March Reading Retrospective

In March I blazed my way through 7 books, I was lucky as 6 of them were good reads. Here’s how I got on;

        Station Eleven 

Product DetailsThe first book I picked-up in March was Emily St-John Mandel’s excellent take on a post apocalyptic. fusing a sense of wonder and lost together for a world without society, electricity or modern trappings. Each character joins the dots to brilliant 3rd act

Station Eleven

 

The Girl With All The Gifts 

Product DetailsNext it was M.R Carey’s fantastic take on the Zombie story. Like Mandel’s Station Eleven above it focuses on the a post apocalyptic world and  a group of survivors with a small zombie
child in tow

The Girl With All The Gifts

 

The Troop

Product DetailsNext up to bat was Nick Cutter’s The Troop, a cross between Lord Of The Flies and Slither. unfortunately for me this fell flat. unlikable characters and it had a feel of being done before.

The Troop 

 

 

The Name Of The Wind

Product Details

Time for some high fantasy in Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name Of The wind. Losses it pace in  the middle but beginning and ending more than make up for it. Even if the main character is annoyingly perfect.

The Name Of The Wind

 

The Moving Target

Product DetailsTime to get hard boiled in Ross MacDonald’s Moving Target. Introducing Lew Archer investigating his first case. Money, kidnap and religious cults are all used in this classic noir story.

The Moving Target

Fight Club

Product DetailsChuck Palahniuck’s debut novel, left it’s mark on culture and had everyone quoting from it. A social commentary of the 90’s that still stands 20 years latter.

Fight Club A book review

 

Titanic Thompson

Product DetailsLast up was Kevin Cook’s treatment of Titanic Thompson’s life. Profiling the highs and lows of the the greatest conman of the 20th of century. In one with a pass interest in hustling, conmen, golf or even American folk heroes.

Titanic Thompson

 

 

And there you have it not a bad month for reading, six solid books and one that fell flat percentage wise that is good odd as Titanic Thompson would say.

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Titanic Thompson the man who bet on everything. Kevin Cook (a book review

Rating 4/5 

 

Titanic Thompson by Kevin Cook

Before the email scams, before the internet scams, before people hacked face book and before ransom were scams. There were the grifter the honest to god conman. Names like Soapy Smith, Minnesota Fats, Amarillo Slim, hustling pool, sharping cards, hustling golf pros out of thousands travelling up and down the continental USA. Out of all these men and women who plied their trade offering bets with impossible odds and sure things. One man stood out among them all, the best of the best of the road gamblers; Titanic Thompson.

Kevin Cook’s biography tells the tale of the gentleman conman who travelled America making and losing more money in a lifetime then most could dream about. Thompson , golf hustler, card cheat, crack shot and master of the prop bet. Titanic’s story is set against a back drop of prohibition America, pool halls, back room poker games, Hollywood and swanky hotels. Thompson blazed across the states in his Packard, loaded with his.45, a set of of golf clubs both left and right handed and what every man who makes his living gambling a suitcase full of money.

Titanic is the romanticised grifter if there ever was one. Rubbing shoulders with the great and the good. Everyone from Howard Hughes to the local sheriff most people move in Thompson’s circle.

Cook’s portrayal of Thompson to the reader seems a little far fetched. The reader if they have had no knowledge of the conman’s modus_operandi would question what Titanic and his friends managed to get away with. The story can read somewhat fantastical. According to Cook it is true except one key scene that Cook reviles in the last part of the third act.

Many years I have spent learning the card sharp skills that Cook describes that Titanic executed poker games. I’ve never had the bravery to pull them of in a live game, most card cheating happens in private games Titanic him self said “It is to difficult to cheat in Vegas”. The card manipulation Titanic achieves is certainly real and can be done with practise. But where Titanic exceeds is golf hustles.

I am not a fan of Golf, it’s neither a sport I would sit down and watch let alone play, I have heard golfers wax lyrical of the game. I am in the Mark Twain camp of “Golf is a good walk spoilt”. In fact I have now read three books where golf features prominent; Alice Cooper’s Golf Monster which reads across between Autobiography and gold manual, James Ellroy’s first novel Browns Requiem and now Kevin Cook’s Titanic Thompson.

