Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Ancient History

For those of you who like their history fast paced and readable you can't go past Terry Jones' Barbarians. Jones has come a long way since being a member of Monty Python and has written a number of books on history.
Jones looks at popular history and then explores some of the facts about different barbarians, and shows that they were not all as uncivilised as we are led to believe. It is funny how most of the information we have on various barbarians comes from the people they were fighting, the Romans. Of course the Romans were not above changing the facts to make themselves look good.
Each chapter looks at a different barbarian tribe and are quite short so it is the type of book you can delve into at different times. I enjoyed reading this a lot and plan on investigating some more of Jones' work.
This book started life as a TV series written by Jones, but I have not seen it so can't comment on it. I have seen bad reviews of it though. On the other hand I think the book is great.

The Battle of the Century.

Former Clinton staffer Dick Morris has written a book about what he sees as the next big battle in American politics called Condi vs Hillary. The Next Great Presidential Race. The thing that struck me the most about this book is the undercurrent of fear that pervades it. Morris seems generally worried that Hillary Clinton could be elected US President. This bias gives the book a very unbalanced feel. For example the book tells us it will provide a "sobering look at Hillary's record of underachievement both as first lady and as a senator from New York, while demonstrating the maturation and growth that Condi has undergone".
Well that sounds balanced. And it's good to see the flatering photo of Hillary they put on the cover.
Interesting isn't it how Morris refers to Hillary (stern and formal) and Condi (warm and fuzzy). Maybe he can't spell Condolezza, or maybe there's another agenda. It's clear that Morris doesn't like Hillary Clinton as another book by him Rewriting History, shows, but the genuine fear that is palpable in this book is surprising.
America has survived a Dubbya Bush Presidency, it will survive a Hillary Clinton one.
Not the interesting read I thought it would be. Oh well can't win them all.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Freaks of Nature

As different styles of play come and go, what is regarded by coaches as good player attributes also changes. This happens in any sport, coaches emphasise speed so fast players are needed, strength and players with muscle bulk are sort after.

Michael Lewis looks at this in his book The Blind Side. He looks at American Football and the interesting trend of recent years that means the left tackle is the second highest paid player on the offense behind the quarterback. As teams have come to rely more on the passing game the left tackle has become very important because for a right handed quarterback the left tackle protects the quarterback's blind side, the side most sacks come from. As quarterback salaries have increased the left tackle's salary has also increased. But not just anyone can play left tackle, a very special physical freak is needed and what impressive specimens they are. Players in this role are usually taller that 6 and a half feet (198cm) and weigh more than 300lbs (136kg), and yet have the body control of a ballerina and the foot speed of a boxer.

Lewis follows a future left tackle from high school into college by the name of Michael Oher. At the age of sixteen when we first meet Michael he is 6ft 6in (198cm) and weighs 350lbs (158kg), and is one of the fastest kids over the 40 yard dash, he runs it in 5 seconds. Lewis tells the amazing story of Michael as he overcomes many obstacles to finally be one of the top prospects in college. Oher will probably be drafted into the NFL over the next couple of years so he is a name to watch out for.

You might think this book would only appeal to American Football fans, but sports fans in general will enjoy this book.

Saturday, July 28, 2007


DMZ by Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli is a gripping read set in the not to distant future.
Militias within the USA have declared war on the American Government, calling themselves the Free States. The two armies are sqaured of with the Free States army in New Jersey, and the United States army is massed in Brooklyn. This means that Manhatten has become the 'DMZ' in the middle.
Journalist Matty Roth finds himself as the only person in the DMZ with the ability to tell the real story of the DMZ, and this is where this amazing graphic novel begins. Wood has a fantastic storytelling style that brings his characters to life, while Burchielli's art is perfectly suited to the story.
Find a copy and jump in, but remember to keep your press pass with you at all times it could save your life.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The war on terror is over ... terror won.

