Wow, July feels like a long time away now, as the colder nights and use of an umbrella have made all thoughts of summer completely fly from my mind. Here are the mini reviews (per usual) of the books I managed to read during the summer months. As a theme, I managed to blast my way through the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, laughed a lot at the latest Scott Westerfeld novel and experienced my first taste of Cory Doctorow’s writing.
Extras Scott Westerfeld
This book follows on from the great ‘Uglies’ trilogy, where people were born into a world where they cosmetically changed their appearance at 16. An Ugly was a young person before they’d changed their image- but the surgery also changed their mind… I give you this info so you can understand the world that Extras is set in, a world where there are no more ‘Uglies’ and ‘Pretties’ as that practice has recently been disbanded. Enter a society where your merit is based on your rating– which rises based on how many people access your ‘feed’. A feed is a sort of liveblog Twitter/Video stream and the most popular person shows pictures of her shopping purchases. Based on this tally, you get allocated better housing/more food etc, and everyone wants to boost their rating. The novel stars Aya, who want nothing more than to be popular and spends her time creating stories to post on her feed. Her sense of adventure leads her into train surfing and she has to make major decisions about how much she values her friends versus her status. Compelling, funny and clever, I can’t wait for the next book!
Absolution Gap by Alastair Reynolds
This novel was my first foray into Reynolds territory and I can’t say that I’ll be doing it again. The book is long and not particularly involving and there are so many characters it’s hard to find empathy for any particular one. The fate of the galaxy may be in peril but I found it hard to really care about that. I did however appreciate his huge vision and the way he created so many worlds deftly, and with great attention to details. I loved the world created by accident, with the giant churches that were set on a path of following the light, and I liked how myriads of species co-existed together. One scene will stick with me for a long time- the horrendous revenge births scene, where a baby had been cut out of one woman and implanted in another. The only way the new mother would allow the child to be recaptured was if every incision into her was also dealt to her enemy- step by step, a laborious torture scene carried out by his friends for the good of mankind. Chilling. The story was of a world facing extinction from outside sources, and of a culture ruled by a crazy man who heard voices. It could have been so good, but it sadly fell flat.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson
Goddamit, another all nighter pulled reading this ultra gripping thriller. More stories are untangled, lies deciphered, and an incredibly convoluted tale of inter industry shenanigans take place, that WILL confuse the hell out of you. Nonetheless, the tale of the recovering Lisbeth Salander (shot three times, once in the head) her evil father and her freakish brother continue to enthrall, as legal lines are drawn, and friends rally in unexpected places. The story doesn’t shy away from harsh realities or grim details, yet is ridiculously compelling and unputdownable, be prepared to be REALLY tired the next day!
The Book of Dave by Will Self
A London cabdriver goes slowly insane and creates a bible for his son. A world revolves around the tariffs of the day and the headlamps in the sky. A culture is born post flood that uses the words of the cabbie’s bible as gospel and celebrates women into ‘au’pairs’ and ‘Mommies’. Bizarre and compelling the first part of the book is very difficult to get through as it’s written phonetically, in a hybrid English pidgin cabbie speak. Once you’ve managed the first four chapters or so it gets easier, as we start flicking between the future world, and the present day life of Dave the cabbie. The most curious aspect is the oddly humanoid Motos. Large shambling animals who service the humans and are killed ceremonially for food and the oil they excrete. The relationship with them is odd- revered by some and hated by others and I couldn’t work out just who they were meant to represent- humanity’s innocence? An intriguing read.
Towards the Sun by Christopher George
What do you do when you discover your pension plan has flopped, your wife is having an affair and your children don’t care that much anymore? Ending it could seem like the only option, and such was Harry Brinkman’s predicament till a chance call from a telesales lady made him change his mind. He then proceeds to have a late life crisis, get an unsuitable pet- and girlfriend- and reinvent himself. Charming and slightly sad, it shows you that you always have time to change who you are, and that life will constantly surprise you.
Snuff by Chuck Palahniuk
Palahnuik never disappoints and this tale about a gang bang gone wrong is incredibly entertaining and perverted at the same time. A woman attempts to break the world record for gang bangs on film, but a scene ensues that adds murder and mayhem to the mix. The twist is a little predictable, but the book is a very interesting insight into a world I wasn’t that aware of.
