Thursday, 29 September 2011

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt **possible spoilers ahead**

The Sisters Brothers follows the tale of two brothers, Eli and Charlie Sisters, who are hired killers on the American west coast in the 1850s. This was during the time of the gold rush in the Sierra Nevada mountains and they are hired by their 'boss' to hunt down and kill a man called Herman Kermit Warm, relying on an informant named Morris to point him out to them.

We open by being introduced to our narrator, Eli, as he contemplates his current situation - his last horse died in a fire with "his kicking, burning legs, his hot-popping eyeballs" (if you don't like vivid descriptions, this may not be the book for you) and he has been lumbered with some slow replacement appropriately called 'Tub'. This is a despised but necessary horse that Eli eventually feels a connection to, even passing up a better steed out of sympathy for his companion.

Eli is obviously not meant to be a killer, as opposed to his brother, but instead wishes for a quieter life and a woman to share it with. At the same time he does not wish to leave his brother, for he feels a closeness to him that is unreciprocated. Charlie, however, appears more self-centred and has his sights set on becoming the next Commodore and making his fortune. Though they are brothers it is made blatantly obvious from the outset that these two are not alike - “our blood is the same, we just use it differently”.

DeWitt has decided to take us on a journey of at least two paths: One follows Eli, in his head, as he has to make the decision as to whether to keep on with his life as it is or if he should follow his wish for an easier, more stable life. The onset of his moral compass can be said to have a hand in how he starts dealing with people and carrying out his actions and job. The second looks at the bond between the two brothers as they travel across a landscape filled with weird, wonderful and unsavoury characters and having to both face the fact that what they believe in is going to be questioned as well as Eli's own questions of what they are really doing.

This is all set against the rather hostile background of the wild west with fortunes constantly raising at one point only to be savagely and unexpectedly taken away from them at another; but it all culminates in a lesson in morality with a rather hoped for content ending that has the pair returning to their home as all good long-suffering travellers should.

Just as with the original Odyssey, every chapter is a tale within itself, written with a rather poetic feel to it without losing focus.

I would happily describe this book as a western style odyssey with all the strange elements and characters that come with it. If you enjoy a western with a twist of dark humour and slight revelations then I would recommend this book to you.

Friday, 23 September 2011

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes **possible spoilers ahead**

When I saw this book I thought 'Oh look, it's not as long as I imagined it would be, should be nice, quick reading though.' It wasn't nice or quick.

I thought that, as this is one of the shortlisted books, it would open my eyes to the best of a different style that I'd enjoy. Unfortunately this is to be my first 'not good' review.

The first part of this book deals with the main character, Tony Webster, narrating to us his memories of childhood, friends and university life (with loves included). It was listed in a way reminiscent of when I had to plan out coursework essays - I'd start with bullet points and then pad them out with as much information and filler as possible - only Julian Barnes didn't seem to want to pad it out, he may well have been happy leaving the bullet points in!

Granted this may all have had some part to play in the general dragging out of the truth in Part Two but it grated on me to the point where it took two days for me to pick 'this damn book' (as I took to calling it) up again.

The second part of the book is set in Webster's present time where we see him suddenly presented with a whole different view on his memories of growing up and his relationships with certain friends and girlfriend. This is, in general, a very good idea for a book and it did have me hoping that the story would pick up speed and drag me in after the previous disappointment. Barnes wanted to show how a person's memories of events and people can be altered to stray far from the truth or to be blotted out completely.

Unfortunately it seems this book couldn't quite claw it's way out of the ditch of monotony for me - it stayed at a slow pace and occasionally threw in a few twists and turns that, granted I didn't see coming, were presented in such a way you just end up going 'oh, okay then.' It teased me with what it could be but didn't feel like being. The ending was made difficult to work out and my brain wasn't up to the task at the first time of reading because I hadn't been made to really care about Tony and his plight and how much what he believed was his younger self had been wrong and built up out of badly formed memories. 

I get that Barnes may have been trying to say 'Well, life isn't like some never-ending book/movie of excitement and adventure' but isn't that why we read? I know I read for fun and escape, not lectures on how boring life is always going to be for me in the future. If this is an example of Julian Barnes in a nutshell then I'm not a fan. I'm not going to go out and pick up his other works and I really cannot see how this beat some of the other books to becoming short-listed. I'm sorry, I can't recommend this, no matter how much I wish I could.

Be warned: If this book wins I will lose my faith in book readers everywhere :(

Monday, 19 September 2011

Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch **spoilers ahead**

Jaffy Brown was the boy who was born twice: the second time was when he was carried away by a tiger down Ratcliffe Highway, to be saved by Mr Jamrach.

