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John Ironmonger "J.W.Ironmonger" (Market Drayton, Shropshire, UK)
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The Bone Clocks
The Bone Clocks
by David Mitchell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.50

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another fantastical mosaic from the master of global cross-century story telling, 29 Sep 2014
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This review is from: The Bone Clocks (Hardcover)
Halfway through, ‘The Bone Clocks,’ David Mitchell gives us a lesson in good writing. Strike out all your adverbs, he advises us. Avoid the word, ‘seems.’ Score your metaphors, and eliminate any that score three stars or fewer. To be fair this isn’t Mitchell’s direct advice. It comes to us through the narrative voice of Crispin Hershey, an odiously self-obsessed novelist trapped in what seems to be a world tour of elitist book festivals. (Oh dear - an adverb and a ‘seems’ in that last sentence. Must do better. ) Hershey is one of a number of first person voices whose story becomes a part of the mosaic of The Bone Clocks. This has become Mitchell’s unique story telling style. In Ghostwritten, and again in Cloud Atlas, a developing sequence of apparently unconnected tales serve to illuminate a common thread that coils between them. In The Bone Clocks this thread is the life story of Gravesend girl Holly Sykes, who hears voices in her head. It is also the story of an eclectic collection of entertainingly named immortals (Unalaq, Xi Lo, Elijahd’Arnoq, Immaculee Constantin), engaged in an apocalyptic internecine war. Devotees of Mitchell might recognise some recurring characters in the cast list here. Marinus, the doctor from The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, is reincarnated as a Canadian female psychiatrist. There are throwbacks to Black Swan Green (Hugo Lamb) and Number9Dream. But despite the familiar characters and the recognisable structure, this is new ground for Mitchell. In The Bone Clocks we are fed not just wisps of a timeless story (like Cloud Atlas), we get rich detail of the lives and battles of the Horologists (the immortals) and this is where any other novelist would probably have given up and gone home. I can’t imagine any other writer carrying this off. In the big set-piece pre-finale we are egressed and ingressed and suasioned, we are transported through chakra-eyes and apertures and mystic ladders and golden apples, our experiences are hiatused and our memories redacted, to the point where you feel even Tolkien or J.K.Rowling might have felt uneasy with the unremitting barrage of magical concepts, but by now it is too late to cast the book aside. Mitchell has us in his spell. I can well imagine the Booker judges harrumphing at the shamanism of it all, the unsavoury descent from literary fiction into genre fiction of the most fantastic kind. But Mitchell is wholly unapologetic. He has given us a fantasy that is deeply rooted in the best literary traditions – rich characters and wonderful writing. He ends with a bleak and unedifying view of humanity’s future. The Bone Clocks is a bold and brilliant book. It will, of course, be a publishing phenomenon. But readers are insatiable. We want more. If the rumours are correct, Mitchell has another five books sketched out that will develop the universe and the characters of The Bone Clocks. I think we should leave David Mitchell alone and let him write. I can’t wait to see where the story goes from here.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 2, 2014 8:43 AM BST


One Summer: America 1927
One Summer: America 1927
by Bill Bryson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.10

40 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just Perfect - Bryson at his most infectious and mischievous, 8 Nov 2013
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Is there any kind of book that couldn't be improved a thousandfold by getting Bill Bryson to write it? Already my favourite-books-list includes 'Mother Tongue' a glorious history of the English language, 'A Short History of Everything,' which wraps up a thousand years of science and 'At Home' which is a cosy history of domesticity. And I've lost count of the number of times I've recommended Bryson's 'Shakespeare'. So that's linguistics, science, and literary biography to add to the canon of travel books that Bryson is best known for, and now here he is with an off the wall volume of American History that packs about half a million little-known facts about the American Summer of 1927 into five hundred pages and somehow ends up creating the most compelling book I've read since ... well probably since the last Bill Bryson book.

Bryson has stumbled upon a magical and pivotal summer in US history, and in his infectious, folksy style he takes us on a romp from May to September introducing a riotous cast of characters that you simply couldn't invent. Take the writer Zane Grey, for example, who earned a third of a million dollars from his books in 1927. Bryson reveals that Grey's hobbies included compiling detailed journals of his sexual exploits, and being photographed in the act. 'Edgar Rice Burroughs,' Bryson tells us, 'had a tamer life than Grey - but then, after all, who didn't?' It is this deliciously conversational style, a compote of statistics and gossip, that makes this book so compulsively readable. The summer is bookended by two events that gripped the consciousness of America - Lindbergh's crossing of the Atlantic, and Babe Ruth's record breaking season with a baseball bat. I started the book with a level of interest very close to zero in either event, but finished up almost as delirious with excitement as the crowds who swarmed to see both heroes in action. It is a heavy book, and my arms were aching as I finished it. But it is an amazing and wonderful read. I thoroughly recommend it.


Asterix and the Picts
Asterix and the Picts
by Jean-Yves Ferri
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £8.79

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Thumping Good Asterix in the tradition of the classics, 8 Nov 2013
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This review is from: Asterix and the Picts (Hardcover)
So for anyone who doesn't know the Asterix story - here is a potted history. In 1959 writer Rene Goscinny and illustrator Albert Uderzo published the first comic book to feature the adventures of Asterix the Gaul. Over the next 53 years, there would be more than thirty books in the franchise, and for a while - in the sixties and seventies - the books were as close to perfect as a comic book ever could be. The drawings were exquisite, the stories entertaining, and the humour gentle. These years saw titles like 'Asterix and Cleopatra', 'Asterix the Legionary,' and 'Asterix in Britain,' - books that have become essential classics in the genre.

