“White Bones” by Graham Masterton

I knew Graham Masterton as a horror writer, I read a few of his books back in the eighties, when I was more interested in the horror genre. Now, I see he has moved into the crime field but he still has the horror writer’s touch for the grisly details.

p1560903

White Bones

White Bones” is set in the South West of Ireland around the city of Cork. Katie Maguire is a detective superintendent with the Garda. When the bodies of 11 women are uncovered on a farm, DS Katie Maguire is determined to discover what happened and get justice for the victims. The forensic labs reveal the bodies date back to the early 20th century, so the killer is likely to be dead, too. Katie is reluctantly taken off the case but then a fresh victim is claimed. The murders have a ritualistic connection, someone is trying to summon the spirit of Mor-Rioghain, or Morgana the Fay, King Arthur’s evil half sister; it is said whoever brings her back to life, will be granted whatever he or she wishes. This is not a fantasy novel but a solid police procedural crime novel with some particularly grisly murders, the victims having been skinned alive. There is a lot of action and Katie risks her own life trying to solve the murders. The book builds to a thrilling finale.

My rating 5 out of 5

Posted in 5 Star Review | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

“Art & Lies” by Jeanette Winterson

Jeanette Winterson writes beautifully but this book for me lacks a strong cohesive plot to hold it together.

p1560485

Art & Lies

“There’s no such thing as autobiography there’s only art and lies.”

Alternating chapters describe the lives of the three main characters, Handel, a doctor-priest, Picasso, a young woman sexually molested by her brother who paints, and Sappho, the pre-Socratic poet of sexuality.

Handel, the doctor, spent a lot of his career amputating cancerous breasts, and one fateful day cuts off the wrong breast of an ageing prostitute. He could have covered it up being part of an old boy network, cut off the right breast and suggested “complications”.

“The old boy network” he used to call it and he was right, because we were old boys who had never made a success of growing up, and we were netted together, hopelessly, helplessly, forever.

“The secret of life is art.” wrote Oscar Wilde.

There is a lot of wisdom in the pages and characterisation but no cohesive story, it reads at times like a poem and there are episodes of stream of consciousness writing recalling Faulkner.

The sun had dropped on to the roof of the train and bloodied the grey metal.

In the last book I read “Not in the Flesh” by Ruth Rendell I read a subplot revolving around  female genital mutilation, and now here there is a look at historic male genital mutilation,  looking at the history of castratos.

My rating 3 out of 5

 

Posted in 3 star review | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

“Not in the Flesh” by Ruth Rendell

p1560285

“Not in the Flesh”

After the Vampires of my last read, this is back to the familiar territory of a police procedural whodunnit. A truffle hunter uncovers a cadaver in a shallow grave on the edge of the village of Flagford, the post mortem determines the victim had been killed 11 years ago, though the cause of death is unknown. It is unlikely someone who died of natural causes would have been buried in a shallow grave. A lot of the book isn’t about who killed the victim, but in identifying who the victim was, a lot of people go missing, the forensics suggest that the victim was a man in his forties. Inspector Wexford and his team go about their business as usual interviewing the villagers, searching through records of missing persons and following Wexford’s uncanny hunches.

A side story in the novel looks at the issue of Female Genital Mutilation. Kingsmarkham, the fictitious town where Wexford’s team are based, has a significant Somali population, and there is concern that one family is looking to get their young daughter circumcised either by going to Somalia or having an “auntie” do the barbaric procedure locally. The FGM has nothing to do with the murder, but is something the author wants to bring to her readers’ attention.

Much of the book consists of detectives searching through missing persons files and questioning and re-questioning persons of interest. Little by little they discover information that leads to the resolution of the case. Ruth Rendell is a master of this sort of fiction, she creates some interesting characters and delves into their psychology.

My rating 4 out of 5

Posted in 4 star review | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

“Blood Omen Book 1: The Vampire Wars” by Katie Ruth Davies

As the “1” in the title suggests, this is not a stand alone book but the first in a series (of five books).

p1560146

Blood Omen 1: The Vampire Wars

I might not be the target audience for this, it seems more aimed at Young Adults, but it was an entertaining read.

Our protagonist  is 17 year old Dea, we are thrown immediately into the action… “Run. Run. Run.” Dea’s mother is killed and Dea is kidnapped by a group of vampires. Dea has a strange ability to see vampires, where most humans can’t.

