Wednesday, 24 August 2011

The 13 ½ Lives of Captain Bluebear A Novel by Walter Moers

This story is like a crazy cross between The Hobbit and The Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy. One of the most epic , wacky books I have ever had the pleasure to read. As the title suggests the book chronicles the adventures of a blue coloured bear named (very imaginatively) Bluebear who lives on the ancient continent of Zamonia. He begins the first of his lives floating on the ocean in an empty nutshell which is being sucked into a whirlpool before he is rescued at the last moment by some minipirates...and it just gets stranger from then on!

At over 700 pages long it is not for the faint hearted reader, having said that there are plenty of black and white drawings throughout the book to help keep the reader focused and interested.

The story itself is something of a rollarcoaster whizing about all over the place at breakneck speed. This ensures the reader doesn’t get bored and keeps the story flowing nicely. The story itself is very entertaining full of excellently rendered characters and some brilliant monsters and villains. The main character is very likeable which makes it easy for the reader to will him onwards.

The book isn’t perfect and there was a definate lul in the action about halfway through. The low points in the book for me included the time Bluebear spends in the desert and the congladiator battles in the city of Atlantis (where gladiators compete with each other to thrill the audience with the most intricate and entertaining lies) both of which dragged on and bored me quite a bit but this was unusual as the rest of the book is very action-packed.

There is a good amount of subtle humour contained in the pages; this is certainly not a book that takes itself too seriously. It is jam packed with Deus Ex Machina leaving you confidence Bluebear will always escape from a fix no matter how unlikely.
At the end there were some questions left unanswered but this wasn’t too much of an issue as the story is so bizarre if the author tired to tie up every loose end he’d need an additional hundred pages.

Overall a great adventure/fantasy/science fiction story read suitable for young adults and adults alike.

Rating 4/5

By Chris

Saturday, 20 August 2011

God's Own Country by Ross Raisin

The protagonist in God’s Own Country, Sam Marsdyke, is what I would describe as a ‘wrong ‘un’. Sam lives with his parents on a Yorkshire farm where he is quite the expert in most aspects of farm life, a life which he seems to genuinely enjoy. It very quickly becomes apparent however that his relations with other human beings give major cause for concern as they all seem doomed and often leave Sam ostracised.

At times the reader may feel for Sam despite him being so unlikeable, you might understand his frustration at his awful neighbours and the Londoners buying up rural houses in the community as second homes. His observations about these matters along with his narrations about farming life in general are interesting, engaging, at times gritty and often quite funny. But then Sam exposes himself and ruins it all by doing things you really would rather he didn’t.

Gods Own Country is a very polished novel and overall it’s a very entertaining read with a wonderful sense of place. The narration and the overall atmosphere loses some of its appeal when the action moves from the farm to nearby Whitby towards the end of the novel but this is more of a quibble than anything. A lot of comparisons have been made to The Wasp Factory and others of that ilk and I would say that this was a fair comparison and it was what certainly came to my mind when reading it.

The novel says far more for the promise of its author though as Raisin has not hit his mark here, you end up with the overall impression he is capable of so much more. Given that this is his first novel that might be an unfair thing for me to say, but I am sure when Raisin eventually does get there we will all be in for something special.

Just for the hell of it here is a picture of the very same Yorkshire Moors somewhere near Whitby we took last year.

Posted by Jess

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Saving the Best Until Last

Jessica and I were having a discussion the other day about dead authors. I was telling Jessica how I am, with the utmost care and attention, pacing myself with regards to reading books written by deceased writers such as John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway. I am painfully aware that once I turn the last page I will never read a newly written Steinbeck or Hemingway book again. This is both desperately sad but also inevitable, we all die eventually.

Although we can’t claim we thought it up we discussed the idea of choosing one book from a dead author we love and saving it until we reach old age before reading it. That way we can savour that writer’s work and have something to look forward to. There are, of course, setbacks to this plan. For example there is the risk of unexpected, untimely death meaning the saved book goes forever unread (disaster!) I suppose you’d have to weigh the pros and cons and maybe be willing to take a risk.

Ultimately Jessica decided against the idea, she thinks it’s a better idea to re-read old books you read when you were younger. I will definately be doing this but I still like the idea of saving one. Eventually I decided to save ‘Travels with Charley’ by John Steinbeck. I have a lovely folio edition of it so hopefully I will be able to resist temptation!

What book would you save?


