Category Archives: Books

‘Ello, ‘ello, back for more, Sunshine?

Moon over SohoMoon Over Soho cover

Aaronovitch, Ben

Gollancz, London

ISBN: 9780575097629

It’s only because I saw this book in the library the other day that I’m reviewing it now.  If you’ve already read the bit on Rivers of London, you’ll pretty much know where I’m heading with this one; the same criticisms apply here too.

Isn’t it strange how you get into the habit of reading one particular author?  The Sookie Stackhouse books had the same effect as this one on me, though I came much later in the piece to those.  Which meant, of course, that I could read several of them in quick succession, blam-blam-blam.  Not so with the Peter Grant books, since this is the second of what is clearly turning into a bit of a series, and my public library doesn’t seem to have the third book, Whispers Under Ground in just yet.  Sigh – that’s what they made the internet for though, right?  So that you could bankrupt yourself buying books off of it?

Anyway – you can see why both author and publisher would be keen for this to be more than a single book kind of dealie.  The characters are endearing, there is a lot of interesting subtext to explore and setting the series in London almost has the effect of creating an additional storytelling element in itself.  However, these factors don’t make it any less of a rapid-fire read.  Which is not a bad thing, not at all.  Man (or at least, this particular example of the human race) does not live by highbrow, impenetrable literature alone.  Most of the time that’s exactly what I don’t want in a book – I want to relate to the characters, I want to see the human struggle that we all contend with in the characters that the author has created.  This book certainly delivers on both fronts.

Advertisements

The Great Indelible Poem

I just listened to this excellent interview with one of my favourite poets, Lawrence Ferlinghetti; so you know me, ever the generous spirit, I thought I’d share it with y’all.  Ferlinghetti is about to publish a new book, Time of Useful Consciousness, which will be published by New Directions later this month.  Oh, and if you’re wondering where the title for this post came from, it’s from Ferlinghetti’s I am Waiting, which was originally published in his 1958 collection A Coney Island of the Mind.

KCRW has the interview here, so if poetry is your thing, or even one of your things, I’d whip over and check it out.  He doesn’t just talk about the new collection, and after such a long and interesting career, how could he?  There are some excellent reflections and observations, especially about the state of poetry and why the heck no-one reads e.e. cummings anymore (ha, well, I do… but that’s only ’cause he cracks me up).  The Bookworm show manages to get quite a few interesting interviews, so it’s well worth having a sift through – you can find it on the KCRW website, or indeed on iTunes.

Now, where did I put my black beret?

‘Ello, ‘ello, what ‘ave we ‘ere?

Rivers of LondonRivers of London cover image

Aaronovich, Ben

Gollancz, London

ISBN: 978 0575097568

NOTE:  This book is also known by another title, Midnight Riot.  I don’t know why for sure, but I have a feeling it’s something to do with the market outside the UK.  But more on that later…

SO many apostrophes in that title!  You get what I’m going for there though, right cublings?  It’s all a bit Saauf Lundun, innit.  Oh alright, I’ll stop embarrassing myself now, and get back on topic.  This book, or at least the copy that I read, has a quote from Diana Gabaldon on it’s cover which reads “What would happen if Harry Potter grew up and joined the Fuzz.”  Now, I’m no Potterphile, but if I’m not mistaken, not only did Harry Potter want to grow up and join “the fuzz” (or at least the magical version thereof), but that quote is going to put off a lot of people who probably would really enjoy this book.  It’s funny, irreverent, and has enough serious subtext (on race, the nature of authority, and other good pondering subjects like that) to keep you engaged with the story long after you finish reading it.

Getting back to the Potter thing, Rowling takes the approach that magic is something you’re born with, and has to be developed if it’s going to be usable for the witch or wizard from an early age, right?  Aaronovitch’s main character, Peter Grant, doesn’t discover that he’s capable of magic until he’s coming to the end of his probationary period as a police constable as a part of the London Metropolitan Police.   Peter explains to his superior officer in the Police equivalent of the exit interview that he wants to join the CID and become a detective; but when the superior asks him why he doesn’t want to join one of the specialist units, Peter “suddenly had a horrible thought.  What if they were thinking of sending me to Trident?  That was the Operational Command Unit charged with tackling gun crime within the black community…[and]…always on the lookout for black officers to do hideously dangerous undercover work, and being mixed race meant that I qualified.” (p12)  There are two things that interest me about this little two sentence nugget – firstly, that use of jargon.  This book is full of it.  That’s not something that I mind personally; in fact it bought back childhood memories of watching The Bill as a kid; “Get ‘im daaun to CID!”, etcetra, etcetra.  The acronyms are only elongated once (thank goodness – nothing makes me more irritated that authors who feel the need to explain themselves again and again), so if you were someone who got obsessed about these things, it might be a bit annoying, but I just rolled right over them.

