’d filled the Hab with was extremely dry and greedily sucked up a lot of humidity. That’s where I want the water to go anyway, so I’m not worried, and I wasn’t surprised when the reclaimer didn’t get anywhere near 50 liters.
I get 10 liters of CO2 every fifteen hours now that I souped up the pump. I’ve done this process four times. My math tells me that, including the initial 50-liter bust, I should have added 130 liters of water to the system.
Well my maths was a damn liar!

I mean seriously, it’s really dull, really repetitive and really boring. You could say ‘Simon that is the point’ but if you did I might have to come and poke you in the eye. Even if it is boring or complex science, and even if Mark must do it over and over again there is no excuse to be boring, the aforementioned Mary Roach is never dull not once, she gets me to understand science by making it funny, a bit rude, interesting and exciting. However  Andy Weir is not Mary Roach, actually that’s not fair, Andy Weir’s narrator Mark is not Mary Roach. After a few chapters I realised Mark is actually a cocky, arrogant, self inflated twerp. I hated him and the science. Then it went downhill further for me when we joined the spaceship heading back to earth.

You see instead of having one utter self absorbed pain in the arse character, we soon have several. Mostly men, but I will go onto that shortly. These characters couldn’t run an ice cream van let alone a space ship, so the unbelievable fiction I could get lost in went beyond farce. Only to say that implies it is funny, like Mark himself thinks he’s funny with his hilariously lame asides, it isn’t funny. And when it tries to be it is painful and, yes that word again, dull. Let’s see an example of the kind of banter happening in space…

“Seventeen times,” Chuck said.
“Fourteen times,” Morris asserted.
“No, it’s seventeen. You forgot the amperage minimum for the haters to keep the—”
“Guys,” Venkat interrupted, “I get the idea.”
“Sorry.”
“Sorry.”
“Sorry if I’m grumpy,” Venkat said. “I got like two hours sleep last night.”
“No problem,” Morris said.
“Totally understandable,” Chuck said.
“Okay,”Venkat said. “Explain to me how a single windstorm removed our ability to talk to Ares 3.”
“Failure of imagination,” Chuck said.
“Totally didn’t see it coming,” Morris agreed.
“How many back up communications systems does an Ares mission have?” Venkat asked.
“Four,” Chuck said.
“Three,” Morris said.
“No, it’s four,” Chuck corrected.
“He said backup systems,” Morris insisted. “That means not including the primary system.”
“Oh right. Three.”
“So four systems in total, then,” Venkat said. “Explain how we lost all four.”

Now if you haven’t fallen asleep again and found that tedious to read, imagine how it was to have to type it all. I mean me, not the author. Please bear in mind that this was almost a page of the book where absolutely nothing happens, no real movement goes in the story and things are (ironically) once again repeated over and over and over. If only it was ironic enough to be funny, it’s just infuriating. There are endless pages like that, well how as endless as fifty pages can actually feel and I was getting more and more and more angry.

So why had I not stopped reading? Self trolling maybe, seeing how much I could take (I did the same with Fifty Shades of Grey) before my eye bled and I hurled the book across the room. Whatever it was I was utterly broken when they started to introduce women into the book and a whole level of misogyny was introduced as the female characters were. Girls are either clever and bland looking and not really paid much attention in the book, or they are astronauts wet dreams. I think at one point I read something along the lines of but you’re too pretty to be an astronaut. That was it, I was done and frankly utterly furious. I threw the book across the room and gave up.

So as you might guess I didn’t like The Martian very much, I thought it was utter bobbins if I am honest. I had such high hopes for it, especially after hearing all the right people loving it. Interestingly Gavin, Kate and Rob and I all read this for Hear Read This and we all hated it, yes even Gavin, you can hear us giving it a good bashing here. That said, I am also aware we are in a small minority, after all there is a multimillion pound movie being made with Matt Damon in it, so it must be good. I won’t be queuing to see it though. I will be reading the sequel to James Smythe’s The Explorer, called The Echo, instead. If you want a corking spaceship book please, please read that instead. There I’ve said it.

If you have read The Martian I would love to hear your thoughts be they the same as me or be they that you think I am a complete buffoon. Do let me know. I was the same with Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Book Store by Robin Sloan which almost everyone else in the world loved too.

31 Comments

Filed under Andy Weir, Ebury Press, Review

The Rabbit Back Literature Society – Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen

Sometimes a book takes you completely unawares. You have no expectations with it at all and it beguiles and then completely charms the pants off you, or maybe that should be charms the dust jackets off you? This was the case with The Rabbit Back Literature Society, I had no real prior knowledge of it other than I wanted to read it, when Kate chose it for December’s edition of Hear Read This. My only real thought was that it might be about books, it is and brilliantly bonkers and bookish all the way through.

