January 31st, 2012



A title like that deserves all caps.

Anyhow, I finished Alien Ha--sorry, ALIEN HAND SYNDROME, the paperback release from the excellent website Damn Interesting that compiles a bunch of its online stories with some new material. The website's focus is on odd, intriguing aspects of science, human history, and the natural world, but there's usually a twist beyond the odd premise - a man who had his sight restored after a lifetime of blindness gradually finds his new world frustrating and unrewarding; the history of the completely ungoverned city of Kowloon delves takes an intriguing turn into the mechanics of how an utterly lawless society would function. The tales take much more interest in the human complications of these intriguing phenomena than the average trivia site - and they're much better-written as well, structured as mysteries and eschewing snark for intellectual curiosity. (As an introduction, I'd recommend the excellent story on a man's unusual - and unusually suspicious - winning streak on the game show Press Your Luck, available on the website.)

The book's a big paperback, slightly smaller than the size of a college notebook (but much thicker), and has kind of a coffee-table layout that's well-done. One drawback of print vs. digital, though, is that the seamlier stories are right out in the open instead of safely hidden behind the cut. There's no escaping Mike the Headless Chicken (which is actually intriguing but, y'know, still about a headless chicken). There aren't many of the grosser stories on the website, but they got a slightly disproportionate representation in the paperback. Still, the book is well worth a look for the intellectual curious - and the website is a winner.
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Books 4 & 5

Mr. Darcy's Diary by Amanda Range, though not P&P by far, it was a fair companion piece to the original. Panned by some reviewers as "fanfic," I found it to be an interesting look into the allusive mind of Mr. Darcy. Although I wasn't blown away, it was a quick satisfying read after P&P.

Wuthering Bites by Sara Gray was just...bad. To be honest, I'm not a big fan of Wuthering Heights but I was ready for a twist with this monster mash-up. I was sure Bites would make me like the vamped out version of the story, but no, it was dull. The author continuously had her characters refer to the vamps as "beasties." The vampires weren't very vampire like and it was just nonsense. You would think a vampire Heathcliff would makes a lot of sense, but there wasn't very much vampire Heathcliff. Again, this book was just bad. I had to force myself to finish this book. I would not recommend it.
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#11 The Strange fate of Kitty Easton - Elizabeth Speller (2011)

When former infantry officer Laurence Bartram is called to the small village of Easton Deadall, he is struck by the beauty of the place: a crumbling stately home; a centuries-old church; and a recently planted maze, a memorial to the men of the village, almost all of whom died in one heroic battle in 1916. But it soon becomes clear to Laurence that while rest of the country is alight with hope for the first time since the end of the War, as the first Labour government takes power, the Wiltshire village is haunted by its tragic past. In 1911, five-year-old Kitty Easton disappeared from her bed and has not been seen since: only her fragile mother believes still she is alive. When a family trip to the Empire Exhibition in London ends in disaster and things take an increasingly sinister turn, Laurence struggles to find out what has happened as it seems that the fate of the house, the men and of Kitty herself may be part of a much longer, darker story of love, betrayal – and violence.

Some months ago I heard about a book called The Return of Captain John Emmett, originally I heard about it through twitter – read some reviews and promptly bought it. I read it in June, and enjoyed it enormously.


At Christmas I was delighted to receive a new hardback edition of the sequel to John Emmett, ‘The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton’ through an online secret santa exchange.

It is now three years later than the events chronicled in John Emmett. Captain Laurence Bartram travels to Easton Deadall, in Wiltshire, and the Easton estate there, to assist his friend – whom we also encountered in the previous novel – architect William Bolithho. Wheelchair bound William, had been employed to improve farm workers cottages and was designing a maze for the estate grounds, and knowing Laurence has an expertise in old churches, asks him to look at the church at Easton Deadall. Laurence is obliged to stay in the house with the Easton family, who he quickly sees have been living under a shadow since 1911 – when young Kitty, the 5-year-old daughter of Digby and Lydia Easton disappeared from her bed. Since then the fortunes of the Easton estate have been in decline, Digby is dead, Lydia terribly unwell, and brothers Julian and Patrick somewhat estranged. What seems to be a tragic puzzle take on a slightly different turn following a trip to London and a visit to The British Empire Exhibition. Laurence Bartram then is set upon a trail – to discover the truth about what happened to Kitty.

The writing of this novel is excellent. Both well crafted and well plotted ‘The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton’ is that marvelous thing – a well written intelligent page turner. Elizabeth Speller explores brilliantly, the psychology of those men who survived the trenches of the first world war, of the communities that having joined up together – fought side by side under the leadership of their “lord of the manor” – and then so often of course died together. The fragility of families and their secrets – we don’t always knows what goes on behind closed doors – repression and fear, keeping people’s mouths shut – the tragedies that come out of such silence are deftly examined and brought to life.