The second interesting thing about that sentence is the reference to race.  When I was thinking about it afterward, I can’t actually remember ever having read a book with a mixed-race character as it’s lead.  Which is weird, don’t you think?  Maybe it’s just my bad memory, but it still interests me.  There is a part later on in the book where a very senior police officer (who, to be fair, is under the influence of a rather malicious revanant) tells Peter that ‘back in his day’, Peter would be unwelcome to say the least in the Met; “A locker full of excrement would have been a warm-up.  Odds are, a few of your relief would have taken you to one side and explained, in a rough but friendly manner, just how unwanted you were.” (p322)  It’s always lurking as a subtext in the back of the story, and that is one of the things that made me enjoy it so much.  I really believe that some of the most effective ways of getting people to think about these issues is to make us laugh about them first.  Laugh, then think really, really hard. Read the rest of this entry

Booksluts Reading Challenge #4: Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids

Nip the Buds, Shoot the KidsNip the Buds, Shoot the Kids (Kenzaburo Oe)

Oe, Kenzaburo (translated by Paul St John-Mackintosh and Maki Sugiyama)

Marion Boyars Publishers, London

ISBN: 07145 29974

Is there something about the Nobel Prize judges that make them favour harrowing shit?  Maybe – I can’t confess to even a working knowledge of Nobel literature, but I know one thing, and that is that this book isn’t for the faint of heart, or even anyone who is tenderly inclined towards an idealistic notion of the adult-child relationship.  Damn, the adults in this book make the Trunchbull look positively friendly.

For all that it is a bit on the intense side of things, it’s certainly an excellent read, and doesn’t come across as preachy at all.  Given its subject matter, that would be a pretty easy thing; set during the mid- to late-Second World War period, in Japan, it deals with a group of reformatory boys who are forcibly evacuated to the countryside.  To my mind, Oe has captured with amazing alacrity the capacity for children (the eldest is perhaps 12 or 13 years old) to feel responsibility, and to feel a desire to sacrifice their own comfort for the comfort of another.  He’s also captured really nicely the tensions which exist between adults and children even during peacetime.  These boys are continually being shunted about by adults, being always told that they’re terrible human beings and worthless when really, most of the adults aren’t any better – and mostly a lot worse. Read the rest of this entry

I Want Some Candy!

American Vampire (volume 1)American Vampire volume one cover

Words: Snyder, Scott and King, Stephen

Pictures: Alberquerque, Raphael

Vertigo Comics, 2010

ISBN:978 1401229740

Look, I’m not coming late to this vampire craze, I promise.  As we’ve already established, I like my vamps covered in blood and ripping out throats, rather than dry-humping their teenage girlfriends to the dulcet strains of some emo band – or as Mr. King so evocatively tells us in his introduction:

“What should they be? Killers, honey.  Stone killers who never get enough of that tasty Type-A.  Bad boys and girls.  Hunters.  In other words; Midnight America.  Red, white and blue, accent on the red.”

And boy, if the throat-ripping vampire is your scene, you could do worse than Skinner Sweet, the dark star of the American Vampire comic book series.

I know I’m gushing here, but honestly, this comic is just luminous.  The writing is brilliant, the artwork glorious.  Because the story traces Skinner Sweet across several decades of his existence – from his creation as a vampire in the 1920’s, in point of fact – careful attention has obviously been paid to the costuming of the characters and even their manner of speaking.  It’s just very freakin’ cool.

I know that you shouldn’t judge a story when you’re only part of the way through it, but for this I’ll break my own rule.  As a stand-alone story, Bad Blood, the Skinner Sweet origin story, works particularly well, but like many comic books which are built specifically for the drip-fed format, as you move through the volumes, it becomes more daunting to simply ‘pick up and play’.  Which is not to say you can’t do it, but I’d be loath to suggest such a thing when the beginning is so good and adds so much to your understanding of the comic. Read the rest of this entry

Is The Vampire So Bad?