A nuclear device has just been detonated at Leuchars airforce base in Scotland.
The motorway outside Birmingham has just exploded.
A refinery at Grangemouth has been blown up with two more being destroyed within minutes, and three fuel-depots also being attacked across the country.
Rioting has broken out across Britain with Muslims and Asians being targeted.
The authorities have yet to release any official statements but news services are blaming France, China or Syria.
Groups claiming responsibility include Al Qaeda in Europe, People's Mujahedin-e-Khalq of the British Isles, the Scottish Republican Socialist Army and Hezbollah of Syria.
British troops may be recalled from overseas postings in Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan.
Theories abound across the Internet as people try and come to terms with this disaster as 5/5 goes down in history as a day of infamy just like 9/11.
To find out what happens next read The Execution Channel by Ken MacLeod, you will not be disappointed.


Jeff Smith's Bone is an amazing series that deserves to be widely read. It tells the story of Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, Smiley Bone, Thorn, Gran'ma Ben and the Red Dragon as the valley they inhabit is threatened by the stupid Rat Creatures and the Hooded One.
Smith's black and white artwork is simply breathtaking in its ability to express emotion and detail. The humour is sharp, and the story engaging. As you can guess I can't stop raving about how good it is.
Told in the style of a fairy tale, Bone has something for everyone who reads it. Romance, action, adventure, comedy and nefarious plots to decide the fate of the world. Smith spent thirteen years telling this story, so epic doesn't begin to describe it.
Find a copy and read it, or else the stupid Rat Creatures may come for you.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Political History

I have to congratulate Richard Reeves on writing a biography of Ronald Reagan that I found myself enjoying. Yes I know how could a biography based on the Presidency of such boringness be interesting? Well it is.
President Reagan: the Triumph of Imagination is a good read that follows Reagan for the eight years he was in power. Say what you will about the man, and this book hasn't changed my views much, Reagan was in power during some important events. America's troubled relationship with South and Central America, the decline of Russian power, the rise of Gorbachev, the tearing down of the Berlin Wall and others.
Reeves does a good job of providing a balanced view of Reagan, there is no attempt to show him as a political master in charge at all times. In fact the book gives the impression that Reagan was only brought in at the last minute to rubber stamp things. But there were also things that Reagan was good at, especially persuading senators to vote for bills.
So, put your preconceptions on hold and pick up this book, it may not change your view of Reagan but it will give you a better understanding of how Washington works.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Here are some great literary type quotations.
"I am an obsessive rewriter, doing one draft and then another and another, usually five. In a way, I have nothing to say, but a great deal to add." - Gore Vidal
"There are books of which the backs and covers are by far the best parts" - Charles Dickens
"Rock journalism is people who can't write interviewing people who can't talk for people who can't read." - Frank Zappa
"I love deadlines, I love the whooshing sound they make as they fly by." - Douglas Adams
I'll leave you with these thoughts as I go back to my reading.
Here's a snippet from my to read pile.
Max Barry - Company
Kurt Busiek - Astro City: Local Heroes
Harold Bloom - Genius. A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds
David Winner - Those Feet. A Sensual History of English Football

Monday, July 23, 2007

Books to Avoid

Instead of talking about books I like I am going to talk about books I hate today. These include,
Tim Winton - Cloudstreet A long boring book in which nothing actually happens. (I must state that my wife Jenni loves this book).
Christopher Paolini - Eragon Derivative fantasy that is overly long
Mark Z Danielewski - Only Revolutions Form over content
Thomas Harris - Hannibal Rising As scary as a two year old under a sheet, and makes as much sense.
Jae Lee - Hellshock Lee you're so much more talented than this!
Harold Bloom - The Western Canon Someone introduce this man to the Twentieth Century.
Okay, enough venting, here's my pick for best book I've read this year . . . Scott Lynch's Lies of Locke Lamora.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Something New

It's always good to discover a new writer who grabs your attention and refuses to let go. So in light of that statement I want to recommend to you The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. This is the first book in the Gentleman Bastard sequence and is a great read.
Set in a city that resembles a medieval Venice we are introduced to Locke Lamora the head of the gang called the Gentleman Bastard a type of Ocean's Eleven.
Our hero is a con man, thief, trickster and scammer of the highest order, and soon finds himself caught up in greater events.
The series is planned to go for seven volumes and Lynch has just released the second in the series called Red Seas under Red Skies, and all reports are that it carries on the good work laid down by the first volume.
Lynch is a natural storyteller and puts his skills to good use. The characters are engaging and Lamora is fun to read about.
Go out a borrow a copy and immerse yourself in the world of the Gentleman Bastard and discover what all the fuss is about.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Not another list

Just to be different I've decided to list some of the books I have read recently.
Catherine Jinks - Evil Genius
Julie Philips - James Triptree Jr. The Secret Life of Alice B. Sheldon
Diane & Michael Preston - A Pirate Of Exquisite Mind
Greg Palast - The Best Democracy Money Can Buy
I enjoyed all these books and would recommend them to anyone looking for an interesting read.