Pushkin Press, 2014, paperback, fiction, 345 pages, translated from Finnish by Lola M. Rogers, kindly sent by the publisher

I am going to do something that I never do with a book, I am going to steal the blurb from the back of The Rabbit Back Literature Society because I simply would not be able to sum it up any better and indeed would over complicate it and put you off if I tried. So here it is. Only very special people are chosen by children’s author Laura White to join ‘The Society’, an elite group of writers in the small town of Rabbit Back. Now a tenth member has been selected: Ella, literature teacher and possessor of beautifully curving lips. But soon Ella discovers that the Society is not what it seems. What is its mysterious ritual, ‘The Game’? What explains the strange disappearance that occurs at Laura’s winter party, in a whirlwind of snow? Why are the words inside books starting to rearrange themselves? Was there once another tenth member, before her? Slowly, disturbing secrets that had been buried come to light…

She wasn’t thrilled. Not at all.
She’d wanted to do literary-historical research that might bring to light a few smallish skeletons – secret relationships, homosexuality, that sort of thing. Pleasant little scandals. Murder victims weren’t the sort of thing she’d been hoping to dig up.
Amateur detectives in fiction always annoyed Ella. They were so unrealistic. She didn’t intend to be the Rabbit Back version of Miss Marple or a cheap Baker Street knock-off, and she really didn’t like the idea of making the tabloids. That was no way to advance an academic career.

I have to say I was completely charmed by The Rabbit Back Literature Society from the start. From the moment we first met Ella as she describes herself; academic, unable to have children, with good lips and something artistic in the colour of her nipples, I knew I was going to be reading something that didn’t really fit into a mold or genre, rather breaking out of it instead. That is the kind of book this is and as we follow Ella – as she tries to work out just what on earth is going on with this secret writers society, the strange changing books in the library and the mysterious society member who has vanished – we discover a book that straddles over all the genres and then straddles them all riding them like a crazy pony. It’s contagious, look what it is doing to me as I write about it. Some of you might be put off because of this, normally I would, yet it works.

The novel is a crime novel, there is a mystery, or indeed two, as it unravels. It is a fantasy novel, with the atmosphere that anything could happen in the land of Rabbit Back; people vanishing in a whirlwind of snow, gnomes in the gardens attacking the gardeners etc. It is a comedy, I have not laughed as loudly at a book in sometime, generally because the giggles are quite dirty flirty ones from the accidental pornographic advent calendars the local children get by mistake a few pages in, onwards. It is a gothic ghost story. It is also a sinister thriller that will have you turning the pages. At its heart though it is a beautifully written literary love letter to, well, literature.

The Rabbit Back Literature Society really celebrates everything there is about reading, writing, readers and authors. It looks at how important escapism is, at how everyone can read a book differently (even without the endings changing as they do here) and how we use stories to cope with difficult things, or tell ourselves/create stories to make things better. It looks at authors and shows how writing is in its own way a kind of magical power, yet at the same time these people are all just very ordinary and shouldn’t be treated as anything special, even if some of them think they should. It is really all about the power of stories and storytellers, and what those writers can do with their powers, be it the bad or be it the good. (This is where ‘The Game’ and ‘Spilling’ is so brilliant, but I won’t spoil it!) It is about the power of words really.

“Well… I might turn those curls of yours black and make you fatter or thinner by ten kilos or so, whatever comes to me. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll change one of your eyes, perhaps this left one, into a glass eye.”
The woman’s mouth dropped open. “Huh?”
Winter smiled.
“Or I might give you a wooden leg, or some kind of disease. How does syphilitic brain damage sound? Or maybe I’ll have you broken in two in an auto accident?”
She gave a shrill laugh. “You are truly awful!” she said. “I’m not telling you anything now, or I might end up in your next novel.”
Winter gave a slight bow.
“That is your right. It would no doubt put you in much less danger of being used. But I may never the less steal your way of moving, the expressions on your face! Perhaps I’ll even take that way you have of smiling with your mouth open, your little tongue peeking out now and then between your teeth to see what’s happening in the world. And those freckles that start on the bridge of your nose  and continue all the way down between your breasts, that’s a detail that might come in handy in a piece I am writing at the moment.”
The woman smiled, frightened. “You’ll eat me alive.”

I really, really, really enjoyed (and loved a little bit) The Rabbit Back Literature Society. It isn’t the perfect book, on occasion the book goes off on tangents it never comes back to in its weird and wonderful way yet I didn’t care because I just bloody loved reading every single page of it. If you could get an amalgamation of all the types of rollercoaster’s and then converted them into a book, I think you would get this one. It sounds an odd analogy I admit, I think it is one Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen would appreciate though. I really hope that Pushkin Press are planning on translating all his books and bringing them to many more readers.