This book is split into three parts. The first introduces us to Jaffy the boy, who was so childlike that he mistook an escaped tiger for a cat and went to stroke it on it's nose. He is then introduced to the owner who saved his life, Mr Jamrach (an actual person from the victorian era who did have a menagerie and who did rescue a boy from the jaws of an escaped tiger) who proceeds to offer him a job at the menagerie - the lowly task of cleaning the cages. Here Jaffy finds his best friend and at times worst enemy in Tim, who will encourage, push and dare Jaff the way only two boys can. By befriending Tim Jaff also meets Ishbel, his first love and Tim's twin sister.

This leads us nicely on to Part Two where the child Jaff has gone and is replaced with the more mature Jaffy that he perceives himself to be but we, the readers, can tell otherwise. Still friends with Tim and Ishbel Jaff finds himself wanting to prove his worth and showing that he's equal to Tim, who has just been told he's to join the hardened sea-dog Dan Rymer for an expedition to find a dragon. Whilst Jaffy himself doesn't believe there's a real dragon, they are all sceptical to begin with, he does feel riled enough to sign up as crew on the same whaling ship so that he can join Tim.

This is where it all truly begins, though you wouldn't know it at first. A mixture of hardened sailors and green hands on board, Carol Birch takes influences from the wreck of the Whaling Ship Essex (minus the angry whale) to cover the rest of the journey. With vivid descriptions of a whale hunt, capture and processing we are taken to a time of waiting; waiting to see if the dragon is real and what will happen to it if it's found. Then, with bad luck striking the ship, the crew find themselves facing the worst possible situation; split between two small whaling boats and food running low, they must find a way to survive knowing and having to accept that not all of them will.

Carol Birch uses a much older Jaffy to narrate the story, with occasional asides reminding us how brilliant hindsight is. She seems to excel at the descriptions of blood, guts, gore and chaos - making everything sound that much more interesting or engrossing - from the room of the silent birds to the stripping of a whale carcass and worse, it's all described to give the best effect. However, at times this did seem to work to her disadvantage, too much description and long, drawn out prose made me want to skip ahead a few pages, I didn't for fear of missing something vital, but the temptation was there.

This is a lovely, harsh, unrepentant look at a dying (some would say evolving) trade and the dangers that can unfold through the eyes of a boy who just wants to prove himself a man. I found it exciting to read, the descriptions of old London were beautiful in their stark reality. At times the emotions came out and I found myself tearing up not wanting it to be true. The ending was predictable in a way that you want it to be. I can see why this made the Man Booker Prize shortlist and have quite a few people in mind who I shall recommend this book to.

100 Books To Read Before You Die

This BBC top 100 book list seemed to have made the rounds on Facebook and also other bloggers blogs, so I thought I would see how many I had actually read. I've had a look at this before but couldn't recall my findings and my sister's going through this list (or one very similar) as a challenge to herself.

The instructions are to hightlight in bold all books you have read and italicise the ones you’ve started but haven’t finished.

Have you read more than 6 of these books? The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books listed here.

1. The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
2. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
3. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
4. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling
6. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
7. Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne
8. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis
10. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
11. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
12. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
13. Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
14. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
15. The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
16. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
17. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
18. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
19. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres
20. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
22. Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone, JK Rowling
23. Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, JK Rowling
24. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, JK Rowling
25. The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien
26. Tess Of The D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
27. Middlemarch, George Eliot
28. A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving
29. The Grapes Of Wrath, John Steinbeck
30. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
31. The Story Of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson
32. One Hundred Years Of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
33. The Pillars Of The Earth, Ken Follett
34. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
35. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
36. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
37. A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute
38. Persuasion, Jane Austen
39. Dune, Frank Herbert
40. Emma, Jane Austen
41. Anne Of Green Gables, LM Montgomery

