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Little Green Alien (Cambridge, UK)

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Out
Out
by Natsuo Kirino
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The questions will haunt you long after you finish..., 29 Sept. 2010
This review is from: Out (Paperback)
Although at first sight it appears to just be a somewhat grisly Japanese crime thriller, Out ends up posing some surprisingly weighty questions. It follows the story of four women who work together as a team on the night-shift preparing packed lunches; all very ordinary folk but all with various family problems. One has an abusive husband and one day she fights back, killing him. The others help her dispose of the body and slowly but inexorably get sucked deeper into the darker elements of society.

Although initially the plot carries you along while reading it, what you end up remembering when you put the book down are the journeys that all the characters take. And you end up asking yourself how you would react in similar circumstances. Just how slippery is the slope into the underworld? What would it take to make an ordinary, nice person (like me) become a monster?


Dawn of the Dumb: Dispatches from the Idiotic Frontline
Dawn of the Dumb: Dispatches from the Idiotic Frontline
by Charlie Brooker
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars One to dip into rather than read cover-to-cover, 29 Sept. 2010
It's hard to know how to comment on this book. On the one hand, I thought it was screamingly funny when I started reading it. Charlie Brooker is the master of the original and entertaining insult and he's prepared to describe segments of society as stupid, boring, useless and generally give voice to all the frustrations we feel with the rubbish we face every day and say the things that we would love (but simply wouldn't dare) to have said ourselves. He does it very well. Extremely well, in fact. I can't think of anyone who does it better.

The problem is that that's pretty well all he does and by the time I got halfway through this collection of articles I was desperately willing him to say something new rather than simply come up with another outrageous metaphor for how stupid Big Brother contestants are. So I really enjoyed the first half of the book but the second half was a real struggle. With hindsight, it would have been a good book to dip into. As it is, I ended up feeling that it was very samey -- you don't notice this in a weekly newspaper column as you have seven days to reset yourself but presented all at once there feels like there's a distinct lack of variety.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 24, 2012 9:34 AM BST


The End Of Mr. Y
The End Of Mr. Y
by Scarlett Thomas
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The end of the end of Mr Y, 6 Sept. 2010
This review is from: The End Of Mr. Y (Paperback)
A definite "curate's egg" this -- "The End of Mr Y" aims to combine a story with a commentary on science and metaphysics. The story works well -- it's rather eclectic, but it starts off well told and fairly compulsive. You feel a bit let down at the end though when the implied climax fails to materialise.

At the same time the poor science, cod philosophy and such grated and detracted from what would otherwise be an extremely readable book. One gets the impression that Ms. Thomas did a great deal of research for this book, wants to make sure her readers know that she did but she fails to really understand the concepts that she's read up on. For me, this really jarred as what seemed to be an attempt to ground the story in some real science actually had the adverse effect of making things seem too unreal (which is something of an achievement for a book set in a 'dreamworld'!).

Friends who've read it seem polarised and either class this as a good read or a bad read. I'd have to conclude that it's somewhere in the middle; good storytelling flawed by poor execution.


Survivor
Survivor
by Chuck Palahniuk
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Living backwards, 6 Sept. 2010
This review is from: Survivor (Paperback)
Despite the dark themes -- a suicide cult, a serial killer, the manipulative nature of the mass media -- Survivor manages to be a witty and uplifting book. Much of the wit comes from Palahniuk's prose style with his dry turns of phrase and his eye for the unusual simile, but there's also a liberal helping of satire in the text too, both in the way the general poplace view the Creedish Death Cult and Tender Branson's rise to manufactured celebrity. I also liked the small touch of the way the pages and chapters are numbered backward, giving a continual sense of a countdown.

As with his previous novel, Fight Club, things are not as may seem apparent; I missed the subtlety at first and needed to be pointed to it by another review. Unlike the previous book, the twist doesn't undermine the whole of the main plotline but subtly changes the ending and ties up a few hanging ends that I'd thought were inconsistencies in the narrative.


A Tale Etched In Blood And Hard Black Pencil
A Tale Etched In Blood And Hard Black Pencil
by Christopher Brookmyre
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

3.0 out of 5 stars How schoolmates turn out..., 6 Sept. 2010
Christopher Brookmyre seems to have cornered the market in his own special brand of darkly humorous crime fiction and this novel follows that pattern. The basic story of the book involves a typical literary double murder where two people are caught trying to dispose of the corpse. But are they the killers? It quickly becomes apparent that one of the victims, the suspected killers, the detective overseeing the case and a lawyer coming in to help were all at school together and looking back to their school days gives them the perspective they need to get to the bottom of the case.

The story is told as two distinct timelines, one in the present time and one during the schooldays and it's left up to the reader to make the connections. For me it took a little while to get used to the Glasgow vernacular; there's a glossary but it's distracting to keep consulting it constantly.

