Friday, June 29, 2012

For Review: The Informers ~ Bret Easton Ellis

The Informers has been on my To Be Read list, and sitting on a shelf in my living room, for quite some time now. In a way, I've just not wanted to read it, because it was the only Bret Easton Ellis title that I hadn't read. But now I have. And there's nothing left to read. I mourn this fact, quite greatly.

The book's been called short stories, and it's been called a novel. It's kind of almost both, but closer to the short story idea. In a similar vein to Less than Zero, Ellis recounts tales of L.A life through a series of linked stories. There's drugs, sex, and questionable morality. But the characters who populate each story are related, or have slept with the same people, or have the same drug dealers. It's an interlinking society of people who don't know what to make of their lives, or their identities.

In common, most of them are rich and are defined by the things that they own/wear and the people they know. It's a highly vacuous way of living, but despite all the superficiality, the characters are struggling with something else. Maybe it's their familial relationships, maybe it's their sexuality, or maybe it's just what they want from life. The characters battle with themselves, but are part of a community where that doesn't seem to be okay. They spend a lot of time telling each other to just chill out, or take another valium, or do something to make the worry/pain/guilt go away.

As per Ellis, there are scenes that are just fantastically brutal: I'm not a girl to shy away from some gore or violence in her reading. But there's playful elements, and bits that are actually just funny. And tender. There's a beautiful tenderness that Ellis manages to somehow weave among all the chaos. Crazy 80s pop culture references are a fun bonus too (so says the girl who was six when The Informers was first published). It's the usual, and I don't mean that in a mundane way. I just know that when I go to Bret Easton Ellis that it's going to be good, really good. Readgasms in abundance.

So now...re-reads, I suppose. A wait for another novel. And a trip to California.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Teaser Tuesday: 26 June

...he knew something about writing, for when wandering the city he had visited public libraries and read enough stories to know there were two kinds. One kind was a sort of written cinema, with plenty of action and hardly any thought. The other kind was about clever unhappy people, often authors themselves, who thought a lot but didn't do very much. Lanark supposed a good author was more likely to write the second kind of book. (15)

Lanark, by Alasdair Gray

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

For Review: Pandaemonium ~ Christopher Brookmyre

Honestly, I don't know how it happened, but for some reason, I've just never got myself round to reading Christopher Brookmyre before. The titles of his books are impossible to ignore - Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks, A Tale Etched in Blood and Hard Black Pencil - and I've heard the stories that go with them are good too. There's a lot of good books out there that I haven't had time to read yet, but still I wish that I had been to visit Brookmyre sooner.

In Pandaemonium, a group of pupils from St Peter's High School are going on a retreat in the Scottish Highlands. It's not just a trip, but a chance to contemplate the recent murder of one of their classmates. That, and some underage drinking, a little bit of hash, and lots of hormones. But at the same time, there's a mishap going on with a huge military/scientific experiment that opens a portal to Hell and unleashes demons on the world. That's a whole lot of plot going on, and the two worlds collide in a fight for survival, while pupils and staff are also trying to make sense of their religious beliefs, and their sexuality.

The book is populated with soliders, scientists, priests, teachers, and pupils. There's even a handy list at the start of the novel - Adnan's Quick-Reference Gamer Guide - to remind the reader who is who. Initially, I was concerned how I was even supposed to use the character guide, how I'd even remember who anyone was. But, by the end of just 394 pages, I felt close to the majority of them. Brookmyre moved effortlessly from one character's head to the other. In the space of a paragraph, the writing could follow two characters: Brookmyre turned the narrative from one tone and voice to another in a seamless way that almost made sense. Some sections started and the character in question was immediately identifiable, so that when it came to those few sections in the head of the demons, it was very exciting. Or maybe I'm not describing this very well. It's like the Scrubs episode where JD touches Turk's shoulder, and then the narrative continues in Turk's mind, but then he touches someone else's shoulder, and it carries on with them, and back to JD. Doing that on paper, in sentences, and in a way that is coherent is super skillful. The writer in me was bubbling with glee. And the reader part was really enjoying itself.

