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823763Sigh. I have had two attempts at reading this book, once last year in hardback as part of the Long Awaited Reads Challenge and then again last year (running into this one) when my friend MargaRita give me a copy of the paperback as a gift. But for some reason I just cannot get into it at all, and as reported in last week’s Sunday Salon post I have finally thrown in the towel (and as a fan of H2G2, I am a hoopy frood who always knows where my towel is, even if only for the purpose of throwing it in) and just stopped.

I don’t normally have a problem setting aside books I’m not enjoying; life is too short and there are far too many books in the world to persevere with those that you aren’t enjoying, but for some reason I feel quite bad about this one. On the surface I really should enjoy it – historical fiction with integrated logical magic – but although I was quite happy while I was actually reading it, when I put it down I had no desire to pick it up again. So sadly, having got to page 148 with no appearance from Jonathan Strange, I have retired from the field.

I am still quite keen to see the TV series when the BBC broadcasts it in the spring, and who knows I may make another attempt at some point, but for now enough is enough *sad face*

20706317What’s it all about?

So Harry August is one of a relatively small group of people who live their lives, die, and are born again in exactly the same place and time, to live more or less the same life all over again. Unlike other forms of reincarnation individuals like Harry remember the details of all of their previous incarnations. While waiting to die at the end of his eleventh life he is visited by a young girl who tells him that the end of the world is coming, faster than expected, and that he is the only person who can do something about it. Cue lives twelve to fifteen.

Why did I want to read it?

I think I must have seen a review or two about The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August because I remember downloading it, but unfortunately can’t remember where I heard about it. I know it was a Richard and Judy book thingy choice but I’m pretty sure I found that out afterwards. I decided to read it now because I was due to attend a book event for the launch of Claire North’s new novel, Touch.

What did I think of it?

Quite simply I couldn’t put this down and have been recommending it all over the place since I finished it in the middle of the night last weekend. Harry is a complex character and not entirely likeable I think, though of course you become very attached to him as you live his various lives with him. Seeing how he makes use of his knowledge of the future (only partly to make money on which to live), how he connects with others like himself, the friendships he makes and how he deals with the problem with which he has been presented is just fascinating.

It’s beautifully written, more complex than the structure might suggest, and has a very satisfying conclusion. I don’t want to say too much more about the story than I already have because seeing how it all works out in his various lives is one of the great joys. I will say that to me it shares similar themes with Life After Life, All You Need is Kill and parts of The Bone Clocks, but only tangentially, and is very much it’s own book.

Claire North is really delightful in person, and I had the chance to ask her about the writing of the book and how she kept track of Harry’s lives and in particular what age he was at any particular time; I was thinking wall chart but delighted to find a spreadsheet was deployed. But all of that sits in the background and Harry’s journey is very immediate no matter which of his lives we happen to be visiting at any one time.

I loved this and would urge you to give it a try if you haven’t done so already.

IMG_0080What’s it about?

Ursula Todd is born during an English snowstorm in 1910 and dies immediately.

Ursula Todd is born during an English snowstorm and lives.

And at key points throughout her life things happen to her or she makes choices which sometimes see her die and sometimes see her live, and also see the fates of those around her change, all running in parallel with major events of the twentieth century, particularly World War Two.

Why did I want to read this?

I like what I’ve read of Kate Atkinson’s work, most especially Case Histories (read before I started this blog so no review I’m afraid). Life After Life was consistently well reviewed and everyone seemed to be reading it all at once, especially after it won the Costa award. I knew that I was always going to read this but wanted to wait until I was good and ready  so that I could savour the book without too much chatter. And I’m glad to say it was worth the wait.

What did I think about it?

I thought this was an absolutely wonderful novel. It starts off quite sensationally with the attempted (we’re not sure if Ursula is successful on this occasion) assassination of Hitler, then leaps back to a very short chapter, really only a paragraph, describing the first time (we assume) that Ursula is born, dying before she can take her first breath as she is strangled by her umbilical cord. The throughout the book we are in a world of parallel universes, where Ursula’s life takes different paths at what we come to recognise are key points. In that sense there is a thriller element to it; what’s going to happen to her this time, at what point will the darkness of death descend and she start her story again.

