All These Condemned (John D MacDonald)

Written in 1954 before environmental issues became big in the public consciousness – this is very different than his later works. If I didn’t know I would never have guessed it was by JDM. In the hands of some lesser writer, the two chapters per character-narrator would have come off as a cheesy gimmick, but not for the MacDonald. In just pages, MacDonald fashions whole biographies, not of these character’s histories, but of who they are in body and soul. I rarely come across a book filled with such depth and such distinctive characters.  [Read more…]

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The Owl Service (Alan Garner)

I can’t believe I haven’t reviewed this book until now. I read it when I was little, and it scared me quite a lot at the time. Now that I am not as much of a scaredy cat I can see it for what it is: an impressive novel originally intended for a juvenile readership but, as these things tend to do, ended up being just as popular with adults. A remarkably subtle and complex fantasy that could also be classed as weird fiction for young adults. The style is fast-paced, sparse, and doesn’t patronize the reader with pages, or even paragraphs of scene-setting. (By the way– it may be bad luck to gaze at an owl. That’s why I chose such a bland cover above instead of the more striking ones featuring our nocturnal feathered friends. Don’t want to tempt fate…) [Read more…]

The First Men In The Moon ( H.G. Wells)

Oh, for the good old days when men believed that the moon was inhabited by “Selenites” who lived in deep caves underground! If your only knowledge of this book is the 1964 motion picture, this novel will surprise you. This is no romantic comedy, although there are humorous moments. H.G. Wells, in his The First Men in the Moon takes two Englishmen, the eccentric inventor Cavor, and the ne’er-do-well Bedford, to the moon in a spherical spaceship using an antigravity substance called Cavorite. Fortunately for these ill-prepared astronauts, the moon has plenty of oxygen, so they don’t need a spacesuit with breathing apparatus.  [Read more…]

Closely Watched Trains (Bohumil Hrabal)

Set in 1945 in a Czech town, the Germans are on the back foot, but they are still making their presence felt. These German–closely watched– trains still pass through the train station and are given priority in passage. We follow the exploits of the station staff. The central figure is the hapless Milos Hrma, an unassuming, insecure young man with an embarrassing family history. He works at the station along with larger than life characters, including the pigeon-covered station master Lansky, the randy, libidinous dispatcher Hubicka, the floozy telegraphist Virginia and the conductress Masha. Despite their foibles and absurdities, there is a touch of longing and vulnerability which makes them human and worthy of empathy. [Read more…]

Alive (Piers Paul Reid)

On Friday, October 13, 1972 a Fairchild F-227, chartered from the Uruguayan Air Force, carrying a young amateur rugby team and their families and friends from Uruguay, slammed into the middle of the remote Andes Mountains in Argentina…This is a legendary book that shook the conscience of the world in the 1970s. And now, 45 years on from the tragedy, this non-fiction work still makes for compelling reading. Forty five passengers and the crew were on the plane before it crashed. Only sixteen of the passengers left the mountain alive. [Read more…]

Something Wicked This Way Comes (Ray Bradbury)

One of my favorite “semi-horror” reads. I suppose it could be called “horror” but it doesn’t fit neatly into the mold. The point of view is that of a boy on the brink of manhood as he gets to know more about certain concepts of “good and evil” than he ever really wanted to…the traveling carnivals that moved from town to town, showing up at county fairs, sets the background for this tale–with their mysterious denizens, noisy rides, lights that filled the night while leaving pockets of darkness. The barkers and their “side shows”, the fixed games of “chance” are now a thing of a bygone era. Bradbury paints such a vivid picture of a now-lost bucolic rural life here as to be almost heartbreaking to contemporary readers.  [Read more…]

Mr Norris Changes Trains (Christopher Isherwood)

“He had an animal innocence,” Isherwood sums up Mr Norris — no, I mean Gerald Hamilton (1890-1970), the flamboyant and flabby rogue who inspired Mr Norris. The two met, presumably, in Berlin where Isherwood lived from 1929 to 1933. The author had gone to that city because of the favourable money-exchange. He caught the tormented, self-destructive spirit of Berlin which Broadway excised in favour of un-zippered frolics and Doctor Rugs (yes, I mean….drugs, not hugs and definitely not rugs). Coming from a strangulating British environment where you faced jail if caught in the bushes with a boy, he read that anything went on in Berlin. As Gerald Hamilton said, “We live in stirring times. Tea-stirring times.” [Read more…]

The Long Goodbye (Raymond Chandler)

The Long Goodbye is widely considered Raymond Chandler’s swan song to arguably literature’s greatest detective. Often cited as the gold standard in crime fiction, this one snapped up the Edgar Award for best novel in 1955, is listed on countless “best of” compilations, and has influenced a generation of mystery and crime writers. It’s been noted that a few of the characters in the novel were used as a way for Chandler to clear his mind. He used them to express his innermost thoughts on the state of society, his frustrations as a writer and his internal struggle with whether or not he should commit suicide. [Read more…]

The Amulet Of Samarkand (Bartimaeus #1) (Jonathan Stroud)

This novel is set in a modern-day London that is ruled by Magicians. It is written from the perspective of a djinni (demon) and an undervalued magician’s apprentice. It’s tempting to compare the book to the Harry Potter series. Young boy. Magic. Sneaking around. Breaking the rules. Stern teachers. But the similarities really end there. What’s obvious is that Stroud can write about a complex world (and one I want to know more about) and making it interesting and funny. I’m used to slow beginnings in fantasy but this one started with a bang.
[Read more…]

The Making Of John Lennon (Francis Kenny)

Lennon’s legacy is a warm, fuzzy pacifism, a hedonistic refusal to commit yourself to anything. He’s the icon of escapism. There are millions of decrepit baby boomers who subscribe to his ethos (most of them Cosmopolitan readers), but he’s definitely not an icon for 2017. The ’causes’ he once espoused, planted in his head by a whispering Japanese con artistè: peace (in our time?), lurve (yucky orgies) & ball-busting feminism have mostly been discredited since Mark David Chapman bust a nut that night in front of the Dakota. I say it’s not “too soon” to take a pop at this champ: John lies on the slag heap of 20th century history. [Read more…]

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