42. Watership Down, Richard Adams
43. The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald

44. The Count Of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
45. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
46. Animal Farm, George Orwell
47. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
48. Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy
49. Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian
50. The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher
51. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
52. Of Mice And Men, John Steinbeck
53. The Stand, Stephen King
54. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
55. A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
56. The BFG, Roald Dahl
57. Swallows And Amazons, Arthur Ransome
58. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
59. Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer
60. Crime And Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
61. Noughts And Crosses, Malorie Blackman
Memoirs Of A Geisha, Arthur Golden
63. A Tale Of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
64. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCollough
65. Mort, Terry Pratchett
66. The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton (Yes Jess, you've read this too!)
67. The Magus, John Fowles
68. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
69. Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett
70. Lord Of The Flies, William Golding
71. Perfume, Patrick Süskind
72. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell
73. Night Watch, Terry Pratchett
74. Matilda, Roald Dahl
75. Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding
76. The Secret History, Donna Tartt
77. The Woman In White, Wilkie Collins
78. Ulysses, James Joyce
79. Bleak House, Charles Dickens
80. Double Act, Jacqueline Wilson
81. The Twits, Roald Dahl
82. I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith
83. Holes, Louis Sachar
84. Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake
85. The God Of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
86. Vicky Angel, Jacqueline Wilson
87. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
88. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
89. Magician, Raymond E Feist
90. On The Road, Jack Kerouac
91. The Godfather, Mario Puzo
92. The Clan Of The Cave Bear, Jean M Auel
93. The Colour Of Magic, Terry Pratchett
94. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
95. Katherine, Anya Seton
96. Kane And Abel, Jeffrey Archer
97. Love In The Time Of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez
98. Girls In Love, Jacqueline Wilson
99. The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot
100. Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie
I've counted 43 books of 100 that I've read. Not bad but less than half so it's just as well I don't take this as anything other than a suggestion for possible future reads. I'm not going to go out and try to read all of them but just any that appeal to me.

How many books have you read from this list? Make a list on your blog and come back and link me up, I would love to see it!

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Bob Moore: No Hero by Tom Andry **possible spoilers ahead**

I initially downloaded this little gem at a time when I was going on 'free ebook spree'. It was free, the cover looked brilliant and it's about a PI working in a time when super powered beings have become an everyday sight.

Bob Moore is our cynical PI with a specific clientele, 'supers', people born with super powers who are now a rather normal occurence. As a 'tippy' (normal, non powered) it's just that little bit more dangerous for Bob to go on surveillance against supers as is evidenced right at the beginning when one decides to set fire to the tree he's in and then proceed to chase him whilst throwing fireballs in his general vicinity - and at times a lot closer!

The main premise of the story, however, isn't to point out why superheroes really shouldn't wear (pink) spandex but instead follows Bob as he takes on a case for a super from his past. With believable characters, even in this setting, we follow him as he battles against his own feelings towards the super and tries to figure out what is happening on a case that not even the police or other supers believe in.

Andry has ensured that the world he's created is deep and, more importantly, believable - even if we are talking about superheroes here! The characters are well thought out and put across and even, or especially, the supers are given their flaws. The back story behind Bob and his hatred towards Doc Art wasn't rubbed in your face or just thrown at you to then move on, it was built up and occasionally hinted at until that one crucial moment when it all becomes clear and you suddenly dislike the Doc too. Bob is not made out to be some PI with his moral high ground and even had me wondering how I felt about him at the end as he made his decision. It may not be one the reader will agree with but he is unapologetic about his actions and so he should be.

This first book by Tom Andry was short but so sweet with a narrative that is both cynical and darkly humourous in its telling. I found this to be one of the books I wished to be longer so that I didn't have to put it down and face the end. It's a PI mystery, comedy and sci-fi with a well padded central character that I would love to see end up with his own series on Sy-Fy. With the second book coming out soon (I have it on good authority, honest) I can only suggest you download this book first before going on to get the next one.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Perfume by Patrick Suskind **possible spoilers ahead**

"In eighteenth century France there lived a man who was one of the most gifted and abominable personages in an era that knew no lack of gifted and abominable personages. His name was Jean-Baptiste Grenouille and if his name has been forgotten today, it is certainly not because Grenouille fell short of those more famous blackguards when it came to arrogance, misanthropy, immorality, or, more succintly, wickedness, but because his gifts and his sole ambition were restricted to a domain that leaves no traces in history: to the fleeting realm of scent..."

Now I'm not one who normally likes to start my review of a book with a quote of some kind, even if it is the breakdown of the opening paragraph, but this really does give the reader the idea of the direction this entire book is going to go and the style of writing the author uses throughout.

Where most writers will rely heavily on the sense of sight in order to describe a scene or set the mood Suskind has relied on scent, a sense that many of us take for granted but would be at a small loss without. With an unbreakable grip on his dictionary of large, descriptive words the author launches us into a stench ridden Paris that seems so lifelike in it's description you find yourself wrinkling your nose at a smell that's only in your mind.