Two things in particular make this work for me. The first is that we avoid Groundhog Day comparisons; not only is Ursula not living the same day over and over, but Atkinson has us picking up the story at different points.

The second is that I really like Ursula as a character and wanted her to have a long and happy life. This is a real issue in one of the strands where she is the victim of domestic violence to quite a horrendous extent, so well written that I was anxious and cringing while I read it (and just wanted to get out of the storyline as quickly as possible, just because of the power of the writing).

The most compelling parts of the novel are those around WW2, whether we are with Ursula in Germany where she has married a man who will become a member of Hitler’s inner circle, or whether we are with her in London during the Blitz. The latter is really astonishing in its recreation of what I imagine it must have been like to be bombed, really very moving. The characters around Ursula are very well drawn and themselves often affected by the different timelines, sometimes living and sometimes dying.

The key question of course is whether there is a purpose to all of this. There are points in the novel where you can clearly see that Ursula knows or suspects things ands tries to prevent them happening and ends up under psychiatric treatment. There are also hints that some of her family may have something like deja vu and get glimpses of what might have been. And the end is quite odd, leaving us with a very minor character, though I for one am not sure why, though still very affecting.

It’s one of my favourite reads of the year so far and a book that I will definitely go back to to see whether I can follow the various threads now that I know where rings are likely to end up.

So if you are one of the few people who hasn’t read this then I can highly recommend it.

 

Scan 11By Blood We Live is the third volume in Glen Duncan’s very successful Last Werewolf trilogy; so new readers really should not start here  – read this and this first otherwise the current volume will make very little sense.

On that note – what’s it all about?

*Spoilers* for the earlier books, maybe, though can they be spoilers if they’re on the back cover for all to see?

Remshi is the oldest vampire in existence. He is searching for the werewolf named Talulla, whom he believes is the reincarnation of his long lost – and only – love. But he is not the only one seeking Talulla. Hunted by the Militi Christi, a religious order hell-bent on wiping out werewolves and vampires alike, Remshi and Talulla must join forces to protect their families, fulfil an ancient prophesy and save both their lives.

Nicely put, though I won’t comment on how accurate and /or misleading the blurb actually is.

Why did I want to read it?

I really enjoyed the first two books in the series and wanted to see how the story played out. It’s also a series that I was reading in parallel with my good friend Silvery Dude and when he got his copy (which may just have been a belated birthday present from me) we started an uncoordinated readalong which rapidly turned into a competition to see who could get to the end first. We even had our own hashtag on Twitter, though actually that was mostly me as the Dudester rarely tweets (#iwillprevail if you’re interested, probably only a couple of tweets but).

I of course won, but only because I have no children and therefore unlimited time to slump on the sofa and read my way solidly through 400 pages of sex and violence and horror and equal opportunity religious fanatics.

What did I think?

I absolutely loved it, couldn’t put it down. I thought Remshi was going to be incredibly annoying after the first few pages but hey, he’s 20,000 years old or thereabouts, he’s earned the right to be a bit pretentious having, you know, basically seen it all. But I came to really like him, possibly even more than Talulla who is quite an astonishing character.

The story is fast-moving without sacrificing any of the character development stuff. There were a couple of “oh no not captured again” moments which served largely to move the plot forward but they were offset by the sheer inventive violence involved in rescuing/freeing those who were caught.

There is a lot of sex and a lot of gore and a lot of philosophical musing and world-weariness and an awful lot of violence but if you’ve read the first two you will be expecting that. Not to everyone’s taste I guess, but not something that has ever really bothered me. Vampires and werewolves are monsters after all, and do what they have to do to survive, often involving monstrous behaviour; what can you do?.

I liked the ending a great deal; finishes off the trilogy nicely but not so that future books couldn’t be produced although I hope there aren’t any more as this reached a satisfying conclusion (to my mind anyway).

I’m sure he won’t mind me saying, but Silvery Dude really enjoyed it too, so a double endorsement there.

Another read for the 2014 Horror Reading Challenge horrorbutton2014

IMG_0001What’s it all about?

In The Executioner’s Heart we are dropped into an alternative steampunk Victorian world where Scotland Yard is called in to a series of murders The victims have had their chests cracked open and their hearts removed, and because there is a ritual element to the deaths the head of the investigation, Sir Charles Bainbridge, calls in Sir Maurice Newbury and his assistant Veronica Hobbes, who specialise in dealing with the supernatural in a scientific manner.