For more of my thoughts along with Kate and Gavin (Rob was sick) you can hear the latest episode of Hear Read This here. Anyone else read The Rabbit Back Literature Society, if so what did you make of it? I have a feeling it could be a marmite book, though if you love books and everything booky I can’t see how you couldn’t love it.

5 Comments

Filed under Books of 2014, Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen, Pushkin Press, Review

The Floating Admiral – The Detection Club

One of the big talks in recent months on a certain social media platform that I got involved with was about bloggers and how much positivity they put out there in the ether, though hardly a bad thing right? Yet interestingly I can see if I don’t write about books I don’t like then how will people know the full extent of my tastes. The problem then lies in the fact that generally I don’t finish or get very far with books I don’t like and so then just bin them off and carry on with something else, after all reading is all about enjoyment, or should be. There is one exception to this rule, book group books! And as I would probably have never chosen The Floating Admiral unless Gavin hadn’t chosen it for the latest episode of Hear Read This I ended up reading a book I didn’t like very much. Well, I utterly loathed it, yet somehow finished it, so thought I would share a gloves off moment with you all…

Harper Collins, 1931 (2011 edition), paperback, fiction, 336 pages (in tiny print), sadly bought by my good self

The Floating Admiral is a crime novel like many of its ilk written in the 1920’s and 1930’s. This should come as no surprise when you see that Agatha Christie, G.K. Chesterton, Dororthy L. Sayers and many more were part of The Detection Club who collaborated on novels such as this one, taking it in turns to write the chapters. In this tale the body of Admiral Penistone (try not to snigger as I did) is found having been stabbed and left in the vicar’s boat which has been set adrift, ideally to be undiscovered but of course getting found or there would be no mystery. Sure enough it is up to Inspector Rudge to solve the mystery, though with fourteen writers at the helm who can do what they want with the plot (as long as they have a solution to their twists, part of the Detection Club rules, more on later) good luck to him I say.

From the cover of the book, with a bloody boat on it (and you know how I feel about them), I have to say I was thinking of ways to murder Gavin for his choice. Saving grace though is that the boat is just a piece of evidence really and even the Admiral’s Navy past isn’t brought up to much. So I soon started to relax into the story and was reminded for a while of how much I enjoy the golden age of crime novels, I even smirked once or twice…

Everyone in Lingham knew old Neddy Ware, though he was not a native of the village, having only resided there for the last ten years; which, in the eyes of the older inhabitants who had spent the whole of your lives in that quiet spot, constituted him still a “stranger”.
Not that they really knew very much about him, for the old man was of a retiring disposition and had few cronies. What they did know was that he was a retired petty officer in the Royal Navy, subsisting his pension, that he was whole-heartedly devoted to the Waltonian craft, spending most of his time fishing in the River Whyn, and that, though he was of a peaceful disposition generally, he had a vocabulary of awful and blood-curdling, swear words if anyone upset him by interfering with his sport.

…Then I got so bored; so, so bored. This novel wasn’t even chundering along; it dragged itself rambling through several chapters. This was like a really bad/tedious/dull version of an Agatha Christie novel. Then thank heavens Agatha actually turns up for Chapter Four and it is like a breath of fresh air; it is wryly camp, she brings in a brilliant character which adds some gusto… and then she hurries away as fast as she can after 8 pages!

“Now,” he said with a twinkle; “I’m going to ask you a question.”
“Yes, sir?”
“Who is the biggest talker in Whynmouth?”
P.C Hempstead grinned in spite of himself.
“Mrs. Davis, sir who keeps the Lord Marshall. Nobody else can get a word in edgeways when she’s about.”
“One of that kind, is she?”
“Yes, indeed, sir.”
“ Well, that will just suit me. The Admiral was a new comer to the place. There’s always talk about a new comer. For ninety nine false rumours, there will be one true thing that somebody has noticed and observed. Attention had been focussed on Rundel Croft. I want to know just what has transpired in village gossip.”
“Then it’s Mrs Davis you want, sir.”

It then swiftly descends again and I found myself thinking ‘just hold out for Dorothy L Sayers, Simon, she is meant to be amazing.’ Amazing? Amazingly full of herself! Her chapter rambles on and on and on, compared to Agatha’s eight snappy pages Dorothy decides why go for eight when forty will do. It is relentless. I even tried to be charitable and say to myself ‘poor Dorothy, she’s been given some dross to work with and sort out’ still that dreary never ending chapter doesn’t read well. She’s a pro so I feared for what followed and I was right to.

