Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Truth or Fiction by Jennifer Johnston

Headline Review

Not girly?
Jennifer Johnston writes tiny, perfect books, as delicate as wisps of silk chiffon booby-trapped with Semtex.
Ah so? Explosive secrets, then?
Book reviewer Caroline Wallace’s boss in the Telegraph sends her to Dublin (from her greyish life in London) to interview aged writer Desmond Fitzmaurice - everyone thinks he’s dead years ago, but he’s not.
Alive and kicking?
He promises her “lots of sex and some violence” in his diaries, which he holds under lock and key. Unlikely, she thinks, looking at the creaky old gent living in Sorrento Terrace over the strand at Dalkey.
And is there?
Oh, there is. There’s also lovely wry humour. When Caroline meets Desmond he strikes her as a bit of an egotist, waited on by wife, ex-wife, cleaning lady, sons and daughter. By the end of the book, she thinks he’s a monster.
Monstre sacré?
Less sacred, more selfish. He’s like the sun around whom a solar system of infuriated female planets whirls. All his relationships are biting, with a dash of spite, like a pink gin dripping with Angostura bitters.
Any of this autobiographical?
Scarcely! Though the details of Fitzmaurice’s life share a likeness with the author’s father, playwright Denis Johnston, who was, like our hero, a war corr in WWII, and did, like him, divorce a beloved actress wife to marry another. But I can’t see him murdering anyone.
It’s mainly about murder?
No, it’s mainly about the horrors of growing old, and very funny with it. Desmond F is so antique he’s practically auctionable, but he’s still determined to chip his way back into the world of fame and fortune. He’s a ruthless old beast.
A good buy?
Good buy to all that. The editing, unfortunately, is a little lax, with ‘their’ for ‘there’, ‘affect’ for ‘effect’, and the like. It spoils the, er, effect.
Article by the author's son about the book's background

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

A State of Mind by Kevin Casey

Ireland of the welcomes?
Bestselling writer Bill Cromer and his sexy German girlfriend Ingrid move into Wicklow, in the heyday of the tax-free status for artists, when government action lured in millionaires to spend their money here.
And do they love it?
Up to a point. Cromer is a working-class Englishman who longs to be accepted by the county types living in Wicklow. But he has landed into the homeland of one O’Dalaigh, a still vividly anti-English hero of the War of Independence. Soon Cromer is getting visits from sinister men in trenchcoats.
Scary - does he flee?
No, because the sinister trenchcoated ones fail to make sure of who they’re talking to, and instead of threatening Cromer, they try to blackmail our narrator, ex-journalist John Hughes.
When are we?
In the 1970s, a time of bank robberies, the Ra and a word in your ear. And, of course, sex.
Sex! I was hoping you’d mention sex
Our narrator - bored with his matriarchal family - is eager to fling his marriage to the wind and bed Cromer’s mot, Ingrid, while doing some research for his novel at the same time.
Sounds like a plan. He’s the dashing hero?
Unfortunately, Hughes isn’t a very appealing hero. The character is flat and lacking in subtext, to be technical about it.
What happens with the Ra?
Hughes is coaching Cromer in books about history. He recommends Tom Barry’s My Fight for Irish Freedom with an airy “Completely unreliable, but it provides some insight into the O’Dalaighs of this world.”
After that - it’s kind of unclear. There’s a beating. There’s a tryst. There are misunderstandings. There’s a suicide. Hughes’ life with his wife and beloved daughter is in the balance.
Who’s Kevin Casey?
Married to poet Eavan Boland, he was one of the good writers of the 1970s, and has come back with a swing with this glumly comic story.
Publisher's site

