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REALJimBob

Fortysomething, photographer slacker, working in IT, living in Greenwich; failed polymath; drinks and eats too much, reads too little...

Call for the Dead (George Smiley, #1)

Call for the Dead (George Smiley, #1) - John le Carré I remember catching bits as my parents avidly watched the, [a:Sir Alec Guinness|66891|Alec Guinness|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1209225692p2/66891.jpg] as George Smiley, TV adaptation. Making Smiley this mythical, yet seedy, character in my mind. A master spy who directs and predicts from behind the scenes without really getting his hands dirty. With Guinness being one of my favourite actors and [a:le Carré|1411964|John le Carré|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1234571122p2/1411964.jpg] being one of my favourite authors it seems bizarre that, not only have I never seen the whole TV series but, I've never read more than a couple of the Smiley novels and, even then, never as a cohesive series.

The recent film of [b:Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy|7081540|Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (George Smiley, #5)|John le Carré|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1336204273s/7081540.jpg|2491780] led to an impulse purchase of that book, which in turn led to an impulse purchase of this, the first in the series, briefly available for free from Amazon, [b:Call for the Dead|17735048|Call for the Dead (George Smiley, #1)|John le Carré|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1365259033s/17735048.jpg|1176737]. If you're going to read a series, the best place to start is normally at the beginning.

And, what a beginning. Possibly a brave opening chapter, especially for a début novel, or possibly a naive start, because it's a début novel, but the first chapter presents a potted history of the central character – George Smiley – rather than having to rely on flash-backs or overbearing exposition it's all laid out for us in the first chapter and then the book can get on with actually telling the story. After all, we already know who Smiley is. I don't think I've ever seen such an approach to character building before, and it really works well here.

The rest of the novel is, although expertly written, fairly standard cold-war spy fare. Smiley is tasked with interviewing Samuel Fennan of the Foreign Office. The service had received an anonymous tip-off that he still, secretly, harboured communist tendencies and party membership. Although Smiley's investigation was amicable and he clears Fennan of suspicion, that night though before any official pronouncement on the investigation, Fennan commits suicide blaming Smiley's investigation in his note. What starts as a little off-the-books investigation, to make sure the service isn't going to get dragged through the courts, soon ends up as a full-on search for a secret East-German spy cell operating out of London and stealing Foreign Office secrets. The reader's suspicion should fall pretty quickly on the very suspicious Mrs Fennan, but the details: the hows, whys and wherefores are what keep you reading as le Carré expertly leads us and Smiley through his investigation as well as managing to provide more depth to the character history presented in the first chapter.

The parallels of Smiley's and his wife's story – they start the book separated but at the end she appears to be interested in returning to him; compared to Fennan's and his wife's story – they start the story together and happy, but you start to realise that their relationship hid a lot of misunderstanding and mistrust – show a lot more to this novel than just a spy novel. Le Carré is building something larger here, a world and a set of characters that will presumably carry him through the rest of the seven books in the series...

The Hedge Knight (Tales of Dunk and Egg, #1)

The Hedge Knight (Tales of Dunk and Egg, #1) - George R.R. Martin Having read all of [a:Martin|346732|George R.R. Martin|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1351944410p2/346732.jpg]'s Song of Fire and Ice significantly faster than he's writing new ones, and considering he doesn't seem to be making much progress with the next one: four years between the last book and the next, I was at a bit of a loose end for my Westeros fix. Luckily Martin has already published a trio of prequel short stories. Prequel is stretching the definition as this first one is set approximately 100 years before the events of [b:A Game of Thrones|822993|A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1)|George R.R. Martin|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1343523394s/822993.jpg|1466917] but the families and names from Westerosi history all sound a little familiar – the Targaryens are on the iron throne and the Baratheons are still glory-seeking tourney addicts.

[b:The Hedge Knight|11970747|The Hedge Knight (Tales of Dunk and Egg, #1)|George R.R. Martin|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1310018362s/11970747.jpg|25687092] is the first story of Dunk and Egg. Dunk, or Ser Duncan the Tall as he becomes known, is a hedge knight – so called because they are knights without land or master, generally poor, who often sleep in hedges – the final act of his own master, Ser Alan of Pennytree, was to knight his squire Dunk. As an otherwise unproven knight, he wants to make his fortune so he enters the tourney lists. Egg is the young lad who tags along after him, just wanting to be his squire. It doesn't take too long to work out Egg's back story.