A mark of an excellent writer is to keep his audiences interest even when the reader has no interest in the subject. Cook by no means had me reaching for the Nine Iron I have ever enjoyed the golf scenes Cook puts to paper.

Like all Folk heroes when wrote about the author can fall in to the trap of sycophancy. Cook skirts in to this a couple of times but never fully immersing him self hero worship as soon as he treads the water he heads back to shore.

Thompson’s life had everything, wealth, women , friends, fans the twist at the end is a tragic ending that anyone can have. Cook knows his subject well and conjurers up the sympathy for his hero.

Cook’s biography on Thompson has a little bit of everything. But the characters larger than life and real are the reason the reader will invest their time in Titanic’s story. He took a few more years to sink than his name sake, but faded almost obscurity now. Cook helps bring the story of a remarkable man back in to lexicon of the conman. Forget your Ponzi and Madoff Thompson was charming good crook, a man who killed five people his charm never waned.

A worthwhile read of an American folk hero

Fight Club A book review

Rating 4.5/5

Product Details

Back in 1996 I was 14, back then the internet was mainly a pink and green slap in the face to good design. In fact if you wanted to use the internet you had to make a phone call. Mobile phones were the size of house bricks. Porn came in magazine form and late night TV on obscure Sky TV channels, grunge had come and was now dying. And if you was in the know you could find VHS tapes of obscure wrestling promotions not the WWE or WCW but crazy Japanese stuff where they used fire, water melons and a whole host of other objects that happened to be laying around. There was rumors of something called Cage fighting making it’s way around the playground.

“In UFC you can use a chain saw. My cousin has a video of it”

“In UFC it is so brutal that the ref has a gun and if you win your match you have to fight a polar bear” way back then who know what was going on in the promised land of the USA? And anyway my heart was still broken over Pamela Anderson marrying Tommy Lee the year before. But more importantly no one had heard the first rule of fight club.

Fight Club is not my first brush with Chuck Palahniuk, a couple of years ago I had read haunted and I can recall very little of it, someone cutting their hair off and an escapade with a doll. I had also made it halfway through the movie, fell asleep and didn’t bother finishing. I finished the book in two days.

The story of fight club is an echo of millions around the world an average Joe who hates their job who is looking to escape from both the 9-5 and insomnia. He meets Tyler Durdan who encourages our unarmed average Joe to emancipate him self from drudgery of work, find the little sparks in life, form fight club where other average Joe can meet and punch it out. Fight club grows. Stuff happens.

Chuck writes with pinpoint accuracy summing up his view on the 9-5, why we should leave it become the captain of our own ship. If you read past the story the book almost becomes one of the greatest self help books ever wrote, move aside How to win friends and influence people. Palahniuk has left an indelible stain on culture.

Every white collar chap, wanting to make Debbie from marketing laughs will use the famous line from the book but he wont use it verbatim no he will had his own twist “First rule of first quarter fiscal reporting club is, you don’t talk about…”

In Palahniuk’s 2005 afterword to the novel he has the line misquoted to him; to which he replies “I wrote that” to the stunned tour guide who uttered the line.

I am sure most who quote the work quote the film version, but they miss so much by not reading the book, it’s a great shame that people will quote the lines, change their names to Tyler but not engage with the source material.

Fight club hits the nail on the head, it has comedy , romance and horror that is never over stated it just works. The ultimate self help book for the down trodden.

The Moving Target

Rating 3.5/5

Detective noir has always interested me ; from my first taste by reading James Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia, the total immersion that was in playing Rock star games L.A Noire or watching the Monroe’s first screen outing in The Asphalt Jungle and Jessica Alba’s performance in The killer inside me. You can forget your Law and Orders where although flawed the good guys always come out whiter than white and are never in any peril. True detective fiction for me was gum shoes from the 1930 to the 1950’s , well the genre has a whole. I like my detectives as I like my eggs hard boiled (Not sure if that has ever been used before so I am claiming it).

After my bold claims above it turns out I haven’t read any Ross MacDonald and I knew nothing about his ex cop come private dick Lew Archer. Archer embodies the genre as much as Spade and Marlow. MacDonald writes with the rhythm and pace that has become synonymous with noir.

