Saturday, 25 December 2010

Seriously volatile. Handle with care (but soon)

ExploitsExploits by Poppet

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have read many books I would classify as all-time favourites over the last year, and here comes another one - Poppet's 'Exploits'.

It is chick-lit in structure, but it has been artisticly coated in sensual nitroglycerine to deliver the most explosive of authorial rub-downs on opening.

It is raw, spontaneously honest, and skin-tinglingly exciting, wrapped as it is around twists and writhings of plot and bodies.

It is about personal enslavement and the physical and emotional enjoyment that makes that enslavement possible - thus the pun of the title. It is also about being stripped to self-loathing by others before rebuilding your own sense of validity.

In short, it is about a young woman laid aggressively bare who doesn't necessarily want to be clothed but who does want to be safe and at home.

My only reservation - I cannot imagine the heroine Stef as a blonde. Definitely brunette, I would say.

And, very fortunately, I have another Poppet book to hand - 'Seithe' (a dark romance). Can't get enough.

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Friday, 24 December 2010

It's quiet - it's excellent

Surfacing (Descending Surfacing)Surfacing by Catherine Chisnall

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved Catherine Chisnall's 'Descending' and this is the sequel.

She apparently feared that 'Surfacing' might not be as good as 'Descending' but in fact, if anything, it is even better.

Not that it could fail. Catherine's quietly precise voice coaxes you along the sense of searching, of coping, of outrage.

A wonderful book.

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You call it Vietnam; I call it Iraq

How Can You Mend This Purple Heart by Terry Gould

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the most terrifying things about life for me is that a child can be damaged at an early age and then is mutilated or disfigured for life. That is what Stacey Danson's 'Empty Chairs' is all about - being prostituted from the age of three in her case - but it is also the gist of 'How Can You Mend This Purple Heart?' where young men of 20 have stood on a landmine - or their mate has - and they have lost one, two or even three limbs. One minute they are lithe young men at the peak of their physical prowess, the next they are angry cripples, in this case publicly derided for taking part in one of the most unpopular wars in history.

This is an extraordinary book for the way it describes how these Vets came to terms with their appalling injuries. Apparently during the First World War only one person ever survived a triple amputation. During the current occupation of Iraq I am told there is one a week, so this book is still highly topical.

It reads a bit like a theatre piece or TV series and, sure enough, next year it will be premiered in a playhouse in Pittsburgh.

It is also outraging and funny. You may well laugh and sneer until you cry.

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Friday, 17 December 2010

Typically West Coast

Becoming Johnny NovaBecoming Johnny Nova by David Kupisiewicz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As a young lad, I was very into the West Coast bands - Jefferson Airplane / Starship, The Grateful Dead, Quicksilver et al and I would have loved to have been out there lazing in the sunshine, dreaming to the music, basking in the casual amiability and maybe even choking on the weed (I have always preferred wine myself, but California has a few gallons of that too).

David Kupisiewicz's 'Becoming Johnny Nova' is a generation later than my fantasies and somewhat less fantastical, but it is still from another world of impromptu mass parties and irritatingly intrusive policing. I didn't even have the over-controlling parents.

You really do get a sense of being there in this life lived on Planet David, surrounded by some very dodgy friends, a very reliable girlfriend who isn't, drugs galore and academic rebellion. Then its all off to the hills - or the streets - to mill, drink, smoke and play, and occasionally to fight.

It is one of those books where you simply pick it up and read another couple of chapters at a time until you have soon finished it, with the thought that you have been living in somebody else's skin.

I don't believe that people are jerks, but I do believe in playing a little bit of rock 'n' roll.

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Not perhaps - definitely!

Perhaps .... PerhapsPerhaps .... Perhaps by L.A. Dale

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reading 'Perhaps .... Perhaps' is like sipping a crisp, dry Chablis on a warm summer's day, and reading the whole book is like downing the whole bottle, which is just fine by me.

So this is how you should read 'Perhaps .... Perhaps', a glass of white wine in one hand and LA Dale (so to speak) in the other - a perfect combination.

The writing is elegant, sharp and bouncy, the characters well defined, the heroine neurotic-squeaky and her reservations a bit olde worlde. Thank God her boss knows how to get on top of his job.

This is a very enjoyable chick-lit which knows the conventions without choosing to follow them slavishly.