The whole idea behind The Floating Admiral was supposedly a fun exercise for the authors involved to test themselves and just be creative, sworn over a skull or some such delightful gothic ritual. It becomes a case of showing off and one-upmanship. Take the chapters after Agatha; John Rhode decides that Inspector Rudge Begins to Form a Theory, then clearly not happy with this at all Milward Kennedy decides that in the following chapter Inspector Rudge Thinks Better Of It. And I almost wept as after Dororthy had finished her smug tirade Ronald A. Knox decides to go over the whole case again with Thirty-Nine Articles of Doubt where basically, possibly out of confusion or more likely one-upmanship, he decides to go over the whole case again from the beginning and see what can be worked out. By then there was so little left I felt I had to get to the final chapter, ironically called Clearing Up The Mess, where upon I wish I hadn’t bloody bothered. I can’t think why we have hardly heard of most of these authors can you?

There was one small glimmer of hope, though this shows how bad it got for me; the Appendices’ were quite good, sort of. You see as I mentioned before each author had to give their solution to explain why they had done what they had. As you read them you can see how the writers were writing and plotting and twisting and that is quite interesting. I say quite because one of two of them (yes you Dorothy) decide they need to show how clever they are by almost writing the rest of the book word for word. Here the star of the show shines through again, Agatha Christie’s solution is brilliant (it involves cross-dressing) and frankly should have been a book, and in fact I am hoping it is actually the plot of one of hers I have yet to read.

You could say that The Floating Admiral really just isn’t a book for me. I would go further and say it is possibly one of the most tedious crime novels I have ever read/endured. I will not be reading another; I may also now never read Dorothy L. Sayers unless someone does some serious convincing. I would rather just read Agatha; you can see why she was Queen of Crime at the time.

10 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, Harper Collins, Review, The Detection Club

Rounding Up The Reviews #4; A Bumper Crop of Book Reviews Before 2014 Ends

So in an effort to combat my blog OCD panic, I like to have reviewed everything I have read in a year and start a year a fresh, and a backlog of reviews I thought I’d do a round up of some of the books – there are more to come – that I have read and wanted to share thoughts with you about – be they good, bad or indifferent. So no waffle, just some quick(ish) book reviews today…

Scoop – Evelyn Waugh

Penguin Modern Classics, paperback, 1938 (2000 edition), fiction, 240 pages, bought by my good self

I like Evelyn Waugh a lot and had heard marvellous things about Scoop from all the right people, so it had been on my ‘to read at some point’ list for quite some time when Rob chose it as a classic choice for Hear Read This! a few months ago. Sadly I really, really, really didn’t like it. The tale is one of mistaken identity as William Boot, who usually writes about things such as badgers and crested grebes, is sent in place of another journalist named Boot to the African state of Ishmaelia where he is to report for The Beat on a ‘very promising little war’.

By rights this book should have been completely up my street, a satire on the industry that I worked for (and hasn’t changed) for quite some time by an author I loved. I just found it deeply dated, rather boring, nothing new and actually a little bit (to put it mildly, I hate the excuse ‘of it’s time’) racist frankly. There were a few moments that I almost enjoyed but generally I was bored and couldn’t wait for it to be over. You can hear my thoughts along with Kate, Rob and Gavin here.

Nights at the Circus – Angela Carter

Vintage Classics, paperback, 1984 (1998 edition), fiction, 368 pages, inherited from Granny Savidge

I have an interesting relationship with Carter’s writing, I either think it is utterly magical and wonderful or I just think it is rather bonkers verging on silly. Sophie Fevvers is famous around the world for supposedly being either part swan, with her amazing wings, or an utter fraud. Jack Waltzer, journalist, goes to interview her and find out not realising he is about to follow Sophie on quite the journey between nineteenth-century London, St Petersberg and Siberia. I found Nights at the Circus (again another book I have been meaning to read for ages and then my old book group chose it) to be a mixture of the two the whole way through, a romp I enjoyed yet occasionally didn’t get or felt went a bit too far magically and plot wise – what was Carter on?

Overall I enjoyed it immensely for its camp bonkers moments and gothic turns and eventually succumbed to its madness. Yet having finished it, I realised I didn’t have that much to say about it, I just enjoyed it overall which makes it sound more of a damp squib than I mean it to. I felt it should be a collection of short stories about Sophie rather than an adventure with her, if that makes sense? I think I wanted something like her fairy tales and didn’t get it; maybe I need to read it again?

Wind Sand and Stars – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Penguin Modern Classics, paperback, 1939 (2000 edition), memoir, 144 pages, borrowed from the library

Like me, you may not know Saint-Exupery for anything other than The Little Prince and not for his stories, both fiction and none, of pilots and airborne adventures. Wind Sand and Stars is a nonfiction set of accounts of some of his flights from when he started in 1926 until and just passed the time in 1936 when he crashed in the desert and somehow survived. I have to say the idea of a book about planes excites me about as much, well maybe a bit more, as a book about boats BUT having loved Julian Barnes Levels of Life and its tales of ballooning and grief I was up for something new.