My feeling was that this was a book with some great ideas but that Brookmyre's execution of them could have been better. In particular, carrying on the two parallel narratives meant neither got developed as well as it could have been. That said, there were some wonderful set-pieces where the humour came to the fore. So I'd say it's flawed, but still well worth reading.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 29, 2011 1:22 PM BST


God's Spy
God's Spy
by J.G. Jurado
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Good mindless fun, 6 Sept. 2010
This review is from: God's Spy (Paperback)
Although it feels initially like yet another book trying to cash in on Dan Brown's success, this novel is raised above the pack by the quality of its grounding in real history rather than surmised (it turns out that the author is a journalist so perhaps that shouldn't be so surprising) and the strong, rounded characters. It's quite grisly in places and the denouement is a little too convenient, but I found it riveting and it kept me up late on a few evenings.


Death of an Expert Witness
Death of an Expert Witness
by Baroness P. D. James
Edition: Paperback

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Classic whodunnit, 6 Sept. 2010
After having read a spate of mediocre detective fiction, I really enjoyed this one. The quality of the writing is high yet the narrative is easy to read. And, most importantly for such a book, the mystery itself is a great puzzle. The downside is that P.D. James' style of writing tends to leave her giving a lot of page space to develop the characters and when there are a number of 'closed room' suspects this can lead to the pace of the narrative dragging a little. But otherwise, this was a fantastic read.


The Children of Men
The Children of Men
by Baroness P. D. James
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The end....or a new beginning?, 6 Sept. 2010
This review is from: The Children of Men (Paperback)
This is an engrossing yet disturbing book. Rather than concentrate on the potential reasons for the sterility of the human race in the near future (there's no reason for things being as they are -- they just are), P.D. James chooses to concentrate on what the prospect of imminent extinction does to our society and her dystopic vision isn't particularly pretty. People are driven by despair and have no real motivating force to their lives leading to the breakdown of society and infrastructure. Although there is a thriller plotline, what makes this book is not the story but the depth in which the world is fleshed out -- it's entirely self-consistent and you can see how every factor derives from humanity's loss of hope.

I'm glad to have read this before seeing the film. They're entirely different animals, sharing the same basic premise and character names, but there the similarity stops. Both are good, but while the movie is firmly in the adventure mould, the book is more for those who are looking to be challenged about human nature.


The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
by John Boyne
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

4.0 out of 5 stars Naivite in the midst of evil, 6 Sept. 2010
I'd had this book recommended to me by a number of friends, all of whom said the same thing -- don't read anything about it beforehand as a large amount of the pleasure in reading it comes from discovering what's going on. Sadly, the cover on the edition I got gave the game away right from the start with the cover picture making it abundantly clear what the striped pyjamas were.

It's a story about lost innocence. We are shown one of history's horrific periods through the eyes of a child who doesn't understand what's going on around him and naively assumes (as children do) that everything he sees and experiences has a rosy explanation. Gradually he begins to understand what is surrounding him with devastating repercussions.

Boyne's brilliance in being able to present the point of view of the clueless, innocent Bruno is utterly convincing, drawing us into the story and making the contrast with the real world so much more shocking.


The Scar
The Scar
by China Mieville
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Epic!, 6 Sept. 2010
This review is from: The Scar (Paperback)
The Scar follows the adventures of Bellis Coldwine, a linguist on the run who happens to pick the wrong ship on which to try to escape. The ship is a prison vessel and when it gets captured by pirates the mass of convicts in the hold are more than ready to swap a lifetime of penal servitude for freedom on the open sea while Bellis finds herself a prisoner of sorts, faced with the prospect of never being allowed to leave the pirate community.

But these pirates aren't aimless plunderers; they have a very definite objective...

This is a terrifically imaginative book. Miéville has created a world astounding in its depth, richness and quirkiness, from sentient aquatic life to the mosquito people where the males need to hide from the females and their immense probosces. But the greatest of all, and clearly the star of the book, is the pirate city of Armada, a square mile of vessels stolen over the centuries lashed together to make a giant raft.

We also get to meet a rich and well-defined group of characters; a long way from the two-dimensional caricatures common in fantasy literature, we get to know a number of the lead players, their characters and backgrounds, in great detail - sometimes too much detail for the squeamish! Few, if any, of these characters are particularly pleasant or sympathetic but you nonetheless get drawn into the narrative.

The book's not without its shortcomings though. The pacing felt a somewhat irregular with the main storyline taking around a hundred pages to actually get going (though this wasn't entirely wasted time as a couple of the characters are well developed at the start) and I found the end to be somewhat anticlimactic, though that's just personal preference. What did begin to grate by the end was Miéville's predilection for showing off verbally. There are some people with large vocabularies who are able to wear their learning lightly and just happen to use more obscure words. In Miéville's narrative they sometimes feel a bit contrived, deliberately placed there to show off.

Utimately, though, these are small niggles when compared to the scale of the work. For 800 pages you are immersed in this terrific world of imagination and it feels a little disappointing to have to emerge back into real life when you put the book down!


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