Tuesday, 30 October 2012

JOE R. LANSDALE - INCIDENT ON AND OFF A MOUNTAIN ROAD


Blurb, sort of...... In “Incident On and Off a Mountain Road,” Lansdale offers readers a heroine who is far more than what she seems. Pursued by a monstrous madman, Ellen calls upon her survival skills and leads readers toward a mind-blowing twist ending.

 

Another freebie from the Amazon site, which I found while having a browse.

Not my usual bag though I’m familiar with Lansdale’s work. I have read a few of his previous horror offerings, The Drive-In 1 and 2, but my main enjoyment comes from his Hap and Leonard series, some of which I’ve read, but all of which I’ll be re-visiting.


Cutting to the chase, did I enjoy it? Would I recommend it to others? Will I find myself thinking about it again in the weeks and days ahead (always the mark of a good book in my opinion)?

Enjoyment factor.........yes, ok – passed some time, I didn’t feel like that’s an hour or two of my life I’ll never get back. The thing with short stories or novellas, a lot of time I don’t actually care what happens to the characters, mainly because they are crudely drawn brushstrokes and not fully realised people that I have an interest in.

Would I recommend it to others? I doubt it; if you want to find it it’s on Amazon as a freebie.

No- I won’t be thinking about this one again.

2.5 out of 5, which I shouldn’t complain about as it was a free download.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

JONATHAN FRANZEN - FREEDOM


BLURB..........

An international bestseller and the novel of the year, ‘Freedom’ is an epic of contemporary love and marriage.

This is the story of the Berglunds, their son Joey, their daughter Jessica and their friend Richard Katz. It is about how we use and abuse our freedom; about the beginning and ending of love; teenage lust; the unexpectedness of adult life; why we compete with our friends; how we betray those closest to us; and why things almost never work out as they ‘should’. It is a story about the human heart, and what it leads us to do to ourselves and each other.



I have avoided reading this book for a year or so, somewhat put off by the size of the volume, some 600-odd pages in length........not as long as some books on the TBR pile........ Robert Littell’s The Company awaits further down the line at 900’ish! I just prefer reading shorter, sharper books.

The book follows Patty and Walter Berglund, though mainly Patty through high school and college into middle age, traversing friendships, romance, marriage and parenthood and the inter-action of the older Berglunds with their neighbours, children, best (or worst) friend Richard and extended families. Franzen dissects and documents the mundane and everyday occurrences as well as those out of the ordinary. The devil is in the detail and Franzen skilfully and sometimes humorously examines the hurts and pain each one of them feels and imparts on to the others.

Franzen could be commentating on anyone of us, or all of us. There’s nothing particularly special or worthy about the Berglunds, that sets them apart from the rest of us trying to negotiate a way through life. I suppose that  was a big part of the novel’s enjoyment for me.

To be perfectly honest though, I didn’t really warm to Patty Berglund and as a result didn’t connect with her pain, her traumas and her life issues, though I didn’t find myself despising her at any point either.

Best bit of the book, Walter and his speech-giving, a proper laugh out loud comedy moment for me.

I haven’t read Franzen before, but being the greedy, avaricious accumulator that I am, I have The Corrections and The Twenty-Seventh City on pile TBR. I’ll read them some time in the next 20-years, but won’t be rushing to acquire his next tome.

In my opinion, John Irving does it better, probably with a touch more of the absurd but he’s made me care more for his characters particularly in “Garp” and “Owen Meany.”

Some commentators have described this as the “novel of the year,”  NO WAY!

Good, maybe a 3 plus out of 5, okay 4 then, but I wouldn’t even class it as the best book I’ve read this month.

My copy was acquired second-hand from one of the local charity shops in sunny Leighton Buzzard – a bargain at 50p!

DOUG JOHNSTONE - SMOKEHEADS


Blurb........

Four friends, one weekend, gallons of whisky. What could go wrong?

Driven by amateur whisky-nut Adam, four late-thirties ex-university mates are heading to Islay - the remote Scottish island world famous for its single malts - with a wallet full of cash, a stash of coke and a serious thirst.

Over a weekend soaked in the finest cask strength spirit, they meet young divorcee Molly, who Adam has a soft spot for, her little sister Ash who has all sorts of problems and Molly's ex-husband Joe, a control freak who also happens to be the local police. As events spiral out of control, they are all thrown into a nightmare that gets worse at every turn.