We are introduced to the protagonist in this story in the most disgusting of settings with it's putrefying vapours and vile smelling fish masking the odour of corpses. His mother has given birth to him at her fish stall and left him under the table with the guts, fish heads and offal thinking he is dead. The mother is swiftly brushed under the carpet and dispatched with so that we can move on to the more important Jean-Baptiste (from here on referred to as Jean or J-B). The first insight we are given into something being not quite right with him is when he is described as not smelling like a baby should and from then on it's all about the scent as we quickly follow Jean grow up differently from other children and with no real moral compass except the one that he bases upon the discovery of scents.

This search follows him from solitary child to tanner's labourer onto perfumer's apprentice through to a journeyman wishing to escape all the scented taints of human 'effluvium' (now my favourite word) and, as such, his years of solitary in a cave. Thankfully these are briefly described and given a well-rounded chapter or so before the catalyst is introduced. Grenouille then moves on to a new mission of finding a scent for himself. This eventually leads him to Grasse and a chance meeting of a new yet familiar scent means that dear J-B coldly goes about honing his scent-catching methods then embarking on a spate of murders. The eventual, inevitable ending seems to have him purposefully end up not too far away or up the social ladder from where he began.

Grenouille, although the main character in this book, did not make me feel any sympathy towards him. He is described and likened to on many occasions as a 'tick': stubborn and clinging on for life but you don't see any good in him. He doesn't come across as completely human, even with his hauntingly sad conclusion on how it must all end, yet this cold and cynical approch didn't amke me want to stop reading.

In general I found this book to be rather engrossing and the style of writing was just fabulous. It was self-indulgent flattery but not enough to make me feel ill, almost like Suskind had a competition with himself as to how many different words could be used to describe general smells. His knowledge when it came to describing the olfactory senses to us poor, unenlightened masses is fascinating. I even found myself sniffing the crook of my armpit (read the book and you'll do the same at one point!). This book is put-downable but only because you need breaks from it in order to take it all in and get it all right in your head before carrying on, as well as the fact that you may want to come up for a breath of fresh air (boom boom tsh).

So, to conclude: I was fascinated with the book but I couldn't say for sure I loved it. I will read it again but I will feel just as disturbed at parts as I did amazed at others. It is a bizarre tale of a strange little man in a decadence ridden time that will have you remembering it for a long time to come.

I would also like to add that I now feel it my mission to use more of these words in my everyday life, you have been thoroughly warned ;P

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Upcoming Books

To let you guys know what's coming up in the way of book reviews on here I thought I'd make a list of the books I have and, apart from the top 6, the order they'll be read and reviewed in.

  1. The Sisters Brothers - Patrick deWitt
  2. The Sense of an Ending - Julian Barnes
  3. Jamrach's Menagerie - Carol Birch
  4. Snowdrops - A.D Miller
  5. Half-blood Blues - Esi Edugyan
  6. Pigeon English - Stephen Kelman
  7. The American Dream Reversed - Bianca Philipp (
  8. The Redbreast - Jo Nesbo
  9. Nemesis - Jo Nesbo
  10. The Devil's Star - Jo Nesbo
  11. The Redeemer - Jo Nesbo
  12. The Snowman - Jo Nesbo
All 12 are either on my bookcase or in the process of being delivered so I reckon this should keep me out of mischief for the next few months, don't you ;D After that I'll see what I have hanging around and take suggestions too.

As a special note - Bianca Philipp is a good friend of mine who's just had her first book published, once I receive my copy (not signed *sob*) I'll get onto reading and reviewing it... as I beta'ed it to this should be an interesting read - please feel free to buy it using the link provided. (I am not being paid for that plug, but my normal fee is choc chip cookies!)

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Rebellion by James McGee **possible spoilers ahead**

"Conspiracy. Revolution. War. Hawkwood heads to France to bring down Napoleon."

Fourth in the Matthew Hawkwood series this book sees our main character being sent to Paris to go undercover and assist in a rebellion against Bonaparte.

For those of you new to the series I can understand if you have sudden visions of McGee doing a Tarantinoesque change of historical events *cough* Inglorious Basterds *cough* to ensure we're all given a thoroughly heart-warming, hollywood ending. Those of us who have read the first three will now pipe up and tell you off for thinking such terrible things about McGee's ability to do his research and ensure we aren't left too dumbfounded/insulted.

Newbies - back to the beginning: Hawkwood is given a mysterious, dark background involving the military and a scar I haven't yet figured the meaning behind. He now works as a London Bow Street Runner during the time of the Napoleonic War.  This doesn't mean Runners just went after criminals though, oh no! According to research carried out they went undercover, were employed in cases of treason and sedition and even went after French prisoners of war! Now that's worthy of a book series, trust me, I've read the first three too and it's all  in there!