In true Martin style, it doesn't take too long for fights to break out and trouble to kick off. Before you know it the tourney is over and Dunk's sense of honour has led him way out of his depth and having to duel against proper knights – he could almost be a Stark. The story is self-contained – although there are already two follow on stories that feature the same characters, there's no need to worry about Martin not writing the sequel in seven years time.

Fallen Angels

Fallen Angels - Larry Niven,  Jerry Pournelle,  Michael Flynn Another of the Baen ebook giveaways; this is [a:Niven|12534|Larry Niven|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1182720933p2/12534.jpg]'s, [a:Pournelle|39099|Jerry Pournelle|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1216417671p2/39099.jpg]'s and [a:Flynn|126502|Michael Flynn|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1282631351p2/126502.jpg]'s dystopian future-America novel where the Greens have won and dominated, at least, the north American political landscape. As a result, any anthropogenic global warming that there was is abruptly halted and instead a new ice-age sweeps down across the American landscape. While science is not banned outright, there is now the concept of appropriate science and inappropriate science. Inappropriate science is a large catch-all for anything deemed polluting, or wasteful, and means that NASA has been completely closed down ‒ stranding a community of astronauts on the space station. With no hope of a return home or any supply runs they are managing to become self-sufficient and, in order to top up their own gas supplies, have started scooping up gasses from the Earth's outer atmosphere (fuelling even more the hatred of the off-worlders by the green Earthers who view this as stealing more of Earth's resources). It's on one of these runs that the two spacemen, the fallen angels of the title, crash to Earth and the race is on to both avoid the authorities and see if they can even return to the space station.

Strangely, as well as making most branches of science illegal, the government has also cracked down on science fiction: both authors and fans are having to operate on the fringes of society. Presumably as science fiction glorifies the now banned sciences it's been included as well, but this device is what makes this novel. The fallen angels come down the day before the annual science-fiction convention, so a rag-tag group of sci-fi fans decide to jump in a van and go rescue them. The novel makes much of the complete cultural disconnect between the two angels, for whom space represents their quite functional, hand-to-mouth existence, and the sci-fi fans, for whom space represents some kind of romantic ideal. This disconnect, and the authors' clear understanding and enjoyment of fandom culture, also provides much of the humour of the book ‒ the angels clearly think the fans are mad throughout the whole novel, yet somehow the fans' optimism, and problem solving, keeps managing to get things done.

Much is written of the politics of this novel in other comments and it's clear that Niven, Pournelle and Flynn are writing from a libertarian, anti-AGW platform. That said, if you can bring yourself to see past that, science fiction at its core is supposed to be about 'what ifs'. The 'what if' of this novel, that the green movement took power and reversed the warming that was holding back the next ice age, is an interesting idea and is artfully told with a fair amount of humour and barely any of the political grand-standing that some of the other reviewers had suggested. What I found slightly more annoying was the heavy name dropping throughout the story, some of whom (like [a:RMS|318269|Richard M. Stallman|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1308056730p2/318269.jpg]) are foreshadowed as part of the latter story, and are then never mentioned again, and some annoying overuse of PoV switching in some of the later chapters that made those sections somewhat confusing to read.
The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man  - Mark Hodder The second in the Burton and Swinburne adventures, this is the sequel to the debut novel, [b:The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack|7293120|The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack (Burton & Swinburne, #1)|Mark Hodder|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1327931939s/7293120.jpg|8590363], which introduced us to the adventures of Richard Burton and Algernon Swinburne. Again, [a:Hodder|3222611|Mark Hodder|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1315597718p2/3222611.jpg] drapes his story over actual historical events – using them as the basis for his story, but never being afraid to let the story trample all over the historical accuracy. His trick for this is based in the events of The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack – the Albertian London of Burton and Swinburne has diverged from our ideas of Victorian London as a direct result of Spring-Heeled Jack's attempts to correct (as he saw it) history.

This time, The King's Agent is tasked to investigate the Tichborne Affair. Roger Tichborne, presumed dead, is returned to claim his inheritance. Except for the fact that he looks nothing like the real Roger Tichborne. That he's a patsy is obvious to Richard Burton. What's strange is that so many people are fooled – including Swinburne. Who's controlling the claimant and why is this leading to class warfare on the streets of London. The same supporting cast is here: Lord Palmerston, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Florence Nightingale and Oscar Wilde. But add in Babbage, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's father and Mary Beeton.