For the Win by Cory Doctorow
Doctorow is well known in media circles as someone who lives and breathe tech, so it’s no surprise that hie book looks at how the web is changing the way we view the world. The book takes an in depth look at a variety of people who are all involved in online gaming, and looks at how the third world makes an industry out of people who play to profit others. From farming gold in fictional worlds, to waging war against armies of dwarves and elves, it looks at the future of gaming, and how the industry can be exploited- both by those in the system and those outside and features virtual worlds so heavily that you forget that you’re talking about something that doesn’t actually exist. Compelling and clever, this is tale for anyone who thinks that gaming is going to take over the world (or has already).
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
I love Neil Gaiman as I find his mastery of the written word coupled with his wild imagination makes for a compelling and intriguing read. This book is primarily meant for a younger market (eep!) but i found I a delight from start to finish. It has the usual plethora of evil villains, creepy goings on, and the troubled times of youth, all told from the perspective of Bod. Bod is an orphaned boy who grows up in a graveyard under the wings of a pair of ghosts and a friendly if aloof vampire. The book is touching, and some facets of it- the way Bod ‘disppears’ around people are surprisingly mature. To grow up he must face the man who killed his family- but can he survive this encounter?
I heart New York by Lindsey Kelk
What does one do when you find out your boyfriend is cheating on you and all your friends know? Some people would cry and head for the freezer, but this girl hopped on a plane to New York and reinvented herself. Along the way she makes friends with the hotel receptionist (handy) meets new men and bags a blogging post on a big magazine. It’s a story full of rediscovering your dream and learning to follow your heart, and despite one or two trite bits (c’mon, it can’t be that easy) it’s a lovely heart warming read.
Naked Truths by Jo Carenegie
Written by a journalist, this book contains wry insights and accurate portrayals of the inner working of a magazine office (many which I recognized!). From incompetent writers to visualizing the many free perks you get in the media world, the story shrewdly picks apart what is wrong with the current gifting culture and looks at how incestuous and interlinked the media circuit really is. Catherine is editor and trying to save a failing magazine, Saffron is an ambitious writer with a lazy streak and Harriet is a gentle PA who is struggling with single life.Throw in some related family antics, a dash of country living and a few hidden secrets from the past and you have a juicy novel, albeit slightly predictable. Nicely written, it has an energetic pace, and the characters are likable and well drawn.
Nights of Viljamur by Mark Charan Newton
This tale was rather epic- not so much the size of the novel (which was weighty), but moreso the breadth and the scope of the undertaking. A world was mapped out for us, concentrated on the city of Viljamur, a brooding rainswept place, threatened by an Ice Age and struggling under the influx of refugees and war rations. The star of this tale is Brynd, the commander of the Night Guard, a man who is conflicted and hard worked, and under enormous pressure. He is charged with establishing order when the Emperor dies, and he faces resistance and obstruction at every corner. Many races inhabit the city, from the bushy tailed Morel to more haunting spectres and each different race and religion is fairly well respected, with the issues being more in the relationships than the race. There are some lighthearted characters that add humour to the book, such as the young fop Randur who dances his way into the court, and this brevity really adds appeal to the overall tone of the novel. There are heavy issues at hand, but they don’t weigh down the text, and despite many, many characters being introduced you stay fairly on track with them all. Watch this space for a sequel.
The Importance of being a Bachelor by Mike Gayle
The last thing you expect to happen is for your parents to split up- especially when they’re just about to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. King of the male chick lit genre, Mike Gayle weaves us a tale of three brothers and their tangled love lives, and shows how their own lives mingle with that of their parents. A sweet read, with the inevitable happy ending, the yarn is nonetheless fairly absorbing, and whilst the initial distaste for the stereotypical brothers ‘one geek, one player, one sensitive’ is quite strong, it wears off under the light hearted banter that is this book.
Vurt by Jeff Noon
This was my second time round with this book, and I’m pleased to say it was still every bit as intriguing. Set at some point in the future, ‘feathers’ take you into a dream type world where you can play and interface with weird creatures and beings. The Vurt World can become so alluring, that many users get hooked on feathers, always seeking their next high, or the latest feather to be released. Some feathers are known only by reputation-such as a Curious Yellow- but when Scribble, a tormented teen enters one, he loses his sister to the Vurt world and gets an alien ‘Thing’ in return. The book follows his quest to get his sister back and takes us on a rollicking journey through a world full of cyberpunbk technology, where hippies with data enriched dreadlocks roam and genetically altered humans are the norm. Warped and wonderful, this book leaves you constantly pondering the why of the universe, whilst fully accepting the how.