From a casual glance they look the same as us but I, unlike most people recognise that they are as different from humans as cats are from mice. They carry a different, colder, darker aura.

Recognising vampires doesn’t stop her being scared, “Goosebumps raced up my arms and chased shivers down my spine.”

My own reading of vampire fiction has been scant, I read and enjoyed Bram Stoker’s classic “Dracula” and “Interview with a Vampire” by Anne Rice.  I have not read the Twilight books, and there are times I worry that this will stray into the Twilight territory with gushing description of gorgeous vampires with beautiful eyes and their unearthly beauty (“hey, they were all pretty sexy“). But there is plenty of action to recapture my interest. A breathless car chase ensues after Dea is kidnapped by the good vampires as they flee from the Apophi (the really bad vampires). The pace then slows as Dea is holed up at their coven in the woods. The cars are not named but the motorcycles the vampires used are (a couple of Hondas and a Suzuki).

At the cottage, Dea is held captive supposedly for her own good, and finds there is a lot she has to learn about vampires, but they tantalisingly won’t tell her, a recurrent theme throughout the book. They have their language Strix, presumably from the striges, bloodthirsty birds of Ancient Greek mythology, the language looks a little like Romanian. Then there is the difference between the born vampires (Llamia) and the humans turned vampire (Aluka) and human blood slaves (Abdun’i).

Dea falls for one of her captors (Stockholm Syndrome?), the vampire Santi, like a love-sick teenager (“my heart somersaulted in my chest. The way he was looking at me… God I wanted him.“) and makes the mistake once of tasting his blood.

Vampire blood doesn’t taste like human blood: it’s thicker; darker; headier.

The vampires, as you might expect need blood to survive, and human blood is the best. The good vampires try to justify this by mostly choosing victims who are monsters themselves, murderers, child molesters and their ilk. You can imagine if vampires say they are going for a drink in town it might be more sinister than if a human said it. Why don’t they drink from Dea? There are hints throughout the book of a prophecy of which Dea is a key component, but to find out more you will need to read the following books in the series.

This novel is a welcome addition to the vampire genre, mixing action, romance, psychology and some intriguing details about vampires.

My rating : 4 out of 5

 

Posted in Kindle | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Le droit de ne pas finir un livre.

Daniel Pennac the French writer and teacher, wrote a short non-fiction book, originally published in French in 1992 “Comme un Roman” (The English title was “The Rights of the Reader“). It’s a wonderfully economical and witty exploration of why we read and why we don’t.

Pennac describes how young children are introduced to the magic of reading. Then he examines how they’re put off usually at school, when they are asked questions about what they are reading and reading becomes a dreary chore.

In the book Pennac lays down the 10 rights of the reader (droits du lecteur).

  1. Le droit de ne pas lire.      The right not to read.
  2. Le droit de sauter des pages.    The right to skip pages.
  3. Le droit de ne pas finir un livre. The right to not finish a book.
  4. Le droit de relire. The right to reread.
  5. Le droit de lire n’importe quoi.  The right to read anything.
  6. Le droit au bovarysme (maladie textuellement transmissible). The right to escapism.
  7. Le droit de lire n’importe où. The right to read anywhere. (I like to read on the metro, despite the often odd stares by my fellow travellers)
  8. Le droit de grappiller.  The right to skip in.
  9. Le droit de lire à haute voix. The right to read out loud.
  10. Le droit de nous taire.   The right to be quiet.

The third rule is good, the right not to finish a book. Many people are of the mindset that if you start a book you are forced to finish it. I will usually give a book 30 or 40 pages and if it hasn’t caught me by then, I’ll find something else to read. Some books require more perseverance.

This month, there have been a three books, which I have started but they failed to grab me, they still have the bookmarks in place, but the chances of me finishing them are close to zero. They may be good books, but I am not prepared to put in the effort to find out, I’d rather something that draws me in and doesn’t let go (like  “And the Mountains Echoed” by Khaled Hosseini which I did read all the way through this month.

books

I’ve started but I probably won’ finish.

Tomorrow (Wednesday 1 February) is Tbilisi English Book Swap, if any of these books interest you and you are in Tbilisi, come along to the Teahouse (in Lagidze street opposite the Opera House) from 7.30pm and you can have them.

