Sunday, 30 November 2008

20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill

Gollancz €11.95

JOE HILL'S first novel, Heart-Shaped Box - about a bad-boy rock star who buys a ghost on the internet - was built around a plot hole the size of San Andreas Fault, but was so exuberant, funny and scary that several editions sold out before publication.
The first issue of his comic Locke & Key sold out in one day.
The stories in 20th Century Ghosts were the first book published by a writer who happens to be the son of Stephen King, but kept that quiet until outed by perceptive readers.
The stories are gripping - oh yes. They lack the cruelty of true horror, and they have the sweetness that is Hill's most notable asset.
(His father, incidentally, used to have a dog called Good Boy. When children petted it and said "Good boy!" he would reel back and say: "You're clever! How did you know my dog's name?")
In one story here, a film-obsessed ghost terrifies cinemagoers by chatting to them about the movie, then replaying her death.
In another, dead children coach a kidnap victim on how he should kill their murderer.
In a charming fantasy, a man remembers his best friend, an inflatable boy who lived in terror of the narrator's evil father and his savage pit bull.
Irresistible stories.

The Poison Throne by Celine Kiernan

O'Brien €12.99
A NEW Irish fantasy talent has appeared. Celine Kiernan is one of the crop of animators developed by Sullivan Bluth when the company was in Ireland.
She went on to follow the work around the world, then she and her husband came home to set up their own studio in Dublin.
She's always had stories niggling away in her head, one of them about Wynter Moorehawke, Protector Lady, well-qualified carpenter's apprentice, former King's Cat-Keeper.
With the first burst of happy laughter, you know you can settle down to a happy fireside read with this fantasy set in a version of a 14th-century south of France.
But this is a France not only of witch-hunts, torture and roadside gibbets, but also of talking cats, clubbable ghosts, and supernaturally chilly statues (which, handily, can be used to keep the milk and butter cool).
That first laugh was at the traditional greeting for cats: "All respect to you this fine day, mouse-bane" - and its most cat-like response: "All the finer for you, having seen me".
But as Wynter arrives home after years, the cats won't acknowledge her, and even the ghosts run away at her greeting. Something is most definitely wrong.
The first of a trilogy, this shows serious promise. I forecast a rosy future for Celine Kiernan.
Author's website

Monday, 24 November 2008

Testimony by Anita Shreve

Little Brown €12.99 (Easons price)
A SCANDAL erupts in a classy private school - three boys aged 18 and 19 and a girl of 14 are filmed in sex acts, and the film is released on the internet.
Testimony is the story of what comes afterwards - and before - in the words of witnesses gathered together for a docu-book.
It sorta works, and sorta doesn't. Where it doesn't, it's because the author really can't decide who's to blame here.
The girl involved is a child, but she's a slut who comes on to boys a few years older. Shreve can't quite bring herself to wholeheartedly condemn them.
No surprises happen, either. It's fairly clear from a few pages in what's going to happen - one boy will die, one will sue, and one will make reparation by devoting himself to charity.
Inevitably, there's an affair between adults tucked between the sheets of the story.
The real villain is sex-for-fun, which ends up making you feel as if you're watching a literary version of Reefer Madness.
Weirdly, the book goes from first person - everyone but the headmaster - to third person for his central narrative, to second person - iffy - for one of the mothers.
It's all worthy and weighty, maybe a sign of exhaustion in a writer who's brought out almost a book a year since 1998.
Publisher's website

