Sunday, 31 August 2014

Witches Abroad, Terry Pratchett

2.5 stars

We've reached the 12th in the Discworld series, and we're in the company of the witches as they head on a road trip to Genua to stop a wedding being forced upon a princess by someone who's twisting stories to suit their own purposes (and taking on riverboat gamblers, vampires and lots of banana daiquiris along the way).

My journey through the Discworld to date has been a bit bumpy, with as many lows as there have been highs. This one was more of a middling entry come the end - the road trip itself, which spent far too much time piddling around, really dragged for me with most of the jokes falling as flat as Granny's running bungled alligator joke.

While things did pick up once we'd reached Genua (with Greebo's transformation being a particular high point) it wasn't enough to make me sorry to see it end.

I really want to like these books more than I have so far (except for when it comes to Death and the City Watch), but entries like this aren't helping.

Deadeye Dick, by Kurt Vonnegut

3 stars

Telling the non-chronological tale of Rudy Waltz, who is given his titular nickname at 12 years old when he becomes a double-murderer, Deadeye Dick is both an illustration of life being nothing but a series of mistakes and accidents and, in the same week that an American child has accidentally killed a gun instructor while handling a sub-machine gun, a powerful argument for gun control.

Never quite sparkling as brilliantly as Breakfast of Champions, Slaughterhouse 5 or Sirens of Titan, there are still enough flashes its wry observations to make sure that while its subject matter may be depressing, reading it isn't.

Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell

4.5 stars

Rainbow Rowell first made me wibble with Eleanor and Park. Fangirl has just proved that wasn't a fluke.

A fan of the Harry Potter-like Simon Snow, Cath is just starting out at college. Anxious and insecure, she's away from the father she's taken care of since her mother left and her identical twin, Wren, has decided she doesn't want to room with her. Left with an intimidating roommate, Reagan, whose easygoing boyfriend Levi is always in their room even when Reagan's not, Cath isn't getting to spend as much time as she'd like on her fanfiction (the fans of which do not include her Fiction Writing professor, who thinks it's for bottom-feeders).

And so Cath is slowly drawn out of the comfortable worlds, both real and imaginary, that she ordinarily inhabits.

At first my stratospheric expectations following Eleanor and Park worked unfairly against this, and I was all set to find Cath irritating (especially early on whenever exhibiting any of the traits I have in common with her) but by the time the wonderful Reagan (who I have a total girlcrush on, by the way) had decided to be Cath's new best friend I was won over (and then totally pushed off into the wibbles by the time Levi started yelling at her stories).

It's rare that I find books with romances at their centres so engrossing, but something about the way Rowell writes about falling in love for the first time hits me in my squishy place Every. Damn. Time.

I'm going to make sure I have some on back-up for whenever I need to sigh wistfully for a while.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Terry Jones' Medieval Lives

4.5 stars

For the longest time, everything I ‘knew’ about Medieval England I'd learnt from Monty Python’s Holy Grail.

Now that I’ve discovered that history isn’t the boring list of dates my teachers made it out to be, and lacking the thousands of pounds required to go and get a proper education, it’s only fitting to turn back to a Python for my further education. And what a brilliant education it is – chock full of fascinating facts and humour, and providing a sturdy foundation for further reading.
Taking a look at the many stereotypes associated with the age (peasant, minstrel, outlaw, monk, philosopher, knight, damsel and king) Jones & Ereira debunk many of the popular misconceptions via brilliant medieval anecdotes that brings real life to their material, as well as laying clear the propaganda machine that’s helped cement in place most of our accepted ‘facts’ (ie ‘Good’ King Richard I was a mass-murdering rapist who detested England and spent only 6 months of his entire ten-year reign here, and hoped to sell it off to the highest bidder, whereas ‘Bad’ King Richard II might have actually been pretty awesome, except Henry Bolingbroke’s spin doctors got to work on the history books)

Fantastic stuff that I highly recommend - I'm now hoping that Terry decides to tackle the rest of English history, as it's a class I desperately want to sign up for. You should too.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Desolation Island, by Patrick O'Brian

5 stars

We've now reached the fifth book in Patrick O'Brian's fantastic Aubrey/Maturin series and I'll admit that, by this point, I am no longer a regular reader but have lost all objectivity and become a squealing fangirl.