The book feels a little slow to begin. The first few chapters seem to pick up the story from the previous novel and then stop it only to start a brand new story. But, over time the threads come together and the second story makes sense. Even the clockwork man of the title, is tied in at the end. Increasingly, in this novel, you start to feel that there's a larger arc that Hodder's working towards: my suspicion is that it's the great war between the Technologists working with Britain and the Eugenicists working with Germany.
Robot Adept - Piers Anthony Someone should have told [a:Anthony|8516|Piers Anthony|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1234056775p2/8516.jpg] that this series needed to end. An excellent idea, which ran to its natural conclusion at the end of the original trilogy. The follow-on books started with some potential, but the steam has run out of them. Book five, [b:Robot Adept|15456|Robot Adept (Apprentice Adept, #5)|Piers Anthony|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1350833897s/15456.jpg|1149731], has reached that tipping point. And the repetition has (started to) set in.

The underlying theme is the same: Mach has found himself in Phaze, in Bane's body, and Bane, in turn, has found himself in Proton in Mach's body. Rather than the physical transference of the first trilogy, this continues with the psychic link only instead. To up the game from the previous novel though, this time, an attempted body-switch while embracing their respective partners means that they can now transfer them as well. Cue an almost French-farce type feel to the story as characters rush from one world to the other, having sex with the right partner in the wrong body, or the wrong partner in the right body, or frequently the right partner in the wrong body and a non-human form. Yes at one point, Anthony's adolescent preoccupation with sex means that two characters with shape-changing abilities have to have sex in all three of their forms (at least he doesn't take the next step and write actual bestiality).

Again, the game of Proton is a fixed method for every story resolution – this time a game has to occur half in Proton and half in Phaze (for no reason that's every adequately explained). How the two sides are suddenly able to coordinate when we've been told that Mach/Bane are the only contact though is swept under the carpet (either Bane or Mach even wonders about how that works at one point). And finally, as if the repetition of themes and devices wasn't enough, each time the story switches point-of-view character Anthony feels the need to recap the chapter that we've just read from the new character's point of view. Hang on – all three of us were there in the last chapter. I already know what happened, I just read it!

Somehow, something about the series still hooks me though. I suspect it's more a nostalgia for how much I enjoyed the first trilogy when I also had an adolescent preoccupation with sex, but hopefully there's more to it than that. At least there's only two more to go...
Rivers of London  - Ben Aaronovitch Louise had read this a while ago and loved it but it had been languishing on my to-read list without showing any signs of actually getting read. Consequently when we agreed to a new reading challenge – where we get to nominate a book each that jumps to the top of the other's to-read list – [a:Ben Aaronovitch|363130|Ben Aaronovitch|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1308855588p2/363130.jpg]'s [b:Rivers of London|10086357|Rivers of London (Peter Grant, #1)|Ben Aaronovitch|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1328040303s/10086357.jpg|13552476] was Louise's first pick for me My pick for her was [a:Mario Puzo|12605|Mario Puzo|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1322107703p2/12605.jpg]'s historical fiction based on the lives of the Borgias: [b:The Family|56816|The Family|Mario Puzo|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1330188840s/56816.jpg|2842951].

Peter Grant is a newly qualified copper, in the London Metropolitan Police Force, and after chance conversations with a ghost and a strange DCI, he finds himself assigned to DCI Nightingale's mysterious magic division rather than the expected Case Progression Unit (paperwork team). Before he knows it, he's an apprentice wizard, living in a strange, spooky, and underpopulated house, getting ready to solve the kind of crimes that the Met would probably have nightmares about – so far, so very Harry Potter. Except this isn't Harry Potter (as Aaronovitch drops into the novel a couple of times). Instead it's much less Five Go Mad in a Castle with Spells and more Law & Order: Special Magic Unit, but more fun.

Published as Rivers of London in the UK and Midnight Riot in the US presumably to avoid it being shelved under Physical Geography, UK, each title represents one of the two major investigative storylines of the novel. In the first, represented by the US title, Grant and Nightingale are investigating the sudden flurry of unexplained violent murders, all of which leave a hint of maniacal laughter for those who can detect such things. In the second, Mother Thames and Father Thames are kicking off for something of a turf war. Magical and powerful they may be, but the Met can't have them causing trouble in London. Grant will need to find a compromise to keep both sides happy.