Friday, July 13, 2007

To Hell and Back

It's funny how many comics are being, or have been, turned into movies. One of my favourite comics is Hellboy by Mike Mignola which is currently being made into its second movie. (Check out Neil Gaiman's blog for more details).
The comic follows Hellboy and his teammates as they investigate supernatural happenings around the world.
Mignola has a great eye for mythology, and incorporating it into his stories, as well as an expressive style of art. Combined these two talents make Hellboy a great read, with lots of interesting references to fairy stories, legends and myths.
This series may not be to every one's taste, but for those willing to give it a go you may find it quite enjoyable.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

H. Bosch

I currently have a cold, and between my sneezes and coughs I have been enjoying the new Michael Connelly novel The Overlook.
I've talked about Connelly before on this blog but it is fun to come back to an author that you have enjoyed before to see what his characters are up to now.
I was always going to like Connelly's book, I've liked his previous books and I like the character of Bosch, but that doesn't mean I didn't have some problems with this book. The main one is terrorism. While Bosch is drawn into this investigation which seems to involve swarthy middle eastern types doing nasty things with radioactive material, it seems contrived.
Bosch is a homicide detective in Los Angeles not a Homeland Security guy. There are surely enough things going on in a city the size of Los Angeles that doesn't involve terrorism.
This is a minor gripe though, as I do like this book, and as always Connelly's tight writing style. A good book to curl up in front of the fire with.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

More lists

As I sit listening to Neil Young sing 'Cortez the Killer' I am looking at my must be read pile, and I've decided to share some more of it with you.
Will Eisner - The Spirit Archives
Michael Chabon - The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
Greg Palast - The Best Democracy Money Can Buy
Harry Turtledove - Time of Troubles I
Elmore Leonard - Up In Honey's Room
Scott Lynch - The Lies of Locke Lamora
Julie Phillips - James Triptree Jr. The Double Life of Alice B Sheldon
Eoin Colfer - Artemis Fowl and the Lost Colony
Greg Keyes - The Briar King
I'll leave the last words to Neil, "He came dancing across the water, with his galleons and guns looking for the New World and the Palace in the Sun ... what a killer!"

Monday, July 9, 2007

To Read List Part One

As the Tour de France gets under way and I find myself reading less, here's a look at some of my to read pile;
Greg Bear - Slant
Brian Jaques - Loamhedge
Catherine Lumby & Duncan Fine - Why TV is Good for Kids
Catherine Jinks - Evil Genius
Bryan Talbot - Alice in Sunderland
Richard Reeves - President Reagan
Victor Sebestyen - Twelve Days
Takehiko Inoue - Vagabond
Jim Butcher - White Night
Bo Jackson - Bo Knows Bo

Judging Books

Have you ever wandered into a library and not been sure want you feel like reading? If so here's an experiment to try.
Look at the books on the shelves and pick ones to read based purely by the cover. don't read the blurb, or anything about the book until you get home and start reading it. See what sort of books you pick based purely on what they look like. Does this say something about what you like to read, does a certain cover appeal to you, did you find yourself choosing books you wouldn't normally?
I'll leave you with these thoughts and get back to my reading.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Little Death

It's funny the things you read by accident. I saw a graphic novel at work that I decided to borrow and read. I had never heard of it before but I was willing to give it a try. And I was pleasantly surprised when I found myself enjoying it immensely.
The graphic novel in question is Death Jr by Gary Whitta and it is inventive and funny. We follow the main character Death Jr, son of the Grim Reaper or DJ to his friends, and the kids he meets on his first day of school. DJ soon finds himself with the other 'freaks' and they become friends. We meet Pandora an obsessive compulsive girl who just has to open things, and of course it always goes badly for her, Stigmartha who bleeds from her hands when she gets nervous, Smith and Weston co-joined twins, one thinks up ideas and the other thinks up ways to put them into action, and the Seep a armless, legless, lipless, boy floating in a jar on wheels.
This is a great read and heaps of fun, just thinking about the characters makes me chuckle at the references from pop culture that embody them. And they have great potential for story lines. I look forward to reading more in this series, and recommend others try it as well.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

M. T.

M T Anderson is a wonderful author of Young Adult novels. His two most well known are Thirsty, and Feed. I want to discuss both of them here, and talk about why I enjoy reading his novels.
Thirsty is the story of Chris who is your average teenager until he finds himself turning slowly into a vampire. As vampires are outcasts and criminals this is not something that Chris wants to happen, but he's getting so thirsty. Who can he trust? Who can he turn to?
Feed is the story set in the future and follows a group of teenage friends. It has one of the best opening lines I have read, "We went to the Moon for a holiday, but the Moon totally sucked." In this vision of the future people have direct feeds into their heads so they can instantly access information, messages, TV, music etc. Unfortunately there seems to be a virus that is being downloaded into peoples brains, and this impacts on the kids. We also meet a character who has chosen not to have a feed and how much of a rebel this makes her.
Anderson has a good ear for conversation and this brings his characters to life. He also has a knack of writing stories that have a hook that makes you want to keep reading. Keep an eye out for M T Anderson and he will not disappoint you.

Now for something completely different ...

I have recently been listening to Bruce Springsteen's new live album and have been enjoying it immensely. Springsteen had just released an album of music that was associated with the legendary Pete Seeger, and he has now taken the show on the road.
He is travelling with his sessions band which seems to contain about 50 people but is probably closer to 20, and he has discovered his musical heritage. As well as playing songs of The Seeger Sessions Springsteen has adapted some of his own songs to fit in with the vibe of the others. Springsteen covers different musical genres like swing, ragtime, jazz, gospel, folk, and gypsy, and the album as a whole is an uplifting and enjoyable romp.
It is hard not to walk away smiling after listening for any length of time, and I highly recommend that you go out and get your hands on a copy and enjoy the sound of a musician having fun.

Monday, July 2, 2007

By Crom!

Conan the Barbarian has always been given a hard time in the fantasy world. Viewed as a misogynist male power fantasy, critics have been quick to overlook what is a pacy series of stories. I want to discuss the actual stories written by Robert E Howard the creator of Conan in this post.
Robert E Howard was a very troubled man, living with his mother all his life, when she passed away he committed suicide age 30. In his brief life he wrote thousands of pieces that appeared in pulp magazines in the twenties and thirties, but his most famous creation is Conan.
Howard's Conan stories are pacy reads that don't take much time to finish, but leave an impression, and keep you turning the page. Sure there are scantily clad women in need of rescue, but there are also strong women characters who stand up to Conan and match him sword stroke for sword stroke.
Many other writers have picked up where Howard ended and these include Robert Jordan, L. Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter, Roy Thomas, and many others.
If you like 'sword and sorcery' stories then give Conan a try and you may be surprised that he is not as bad as he is made out to be.

On Ya Bike!

My reading time is going to be severely hampered from July 7th as the Tour de France starts for another year. This amazing race, and ultimate test of endurance is strangely compelling viewing.
For those of you who do not understand the passion that the Tour can bring out in people then there are many books that try and explain it.
The one book I want to focus on is called French Revolutions by Tim Moore. Moore sets out to ride the course of the Tour six weeks before the actual Tour starts. The book becomes a comic journey through the French countryside with Moore who has never ridden a bike before. But he manages to complete the course, much to his surprise. Moore has been compared to Bill Bryson but I have to say that he is a lot better than Bryson. Not only is Moore funnier, but he actually does something in the places he writes about, rather than being a simple tourist. Other books Moore has written include Spanish Steps where Moore goes on a pilgrimage across Spain with a donkey, Do Not Pass Go where Moore visits all the spaces on an English Monopoly board, and Nul Points where Moore visits all the Eurovision acts that have scored no points.
Moore is a great writer with a sharp wit, and I can not recommend him highly enough. He will make you laugh out loud on public transport so be warned.