The Fire Gospel by Michael Faber

Canongate €10.99 ( again)
JESUS was a fat little guy whose last words were "Please, someone, please finish me", and his most faithful disciple was a spy for the High Priest, in Michael Faber's The Fire Gospel.
His hero, Theo Griepenkerl, is an academic hoovering up some of the goodies of Iraq's antiquities after the war. A gurning curator pauses in leading him through a museum and goes to answer the door.
The subsequent explosion blows a relief of a pregnant goddess to bits, and Theo discovers nine scrolls of perfect papyrus dislodged by the blast.
Which he forthwith steals, and sets out to make his fortune with the translation.
They turn out to be priceless - the words of an actual eyewitness to the Crucifixion, Malchus, who was converted when ... well, it gets a bit graphic here.
In former Whitbread contender Faber's horribly funny book, Theo becomes a Christian version of Salman Rushdie, with enraged crowds and stalkers following him from reading to reading. Not to mention the suicides.
I somehow doubt this is going to be a best-seller. Theo isn't a likeable enough hero - not until the end, anyway.
And it will probably enrage all those who believe, as the song has it, in an interventionist God.
But if it's grim humour you're after, Faber is your man.
Publisher's website

Monday, 17 November 2008

Artemis Fowl and the Time Paradox by Eoin Colfer

Puffin €14.99
NO ONE can say I didn't warn the government that if they dug up Tara, they'd have no luck: those signing the order would be out of a job, and the economy would go down the tubes.
The goddess Bóinne and the Sidhe don't mess about. Any Artemis Fowl reader could have told Bertie and his pals the same. But did they listen?
Eoin Colfer's latest is the perfect Christmas present for any literate kid.
But as with drum sets, it's a gift that will come back to haunt you. It's full of jokes that are incredibly funny when you're young, and demand to be shared.
Former evil mastermind Artemis Fowl has turned his family. Now the criminal dynasty are out to save the world, investing in green power and peace.
But his past misdeeds have rebounded on him. Ma Fowl has the deadly fairy virus Spelltropy.
The only cure came from the silky sifaka lemur, and Artemis, in a typical piece of Fowl play, sold the world's last one to (gasp) Extinctionists.
He must go into the past and steal the lemur from his younger self.
The result is hilarious. Perhaps the best thing is the haiku Artemis composes on the sight of a dwarf's bottom as it tunnels magically into the lemur's cage. But it's just one treat in a book full of treats. Pure fun.
Author's website: Eoin Colfer

Wishful Thinking by Melissa Hill

Hodder €10.14
A TRAIN crashes at Merrion Gates. Lives are ended, and lives are changed.
Rosie gets that train every week. Today she has plenty to think about. Her daughter Sophie has demanded that she hand over the deeds of her house to guarantee the purchase of a dream home.
But Rosie is recently widowed, and when Sophie - owner of a brand-new sports car, regular champers quaffer and sun holiday aficionado - asked the same favour before, dad Martin had said no.
We did without to get a deposit, he said. You can do the same.
Rosie has always been more soft-hearted with her children than Martin was. Now she's thinking through the decision, tempted to say yes.
Other commuters face challenges too.
Dara (when did this name change sex?) is married. She's made her bed and can lie on it. But it's a thorny bed when she looks back after just six months. And when an old flame comes back into her life, her marriage is tinder, not tender.
Louise faces a tough court case when she seeks compensation from the driver who knocked her down and ruined her life. But now, her life is being mocked and vilified by lawyers who seem to know everything about her.
A family-values pageturner from Melissa Hill, this will thrill her fans.
Author's website: Melissa Hill

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Enchanting Alice by Anne Dunlop

Poolbeg €17.99
ANNE Dunlop is back with a blast in this gently funny story of love and marriage in the 1970s.
Beauty queen contestants Jane and Kathleen couldn't be more different. Jane's a svelte, dark Derry beauty, Kathleen a fine sonsy hunk of a farm girl.
Jane confides that her ambition in life is to marry for love, and to live happily ever after.
Be careful what you wish for. Months later she's a 17-year-old bride, married to Kathleen's brother Michael and living on a farm on the top left-hand corner of Lough Neagh, with his Bible-bashing father and spiteful mother, and raging Kathleen.
Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy, as the Bible has it.
Jane soon chickens out and makes a run for it, moving into a house in a nearby council estate.
And we're off - into a cosy world where Jane's new neighbours teach her how to live, and turn her into a hothousing mother who force-feeds her children Mozart and mackerel, while flirting with sexy Oliver, father of 10, from down the road.
Poor Michael, meanwhile, is a slave on his father's farm.
This is pure fantasy. It's set in Northern Ireland from around 1971 to 1988, but there isn't a whiff of the Troubles - just adorable mountainous farmers beating the Lambeg drum at the Glorious Twelfth marches.
It's cuddly, undemanding and fun, with a sweet humour that is very appealing.
And don't worry - Jane gets the second half of her wish too.