I am LegendI am Legend book cover - TOR edition

Matheson, Richard

Tom Doherty Associates/Tor/RXR, 1995

ISBN 978 0765357151

I think I’ve already written about books with characters that make you wish they were real so that you could punch them in the face.  The nice thing about that feeling is that it comes from all walks of literature – my own personal list includes Cathy from Wuthering Heights, Harold Lauder from The Stand, and both Bella and Edward from the Twilight books (but I have a feeling that last one is pretty common).  Mostly, it’s because that character is either an ass of a human being (or not-so-human being in Mr. Cullen’s case), or is going about getting what they want in a really stupid way.  In Harold and Cathy’s cases, I can deal with it, because the overall story is pretty good.  But there are some idiot characters of literature that just will not be dealt with.

Like Robert Neville.

Alright, so he’s not as much of a douche as you might expect, having witnessed his wife and daughter succumb to the dread disease which carries off most of the rest of the planet.  And to be fair on him, the guy has been living on his own for quite some time when the novel begins, so he’s developed certain routines and ways of thinking.  I think that the scariest part of the characterisation of Robert Neville is how far away his intellectual faculties have slunk.  Because obviously, the guy ain’t dumb.  But my query is how come it takes him so long to start figuring out a cure for the virus?  I mean, surely a major catalyst would be the nearest and dearest getting sick, right?  But Neville is painted quite a few times within the narrative as being a passive creature, almost resigned to bobbing along in the flow of events.  Which is totally fine, you need people like that… but just don’t make them the last people on earth.  Or, maybe do, but don’t have them whining and moaning every five seconds about how annoying it is to lathe stakes, how you really should find a better method of disposal… and then not do anything about it.  Hrumph!   Read the rest of this entry

What Would Maxim Gorky Do?

Ham on RyeHam on Rye cover

Bukowski, Charles

Canongate, 2001

ISBN: 1 841951 633

I really love Charles Bukowski.  Obviously, I never met him in person, but his writing speaks to me in a way that not many others do.  His poetry especially is very beautiful; fragile and brash, it’s kind of an enigma.  I actually didn’t even know he wrote novels for ages (I know, right?  Good researching there…), but I’m sure glad that I found that little treasure out.  It’s hard to say exactly what I love so much about his writing – I mean, it’s certainly not the kind of thing you could recommend to just anyone, not the kind of thing you’d rock up to your Nana’s book club with (unless your Nana is down with a liberal literary splashing about of the really bad c-word).   I’d kind of see him as being a kind of spiritual antecedent to a writer like Irvine Welsh – someone who just can’t seem to let their past be, who has to keep worrying at it like an old dog.

This particular Cannongate edition has an introduction by Roddy Doyle.  And, okay, full disclosure, I’ve never read one of his books.  Yes, I know, cultural ignoramus, but I’ll rectify that – it’s easily rectifiable.  I hardly ever read introductions, but I read this one, for some strange reason, maybe because it begins with Bukowski’s own words, the dedication from his first novel Post Office, which incidentally is also a Hank Chinaski novel.  In the dedication, Doyle talks about Bukowski’s writing style, and he puts it much better than I do, so I’m just going to quote verbatim:

“What writing, I thought.  It wasn’t just the words that made this a tough, real world.  It was the awkwardness of the writing, its closeness to speech. ‘…and so I went and the next thing I knew I had this leather sack on my back.’  So you went where?  And what happened then? And then? … It reminded me of kids telling me about a video, charging through the plot of a ninety-minute film in less than thirty seconds; arms, head and shoulders supplying the action and special effects.  It had the same rush, the same fight for attention.” p. viii

It’s that ‘fight for attention’ that makes Ham on Rye such a compelling read.  The whole thing reads like a fight, but a beautiful fight, not choreographed or tamed in any way, brutal sometimes, funny others.

Read the rest of this entry

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Metro 2033Metro 2033: Dmitry Glukhovsky

Glukhovsky, Dmitry (translated by Natasha Randall)

Gollancz, 2009 (originally published 2007)

ISBN: 978 0575086241

I gotta say, I’m lovin’ the sheer Russian-ness of this book.  You remember when I was trying to read that Solzhenitsyn book The Cancer Ward, and it kept defeating me?  Well, this was something else entirely.  Seriously cublings, it’s so good!  Admittedly, it’s taken me a while to read it, but that’s more me than it is the book.  There’s a lot of stuff going down in Mama Wolf’s world at the moment, but instead of boring you with that, I’ll suffice to say that this book has been a nice little break from reality.

Just a note here – I decided not to make this review into a Word vs. Image challenge, even though this is kind of a special circumstance.  As far as I’m aware, Metro 2033 hasn’t been made into a movie, but it has been made into a game; the game came out a few years ago now, but I still remember watching my Lad play it (I don’t possess the manual dexterity or nerves of steel for FPS-type games – hacking madly with a sword from a distance is about my limit).  It was certainly true to the books claustrophobic, terrifying feel; beasties leaping out at you from all angles.  If you’re keen to read about the novel as a game, you can do so here.