But in 1977 tragedy struck. Goscinny died, and Uderzo decided, singlehandedly, to continue with the books, both writing and drawing them. It was a fiasco. The series began a grim spiral from brilliance to mediocrity and onwards to utter awfulness, reaching a nadir with titles like 'Asterix and the Actress' and 'Asterix and Obelix All at Sea.'

All seemed lost for Asterix. To make matters worse, a dreadful row had broken out between Uderzo, the publishers, and the family of Rene Goscinny. But in 2011 all parties came to an agreement and a new Asterix title was commissioned - the first with a new writer and illustrator. The result is 'Asterix and the Picts,' drawn by Conrad Didier and written by Jean Yves Ferri. And it is a delight. Almost. Asterix and Obelix travel to Scotland to save the true love of a Scottish chieftan. National stereotypes are mercilessly lampooned, Nessie makes an appearance (of course), Romans are thumped, and it all ends with a banquet beneath the stars. The art work is right back to early Uderzo standards (these too had slipped over the decades). It isn't a Five Star book - some of the humour is still a little clumsy, and the story is rather forced. But it has all the hallmarks of a real Asterix book. I can't wait for the next one.


Jeeves and the Wedding Bells
Jeeves and the Wedding Bells
by Sebastian Faulks
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.59

67 of 70 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterful and faithful story arc for Bertram W - a new classic, 8 Nov 2013
I should declare an interest. No - I don't know Sebastian Faulks. No - we don't share a publisher - and no - he's never reviewed any of my books. My interest is simple. I'm a P.G.Wodehouse fan. Specifically I'm huge devotee of the Jeeves books. I was therefore solidly in the folded-arms/outraged-that-anyone-should-try-to-imitate-the-master camp, and I bought this book at an airport bookstall simply to confirm my fears that the publishing world had taken leave of its senses. No one, I believed, could ever hope to do anything more than an embarrassing pastiche of Wodehouse's unique style. No one could hope to capture the gentle buffoonery of Bertram Wooster's narrative voice. No one in the Twenty First Century could re-create the gentle country-house farce, could mix allusions from Hymns A&M with Shakespeare and Spinoza, or could nail the affectionate repartee between Jeeves and Wooster.
I was wrong.
It's a coincidence that the last book I reviewed was the new Asterix volume - the first officially sanctioned story by a new writer and illustrator. I gave that a warmish welcome. But frankly, they had a much easier task than Faulks. B Wooster is a much more slippery fish to land than Asterix and Obelix. The almost unbelievable news is that Faulks carries it off with extraordinary aplomb. I was waiting for the lines that would jar or the situation that would affront - and they never came. Within pages you're forced to forget that this isn't Wodehouse, and it isn't an undiscovered volume that you discovered in a dusty second hand book shop. If anything - and it almost pains me to say this - Faulks has improved on the master. I know. I know. But removed from the contemporary context Faulks is able to muse on current events - the General Strike, and the Great War - he is able to speculate on Darwinism. And ... (now here is the real revelation) he is able to endow Bertie with a richer, more rounded personality than P.G. ever allowed him. Is that taking a liberty? I don't think so. Faulks delivers a Jeeves book with a modern bent. He creates a character arc that is notably absent in the originals. The only epiphany that would normally come to Bertie would be the realisation that his spats really weren't de rigeur. In this book, Bertie has a true journey of self discovery. It is remarkable that Faulks delivers this without any sense of betrayal of P.G.'s creation. The ending - which I don't imagine Wodehouse could ever have contemplated (and which I'm surprised the Wodehouse estate agreed to) - is the only significant departure from the proven template - but it is wholly forgivable for being the most satisfying ending of any Jeeves and Wooster book. Please Mr Faulks, start work on the sequel. It is time - and I never believed I could ever think this - to set J&W off on a whole new chapter in their lives.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 26, 2013 10:35 PM GMT


The Bellwether Revivals
The Bellwether Revivals
by Benjamin Wood
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £6.94

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The gloriously creepy story of a damaged young man ... beautifully written, 28 Dec 2012
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Benjamin Wood writes beautifully fluent prose, slowly unwrapping the sinister story of a musical genius, every chapter another layer of dark intrigue. This is a very good book indeed ... (and I write as a rival author for the Costa first book award...). I'm very much looking forward to Ben's next novel ...


The Shadow of the Sun: My African Life
The Shadow of the Sun: My African Life
by Ryszard Kapuscinski
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

77 of 79 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Africa comes out of the Shadows, 3 Oct 2002
I grew up in Africa, a barefooted white boy enjoying the final desperate priviledges of the dying Empire. And as a young man I taught in Nigeria. These are all fading memories now, yet not until now have I read anything which so transports me back to the white heat of the sun, and the marketplaces, and the footpaths, and the vibrancy that is Africa. This is a book that lays bare the real Africa without any burden of ideology or polemic - except for a touching underlying affection for the place. If you ever felt confused about the tribal factions in Rwanda, or the forces that led to the rise of Amin in Uganda, or whatever happened to the freed American slaves in Liberia, or the reasons for the conflict in Eritrea - then this is the book. Exquisite.


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