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Once upon a time I was an avid reader. Life got in the way for a while and I put the books down. A recent change in circumstance means I have more spare time once and I have been bitten by the bug again.

Currently reading

Hanns and Rudolf: The German Jew and the Hunt for the Kommandant of Auschwitz
Thomas Harding
The Book Thief
Markus Zusak

A reach too far

Killing Floor  - Lee Child

The Jack Reacher books get a lot of praise so I was looking forward to this first full tale having prepared the ground with the 'origin' short story Second Son.


I went into it with my eyes open - it would be an easy read, violent and thrilling with twists and turns that would keep me reading avidly until the end.


Except it was none of those things really.


I don't consider myself a literary snob, but it is true that I read very little from what is considered the mainstream, and never have really. This reminded me of why.


When I say it wasn't an easy read I don't mean because of it's complex prose, I mean because I just couldn't be bothered to read it very often.


The story is ridiculous, the secondary characters paper thin and there is a distinct lack of the expected grit here. It is also littered with outrageous and unbelievable coincidence which, while I won't spoil actual events, I will admit that I found so shockingly bad on one particular occasion that I put the book down in disgust for a good week.


Eventually I got over that and ploughed through to the finish, but it failed to impress me significantly more right up to its hurried and unsatisfying ending.


All that said, I will give the series a second chance at some point, as I have read that the first book is far from the best. We shall see.

Back on the shelf...

The Book Thief - Markus Zusak

I have been waiting to read this book for a long time.


Even when I wasn't reading, and before I embraced e-readers I had a copy sat by my night-stand for what felt like, and indeed probably was, years.


Right up my alley, and I have no doubt it will become a much loved and cherished novel when I do get around to it.


That time is not now, however, so I have again put it to one side, ready for the time in my life when I feel I can embrace it.


My dad died two years ago, my sister died in April and my mum died six weeks later.


I am, quite simply, not ready to read a book like this yet.

Start at the beginning...

Second Son (Jack Reacher, #0.1) - Lee Child

This was a nice introduction to the world of Jack Reacher - a Kindle single about him as a kid of thirteen.


I've never read a Lee Child book, or even seen the Tom Cruise movie, but I intend to give the series a go, and this short has more than whetted my appetite.


Set in the far east with the Reacher family in a period of continuous relocation due to the father, Stan being active in the marines.


The story is pretty thin, but that's to be expected, however I imagine it sets the tone for the series well and, after reading it I have a pretty good idea what to expect from the grown up Jack Reacher novels - namely violence and puzzle solving - although I'm expecting both to ratchet up considerably, as the 'case' here is only borderline criminal.


The Reacher character is certainly interesting and I'm looking forward to getting to know him much better over the coming months. I believe you can read the books in any order, but I'm intending to go in published order as it seems to make the most sense somehow (even though I've broken my own rule there with this short!)

Short and sweet

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore - Robin Sloan

Finished this a couple of days ago and almost launched straight into a post, but decided it might be wise to put a little distance between myself and the book on this occasion, and I'm glad that I did.

If I'd written this immediately I'd probably have been more effusive in my praise - not that I feel particularly ill towards it now - but the more I think about it the more an element of disappointment creeps in.


I believe this has roots in a short story that was subsequently expanded - barely - to novel length, and it shows a little too much. I love the concept, and the characters and there is a real 'favourite book ever' potential in there, but it feels rushed. I'm sorry, but it does. The story needed more time to breathe, just as the ideas contained within needed more time to grow.


It's never a good sign for me when you can't recall a characters name, and I just had to rack my brains to recall the name of the main character - Clay, for the record - for the purpose of surmising the story.


Which is borderline great to be fair - a kind of whimsical, intellectual mini-Dan Brown, with a revelation hundreds of years old potentially concealed within the pages of the deeply encoded, hidden within plain sight semi-secret library of Mr Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore, and sought by the mysterious and furtive Unbroken Spine society - a group of intensely serious bookworms who devote their lives to decoding and following the trail.

Exciting stuff in a most unexpectedly exciting place. Equally thrilling was the inclusion of a typeface in the mystery - as a huge typography fan myself who likes nothing more than a good, solid font it was a rare treat to see something everyone - and I mean everyone - takes for granted, elevated to a position somewhat deserving of its long and faithful service to humanity. And yes, I realise that sounds dull, and makes me sound dull, but it's not and I'm not. Honestly.

My main problems with were firstly that there is a little too much 'coincidence' in the events for my taste, with characters introduced just in time to be perfectly useful for the task in hand. Without sounding sappy I would have liked a more in-depth description of the relationship between Clay and Kat as I'm sure there are great characters in there waiting to be fleshed out for our enjoyment.


Secondly, and this is a problem I consistently have with books, the ending is unsatisfying. But that is a common issue with grand themes and big ideas unfortunately - when we ask the important questions we don't always have the answers that would appease our need for comforting and decisive resolution.