It quickly becomes clear that the legendary killer The Executioner is involved, but what’s the motive and why take the hearts?

Why did I want to read it?

I’m not sure where I came across this book but I know one of the attractions, besides the storyline (which let’s face it is quite cool) is the very lovely cover.

What did I think of it?

One chapter in I realised that this was not the first in the series of books about Newbury and Hobbes (it is in fact the fourth novel and there is also a book of short stories) but by then I was hooked and decided to continue (although pleasingly I realise that we have the first two on our shelves already – they belong to the Book God). I enjoyed it. It has a very nasty killer whose back story we come to learn as the plot unfolds, it has plotting and intrigue and spies and rituals and cults and action sequences and Queen Victoria is a totally monstrous figure, and of course it has a cliffhanger. Quite a big cliffhanger actually, will be interesting to see how it works out in the next novel which I think comes out this summer.

Great fun.

UPDATED due to appalling proofreading, dreadful spelling and the lack of closing bracket. Sloppy work if you ask me.

ScanThis novel is one of those lovely surprises, a book that came in under my radar and was all the more enjoyable for me not knowing anything  about it before I started reading.

The English Monster was brought to my attention via Silvery Dude, who had gone on a little book-buying spree and had been told by one of the nice people at Waterstones Piccadilly that given what he had already picked up he should read this, and he passed the info onto me and I bought it immediately on reading the plot synopsis. Silvery Dude and I had planned a bit of a readalongathon but that turned out to be impractical as (1) SD has been incredibly busy workwise and (2) I just couldn’t put the darned thing down.

It’s a nicely constructed novel which tells two stories in alternating chapters. The first is the tale of the Ratcliffe Highway murders in the Regency London and the nascent police force investigating the killings. The second is the tale of William Abless as he begins his career under the Tudor sailor John Hawkyns in developing the English slave trade. The two stories are clearly going to cross at some point and the fun of reading the novel is in seeing exactly how that happens and why.

I thought this was fabulous, and I say that as someone who normally avoids stories involving pirates like the plague. The Big Thing that happens is handled very cleverly and I had to read it through again just to make sure that what had happened was actually what had happened. The murder mystery sections are fascinating and truly horrible and paint a picture of Regency justice which shows how much the city needed a proper police force when it finally came along. I found the ending really satisfying and am glad that this is the first of a series.

I always enjoy reading the author’s note but this is a particularly fascinating in giving us the lowdown on what’s real and what’s invented but especially in the discussion about Britain’s involvement in setting up the slave trade and all the attendant awfulness, something which has been overshadowed by the focus on abolition. It made me dig out Harry Kelsey’s biography of John Hawkyns from my 16th Century history pile to read more about him.

So, a hidden gem for my last proper read of 2012.

So if I was a lazy blogger I would probably just link to Raych’s post here and sit back because everything she says is absolutely right. But I do have stuff to say about this book and so will ignore my laziness and do the blogging thing.

Alexia Tarabotti has no soul (hence the title), which only a few select people know (and that doesn’t include anyone in her family). This lack of soul makes her unusual even in a Victorian society which accepts the existence of vampires, werewolves and ghosts. It also means that she can neutralise the supernatural abilities of others simply by touching them, which comes in pretty handy (pun unintentional).

The great fun of this book is its tone, which is very arch (to use an old-fashioned phrase). Actually, I could go further than that and say quite honestly that the novel is basically hugely enjoyable tosh. It has all the necessary elements:

  • feisty heroine who knows more than everyone suspects but whose talents aren’t recognised;
  • the handsome hero with whom she spends the whole story fighting but you just know she’s going to end up with him in huge romantic moment at some point;
  • sidekicks with varying levels of acceptability;
  • a nefarious plot which could represent the end of civilisation as it is known; and of course
  • the obligatory evil, twisted genius who must be stopped at all costs.

Oh, and because of the period in which this is set, an appearance by Queen Victoria herself.

I just loved it; not great art by any means but an indulgent, steampunkish romp which passes the time very pleasantly. I already have (and fully intend to read) the sequels.

So, I’ve probably stated elsewhere that I’m not really very good with zombies, they totally creep me out and I’ve tended to avoid them for that reason.

