Monday, 30 June 2014

Dhampir, by Barb and JC Hendee

3 stars

Apparently Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Lord of the Rings, everyone who knows me will realise that this is the exact kind of sentence designed to make me buy things. 

But, aside from the elf and the vampire slaying, I'd say this is more reminiscent of Terry Gilliam's Brothers Grimm, with two grifters finding themselves trapped by the reputations built by their cons into battling the undead for real.

From the very first it's clear that Magiere, with blood-red highlights in her hair, isn't quite like everyone else. Shunned as a child due to suspicious parentage, she's since hardened herself to society and now makes her way from superstitious village to superstitious village, fleecing the inhabitants with the help of her half-elf partner, Leesil. Until one night when she's set upon by a creature not unlike those she's been supposedly killing, and she decides to jack it all in and start over as a tavern landlady. But the vampires living in the town she's chosen to settle in have other ideas, and so Magiere and Leesil (and his magic dog, Chap) must become what they've previously claimed to be.

Whilst I enjoyed this one - it had some decent action and characters, and I particularly enjoyed the bad guys and their group dynamic (in particular, the triangle between Rashed, Teesha and her dearly departed hubby who she's been slowly falling out of love with) - there were also a few niggles; Magiere's powers didn't really make much sense to me until they were fully explained near the end by the exposition fairy Welstiel, while the idea that someone tooling around with a half-elf would scoff at the existence of vampires struck me as a bit snort-worthy.

Not a bad read at all - in fact this was a nice, easy diversion for a few days, but it won't see me beating down the door of the bookstore for more.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Nights at the Circus, by Angela Carter

4.5 stars

All Cockney but definitely no sparrow, Fevvers in instead part-woman, part-swan. Hatched from an egg, abandoned on a doorstep, and raised in a bordello, Fevvers has grown up to be the world’s greatest aerialiste. Listening to her tall tale whilst sat amongst her unwashed knickers and tokens from admirers is journalist Jack Walser. Soon smitten, Jack joins the circus in which she’s the star attraction, and then we’re off...

Instead of joining the rest of the crowd in the stands, we take a peek under the tent-flaps where it reeks not of greasepaint and cotton candy but of stale vodka-breath and tiger shit, and we get to see the people (and animals) behind those painted on smiles. Run by Colonel Kearney, who takes advice from his pig Sybil, the circus’s menagerie of characters include the brutal Ape-Man and his incredible troop of chimps, a Strong Man who’s learning that love doesn’t mean possession and a troop of sad and, at times, homicidal clowns. But more than anything it’s the female characters, presented in all of their fleshy, earthy glory, that stand out and none more so than Fevvers – although she’s given more than a run for her money by poor, horribly abused Mignon, clothed in bruises and crusted semen, being reborn in the loving arms of the mute tiger-taming Princess.

Brilliantly mixing the magic of fairytales and the stinkily real, Angela Carter is one very interesting writer indeed.

Friday, 20 June 2014

The House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton

5 stars

To me, reading Edith Wharton is like reading Jane Austin's older, more scathing, worldly-wise and scandalous cousin. House of Mirth is what might have been had one of Jane's heroines not managed to snag a husband.

Lily Bart moves in somewhat rarified circles. One of the darlings of New York society, Lily is very different from her friends in one important respect; whilst they're all filthy rich, she isn't, and instead lives on the largesse of her friends and other benefactors. Now 29 and still unmarried, Lily needs to snag a husband if she's to continue to live the life she prefers. Being incredibly beautiful, she has no shortage of suitors, but isn't particularly keen on any of those options.
Trouble is, she wasn't raised to be anything other than a gorgeous ornament and so when the sexual power that makes men fall at her feet is used to oust her from the social circles in which she moves, Lily finds that she is useless for any kind of life other than the decorative.

Incisive both when dissecting the hypocritical high society that Lily moves in and in laying bare the character of our brilliantly flawed heroine, it was also rather emotionally affecting come the end. I both loved Lily and wanted to reach into the book to give her a shake over some of her attitudes or choices (or urge her to ruin Mrs Dorset), and was pleasantly surprised that this book didn't take me where I was expecting it to go.

Highly recommended.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Mr Darcy, Vampire by Amanda Grange

1 star

This was gifted to me a few years ago in the midst of the shoving the supernatural into classics phase and I can see why it was chosen - I love Pride and Prejudice and I love vampires. However, the twenty thousand games that took place yesterday in the Whatever Cup enabled me to find out that the two really don't mix well.

If you're coming to this book hoping for a bit of throat-ripping to go with your socialising, or even a bit of bodice-ripping, you're going to be disappointed. Instead you'll get 200+ pages of Lizzy being dragged around Europe on her honeymoon, wondering if Darcy still loves her as he fails to consummate the marriage and looks tormented, before a quick flash of fang at the end when Lizzy realises he's a vampire and turns him human again through the power of - you guessed it - true love.

It probably doesn't help that a book with Vampire in the title only got bite-y for a wee bit in the last quarter, but it definitely doesn't help that Grange chose as her basis a book and a heroine that both sparkle with wit, when hers really doesn't. 

Still, it did distract from the fact that there's still football on my telly, so there's always that.

Company of Liars, Karen Maitland

4.5 stars

Giving me back my reading mojo after a run of books that I’ve really not enjoyed is Company of Liars, a brilliantly atmospheric and compelling journey across the England of 1348 – oozing with mud, drowning in rain and festering with plague – a book I picked up at the beginning of my day off and was unable to put down again until I’d finished it just after midnight on the same day.

As the plague takes hold of the coast and starts to make its steady way across the land, nine strangers band together to try and outrun the death that is snapping at their heels, only to find that the secrets each of them harbour may just be even deadlier.

Maitland proves to be more than adept at bringing to Medieval England to gruesome life with the sounds, sights, smells and suspicions that permeated the land all in starring roles, alongside the vivid characters.

I’m very happy to see that Company of Liars is just one of many historical fictions to Maitland’s name, and I will definitely be picking up more.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Screen Schools

Your school days are apparently supposed to be some of the best of your lives. I can’t quite see that myself, as I wasn’t legally able to buy alcohol and cigarettes then, but if I’d gone to any one of these screen schools instead I might have felt differently.

Harley High (Heartbreak High)

One word: Rivers. 

Liberty High School (My So Called Life)

When I was fifteen I’d have wanted to go to Liberty High because of Jordan Catalano. Now I want to go so that I can give Angela a good shake and tell her to go out with that nice Brian Krakow boy instead, and then hug Ricky.

For iPhone/iPad click here.

Rydell High (Grease)

Whilst I sincerely doubt that I’d have been allowed to join the Pink Ladies, who wouldn’t want to go to a school where everyone wears 50s clothes and is forever bursting into song? (Except for NikNak, that is)

For iPhone/iPad click here.

Lee High (Dazed and Confused)

Aside from driving around listening to great music, I could also tell Wooderson that he really needs to stop hanging out with high school kids before he gets put on some sort of register.

For iPhone/iPad click here.

Sunnydale High (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

OK, so the likelihood is pretty high that if I hadn’t already been one of the random bodies stuffed into the school lockers, I’d have definitely been eaten by the giant Mayor-Snake that ruined Graduation. But at least I’d have never had to go out and work. Also: Great library (just don’t speak Latin in front of the books).

West or East Dillon High (Friday Night Lights)

This may come as a surprise as I am virtually allergic to all forms of sport, but everyone needs a Coach & Mrs Taylor in their life. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose!

McKinley High (Freaks and Geeks)

There’s quite a lot of things I’d like to do at McKinley High School - take P.E. with Biff Tannen, try not to smirk through a guidance session with Mr Rosso, listen to Nick talk about his 29-piece drum set and watch Kim Kelley’s latest smackdown while praying she doesn’t pick on me next. But, most of all, I want to hang out with Bill.