On one level, pun not intended, Wind Sand and Stars is a tale of one man and his first exciting, and often death defying, trips into the air. Now I don’t like flying but I could completely understand, through his writing, how Antoine became addicted. The descriptions of the freedom and the awe it gives is rather contagious. I also found the story of the crash to be a genuinely terrifying then thrilling reading experience. Yes, there’s a but coming. The problem with the book is that it takes on this almost meta meets philosophical tone which becomes rather preachy/smug and a bit annoying, so apart from the beginning and the drama I found the book a bit ‘meh’. I wanted to like it more, honest. You can hear my thoughts in more detail along with Kate, Rob and Gavin here.

Cold Hand in Mine – Robert Aickman

Faber & Faber, paperback, 1975 (2014 edition), short stories, 368 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

I received all of Aickman’s reissued collections unsolicited from Faber & Faber earlier in the year and thought ‘ooh these sound weird and wonderful’ and so thought they would be interesting to bring to the table for a classic choice on Hear Read This! (I know most of the books we do on there end up in round up review posts) as something different. As you will see in the next week or so 2014 has been the year of rediscovering the short story for me and so it ticked that box too being a collection of self proclaimed ‘strange stories’.

Well strange indeed they are but almost too strange. I like a ghost story, a horror story, urban legend, twisted fairy tale or just piece of bizarreness if it has a point/plot/thrill to it. All Aickman’s tales in this collection rather let me down, even the ones I rather loved like the almost-but-not-quite brilliant The Hospice, because the endings all let them down. Sadly in actuality sometimes the bonkers premise/middle (The Real Road to the Church, Niemandswasser, The Clockwatcher) just didn’t make sense and lacked punch. I felt like Aickman wanted to always be more clever, tricksy or just weird than the reader but in a way that made him feel better and doesn’t actually do anything for the reader. Each tale left me feeling cheated. Gav said this is the weird genre, I think maybe it is just not the genre for me. Glad I can say I have read them, unsure if I will read anymore unless one of you convinces me. You can hear my thoughts in more detail along with Kate, Rob and Gavin here.

The Poisoning Angel – Jean Teule

Gallic Books, paperback, 2014, fiction, 240 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

I love Jean Teule’s writing and so chose The Poisoning Angel for Hear Read This! as I thought a darkly funny book in translation would be something different. Like the brilliant, but very dark and gory Eat Him If You Like, this is based on a true story – the case of Helene Jegado who became one of the most notorious prisoners of her time and indeed in French history, we follow her journey from the time she poisons her mother…

Unlike Rob, Kate and Gavin, I really enjoyed this book. I laughed the whole way through, which I think you are meant to do, as Helene just wanders around the countryside for a few decades killing people off, not being caught by the police and no one thinking the better or inviting her in. That isn’t a complete spoiler, you know that from the blurb. There isn’t masses more to say about the book other than give it a whirl! You can hear my thoughts in more detail along with Kate, Rob and Gavin here.

The Hypnotist – Lars Kepler

Blue Door Books, paperback, 2012, fiction, 624 pages, from my own personal TBR

I read this while I was off in the authors; there are actually two of them, homeland of Sweden between two of the Camilla Lackberg novels – I truly was on a cold crime binge. It is a hard book to explain so I am stealing the blurb “Detective Inspector Joona Linna is faced with a boy who witnessed the gruesome murder of his family. He’s suffered more than one hundred knife wounds and is comatose with shock. Linna’s running out of time. The killer’s on the run and, seemingly, there are no clues. Desperate for information, Linna enlists disgraced specialist Dr Erik Maria Bark, a hypnotist who vowed never to practice again. As the hypnosis begins, a long and terrifying chain of events unfurls with reverberations far beyond Linna’s case.” This sounded just my kind of thing.

Now it is quite a doorstopper but as it started I was racing through the book. A creepy child, a scary serial killer, some hypnotism what wasn’t to love? Then I started to get, not bored exactly, a little jaded with it. You see I love a twisty book like Gone Girl or the even better (seriously) Alex and this felt like one of those initially, in fact more like Alex as it’s really quite nasty. Then the twists started to get too much, I started to get confused and lose belief in the story as I went on. I think the best crime authors have the generosity to make the reader feel clever and twist them at just the right times whilst spinning a true spiders web, this began to feel a bit like the authors were being too clever – Aickman syndrome, see above. It was a page turner, it was clever, it was twisty… It just didn’t quite get me along for the whole whirlwind ride.

Orfeo – Richard Powers

Atlantic Books, paperback, 2014, fiction, 384 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

I have left my thoughts on this one till last as it is the only book in this selection I didn’t finish and actually threw at a wall. I admit it started off very, very well. I liked the idea of a lonely composer calling the police when his dog dies, them discovering his home made science lab and thinking he might be a terrorist. A bit farfetched maybe, but fun. Then the writing bowled me over, I have never seen music written about so brilliantly.