In fact neither title/storyline combination really does the book justice. The central character of the novel is London itself. Anybody who has lived in London, visited London, or even just had a hankering for London, will enjoy the feel of the city and it's inhabitants – I enjoyed it every time I recognised streets I had walked down, buildings I had passed by, and restaurants and pubs I had eaten and drunk in. As a resident himself, Aaronovitch's fondness for the great city comes out in almost every page, but always with the deprecating sarcasm that Londoners might like to feel they own. At the same time, Aaronovitch is building his magical world: overlaying it on both the city and the story. Cleverly, we learn the rules of this world at the same time as our hero Grant, so we are always learning just enough to keep it making sense, but not so much that the novel becomes a huge information dump of magical rules.

Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Betrayal (Bourne 5)

Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Betrayal  - Eric Van Lustbader [a:Lustbader|39467|Eric Van Lustbader|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1262658121p2/39467.jpg] manages to write both compelling prose and utter shite at the same time. You could call him the [a:Dan Brown|630|Dan Brown|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1206553442p2/630.jpg] of the thriller world; if Brown hadn't already got that title sewn up himself. Since [a:Robert Ludlum|5293|Robert Ludlum|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1208465267p2/5293.jpg]'s death, Lustbader has been at the helm of the Bourne series of novels. Taking the original trilogy and, some might say, milking it for whatever he and the Ludlum estate can get. This book continues in that vein and feels a lot like Lustbader had the beginnings of a great idea for a stand-alone novel but was already committed to that pesky Bourne cash-cow, without any ideas for that. So, he decided, why not just crow-bar the burgeoning plot ideas into the novel you've already got the advance for? Perfect.

[b:The Bourne Legacy|16173332|The Bourne Legacy (Jason Bourne, #4)|Eric Van Lustbader|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1353965097s/16173332.jpg|2517460] should have alerted us to Lustbader's penchant for the ridiculous – as Khan turns out to be Bourne's long lost (believed dead) son – and in this sequel, [b:The Bourne Betrayal|7738044|Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Betrayal (Jason Bourne, #5)|Eric Van Lustbader|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1348716473s/7738044.jpg|1173089], we're asked to believe that Bourne (a man with a history of memory loss and documented paranoia/trust issues) lets a doctor he's only just met inject his brain with 'memory healing nanites' and that an Islamic terrorist would be able to convincingly replace the head of a secret US anti-terrorism task-force – without anybody noticing; not even Bourne, his best friend. Truly incredible.

In fact, this magical ability to appear to be somebody else is the central point of the story. Both Karim al-Jamil and Bourne are described as chameleons: one able to fool an entire government department of professional spooks; the other able to fool a tight-knit terrorist cell. This is counter-balanced by Bourne's ability to, once he's realised he's been fooled by the fake Lindros, suddenly work out every tiny detail of the terrorist plot, immediately and, with no real evidence at all. He is the perfect spy I guess after all.

As I already own the next three Lustbader novels in the series, I'm almost certainly going to keep going. But these books are increasingly looking like they should be for Bourne completists only.

Red Prophet - The Tales Of Alvin Maker Volume 2

Red Prophet (Tales of Alvin Maker, #2) - Orson Scott Card It's a strange thing, but I've owned a copy of this book since my university days, and I'd obviously assumed that I'd read the book having previously rated it. However, once I came to read it again I realised that I'd not read it before at all. Quite why I'd managed to own an entire trilogy for nearly twenty years without reading beyond the first one is a mystery.

[b:Red Prophet|1930959|Red Prophet (Tales of Alvin Maker, #2)|Orson Scott Card|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1212068078s/1930959.jpg|98069] is the second in the original Alvin Maker trilogy – like [a:Piers Anthony|8516|Piers Anthony|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1234056775p2/8516.jpg] it seems that [a:Card|589|Orson Scott Card|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1294099952p2/589.jpg] struggles to put a lid on a good series once he starts one. This story acts as a counterpoint to the first novel. While [b:Seventh Son|1930955|Seventh Son (Tales of Alvin Maker, #1)|Orson Scott Card|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1190500762s/1930955.jpg|2771466] tells the tale of Alvin's birth and early life – including the vision of the Shining Man. This sequel covers much of the same time period, but following the tales of the 'Reds': the one-eyed drunk Lolla-Wossiky who of course turns out to be both the Shining Man, and the prophet of the book's title and the moody and silent Ta-Kumsaw. About half-way through, we catch up with the end of Seventh Son and Alvin meets up with our two Reds.