Desolation Island finds lucky Jack Aubrey installed once more in Ashgrove Cottage. He's not so lucky on land however, and is being bilked out of his rapidly dwindling Mauritius Command prize-money by grasping tradesmen and card sharps who see him coming. Things are turning so badly that even his loving wife, Sophie, is starting to wish he was at sea again. Meanwhile, my beloved Stephen isn't faring so well either. That bloody Villiers woman is back in town and tormenting him once more, the laudanum monkey that's on his back has got bigger and meaner, he's lost a bunch of intelligence papers in the back of a cab and a patient on the operating table and, to top it all off, has even had a pop at an Admiral. Thankfully, Jack soon accepts a new command - the Leopard, a huge ship with a bad reputation - and a new mission: to rescue Captain Bligh (yes, that Captain Bligh) who's on the other side of the world with another possible mutiny on his hands. Before you get too excited though, remember that the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry and before we can meet any infamous historical persons we've got a whole heap of ocean to get through, on a boat transporting convicts (including women, Heavens above! One of whom, Mrs Wogan, is a suspected spy) and stuffed with indifferent officers who think nothing of trying to undermine Jack's authority at every turn.

Before long the convicts' appalling conditions mean gaol-fever is sweeping the ship and corpses shrouded in sails are soon slipping over the side. And that's even before 'Firebox' Peggy Barnes, one of the infernal women on board, has opened her legs and given most of the sailors a venereal disease. A brilliantly tense and thrilling sea chase over the course of a number of stormy days, in which the undermanned Leopard is pursued by the much bigger and better manned Dutch warship Warkhaamzeid, sees several large holes punched in the ship before an iceberg finishes the job, ripping a hole in the hull and snatching away the rudder, leaving the few left aboard after abandonment by the many who'd rather take their chances in a dinghy to bail like hell and hope for land. And through it all, the delightfully sneaky Stephen is quietly intercepting Mrs Wogan's letters and filling them with falsehoods before sending them on their merry way.

Every second of these books is a delight to me - whether it's learning about the many harsh realities of life in the Age of the Sail, Stephen's passion for the creatures they come across, or the snarky asides at boozy dinners - I could even roll around in giddy ecstacy at the sentences that make my eyes cross ('A burton-tackle to the chess-tree,' he called, loud and clear. 'Lead aft to a snatch-block fast to the aftermost ring-bolts and forward free.')

I could easily read nothing but these books for the rest of my life and die satisfied, but at the age of 35 I've only got fifteen left to go (sniff!) and so I'm probably best off eking them out a little.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Moon Called, by Patricia Briggs

2.5 stars

Mercy Thompson was raised by wolves. Werewolves, in fact, although she's not one herself. Instead she's a 'walker', able to slip from her human form into that of a coyote whenever she chooses. Her neighbour's a werewolf though, as is the young man that turns up at her garage needing help before turning up dead on her doorstep, and soon Mercy is up to her neck in them as she tries to thwart a plot against her local pack.

This was a decent enough paranormal outing that was probably all my run-down brain could cope with at the time, that starred a heroine that didn't particularly make my shit itch, but still spent far too much time dwelling on dominance, submission and hierarchies to completely suit. Much of its time was also spent over-explaining absolutely everything, although this did come in handy towards the end as the plot thickened and I was no longer able to keep track of - or care about - what in the gibbering flip was going on.

I'll probably come back eventually to give this series at least one chance to improve, but I won't be rushing.

The Robber Bride, by Margaret Atwood

4 stars

A deeply interesting story of four women - detached and intellectual Tony, flaky earth child Charis, gregarious businesswoman Roz, and the mysterious, cunning and manipulative Zenia. All four were at college together and years later Tony, Charis and Roz are still friends despite having nothing in common - nothing but their hatred of Zenia.

It wasn't always that way, as we discover when we sift through the women's histories and find out how they came to be who they are and then watch Zenia, in the guise of friendship, find their weak spots, insinuate herself into their lives and then leave with their men, and more.

Any allusions to the Robber Bridegroom, the Grimm fairytale that this was apparently inspired by, were lost on me (probably as I haven't read the Robber Bridegroom) but it really didn't matter. Even if some of the female types feel like those of a generation I don't belong to, and their men thoroughly undeserving of their love (I tend to think Zenia was actually doing them a favour when it came to the men in their lives, although that was definitely not her motivation) I thoroughly enjoyed this incisive and compelling take on the complexities of female relationships.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch

4.5 stars

I've been itching to get my hands on this one for a while now, based solely on the titles alone. It turns out that if David Mamet had a book-baby with Joe Abercrombie, The Lies of Locke Lamora would be the result. As I have a bit of a thing for witty gobshites with a loose approach to common morality and love to get lost in a well-realised, fantasy world, this is a very, very good thing.

A slightly built orphan with a forgettable face, Locke Lamora doesn't have much going for him in the way of strength, social standing, or sword skills. He does, however, have a mind that is sharper than most and, luckily, was snatched up young from a life of petty street thievery and taken under the tutelage of one Father Chains - apparent blind priest of the Order of Perelandro and actual mentor to a gang of budding con artists, The Gentleman Bastards.