And with his embodiment of both character and style MacDonald give us Archer’s first case. Moving target. Moving Target see our detective Archer on the case of the missing oil tycoon Ralph Sampson. Archer has his suspects Mrs Sampson, Ralph’s Daughter Maranda Sampson, Alan Tagget Sampson’s personal pilot and Maranda’s love interest and there is a fading movie star and psychic who could also be involved. There is even a cult leader who lives on a mountain.

All the tropes are there Archer encounters heavies, men with secrets, thugs and where would a hard boiled detective be without the femme_fatale? Archer encounters enough of them.

This isn’t your down-town L.A story Archer moves around suburban L.A visiting dive bars and seedy hotels. MacDonald keeps his detective away from the hustle and bustle of the bright lights, proving that suburban L.A can be just as dangerous,

Archer is a likeable character and MacDonald is not scared to have his Character knocked out, shot at or worse.

The story may be formulaic but MacDonald and Archer keeps the reader gripped enough through the story. With enough twist and changes in direction to keep the story fresh with out being confusing , but at the end of it and the dust settles it is a kidnapping story and they can only turn out a few ways.

With the above said it is a worth wile read. Archer has the right balance of forthrightness , flaws and sarcasm to be enjoyable.

The Name Of The Wind

It’s Fantasy Jim, But Not as we know it

 

Rating 3.5/5

 

I confess I haven’t read a lot of fantasy in fact you can cant my Fantasy read list on both your hands and still have a finger left over (minds out the gutter); The Hobbit, Lord of the rings , A Song Of Ice And fire up to a feast of Crows for you out there that only watches TV that’s Game Of Thrones.

Now I did enjoy The Hobbit , the bag-master doing his thing with a ring (minds out the gutter). Lord Of The Rings had an enjoyable first book and the third book was ok, the second book….

On the other hand A Game Of Thrones ,I George R.R Martins rich and diverse world, with flawed characters on both sides. Kept me going

So my third foray in to the lands of dragons, magic and knights was Patrick Rothuss’ The Name Of The Wind. The first book in the King killer chronicles. If you have been on book tube there is high praise for Rothuss’s tome Apparently this took over a decade to write and it does come in as a weighty tome. Racking up over 672 pages the second book in the series is even weightier at 1008 pages, a lot of story for or maybe there is a lot of filler?

The Name Of The Wind follows our hero Kvothe sitting down in his pub, telling his story to the chronicler. Essentialy autobiography set in a land far away, Kvothe tells a story of loss, love and over coming adversity a true hero of our times.

Rothuss is clever with his prose, he creates a complex world. Explaing aspects of the monetary systems, how the passage of time is marked, a creation myth, a magic system, a political system. He even explains how the loan sharks work.

The problem is not the systems and world building it is that Kvothe is perfect in every way and he lets you know. Plays the lute like a cross between Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen , he can perform magic (know in the world as symphony) like a cross between Houdini and Derren Brown, he is a master Actor and scholar, chemist, seamstress, jockey you name it can do it. Except get the girl.

“I was playing my lute and a string broke so I changed from minor to major and every one applauded”

But Kvothe has a problem with the opposite sex ,even when the ladies are practically asking to have their bodices ripped open and ravaged. Kvothe does nothing. The he pines for the love he has just lost. A bit like the middle of The Vampire Lestat where Lestat keeps harping on about Louis.

And that’s the plot, Guy who is brilliant at everything except picking up women, talks about how he was down on his luck but that was ok because he was clever, how he went to university and broke all the rules but people liked him and he was clever so out smarted everyone. Some people didn’t like him but he got his own back. Rinse and repeat.

672 pages of “Look how great I am!” As a plot device, it never puts Kvothe in any danger. So the reader will know that any peril that Kvothe is put in he will so be ok.

Considering how boring this sounds and grating, Rothuss manges to write the world and keep it enjoyable. Like an old friend who tells you how great they are but deep down you know they are good person and would help you out if you was on hard times.

The protagonist is annoying, the world is vast. Yet the read was a fun journey. Maybe it was the hope that Kvothe would gets his comeuppance.

If you enjoy the genre then this has all the tropes and clichés that you will find comfort in.
After all my complaining regarding Kvothe, I am invested in his story, I want to know what happens next. Most of all I want to Know if he stops being so smug.