As other reviewers have noted this is fictional history rather than historical fiction. Heavy on the fiction, very light on the history. Card continues, though, to build his world; it just happens to overlay, very loosely, on the east side of the US. As we learnt about the 'knacks' and hexes of the white folk in the first book, this time we learn about the 'land sense' of the red man. This is where the book starts to stray into an awkward sort of racism in its style: the red man is the noble savage: a mystical, pagan, form of magic in touch with the land but a slave to his anger and vengeance; the white man is both the civilised creator of order and structure, and the selfish, greedy, destructor of the red man's land sense. The red man must separate from the white man in order to maintain his connection to the land.
Lord Peter Views the Body - Dorothy L. Sayers [a:Sayers|8734|Dorothy L. Sayers|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1206564934p2/8734.jpg] joins [a:Christie|123715|Agatha Christie|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1321738793p2/123715.jpg] and [a:Doyle|2448|Arthur Conan Doyle|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1289836561p2/2448.jpg] in knocking out a collection of short stories for her detective character, Lord Peter Wimsey. The short-story form appears to have been very popular with authors 'of the day', presumably the stories were generally published individually in magazines before being collected. Again, [b:Lord Peter Views the Body|786376|Lord Peter Views the Body (Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries, #4)|Dorothy L. Sayers|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1348633552s/786376.jpg|311200], took me by surprise as I hadn't read any of the reviews of blurb before starting; I was assuming another full-length novel. A pleasant surprise nonetheless, as this is a truly excellent collection of short-stories – there isn't a 'dud' anywhere in there.

Not all the stories are murders, not all of them are even always crimes; but each time Sayers perfectly captures her Wimsey. The stories where Bunter features as well are just the icing on the cake. Bunter is the sidekick that Holmes and Poirot fantasise about. Whereas they have to drag their pet through each detection like a teacher with a particularly stupid (but likeable) child, Bunter is there with Wimsey each time. As Bunter is determined that they shouldn't be equals socially, he also doesn't consider himself Wimsey's equal as a detective. But Wimsey is never praising Bunter for the sake of it when he says that he couldn't have done it without him...

From the frankly gruesome The Abominable History of the Man With the Copper Fingers told as a couple of anecdotes, through the series of much more conventional mystery formats: one where the criminal's lack of grammar gives him away, another where Wimsey's encyclopaedic knowledge of wines is the key. Here even the conventional mystery format isn't fixed in stone, Sayers likes to move the target slightly by having one where Wimsey possibly gets it completely wrong (but still plausible), or maybe not. And by far the longest story in the collection, one which requires the entire cast to solve a huge crossword in order to find the location of a second will. Unfortunately, this collection ended with a slightly disappointing story, The Adventurous Exploit of the Cave of Ali Baba. Not a bad story you understand, but not up to the standard of the rest of the collection. Again, Sayers appears to be trying to do something clever and different, but it just didn't quite ring true for me. Dragging a nearly 5 down to a clear 4.
Work! Consume! Die!: You Are Bored. This is the Antidote - Frankie Boyle After his 'autobiography', [b:My Shit Life So Far|6484260|My Shit Life So Far|Frankie Boyle|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1328421341s/6484260.jpg|6675584], this is neither a straight autobiography, nor strictly non-fiction. Instead the book alternates, chapter by chapter, between a fictional account of Frankie Boyle living in a high-rise flat in Glasgow and a series of non-fictional diatribes against everything Boyle doesn't like about the world. There is a very tenuous Kevin-Bacon-style link between myself and Frankie; which means that this copy, which my parents bought for me, is personally inscribed with a Christmas message.

The fictional half of the book appears to be set after the period covered by My Shit Life So Far Boyle is living alone in a flat at the top of a Glasgow high-rise. A flat which he's extended with a secret annex containing his weird model of the people and places around him which he toys with in an almost voodoo way. The story mixes, presumably at least partially true, personal anecdotes of time with his children and attempts to get work post-Mock-the-Week. In the background is the story of a rapist who is targeting b-list celebrities who are no longer in the spotlight as much as they were – starting with Dom Joly. Contacted by the police, Boyle initially worries that he's a suspect, but in fact, more worryingly, they are treating him as a potential victim.