So I had great fun with this book. It was the kind that you put down to do something else, but then you couldn't do that something else because you're too busy wondering what Caitlin and Rocks were getting up to (two of my fave characters), or how the argument of science vs religion was holding out. Pandaemonium is big, and it is clever. Now I just have to choose which Brookmyre book to read next.

P.S I read Pandaemonium as part of my Scottish Reading Challenge, to promote great Scottish fiction. Christopher Brookmyre's latest book When The Devil Drives was published this month.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

No One Likes a Soggy Book

A couple of days ago I treated myself to what is probably the bibliophile's equivalent to the pocket protector. I bought a plastic book cover, the kind that you see on library books. It'll fit most of my standard sized paperback novels and, so far, it's been the best couple of quid I've spent in a long time.

It's no secret that I take good care of my books. They are beautiful things, housing some great writing, and need to be treated with respect. There's nothing worse than taking a book from your handbag and seeing the front cover bent. That is a book pretty much ruined for life. Or there's the equally horrible scenario of rain. In Scotland, typically, it rains a lot. A serious lot. And no one likes a soggy book. Trying to dry a damp paperback on a radiator isn't my favourite fun.

Hence the plastic cover. And I love it. Yesterday on my walk to work, it was raining. Hardcore. I was soaked through my wintercoat, and my feet were soaked. You know what stayed dry? My paperback copy of Pandaemonium. It was dry and in good shape. Not curled or damp and curling. Dry.

So the plastic cover might be geeky, and maybe a little sad. But it triumphs.

Monday, June 11, 2012

For Review: The Bullet Trick ~ Louise Welsh

Appearances fascinate me. The idea of surface and illusion has long been something that intrigues me. When it comes to magic tricks, I am a girl very much amused. I'm amazed by Derren Brown, and even the simplest of card tricks can make me giggle. So The Bullet Trick was, immediately, the kind of story I wanted to get into.

William Wilson is a conjuror and illusionist trying to make a living when his line of business is in decline. Following a difficult gig in London, he heads to Berlin in hopes to boost his career. But the theatre there is full of all sorts of mysterious characters, all about tricks and sharades. He meets the very attractive Sylvie who becomes his personal assistant, but while all might seem well on the theatre stage, there are relationships to contend with, and ghosts from the past. Yeah, that does all sound quite vague, but there's so much going on and I'd hate to give slip to any spoilers. The story does include a missing woman, a murder, and some really sexy people, however.

Welsh really knows how to write glam, how to make the scenes shimmer. Visually, in a text way, it's just delicious. The scenery, the costumes, the bodies, are all written with a delightful dexterity. Such an exciting world, and Welsh nails it. Because, of course, such a beautiful life can't exist without all the dark, and the dangers. Every character has their light and their dark side, and it's up to the reader to decide who to like, and who to trust. The relationship between William and Sylvie satisfied because it was so real: attraction plays a big part in The Bullet Trick, and again I loved the idea of the beautiful woman who is tricky to work out. Also running through the narrative is a mystery and a crime, and there's always place to be guessing and second guessing, making for an exciting read. It's fast paced, and so thoroughly engrossing.

The Bullet Trick was a turn on for me - all that magic and sparkle and darkness. So deftly written too, thrilling and oh-so enjoyable. I've read the book as part of my Scottish Summer Reading Challenge, an effort to promote great Scottish fiction. You can read more about the book at Louise Welsh's website, and an extract too. Go on, tease yourself!

Friday, June 08, 2012

On Reading an eBook

The last book that I read was an ebook, and it was the first ebook I've ever read. In all honesty, I really want it to be the last ebook I ever read, but I have a feeling I'll be reading more.

More and more I'm being offered books to review in ebook format. They crept their way in as an option - do you want print or ebook? - but now it's a case of ebook or no review from some publishers. I can't lie; I've turned down several books for review because I didn't want to read them in an electronic format. That's not even me being a prude, it's just not practical. I don't have an eReader, and I don't plan on spending any money on one any time soon. Still, I accepted the book in a pdf file anyway, just to see what it was like.