Thirdly is Mr. Penumbra - there is so much more that I want to know about this intriguing little guy that just doesn't even get touched open. If Robin Sloan writes a sequel (or more likely a spin-off) focussed on this titular but peripheral character I will be all over it. He deserves to be so much more than the 'Mr Benn shopkeeper' figure that he ends up being.

I feel like I'm being a little harsh here as I loved every minute of the all too short time I spent in this curious little world. In my mind the characters all came to life in the best way - with occasionally too many gaps filled in by my own imagination it's true - and the Unbroken Spine characters evoke a feeling of Studio Ghibli they so richly deserve to become one day.


This would make a great animated movie that would enthrall all ages. As a book, perhaps not so much sadly.

Undoubtedly worth reading though as it certainly doesn't outstay its welcome.

Simply genius...

Ready Player One - Ernest Cline

Loved this.


Such a simple idea - a strange thing to say about a book set in virtual worlds far in advance of anything we are capable of achieving today technologically, but I stand by it.


So simple in fact that people like me around the world will no doubt read it and kick themselves for not thinking of it first.


Scratching the itch so many of us have for a hidden mystery it borrows heavily from many sources - some blatantly given its mechanic of using material from old video games, films and TV shows to push the story along - and rewards the observant reader with pop culture references that make your heart soar just a little when you are one of the lucky ones that 'get them'.


In the majority of cases I could relate - the film references, western TV nods and video game love all hit home to me perfectly, less so the anime and samurai stuff as these were things that never appealed in my eighties childhood, but Ready Player One came about as close as a book ever has to making me feel like it was 'written just for me'. Skilful.


I imagine that in conversation with Ernest Cline he would divulge that his less obvious influences were things like Roald Dahl's wonderful Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (which does get a fleeting mention), Tron (which incredibly, doesn't) and even Family Guy - again, all things which resonate with me personally.


That said, there were times when I felt the story was, while not perhaps lazy, a little underdeveloped and safe - in the hands of a Spielberg-esque storyteller I can only wonder about where the story would have taken me. As it stands I came away feeling 'I could have written that, God damn it', assuming of course I had the idea in the first place, which I never did.


I have high hopes for the author though and eagerly await his next offering - maybe in time he will grow into one of his generation's master high concept storytellers. I certainly hope so.


I will also make a point to watch Fanboys now, which I have had for a while but never got around to. I bought this after taking an interest in Jay Baruchel and had never heard of Ernest Cline - happily this means checking out his other significant work of note to date is as simple as clicking play.

Under the Dome: A Novel - Stephen King

I like a good Stephen King epic, although it makes me feel slightly dirty to admit it...

Under the Dome is exactly as expected - wildly imaginative ideas, a sprawling cast of characters, a somewhat clumsy attempt at allegory and clear signs of a writer struggling to break out of the confines of his literary talents.

King's fantastical and crazy imagination far outstrips his ability to pluck the ideas from his head and convey them as effectively on the page as you would hope, but luckily for the reader he strikes just about the right balance to keep you ploughing on to find out just what the hell is going on.


Under the Dome moves at a frenetic pace, and it is admirable that King manages to define each character well enough to stop them merging into an indistinct, blurry mess, despite only the occasional nod to depth in each case.


The two main characters both get an 'event of significance' in their back story that is used as a device later on in what can only be described as a disappointingly rushed ending - perhaps made even more so by the fact that this is nudging 900 pages and really shouldn't have needed more room to breathe - but the rest of the cast feel underdeveloped. Understandable though, given the almost frighteningly large number of characters.

Despite that somehow King manages to make you care about what happens to them all, at least if they are on the 'good' side, as he uses his trusted mechanic of 'if you're not good you're evil' to good effect again here.


You feel there are nods to grander themes such as Bush era America, fears over dwindling resources and ecological issues, and even perhaps the Third Reich, but to over-analyse is, in my opinion to do this book a disservice as the closer you look the more 'hokey' it becomes.


Take it for what it is - a typical Stephen King page turner - and enjoy it, without worrying too much about what it could have been, or perhaps what you want it to be.


And whatever you do, don't get your hopes up for a satisfying conclusion, because there isn't one (I believe they have changed it for the TV series, which suggests I am not alone in that view).


It would be easy to feel angry, or even jilted when the curtain falls having invested so much in the reading time and the characters, but I preferred to think back to the good times I'd had rooting for all-American hero Colonel Dale Barbara, plucky journo Julia Shumway, the whizkids and even the distinctly one-dimensional Romeo Burpee as they battled mean old Big Jim Rennie and his sick and twisted son, Junior who toe the line between 'menacing' and 'pantomime' at times, thankfully without ever fully falling into the ridiculous.

Worth a read, but only if you go into it with your eyes open to its limitations.


First book on the Kobo Glo...

Under the Dome: A Novel - Stephen King

Enjoying this. The Kobo is great, and the book is warming up nicely at close to a quarter done.


Reading mostly early in the morning as I keep waking up really early.