Monday, 28 April 2014

Eric, by Terry Pratchett

4 stars

I'm either getting my mojo back or there's something in the air, as I've picked up the next Discworld book starring Rincewind to find myself not only unirritated but positively enjoying him. 

I know, I'm surprised too.

In Faust Eric, Rincewind is accidentally summoned by a teenage demonologist who'd like three wishes granted. Although Rincewind is definitely not a demon he's still bound by the summoning, and so (to Rincewind's surprise) a click of his fingers soon sees him taking a trip around the Discworld as he sees to Eric's wishes - to be ruler of the world, to meet the world's most beautiful woman, and to live forever. As happens with most wish-granting, they don't quite turn out the way Eric expects and he and Rincewind are soon being prepared for sacrifice, popping in to the Tsortean (Trojan) War to discover that, while pleasant, the classics may have exaggerated Elenor's (Helen of Troy's) beauty somewhat, and then having a quick chat with the creator as the Discworld is brought into being, before finding themselves in hell.

Very quick and very amusing, this was a really fun read that sped by in no time at all, and one that's proven I no longer need wrinkle my nose whenever picking up a Rincewind book.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Best Animal Companions

Reading a recent Guardian piece on animal companions in kid's literature, I couldn't help but get pointlessly annoyed at the inclusion of Bartimaeus - an admittedly awesome djinni who however doesn't really ever even so much as take on an animal form. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it did make me start to wonder who my own favourite animal companions were, whether they be found in books, on telly or on the big screen. And so, without any further ado....

Muttley - Wacky Races

Animal companion to one Dick Dastardly and also an ace pilot, Muttley is easily the more intelligent of the two. He also has all the best catchphrases, and one of the world's best laughs.

For iPhone/iPad click here.

Pantalaimon - His Dark Materials

While not strictly an animal but Lyra Belacqua's daemon, Pan at least spends his time flitting between animal forms with his favourites being an ermine, a wildcat, and a mouse. The physical manifestation of her soul, Pan acts as the level-headed, cautious voice of reason for the passionate and reckless Lyra.

Nanook - The Lost Boys

As well as being the best looking dog to have ever graced the cinema screen, Nanook will also save you from vampiric siblings.

For iPhone/iPad click here.
Dog - Good Omens

A Hellhound acting as the Antichrist's protector and companion, Dog started put as a large and ferocious beast.  But Adam, swapped at birth and unaware of his origins, wishes for "one of those dogs that’s brilliantly intelligent and can go down rabbit holes and has one funny ear that always looks inside out" and so Dog soon becomes a small, fun mongrel, along with appropriate attitude adjustment.

Rothko - My Wrongs

Things can go very, very wrong when you're with a dog that thinks it's your lawyer. This one is probably the animal companion most likely to see you get jailed.

For iPhone/iPad click here.
Backup - Veronica Mars

Is our pint-sized PI going to take back-up with her? Of course she is, look at that face! Veronica's wingman on more than one investigation, Backup can inspire caution in even the biggest criminals.

Mouse - Dresden Files

Mouse is a Temple Dog with apparently divine origins. Having entered the life of one Harry Dresden in Blood Rites and deciding to stay, any who recognise Mouse for what he is are usually astounded that he chooses to hang out with Dresden. A huge beast of a dog with incredible intelligence - to the point of fully understanding human speech and battle plans - who emits a faint blue nimbus in battle, possesses supernatural speed and healing and a bark you wouldn't believe, no-one messes with Harry if Mouse has got anything to do with it.

Nighteyes - Robin Hobb's Assassin series

Thanks to the Wit, Robin Hobb's awesome Assassin books starring Fitzchivalry Farseer are also home to some of the best animal companions around. One of the series' main strengths was, to me, how Hobb gave each of the animals distinct personalities and voices. This was particularly true for Nighteyes, the wonderfully sarcastic and pragmatic wolf with whom Fitz shares a bond and who, it turned out, was also capable of completely shredding me emotionally:
"Wait for you? Not likely. I've always had to run ahead of you and show you the way." (Fool's Errand)

Ghost the Fox - Grizzly Man

Some of the loveliest moments in Werner Herzog's incredible Grizzly Man come when Timothy Treadwell is hanging out with Ghost, the playful fox. It should be noted here however that, no matter how awesome they are, bears are NOT companions.
For iPhone/iPad click here.

Drogon - Game of Thrones

When I first drew up this list it was going to include Ghost, Jon Snow's albino dire-wolf, but then I remembered that when the choices include dragons, all other answers are wrong.

There are three of Danaerys' 'children' to choose from, but my favourite has to be the fantastically lairy Drogon, the largest and most aggressive of the three. He's already saved Dany in the Houses of the Undying and roasted a slave-master, but if the series is staying faithful to the books then he's about to become even more of a handful.
For iPhone/iPad click here.