Reading changed for something comfy, to something very uncomfortable. I couldn't curl up on the sofa or lie stretched out any which way because I had to read the pdf file on my laptop. That really bugged me because I couldn't take the book outside to read, or just pop it in my handbag for a train journey. Then I realised that I could access it on my phone, so that solved that problem. Kind of. My phone is your average Android powered phone, but a far cry from an iPhone or anything of that ilk. With the screen as it is, it meant I could only read a paragraph at a time so I was pressing my screen to turn the page more often than necessary. Quite annoying. Even more annoying, it meant that I couldn't keep track of the pages properly, because each actual pdf file page equated to five or six screen pages. A pest.

More than likely, all these pesky issues would have been solved with an eReader. So in terms of how to read an electronic file, then yes, I can see that Kindles and their friends would be really useful. But the book still didn't feel like a book, or smell like a book. Thankfully, the book I was reading was very short or it would have driven me beserk.

As a reviewer, I'm expecting more of this. It's quicker and cheaper for the publisher to send, and I respect that. But the whole experience was hampered by being so awkward. If someone bought me an eReader, then brilliant, I could use it for electronic book files. But in the mean time, I really should keep to my print books.

Monday, June 04, 2012

For Review: Ramshackle ~ Elizabeth Reeder

If it wasn't for Elizabeth Reeder, I never would have read To Kill a Mockingbird. This much is actual fact about my life. Elizabeth was one of the tutors on my MLitt in Creative Writing, and the book was part of our course. For that, an introduction to Carson McCullers, and some interesting exercises, I'm very grateful.

I'm happy, too, for reading Ramshackle (a great title for a debut novel!). Fifteen year old Roe wakes up one morning to discover that her father is gone. When he doesn't come home that night, she tells her aunt Linden who reassures Roe that it's the kind of thing her father does, and that he'll eventually come back. The novel takes place over the space of a week or so, and follows Roe as she attempts to cope with her father's disappearance.

Elizabeth is a woman who practices what she preaches; her writing is both muscular and lyrical. There's a graceful movement to the writing in Ramshackle, while always pulsing with real life. As if being a teenager isn't difficult enough (flunking at history, working out feelings for a boyfriend, best friend with family problems, ), Roe has to piece her life together and figure out who she is, without the help of her father.

The characters are beautifully drawn, especially father Peter: despite being physically absent through most of the novel, he's very much a presence. In Chicago. I'm not sure how many, if any, books I've read that have been based in Chicago, but it's now added on my list of places to visit. Reeder obviously knows and loves the place well, and it provides a fantastic backdrop for the novel.

Ramshackle is a gorgeous debut, tenderly written; a bittersweet story and a very moving read.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Scottish Fiction Reading Challenge Is Go!

So my new reading challenge begins today! Hurray! It lasts from now until the end of August, so plenty of time to get your Scottish reads done. So what's the deal?


The aim of this challenge is to encourage the reading of Scottish writers. That is, a writer who is considered Scottish by nationality. They might have been born in Scotland, but live in New York now. They might have been born in New York, but have lived in Scotland all their lives to the point where they probably have a UK passport. If they wrote something set in some vague place in Scotland but have never even seen the country, then they definitely don't count.

The plan:

Read books by Scottish writers between 01 June - 31 August 2012.

The levels:

Tae a Louse: 1-3 books
Scots Wha Hae: 4-6 books
Tam O Shanter: 7 + books

The books:

Helpfully, the books that I have reviewed by Scottish writers are tagged with a 'Scottish' tag. So if you need some help with inspiration, you'll find authors that I recommend there.

The taking part:

Link up here to sign up and show off your blog posts, and feel free to share the button too. (It's not actually working with a link at the moment, because I don't know how to do that!)

If you don't blog, then no worries! All I ask is that you spread the word of the Scottish writer whose work you enjoyed.

So let the Scottish fun begin! I'm going to start off the challenge with The Bullet Trick by Louise Welsh. What will you be reading?