Cock and Bull by Will Self
A weird rather uncomfortable read, the book is slightly to obsessed with genitalia for you to ever really enjoy it. Two strange situations occur- a woman grows a penis and forces herself on her husband and a man grows a vagina in his knee and becomes effeminate and vulnerable. A little trite, very quirky and I wanted more resolution, rather than the cop out endings that were given to both souls. Had this been explored- Middlesex style- I think it could have been a lot more profound.
We are all Made of Glue by Marina Lewycka
A book about a woman in the throes of separation befriending an old woman who lives in a ramshackle house doesn’t sound like high entertainment. When you learn the old woman is a dispossessed immigrant with a fake name, a penchant for schnapps and a vivid inner life then it gets a little more complex. Throw in a plentiful cut of Nazi politicking, Asian builders/squatters and an evil estate agent who is after the house- well the you get the kind of dark humour that made Lewycka’s other novels so intensely compelling.
Never The Bride by Paul Magers
I loved this novel. I picked it up on a whim, intrigued by the cover graphic and fell in love with this bizarre but brilliant tale. Sleepy seaside town Whitby has many unusual inhabitants and when a man sets up shop selling a anti ageing treatment that knocks forty years off, landlady Brenda is suspicious. She sets off to investigate with her neighbour Effie and both find more than they bargained for. The twist (without ruining the story) is that Brenda and Effie are both 60+ years old, and that Brenda has a secret that involves alchemy and stitches. Deeply witty, you root for both ladies and as the story unfolds I dare you not to be surprised as the secrets get revealed.
Everything Bad is Good for You by Steven Johnson
I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand I love many of his arguments, his explanation about how modern day TV provides quality entertainment that requires more form its audience and how programmes such as reality TV shows are actually educational, inasmuch as you’re learning about social interactions, predicting mob behaviour and investing in characters. He compares TV now to old school shows and says how the mind has to focus more- The Sopranos for example, where you have to hold many plot lines and sub stories in your mind. I also liked his entertaining counter argument for computer games, and how he valued them versus books- books being linear, with no chance of interaction, whilst gaming provides a multi sensory non linear experience where you’re taught that you can change the outcome and learn to use skills and practise moves repeatedly- thus training your mind and flexing your mental muscle. I dislike however his odd theory about cards and his annoying phrase (which I won’t repeat) which seems a little forced. Good ideas, but I don’t feel all of them were conveyed that well, and he could have used a better framework to show them.
Amberville by Tim Davis
Take a hard boiled detective tale and transport it into a world full of fluffy stuffed toys- but keep all the gritty realism. This is an insight into the world of Amberville, where Eric Bear and his friends are investigating the origins of the Death List, the scary list to which only the chauffeurs have access- and escort you away to whatever befalls you next. It’s a world where toys are delivered, rather than born, and Eric Bear is fighting to save his beloved from the list. The tale is tangled and the violence is heavy, but the flashback sequences are frustratingly thin and seem like padding, whilst the concept if belaboured a little too often. I wanted to scream. ‘I get IT! They’re toys!‘ very early on. The debauched gazelle is wonderfully portrayed, whilst the fact that every animal seemed to have its namesakes characteristics was a little forced. I didn’t like the way the Church angle was brough into the book, as it seemed unnecessary, but it was still an interesting read.
Nylon Angel by Marianne De Pierres
Parish Pleiss, has a lot of attitude, and half of it has been self engineered as added tech into her body, from augmented eyesight to faster reflexes. She works as muscle for hire, but has just been violently forced to work for one particularly nasty client, a brutal local overlord/. She’ll do anything to escape him, and when the opportunity to take him and his dogboys down (half men, half dog) she jumps at the chance. Feisty and angry, she’s no pushover and is a great strong female role model (if a tad violent).
Lonely Werewolf Girl byMartin Millar
The title of this book didn’t sound very promising, but I gave it a go nonetheless. I’m glad I did- it’s far from the Twilight inspired book I though it would be and instead covers the vast scions of the MacRinnalch family in their fight for succession. Kalix is the teenage runaway, a drug addled werewolf with a penchant for pizza and anorexia and she gets rescued by humans and gradually learns to trust. Her humans are two students, so cue the angsty behaviour and dabbling in the occult. Kalix’s older sister is a fashion designer trying to shrug off her werewolf heritage, whose bestc uto,mer is a fire demon who loves Gucci. Fast paced, funny and frivolous the book ricochets with crazy situations, awkward family members and sibling rivalry. Pure genius.