Saturday, September 09, 2006

Three Men In A Boat, by Jerome K Jerome

In 1889, JKJ and two friends ("to say nothing of the dog"), suffering a mild hypochondria, decide it would be bracing to row up the Thames in a skiff, from Kingston to Oxford. This, then, is the very funny account of said trip (drawn from actual exploits on the river), as well as frequent side-tracking into whatever other topic occurs to him. The chapters are prefaced with teasers such as "I forget that I am steering", "George buys a banjo", "The steam launch - useful recipes for annoying and hindering it" or "Strange disappearance of Harris and a pie". It's a short book (only 169 pages) and a good read - I shall certainly look out for the sequel, Three Men on the Bummel (about a cycling tour in Germany), which I'd never heard of before.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Tanglewreck, by Jeanette Winterson

"...the Universe is not solid. The Universe is energy and information. Solid objects are only representations and manifestations of information and energy. Master that and you have mastered everything."

JW's first book for children, and thoroughly vetted by her goddaughters, this is a marvellous quest through space and time with goodly chunks of philosophy thrown in for good measure. At times reminiscent of Phillip Pullman, and at others Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, Tanglewreck is however very much its own book.

The young heroine Silver is pitted agaist sinister guardians and scientists in her quest for the Timekeeper, a mysterious alchemist's watch that has the power to quell the time tornados the world is experiencing, as it runs out of time in the same manner as oil or coal. Tanglewreck has popes, pirates, incompetent henchmen, Schrodinger's cat and even Stephen Hawking makes an appearance or two. Loved it, definitely recommend it, and will certainly be reading it again.

Friday, August 11, 2006

"Attica", by Garry Kilworth

What lurks in the dark corners of the attic? What would happen if, crossing the rafters, you found you could go on and on, into an unknown roof-scape country of hat-stand trees, strange villagers driving sewing machine cars, scissor birds and murderous shop-window dummies? Three children (and Neslon, the "three-cornered cat"), sent into the attic of their new home to look for the landlord's old watch, are about to find out...

This is a great book, I bought it on the strength of the blurb on the back, and I wasn't disappointed. (I also thought I'd read another of his books years ago, but I can't track it down, so I must have been thinking of someone else. Still, worked out ok!). A really original children's fantasy quest book, the characters are well drawn and believable and the landscape is vividly painted for you. I did feel a vague sense of 'cop out' when it came to dealing with the question of passing time and their return though, but not enough to spoil any enjoyment of it. If you like well written children's fantasy, I thoroughly recommend this!

Saturday, July 29, 2006

"The Ragwitch", Garth Nix

Loved the Old Kingdom series, so was quite chuffed when I found this in the library - it's a fantasy quest that feels similar to The Hounds of the Morrigan, or The Weirdstone of Brisingamen.

Julia finds a sinister ragdoll on the beach in Australia, which turns out to be the banished form of an evil witchqueen from another world. Absorbing Julia into herself she escapes back to her own world - followed by Julia's brother Paul, intent on rescue.

The book swaps back and forth between the two points of view as they battle the Ragwitch - Julia trapped within her memories, aided by the people she meets there, and Paul, travelling through the world outside, on a quest to meet the four elements and form a spell that will kill the Ragwitch and save the kingdom - but in doing so, will he kill his sister as well...?

The book does take a couple of chapters to get into its stride, but once it gets going I didn't want to put it down. The only other slight downside is that the ending feels very rushed and almost a bit of a cop-out. You see the number of remaining pages dwindling and think how the heck is everything going to be resolved - usually the case where it all ends on a cliffhanger and there's another entire book to come - but here it's all wrapped up in a couple of pages, which after all the build up feels a bit of a let down. Having said that, the characters and creatures are as well realised as in the Old Kingdom books and I would definitely recommend it as a cracking bit of children's fantasy.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

"The Fourth Bear", by Jasper Fforde

This is the follow-up to last year's The Big Over Easy, and while it didn't strike me on first reading as quite as funny as Fforde's others, that still makes it funnier than the majority of things out there.

DCI Jack Spratt and DS Mary Mary of the Nursery Crime Division are looking into a series of greenhouse explosions, seeming linked to gardeners in the field of extreme cucumber growing and also the disappearance of Goldilocks, supporter of the controversial 'right to arm bears' movement and possibly mixed up in illegal porridge dealing. Jack's got other things on his mind too - Punch and Judy have moved in next door, Dorian Gray has sold him a distinctly odd car, and he's got to prove his sanity to a psychiatric review...

Definitely recommended!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

"Mayday!" by Clive Cussler

This is one of the earliest (1973) Dirk Pitt adventures, and was also published as The Mediterranean Caper, which I think I prefer. This is an early version of Dirk - not unrecognisable, but certainly a woman-slappin', smokin', cussin' version, who's still referred to as Major.

It's a brief enough read compared to the later volumes, but the ingredients are all here - Al, Rudi, the Admiral - check. Threat to the world (tonnes of smuggled heroin about to flood the States) - check. Beautiful female foil - check. Classic car - check. Evil foreign baddie - check.

It doesn't feel overly dated, but oddly it's the way everyone smokes continuously throughout that sets it firmly in its time. It feels very Bond-ish, with the villain in his clifftop lair, deadly labyrinth and airborne dogfights - later books will establish Pitt more firmly in his own milieu, but it's an entertaining enough read - certainly enjoyed it more than
Vixen 03 .

Friday, July 07, 2006

Danse Macabre, by LK Hamilton

The latest of the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series, and amazingly, it has even less plot than the last one. I really, really wonder why I keep buying these - it's just tawdry sex and arguments from beginning to end. I like the characters, which is why, but I so wish she would give them something to do other than bitch and nibble at each other.

This installment is a hefty 483 pages, of which the actual slice of action/plot takes up only 63. I'm not kidding. Those 63 aren't bad, featuring a vampire dance troupe touring the States with freedom to pass through various Masters' territories, lead by a creature who may or may not be the original Merlin, and may never have been human in the first place, attempting to take over the assembled powers at the end of tour bash. It's well done, and could have taken up a lot more of the book. Or the book could have been a lot shorter and tighter, like the earlier ones. But no, it's all dealt with in short order and we're back to the sex, and the arguments, and the arguments about sex.

And STILL no bloody Edward.