Posted in reading | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

“And the Mountains Echoed” by Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini is a marvellous storyteller. He wrote “The Kite Runner” and “A Thousand Splendid Suns“.

p1550943

And the Mountains Echoed

This novel covers over sixty years from the late forties to 2010. He’s great with words and produces images that flow like poetry. The story is touching, emotional and speaks of life’s hardships and the difficult choices one must make. Deeper than that, it speaks of how the choices you make now may have a ripple effect- or echo- over time.

Unlike his previous novels that tended to focus on just a couple of characters, this has a larger cast. There maybe too many stories to follow. We begin with 10 year old Abdullah and his beloved 3 year old sister Pari, in Afghanistan in the fifties, they are inseparable until the day their hard working father sells the daughter to a childless rich couple in Kabul. Pari grows up feeling some absence in her life, but not knowing what.

Pari didn’t understand. She read a story once about a middle aged Turkish man who had suddenly slipped into a deep depression when the twin brother he never knew existed had suffered a fatal heart attack while on a canoe expedition in the Amazon rainforest. It was the closest anyone had come to articulating what she felt.

Abdullah was older and never forgot his little sister, even when he moved to America.

This is not just the tale of two siblings separated at an early age but of many related narratives. One is of a Greek plastic surgeon, whose childhood friend had been savagely disfigured by a dog, a fact which leads to him working as a volunteer in Kabul, helping children disfigured in the conflicts that have ebbed and flowed across Afghanistan. A dozen life stories have been compressed into the novel united by the Kabul connection and a substantial yearning.

If the novel doesn’t move you at some level, you are truly heartless.

My rating 5 out of 5

Posted in 5 Star Review | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

“Lethal People” by John Locke

John Locke is the 8th author in history to have sold one million eBooks on Kindle (I actually read a paper based copy). This is not great literature, the characters don’t develop but it has a pacy plot and being the first in the series you will be able to read more if you like his style.

p1550601

Lethal People

Our protagonist is Donovan Creed, a name I find rather similar sounding to Jonathan Creek (a BBC drama series featuring an illusions expert who solves seemingly impossible crimes). Creed is not Creek, he is employed as a counter terrorist operative by homeland security, who moonlights as an assassin if the price is right.

As the title might suggest there is a high body count, particularly when a gangland boss blows up a hotel in an attempt to eliminate our protagonist.

There is some humour, or attempts thereof:

When you have survived a bomb blast and more than a hundred people didn’t, it’s hard to focus on rumors of a possible hickey on Paris Hilton’s neck.

The plot requires a little suspension of disbelief, like when the hero along with an army of midgets in a Winnebago head for the baddie’s hideout. The hero has no money worries and plenty of high tech weaponry from his official employers.

The plot is pacy but it could do with more twists and perhaps a proper climax, in the end it is a little disappointing.

My rating 3 out of 5

Posted in 3 star review | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Reading Review 2016

I read 49 books in 2016, which is less than in 2015.

screenshot-from-2016-12-29-172959

books read in each year

I think my favourite from the books I read this year was “The Bastard of Istanbul” by Elif Şafak, a popular Turkish writer.

This was the first year I started reading books on my phone using a Kindle App, the first was “As I Died Laughing” by David Lloyd. It is handy when I want a book with me but don’t want to carry a physical book and the highlighting option is useful, when I get down to writing a review. However, I don’t think I’ll be giving up on paper based books just yet.

I am currently reading “Pickwick Papers” by Charles Dickens on the app and carry around a traditional paperback of “Lethal People” by John Locke to read on the metro, where I do most of my reading.

Posted in Kindle | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

“Chart Throb” by Ben Elton

It is difficult to ridicule what is already ridiculous. Here Ben Elton aims his satire at the Reality TV Talent shows in the X Factor mould.

p1550387

Chart Throb

Chart Throb shows the manipulation of the talent hopefuls and the audiences by the producer and lead judge Calvin Simms (a Simon Cowell caricature). The choice of finalists is manipulated for entertainment purposes. Fragile individuals are exploited, they have their dreams elevated then dashed one by one to entertain the audience. Ben Elton introduces his Royal Highness Prince Charles into the mix as a wannabe star, the other self obsessed contenders think at first he is a celebrity lookalike.

The format of the show will be familiar to those  who have watched X Factor or America’s Got Talent. The shows are more about entertainment than unearthing real talent, Calvin Simms does whatever it takes to add entertainment, through conflict, scripting the other judges, editing everything to create the desired fictions.