Ready Player One (It’s the 80s!)

Ready Player One cover.jpgThere is a certain nostalgia for the 80’s. That for some strange reason a generation wants to cling on to. For me the most purest for of music was invented in the 80’s hair metal, The Crue, Ratt, warrant and Guns and roses they may argue that they wasn’t hair mental but they grew up on the Sun set strip. So shout “I want my MTV” turn Kick start my heart up to 11. And get ready to say “Oh boy” like doctor Sam Beckett stepping in to the body of Elvis while he is flying Airwolf because Earnest Cline takes back to a time when cubes were Rubicked.

Well actually he takes us to the future 2044 where nostalgia is the in thing. Cline’s Ready Player one is a love letter to VHS, movies of the 80s and the games we use to play down at the arcade with a side dose of pop culture . The future is not bright in Cline’s world and we meet our hero Wade living in the stacks, motor homes stacked up on each other hence the name. With not a lot to do Wade spends most of his time in a VR world called oasis. Then James Halliday dies the Steve Jobs of 2044. But he has left an easter egg in the Oasis by completing levels if you will and if you can find it then you will run the Oasis and become rich beyond your wildest dreams.

Cline hooks Wade up with a bunch of hapless heroes and the game is set. The book drew me in I wanted Wade to carry out his tribulations and quest. I wanted Wade to score the perfect score on Pac-man I booed the evil villains who lived on some sort of space station in the game. But then it all fell apart for me.

Cline has chops in creating his world but it just a long drawn out “Do you remember the 80s?”Cline does give the world some weight, the stacks , the endless MMPOG. I was in. I had my coin on top of the arcade machine to buy in. I was even getting philosophical this is how people will form friendships and fall in love. Forget tinder I know of one world of war craft wedding. Then it happens Wade meets a girl, well an avatar and that when it all fell apart for me.

I know that shakespeare once said their was only 7 stories. But it becomes a paint by numbers fantasy , hero on a quest, hero meets girl, girl is not just a princess to be plucked like a toad stool (keeping with the video game theme) girl runs away, hero becomes annoying, pines for girl and the bad guys are evil.

Instead of Frodo finding the ring he plays arcade games instead.

Here is the interesting thing I blistered through the book afterwards I was in awe. Then I sat down and digested what I had read it was 5 stars but then the star faded and become 3 stars. It is enjoyable but I am not sure if Cline pulls off the cyber-punk fantasy cross over. If you like reading about some one playing down the arcade and can move past the somewhat bolted on love affair. Cline has some great ideas; the stacks, the Oasis, the parody of the Steve Jobs. But like all love letters to bygone people and bygone eras in hindsight they don’t always come across as they should.

Station Eleven A Book Review

                                                                         Station Eleven Cover.jpg

Emily St John Mandel’s post apocalyptic Sci-fi novel Station 11 starts off in a theater in Toronto staging King Lear. Arthur Leander is dying on stage, not in scathing review in the press sense of dying but, the phone me an ambulance way.

And so begins Mandel’s tale. A story of loss, belonging and survival. Because after Arthur dies who happens to be a big a deal in Hollywood even after 3 marriages and scandal, the Georgia flu arrives wiping-out most the population.

Told using a contemporary time-line and an after the collapse time-line Mandel uses both to tell the story from the point of view from Arthur’s perspective and the perspective of Kirsten w a member of a travailing acting troop. Bringing Shakespeare to the small encampments and towns that have sprung up after the Flu pandemic.

Mandel excels in crafting a spider-web of characters that all have been affected by Arthur in one way of another. Each character arcs from before the flu until after each suffering trials and tribulations. Everything is included for a reason and nothing feels superfluous in Mandel’s world.

Each sentence and word seems to be on the page for a reason, and not a case of a writer struggling to add filler. Mandel seems to create a vast yet tight book at the same time. But she does leave one stone unturned , one question that the reader will ponder on long after the book has finished

The characters muster all the emotions the reader should feel , the reader will root for the protagonist , hate the villain and in the end enjoy the end, even if it has that one question. Mandel while not over burdening the reader with description gives you just enough to imagine a world of broken roads, empty fuel stations and power stations that no longer turn.

On the strength of station 11 I went out and brought Mandel’s other books.