Thursday, 19 July 2012

"The Dead Won't Sleep," by Anna Smith

Creative Commons License
Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

After being briefly distracted by books about pubs or werewolves, I decided to return to the books in my pile of review copies.  I thought that I would revisit my primary genre of choice - crime.

Anna Smith's novel is set in urban Glasgow.  It is an unusual read for me: I tend to prefer the mystery and detection sub-genre of crime, and Anna Smith starts the novel "Columbo" style by showing us the insalubrious circumstances of a young girl's death.  This isn't a whodunnit - instead Smith's plot hinges on the efforts of dogged, dedicated journalist Rosie Gilmour to expose the corruption behind the crime and on the lengths the perpetrators go to in order to conceal their role in her fate.

By rights, I shouldn't have liked this book - but I did.  I prefer the mental challenges of a whodunnit to the action of a thriller, and yet I still enjoyed this.  I don't tend to like gritty realism in my reading.  If I want depressing realism, I can watch the news or read true crime (which I personally dislike as it creeps me out and, to me, feels morally suspect and borderline exploitative).  I read to be entertained and to escape, so the brittle, hard-edged urban world of prostitution and drugs in Smith's novel should have put me off - yet it didn't.

Here's the main reason I enjoyed the novel despite the reasons why I expected not to be drawn in - Rosie Gilmour.  Smith's main character is engaging, vulnerable yet determined, and I cared what happened to her.  There is a fragile, burgeoning romance in the novel and I was behind Rosie all the way in wanting things to work out for her (I won't give away the outcome).

I have discovered that there is a further book by Anna Smith featuring Rosie Gilmour - "To Tell the Truth" - which I am eager to get my hands on so that I can find out what Rosie did next.

Thank you to Quercus Books for sending me a review copy of this book.  It took me a while to get the chance to catch up on reading it, but I am glad that I did.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

"Talulla Rising," by Glen Duncan

Creative Commons License
Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

 I enjoyed reading Glen Duncan's "The Last Werewolf" so I was happy to get hold of the sequel, "Talulla Rising," from the library.

In setting up the start of "Talulla Rising" in the next paragraph, I will give away a bit of the end of the first novel.  If you have not yet read "The Last Werewolf" but think that you might, I suggest that you skip the next paragraph if you want to avoid a spoiler.

At the end of "The Last Werewolf," Talulla's lover, Jake (also a werewolf), has been killed and Talulla has just found out that she is pregnant (which she had thought to be impossible).  The sequel starts as Talulla is in hiding from WOCOP (World Organisation for the Control of Occult Phenomena), and has acquired an unlikely birthing partner in the figure of Cloquet (who had tried to kill Jake in the first book).  The birth is a catalyst for a quest during which Talulla acquires both new allies - including a new lover - and new enemies, and werewolf once again clashes with both humans and vampires.

I think I might actually have preferred this book to the first although, from other opinions that I have heard, I might be in the minority on this.  I liked Jake's voice in the first book - and I know others have said how much they miss him - but I liked the new character of Walker, and I also enjoyed Talulla's voice.  It has started me thinking more about how effective it is  - or isn't - when an author adopts the persona of someone of the opposite sex.  Does it make a difference to the way I read something?  Certainly in this novel I sometimes found myself taking a mental step back - particularly when he was writing about experiences such as childbirth that are specific to the female body - and remembering the male author behind the character.  I don't think it is a fault of his writing; if anything, I was most aware of it when I felt he wrote something particularly effectively.  This is a reaction that is very personal to me and, now that I have become aware of my reaction, it will be interesting to think through that response in my future reading.  Why should it feel any different to me than, say, an author who has never killed writing in the persona of a murderer?  Both are acts of imagination. I suspect the answer to this should be that it isn't any different.

Aside from the fact that I struggled with an aspect of the internal logic to this novel, which I wrote about here, I am still enjoying this series of novels and am looking forward to the last in the trilogy.  I found myself being torn in two one night, because I felt tired and very badly wanted to go to sleep and yet I just as badly wanted to read on.  I don't think that there is a greater compliment than that to a book or author.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

"The Longest Crawl," by Ian Marchant

Creative Commons License
Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

Longest CrawlI found this book for a couple of pounds in The Works (ssh, don't tell the author), and I bought it on impulse because I know a couple of places mentioned in the blurb on the back.

