Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Doors Open

Ian Rankin is one of my favourite mystery/crime authors so it's no surprise that I liked Doors Open, although I have to admit it wouldn't make my top ten list. There's really only one reason for that and that is the perspective of the book. It's written from the perspective of the criminal and not the hero. This wouldn't normally pose a problem, but Rankin's character Mike McKenzie is an is all too likeable character and I can sympathize with him just a little too much. It becomes quite hard to justify liking Mike and his friends with the legality of their position, especially when Mike nearly befriends a notorious gangster. Rankin makes you want to root for Mike, despite knowing what he is doing is wrong, and that puts you in a bit of a dilemma as reader.

Having said that, it is an ingenious story. Saying more would give away the plot, but the way the whole plan develops pulls you in and makes you feel like you're there watching it all. There are also a couple of interesting twists and turns that keep you on the edge of your seat until the end. All in all I can recommend this book. It's a good read, even if I personally didn't feel comfortable with the situation Rankin puts the reader in. After all, it gives the reader a bit of a different perspective towards certain types of criminals. It's easy to say how incomprehensible it is for respectable people to commit crimes, but when you're in the middle of it, things look quite different.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

The Swords of Lankhmar by Fritz Leiber

I'd seen this series floating around on audible, but could never make up my mind to try it. Then, last week when it went on sale, I saw that Niel Gaiman did the intro and figured it might be good after all. Besides, for that price, I could live with one that wasn't so great.

If you are a teenage boy, this book is probably brilliant. Lots of sword fighting, beautiful women and naked slaves. Don't get me wrong, it's not x-rated or anything, but there is a lot of innuendo and all the things that are right up a young boy's street. It's no wonder Gaiman liked it. I don't think I know a single male who wouldn't. As for me, I thought it was OK. I got through it, but, being female and not so enamoured with beautiful women and naked slaves, I won't be reading it again, or buying any of the other books in the series.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

The Children of Hurin, Not Dead Enough, One Step Behind

My latest reads are The Children of Hurin by J.R.R. Tolkein, Not Dead Enough by James Patterson, One Step Behind by Henning Mankell and Ten Second Staircase by Christopher Fowler

The Children of Hurin is the Pre-History of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It tells the story of the lord of Dor-lómin's, Hurin's, children. Hurin is captured by Morgoth, who is similar to Sauron in the LotR trilogy. Morgoth tries to break Hurin, but cannot and susequently curses Hurin's family. Most of the book is about Hurin's son, Turin, who is a proud, but upright man, who, either through curse or pride, brings death and sadness to those around him. Everything he touches goes well for a time, but then goes wrong. Often, this is a result of Turin's poor judgement, but it is implied that it's the curse at work. Turin is constantly going in quest of one thing or another, but keeps changing his goals as he wanders through Middle-Earth. Perhaps his greatest failing is lack of constancy and direction. Had he stuck to one goal or another instead of constantly changing his mind and fleeing from his problems, he might have spared himself and his family much pain. The book itself reads like a cross between the Bible and a Greek Tragedy. It's a fairly dark book, but enjoyable all the same. I listened to this rather than read it, but think it might have been better to read it in print what with the elvish influence on the language. I might go back and read it one day, just to give myself a better grasp of the novel.

Not Dead Enough is a crime/mystery novel along the lines of Ian Rankin's works. It centres around a man whose wife is murdered in their own home. The next victim is a friend of his, with whom he is alleged to have had an affair, but of which he knows nothing. To say more would give the story away. It is a good read though. Not quite as good as Rankin's books, but high enough up on my list to warrent reading more in the series. I wish I had started with the first in the series, but Audible doesn't have it (yes, surprise, surprise it's an audiobook). I will go back and start from the beginning though. It will give me something relaxing to read on a Sunday when I have time and can manage not to fall asleep after two pages.

Speaking of which, I just finished Henning Mankell's One Step Behind, which is out of the Wallander series. I enjoyed this one much more than the first in the series, Faceless Killers (also good, but not as good as this one). Another good crime/mystery novel, perfect for Sunday reading (yes, this one was an actual book).

