Monday, 29 October 2012

Apocalypse Cow

The title alone made me order this crazily brilliant debut and joint winner of the inaugural Terry Pratchett Prize.  There are echoes of the movie Black Sheep and while there's nothing totally original about Apocalypse Cow, it's a fun ride nonetheless.  The characters are all literary/film cliches but they are well written cliches that made me laugh with their sometimes absurd actions and thoughts.  Logan holds nothing back, as there is plenty of gore,Apocalypse Cow has a somewhat creepy ending implying that while this could remain a standalone book, this strange world in which animals become zombie-esque could spawn a sequel. 

Monday, 22 October 2012


I had been putting off reading Kelley Armstrong's 13, as I didn't want my adventures with the inter-racial council to end, but I couldn't wait any longer to crack open my beautiful hardcover addition.  I'd started reading a few pages here and there but the turning point was when I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn't get back to sleep.  Therefore early morning logic dictated that I should read a few chapters and drift back off to my much needed slumber.  Instead, I read over half the book and by the end I was in tears, proper sobs, trying to stifle them so I didn't wake anyone else up.  Now, I'm not saying that this is my favourite entry in the Women of the Otherworld series (my heart will always belong to Jamie Vegas and book no.7 No Humans Involved) but I don't think I would have wanted such a great urban fantasy series to end any other way. 

War is coming to the Otherworld.  A sinister cult known as The Supernatural Liberation Movement is hell-bent on exposing the truth about supernaturals to the rest of the world.  Their violent, ruthless plan has put everyone at risk: from werewolves to vampires, from witches to half-demons.
  Savannah Levine - fiery and unpredictable - stands at the heart of the maelstrom.  There is a new, dark magic inside her, granting her the power to summon spells of terrifying strength.  But wether this magic is a gift or a curse, no one knows.
  On the ever of battle, all the major players must come together in a last, desperate fight for survival - Elena and Clay; Adam and Savannah; Paige and Lucas; Jeremy and Jamie; Hope, Eve and more...
They are fighting for their lives.  They are fighting for their loved ones.  They are fighting for the Otherworld.

  I was a bit miffed as the blurb had implied something much bigger was brewing and about to be revealed.  Plus I wanted an old style Buffy season finale or something akin to the showdown in Jim Butcher's Changes.  However, what I got was something that enabled my beloved characters to get together and fight for their right to stay anonymous.  There's plenty of action and gore, especially at the start, but there's a lot of heart to 13 and plenty of character development.
Armstrong has said that this is isn't the end for Elena and company, they'll appear in short fiction, but I'm glad she's resting the series so it won't have the chance to enter Sookie Stackhouse or Anita Blake territory.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The Eyre Affair

This was another recommendation from a friend and I can't believe I hadn't heard of this series until earlier this year!

There is another 1985, where London's criminal gangs have moved into the lucrative literary market, and Thursday Next is on the trail of the new crime waves Mr Big.
Archeron Hades has been kidnapping characters from works of fiction and holding them to ransom.  Jane Eyre is gone.  Missing.
Thursday sets out to find a way in the book to repair the damage.  But solving crimes against literature isn't easy when you also have to find time to halt the Crimean War, persuade the man you love to marry you, and figure out who really wrote Shakespeare's plays.
Perhaps today just isn't going to be Thursday's day.  Join her on a truly breathtaking adventure, and find out for yourself.  Fiction will never be the same again...

There is plenty to like about the Eyre affair: all the puns, the names, the dodos and how broad the spectrum for Thursday's world is.  Fforde has created a great female character who is completely no-nonsense and comes across as somewhat normal in a bizarre, off-kilter, version of 80's Britain.  Thursday is middle aged, of average looks, wants to progress in her career and struggles to forgive her ex-boyfriend for ratting out her brother.  There are plenty of  colourful characters introduced throughout the book, and some scenes that may be brought up later on in the series.  The Eyre affair reads like Robert Rankin at his nutty best; so much so that I kept wanting to dig out my copy of The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse.  I've got the second instalment, Lost in a Good Book, waiting in line to be read and I hope it is just as good as this fantastic introduction to the world of Thursday Next. 

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Costume Not Included

As I've mentioned in a previous review, I was disappointed with the first book in Matthew Hughes' To Hell and Back series.  I had ordered the sequel, Costume Not Included, at the same time from the library and I wasn't over enthused to begin reading.  So after a break of a few weeks I decided with trepidation to go on another adventure with Chesney ' Actionary' Arnstruther and and his demon sidekick Xaphan.

