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RIP8main200So it’s September tomorrow and that means the start of one of my favourite blogging event’s, Carl’s RIP VIII and the opportunity to read scary and thrilling stuff along with lots of other members of the book blogging community.

As is traditional I have pulled together a book list out of which I hope to be able to meet Peril the Second, where I need to read four books that fit the description of perilous. I’d love to be able to read them all, but we’ll see how that goes.

My list is (in no particular order):rip8peril2nd

A pretty good selection I think, and I’m looking forward to all of them.

rip8perilonscreenI may also take part in Peril on the Screen but no real plans on what that might involve, though it is really about time I re-watched one of my Desert Island Films, Son of Frankenstein with *sigh* Basil Rathbone.

IMG_0120Every so often a book comes along that everyone seems to be reading and talking about all at once, and because I can be a bit perverse I tend to avoid them until the puff dies down a bit, then I dive in when no-one else is looking and often fall in love with them quietly in a corner. I did that most recently with Gone Girl (which I thought was great as you can see here) and was going to do the same this time round with Lauren Beukes’ The Shining Girls which only came out in April. But something drew me in, possibly the tagline; after all who can resist the idea of “the girl who wouldn’t die hunting the killer who shouldn’t exist”? Certainly not me.

So the book opens in Chicago in the 1920s where we meet Harper Curtis who I think its fair to say is not a nice man at all. He’s in pretty dire straits when we first come across him, beaten and hunted, but he finds himself in possession of a key to a very particular House one that allows him access to other times (and for that reason really deserves to be capitalised). Harper is a killer, hunting down the shining girls, young women of promise and vitality whom he taunts and murders rather brutally. But he meets his match in Kirby Mazrachi who astonishingly survives his horrendous attack and when the police cannot (understandably) find her would-be murderer begins to investigate and comes across evidence which points to a situation which cannot possibly be true. But of course is. And she goes after him.

The Shining Girls is absolutely brilliant, a fabulously clever idea and a wonderfully constructed book which twists and loops through time as we follow both Harper and Kirby. The structure of the novel is complex but never confusing though it must have required a phenomenal amount of organisation to keep the various stories straight over 80 years of events. The young women whom Harper kills are all proper characters; we learn quite a bit about each of them and that makes what happens to them so awful. Kirby is a wonderful character, trying to make sense of the terrible thing that was done to her but still flawed and damaged as you would expect. Harper is just a dreadful human being; it isn’t clear whether the House “makes” him do these awful things or whether he would have done something like this anyway, it’s just the spread of his attacks over time which keeps him hidden. But totally totally odious.

I really loved the mix of time-travel and serial killer and I appreciated that not all of the answers are handed to you as a reader. The situation is just as it is and I found that was good enough for me. Definitely a book worthy of re-reading.

The QuarryThis is a really sad review to write, because as everyone will know The Quarry is the last book completed by Iain Banks before his untimely death a month or so ago, a real loss to the world of books. And as everyone probably also knows, one of the main characters is dying of cancer, a fact that Banks made much of in his last interviews, lamenting the lateness of his research amidst a lot of gallows humour. I was very lucky to have met him briefly at a book signing in London where the Book God and I queued to get our copy of Excession signed and had a little chat about The Culture and Michael Moorcock. He was a twinkly man with a dry sense of humour and a lot of interest to say and he will be missed by his fans.

His last book centres around Kit who is 18 and somewhere on the autistic spectrum. He is also in the middle of the last weeks of his father Guy’s illness, cancer which is at an advanced stage and, with only the help of a sort of housekeeper, Kit is the main carer. the events of the book take place over one weekend where hid father’s closest friends come to visit, say their last goodbyes and, which seems to be important for all of them, look for a video recording of them when they were students which if it got into the public domain would have a real effect on all of their lives. Kit assumes that it is a sex tape but that isn’t made clear for quite a while, because of course the tape is the McGuffin that kicks off a book which is about family, death, grief, friendship and growing up different. Kit doesn’t have effective people skills and some of the humour in the book is watching him work out how best to interact with the people around him, what is and isn’t acceptable to say.