I also recently finished Ten Second Staircase, another one of Christopher Fowler's Peculiar Crime Unit books. Again a good read. Very perplexing, as all the PCU books are, with comfortable characters and pleasent dialogue. His books are something of a cross between Agatha Christie and The X Files (more "Scully" than "Mulder"). This one had a rather ingenius solution which is acutally quite chilling if you think about it. Again, if I say any more, it will give the plot away. Another good Sunday read, although this was a weekend audiobook. Still, perfect for relaxing at the weekend.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Classics Challenge

Audible is having another one of its $4.95 sales, so I got 5. How could you possibly pass up that price? I wound up with:

I Claudius by Robert Graves (One of those I've always heard of, yet have never read)
Middlemarch by George Elliot (Have never been able to get through this in print. I have hope for audio format)
One Step Behind by Henning Mankell (I realized later that I'd just read it. Doh!)
The Swords of Lankhmar by Fritz Lieber (read by Niel Gaiman and since I like Gaiman, I'm hoping to like Lieber. It's a good price to try new authors out.)
A Dangerous Fortune by Ken Follett (I've never read Follett since I'm a bit afraid of him being another Dan Brown (overrated, undertalented imho) but again, it's a good price to try out new authors)

I know I had already set my books for the challenge, but I'm changing them already. I'm going to substitute one of the Dickens books for either Middlemarch or I Claudius, possibly both. Acutally, it might be more of an adding on to the list, but we'll see when we get there.

I finally finished Undead and Unwed. Ugh! Never again. It was truly funny in places, but otherwise, a complete waste of time. Again, this is my humble opinion, but I thought it was poorly written, the language was unnecessary, the sex scenes were just bad and the whole thing had an incongruous feel to it. The protagonist didn't stick to a single thing she said, except for the shoe fettish, and the constant flip flopping made me want to smack her. It's too bad really, because the basic idea had potential. Again, I'm sure the author cares all the way to the bank.

Coraline - now this was another story. Yes, it's a children's book, but a good one and I'm sure I would have adored it as a child. I have to admit that The Graveyard Book was much better, but then I think Coraline might have been meant for a slightly younger audience. Whichever way you look at it, it was entertaining and a cute read.

Monday, 16 March 2009

The Reader by Bernard Schlink

I just finished The Reader by Bernhard Schlink. What can I say? Devastating on so many different levels. You see the Holocaust from at least three different points of view in this book: the victim's, the perpetrator's (or one kind thereof, because there are arguably many different levels of participation) and the future generation's, or those who live through the aftermath of the aftermath. It makes it clearer than even some of Levi's and Wiesel's work, that the suffering caused by that era goes on and on and on. Without taking away that the greatest sufferers of the Holocaust were the Jewish People, it makes the phrase Crimes Against Humanity much more real. The Holocaust destroyed the souls of an entire country in one way or another. This is, perhaps, something we should never recover from. Not that I think it should all be turned into a festering wound that's never allowed to heal, but the scars need to be there to remind all of us just what the country suffered as a whole. It should also never be forgotten that those scars are self inflicted.

Re-reading this, I don't think I'm making myself clear, but I don't know how to express what I mean without running the risk of unintentional offence, so I'll just leave it there. Suffice it to say that, like any of the Holocaust literature, it shouldn't be read when you're feeling depressed. Just saying that makes me feel weak in comparison with those who actually lived though what we only read about, but that doesn't make it any less true.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake

This is one of those books I decided to read because I'd heard of it, but didn't really know what it was about. It also sounded sort of interesting since it's categorized as fantasy/literature and I knew it was set in a gigantic fairy tale castle of enormous proportions complete with hidden rooms and lost hallways. Unfortunately, it sounded a lot more interesting than it was, or rather, the idea is a lot more interesting than the execution of the idea. This book reminds me of Nathaniel Hawthorn, Alice in Wonderland and a humourless Terry Pratchett all rolled into one.

Most of the book is narration used by the author to convey the sense of stagnation within the castle and castle life, which centres around ritual and tradition. Peake was exceptionally good at conveying this. He did it so well that it was difficult to get through the book without stabbing out your eyeballs with your knitting needles.

The characters give off a sense of reality that is so real, that is has become distorted. Their seriousness goes so far, that reaches the ridiculous. It's like entering a parallel world where all is just slightly off and seemingly impossible, yet it's happening. The stagnation of the castle is so great that the reader finds himself identifying and liking the main character, Steerpike, so much, that it's almost easy to find his ruthless and murderous plans defensible. The world he lives in would drive anyone to extremes just to change it. It feels like he's ultimately doing them a favour, even if his actions are extremely reprehensible. Indeed, without Steerpike, the treacle like life within the castle might have become so slow and stagnant, that it one day would stop altogether, so in a sense, Steerpike is the catalyst for new life and thus deserves a medal.

All in all, I would say that the book makes it's points very well, but because it does so, it's not an overly interesting read. I doubt I'll ever read the rest of the series.