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest by Stieg Larsson


Thriller by Swedish reporter, ja?
You betcha. Third and last of the series by the late Stieg Larsson, founder of anti-racist magazine Expo and world authority on right-wing extremist groups. He handed a publisher the manuscripts of the three books and promptly dropped dead aged 50. The books have been an international sensation.
Nice for his heirs
Not, it turns out, for the woman who shared his life for 30 years. Under Sweden’s tight-fisted cohabitation laws, Eva Gabrielsson isn’t entitled to a single öre.
She’s going to write about it, apparently. But meanwhile…
Oh yah, the hornet’s nest
Hornets’, plural. Lisbeth Salander, our hero, starts the book in hospital with a brain injury and riddled with bullets.
Eee, no - it’s not about her?
Not for the first 250 pages or so; you can basically skip them. At that stage, ace reporter Blomkvist - Larsson’s fictional alter ego - smuggles in her Palm Tungsten, and she’s suckin’ diesel again.
Who are these eponymous hornets?
Basically, Sweden’s security services - they’ve been covering up after a cell of lunatic Russian defectors and psycho killers for years - and in the process they’ve had young Lisbeth confined to a mental hospital for much of her youth. Now, facing exposure, they have too much to lose.
So it’s a spy story?
Ironically, in the circs, it’s about suppression of women, and how male society closes ranks to enable violent men.
Salander’s a hacker, if I remember rightly
And her faceless friends, citizens of the online ‘Hacker Republic’, weigh in to help her, as do unconnected women - a newspaper editor, a lawyer, a security official and a policewoman. And Blomkvist, natch.
Good, then?
To be honest, not as great as the first two. But I’ll bet fans will read it just to find out what happens to Salander.
Stieg Larsson site

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

The Brightest Star in the Sky by Marian Keyes


Zowie! A new Marian Keyes book!

In 66 Star Street - Keyes’ latest bestseller, I’ve no doubt - couples are coalescing and bursting apart like an experiment with mercury, and some strange beast is slouching towards Bethlehem to be born. Is it life? Is it death? Wait and see.
Sounds less cuddly than usual
It’s edgy enough, but very funny - several loud guffaws every few pages. The characters are great -
Tell me more
Two fine Polish hunks, one holy and prayerful, one zippy and zingy with blazing blue eyes, both sharing their flat with vividly bad-tempered taxi driver Lydia. One psychic -
The real thing?
Jemima, an aged Protestant lady, and yes, genuine psychic, with a troubled grey dog called Grudge, works for a psychic hotline. Her gorgeous foster-son Fionn is about to be the star of a new TV gardening programme.
Gorgeous, you say?
Fionn is so lovely that even his photo throws a sparkly wink to anyone who looks at it. More of the tenants at No 66: Matt ’n’ Maeve are married, quiet, devoted, a decent-living couple with a calm routine.
How ideal
You may think so; I won’t contradict you. And glam-mam type Katie is 40 this hated birthday. She’s the beloved of unreliable workaholic Conall.
All about coupledom?
No indeed - one aged parent is dying, another is struck by illness but no one will listen to her frantic daughter; companies go bust and people are sacked. Most of the action takes place in a haze of alcohol and sex, often both at the same time.
So many stories?
And more, indeed, since all these lives and others weave in and out - including the dog’s. The stories don’t have the driving force of Keyes’s earlier work, but this is good fun, and you know that in the end the good will win out and the bad be punished with icy force.
A buy?
A cosy read to comfort you in this nasty rainy winter we’re facing.

Makers by Cory Doctorow

This is the Boing Boing guy, yah?
Yah. Co-editor of the Boing Boing zine, begetter of the Craphound blog. Author of a shelf of books, also released online under creative commons licences that encourage filesharing.
Blah. Is this any good?
Just giving you the background - because Doctorow is writing about what he knows. Son of Trotskyist teachers (his father born in a refugee camp in Azerbaijan), he grew up an activist.
And the story? The story?
Well, uh, yeah. At first it’s a spark-shower of creativity, with ideas zipping and humming and bouncing off each other. Reporter Suzanne is lured in to write about deeds of derring-do by corporate suit Kettlewell, head of a merger between Kodak and Digicell.
This is a story?
It’s like one of those old dotcom novels - remember Microserfs? Kettlewell wants zillions of creative cells around America to work for his firm Kodacell. He drags Suzanne to Florida to meet nerdy Perry and lardass Lester, who are doing crazy projects combining science and art.
Sounds worthy
Then they bring in talented people from a nearby shantytown, whose guru is an old aerospace engineer bankrupted by his dying wife’s medical bills.
And they do what?
That’s the problem. Doctorow’s story is tugging itself to pieces, his vocational egalitarianism pulling one way, his natural elitocracism dragging him relentlessly another, while he’s trying to write about a kleptocracy.
No! No! Big words!
Put it this way: the boys want information to be free; vicious tycoon rivals want to crush their ideals. There’s randomish violence. A subplot about Russian gene tech that cures obesity, and a whole class of ‘fatkins’ - skinny, avid former fat people who have mad sex like the 1980s gay subculture.
Worth a buy?
Certainly worth reading online for that brilliant first 100 pages.
Author's site