Thursday, 11 August 2011

Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse

Billy is a big liar whose pants are on fire. Sometimes he lies to get himself out of trouble but most of the time he does it for no reason at all. He tells his best friends mother that he has a sister called Sheila(he doesn't) he embellishes it by giving Sheila a husband Eric. Sheila and Eric have two children, one of whom was born with a twisted foot which was thankfully operated on by a Dr Ubu in Leeds. Billy's friends mother is now giving Billy toys to give to these fictitious children.

Billy is a teenager stuck in a fictional northern English town, he hates his life and when he isn't dreaming of going to London he spends his time escaping into a fantasy world in his head called Ambrosia where he is Prime Minister.

At first Billy's antics are amusing but as the book goes on it is apparent that although Billy believes he is smarter than everyone else, the fact is that everyone sees right through him, he is not always a nice person either. The whole tale climaxes at the end when he is standing on a platform deciding whether to leave for the ever elusive London or stay and confront his problems. That's not a spoiler, the spoiler would be telling you his final decision.

This book is often funny and its the comic elements that will likely stay with me, its an original book and Billy is a great, complicated character. Worth reading.

On a final note, considering it was published in the 1950s its amazing to see how little teenagers have changed,

'You decided to get up, then,' my Mother said, slipping easily into he second series of conversations of the day. My stock replies were 'Yes', 'No, I'm still in bed', and a snarled 'What does it look like?' according to my mood. Today I chose 'Yes' and sat down to my boiled egg, stone cold as threatened.

Posted by Jess

Monday, 8 August 2011

Breakfast at Tiffany's

I had never intended to read this book. I don’t read many romance stories particularly not popular ones made into movies starring Audrey Hepburn, however I saw my wife had put it on the pile of books to go to the charity shop and I rescued it. I agree with donating books to charity but at the same time I resent giving away books when they could belong in a beloved collection. I decided to give Breakfast at Tiffany’s a go to see what the fuss was about. I’m very glad I did.
The story isn’t a typical girl meets boy, boy messes it up, girl leaves town, boy catches up to her and patches things up before it’s too late. I think this is original for a romance story (even though it was written in the 50s) and not conventional at all. At the same time it is very accessible and not elitest. The narrator is a frustrated writer living in New York who meets a young girl named Holly who moves into the appartment below his. They form an unlikely friendship and soon the reader is caught up in the dizzying social complexities of Holly’s life with the narrator caught up in the middle of it.
Most people know someone a little like Holly, attention seeking, a little fake, desperate to be liked and at the same time manipulative. Despite her faults she is a very likeable character and although not above spreading lies about someone to outshine them a pretty decent person and as the story progresses we learn more and more about her but not enough that her character becomes boring
Funny in places, sad in others it is a wonderful literary journey and a nice length too.
We don’t learn much about the narrator which is ironic as Holly describes him as being on the outside looking in on others lives but I still liked him as a character and the narration style of the book really works well.
The version of the book I own also includes three short stories House of Flowers, A Diamond Guitar and A Christmas Memory which were all very good.

Overall rating 5/5


Friday, 5 August 2011

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

If you're not a fan of dystopian fiction look away now!

The Chrysalids takes place in the post-apocalyptic town of Labrador, Canada. Labrador is a small isolated community living in a world that has been devastated by some kind of catastrophic event (I'm assuming a nuclear holocaust of some kind) Since all modern technology was destroyed in the “event” the community have been set back a few hundred years or so and live in a fairly primitive manner.

The people have a fear of anything born with an abnormality no matter how minor. Whole fields are burnt if any crops are found growing wrong, animals are swiftly slaughtered and humans are banished to 'the fridges', an inhospitable place where it is unlikely anyone will survive. Added to the plot mix are the communities fundamental Christian beliefs, these are extreme God fearing folk indeed as the Bible happens to be the only book to have survived the event. The story centres around a young man called David who finds that he himself is a deviant along with several other people in the village when he begin to develop telepathic powers.......

The above synopsis has similar plot lines of so so many other post-apocalyptic books. Constantly while reading The Chrysalis I was reminded of other books, films and TV shows that had very similar plot elements that I lost count of them all. The Chrysalids was first published in 1955 and it is not difficult to see how much of an influence this novel has had. You may feel that its not worth reading because it has been done so many times since but The Chrysalis is still a great dystopian novel of its type.

This was a very easy read which moved quickly and yet which also threw up some interesting questions. The storyline was a very good one which has not aged at all, in fact I was surprised at how modern the book seemed. If you like your dystopian fiction then even if you took out the influence this book has had out of the equation, it is still a very fine read. Recommended

Posted by Jess
The US title for this book is Re-Birth