The non-fiction half of the book is a series of essays/diatribes/rants on everything that Boyle thinks is wrong with our society: war, comedy, Tories, Lib Dems, immigration, the news of the world, terrorism, the death of Osama bin Laden and homoeopathy (he actually manages to combine those two into a single joke which is pretty impressive) etc. But singled out the most is throwaway entertainment culture, as typified by our national obsession with programmes like the X-Factor, The Voice, Britain's Got Talent etc. All of these programmes come in for heavy ridicule, as do the judges on them. Unfortunately, the non-fiction section, which had potential, fails to live up to that. Each of Boyle's discussions never really goes anywhere. Instead of developing them, they are used only as a platform for more of his jokes. Obviously, as Boyle is a comedian, it's probably unfair to expect anything else. But it would have been interesting if he'd tried.

The jokes are the expected mixture of sharp insight and deeply offensive humour that he has become both loved and reviled for. No subject is every considered off-limits for Boyle's humour and if you aren't prepared to sit through some uncomfortable chapters where one, or more, of your own sacred cows are picked apart then this isn't the book for you.
Cock and Bull - Will Self [b:Cock and Bull|15991921|Cock and Bull|Will Self|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1346885000s/15991921.jpg|1411140] is two independent stories back to back; connected through their core theme of an person who develops secondary genitalia, of the opposite gender. I didn't read them back to back – instead I read the first story, Cock, during a slow period in a non-fiction book on English grammar and then picked up the second story, Bull, a week (and two further books) after that. Both are typically Selfian; brutal tales of abuse, gender stereotype and role reversal. Both are set against tales of depressing characters and backgrounds where the change is a catalyst to allow the protagonist to break free from that world to either damage, or be damaged by, those around them.

The first, Cock: A Novella, is the story of an unhappy relationship – a drunken meeting at university leads to an increasingly alcoholic marriage – and the effect that relationship has on both Carol and Dan. Carol is a put-upon wife who settled for Dan because she assumed she couldn't do any better. He was the first (and only) man to every make her cum so she married him, but it never happened again. Dan is a dick. A figurative dick rather than a physical one. As they shamble through their marriage Carol slowly develops her secondary genitalia: a penis. Obviously this starts to change the dynamic of their relationship as Carol discovers a new, and totally different, personality as well.

The second, Bull: A Farce, is the story of John Bull, a man's man, a sports writer forced to write the cabaret column in a local rag. Unlike Carol's, Bull's secondary genitalia appears overnight; a fully-formed vagina on the back of his left knee. Also, unlike Carol, he takes the sensible decision to actually see a doctor about it (although he believes it to be a cut and/or burn sustained while drunk). The story follows the paths of John Bull and Alan Margoulies (yes, try saying that name out loud), his doctor, as well as a small supporting cast (including the awful comedian, Razza Rob, who we are led to believe is the cause of Bull's condition).

The narration style is unusual in the first story, but seems to work quite well: the unnamed narrator is a (presumably) Jewish guy on a train who is being told the story by a university don he met in the carriage. The don is relating the events as if a story he heard or an investigation he was involved in. At times the story jumps from the lives of Carol and Dan to the events in the carriage and then back again. Towards the end the don falls into some awkwardly anti-Semitic rants against the narrator (who I assume represents Self) which felt very out of place in the novella – and was what lost it the one star.
The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald Five seems to be the correct number of book purchases in one visit, at least whenever we wander into a bookshop with the aim of adding to the already burgeoning piles of to-read books. In this case we already had four when I asked the assistant if they had a copy of [b:Gatsby|17465049|The Great Gatsby|F. Scott Fitzgerald|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1364777365s/17465049.jpg|245494] (there's a film coming out after all). He returned with two copies: one a movie tie-in edition with Leonardo DiCaprio leering out at me; the other this fantastic retro edition, a lurid red and yellow cover, yellowed pages, a Robert Redford look-a-like with a dame on each arm on the cover, and just under the title it read "When it came to loving ... He knew which Daisy to pick!". This was obviously the edition for me.

Pulp! The Classics is a relatively new imprint by the looks of it, reprinting eight classic works of fiction with eye-grabbing pulp styling. Deliberately styled to look both old and aged, it appears to convince people. On my first day of reading it I turned up for work to receive comments on the 'age' of my book. Even when assured it was new, they assumed I meant only new to me and were only convinced once they'd examined it.

The story itself? I thoroughly enjoyed it, racing through it in just two days. Narrated by Nick Carraway, recently moved to the made up West Egg just slightly east of New York. His wealthy neighbour, Jay Gatsby, throws regular parties to which everybody comes – invited or not. Across the water, in East Egg, Carraway's cousin Daisy and her husband Tom Buchanan live their mean little lives. Tom's having an affair with Myrtle, Gatsby had an affair with Daisy before she met Tom (which he'd like to rekindle). Gatsby's all new money and dubious past – money he made specifically because all those years before he believed that Daisy wouldn't be interested in him unless he was rich. Once he'd made his money though, five years had passed. Daisy had married Tom, and Gatsby had plenty of time to build up a rich fantasy about how they would fall in love and she'd be wonderful. Instead she's just a little bit sordid and grubby.