I really liked The Quarry, though some of the characters in the book are quite unpleasant, not least Guy himself who is suffering physically and mentally and takes every opportunity to launch invective at the people around him. Thankfully Kit is a superb character, complex and simple all at once, trying his best. The thing he wants to know most of all is who is mother is, something that has always been kept hidden from him.

This is a very funny book in places, and although the subject matter takes on a whole new significance when you factor in that Banks got his diagnosis as he was coming to the end of the writing process he doesn’t hold back, and some of the passages where Guy lets loose how he feels are astonishingly bitter though you don’t get that sense from Banks that he necessarily agrees, because it is a book with quite a lot of hope in it.

So, a story that is really worth reading, sad as I said that there will be no more written, though I have two or three of his works that I still haven’t read so something for me to look forward to at least.

Broken HomesIt is no secret to anyone who reads this blog regularly (and there must be someone out there, surely?) how much I like Ben Aaronvitch’s Rivers of London series, and how thrilled I was to get my copy of Whispers of Underground signed at an event last year. Sadly I couldn’t make the London event this year but no matter, as soon as my copy of Broken Homes arrived I dived (dove?) right in and devoured the thing in short order.

So much as before we have Peter Grant, PC and wizard, his boss Nightingale and colleague Jenny still on the hunt for the rather nasty Faceless Man, still interacting with the various incarnations of the Thames and its tributaries and still being dragged in to any case with a whiff of the supernatural. This story starts with an odd car crash, some mutilated bodies and *gasp* the need to go south of the river to work out exactly what, if anything the connection is with a particularly unusual housing complex designed by the somewhat eccentric Erik Stromberg.

As you might expect I really loved this and its mixture solid police work and, well, magic. The story really clips along. As always (and its perhaps a bit of a cliché to say this, but hey, this is how things become clichés) London itself is a significant character and also as always I learned quite a bit that I didn’t know about the city that I live and work in. Although I think all the books are strong this seems to me to be the best since Rivers of London itself.

And the end was Oh!

Followed by Ah!

Followed by a rush to the web to find out when the next volume is due because I want to see where this is all going.

Absolutely great stuff.

The TwelveFear the Dark says the front cover of Justin Cronin’s The Twelve, the sequel to his really quite popular The Passage which I read and reviewed last year. Reading that old review it was pretty clear that I expected to plunge into the newer novel quite soon but after Christmas but I got diverted as I often do by new bright and shiny things so here we are in August and I’m only getting around to writing about it now having read it a few weeks ago.

I also notice from that older review that I had picked up some mixed vibes about The Twelve, and perhaps that’s why I put off reading it, but never fear I have got there in the end and there is something to be said for reading dark horror on very warm and sunny summer days.

So The Twelve is  bit timey-wimey in as much as it takes as back to the events of the original novel as seen by a different group of characters all so that a rather nasty villain can receive a proper set-up before h forges on to create havoc in world fully of vampirey things. Most of the (not exactly) flashbacks are designed to give us a more detailed back story for characters old and new so that the big climax (and it is really quite a big one) will have the appropriate amount of oomph. There was at least one person i didn’t expect to be there at all and although i was pleased to see that person (despite what they were going through) it did kind of undercut the “what just happened there?!) last couple of paragraphs of The Passage.

It’s not as compelling as the first novel but I still enjoyed it a great deal, reading it in huge page-turning chunks. There’s a nice set up for the last book in the trilogy although I’ve no idea when that’s coming out.

So pretty cool all in all.

Scan 2The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs by Jack Gantos is one of those books that I didn’t know existed until I saw a review of it on someone’s blog (and this is where I kick myself because I didn’t make a note of where I saw it so can’t properly the credit the person concerned) and was just so intrigued by the premise that I had to get a copy.

It is the tale of Ivy who at the age of seven, spending an Easter Sunday with her mother whom she adores if not downright worships along with the elderly Rumbaugh twins Dolph and Ab in their pharmacy where her mother worked as a young woman, finds out something rather astonishing – the twins have apparently “preserved” their deceased mother (stuffed her to be accurate). This is the latest manifestation of the love curse of the Rumbaughs – obsessional mother love beyond the understanding of most people.

Coupled with a talent for taxidermy.

