Archive for January, 2009

Practical Demonkeeping by Christopher Moore

I think I picked this up because it was recommended on one of those “if you like this you might also like…” things on either Amazon or Library thing.

It’s set in the fictional town of Pine Cove, California. Travis travels there with Catch, the man-eating demon he accidentally found himself saddled with and is desperately trying to get rid of. All kinds of silliness ensues.

I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would, but I think maybe I wasn’t really in the right mood for it. It was a good read, funny and entertaining but with a storyline as well so it doesn’t just hang on the jokes. I don’t know why I never really felt absorbed in the book because there’s nothing about it that I shouldn’t have liked more, but having said all that I did enjoy it.

I will be looking up some of his other books before I work out whether to stick with the author but I think I probably will.

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Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman

I have “read more graphic novels” as a rather vague goal for this year and, as I like Neil Gaiman’s books, I thought this would be a good place to start.

It took me a while to get into the swing of reading it – I’ve never read a graphic novel/comic book before and I didn’t get my head round it straight away. I enjoyed it a lot though, and I particularly liked the last story in the book which featured Death. I understand there’s a series featuring her so I’ll be looking that up too.

The basic story is about Morpheus (the sandman) who is captured and imprisoned for 60 years. He manages to escape and this series of stories is about him regrouping and regaining his power. I’m looking forward to reading more of this now that the groundwork has been laid.

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

This was another book club read, and one I knew nothing about before I read it. The blurb gives absolutely nothing away so I’m going to try not to either because a lot of the power of the book comes from the fact that you have no idea what’s coming when it hits you.

As a vague synopsis the book is told from the point of view of Daisy, a fifteen year-old New Yorker who is sent to stay with her aunt and cousins in England. And it goes from there…

The writing style grated on me at first but works well given the voice of the narrator – there’s very little punctuation, it’s a stream of consciousness narrative. She also has a tendency to capitalise seemingly random words but that works well for emphasising the bits that are important to Daisy. Once you’ve settled into this it becomes less of an issue.

It sounds odd to say it but overall I didn’t like this book, but do think it’s very good. I’m not sure what it is I don’t like about it – Daisy’s relationship with her cousin doesn’t bother me particularly, I like the characters and you find yourself quite drawn into it. I think possibly it suffered from being read immediately after This Thing of Darkenss which is one of the best books I’ve ever read, maybe I was making unfair comparisons. Maybe it’s just that it was an uncomfortable story. That said it’s a powerful story, there’s a lot in there and it really does make you think. I’d recommend it.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

I discovered Neil Gaiman’s books last year – I think mainly because the I liked the look of the Stardust film, but I have a thing about making sure I read the book before I see a film adaptation. I really enjoyed Stardust, then went on to read Neverwhere, Good Omens and American Gods, all of which I loved. So I was really pleased when a friend bought me this for Christmas.

It’s a children’s book so much shorter and with less complex language than the other Gaiman books I’ve read. However that doesn’t mean less attention was paid to the story and characters, and I really enjoyed it. It tells the story of Nobody Owens (Bod to his friends). The Man Jack breaks into his home when he’s a baby and murders his family, but Bod manages to escape. He makes it to the local graveyard and is then brought up by its residents.

It’s a coming of age story with a thriller behind it, as the Man Jack never gives up on trying to get to Bod. The illustrations fit really well with the style of the story and Silas, Bod’s mysterious guardian who doesn’t fit neatly into the living or dead categories, is one of my favourite literary characters ever.

Jordan: Pushed to the Limit by Katie Price

This was borrowed from a friend and is another departure from my usual reading. I tend to avoid celebrity magazines, and I don’t remember the last time I read an autobiography. That said I do have a bit of a soft spot for Jordan/Katie Price, and my friend had enjoyed these books so I thought I’d give it a go.

It’s interesting to see all the stuff that’s all over the press, that¬† you can’t really help hearing about even if you don’t buy Heat religiously, from the perspective of the people it actually happened to. Some fairly horrific stuff happened to her in the year the book describes and, as you’d expect, it doesn’t shy away from any of it. Bits of it made me cry and bits of it made me quite cross on her behalf. Worth a read.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

This was another book club read, but one I’d suggested after I was intrigued by the title and heard numerous recommendations.

It’s about a young girl, the Book Thief of the title, who is living with foster parents in Germany during WWII. It’s pretty much about her life and it’s various dramas – some relatively small but important to her, and some huge. Oh, and it’s narrated by Death.

I thought I was going to be disappointed at first. The flow of the narrative kept being interrupted by little snippets in bold type that either expanded on a point, gave some extra information or told you what was coming up, and that was quite difficult to get used to. It kind of creeps up on you though and after a while I realised I was completely hooked and genuinely worried about what was coming up which, in a war, isn’t usually good.