Once started it was a decent read, some likeable characters and some less so. There’s plenty of drug taking, alcohol consumption and a bit of an education in the production of Scottish malt. There were humorous moments and a fair measure of violence throughout. Roddy, the hard-nosed, coke-snorting trader mate of Adam’s and Joe the island bully-cum-policeman cross swords early on and then the lad’s weekend takes a turn for the worse.     

I did find the plot or the premise for Adam’s dream a tad implausible, but that could have been the author’s intention.....Adam the dreamer, Adam the fantasist, Adam the loser.      

Overall it was better than average, whilst I wasn’t totally invested emotionally in the outcome, I was keen to reach the journey’s end. Probably a 3 from 5, maybe 3.5,

This was my first encounter with Doug Johnstone’s writing..... reminded me a bit of Scottish Deliverance, without the banjo playing and pig-squealing! I have another book of Johnstone’s on mount TBR – Tombstoning which I will get to at some point. I wouldn’t put anyone off reading this, but neither would I be urging them to pick it up either.

The copy I read came from my local library.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

CURRENTLY READING........


3 on the go, for some bizarre reason,
HARD BITE - ANONYMOUS 9 on my laptop kindle
SWAN PEAK - JAMES LEE BURKE - probably finish this one first
HARRY'S GAME - GERALD SEYMOUR - first venture into this author's books

Hopefully I will get these three done by the end of the month, but I need one more to keep my monthly average up!

Thursday, 18 October 2012

MIKE NICOL - PAYBACK


Blurb........

More than a decade after the end of Apartheid, ex-gun-runners Mace Bishop and Pylon Buso are trying to settle down to a comfortable Cape existence. But when an old contact calls in a favour, they become embroiled once again in the country's violent underworld of crime and corruption - and with the lethal Islamist organisation PAGAD. A gripping tale of narcotics, arms-dealing and international intrigue, PAYBACK heralds the arrival of a major new crime-writing talent.

Praises sung by.........

Read Mike Nicol now, before everyone else starts telling you how wonderful he is."
John Connolly

 

"Mike Nicol is the rapidly rising star of South African crime fiction. His novels have everything I love about the genre in just the right amount: shady characters, twists, turns, murder, mayhem, humour, wonderful dialogue, white-knuckle pace and lots of authentic Cape Town colour."
Deon Meyer

 

"South Africa joins the hard-boiled stakes, and in a wondrous dazzling humorous novel. Imagine Elroy joining forces with Chester Himes, Coffin Ed, and Gravedigger, throw in the spectacular landscape of South Africa, and you ll get some sense of this wild and daring novel. One prays this is the first in a series if Tom Sharpe wrote mystery, this would be it."
Ken Bruen

I had high hopes for this book when I bought it, yet again sucked in and seduced by the soothing, enticing, creamy, lyrical and lavishing praise bestowed upon it by fellow authors. We’ve all bought those books and after reading them been puzzled and slightly disappointed; pondering whether a slight lack of intellect has thwarted us and as a result obscured the true majesty of the magical prose we’ve just invested time and money in.  

(I could ramble on about blurbs, back-scratching and sycophancy but I’d end up boring myself, let alone anyone else who may care to read this.) Suffice to say on this occasion the praise given is well deserved.

To the book.....absolutely top drawer, one of the best things I’ve read in the past couple of years. The main character is Mace Bishop, supported by his business partner Pylon Buso. One white, one black, and in a story set in post-apartheid Cape Town, initially I had a slight concern that it would turn into a pc-oriented tale of hope and harmony, that “ebony and ivory” to paraphrase Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder might be “living in perfect harmony” in the newly emerging Rainbow nation.

Nothing of the sort....... dodgy nightclubs, arms-dealing, dope fiends, bent police, gay-Italians, failing husbands and enough back story on Bishop and Buso that enriches the tale.........and one Sheemina February -a chilling, calculating adversary.

I won’t give away any more of the plot, but I would recommend this unreservedly to anyone with an interest in crime fiction. Fortunately for me there are two subsequent books in Nicol’s revenge trilogy that are still on mount TBR......Killer Country and Black Heart.     

6 OUT OF 5!

 

 

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

JOE R LANSDALE - TIGHT LITTLE STITCHES IN A DEAD MAN'S BACK

Last of the September reads.......

JOE R. LANSDALE – TIGHT LITTLE STITCHES IN A DEAD MAN’S BACK

Browsing Amazon and looking for availability on a couple of Lansdale’s missing Hap and Leonard books, I happened upon a few Lansdale freebies, of which this was one. Not sure if this should really count towards my year end books read total, as it could be a short story or a novella, but has been released on its own as a chapbook in the past. Anyway I’m claiming it.