In "The Longest Crawl," Ian Marchant decides to go on a pub crawl for the length of Britain.  And I don't just mean Land's End to John O' Groats, no, that's for amateurs, I mean from the Scilly Isles to Unst in the Shetlands.  He is inspired by G.K. Chesterton's poem "The Rolling English Road" and the idea that the traveller's geography of the UK is inextricably tied to our heritage as a drinking nation.  He takes his friend, Perry, along with him as travelling companion for his month of driving, alcohol and hangovers.

I particularly liked the couple of bits about places I know, which intersected with some of my interests, and, as he travels the length of the UK, chances are that he might also write about somewhere you know and love.  In Plymouth he and Perry go to Prete's ice cream bar, where they are dumbfounded by a Robert Lenkiewicz mural on the wall.  I love Lenkiewicz's work, although I'm ashamed to say I have never been in Prete's, and I could easily highjack this post writing about him (how I saw Lenkiewicz in Plymouth a couple of times but was too intimidated to speak to him; how the dilapidated state of his huge outdoor mural on the Barbican saddens me; how I'd love to see The Riddle Mural at Port Eliot; how if I get rich I would like to own one of his paintings but it will need to be in a room my husband doesn't often go in because he's not keen on his work ).  He goes to Bath - a place I love - and mentions the Natural Theatre Company who I also shouldn't get started on (how I loved their touring shows when I was a teenager and wrote a couple of fan letters; how thanks to them I have a signed photograph of Henry VIII which I am fairly sure is a fake).  These familiar references are a big joy of the book.

In Marchant's book you learn quite a lot about the author himself, as well as learning a lot about the processes of making alcohol (Plymouth Gin, somerset cider, beer).   He is very self-deprecating and plays on the pub-bore side of his personality (without being boring): while his friend Perry flirts with cute barmaids and tour guides, he is the one asking technical questions about brewing and fermenting.  He is funny and frequently quite politically incorrect (with, I think, no malice), and he is very thoughtful along the way about the UK's historically fraught relationship with the demon drink

He also has a nice line in snoring similes ("like a donkey with emphysema" "like a dinosaur gargling wallpaper past").  But it's hard to beat the simplicity of my Dad telling my Mum that she snores like "an enraged warthog" (rude), or Mark telling me on various nights of the same cold that I made sounds in my sleep like "a startled baby otter" or, my personal favourite, a "disconsolate elk".

This was an interesting and entertaining book.  I'm thinking of getting one of Ian Marchant's earlier books "Parallel Lines," about our railways, as a present for my father who is a bit of a train fanatic.  Ssh, don't tell my Dad.

I've started reading "Talulla Rising"....

Creative Commons License
Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

Product DetailsA few posts ago I read "The Last Werewolf" by Glen Duncan, and I wrote about it here and took part in the discussion panel on "The Readers" podcast.  I'm now reading "Talulla Rising," the next in the trilogy, and I'm still finding the narrative compelling.  However, there is something bugging me....

(spoiler ahoy) 

At the start of the second book, Talulla gives birth to twins who are also werewolves.  Now Glen Duncan has already established that, once a person has been bitten and becomes a werewolf, they don't age.  So does that mean that the twins will be forever babies?

Of course it's fiction and of course werewolves don't exist, but there is still a potential logical loophole there that is playing on my mind.  If sure you can argue that all bets are off if a child is born of two werewolves - which might well be the way that Duncan will go with this, as there isn't really anywhere you can go with the characters if Lorcan and Zoe never get beyond the screaming and puking stage - but I can't put away this niggling idea.  That's probably my OCD side manifesting.

If someone knows something I don't about the werewolf myth in literature that gives him a get-out clause on this, please let me know.

Friday, 6 July 2012

I've been interviewed!

Creative Commons License
Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

A few weeks ago I was honoured when a friend of mine asked if she could interview me for her blog.  Annalisa is a writer with whom I was at 6th form college, and she has an excellent blog about writing called "Wake Up, Eat, Write, Sleep" (which sounds like a good life to have, apart from the waking up bit which I am not so keen on).

Her interview with me can be found here.

If you do pop to her blog to have a read of my interview, it would be well worth exploring some of the great posts that she has written previously to get to know her a bit better....