Sinner (Foreworld)

Sinner (Foreworld) - Mark Teppo While Teppo's Dreamer was a freebie at the front of my copy of [b:The Mongoliad: Book Two|13665175|The Mongoliad Book Two (Foreworld, #2)|Neal Stephenson|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1350486135s/13665175.jpg|19285506], my copy of the previous novel, [b:The Mongoliad: Book One|12853147|The Mongoliad Book One (Foreworld, #1)|Neal Stephenson|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1335306387s/12853147.jpg|18004624], had no such gift (it didn't have maps either which was a point of some annoyance at the time). It appears that later versions of Book One do now have [b:Sinner|16058981|Sinner (Foreworld)|Mark Teppo|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1349118049s/16058981.jpg|21633814] up at the front, but by that time I'd already borrowed a copy from the Kindle lending library. Again, Teppo visits Raphael's past in this prequel to the Mongoliad trilogy. I say again, but actually I've read them in the wrong order – this is the first of Teppo's prequels rather than the second – although it's actually set several years after the events of Dreamer.

Andreas and Raphael, both knights of the Ordo Militum Vindicis Intactae, meet coincidentally, while snooping around the beginnings of an inquisition into the brutal murder of a villager, and as Andreas points out: "One Shield-Brother might be a curiosity [...] but two?". The villager's wife is accused of both witchcraft and his murder; and the inquisition is not keen to properly investigate at all. The hotheaded Andreas and cooler-minded Raphael step in to avert the judicial miscarriage. The story is called Sinner, and all the chapters are named after the seven deadly sins (all in Latin of course): lust, gluttony, avarice, slot, anger, envy and pride; with the final, eighth, chapter being named humility. I wasn't entirely paying attention to the chapter titles at the time, but each chapter presumably concentrates on its titular sin.

While the Foreworld conglomerate, in the shape of the Subutai Corporation, continues knocking out the main Mongoliad novels – presumably there will be more than the three so far – Teppo seems to be making a nice sideline in these prequel short stories building out the back-history of characters like Raphael and Andreas. He has a third one to go with the third novel, [b:The Mongoliad Book Three|16059493|The Mongoliad Book Three (Foreworld, #3)|Neal Stephenson|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1349126928s/16059493.jpg|21846255], which I've already got lined up on my Kindle.

The King's English

The King's English - H.W. Fowler,  F.G. Fowler Another perfect book for the English language aficionado (or pedant). Fowler and Fowler present their definitive guide for the aspiring early-20th-century writer wanting to ensure the correctitude (or not) of their prose. [b:The King's English|13559713|The King's English|H.W. Fowler|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348228237s/13559713.jpg|595777] is not a guide for learning how to write though, Fowler and Fowler don't spend much time explaining the correct usage at all, instead it's a list of examples of, and corrections for, mistakes – common and uncommon – in grammar, syntax, vocabulary, etc. While [a:Dickens|239579|Charles Dickens|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1357465042p2/239579.jpg] and [a:Charlotte Brontë|1036615|Charlotte Brontë|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1335001351p2/1036615.jpg] come in for regular criticism, it seems that newspapers are generally held up as the worst examples of almost all faults.

The book is split into two parts. Part one contains chapters on misuse of vocabulary, syntax, airs and graces (showing off), and punctuation. Each is treated thoroughly, and surprisingly wittily for a grammar book. Much of the advice is slightly dated now – the Kings referenced by the title are Edward the VII (for the first edition) and George V (for the third edition) – unsurprisingly, English as a language has moved on somewhat in those intervening years. The Fowlers are even keen to point this out themselves – unlike German and French, English is a loosely proscribed language, a hybrid language where only common usage is a requirement for it to change: "the only question about any particular word ... is whether the vox populi has yet declared for it; when it has, there is no more to be said; but when it has not, the process should be resisted as long as possible".