“That’s right. We are not a talent show. What are we?” (Calvin)

“We’re an entertainment show. ” his people replied.

“My job, your job, our job is to entertain. If dumping the best singer is the more entertaining than keeping him then that is what we do because the public are not interested in the singing.

I was expecting a funnier book from the writer of Young Ones and Black Adder, but I didn’t find a lot of laughs between the pages. The pace is fast, but a lot of the story is repetitious, some of this is intentional, the judges endlessly repeating to contestants “you really owned that song” or Beryl the transsexual judge continually telling everyone else what a great mum she is.

A previous reader of my copy of the novel was a Russian speaker in the first few pages several words are underlined and translated into Russian, but it seems the previous reader gave up by page 90, as the under-linings stop (except for a few near the end of the book…maybe they jumped to the end).

chart-throb

Under-linings and Russian word

The contestants are categorised by the Chart Throb team as Mingers (ugly wannabes), Clingers (needy wannabes) and Blingers (show offs). The editing is ruthless and manipulative, “I’m not claiming I’m the next Elvis” can easily be cut to “I’m claiming to be the next Elvis” and the public won’t warm to any contestant comparing themselves to the King.

My rating : 3 out of 5

In Georgia like most countries there is an X factor like show, here it is called ნიჭიერი (talent) with it’s own local flavour, where squeezing 20 people into a Nissan Micra is one of the acts. Squeezing into the public transport here is .good practice

20 people in a Micra

Posted in 3 star review | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Memphis Underground” by Stewart Home

Like a Modern Art exhibition this book went from truly awful to amazingly wonderful and back (sometimes in the same paragraph).

p1550088

Memphis Underground

The book cover resembles a vinyl record and there are many times the narrative passes by Berwick Street Market and other vinyl emporiums in London and elsewhere. The short chapters are titled with what could be the titles of Northern Soul classics, if I could be bothered to check. The protagonist could be fictional or the real Stewart Home, he goes by many names describe himself as an Afro Celt and adds the caveat that biographies and autobiographies in particular are works of fiction.

The book is a bizarre  mash-up of overlapping narratives about art vandals, struggling on welfare (“welfare payments had become rarer in the British Isles than sightings of red squirrels“), wife swapping, soul music, blow-up dolls, council housing, heroin addiction, arts funding and Death. Home undercuts the more sensational novelistic content by including personal interviews, aesthetic manifestos, and diary-type entries.

He suggests describing cold turkey would be as meaningless as a 10 000 word essay on the inside of a ping pong ball, but then goes on to describe it anyway.

In the beginning we see the protagonist, taking the identity “Tony Cheam” and going to work in the Orkney Islands at an open prison, as an artist-in-residence. He wants to blow up the Old Man of Hoy a giant rock stack in the name of art. He delights in the vandalism of art, like the burning of David Mach’s Polaris or the Chinese artists having a pillow fight on Tracey Emin’s bed. He is unhappy when the governor of the open prison, wants to see him make real art. “The cretin was forcing me to produce what he called proper drawings.” He incites the burning of the exhibition to collect on the insurance money. There is a lot about contemporary art and culture and the mediocrity of Salman Rushdie’s writing.

“I sometimes fantasised about giving up impersonating a barely professional artist and turning to crime, but I was too stuck in a junk rut to make any changes to my life.”

This isn’t so much a novel as an anti-novel, the author making an appearance midway through and staying there. “After Joyce, post Finnegan’s Wake, there really isn’t any point in writing novels – Literature is dead.” There are many references to contemporary cultural figures.

“Cain’s Book is autobiography written by a writer intelligent enough to understand that this meant it was also fiction.

There is much talk of neoism, I don’t know if this is an actual art movement or just a parody, being a prefix  and suffix with no substance between.

One of the characters is called Claire Grogan, but no references are made to Altered Images (the lead singer of said band is also Claire Grogan), is it just coincidence, the character penned is a sex object from a privileged background.

Near the end of the book Home writes:

“Under the codename Memphis Underground, the Reaper wanted to create a meaningless post-modern allegory using me as the canvas on which to paint his sick vision.”

There is a lot of repetition, whether it be making trips around London to find rare vinyl or perverted playing with blow up dolls. One of the strangest books, I’ve ever read.

My rating for this book overall is 3 out of 5 (some parts were worthy of 5 out of 5 and others 0 out of 5)

Posted in 3 star review | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments