About Me

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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Carpe Jugulum" by Terry Pratchett

A family of modern vampires arrive to take over Lancre. The witches try fighting back.

A cast of wonderful characters includes Agnes who is always in two minds one of which is called Perdita, a handsome young vampire called Vlad, Nanny Ogg, the sluttiest slattern that every was a real witch, and the wonderful Igor, the vampires' coachman, who is a self-made man in that he has sewn himself together from bit of old family members because there's no point wasting good organs.

But there are so many fantastic jokes that it is almost impossible not to miss some. When a frontal attack on the castle fails they try a backal attack and then a sidle attack. This is another brilliant novel from the discworld stable.

Too many brilliant moments to record all of them but here are some of my favourites:
"Those who are inclined to casual cruelty say that inside a fat girl is a thin girl and a lot of chocolate. Agnes's thin girl was Perdita." (p 18)
"Witches always lived on the edges of things. She felt the tingle in her hands. It was not just from the frosty air. There was an edge somewhere." (p 35)
"Lancre operated on the feudal system, which was to say, everyone feuded all the time." (p 42)
"She did feel ... unusual, ill-tempered and snappish, as if she'd put on a vest that was too tight." (p 63)
"We'll all be murdered in one another's beds." (p 83)
"There was some sort of chemistry here, although it was the sort that results in the entire building being evacuated." (p 110)
"I didn't know buoys had glass balls." (p 120)
"What a waste of skin." (p 145)
"It was as if, just because they'd got the label which said 'mother', everyone else got a part of the label that said 'child'..." (p 177)
"knowing when to say nothing ... left a hole in the conversation that the other person felt obliged to fill." (p 202)
"He'd found knowledge and knowledge hadn't helped." (p 232)
"the seeker after truth had found truths instead." (p 232)
"Sin ... is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That's what sin is." (p 314)
"There was a moment of discontinuity, a feeling of sliced time." (p 399)

April 2017, 425 pages

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

"Hazell and the Menacing Jester" by P.B.Yuill

Hazell the wise-cracking cockney private eye makes his third appearance after Hazell plays Solomon and Hazell and the Three-Card Trick. Can he work out who has been playing pranks on Mr Beevers, the businessman with the posh wife who lives in a swanky mansion flat and tips from a big roll of banknotes? Sex, violence and some cheeky cockney chatter.

There are some good lines as always:

  • "They had that look you always see on hospital visitors, glad it's them coming out on the street again but a bit guilty about being glad." (p 15)
  • "The darling sounded a bit forced, as if he had to remind her whose side she was on." (p 23)
  • "He pecked at a cheek that didn't exactly offer itself." (p 24)
  • "His tongue was busy making sure his beard hadn't fallen off." (p 24)
  • "Your educated now, they're taught early on to shop everybody for thegood of society. I expect it makes sense if it's your society." (p 38)
  • "I don't know what it is with me and women, when I'm feeling low I call it loneliness and when I'm flourishing I call it freedom." (p 50)
  • "That's what it is about London, millions of us passing through and hardly leaving any mark at all. ... Your Londoner's got to make his own luck because if he lies down to die there's not a lot will stop to ask what's wrong." (p 58)
  • "All the glamour of a honeymoon in a gravelpit." (p 58)
  • "Driving was a duel to the death the way he went at it." (p 62)

April 2017; 189 pages

Monday, 24 April 2017

"Hazell plays Solomon" by P. B. Yuill

The south London wisecracking ex copper alcoholic no longer married private investigator James Hazell is working for a mother who believes that her baby was mixed up with another at maternity hospital.

A fairly standard PI story but well-written with a perfectly timed plot and, just for a moment, a true moral conundrum at the heart of it that has the potential for a stunning story.

This book comes before Hazell and the Three-Card Trick.

  • "On the seventh floor I took a couple of deep breaths to remind my lungs who was supposed to be the guvnor." (p 6)
  • "Today's lie is tomorrow's trouble" (p 8)
  • "If life was all down to theory I'd be king." (p 8)
  • "That year most kids were pinning up boy canaries with Lolita faces" (p 12)
  • "he couldn't even mention God without taking a quick look over his shoulder." (p 15)
  • "From the way she dealt with the porter I could see that the words please and thanks had been lost somewhere along the line." (p 36)
  • "At that speed he should have been done for illegal parking." (p 41)
  • "Her lips tightened as if she thought that an outright smile would be bad form." (p 81)

April 2017, 171 pages

Also in the series: Hazell and the Menacing Jester

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

"Hazell and the Three-Card Trick" by P. B. Yuill

Hazell is a Londoner, ex copper who, after losing his girlfriend and alcoholism, sets up as a very sleazy 'enquiry agent' and sets about tracking a three-card trick gang from Oxford Street who were involved in an altercation with a man who fell in front of a London Underground train. There are links to a previous case trying to find out how a cruise ship casino was cheated.

This somewhat overused format is given fresh life by the London patois and the wise-cracking, although too many of the expressions are explained. And there is a brilliant angry dad who sounds like Alf Garnett: "'Wot's got into you woman?' roared the old man." The dialogue is written in right cockney innit innit.

It did remind me slightly of the Saint books. I think it was trying to be Raymond Chandler.

This is the middle Hazell book. It was preceded by Hazell plays Solomon and succeeded by Hazell and the Menacing Jester.

There were some great expressions:

  • "It was one of those damp February afternoons when the sky is like dirty dishwater and the brick walls are sweating old grease." (p 5)
  • "A conga line of chanting Hare Krishners was jigging happily along the northside kerb." (p 5)
  • "A mournful stare that made your average bloodhound seem like Woody Woodpecker." (p 5)
  • "right under the useless empty road under the useless empty skyscraper" (p 5)
  • "I'm like the weather forecast, only bright in patches." (p 30)
  • "One sniff of bother and they're off quicker than a bride's nightie" (p 44)
  • "the flash of blue fivers brought the sheep to the barbers" (p 60)
  • "For some reason [at night] things stand out better in peripheral vision." (p 71)

A fun comedy thriller. April 2017; 204 pages

Thursday, 13 April 2017

"Tehanu" by Ursula Le Guin

This is the fourth of the Earthsea books about a fantasy archipelago where wizards rule over an idyllically rural people and dragons still fly. The three previous books have been:

  • A Wizard of Earthsea which introduces Sparrowhawk, a young lad who trains to be a wizard and battles death
  • The Tombs of Atuan which introduces Tenar, a young girl in training to be a priestess of a silent world underground
  • The Farthest Shore in which an old Sparrowhawk and a young prince voyage to the end of the world to find out what is causing wizards to forget their magic
Tenar, now a widow living on Gont, has taken under her wing a child, Therru, who was raped and burned by her father. They hear that wizard Ogion is dying and go to him. Then Sparrowhawk flies in on a dragon. But he has lost his magic. Evil forces chase Tenar and Therru and Ged seems powerless to help.

A strange story that feels a little like the tying up of lost ends. There are still some beautiful and remarkable phrases:

  • "The little ruined butterfly came shivering from her cocoon" (p 646)
  • "There was nothing she could do, but there was always the next thing to be done." (p 682)
  • "There seemed always a great deal to be learned." (p 691)
  • "A good deal of her obscurity and cant ... was a mere ineptness with words and ideas." (p 692)
  • "Wanting a man got me into awful troubles more than once. But wanting to get married, never!" (p 694)
  • "to drive the cart without the ox." (p 744)
  • "Nine of us wet ... and one of us happy." (p 796)
  • "a den of infamy and chickens" (p 818)
  • "to spin thread with the whirlwind" (p 819)
April 2017; 251 pages

Saturday, 8 April 2017

"The Ticket that Exploded" by William Burroughs

A lesser known book by the author who also wrote:

Again Burroughs uses the cut-up technique to scatter images of gay sex, hanging, drug addiction, poverty, warfare, telepathy, and insect and crustacean life through what you might call a plot. Again we meet some of his favourite characters, including Carl, and Agent Lee.

For several pages the cut-up technique involves cutting out a few words of the lyrics of a variety of love songs, some inevitably used more than once, and splicing them together. This causes some interesting curious such as "Got you under my skin on my mind." (p 35) and I suspect there are some who will celebrate the postmodern irony that makes love look so repetitive and yet so unique at the same time ... or is it trying to tell us that the creative process is merely remixing and that originality is dead? Hmmm.
"(ironically the format is banal to its heart of pulp ambivalently flailing noneffectual tentacles of verbal diarrhea)" (p22). Quite.

The plot seems to revolve around the potential of tape recordings played in some sort of synchrony to cause people to hang themselves but it is also mixed up with an intergalactic virus that seems to take the form of street boys. Or have I got that wrong? It was difficult to work out what was going on and even harder to care.

Despite Burroughs being an American author Agent Lee meets 'Genial' a drug addicted gay assassin, in Boots the Chemist in Piccadilly London; Boots of Piccadilly was famous in the 1960s as being the all-night chemist where addicts could fulfil their scripts; I wonder if it still is?

More than with any other Burroughs book (the others I have linked to from this post are quite good) the reader needs to tolerate a certain amount of being taken for a ride for the occasional nuggets of poetic beauty: either a perfect phrase, or an interesting idea, or a wonderful image:

  • "it was across the table raw and bloody as a fresh used knife." (p 1)
  • "who am I to be critical few things in my own past I'd just as soon forget." (p 2); Burroughs has a nice way of subverting grammar while leaving the sense entirely clear
  • "Winds of time" (p 5)
  • "The two beings twisted free of human coordinates" (p 6)
  • "You can run a government without police if your conditioning program is tight enough but you can't run a government without bull shit." (p 15)
  • "The dreamer with dirty cheeks" (p 52)
  • "These our actors bid you peaceful opaqueness in this monument of tiredness." (p 135)
  • "John stood there with a cup of coffee late morning sunlight in his eyes." (p 143)

April 2017; 168 pages)

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

"The King Must Die" by Mary Renault

Mary Renault also wrote :

  • The Persian Boy told from the point of view of the Eunuch who becomes the lover of Alexander the Great: an absolutely outstanding read.
  • The Last of the Wine (reviewed in this blog) narrated by a young man growing up in the war-torn Athens of Socrates and Alcibiades: another brilliant book.

A little princeling grows up in a court on the Isle of Pelops in Ancient Greece. He is quite naughty, taming wild stallions, mucking about with bulls, fighting other lads and impregnating girls. Then he discovers that his father is a king in Athens. He must travel to find him. On the way across the Isthmus he has to slay a famous robber. He then fights a sacred king in Eleusis, kills him and takes his place, to enjoy night after night with the Priestess, but doomed to be killed after a year in his turn.

This is the story of Theseus.

After Athens he is part of the 7 boys and 7 girls sent as tribute to the court of King Minos in the Labyrinth in Crete where he has to learn and perform the bull dance with his team. He meets the Minotaur and Ariadne and Phaedra. But can he escape? The collection of the tribute (by lot, but Theseus then volunteers) reminded me strongly of the scene in The Hunger Games when the heroine does exactly the same, volunteering to take part in deadly games on behalf of someone who has been chosen by lot.

There is a moment where Theseus, meeting his father for the first time and simultaneously escaping being poisoned, a moment of the highest drama, looks out of the windows. This is a masterclass for writers. At the very moment when everything is keyed up to the highest point, describe the scenery in detail. Keep the reader waiting. Don't waste drama.

There are two fundamental problems with this book. The first is that I know the legend of Theseus (more or less). I never thought the hero was going to die or be captured and spend the rest of his days as a slave or mouldering in some foreign gaol. So the only mystery was in seeing how Renault could translate the mythic elements of the tale into historical reality. The second problem was that Theseus had little psychological growth. There were man management problems he had to master, being a very young man pretending to be a King. But he is a hero. This meant that he was (a) a king (b) handsome (c) a phenomenal lover (d) a great athlete (e)m a wonderful warrior. There was very little self doubt. There were no problems he had to overcome. So while the story was fun the central character never grew.

  • "All Triozen to a mouldy fig, I got this the way he hid it! At that I laughed. But it was angry laughter." (p 52)
  • "My anger twisted, like a caught beast in a cage." (p 53)
  • "Your mouth is robbing your ears. Be quiet ... and attend to what I am saying." (p 56)
  • "I rose at daybreak ... and washed in the stream; a thing my hosts beheld with wonder, having had their last bath at the midwife's hands." (p 75)
  • Man "grows up and seeds like grass, and falls into the furrow." (p 77)
  • "Clothed in their expectation, I felt not myself but what they called me to be." (p 77)
  • "A look of hate strikes cold when one is naked." (p 112)
  • "A boy is youngest when he thinks himself a man." (p 113)
  • "For a moment the laughter slipped from his face, like a mask when the string is broken." (p 223)
  • "Your own bull will always have you, he is born knowing your name." (p 241)
  • "A slave made my garment; but All-Knowing Zeus made me. Shall I be ashamed [to be naked]?" (283)
  • "She was like a young salamander meeting flame; afraid at first, and only ewhen flung in knowing its own element." (p 295)
  • "Love is like a barbed arrow that cannot be pulled out. When you try, you drive it deeper." (p 296)
  • "No woman likes to hear you hold forth about another." (p 318)
  • "There is truth and truth. ... It is true after its kind." (p 388)
  • "A bound is set to our knowing, and wisdom is not to search beyond it. Men are only men." (Last two sentences; p 391)

The labyrinth must be solved, the Minotaur slain. This is a very clever 'historical' interpretation of myth with lots of colour and lots of action and a fair amount of subtly written sex but in the end Theseus was too good to be true.

April 2017; 391 pages