Most of the chapters I liked or loved. Only the chapter on syntax I found so impenetrable as to be unreadable. My Comprehensive education was anything but, and my lack of Grammar education leaves me with very little reference point for the grammar terms bandied about throughout that chapter. There was only so many times I could remind myself of what a subjunctive or a participle is before I just gave up and started skimming the chapter, hoping that the next one would be better. Equally, part two just feels rushed. In the introduction the Fowlers state that part two is mostly just lists of examples with little exposition, they claim due to lack of space. However, it seems to me that slightly fewer examples could have left room for more exposition, and failing that a second volume would have allowed them to really go to town. Perhaps they'd just become bored by this point, certainly part two mostly bored me.

Allez Wiggo!: How Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France and Olympic gold in 2012

Allez Wiggo!: How Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France and Olympic gold in 2012 - Daniel Friebe If you're after a detailed essay on the 2012 cycling season, this isn't it. If you're looking for a sumptuous photobook on the Tour de France, this isn't it. If you're looking for the inside scoop on Team Sky, this isn't it. And, if you're looking for an insightful Wiggo biography, this isn't it either. Instead we have a book that doesn't seem entirely sure what it's trying to be – there are written sections, but they're a little light on detail. There are oodles of photographs, but the quality is mixed and none of the photographers are named or even differentiated.

Managing to not be a book about the tour, nor a Wiggo biography, nor even a team sky brochure. Instead it comes across as a fan's scrapbook built throughout Wiggo's 2012 year of domination. His "annus mirabilis". Much of it feels superficial, while the challenges to Wiggins's successes are mentioned, they are glossed over – the spat with Chris Froome is discarded as Froome merely being "off script", the media blow-up after Le Equipe's "UK Postal" headline and the subsequent twitter frothing is simplified to a simple reaction to an accusation rather than addressing Wiggins's potential responsibilities to answer what was an obvious question after the recent years of disappointment by cycling's heroes, Cavendish's sacrifices are mentioned but the reality of the world champion being sidelined wasn't really explored, even the WAG spat is trivialised to avoid the real frustrations that were behind those tweets. To an extent much of this makes some sense, this is an ode to Wiggo and his successes not a story of the Tour or of Team Sky. Other people are only mentioned in so far as they directly impact or affect that, but it leaves you feeling a little short changed. I had expected more from Friebe after reading his Cavendish biography, [b:Boy Racer|8470902|Boy Racer|Mark Cavendish|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1320438213s/8470902.jpg|6877771], and had been looking forward to his Merckx biography, [b:Eddy Merckx: The Cannibal|15747813|Eddy Merckx The Cannibal|Daniel Friebe|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1342087201s/15747813.jpg|19164682], too...

Having received this book for Christmas, it was interesting to end up reading it now. After Wiggo's 2012 "annus mirabilis" – the book covers his early season successes, his Tour de France win and his Olympic gold medal, but was obviously published too early to cover his Sports Personality of the Year award and eventual knighthood – last year, 2013 has been his annus horribilis as illness and poor form has plagued the first half of his year and he's had to watch team mates taking the wins he probably would have felt he deserved himself. It was good to remind myself what he was capable of though.

Hell

Hell  - Mur Lafferty [a:Mur Lafferty|97284|Mur Lafferty|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1314461906p2/97284.jpg] gives no quarter here – there is no backstory, no exposition, no previously on. The unwary reader will find themselves dropped straight into the action, continuing immediately from the events of [b:Heaven|11408122|Heaven (The Afterlife Series, #1)|Mur Lafferty|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1314463484s/11408122.jpg|2282661]. Kate and Daniel are still travellers in the afterlife, still hunting for God's lost souls, and still skirting around that whole uncomfortable relationship thing. This time however, rather than searching through the myriad of heavens they need to travel down to the hells (none of the books in this series have particularly obscure titles). Through Purgatory and onwards down to hells of queueing, cat Hell (of course) and on to the seven levels of Hell to hopefully, finally, find those missing souls.

Not recommended as a jumping-on point into the series. In fact, not even recommended if you read Heaven anything longer than six months ago. I read the previous story just over seven months ago and I was immediately struggling – how had Daniel lost his eye (twice), who was this Katsuko character, how had the previous story finished again? I resisted the urge to go back to Heaven and remind myself, and luckily there are some reminders littered throughout the later story. Effectively though, this is the second half of a single story rather than a sequel. Arguably this is a better book than the previous one in the series. Taken as a whole, it's better written, better paced, has better characterisation, even Daniel is significantly less irritating. But, while Heaven got a bonus star for the fascinating idea of multiple heavens and deities all kinda overlapping, we've seen it now and multiple hells seems like an obvious follow-up.