Love in a Damp Climate by Quentin Fottrell

Currach €14.99

IF YOU see an a woman reading a paperback, gawping and muttering "Holy God tonight!" - that will be me, reading Quentin Fottrell's Love in a Damp Climate.
Ray D'Arcy Show agony uncle Fottrell's advice is sometimes sensible, sometimes, well...
To a woman hurt by discovering her husband's online porn, he writes: "No doubt there are some husbands out there who don't surf the Net, looking for porn. While they do exist, I don't believe they're exactly thriving as a breed."
He tells the story of Emily, whose last text from one beau, on Hallowe'en, said: "Be careful if you go out tonight, because the pretty girls always get murdered first."
Nothing daunted, she was standing outside Kehoe's when she heard a good-looker saying "I'll go and try my chances with that blonde."
"Good luck," she said as he passed, and he went into courting mode. He brought her home to the farm - where she spent her time eating broccoli and celery and competing with the heifers for his attentions.
After a night of would-be passion, Catherine opened her bald swain's medicine cabinet and cruelly drew a '!' on his bottle of Rogaine hair restorer.
Gay Michael "never thought of boys romantically. Except for one guy at school who I fooled around with from 14 to 17..."
Stefano left Helen because he was being conscripted by the Italian Army. She ran into him again three weeks later in Whelan's - and he tried to get off with her.
Holy God tonight.

Monday, 3 November 2008

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

Atlantic €16
ARAVIND Adiga forewarns the reader from the start that his hero is a murderer, so every event is flavoured by that pre-knowledge.
This year's Booker winner isn't so much a novel as a diatribe against the corruption of India.
He writes about an India with an even worse case of the post-colonials than Ireland.
Landlords in 'the darkness' - the countryside - run a kleptocracy where they vote on behalf of their tenants, and their thugs beat to death anyone impertinent enough to want to use his own vote.
Balram, our hero, aka the White Tiger, is scholarship material. But in a village where the teacher steals the money for uniforms and school meals, he's soon put to work breaking coals.
Ambition leads him out of the village, to life as a serf in the town home of the family of the psychopathic local industrialists, where he learns how to bribe politicians, and how the 'rooster coop' of Indian life works.
After the murder, there's a moment where he reads a one-paragraph story: "Family of 17 murdered in northern India", and knows it's his own family, murdered in revenge.
If you want a sweet book to calm your troubled heart as you watch the destruction of the world economy, look elsewhere. If you like a savage satire, this is the book for you.

Bones of the Hills by Conn Iggulden

HarperCollins €16
AVID fans of Conn Iggulden's work will love this. I wasn't that gone on it, to tell the gods' honest truth.
Genghis Khan, having galloped through two enormous books and across Asia and Europe already, is now taking on the Arabs and Persians and Afghanis.
He hasn't a lot of time for his most talented son, Jochi - partly because he's convinced that Jochi is not his but the child of rape.
Chief fomenter of this rumour is Jochi's pettish brother Chagetai, who's determined to cut Jochi out of the succession.
Iggulden uses this conflict as a loose structure to hold together some wonderful set-pieces on the real battles fought by the Mongols in their advance westwards.
He switches viewpoints frenetically - from Genghis to his wives Borte and Chakahai, his sons and generals and the judo champion who teaches the Mongols to wrestle.
The battles are described with the kind of immediacy that would make you suspect that Iggulden has a time machine stashed in his writing room.
He hasn't stuck to the legend - his Genghis is a black-haired Mongol, not the green-eyed redhead of the old stories - but he's stuck close to the records of conquest and cruelty.
For those who loved the first two of the Conqueror series, the third will complete the tale.