Chesney Arnstruther's efforts to Save the Day and Get the Girl are making slow progress.  This superhero stuff is more complicated than he first thought, even with a cigar-chomping demon for a sidekick.
But while Chesney is trying to learn the ropes, Boss Greeley has made a deal with the Devil, a pact that is making the villain stronger by the minute.  Meanwhile, the Reverend Hardacre has been doing some research into matters spiritual and has found that not everything in the Garden (of Eden) is rosy.

For me, Costume Not Included was a marked improvement, and I wish that this was the first book in the series.  I found it easy to read and finished within a day.  Hughes grapples with the same concepts of good and evil and everything in between as before, but has moved the story in a different direction; focusing more on his characters relationships with each other and the Reverend Billy Lee Hardacre's intentions for writing The Book of Chesney.  While slightly plot light, the cast of characters are all written well, and there has been plenty of development between the two books, with Chesney dealing with his new relationship and introducing Melda to his his somewhat hypocritical uptight mother.  Then there's Xaphan, who, as always, was fantastic as the chain cigar smoking, constant rum drinking fiend.
  I look forward to more Hell and Back Adventures, and hope that Hughes can find an even better way to utilise his characters through a stronger plot.

Coming Up

This is what happens when I'm left alone in the library for too long...I end up with far too many books to read.  Nonetheless, I've got some fantastic books waiting in the wings (or in a pile on the floor), so here's a sneak peak of what I'll be reading for the next few weeks.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Of Bees and Mist

Initially, I struggled to read Of Bees of Mist.  An original fairytale following the life of Meridia, who upon marrying, leaves her childhood home full of mysterious mist and discord between her parents, only to find that life with her husband's family is not the safe haven she first believed it to be.

Once I reached the core of the story I began to really enjoy Erick Setiawan's debut novel.  I liked how Meridia grew over the course of the book, and that although it is a modern fairytale, nothing explicitly supernatural happens, anything unusual, like the bees, can be taken as analogies of events that occur in everyday life.  I also liked the ending, as it stayed true to each of the characters individual journeys.  Most of all I liked the timeless nature of the story. 

The Long Earth

This collaboration between Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter came as a recommendation from a friend.  If I'm honest, even a few weeks after I finished reading The Long Earth, I am still unsure if I really enjoyed this speculative tale. 

1916: the Western Front, France. Private Percy Blakeney wakes up. He is lying on fresh spring grass. He can hear birdsong, and the wind in the leaves in the trees. Where has the mud, blood and blasted landscape of No man's Land gone?

2015: Madison, Wisconsin. Cop Monica Jansson has returned to the burned-out home of one Willis Linsay, a reclusive and some said mad, others dangerous, scientist. It was arson but, as is often the way, the firemen seem to have caused more damage than the fire itself. Stepping through the wreck of a house, there's no sign of any human remains but on the mantelpiece Monica finds a curious gadget - a box, containing some wiring, a three-way switch and a...potato. It is the prototype of an invention that Linsay called a 'stepper'. An invention he put up on the web for all the world to see, and use, an invention that would to change the way mankind viewed his world Earth for ever. And that's an understatement if ever there was one...

...because the stepper allowed the person using it to step sideways into another America, another Earth, and if you kept on stepping, you kept on entering even more Earths...this is the Long Earth. It's not our Earth but one of chain of parallel worlds, lying side by side each differing from its neighbour by really very little (or actually quite a lot). It's an infinite chain, offering 'steppers' an infinite landscape of infinite possibilities. And the further away you travel, the stranger - and sometimes more dangerous - the Earths get. The sun and moon always shine, the basic laws of physics are the same. However, the chance events which have shaped our particular Earth, such as the dinosaur-killer asteroid impact, might not have happened and things may well have turned out rather differently.

But, until Willis Linsay invented his stepper, only our Earth hosted mankind...or so we thought. Because it turns out there are some people who are natural 'steppers', who don't need his invention and now the great migration has begun...

Pratchett and Baxter present some interesting concepts and as you would expect that are some amusing pieces of prose, I especially liked Joshua's background and the mentions of the somewhat progressive nuns that raised him, but The Long Earth was more of a prologue than a proper stand-alone story.  I would have loved to have found out more about Lobsang and the Black Corporation, and about the history of the 'natural' steppers.

  Also, when it comes to the structure of a book, I'm normally of the opinion the shorter the chapter the better.  However, in this case, the chapters (which only consisted of a few pages and would often drift from the main story of Lobsang and Joshua) made the book read like collection of short stories.  I do hope that Pratchett and Baxter collaborate again and produce  a sequel for The Long Earth, perhaps they could combine the two in an 1Q84 books one and two to make a more comprehensive novel?   