I think Lansdale, the “Champion Mo-jo Storyteller” (self-proclaimed?), won the Bram Stoker award for this tale of survival in a post-apocalyptical world.

Descriptive, bleak, disturbing but ultimately unsatisfying..... It’s hard to feel a connection to the characters which makes you actually interested in how it all ends.

That’s a problem I have with most short stories I read
3 FROM 5   

EL JAMES - FIFTY SHADES DARKER

One of the last of my September reads........


EL JAMES – 50 SHADES DARKER

Blurb......

Romantic, liberating and totally addictive, the Fifty Shades trilogy will obsess you, possess you, and stay with you for ever ...

Daunted by the dark secrets of the tormented young entrepreneur Christian Grey, Ana Steele has broken off their relationship to start a new career with a US publishing house.

But desire for Grey still dominates her every waking thought, and when he proposes a new arrangement, she cannot resist. Soon she is learning more about the harrowing past of her damaged, driven and demanding Fifty Shades than she ever thought possible.

But while Grey wrestles with his inner demons, Ana must make the most important decision of her life. And it's a decision she can only make on her own ...

Well, I’ll try and find something positive to say about this unfortunate read. It’s only 532 pages long and despite not being what I would call a typical page-turner you can eat the pages up quite quickly! And I suppose anything that creates a media buzz and makes people who usually wouldn’t read, pick up a book can’t be a bad thing.

So why did I read it? Well, in the Keane household, I have a habit of reading what my wife has read previously, just so we can compare afterwards. Typically she reads the likes of Linwood Barclay, Harlan Coben, Tess Gerritsen etc, so whilst these aren’t on my A-list of people I would typically read through choice I have enjoyed some of these authors, some more than others. Anyway the girls at her work were reading these and chatting about them in the summer; ergo it’s my time a couple of months down the line.

I have to say James can write better than I can, though whether she is a good writer is doubtful in my opinion. For the record; I don’t write and I don’t have any aspirations to write but a big part of me has admiration for those who do and those who strive to, irrespective of whether or not they have any great talent.) But hey, she’s sold a zillion books and has probably made a sizeable chunk of change doing so, so good luck to her.

So back to the book............mildly interesting at the points where Ana interacts with others, sex parts – dull, tedious and repetitive. Worst parts – Ana’s continual naval-gazing where she ponders her Christian, and the situation and anticipates seeing her hunk of Steele, but not before getting in touch with her inner-goddess first. The only mildly interesting person in the book is Christian’s gopher, Taylor but that’s probably because he sits on the edge of things most of the time. I did find myself pondering my naval and trying to get in touch with my inner god, to see if perhaps Taylor knocked out Christian with a tyre iron, having finally decided he was fed-up being a paid slave, and whether could he be the right man for Ana....... but hey, life like a lot of books you read, doesn’t always turn out as you hope.    

I do wonder whether, Ana’s Christian, that abusive, controlling gazillionaire hunk of a man who, perfect in every way will finally start expelling fragrant diamond-encrusted stools in an effort to finally put the seal on their troubled relationship.

Anyway Ana and Christian, Christian and Ana......roll on book 3....crikes, I can hardly wait!

2 OUT OF 5 

Saturday, 13 October 2012

CURRENTLY READING.........


Franzen's too heavy for bedtime reading, I keep dropping it!
McIlvanney's a much better option,

Come back in a week or two I might have finished the first one!

Thursday, 11 October 2012

SOCK PUPPETS AND REVIEWS


A bit late to the party and the world has moved on, but hey......

I’m a reader, who enjoys a wide range of books, and have recently embarked on a blog (not that anyone apart from himself reads it) offering thoughts on his recent reads.    

Yes, I have been the recipient of occasional author giveaways and publisher promotions, but the majority of my books I have acquired, have been bought and paid for. I’ll have to add a footnote to my reviews advising the method of acquisition for the book in question.

I have read a fair few offerings on the subject of sock puppets from amongst others, Barry Eisler, Sandra Ruttan, Jeremy Duns, Joe Konrath, Steve Mosby, Stuart Neville and John Rickards.

Initially I felt kind of outraged by the whole thing....... the manipulation by some authors of rankings and reviews to either enhance their own profile and sales, whilst denigrating other authors on occasions.