For iPhone/iPad click here.

Rushmore Academy (Rushmore)

Not only is there a chance you’ll run into Bill Murray (although you’ll also bump into his awful twins), I also want to take every one of those extra-curricular activities (especially calligraphy) and I really, really want to be in that play.

San Dimas High School (Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure)

Why San Dimas? Firstly, because everyone knows San Dimas High School football rules. Secondly, because my teenage self would (and did) have a massive crush on Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan. Thirdly, because hanging out at the K-mart might have meant I’d meet George Carlin. And lastly, because who wouldn’t want to sit through that history report?

Shermer High School (The Breakfast Club)

While Shermer High does feature twin horrors in the form of Saturday detentions and a headteacher that dresses like Barry Manilow, I could have spent my weeks slunking around and worshipping John Bender from afar.

For iPhone/iPad click here.

For those of you wondering where Neptune is, despite the attendance of Veronica Mars it was disqualified on the grounds of being mostly filled with giant asswipes. What else did I miss?

Friday, 13 June 2014

Space Captain Smith, by Toby Frost

1 star

I ought to have loved Space Captain Smith, a silly space romp starring a moustachioed hero heading a crew consisting of a skull-coveting alien and a renegade sex toy, and facing off a race of evil space ants to protect a wispy new age lady who dresses like she’s from Totnes. 

It’s possible that I’m still holding a grudge against books that aren’t Eleanor and Park, or I may have simply had a sense of humour failure. Either way, this pun-tastic comedy fell flat for me with most of the jokes barely managing to raise a smile, let alone a laugh, and the nods to other works like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and A Clockwork Orange just made me remember how much better those books were.

Friday, 6 June 2014

The Way Home, by George Pelecanos

1 star

I was led to buy this book by the little tag above the author's name, telling me it was 'by one of the award winning writers of The Wire'. Sadly, The Way Home did not live up to the standard this suggests. The Wire was compelling and essential viewing, peopled by characters that all felt real to me:

The Way Home is pedestrian storytelling peopled by characters that could have been interesting if given a chance, only for Pelecanos to decide not to show any growth or change but simply tell us about it instead, usually in one short line.

The story of Chris Flynn, from attitude-filled teenage criminal to straightened-out adult, 'struggling' with temptation when coming across a bag filled with money and apparently led into 'a deadly game of cat and mouse', the dispassionate writing style at first seemed to fit this particular type of book rather well. However, as the book progressed I found that instead it felt like I was being read to in the most boringly monotone voice I could imagine, which only highlighted how little I cared about what was happening.

This, combined with the 'tell, don't show' mode of writing employed, served to remove all dramatic tension and left me scratching my head a little about the 'struggle' Chris apparently went through (which was dealt with in a line) and the 'deadly game of cat and mouse' which only really came up in the last stretch of the story and barely involved Chris, climaxing without him.

As this was so far below the standard I expected when picking it up, I can only assume that The Way Home is not one of the best works from George Pelecanos. However, I won't be bothering to pick up any more to find out.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell

All the stars

This probably isn't going to be a proper review.

In my head, I'm still busy making it mix-tapes full of Smiths songs and doodling its name on all of my books, in between wondering what happened to both Eleanor and Park after the book and how life is treating them (I hope it's being kind). If I could think about them during English, I would (it'll have to be during a team meeting instead).

The story of Eleanor (picked on and defensive), and Park (quiet comic-book fan) finding and falling for one another, simply and beautifully written (to the point I wanted to underline everything), this is a wonderful little slice of perfection that nearly had me inhaling it all in one sitting - I made myself save some for the following morning knowing I'd be bereft on finishing (and I was).

The sort of book that had me wanting to shove it at random strangers in the street, yelling 'THIS IS FUCKING AWESOME!' in between crying at its loveliness, it's also the sort of book that will make me hold a grudge against any others I read for a while for not being This Book, which will now be bought for the birthdays of absolutely everybody I know.

I love you, Eleanor and Park.