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

'You know you're just what I needeed....I needed someone to feed.'

I love food.  I love books.  So to find a good combination of the two is heaven for me, as you can read a chapter and then put the book down and then resume again days later for the next morsel.  After a bit of a 'down' weekend, I needed some cheering up and have the perfect two books on loan from the library to make me feel if not a little happier, a little hungrier also.

The Man Who Ate The World - Jay Rayner

What price indeed?  Fearlessly, and with huge wit and knowledge and verve, award-winning food writer Jay Rayner has searched the world for the perfect meal.  Sparing neither his wallet nor his digestive system, he has been to places, met people, and eaten things the rest of us can only fantasize about.  From Las Vegas and London to Moscow and Tokyo, the result is an enormously entertaining and informative romp through the world's best - and worst - restaurants.

Table Talk: Sweet and Sour, Salt and Bitter - A. A. Gill

Table Talk is an idiosyncratic selection of A.A. Gill's writing about food, taken from his Sunday Times and Tatler columns.  Sometimes inspired by the traditions of a whole country, sometimes by a single ingredient, it is a celebration of what great eating can be, an excoriation of those who get it wrong, and an education about our own appetites.  It spans a decade, focusing on A.A. Gill's general experiences with food rather than individual restaurants - food fads, tipping, chefs, ingredients, eating in town, country and abroad and the infinite variety of dining experiences.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The End Specialist

I have one question regarding The End Specialist: why isn't this book on a front table display in Waterstone's?  I managed to find it tucked away in the back corner of my local branch, with both the cover and title piquing my interest.

2019. Humanity has witnessed its greatest scientific breakthrough yet: the cure for ageing. Three injections and you’re immortal – not bulletproof or disease-proof but you’ll never have to fear death by old age.

For John Farrell, documenting the cataclysmic shifts to life after the cure becomes an obsession. Cure parties, cycle marriages, immortal livestock: the world is revelling in the miracles of eternal youth. But immortality has a sinister side, and when a pro-death terrorist explosion kills his newly-cured best friend, John soon realizes that even in a world without natural death, there is always something to fear.

Now, John must make a new choice: run and hide forever, or stay and fight those who try to make immortal life a living hell.

 A fantastic take on a dystopian future, accompanied by a plot that was never predictable.  With each page turn I kept wondering if I had the option, would I take the cure?  While they are mentioned throughout,  Magary doesn't dwell too long on political issues that arise and their implications.  I found this, as well as the setting of a not too distant future, provided the text with an overwhelming sense possibility. 
The protagonist, John Farrell, shouldn't be sympathetic but by keeping The End Specialist firmly about John Farell's experience, and the eventual consequences of choosing to never age, the text never becomes too pretentious.  If Magary had chosen to elaborate even further explanations of how 'the cure' would affect the world, departing from the direct influence on everyday life, I don't think I would have had the same reaction to the book.  A Stellar debut novel that is worth searching any bookshop/library for. 

Monday, 1 October 2012


I first saw this on the Angry Robot website and, as usual with most of my book picks, fell in love with the cover.  I was a little put off by the blurb as technical SF can go right over my idiot brain.  However, the copy of vN I got my mitts on was waiting for me on the 'just in' shelf in the library, calling my name ever so seductively. 

Amy Peterson is a von Neumann machine, a self-replicating humanoid robot.
For the past five years, she has been grown slowly as part of a mixed organic/synthetic family. She knows very little about her android mother’s past, so when her grandmother arrives and attacks her mother, little Amy wastes no time: she eats her alive.
Now she carries her malfunctioning granny as a partition on her memory drive, and she’s learning impossible things about her clade’s history – like the fact that the failsafe that stops all robots from harming humans has failed… Which means that everyone wants a piece of her, some to use her as a weapon, others to destroy her.

I was so enchanted by Ashby's world that I had to stop myself from devouring this book, and savour each page.  The momentum of vN is relentless, only pausing for a few pages before Amy is flung in another direction in her quest to rescue her mother and rid her own body of the remnants of her grandmother.  Ashby certainly has a knack for creating intriguing characters, who felt as if they didn't belong to a debut novel but had a whole series behind them.  I never felt like an idiot either, as Amy herself is learning about her 'clade' having only just 'grown up' and is the perfect voice through which I could learn about the complexities of life as a von Neumann robot.

I was sorely tempted to never return vN to the library.  However, the overriding need for other people to read, and hopefully enjoy, this fantastic book won out in the end.  If you have the time, search this extraordinary debut out. I promise you won't be let down.