Rebellion sees Hawkwood moving away from his current Runner career and back towards his old military ways as he's sent to Paris whilst Napoleon and his army are away fighting in Russia. He's tasked with meeting up and getting in with an old general who has been charged with treason against the empire once before and who seems to believe in the old adage 'If at first you don't succeed...'. From the moment Hawkwood appears on the scene and gives the general a good swift kick up the proverbial to get him going (or so he thinks) it doesn't stop. From the foundering ship in the storm to the whispers and plots in a care home/prison up to and beyond the moment when they're walking through corridors basking in their certain victory, the writing has you hooked. The feelings of utter despondency to joy and elation and more seeps out of the page and into you, the reader, making you cheer them on (in your head if in public places) and worry about their safety.

Along the way you are introduced to different, colourful characters with their own, potentially dangerous reasons for getting involved. Be warned, however, do not get too attached, this is not a world where everyone will miraculously survive. I sadly found myself becoming too attached to the people that were created in this world. The brave don't always live to fight another day and not all the bad guys get their comeuppance. Trust no one, take nothing for granted and, above all, don't think you know what's going to happen next.

Whilst this series has, at times, been likened to Cornwell's Sharpe that can only go skin deep for McGee brings a whole new layer of intrigue, political plots and subterfuge that leaves you wanting the fifth book to be out already (hint McGee, big hint!). If you're looking for some action with substance get this series or, as I ahve been reliably informed, buy this book as it works quite well as a standalone too - though I do suggest the entire series!

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Apologies and Decision time

Just realised something - though I did say I'd make an effort reviewing the books I read from now on - the book I'm currently reading, Rebellion by James McGee, is the 4th in the series and the first 3 have already been donated to charity during some flat move or another (they were all hardback editions so rather heavy). Seeing as I read the first one when it came out in 2006 this may strain my mind to try and recall every detail for a review so I will just have to try to generalise those 3 and feel guilty about it later, I am sorry folks.
On another point though - I need some advice on which book to start next - Ariana Franklin's The Death Maze (historical crime) or Jo Nesbo's Redbreast (Norwegian crime). There's such a thing as too much choice.
Sorry for the shortness of this post, just thought you'd want a heads up if the next review seems a bit 'hmmm'.

EDIT: Have decided that isntead of reading one of the two books mentioned above I am going to try and see if I can read the 6 books shortlisted for this year's Man Booker Prize before the winner is picked (or just read them in my own time). I shall also try to review them inbetween.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Darn Inconvenience

Well, as some of you may or may not know, I have broken a bone in my left hand/wrist area. It's my scaphoid bone that is shaped slightly like a banana (x-ray doc's words, not mine).

This all came to pass almost 2 weeks ago when I was cycling home from work and a woman decided to walk out right in front of me (she was facing me mind, full on, just saw through me!) and I didn't have a chance to break, just swerved and ended up going into some metal railings. Now, I would like to state here & now that I did NOT fall off my bike! I merely put up my left hand to stop my whole body smashing into it and felt my thumb get pushed back a tad too far. I continued to hobble home, still cycling though in some pain, and convinced myself that the pain was down to the fact that it was swollen, bruised & probably a bit sprained or something. I had just gone into a fence after all. The evening was spent doing as little as possible involving that hand.

It wasn't until the next day when a work colleague convinced me to go to the pharmacist after work to ask about appropriate support that I thought something may be wrong. She took one look at it, refused to let me buy any support and told me to go straight to A & E to get it X-Rayed... tad worrying that!

2 1/2 hours later, 2 trips to x-ray and countless times wishing I had a book or covertly staring at the injuries people had I was informed that I did in fact have a fractured bone and require a plaster cast. The nurse then proceeded to tell me that most scaphoid fractures aren't seen until weeks later due to people going down the same route I initially did and fobbing it off as a sprain, thus opening the person up to a number of complications in the healing process. On top of this it turns out that sometimes these sort of breaks can be notoriously hard to spot first time round (hence the second trip to x-ray that day). So really, all in all I had a relatively good hospital experience compared to some of the horror stories you hear about the NHS. My injury was spotted and treated reasonably quickly so thanks to the NHS staff who treated me :)
What this means however is that I'm now pottering about my flat unable to wash up quickly (one hand being unable to get wet), carry heavy objects such as a kettle, open bottles quickly or have a quick shower and wash my hair as normal. This also means that typing has slowed down to one-handed speed and reading is impractically difficult as my hand is positioned and cast in such a way that it won't support & hold open a book very easily :( This will last for at least 6 more weeks, joys :P
The bike, by the way, is perfectly fine!