Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

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Everything changes…

June 12, 2010

Who’d a thunk it? Back in January of this year, life was pootling along smoothly enough – working away in the bookshop in Dun Laoghaire, running the bookclub, hanging out with my friends and reading a lot – the big news being I had just decided to go on a book-buying diet for a bit and blog about it here.  How things change! Six months later, and the bookshop chain  I worked for went into liquidation, I’m working for a different bookshop, and many of my friends and colleagues have emigrated or got jobs elsewhere.  Some stalwarts hung in there though, and last weekend Hughes & Hughes in Dun Laoghaire reopened as Easons and my friends have their jobs back – rejoice!

And now in other news…I want to read everything by China Miéville! When I finished The City & The City I was completely blown away by it – it has an intricately woven plot that combines a crime procedural with a fractured city set in an indeterminate future; there are Orwellian and Kafkaesque echoes – absolutely brilliant.  Then I read Iron Council; this densely written novel, chewy with ideas and studded with grotesque imagery, is set in the town of New Crobuzon and follows the fortunes of rebels against the increasingly oppressive authorities.  It is one of those books that impels you to put it down at frequent intervals – the language is so rich and inventive, the world building so vividly imagined and strange and most of all, the ideas keep coming so fast that you have to pause and consider them at length.  It is NOT an easy reading, bubblebath book!  I’m about to start  Perdido Street Station, but am waiting for the right mood to come – it really is one of those books you need to read with full attention.

It’s been a while since I last blogged – it’s been pretty busy what with new jobs and friends weddings and trying to throw in the odd cultural event…but also because the bookdiet part of this blog has started to crumble.  I DID last the first tranche of three months, and was really determined to last longer, but being threatened with legal action tends to make you abandon experiments…Lured by a special offer, I joined a book society whose only criteria were that you had to purchase four books in the next year; I didn’t realise they meant you had to buy them immediately and all together!   I joined just before I started the book diet, and held out for three months, but had to buy the other four to meet the terms of the offer.  Caveat emptor!  So in the impregnable dam there was chiseled a small hole – which started to crumble…so in the interests of transparency, I have bolded any books in the list below that I purchased; I have only given links to books I particularly want to draw attention to.

Young Adult

Web of Air – Philip Reeve

The Adoration of Jenna Fox – Mary E. Pearson

Incarceron and Sapphique – Catherine Fisher    I simply can’t express how good this series is – stunning!  Read it for yourself and see how the themes of reality and freedom are teased out through the means of a great adventure.  Anyone who is a fan of Diana Wynne Jones would like this.

Nation – Terry Pratchett

Crime Fiction

Nevada Barr – Hard Truth Ill Wind Winter Study A Superior Death Endangered Species Deep South Yep, I’ve been on a real Anna Pigeon, NPS Ranger buzz…set in various National Parks in America, this is crime fiction seasoned with gripping suspense and evocative descriptions of the landscape.  Really good.

The Draining Lake – Arnaldur Indridason & Faceless Killers – Henning Mankell   Maybe it’s the mood I’m in, but I wasn’t very interested in dour Scandanavian detection…will try again sometime!  They lack the bitter humour of Rebus – I wish that series wasn’t over…

Speculative Fiction

Madness of Angels and Midnight Mayor by Kate Griffin   Matthew Swift is a sorceror – an urban sorceror.  He lives in London, and the electricity in the overhead wires and rules of the Tube stations are the tools he uses in his magic…inventive, witty, fizzing with ideas and written at a cracking pace, I can’t wait for the next installment!

Colour of Magic, Wyrd Sisters – Terry Pratchett

Paths not taken – Simon R. Green

All J. R. Ward – Black Dagger Brotherhood & Covet

Changes – Dresden Files – Jim Butcher   The latest in the Dresden Files series, and it’s a cracker.  Harry has managed to rack up quite the enemy list, and he has to face most of them in this book…to try to save his daughter, kidnapped by the Red Court vampires.

The Unwritten Comics # 1 – 13 – Mike Carey & Peter Gross (thanks Anna!)   Tom Taylor knows he’s the inspiration for Tommy Taylor, the bestselling boy magician hero written by his father, Wilson Taylor.  But is he?  Some people (sinister people) seem to think Wilson Taylor is Tom’s literary rather than biological creator, and that he was written into existence…and are seeking to use him for their own ends.  This looks really good – I can’t imagine where the character is going to end up, but it’s a fun journey so far!

Fiction

Georgette Heyer – The Convenient Marriage, Cousin Kate, Devils Cub, Unknown Ajax, The Masqueraders, False Colours More Regency fun and frolics – I hadn’t read False Colours before, and can highly recommend it to any fans of Ms. Heyer.

Service with a smile – P. G. Wodehouse

Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson   It’s a classic, but still feels fresh – the original psychological/haunted house story.

Fast Women – Jenny Crusie

Gods in Alabama – Joshilynn Jackson

Foster – Claire Keegan   A young Irish girl is taken to stay with her aunt and uncle for the summer in the countryside – that is the deceptively simple plot.  I find it hard to say why this story is so moving; perhaps it’s the pitch-perfect tone or the intimations of something darker in the narrative, I’m not sure – it blew me away even on a second reading.  Do yourself a favour and read it.

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March 30, 2010

I’ve been reading a lot lately – and I mean a LOT!  So I thought, the Oscars and Razzies recently being past, I’d nominate the books in the following categories –

  • You must read this!
  • Definitely worth your time.
  • A curate’s egg…
  • Meh…
  • Reader beware – I read this, so you don’t have to!

The awards are as follows:

You must read this!

Smile or Die (Bright Sided in US) by Barbara Ehrenreich (thanks for the lend, OH)

Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore (again, thanks for the lend, OH!)

Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce (thanks for the proof, S) A very good young adult proof, due to be published in early June.  Reworking old myths and fairytales seems to be where it’s at in y/a right now, and this is one of the best I’ve read in ages.  Taking the story of Little Red Riding Hood and giving it a Company of Wolves/Buffy spin is a very clever idea, and in this book is very effectively worked through.  Highly recommended.

Maus by Art Spiegelman

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys  We read this for the last ever *sob* Hughes & Hughes Dun Laoghaire Book club – and thankfully, everyone loved it!  I would have hated us to end on a bad note…and I would like to thank all the members since we began for their support and intelligent, informed comment.  Especially, I would like to say a heartfelt ‘Thank you!’ to everyone who showed up at this final meet.  Hopefully, I will post up the list of all our choices from the beginning, along with our comments!  As for this book, I cannot recommend it highly enough.  Suffused with the lush but foreboding atmosphere of Jamaica in the 1830’s, this novel takes a minor female character from ‘Jane Eyre’ and fills in her back story, to devastating effect.

Definitely worth your time.

Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

The Last Hero by Terry Pratchett, illustrated by Paul Kidby

The Dramatist by Ken Bruen

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

Bill the Conqueror by P. G. Wodehouse

Quick Service by P. G. Wodehouse

A curate’s egg…

The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon

Meh…

Night Shield by Nora Roberts

Risky Business by Nora Roberts

Reader beware – I read this, so you don’t have to!

Everything and the moon by Julia Quinn – a shudder worthy Jane Austen/Georgette Heyer pastiche; beyond horrible.

You know the quote in Ecclesiastes – the one that says to everything there is a season?

“A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away…”

Well, there were two books I was, reluctantly, forced to cast away; I can’t tell if it was me or the books, but I’d rather give the books the benefit of the doubt!  The first was The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz  – I just couldn’t warm to it, despite the fact that I was lent it by two people who’s word I trust on reading (QueenGeek & CupcakeGirl, take a bow!).  I got half way and gave up, but this may be because a lot of it is in Spanish slang, and apart from “habla usted Ingles?” I have no Spanish… The second book was one of a young adult series I’ve heard a lot about; the Stravaganza series by Mary Hoffman, and the book I had may have suffered from the fact it was the last of a series I haven’t read any of.

So, out of sheer boredom during my (f)unemployment period, I calculated the rate at which I’ve been reading books over the last month, and I reckon it’s roughly about three a week.  All this spare time is good for something!

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January reading

January 28, 2010

I’ve been on a bit of a Tana French binge this month.  She doesn’t seem to have the profile – yet – of other, less talented crime authors, but I’m very confident that she will…especially with most of the booksellers in our shop behind her!

I reread her first novel, In the Woods, for our bookclub early this month, and was dazzled anew by her beautiful writing and strong sense of place, her vivid characters and avoidance of a standard formulaic ending.  It deals with the long shadows the past can throw across your life, the instability of memory and how you can blunder into destroying something before you realise how crucial it is.  The other bookclub members loved it too.

Having enjoyed her debut novel so much, I went back to The Likeness, the next one in the series.  Featuring Cassie, one of the main protagonists in the first book, it is still very much a stand-alone novel.  Featuring more of that contrast of shimmering, dreamy atmospherics with hardbitten characters and rapid-fire dialogue, this is just as good as In the Woods – once you can get by the unlikely (pun intended) premise.  Cassie Maddox has a doppelganger – a dead woman, Lexie Madison…except there is no such person as Lexie Madison.  She was a identity Cassie and her handler, Frank Mackey, invented as part of working undercover.  Somehow, Tana French convinces you this is plausible, partly through Cassie’s reluctance to accept the situation.  So the obvious way to use this uncanny resemblance is for Cassie to step into Lexie’s life, pretend she was just badly injured, not killed, and see what follows…

I’ve just finished reading a proof copy of her third novel, Faithful Place, due to be published in August – supplied by a friendly rep (Thanks S!).  This one features Frank Mackey, Cassie’s handler in the last book, as his past he thought he’d escaped reaches out for him.  It has such a vividly written sense of place that I feel I know exactly where Frank grew up – Faithful Place, an invented street in the very real Liberties in Dublin.  I live not far from the Liberties, and went to school and worked there, so I know it well – this is an accurate, vivid depiction of the place; the hoodies and addicts on the streets, the doughty, tough women shouting from the doorways, the hard-drinking men in the pubs, and the way people close ranks on outsiders, especially the police.

This book feels like somewhat of a departure  – gone are the ambiguities and the sometimes dream-like tone that were so marked in the first two books; instead the focus is more on the interplay of the characters and family dynamics.  All families have secrets – secrets from outsiders, secret cliques within the family, open secrets that no-one acknowledges, but that are just as potent for all that…Frank uses his skills and ruthlessness as an undercover cop to pit his old neighbours and family against each other, giving up vital pieces of information to solve a dark mystery from his past.

I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s a great story and I look forward to hand-selling to customers when it’s published in August!

I’ve also been on a bit of a Georgette Heyer binge – I’ve reread both The Grand Sophy and Sylvester, and hugely enjoyed both.  If you’re not familiar with her, she’s sort of like Jane Austen, if Jane Austen had written inthe 1960’s!  She’s great fun – witty repartee, vivid characters and a fantastic ear for authentic Regency slang.  I think of her as the feminine equivalent of P. G. Wodehouse – warm, humorous tales to cheer, written with a deceptive simplicity that disguises the skill and craft that went into their creations.

I’ve also finished Ash by Malinda Lo – a young adult twist on the Cinderella fable – fans of Holly Black’s Modern Tale of Faerie series will, I think, enjoy this.

And last of all, I read one of the last books I bought, Already Dead by Charlie Huston – it was fine, but it won’t take much willpower to resist buying any more in the series!