As an aside; I have read and enjoyed books by all of the above with the exception of Konrath and Neville; the latter who along with Duns, Rickards AKA Cregan, Mosby and Eisler sit on a mountain of TBR. At times in the dim and distant past, I have exchanged some e-mail correspondence with most of the above or via their blogs. All without exception have been unfailingly polite and approachable.

So where do I stand now? Do I need to pick sides and choose a team or can I stay on the sidelines?

I think somewhat naively, in the past I have had my head turned by blurbs, more so than reviews either anonymous or signed. A kind of reasoning of the order, I like author A, he loves Author B’s book, ergo I will love Author B’s book too. Go directly to the nearest outlet and buy it.

On reflection I have seen so many blurbs by an author we shall call “MR X”, it’s perhaps a wonder he has had time to write anything himself as he must spend every waking hour reading!   

Note to self, become less sheep-like and trust your own inclinations.

My main thought isn’t necessarily about how others have behaved, more a type of inward reflection and naval gazing as to whether my thoughts and musings on other people’s books have been too sycophantic, too gushing or too destructive and hurtful. (To paraphrase something Barry Eisler said, though I don’t think they were his own words -  “try and be the person your dog thinks you are.”)

My reviews on my blog, are also posted on Crimespace, Amazon and Goodreads.....not to come across as an all-knowing, authoritative bore, but more driven from a desire to engage with like-minded people who also enjoy books. Call it a substitute for a lack of a social life!          

I think all the sites I post on carry my real name, or an easily traceable moniker.

I appreciate I don’t derive a living from writing, and have nothing but admiration for those that strive to do so, whether they ultimately have the talent or the good fortune to achieve this is kind of irrelevant – a lot of fantastic writers, some dead, some still living and some growing up now have and will in the future have enriched my life immeasurably.  

I’ll still sit on the fence then, Stephen Leather didn’t murder anyone, neither did Joe Konrath or David Hewson. There’s a lot more ugly stuff going on in the world.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

LINWOOD BARCLAY - STONE RAIN


I’ve read most of Linwood Barclay’s latest offerings, No Time For Goodbye, Fear The Worst, Never Look Away with The Accident still waiting on the TBR pile.

This book is one of his earlier titles, the fourth in a series featuring Zack Walker, a newspaper reporter cum sci-fi novelist. Barclay’s Walker booked have been blurbed as Hiaasen-esque in style, but having read most of Hiaasen’s books I’m not too sure I would agree. There were a few chuckles, and possibly one laugh out loud moment, but he never brought a tear to my eye, unlike Carl on occasions.

Walker apparently has the unfortunate knack of inadvertently landing himself in trouble, more by accident than design. On this occasion, his well intentioned efforts to assist an old friend, neighbour and sex-worker put both him and his family in peril, as well as his job and more importantly his marriage.

 Murder, biker gangs, stun guns, S&M torture dens, as well as some dodgy fried food all feature prominently in the book. Whilst Walker is likeable and always strives to do the right thing, I’m probably not too bothered if I don’t read about his earlier exploits, which are obliquely referenced fairly often, anytime soon.

There are plans I believe to re-issue this and the earlier Walker books in the UK, during 2013, so as my wife is a Barclay fan I guess I will be catching up whether I really want to or not.

3 out of 5.

CURRENTLY READING........

.....or just about to start,

Blurb..........
Four friends, one weekend, gallons of whisky. What could go wrong?
Driven by amateur whisky-nut Adam, four late-thirties ex-university mates are heading to Islay – the remote Scottish island world famous for its single malts – with a wallet full of cash, a stash of coke and a serious thirst.
Over a weekend soaked in the finest cask strength spirit, they meet young divorcee Molly, who Adam has a soft spot for, her little sister Ash who has all sorts of problems and Molly’s ex-husband Joe, a control freak who also happens to be the local police. As events spiral out of control, they are all thrown into a nightmare that gets worse at every turn.

I've not read any of this author's books previously, so hopes are high.

SEPTEMBER 2012


My reading fell away a bit this month with a total of 8 books read.

Not really surprising I suppose as work was a bit manic, catching up after last two weeks of August on holiday. Still my aim is to read a book every 3 days or 10 a month........and I failed, and sort of cheated a bit to get to 8!

Anyway, what I read was..........