Plenty of red herrings keeps the reader guessing – and indeed kept me reading very late last night – making for a hard to put down novel that is wholly satisfying and continually engaging. I love the characters of Laurence Bartram and Eleanor and William Bolitho – they are people I want to know better and encounter again. They are real people with pasts, intelligent, perceptive people with vulnerabilities and huge strengths.
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So, I read, though I didn't much enjoy, an ebook, Osprey Aircraft of the Aces #83: Malta Spitfire Aces. Lots of lists, some description, some photography, some plates to show painting schemes. Eh. I suspect that unless I like the next book of this series, I won't bother any further with these Osprey books.

Book 4: Faerie Lord by Herbie Brennan

Book 4: Faerie Lord (Faerie Wars Chronicles 4) .
Author: Herbie Brennan, 2007.
Genre: YA Fantasy. Faerie.Coming of Age.
Other Details: Paperback. 432 pages. Unabridged audio Length: 12 hours, 10 mins. Narrated by James Daniel Wilson.

Two years have passed since the events of The Ruler of the Realm and Henry Atherton has been trying to forget about his friends in the Faerie Realm and live a normal life. With graduation from secondary school looming, he is even making plans for university and beyond. Then one day while visiting Mr. Fogarty's abandoned house to feed Hodge, the resident temperamental tom cat, Henry is surprised to find his friend Prince Pyrgus at the door. Pyrgus has distressing news of a mysterious plague that is causing the inhabitants of the Faeries Realm to age prematurely. Pyrgus asks for Henry's help and so Henry travels once again to the Faerie Realm to help find a cure and to renew his ties with his friends.

As this is part of a series, to say much more would be unfair. I will note though that Brennan does take the story off in a slightly different direction with Henry undertaking a classic 'hero's journey'. Given quite serious themes, there is less humour in the narrative. Brennan waxes a little more philosophically than he had in the previous books and while this wasn't an issue for me, I did wonder if it might prove a little confusing for younger readers. I also felt the ending was wrapped up a little too quickly and would have preferred an extra chapter or two.

Still these are minor points on the conclusion to a series that has proved a delightful companion while driving for some months.

After a break of a few years, Brennan has written a fifth book set in the same universe though taking place sixteen years after Faerie Lord. It is titled Faeman's Quest but has not had an audio release. I am planning on reading it early this year as I want to see how things have turned out for various characters.
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Books 1 - 6, January 2012

1) Side Jobs Jim Butcher. 2010
Collected short stories of the Dresden Files with various themes and new mysteries and monsters. Two them do not star Dresden but are still very good.

2) Rebel Fay Barb & J. C. Hendee. 2007
Continuation of the Saga of the Noble Dead where our heroes travel to Elven Lands to rescue Leesil's mother from imprisonment by her own people. Intrigue and violence with some surprising twists for all concerned.

3) Child of Dead God Barb & J. C. Hendee. 2009
Next chapter in the Noble Dead Saga as our heroes have to contend with the harsh environment, former foes, new foes and the realization it may not be really over.

4) The Victorian Underworld Kellow Cheesney. 1972
I've had this book sitting on my shelf for ages which I had acquired from my mother. It's good primer on various social elements of crime, criminal organization, the types of crimes and criminal schemes perpetuated in Victorian times.

5) Giving Voice to Bear: North American Indian Myth, Rituals, and Images of the Bear David Rockwell 1991
The importance of Bears in many North American Native cultures as an icon, a spiritual adviser, in initiation rituals, and seasonal renewal ceremonies.
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Book #5: War Reporting for Cowards by Chris Ayres

I found myself really engrossed by this true story by Times reporter Chris Ayres, about how he ended up reporting (for nine days) from the Iraq conflict. The book is written in a style similar to that of Bill Bryson, with frequent use of humour, which may seem strange considering the subject matter, but it actually seems quite fitting, especially since a good sense of humour is probably only the good way to be able to stay sane in a war situation; in this case, there is a lot of very dark, gallows humour (he comments at one point that he’s not bothered about spending too much on a hotel room because he’ll probably be dead by the time they find out).

The portrayal of the real-life actions of the US Marines in Iraq, including the way that they entertain themselves while not fighting, is incredibly vivid, and the realities of war are shown in their entire, unflinching, glory. Also, in the midst of all this, there is a harrowing first-hand account of the events of 9/11.

I was gripped right from the start to the end, and Ayres constantly cites a lot of his influences; Peter Cook gets an acknowledgement, and the famous novel, Bravo Two Zero is referred to several times (probably not surprisingly). This is a book that I strongly recommend.

Next book: From the City, From the Plough by Alexander Baron

January reads (#1 - 4)

Only read four books in January, which is not as much as I'd hoped for, but it's okay considering I'm studying a lot. Plus, I'm on track. One thing that I am quite proud of is the diversity of the books I read this month. Not sure if it's a good thing. 