Marcel - Friends

Everyone knows that monkeys are by far and away the very best animal there is. Make him a capuchin with a penchant for copulating with your friends belongings and refusing to listen to anything but his favourite song, and you've just hit the animal companion jackpot.
For iPhone/iPad click here.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Angelfall, by Susan Ee

4 stars

You can usually guarantee that when you pick up a book starring angels, it's going to be lame. As such, and having bought Angelfall for less than a quid, I came to this with seriously low expectations (seriously. After nearly suffering an aneurysm through violent eye-rolling when reading Hush, Hush, and even starting to think that Anne Rice was shit while reading Angel Time, the bar had been set so low you'd have had to start digging to find it). I settled back, relaxed, and prepared to snark and snigger my way through...only to find myself tearing through the book in two sittings with nary an eyeroll and harbouring a secret regret that I'd spunked away book money on the rest of the disappointing Divergent series and therefore wouldn't be able to justify immediately buying the rest of this to my despairing boyfriend (who has just spent months decluttering our flat and could really do without more books already, thank you).

Penryn is a teenage girl in a post-apocalyptic world - one that's been annihilated by angels. It seems Judgement Day has been and gone and the human race been found wanting. In the aftermath of the devastation, survivors not only need to avoid the uber-violent angels still patrolling the skies but human gangs and scavengers too, as well as trying not to become one of the growing number of bodies found gnawed upon by teeth that aren't those of animals.

Penryn is already something of a survivor - she's had to be. With a paranoid schizophrenic mother and a disabled younger sister, Penryn's long taken on the responsibility of taking care of her family. She's also taken virtually every type of self-defence class imaginable, signed up by a mother terrified that Penryn could be the subject of an attack by her own hand. This is going to come in handy from now on, especially after her sister is abducted by angels. To track her down, Penryn must form an unlikely alliance with the angel Raffe, saved by Penryn after being attacked by his own kind and left wingless and dying in the street.

Building a brilliant post-apocalyptic world that doesn't shy away from being horrific when it needs to, starring a heroine that's feisty and funny and lacking inexplicable powers, and a take on angels that I really appreciated (these aren't beings of aching goodness but a bunch of dicks, who amusingly aren't really even sure God exists but would jump off a cliff if Gabriel told them to. Not that jumping off a cliff would affect them in any way what with the wings and all, but you get the drift). There's no insta-love and, although the central relationship between Penryn and Raffe is clearly building towards something more romantic, it's a slow-burner that doesn't feel the need for constant melodramatic pronouncements as well as managing the astonishing feat of only making me 'ugh' once.

Well played, Susan Ee, well played!

The Don't Bother Bin: Hush, Hush

1 star (read in Sept 2010)

This one well and truly proves the old adage that you can't judge a book by its cover as the one on this is truly gorgeous, whereas the contents are some of the lamest writing I have ever read. I shall try to avoid slipping into a rant, but judging by the way this book had me yelling at it every five seconds like a deranged person I can't make any promises.

Borrowing heavily from Twilight including meeting via partnerdom in bio class, rescue from danger in Portland (what is it with Portland?) and a heroine whom everyone inexplicably sees as intelligent when she actually displays the IQ of a stone, this is the tale of Nora Grey, a girl with the power to make fallen angels abandon their plans of murder and fall in love with her instead simply by being an apparently schizophrenic, blushing and spluttering moron. The angel, Patch (kudos on the sexy name there, doesn't at all put me in mind of a small, yappy dog) apparently has eyes that 'didn't play by the rules' (what, they smell instead of see? Or are they Marty Feldman-esque?)

Patch (snigger) is meant to come across as a sexy bad boy, but instead comes off as a psychotic creep in desperate need of a shoeing - and this is coming from somebody who was desperately in love (lust) with 90% of the population of HBO's Oz (ahhh, Ryan O' that's how you do a sexy bad boy).

The writing and plot is as bitty and all over the shop as Nora's personality, with events cropping up and characters making decisions that are wildly implausible even within a story set amongst the supernatural, functioning merely to get us to the next 'plot' point. Amongst the many, many things that irked me are:

* Coach, the bio teacher, making Patch and Nora tell the class what they look for in a potential mate, simply so we can shoehorn in some sexual tension. Shut up Coach, and behave like a teacher actually would.

* Nora taking iron pills in front of Patch, while thinking her anemia is her vulnerable secret and that she should try to keep him from finding out. 

* This is an 'intelligent' girl, remember, and yet we have her walking down a dark alley in a scary neighbourhood during a freezing cold night and trading her hat and coat (with her phone in the pocket) with a homeless person in exchange for directions, simply so we can shoehorn in another mistaken identity attack.

* Nora instantly wearing less make-up the moment Patch tells her she should, and continuing to spend time with him even though she's mostly ultra-paranoid and terrified of him because, after all, he's hot. Next she'll be cutting herself off from all her friends and excusing her black eyes because it just shows how much he loves her really.