I shall certainly be hunting down LA Dale's other book 'Heart of Glass' which apparently bumps along to a soundtrack of classic songs. I fancy another bottle.

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Wednesday, 15 December 2010

I'd settle for being shopped

How To Meet A Guy At The SupermarketHow To Meet A Guy At The Supermarket by Jessica L. Degarmo

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You can shop for anything nowadays and I reckon we are becoming more and more consumerist in everything we do. Statisticians have shown that we choose politicians like soap powder, so why not lovers too - great packaging, not too battered about, hours of fun and pleasure, dispose after use?

Well, the heroine of 'How To Meet A Guy At The Supermarket' thinks so. She's ready for a mate; time to go out and snag one. And, as a journalist, she can devise a syndicated column while she is at it.

What she finds, of course, is that while it is a clever conceit, actually doing it is one hell of a lot tougher. People just aren't looking out for lovers in supermarkets (in my experience and hers). A supermarket is simply the wrong context for those kinds of thoughts.

So her antics have to get a bit wild and intrusive, from which derives the humour in the book, and blokes are simply not guaranteed to give as much satisfaction as all those inanimate objects on the shelves.

However, the real pleasure of this book is that Quinn, the heroine, is human - not some chick lit artefact. You can really believe that author Jessica really did the things in the book and even wrote a column about them.

Einstein once said that he had the choice of studying either advanced physics or women, and that he had chosen to pursue the physics because he had at least some chance of understanding some of it. This book could help you if you are considering taking the other path.

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A book about love to love

Travels Through Love And TimeTravels Through Love And Time by Christine Hall Volkoff

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first went to the Hyeres as an 8 year old when my parents took me on a day trip to the Ile de Levant which has a famous nudist beach. Appropriately enough, the first novella of this book is set on the Ile de Porquerolles, a neighbouring island.

This is a story of love in three aspects and at three ages. It starts when a teenage girl falls in love with a glamorous Italian actress, and then catches up with its narrator some twenty years on, I would guess, spotting a beautiful woman on the terrace of a cafe bar in Paris. The final novella is a kind of swan song.

It is billed as a lesbian book, which I suppose it is, but it is much more universal than specific, and reminded me at one moment of Francoise Sagan and at another of Truman Capote who wrote the only portrait of Marilyn Munro I have ever fully believed. I don't know if the actress in the first novella is / was a real person but, if so, you get an indelible sense of her private, yet not fully private, self.

A wonderful, lyrical book - the sort of thing you should read every year to remind yourself what being human and vulnerable is all about.

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A must-read YA (and there aren't many of those around)

HellogonHellogon by John Booth

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read the original version of John Booth's 'Shaddowdon' a while back and enjoyed it so much that I read it to one of my sons too.

However, I reckon 'Hellogon' is even better. In fact it is definitely scary, not so much at the time as afterwards, when you come to think about it and realise that it is giving you a very unsettling insight into how real politicians, diplomats and secret services (the Establishment) calculate and strategise.

The tale is classic Harry Potter - a teenager who doesn't realise he is born to greatness suddenly finds that he has an unwelcome and burdensome job to do - in this case to save his race that happens to be a race most of us would have our doubts about saving.

However, the theme of 'Hellogon' is somewhat the reverse to that of Harry Potter and its core message is diametrically opposite.

It is also good to see a YA book that actually has some wholesome, playful sex in it accompanied by many a wry reference.

Good fun, well written, chilling, you know you are in the hands of a master as you read this book.

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A fun read - don't do this to the one you love!

Spoilt: Joanne EllisSpoilt: Joanne Ellis by Joanne Ellis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

'Spoilt' is a romantic slasher-thriller where a crazed maniac is abducting, torturing and killing girls all, seemingly, as a warm-up to abduct and carve up Chelsea whose boyfriend walked out on her without explanation a year beforehand. The romance hots up between Lucas and Chelsea, then ....

You don't see many chick-lit crime procedurals around - a bit cross-genre - but this is certainly one, and a fun one at that, with a twisty ending borrowed from a classic romantic plot. I suppose that is the fun of miscegenation - you can plug and play with the conventions of both genres as the moment takes you.

This is not one for the literati, but it swings along with much pleasure, and a little pain, and the lead characters are endearing and well-suited.

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