Classics Challenge 2009

I've been meaning to post my list for this so here goes:

Silas Marner by George Elliot
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carol
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
The Tenent of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë
Saturday by Ian McEwan
The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens

Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

There are also a few more I already own and may read, but I won't know until I get there. It all depends on what I feel like reading/listening to.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Collective Post

I've been rather too busy to post about what I've been reading, so it's been a while. I hate leaving books out because I feel it's unfair to tout one book but not another. So, this is going to be a quick, collective update (book links on the side):

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo - Gripping, excellent mystery novel. There are a few sexually explicit and some rather violent scenes, but they are neither out of context nor tasteless. I'm not one who usually enjoys violence, or indeed sexual violence, but this was warranted and helped tell the story, even if it was momentarily disturbing. All in all a great book which I can recommend to any adult mystery lover.

The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton
The Story of Bagman's Uncle

These are both short stories by Dickens. They're interesting and a bit spooky. Enjoyable if you want a quick read.

The Edgar Allan Poe Collection - What can I say, it's Poe. You either like him, or you don't. I like most of his work, so reading the collection was enjoyable for me. I suppose The Fall of the House of Usher is my favourite because of the parallels between the downfall of the house with the downfall of humans, specifically those living in the house. It takes being haunted by your past to new heights.

Free Range Knitter - Excellent book, even for non-knitters. Insightful, interesting, touching and funny. I've recommended it to several people so far and everyone has enjoyed it.

The Tales of Beedle the Bard - Cute book and a good background read if you're into Harry Potter. I suppose it wouldn't make much sense if you weren't. As I am, I quite enjoyed it.

The Victoria Vanishes
The Water Room

Both of these are from Christopher Fowler's Peculiar Crime Unit series. Both are good, homey mysteries. Neither too brutal, gory, scary, nor too silly. It's like reading Agatha Christie. You know it'll be a good read, but it won't haunt you for ages to come in your nightmares.

The Last Battle
Prince Caspian

Both of these are out of the C.S. Lewis children's series. I liked The Last Battle much better than I did the last time I read it, possibly because it's easier for me to see the symbolism now. Both were good reads, regardless of whether you look deep into them or not. I still like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe best out of the series though.

Magyk / Flyte / Physik / Quest by Angie Sage

These are most definitely children's books, but they are so fun. I know a lot of you have already heard me gushing about them, but I really did like them. They aren't a deep read, but the characters are engaging, the stories are interesting and much of it is just fun. Darn good stories. We could use more of those in children's lit. Loved them and they are on my very soon to be re-read list.

The House of the Seven Gables by Nate hawthorn

I do really keep trying to like American Literature and this was my latest attempt. I'm sorry Inkysticks, I know you loved it, but I just didn't. Hawthorn uses a lot of symbolism, which is good, but he tends to go on and on about it until you feel like screaming at him that you "darn well got the point already so move on would you please!?" I don't necessarily need action packed books, but this one could have done with a little more interaction with the characters instead of the circuitous explanations of things past. It's only redeeming factor is the ending, which is at least quite a bit less dismal than the rest of the book. As for the Gothic mystery part, Nate should have taken courses from Poe because it sort of left me feeling like it was a weak attempt at Poe imitation. This book didn't do it for me at all I'm afraid.

Wizard's First Rule

I understand this is being made into a series, but I can't imagine it will be good. The book itself is a bit of a conundrum for me. It was engaging enough for me to finish it fairly quickly, but there were parts I would have edited out heavily. Goodkind took certain things too far, as in too much of a good thing is no longer good. Specifically I remember beginning to think that Goodkind must be some kind of sado-masochist or something because the torture scenes just went on and on and on and...You get the point. Even though he used them to make a good point, they were overdone in my opinion and the point could have been made with fewer words. That doesn't mean to say I'm criticizing the violence, just the length. There were a few other places I felt like could have benefited from a good editor as well, but it was a decent read all in all. I'm just not sure I will be reading any more of his books, or at least not if I have to purchase them to do so.

Making Money

Typical Terry Pratchett. If you like Mr. Pratchett's works, you'll like Making Money. It's full of satire which happens to be particularly poignant in today's economy. Enjoyable story, with lots of subtle and not so subtle humour and commentary, a good, quick read.

Finally, The Shell Seekers

I read this because Inkysticks recommended it to me. I had seen the movie, but just thought it was fluff. The book was much better. There was so much more behind the characters that didn't come out in the movie, although they did portray the money-grubbing children fairly accurately. It's difficult to describe this book. There was so much happiness and yet so much sadness, much of which was unnecessary. It's a book every young girl should read before her first serious relationship. It might make an impression as to how much a decision can effect your life. Again, sometimes I found myself wondering why I was reading it, but I have to admit that it haunted me for several days after I finished it, so it wasn't just a fluff book. It introduces many themes which deserve thought and reflection and creates a surprising emotional attachment to at least one of the characters. All in all a good book. I might read more by Rosamund Pilcher.

That's all for now.