* After beating Patch's chest with her fists we have him telling her that, having seen her moves, he's sure she can take the angel of death that's after her. Angels of death are either nowhere near as badass as they sound, or their Kryptonite is being punched in the tits. Don't try and make us believe that our heroine can defend herself when you've actually only shown us that she is completely incapable.

* After spending most of the book thinking Patch is trying to kill her, he confesses to both wanting to and nearly doing so twice already. In return she strokes his scars.

On the plus side, my edition had a strange habit of sometimes replacing the y's on the end of words with a ). This led to the best moment of the entire book, when Patch told Nora:

You're getting cock).

Childish, but awesome.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Imajica, by Clive Barker

2 stars

Earth as we know it is only one of five parallel worlds, or Dominions, and is the only one that remains unaware of the others’ existence. Attempts made in the past to Reconcile these Dominions have been disastrous, leading to a secret society being founded to keep the traces of magic from our world. But the time has come for the Reconciliation to be attempted once more…

With some books, timing can be everything. Imajica, a huge book full of extraordinary worlds and beings, an epic plot, and sensuous prose with a leaning towards the philosophical and mystical, should have been read in long stretches where there was little else demanding my time. Instead I read it in 10 minute snatches wherever I could grab them, usually with constant interruptions, over the course of a fortnight. Due to this, each time I picked it up it would then take me a while to get back into it again, only to find my attention wandering as I waded through the detailed writing and heavy themes (and I wasn’t always helped by the vague confusion and instinct that most of the characters seemed to operate under).

Now that I’ve finished the book I can look back and admire the scope of what I’ve read, but the benefit of hindsight hasn’t quite managed to cancel out my actual reading experience. This, and a smidge too much mysticism for my tastes, has dragged its score down from a potential 4 to a distracted 2.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Fables, Vol 1: Legends in Exile, by Bill Willingham

4 stars

A graphic novel in which fairytale beings live in New York? And the Big Bad Wolf is a private dick? It's like someone wrote this excellent introduction to the Fable World (in which the aforementioned Bigby Wolf investigates who killed Rose Red, the sister of Fabletown's deputy Mayor, Snow White) just for me...

It was fun to see new takes on familiar characters - apart from the Big Bad Wolf and Snow White we also meet Old King Cole, Bluebeard, Jack (of the Beanstalk fame, now a grifter) and Beauty and the Beast (whose marriage troubles made me snigger).

The plot itself was straightforward and enjoyable, if not mind-blowing, but I love the world that's been set up and I can't wait to read more.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

And she's off!

Today was my last working day until the 22nd.

For the past few annual leave-less months I've not had a clue what the hell Pharrell has been babbling about. But today I do, and I could dance like these kids:

For iPhone/iPad click here.

Happy holidays to me!

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Cold Days, by Jim Butcher

3.5 stars

No longer mostly dead thanks to the combined efforts of Mab and Demonreach, Harry's back in the material world in time to save it, again.

Now Mab's Winter Knight thanks to the deal he made back in Changes, his first mission is an ugly one - going after Mab's own daughter. But Maeve's a slippery customer, and may have some compelling reasons up her sleeve (I guess that would be her Wizard's Sleeve, as she spends the book mostly naked)  for Harry to take out Mab instead.

To make things even simpler, he has an awesomely deadly new assistant for his mission (the Cat Sith) who isn't best pleased to be serving him, and most of the Winter Court is out for his blood. Oh, and Demonreach is about to blow, which doesn't bode well for the world considering that the island's purpose is to serve as a demonic Oz - a maximum security prison for the most nightmarish beasties to have ever been unleashed on the world.

Bursting to the seams with action, sometimes I felt there was a little too much this time around, with wave after wave of assault sometimes disorienting me and making me forget just who was after Harry now and why it was important.

I was also a little nonplussed by his friends reactions to his reappearance in their lives. Considering how fucked up we found them all in Ghost Story, and the hoops they made him jump through to prove his really was Harry, I was expecting a bigger reaction than the collective shrug that came from everyone bar Thomas and Mouse.

And finally in my list of niggles, whilst I'm aware that Harry has always been a bit of a dick when it comes to women, I am really not keen on the new, rapey Harry that's been wrought by the mantle of Winter, nor the reactions of the ladies he'd quite like to rape (or the fact that women everywhere are constantly either oozing sex or defined by the lack of sex they ooze). Harry is, in fact, getting dangerously close to me wanting everyone to punch him in the throat.  With the set-up for the next book that came at the book's climax, it's a situation that will probably only get worse as he works out the dynamics of his relationship with the new Winter Lady.

Still, I do love the fantastic flourishes we get whenever dealing with the fae, and with Toot still around and managing to not want to rape everyone he meets, there's still someone at least for me to wholeheartedly throw my support behind. 

But Harry - consider yourself warned...