However, I’ve recently begun to find the literary versions rather interesting, starting with Handling the Undead, and now in World War Z.

I think I picked this up on a trip to Forbidden Planet but I’m not entirely sure why; possibly the cover but more likely because I read about it on someone else’s blog and it just sounded like something I would want to read. And it certainly was, because I was totally drawn into the story and ended up cracking through the novel in almost a single sitting.

So this is looking on ten years of fighting a zombie plague (for want of a better description) which has swept across the planet from its beginnings in China, that led to a huge, almost catastrophic reduction in the population of earth, a massive war and a realignment of the planet’s political structures.

For me the huge success of this novel was the fact that it looked back and was structured as an oral history, the sort of thing you see on satellite TV channels every day; people from all walks of life and all affected nations telling their stories. It’s well-written and pacy and has enough gruesomness in it to satisfy the horror fan but without being overwhelming. And the people and stories are credible and not stereotypical, and advance the plot in a convincing way.

And the way the zombie menace spread, the inefficiency of a variety of governments in dealing with it and so on has parallels in today’s world. If you replace “zombie” with bird flu or Ebola and imagine what would happen if something like that got loose in the world, our reaction would probably be something like this – trying to confine it, failing to do so and then  panicking before taking quite radical and drastic action.

All without the need to kill the undead with baseball bats, of course.

Really very, very good.

So I was trying to think how best to describe Bryan Talbot’s Grandville; hummed and hawed about steampunk, alternative history, anthropomorphic animals, played about with a few sentences but couldn’t get it quite right.

And then I thought “wonder what it say on the back of the book?” And that sort of solved my problem for me, cos what the blurb says is:

Inspired by the work of the nineteenth-century French illustrator Gerard, who worked under the nom-de-plume JJ Grandville, and the seminal science fiction illustrator Robida – not to mention Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Rupert the Bear and Quentin Tarantino – Grandville is a steampunk masterpiece in which Detective Inspector LeBrock of Scotland Yard stalks a gang of ruthless killers through the streets of belle époque Paris.

And you know it would be very difficult to improve on that as a description; the only thing I can add is how wonderful the artwork is, how convincing the animals as characters are, what an interesting perspective it takes on terrorism, and that it’really is quite enjoyably violent in places. There’s a reference to a “hairless breed of chimpanzee that evolved in the town of Angouleme,” menial workers known as “doughfaces” , obviously humans, which adds a little bit of depth to the world Talbt has invented.

I absolutely loved this, devoured it in a sitting as you do, and can recommend it to anyone interested in Bryan Talbot’s work.

This is my first read for the Graphic Novel Challenge 2010.

TransitionIainBanks54306_fOr the non-science-fiction-science fiction one.

So this is the latest from the great Iain Banks, one of my favourite authors. In the US (and possibly elsewhere, I’m not absolutely sure) this is being marketed as a science fiction novel, but not here in the UK where it’s being positioned as a mainstream novel which kind of has sci-fi overtones. I heard Mr B being interviewed on Simon Mayo’s radio programme some weeks ago and this was touched on, and he seems to regard Transition as non-sci-fi. Although I’m only a reader, I beg to differ….

The multiple universes, the mechanisms for travelling between them, and the all-powerful Concern all push me towards the sci-fi view. However you could see it as it’s described in the blurb which explains it as a “high-definition, hyper-real, apocalyptic fable” and a great deal of the action does take place in “our” world, in the period between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the attack on the Twin Towers. But an awful lot of it doesn’t…..

But setting all of that aside, it is a really absorbing story of politics and greed and paranoia and terrorism and torture and parallel worlds and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I particularly liked The Transitionary (which is probably just as well) moving between worlds and interfering in various ways for the greater good (or is he?) and Mrs Mulverhill and her habit of wearing small hats with veils, a  style I never managed to pull off in the ten minutes when it was fashionable in the eighties. The structure of the novel, using multiple narrators really worked for me as well given the subject matter of the story, and although I had to read the end a couple of times to make sure I really had understood it, I found it a satisfying read.

And I don’t care, I’m going to claim this for the 42 Challenge.

Can’t wait until the next Culture novel, though.

Bride of the Book God

Follow brideofthebook on Twitter

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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