A fantastic city built on the ruins left behind by an elder race, Camorr is mostly ruled over by the nobles who are kept safe from the depredations of its many criminals through the Secret Peace, engineered and enforced by the ruthless crime-lord Capa Barsavi. Well, they're mostly kept safe, anyhow. Safe from everyone but the Gentleman Bastards, who frequently use their own greed to relieve them of large portions of their fortunes. But as their latest scheme comes to the attention of the secret police and Capa Barsavi's criminal empire comes under threat from the serial-killing Gray King, Locke and his Gentleman Bastards are going to need every last one of his wits if they, and Camorr, are to survive. It's a good thing he's got more than a few moves...

With a clever, twisty plot, a conniving main character that I really enjoyed, a superb surrounding cast of characters (including a pair of shark-fighting twin sisters and the lovely Jean Tannen, who's the heart of the Bastards if you ask me), genuinely formidable villains and some moments of real emotion (Bug! Eep...), I enjoyed the hell out of this. And with a few things left unresolved (I need to meet Sabetha now, please, and am intrigued by what may have been before Camorr), I imagine I'll be enjoying the hell out of the second in the series very, very soon.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Take This Job and Shove It

We all have those days where we fantasize about the looks on our colleagues faces as we spectacularly end our careers (or is that just me?), whether through a satisfyingly scathing resignation or behaviour so appalling you need to be frogmarched from the building. So, for those of us who'd love to do so but are unable thanks to a need to eat occasionally, I give you my favourite on-screen career enders.

Role Models

It would be bad enough having to consume enough energy drinks to turn your pee green, without then having to go and talk to kids about how your drink is way better than drugs. But having to do it on the same day as being dumped is just asking to be unemployed.

For iPhone/iPad click here.

Bruce Almighty

Being passed over for promotion is bad enough. Finding out about it on-air is a recipe for a firing.

For iPhone/iPad click here.


Some people have no taste. When it's your boss, you may have to find yourself pretending you share those shitty tastes. At least until you don't want to work there anymore.

For iPhone/iPad click here.


As someone who hates most people, a career in customer service is most definitely not for me. I imagine most of my interactions would end like this.

For iPhone/iPad click here.

The Wire

The only thing more satisfying than punching the prick who's made your work-life hell, is knowing that he's also your father-in-law (unembeddable so click pic).

Breaking Bad

Sometimes it takes finding out you've got cancer to inspire the best insults.

For iPhone/iPad click here.


You have to admit, this would be an incredibly satisfying way to leave your hated job.

For iPhone/iPad click here.

American  Beauty

The only thing better than telling your boss what you really think, is doing that and then blackmailing the bastard.

For iPhone/iPad click here.

Fight Club

Or you could do the above, but with added violence and reputation ruining. This clip is edited, unfortunately, so you're just going to have to watch Fight Club again to see it in full.

For iPhone/iPad click here.


Of course, it's much better to simply avoid having to take the bloody job in the first place.

For iPhone/iPad click here.

So, what did I miss?

Friday, 1 August 2014

Murder at the Vicarage, by Agatha Christie

3 stars

When I was a kid, I read a lot of Agatha Christie – although, racking my brain, it’s telling me that the ones I read mostly featured Hercule Poirot, and so I’m fairly certain that this was my first Miss Marple. And you know what? I really quite enjoyed it! This probably means that it’s finally time for me to hang up my leather jacket and put on a twinset instead.

St Mary Mead is a small village where nothing much happens – or so it initially seems. But when Colonel Protheroe is found murdered in the vicarage study – a death that has been expressly wished for by most people inhabiting the village as the Colonel is a deeply unpleasant and irritating man – everyone’s finally got something to talk about. And in a case littered with multiple confessions, red herrings and police who’ll happily discuss the important facts of the case with anyone who’s interested – even going so far as to let some of them take the investigative lead – it’s down to the village busy-body to use her powers of nosiness to sort it all out.

While there are a few flaws – we don’t really see any action at all, but are rather told about it afterwards as characters narrate their witness  statements to others, and it’s not really a mystery you can play along with to solve yourself, due to lacking many facts (unlike Miss Marple, who knows everything, and who can also be quite the cutting bitch at times, something I wholeheartedly approve of) – it was solidly entertaining, helped no doubt by the rather snarky vicar who is our narrator.

These aren’t must-read books by any stretch of the imagination, but in a week of being woken before dawn by my diva-like cats, it was a cosy and undemanding enough way to spend some time.