The notes float and rise. They turn speech as pointless as a radio ventriloquist. Light and darkness splash over Peter at each chord change, thrill with no middleman. The pitches topple forward; they fall beat by beat into their followers, obeying an inner logic, dark and beautiful.
Another milky, troubled chord twists the boy’s belly. Several promising paths lead forward into unknown notes. But of all possible branches, the melody goes strange. One surprise leap prickles Peter’s skin. Welts bloom on his forearms. His tiny manhood stiffens with inchoate desire.
The drunken angel band sets out on a harder song. These new chords are like the woods on the hill near Peter’s grandmother’s, where his father once took them sledding. Step by step the singers stumble forward in a thicket of tangled harmonies.

So why did I throw it at the wall? Two reasons. Firstly, the writing about music is incredible… the first, second and even possibly the third time. Powers soon becomes a one trick pony as he carts this trick out over and over and over, there is almost a lyrical comparative sentence in every paragraph at one point. Clever becomes too clever and smug a theme with some of this selection of books! Secondly, remember I mentioned the farcical element, again went too far and made the story of Peter’s past seem all at odds with itself and slightly clichéd and done before. You can hear my thoughts in more detail along with Kate, Rob and Gavin here.

***************************************************************

So there we are the last round up of the year, well if you exclude a small catch up of books I don’t want to spoil which I will post in the next week or so! Have you read any of these books? If so what did you think of them? Would you recommend any other books by these authors?

10 Comments

Filed under Angela Carter, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Atlantic Books, Blue Door Books, Book Thoughts, Evelyn Waugh, Faber & Faber, Gallic Books, Lars Kepler, Penguin Classics, Review, Richard Powers, Robert Aickman, Rounding Up The Reviews, Vintage Classics

The Year of the Ladybird – Graham Joyce

Happy Halloween to you all. I mentioned yesterday that this is one of my favourite days of the year and most of you will know I love a good chilling and creepy tale. One of the most recent spooky tales that I have read is The Year of the Ladybird, even subtitled ‘a ghost story’, by Graham Joyce. Many of you will know that sadly Graham Joyce passed away last month which was so sad to hear, especially at the mere age of 59 and because he is such a wonderful writer and storyteller. It was Gav who decided that for his choice for Hear Read This we would read his final novel, one which he had discussed with us on The Readers when we interviewed him about the amazing Some Kind of Fairy Tale and which I bought as soon as it came out in paperback.

Gollancz books, paperback, 2014, fiction, 265 pages, bought by my good self

It is the summer of 1976 and a heat wave has hit Britain, the hottest since records began. David, a young man who wants to go and find out more about the world, takes a break from his studies to become one of the staff at a holiday camp beside the sea and sands. David has decided that this first taste of true freedom away from the world of his mother and step father will be a big adventure. Yet as he gets to know the people behind the smiling ‘employee’ faces of the holiday park he soon discovers a much darker side to their characters and the society of the day. He also becomes aware of a man and young boy who seem to be following him, yet who can disappear without a trace.

I was an Alice in Wonderland. It was a world I knew nothing of, hyper-real, inflated, one where the colours seemed brighter, vivid, intense. I was excited to be working there, being part of it, but the truth is I felt anxious, too. It wasn’t just about being an outsider, it was the strangeness of it all. Many of the staff I met were odd fish. I had a crazy idea that they all had large heads and small bodies, like caricature figures on an old-style cigarette card.

With The Year of the Ladybird Graham Joyce was an absolute master of tension and an ominous atmosphere. Holiday camps are of course places of fun for all the family. You have the sand castle competitions, the donkey rides, the camp and ridiculous games and shows. Joyce marvellously gives all these things a sense of menace be it with an act of violence at the end of a singers act, be it the little looks certain staff members give each other, or be it an incident with the donkeys that goes from being very funny to something bordering on animal cruelty. Everything that is glitz, glamour and fun has its own rotten underside. Even ladybirds can become small monsters when arriving on mass. Every bit of beauty, glitz, glamour and camp has its rotten underside. Like the heat the tension crackles through it.

What also adds to the tension is our protagonist and his general naivety. David is a young man who is excited and almost overawed by all he sees and those he meets. There is quite a cast of characters at this holiday camp and almost every one of them has a darkness about them be it Tony and his illusions and control, the grumpy Dot running the uniforms who almost enjoys giving you the wrong size, the all too camp and nice to be true Luca or Nobby who lets say lives up to his name. David’s actions are also occasionally unwise, and not always moralistic, even if accidental. Firstly he falls head over heels from the woman that he really shouldn’t. Terri is the wife of the over bearing and brutal Colin, should you talk to him the wrong way, let alone look at his wife, and you might find yourself in more trouble (and possible pain) than you could bargain for. In his keenness to get to know Terri, David sort of befriends Colin accidentally and it is through this friendship that another tension arises as Colin takes him on a day out which ends up in a meeting of the National Front (which I am amazed is still going) and shows him some of the darkest and most unnerving side of society and politics. I was chilled before we had even got to the actual ghost of the tale.