EL JAMES – FIFTY SHADES DARKER

GERARD BRENNAN – FIREPROOF

HARLAN COBEN – HOLD TIGHT

CHARLIE STELLA – JOHNNY PORNO

DOUGLAS LINDSAY – WE ARE THE HANGED MAN

JOE R. LANSDALE – TIGHT LITTLE STITCHES IN A DEAD MAN’S BACK

LINWOOD BARCLAY – STONE RAIN

DOUGLAS LINDSAY – THE END OF DAYS

I am trying to post my thoughts on each book a few days after I’ve read it, and I’m still playing catch-up with that mission.

Anyway in summary, best of the month was Charlie Stella’s Johnny Porno.

Close second, Lindsay’s We are The Hanged Man followed by Brennan’s Fireproof.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

DOUGLAS LINDSAY - THE END OF DAYS


                                                  

Barney Thomson, Lindsay’s serial killing barber, who apparently never actually killed anyone, makes a return in this humorous novella.

As the Blasted Heath website blurbs.......... December 2009. MPs are being murdered in revenge attacks for the expenses scandal, and Westminster is in a state of turmoil. With the government on the verge of collapse, the last Labour Prime Minister — desperately clinging to power —decides there is only one way to reclaim the government’s authority. Relying on dubious intelligence, he instructs the Army to make plans to launch an invasion of the eastern seaboard of the United States of America. As humanity stands on the brink of war, it may well be that we have reached the End of Days.

Thomson is summoned from isolation in the arse end of nowhere, to apply his supreme hair-dressing skills to an out of sorts British PM. Thomson reluctantly enters the PM’s inner circle and dispenses wisdom (or pish) – depending on your standpoint - to the PM; as well as the world class haircuts.

Murders, climate conferences, more murders, a US invasion, more haircuts, a spell banged up when in the frame for the killings....... Barney endures ever-increasing absurdities, whilst pining for a return to his Scottish retreat.

I don’t think Lindsay could ever be accused of taking himself too seriously, but whilst the story verges on pantomime at times, he delivers a few sharp jabs to the ruling elite, in particular the ever-increasing reliance on spin and presentation - style over substance.

I wouldn’t say that this book will stay long in the memory, but as a funny, entertaining diversion for a few hours it has a lot to recommend it. I’d rate is as a 3.5 out of 5 stars.

In the interests of transparency, I got this as a freebie from the publisher – Blasted Heath as an incentive to sign up for their regular newsletter. I’m unsure if this is still available for free as an offer, but I wouldn’t put anyone off investing a quid or two in it from Amazon. This is the second Lindsay offering I have read this month, the first being We Are The Hanged Man, and I’ve been enamoured enough with his writing to recently purchase another of his books – Lost In Juarez......looking forward to it sometime soon!

MAREK KRAJEWSKI - DEATH IN BRESLAU


The book is set in Breslau a pre-WW2 town in Germany in 1933, subsequently Polish post-war.

In a nutshell, a triple murder, double rape has occurred and Mock the policeman or Kriminaldirektor is tasked with solving the case. Most of the narrative takes place during 1933, with the concluding passage wrapping things up in 1951.

I’m undecided as to my feelings about the book overall. Clichés such as un-put-down-able or page-turner definitely don’t apply in this instance. Occasionally you read a book that instead of leaving at home in the morning, you take it to work in the car, you read a few pages when you park, then pop it in your desk drawer ready to catch a chapter at lunchtime......hmmm, not this time.

I suppose my main reaction is ambivalence, I didn’t feel any empathy or connection to Mock or his underling Anwaldt. I wasn’t outraged by the crimes in the beginning and I wasn’t that fussed by the outcome at the end.

Krajewski was skilled at evoking the mood of pre-war Germany and the menace felt by those who though part of the establishment, weren’t part of the growing Brown-shirted, Gestapo loving, Hitlerite factions. Loyalties, alliances and confidences were undertaken with caution, a fact which ratcheted the tension in progressing the investigation into the crimes.

That alone made the book a worthwhile read, though in my opinion the whole raison d’être for the crimes struck me as wholly implausible.

Decide in haste and repent at leisure. I can’t actually recall why I bought this book, or the following two Krajewski Breslau/Mock that follow, but whilst I will read the second and third titles eventually; had I only bought the first, I wouldn’t be rushing to the shops for numbers two and three.  

I have some Philip Kerr/Bernie Gunther pre-war Berlin books that I’m looking forward to a lot more. I wouldn’t put anyone off from reading this, but neither would I rush to recommend it either........3 from 5 probably, 2 would be too harsh.