Death tells you quite early on that he doesn’t believe in building mystery, so each part begins with a list of what’s coming up. This actually works well to build tension because, as much as the unknown is scary, sometimes knowing what’s coming can be terrifying too. The ending is bittersweet – as you’d expect it doesn’t end happily for everyone, and it would have spoiled the book if it did, but it’s satisfying enough. I cried (fortunately I wasn’t reading it in public when I finished it!).

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

This was actually the first full book I read this year but for some reason I missed posting about it…

I haven’t actually seen the film, but the title and the cover appealed to me, plus I’m reading more about magic these days. I’ve read a synopsis of the film and I think they’ve made it much happier and fluffier than the book, though I’ll have to watch it to judge that properly.

The book is about two sisters, Sally and Gillian, who grow up living with their witch aunts following the death of their parents. The book covers their late childhood and adult lives as they decide they need to get away from their childhood home – they’re extremely close at the start of the book but differences develop as their lives go in separate directions, until they’re forced together again by various events.

I really enjoyed this and will be looking out for more of Alice Hoffman’s books. For the most part the supernatural takes a back seat – it’s very much woven into the background of the story but never takes over for the sake of it. There are actually some fairly dark themes, and the writing is very clever in that it lulls you into this safe, secure trance and then you suddenly realise something horrible has happened.

There’s a happy ending, which I liked because I’m a sucker for those, but it didn’t feel contrived. For all their flaws you do find yourself liking the sisters and, later, Sally’s daughters and you do come out of it feeling like the world is a slightly¬† more magical place – pretty much what I want from a book really.

This Thing of Darkness by Harry Thompson

I really can’t say enough good things about this book.

It’s a fictionalised account of the life of Robert Fitzroy, the man who captained The Beagle while Darwin was a passenger. Darwin does appear in a large portion of the book, and there’s a lot about their friendship, but it does cover some of his career before that and up to the end of his life. Not the kind of thing I would usually pick up at all, but a friend from work was reading it and was so enthusiastic I thought it was worth giving it a go, and it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.

It’s a big book at around 750 pages, and took me almost two weeks to read (though I did read a couple of other books alongside it) – it never takes me more than a few days to read a book so that’s a long time for me – but I loved every minute of it and felt a bit bereft when it was finished.

I know shamefully little about that period in our history but there’s a reassuring bibliography and it appears to be very well researched. There’s an author’s postscript which is just as interesting as the rest of the book outlining what was real, what wasn’t and what happened to the people and places since.

It was fascinating to see the thought processes of both Darwin and Fitzroy (albeit fictionalised versions) as one developed his theory of evolution, and the other made significant, if ignored, advances in things like weather forecasting which. It’s a great inside into the culture and attitudes of Britain at the time and often made me quite angry at how we used to be – the attitude that all land was there to be taken, that the ‘savages’ were less intelligent, less than human and there to be used, that they could be ‘improved’ by teaching them English and saved by converting them to Christianity. Slavery has just been abolished but the culture is a long way from changing. The Old Testament is taken to be the literal truth of how the world was created.

There’s a lot of technical detail about the voyage, but not so much that it’s off putting. The language used by the author seems to be very faithful to the language of the time, but never becomes too heavy or overwhelming.

I’m recommending this to anyone who’ll sit still for long enough to listen at the moment, and if my To Read pile wasn’t so huge I’d already be reading it again.

Definitely Dead by Charlaine Harris

This is book six in the Southern Vampire Mysteries series, on which the TV show True Blood is based. I haven’t actually seen the show, since it’s only on in the US, but read about it and decided to try the books while I wait. I love this series – it’s fun, I really like the main characters and there’s lots of supernatural goodness.

In this installment Sookie has to go to New Orleans to clear the apartment of her vampire cousin, who is now definitely dead. My main criticism of the book is that it seems to assume you already know this bit of backstory and, unless you read some of the short stories outside in the various anthologies outside the series, you don’t. That said it’s easy to catch up.

It doesn’t go smoothly, obviously. There’s a bit more exploration of Quinn from the previous book, comparitively little Bill and Eric, which is a shame in one way but the book doesn’t feel like it’s missing anything, and a witch called Amy who I’m hoping will appear again. There’s a lot going on but it works well and is an enjoyable admission to the series.

The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde

I read this because it was the first of my book club reads, and also because it’s been sitting waiting for me to read it for a long time for no particular reason.

Set in a fictional version of Reading the book is a murder mystery. Detective Jack Spratt and his partner Mary Mary of the Nursery Crimes Division are trying to solve it, under pressure to produce a publishable mystery story at the same time. This is the first of a series in which two have so far been published, and the only one of them I’ve read to date (though I’ve owned the other one for a while as well and it will be picked up this year).

I enjoyed this too – it was a light, fun read and it’s funny throughout. The ending is convoluted but not too difficult to follow and you’re very much on Jack Spratt’s side throughout. There are numerous nursery rhyme references and a number of affectionate digs at the detective novel/TV show. On the whole I didn’t enjoy it as much as the Thursday Next series, which are among my favourite books ever, but it’s still very good.

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