It was the man in the blue suit I’d seen on the day of the sandcastle competition. He was hugging a child – presumably the boy I’d seen. Maybe the blue suit was made of some synthetic material because its threads caught in the sun’s rays and darted light. He had a rope coiled over his shoulder.
But then the sun darkened and I felt dizzy. My breath came short. I heard a groan way off – way out to sea and I felt an uncomfortable panic, triggered by something very old shifting deep inside me. I looked up. The man and the boy had turned to look at me, perhaps because I was acting oddly. But their faces were in the shadow. It made no sense. They were turned full on to the sun, but their faces were grey flat and smooth like beach pebbles, almost in silhouette. Even though their faces were indistinct, they peered back at me with suspicion, as if I had somehow meant to harm them. I felt a wave of revulsion. My teeth chattered.

Any of you who read this blog regularly will know I love a ghost story yet I am very picky about them. I have read many a novel where I have been thoroughly creeped out throughout until the ghost reveals itself and I think ‘really, that was what was scaring me?’ and being let down by the ghoul/demon/monster. I have to admit that I didn’t feel particularly chilled by the ghost of the man in the blue suit, which of course inspires the American title of The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit, more puzzled and intrigued by who he and the little boy were. Without giving anything away, I liked the eventual reveal (even if I sort of guessed it, being a guesser) and the story that it told. Once you have read it, which you should, you will know what I mean. The same happened with the ladybirds, I was intrigued by the phenomenon of this plague of cute insects but not left as scared or freaked out by it as I was expecting.

Yet I don’t really think that is where Joyce wants us to be chilled and creeped out. As with Some Kind of Fairy Tale, the chilling moments happen where you might not expect them. For me personally it was the sections involving the National Front that I found to be the most chilling parts of The Year of the Ladybird. Firstly there is the fact that from a historical context this was a ‘political party’ of neo-Nazi’s who started to do well in the local elections when the big parties were leaving people feeling disillusioned. They thrived by spreading a campaign of fear and bullying and even horrific acts of violent protest. This is all the more chilling as currently here in the UK we have a party doing that, without the violence, and then worldwide we have ISIS and other terrorist groups who create a world of fear. Joyce looks at their motives and also their attitudes which makes for some uncomfortable reading in all sorts of ways.

The Year of the Ladybird may not be a conventional ghost story, in fact to me it is more a case of a story about the darker aspects of humans with a ghost in it. It is a tale of the fear that we humans can create in bullying and violence and how some people can be irrationally afraid as what they see as different or wrong and what that fear within them can do. For once the blurb on the back of the book didn’t lie when it said ‘this is a novel that transcends the boundaries between the everyday and the supernatural while celebrating the power of both.’ It is also a book that looks at the darkest of shadows in the world, even on the sunniest days of the most humid heat wave.

If you would like to hear myself, Kate, Rob and Gav talking about the book in even more detail, and also getting all their views on it, check out this episode of Hear Read This! If you would like to hear myself and Gavin interviewing Graham almost two years ago and discussing the wonderful, wonderful Some Kind of Fairy Tale you can do so here. Graham Joyce will be much missed and I cannot help think of all the wonderful stories he had still to tell, though fortunately (in a slightly odd way) I still have most of his works to go back through. Who else has read The Year of the Ladybird, or indeed The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit, and what did you make of it? Which other of Graham’s novels would you recommend I head to next? What have you been reading this Halloween?

3 Comments

Filed under Gollancz Publishing, Graham Joyce, Review

Rounding Up The Reviews #3; Fairytales, Maids Versions, Resurrections and Sex Criminals

As you will have seen already this week, but this is the last one, both in preparation and as a teaser for the change in Savidge Reads next week, I thought I would round up some of books I have failed to review so far this year starting a new occasional series of posts where I give you a more succinct selection of books you might want to need. The good, the bad and the ugly! Some of them might be perfectly fine reads, I just don’t have that much to say about them and that happens from time to time for no rhyme or reason. So here are the final four for a while and indeed before Savidge Reads turns a corner next week.

The Complete Short Stories – Oscar Wilde

Oxford University Press, paperback, 2010 edition, fiction, 228 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Oscar Wilde and me have a funny old relationship. I think his quotes are the height of wit yet his works tend to really divide me. I either think they are utter genius or not really that good. The Picture of Dorian Grey is on prime example as there is so much that is gothic about it and so much about attitudes and the theme of fighting for youth and beauty, yet occasionally I found it really boring and it is only short.

Possibly sacrilegious I know yet the same can be said for his short stories in this collection – well this complete selection. Some of them (Lord Arthur Saville’s Crime, The Nightingale and the Rose and the famous Happy Prince) are utterly brilliant, some (The Canterville Ghost) are okay and the others are a little bit, dare I say it, forgettable. Yet short story collections are tricky minxes because how you read them can really make or break them. I was reading these for Hear… Read This and possibly slightly more last minute and like a novel, rather than reading them over a period of time. That said dragging some of them out would still have caused problems. I have kept the collection though as some I will turn to again and again – mainly the three I named at the start.

The Maid’s Version – Daniel Woodrell

Sceptre, paperback, 2014, fiction, 176 pages, bought by my good self

In 1929, an explosion in a Missouri dance hall killed forty-two people. Who was to blame? Mobsters from St Louis? Embittered gypsies? The preacher who cursed the waltzing couples for their sins? Or could it just have been a colossal accident? Alma Dunahew, whose scandalous younger sister was among the dead, believes the answer lies in a dangerous love affair, but no one will listen to a maid from the wrong side of the tracks. It is only decades later that her grandson hears her version of events – and must decide if it is the right one.

How brilliant does that story sound? I was really excited about reading this novella after Kate chose it for Hear… Read This and sadly I came away really disappointed. The explosion happens very early on in the novel which would kill some books because why would you read on, some authors though make you want to. Woodrell sort of does. The problem is he shows too much too soon. The explosion happens, an affair starts before it (the book doesn’t go backwards, more hops about all over the shop) then we get some wonderful emotive short pieces about some of the victims and… and… then it sort of lost my interest. I felt, if I am being honest and that is what I will always be even if it’s harder when it is negative (The Beard would say I have no problem with this in real life), here Woodrell is trying so hard to write a novella unlike anyone has written before he couldn’t live up to his own desire. It’s a mish mash of voices and characters and chronological set pieces, yet not in an exciting way.

Resurrection – Wolf Haas                                                                                                                                                   

Melville House, paperback, 2014, fiction, 184 pages, bought by my good self

When Inspector Simon Brenner leaves the police force, he’s looking forward to some peace and quiet, and the lovely Alpine village of Zell seems like just the place. That is, until the corpses of an American couple are found frozen on a ski lift, and Brenner, doing some part time work for an insurance company, is called in to investigate the matter. It turns out that the victims have relatives in the area and the crime – if it is a crime – seems like it could be a family affair. Except the prime suspect has a solid alibi and no one in picture-perfect Zell is talking. (Stealing blurbs is so the way forward with these round up reviews, I waffle too much.)

Now this book was a really interesting reading experience and I am very much glad I read it even though I didn’t really like it overall. Some bits were brilliant, some bits were bonkers and some bits didn’t make any sense. I can definitely say it is a new form of cold crime novel, yet whether it will work for you or not is another thing. The omnipresent narrator is very unsettling, then funny, then baffling, talks in riddles and then suddenly seems to clarify towards the end. The humour flits between light, dark and then slightly inappropriate. The plot is fairly good, when it makes sense at the end, and there is a tour de force scene in a petrol station I will never forget. A real mixed bag, yet reading that back I feel intrigued and want to try it again. Maybe instead I will try his next in the series? Oh and before I move on, corking author name.

Sex Criminals – Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky

Image Comics, paperback, 2014, graphic novel, 128 pages, bought by my good self

Another recommendation from Rob, actually Resurrection was one of his choices for Hear… Read This where he also mentioned this title. Imagine if every time you reached a peak of sexual climax (yes it does feel awkward typing that and knowing you are all going to read those words) time stopped for everyone else, literally, until you thought about sex again. Imagine then you find someone else who can make the same thing happen? You could cause all sorts of mayhem, or rob banks to save a library. We would all do the latter as book lovers wouldn’t we? Well this is the premise of the comic/graphic novellas which make up the first volume of Sex Criminals, only something is chasing our heroes to stop them.

From its bookish and titillating (did they give that word its name on purpose?) premise I had to give it a whirl after Rob mentioned it. I was titillated (that word again) and loved the way the hero’s wanted to save a library so it ticked all the right boxes for me. I can’t say I was fully lost in the world as this did seem more of a comic than a graphic novel – if I have horrified comic and graphic novel fans saying that I am so sorry – as it did feel it was slightly more 2D than some graphic novels I have read. If you fancy some escapism and a bit of a bookish naughty giggle then definitely give it a whirl.

*********************

So that is the final review round up for a while, have you enjoyed them? Do you want me to keep doing them now and again or would you rather I binned them off? Which of these titles have you read and what did you make of them? Have you had any books that you didn’t love but regardless are really glad you read and if so what were they? Who has accidentally arrived here because of the ‘sex criminal’ Google alert?

10 Comments

Filed under Chip Zdarsky, Daniel Woodrell, Matt Fraction, Oscar Wilde, Review, Rounding Up The Reviews, Wolf Haas