As Ivy tells us at the beginning of the novel (out of concern that we might think she was being unnecessarily Gothic or exaggerating her story for effect):

I am simply going to tell you a plain and true small-town story about a family love curse that is so passionate and so genuinely expressed that it transcends everything commonly accepted about how love reveals itself – or conceals itself.

For it becomes clear as the tale unfolds between Ivy at seven and at sixteen when the identity of her father is more or less confirmed, that she is also a victim of this curse, and she starts experimenting with taxidermy in preparation for the inevitable day when her mother dies.

This is a wonderfully odd, macabre little book which I thoroughly enjoyed. Ivy is a wonderful character, obsessional yes but it’s not entirely her fault after all. The background to the love curse is told with great verve, all the characters are vivid and I read it in a couple of sittings, wondering what was going to happen (though having a pretty good guess).

One of the delights of my copy is the notes at the end, where the author talks about his inspiration for the story and there is some material on  Oedipus, taxidermy and Psycho, all for obvious reasons.

A real gem.

ScanA new Neil Gaiman novel is always something to look forward to, and I pre-ordered my copy of The Ocean at the End of the Lane as soon as I was able, knowing that whatever the tale being told, it would be something special.

The book starts with our narrator in the present day, having come back to his hometown for some unspecified family event, and finds himself turning up at an old farmhouse at the end of the lane where hi house was. We then flashback some forty years to when he was a little boy, a very unhappy child living with his parents and his sister, not at all at ease with the world around him. The family’s lodger steals their car and commits suicide in it, troubled by money and having betrayed his friends. And it’s this event that puts our narrator in real danger, because it unleashes on the world some rather nasty things from beyond our world, and the only people who understand what it means and can help to put it right are a young girl, Lettie Hempstock, her mother and grandmother who all live in the farm with the duckpond that might be something significantly more than it appears.

I thought this was a lovely story, capturing magic and legend and myth, the unpleasantness of adults and the horror of things beyond our ken. There are some astonishingly grotesque characters, particularly the sinister nanny Ursula Monckton who is definitely something else. And at the centre is a little boy who makes a friend and has to find the courage to fight for what he cares about. It’s a difficult book to write about in some ways because it’s the atmosphere that’s so important. The best thing perhaps to repeat the quote by Neil Gaiman on the back cover of my edition:

[it] is a novel of childhood and memory. It is a story of magic, about the power of stories and how we face the darkness inside each of us. It’s about fear, and love, and death, and families. But, fundamentally, I hope, at its heart, it’s a novel about survival

I think that really does sum up the themes that he explores, and I was totally bowled over. Gaiman has such a strong, loyal following that there is always a danger that you review the man and his body of work rather than the individual story at hand. And there is a tendency for his stuff to build up such anticipation that there is a danger of being disappointed (like my friend Silvery Dude who thought it was but not up there with his favourite Neverwhere)

I’m not sure its my favourite of Gaiman’s books (for me that’s a tie between American Gods and The Graveyard Book) but it is remarkable and one that I plan to re-read in the future. A sweet tale with something very dark at the centre.

Scan 8This is a short review of what is a short, terrible and nasty book. Nasty not because of how it is written but because of the subject matter, a fictionalised version of what is unbelievably a true story.

The events of Eat Him If You Like by Jean Teule take place in France at the height of the Franco-Prussian War. France is not faring well in the conflict, its high summer and the Perigord countryside is suffering from an appalling drought. In the middle of this a young nobleman, Alain de Moneys, sets off for the local fair, one of his last outings before he joins his regiment. By the end of the day this by all accounts pleasant young man will be dead, brutalised, beaten and murdered by his neighbours.

This is a powerful example of how a misheard remark can lead to otherwise ordinary people turning into a bloody-thirsty mob hell-bent on violence. Alain’s death is truly dreadful, but what is just as terrible is how otherwise decent people can do terrible things when they are part of a crowd, and how powerless Alain’s friends are to help him.

Strong stomachs needed for this one.

ScanAs part of my current mild obsession with all things Gatsby and Fitzgerald related (and yes, this year I really really am going to read Tender is the Night after nearly thirty years of thinking about it) caused by the release of the latest film version (reviewed here) I have been keeping my eye out for any other books that touch on the subject matter.