So, this is what I read. Please keep in mind that I'm horrible at reviewing books, so I'm just going to very briefly state my opinion. Don't expect it to sound fancy or intelligent. Also, I'm simply rating my reading experience. If I rate a trashy YA novel higher than a classic, obviously I'm not saying it's better quality, I just enjoyed reading it more. 

Book #1: "The Picture of Dorian Gray'' by Oscar Wilde
Rating: 4/5
I read this book because I wanted to read more classics, and this is definitely a suitable book to start out doing    that, in my opinion. I was familiar with most of the plot before I started to read it so there were few surprises, yet  I thought it was a great read. 

Book #2: "Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia" by Marya Hornbacher
: 5/5
This kind of read as one long rant, and since I usually don't read memoirs a lot I'm not sure whether that's a typical memoir thing or a typical Marya Hornbacher thing. Somehow it worked for me though. Maybe for people who aren't interested in the subject at all it might be a bit of a struggle to get through with the way it's written, but I loved it, and I definitely kept thinking about it for a while after I'd finished it. 

Book #3: "At His Throat, A Promise" by Lilith Grey
: 5/5
I understand that this is not everyone's cup of tea, but if it is, this is a great one. It seems to be that nowadays with the ebooks and everything it's easier to get published (in this genre) than it used to be, and the quality of the books isn't always great. But this was amazingly written. I loved the characters, and the emotions were very real. I couldn't put it down and I was so sad when it was over. 

Book #4: "Across the Universe" by Beth Revis
: 4/5
I picked up this book because the premise sounded great, and in most ways it didn't disappoint. My only problem with this book was that for the most part, I really couldn't relate to one of the two main characters (Amy). For about a hundred pages, she just annoyed me immensely. I'm not sure what it was, I know most people don't have this problem and I can't put my finger on it. But then towards the end there were so many shocking revelations and answers and moral dilemmas, and the story had me in its grip again. In the end I'm glad I didn't stop reading it. 

Total Books (so far): 4
Total Pages (so far): 1295

Currently Reading: Uglies. And I'm not liking it very much so far. 

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Books 5- 6: Parrot and Olivier in America & Supernatural: Beginning's End

Book 5: Parrot and Oliver in America.
Author: Peter Carey, 2010.
Genre: Historical Fiction. Picaresque novel. Early 19th Century.
Other Details: Hardback. 464 pages. Unabridged Audio. Length: 17 hours, 14 mins. Narrated by Gordon Griffin and Jonathan Keeble.

I read and reviewed this novel in 2010 as part of a Man Booker event so I will not give a summary of the plot but provide a link to my 2010 review . As it was selected for a reading group this month, I decided to listen to its audio book version though found the novel so enjoyable the second time around that I ended up listening to a few chapters a day and then re-reading them in my printed edition before bed.

Again, I was impressed with the beauty of the writing, the vivid setting and its colourful characters. Reading at a slower pace and with a familiarity of the basic plot, I was able to appreciate more of the narrative details and subtle aspects of character, such as the similarities between the two central characters and their situations despite the differences in their stations in life. Lively discussion during the reading group also revealed further layers. Those of us who had read it a second time all agreed it was a novel that was benefited from repeated readings.

Book 6: Supernatural: Beginning's End.
Author: Written by Andrew Dabb & Daniel Loflin. Artist: Diego Olmos, 2010.
Genre: Horror. TV tie-in
Other Details: Graphic Novel 144 pages

Part of a set of prequel graphic novels linked to the popular TV series, Supernatural, it details a case that takes the Winchester clan to New York City and the crises that leads Sam to leave his father and brother.

I picked this up on a whim when I saw it on a graphic novel display at my local library. While I watch and enjoy the TV series when it gets transmitted in UK, I don't feel any great need to know all that much about the back story of the show. So while I found this graphic novel a pleasant diversion for an hour or so, I feel that it was produced with keener fans of the show and its cast than me in mind.
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Books read in January--a whopping 4

1. Neon Angel: a Memoir of a Runaway, by Cherie Currie
A generally likable but amateurishly written memoir by the lead singer of the Runaways. Still, she ended up becoming a professional chainsaw sculptor, so that's pretty awesome.

2. I Want My MTV: an Uncensored History of the Music Video Revolution, by Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum
An endlessly fascinating, incredibly detailed look at the first 10 years of MTV, before it went to hell. I disagree with their assertion that Billy Squier's "Rock Me Tonite" is the worst music video of all time.

3. Is Everybody Hanging Out Without Me? (and Other Concerns), by Mindy Kaling
If you liked Bossypants, you'll like this one.

4. It's Hard Not to Hate You, by Valerie Frankel
Hilarious memoir about a woman who, when faced with the possibility of having cancer, decides to relieve stress by embracing her inner bitch.