Getting back to the ‘break from reality’ thing, I think that that’s mainly because it’s so bleak.  I’d really challenge anyone with a skerrick of imagination to think that they’d had a bad day after reading about daily life in the Moscow subways after the Nuclear Apocalypse as Glukhovsky imagines it.  You feel tired just thinking about it.  And as much as I love pork and mushrooms, I think that I’d be weeping after a few months of only eating that – let alone years.   Read the rest of this entry

Always Pay your Debts

A Song of Ice and Fire series

Martin, George R. R.

Published: HarperVoyager

Eddard Stark from Game of Thrones series

Series comprises: A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords (part 1: Steel and Snow, part 2: Blood and Gold), A Feast for Crows, and A Dance with Dragons

It’s been a long time since I read any fantasy.  Like, proper fantasy.  And I gotta say, A Song of Ice and Fire definitely comes under the category of ‘proper fantasy’ – anyone who’s been watching the Game of Thrones series on HBO knows what I’m talking about, however vaguely.  Because when it comes to screen adaption, the movies are okay (that’s being generous a lot of the time – usually there’s either too much padding out or too little detail), the television series is better (again, not always, but recently it’s been the case), but the book is best.

Speaking about detail, my word, these books go to town with it.  Usually I steer clear of this kind of fantasy book, all the castles and horses and dragons and shit like that gives me hives.  It’s mostly because to a lot of authors (and probably, readers, which is why they do it) don’t bother to call a big, f***-off horse you’d ride into battle on a destrier.  That’s what it is though, a destrier.  Also, all the bits and pieces of the armour – the greaves and gorgets and pauldrons that you just don’t read about in other books.  I think that was what sold me on A Song of Ice and Fire, it was a moment of “Aww, George, you had me at hauberk”.

So, okay, we’ve established that there has been some kick ass researching done for this book.  Being a library type person, I respect a healthy dose of research.  Not only does it lend a tone of realism to a work like this (however lost that realism might be on a general audience), I also feel that it makes the author seem more respectful of the intelligence of their audience.  If that seems a little odd, allow me an explanation.  Because Martin has decided that he’s going to tell us which particular bits of the armour that they’re wearing are rusting on the knights, and he’s going to use the proper names for bits of castles and also words like prate and corsair without any hint of explanation, that to me speaks of a respect for readers that they either know what those things are already or they will damn well go and look them up if they have a mind to.  What’s not to love about that?  Hang on, in the next bit, I’m gonna talk a little about what the story is actually about, so don’t read anymore if you’re reading them and aren’t up to Dance yet, or if you’re watching the TV show and just don’t want to know any more.  Fair warning – here be spoilers.

Read the rest of this entry

A Sea of Hatred

GrotesqueGrotesque cover image

Kirino, Natsuo (translated by Rebecca Copeland)

Vintage, 2003

ISBN: 978 0 099 52083

I’d like to think I’m a pretty patient individual.  I’m okay with working slowly toward things, as long as I feel like the rewards are either incrementally increasing as I go through my task, or that the eventual reward is going to be worth the effort.  This book has taken me a stonkingly long time to finish, nearly six months for 467 pages.  That’s pretty shabby by anyone’s standards.

I mean, you can tell that a book called Grotesque is going to be pretty much up my alley, right?  Pretty promising, lots of references to murder and prostitution and stuff like that.  But the going got tough when I realised that the characters were all pretty much entirely obtuse, which I think is why I had such a hard time getting into it.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, the obtuseness is actually part of the characters, self-indulgent little trollops they are too, but for the most part it was like being talked at by a fourteen year old girl who is yet to realise that the Earth doesn’t actually revolve around her.

This may be made worse by the fact that it’s told in the first person for the first half.  Usually I really like this, when you’ve got two characters squaring off with each other about which version of the truth is the correct one.  This one is a little weird though, because you’ve got two sisters telling you their stories.  One sister, the elder, is embittered, angry – but it’s not a good rage-y kind of anger, more like it comes off as being slightly pathetic.  She’s always moaning on about how horrid (and yet, beautiful) her younger sister Yuriko is, which I have to say, gets a little tedious.  Yuriko is the other voice; she’s just as pathetic, but has this kind of veneer of intractability and stubbornness.  Yuriko is determined to use her sexuality in this really twisted way, which seemingly why she becomes a prostitute in the first place – she sees it as the only way that she can have power over men.

So far, so boring right?

Read the rest of this entry