Towards the end of May I happened to be meeting Silvery Dude for drink after work and agreed for a change to rendezvous in the rather nice little Foyles bookshop under the Royal Festival Hall. As is often the case His Dudeness was delayed by work and so I found myself in the shop by myself and because where books are concerned I have no self-control I ended up buying quite a few volumes, including Careless People by Sarah Churchwell – the eye-catching cover and the subtitle “murder, mayhem and the invention of The Great Gatsby were totally irresistible even though I’m not supposed to be buying hardbacks in more (for reasons of space, you understand).

This is one of those books where you want to grab the attention of the person sitting next to you, say “did you now…” and then read them a quote. It is full of fascinating information about all sorts of things. The structure is interesting, alternating  as it does between Scott and Zelda and their move east so that he can write what would become Gatsby and a notorious unsolved murder case which may possibly have had some influence on the novel. I will admit that I found the switch between the two elements a bit distracting at first but soon warmed to it and enjoyed the juxtaposition of the Fitzgeralds’ lifestyle and the incredibly casual and astonishingly incompetent approach to investigating the death of Eleanor Mills and her married lover. It has the proverbial cast of thousands so definitely a book to dip into or read in small chunks as it ranges widely across all sorts of subjects .

On women drinking in the age of the speakeasy;

You were thought to be good at holding your liquor in those days if you could make it to the ladies before throwing up

On love:

There are all kinds of love in the world but never the same love twice

On fact versus fiction:

Unlike fiction, reality has no obligation to be realistic.

However my personal favourite snippet of information, fact fans, is that the first recorded use of the word “motherfucker” was in 1918. That probably says a lot about me.

Although the book focusses on the period around the writing of Gatsby there is an epilogue which looks at Fitzgerald from 1925 to 1940 when he died suddenly just before Christmas, far too young and if indeed he didn’t fulfil his early promise he did leave us a with a masterpiece, for which we should all be grateful.

Oh and when I tried to blame the Silvery One for my purchases the Book God pointed out that I should have stood outside the shop with my face pressed against the glass. Go figure.

Scan 7So, this is another one of those books that’s been on Mount TBR for what seems like forever. It’s been on and off various challenge book lists from RIP to 24-Hour-Readathon and back again but poor thing never got read. And that’s despite a strong recommendation from the Book God to whom it actually belongs.

The Portrait of Mrs Charbuque by Jeffrey Ford has a tantalising premise. Imagine that you are a tremendously successful portrait painter at the end of the nineteenth century, do famous and feted that you have become a bit jaded. Imagine that you are accosted outside your home in New York and offered and enormous sum of money to paint the portrait of a woman known only as Mrs Charbuque. But of course there is a catch; you have to paint her portrait without ever seeing her, based only on the sound of her voice and the answers to the questions you put to her and the conversations you may have. Would you do it?

Our hero Piero Piambo decides that he has nothing to lose, and the that the additional money he will be given if the final portrait looks like her will allow him to step back from the world of high society and paint only for himself.

In the background are his relationships with friends and lovers, the world of turn-of-the-century New York and a growing obsession with finding out more about the mysterious Mrs C, all the while dodging her deranged and jealous husband while a series of rather nasty murders is being carried to. Are all these things connected?

Well, of course they are, don’t be silly.

I really liked this book, largely because I took a shine to Piero himself, rather a decent cove who gets dragged into something even stranger than it at first appeared.  It has a lovely atmosphere and there is a nicely realistic love story in the mix, it’s creepy in a cosy way, and I don’t mean that as a criticism. It was one of those enjoyably comfortably satisfying books to read. For some reason it made me think a bit of Kings of Eternity though I have no idea why as they seem to have little in common; perhaps it was tone or something, not sure.

Saw the likely end coming before I got there but didn’t mind that at all as it was delivered in a nicely over the top manner.

But this is a good read for a rainy afternoon. I liked it so much I made Silvery Dude buy a copy.

Bride of the Book God

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Scottish, in my fifties, love books but not always able to find the time to read them as much as I would like. I’m based in London and happily married to the Book God.

I also blog at Bride of the Screen God (all about movies and TV) and The Dowager Bride, if you are interested in ramblings about stuff of little consequence

If you would like to get in touch you can contact me at brideofthebookgod (at) btinternet (dot) com.

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August 2013