206 Bones by Kathy Reichs

How many bones?
There are 206 bones in the human body - as forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan knows. Or should, but not if she’s an incompetent flake, as an anonymous caller claims to her bosses.
Hate that
A long-lost heiress turns up dead, and Tempe supposedly botches the post mortem. Then the only person who can reveal the anonymous caller’s name dies.
Zut alors!
This is the 12th Temperance Brennan book. In it, a particularly weird serial killer is targeting old ladies in French-speaking Quebec. A bunch of them have been found, very dead and in a decomposed state, some just skeletons.
Bones! That’s it!
No, the Temperance Brennan in the TV show Bones isn’t based on this series. Actually she’s based on the writer, Kathy Reichs, who is herself a forensic anthropologist.
Wow, that’s pretty circuitous
Tant pis. Temperance is having workmate trouble: a highly ambitious woman whose only lack is, well, qualifications, as well as a stalker who leaves her notes basically saying “Yankee Go Home” - in French, of course. And a seedy spelunker lurks in the lab.
Potholer, normally. Guy who crawls through city sewers, in this case. In other news, Tempe seems to have lost some finger bones, and hasn’t noticed an obvious flaw in a child’s tooth. Canny readers suspect foul play, not incompetence.
Big sellers, these series?
All 11 so far made the Sunday Times bestseller list. This one is a good read, and the story keeps you interested, but there’s a certain feeling of running on the spot - tropes from the earlier books, like sports plane crashes and historic bodies, are repeated here.
Any hot romance?
Tempe’s old romantic interest, Detective Andrew Ryan, is dangling around, but not really on the scene until the end.
A buy, or not?
I’d advise waiting for the paperback.
Authors site

Jumping in Puddles by Claire Allan


I need a box of chocs and a girly story
Look no further, my dear: a box of Lily O’Brien’s best and Jumping in Puddles, the story of a group of lone parents in a Donegal village putting their lives back together.
Village full of gossip?
You have no idea. Ciara is 17 and won’t tell anyone her baby’s father’s name - not even her mam, who’s helping her bring up the sprog. The poor kid has left school and gone to work in the village shop, run by the local dragon.
Worst thing I can imagine
Maybe, maybe not. Niamh (why do authors give characters lookalike names? Ciara… Niamh - confusing for readers!) is mourning her perfect husband. He’s left her rich and living in their dream home, but she’s shattered. And about to be more so.
And no one to talk to?

Until Niamh and Ciara - and Ruth and Liam - join Detta O’Neill’s support group for lone parents, to the fascinated delight of the village. Ruth and Liam’s spouses have run off with each other, by the way.
Yikes! Makes a bond, though
Liam is dead solid, an old-fashioned Irishman who likes his fried breakfast and his traditional values. Unfortunately, his mother loathes his ex. All he wants is Laura back and his life the way it used to be.
Know the feeling
Socially ambitious Laura and bossy bank official James, Ruth’s ex, seem perfectly suited. But as Ruth knows, there’s more to James than meets the eye. Ruth is a weepy, downtrodden type who’s bullied by her bold strap of a teenage daughter, and worried about her sons.
Kids? These poor souls have kids?
The kids are the centre of the story - the Loony Lone Parents (as they nickname themselves) grow into a strong group who help each other with their children and their rapidly changing lives.
Rattling good yarn?
If RTE have any sense, they’ll buy this and turn it into a fab series and sell it internationally.
Author's site