Sunday, 31 May 2015

Generation of Swine, by Hunter S. Thompson

4 stars

A long overdue re-read that was just as entertaining as the first time around, I started A Generation of Swine on my birthday as a little treat to myself. The time between then and now has been heavily slanted towards work, but the format of the book - articles written for the San Francisco Examiner between '86 and '88 - made it the perfect reading material to fit into my often very short lunch breaks.

A Generation of Swine is a brilliant time capsule, bringing back many of the things that were on our (but especially American) minds in the late '80s: AIDS, the War on Drugs, Ghaddafi, acid rain and the Iran/Contra affair as well as the Presidential campaign for '88, showing that while we may have pretty short memories the world has always been an insanely corrupt and often frightening place, and that the only thing that's really changed are the names of the players and how its documented. For me, Hunter S. Thompson is a huge loss from amongst the best of those documentarians, someone who's miles better than most even when he's not at his peak. 

Never better than when he's at his most vitriolic, the Iran/Contra scandal and the Presidential campaign would give him plenty of material - especially when it came to George Bush Snr:
 "...a truly evil man, a truthless monster with the brains of a king rat and the soul of a cockroach, is about to be sworn in as President of the United States for the next four years...And he will bring his whole gang with him, a mean network of lawyers and salesmen and pimps who will loot the national treasury, warp the laws, mock the rules and stay awake twenty-two hours a day looking for at least one reason to declare war, officially, on some hapless tribe in the Sahara or heathen fanatic like the Ayatollah Khomeini."

 Based on this little jaunt through the decade of "Huge brains, small necks, weak muscles and fat wallets...", I think it might be high time for a re-read of all his other books too.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Mr Mercedes, by Stephen King

3 stars

For retired detective Bill Hodges, Mr Mercedes – the man responsible for driving a stolen Mercedes into a crowd of early morning job-seekers, killing eight and wounding many more – is the one that got away. But Brady Hartsfield, the aforementioned Mr Mercedes (not a spoiler – this book is told from the perspective of both cat and mouse), having spent the intervening years working a couple of jobs and being gross with his mother, isn’t about to let Bill settle into a quiet retirement. Drawing him back into the long cold case, Brady is building to something big…

I’ve been spending the last few years reading chronologically through King’s work. Having hit a bit of a flabby patch and having received this as a birthday gift (thanks, Bri!), it seemed a perfect time to skip a few years ahead of my schedule and find out what King’s up to these days. Mr Mercedes is something of a departure from what I’m used to reading from him; not a horror, but a thriller - though his eye for characters is still present and correct. This is at least as good as others in the thriller genre (although it’s admittedly not one I’ve read as widely in as others), even if it doesn’t rank among his best. For me, King is best when he’s showing us the squirming darkness that hides inside us, which is probably why I found the Brady chapters the most effective, whereas Bill was not only a character I’d felt I’d seen many times before but was also a little too good for my liking (even when neglecting to involve the police when thousands of lives were at risk).

The plot itself was good with some effective scenes well worthy of nail-chewing, but although I really enjoyed this I must admit that I so far prefer King when he’s being a little spooky

Friday, 15 May 2015

Secret Lives, by Gabriella Poole

(Darke Academy #1) - 1 star

Despite barely showing anything approaching intelligence, a judgmental and jumped up eavesdropper from a poor background wins a scholarship to a prestigious but ridiculous school, The Darke Academy, where nobody learns anything because the teachers are too busy being intimidated by the clique of beautiful, blatant moustache-twirlers that lord it over the rest of the student body. Despite hating and looking down on the group, Cassie (our asshole-ish eavesdropper) is desperate to become one of them – ostensibly so that she can find out what their deal is, but mostly so she can make sure they know how much better she is than them because of her poor upbringing. There were so many things that made me rage about this book, I may need some counselling as soon as I finish this review.

In case you couldn’t tell, I despised our ‘heroine’, Cassie, and was at a loss to understand how everyone she met was so impressed by her, despite her doing nothing impressive whatsoever. I hated the stupid school, with its moving country every term (what a logistical nightmare that must be) and I hated the stupid ruling clique, The Few, and nearly strained my eye muscles through doing this every time someone called them by that ridiculously pretentious name:

I hated the ‘love triangle’, and thought its execution was particularly poorly done - although at least Richard, the ‘charming’ fop, actually spent some time with Cassie (even if I still couldn’t see any growth of feelings between them) as opposed to Ranjit who seemed to fall head over heels simply through staring at her (and the fact that she’s such a dead ringer for his dead girlfriend didn’t lend him the air of a tragic romantic hero, but that of a creepy weirdo who was about to pull a Vertigo on her).

And worst of all, I despised the ‘reveal’ which was so poorly executed that I’m still not entirely clear on what manner of monster The Few are – sort of vampire-like but feeding on souls, or life, or something equally vague and apparently something to do with some sort of spirit possession? Quite why an entire school would need to be set up to ‘teach’ these beautiful wankers how to be beautiful wankers was lost on me – as was how it was considered prestigious when the rest of the student body, there to be fed upon by The Few, learnt fuck all thanks to the tosspots derailing every lesson.

In case it isn’t staggeringly clear, I spent most of my time wishing that the school would burn to the ground with Cassie and The Few still in it, and if this had been a book instead of being read on my Kindle I’d have happily added it to the fire.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

The Surgeon's Mate, by Patrick O'Brian

4 stars

Another fabulous instalment in the continued adventures of Captain Jack Aubrey and his BFF Dr Stephen Maturin that I hugely enjoyed, even if it was sadly interrupted by too much work and a new downstairs neighbour who likes to scream things that make no sense at regular intervals.

Having long been at sea, on landing in Nova Scotia Captain Aubrey has found himself having an ill-advised fling with a young flibbertigibbet who, as soon as he finally gets himself home again, is writing copious notes full of declarations of love and pregnancy, along with pleas for cash. He’s also up to the neck in legal business thanks to the sorry decision of becoming involved with a dodgy businessman. Meanwhile, Stephen is giving lectures to the Institut in Paris and finding a place there for the knocked up Diana Villiers – now considered an enemy alien thanks to her dalliance with the American Johnson. It’s just as well then that orders have arrived for Captain Aubrey to sail with Stephen on a most important mission – repatriating some Catalan soldiers who have been hitherto working for the French. Which is made especially difficult by bad weather, a missing chronometer, deadly bays, French ships eager to capture them, French captains eager to torture Stephen, and incarceration in imposing French prisons.

Of course, Jack and my beloved Stephen aren’t the sort to let that sort of thing get them down, and the book is as much of a riot as its predecessors. Once again, their friendship is the glue that holds this all together and I got a good deal of entertainment over Jack’s fretting for Stephen, whether he be on a dangerous spying mission or ill-advisedly clambering among the crosstrees with an equally clumsy lubber (and Jack’s reaction to Stephen and Jagiello’s little jaunt made me snort so hard that my cats scarpered).

I’m now seven books in to this wonderful series and the quality is as high as ever – and it now seems that I’m even becoming comfortable with the naval language that previously flummoxed me (check me out, knowing what a crosstree is! I never thought that would happen). These books are my treat to myself whenever I need picking up a bit – so if my neighbour continues to scream nonsense at me whenever she sees me, prepare to see much more of these popping up on my feed.