A Few Audiobook Reviews

Here are short reviews for six audiobooks I’ve listened to recently. An interesting, mixed bag, I think. Thanks to Audible UK for the review copies.

CryerJ-SoThatHappenedSO THAT HAPPENED by Jon Cryer (NAL)

If it can happen in show business, it’s happened to Jon Cryer. Now he’s opening up for the first time and sharing his behind-the-scenes stories in a warmly endearing, sharply observed, and frankly funny look at life in Hollywood.

In 1986, Jon Cryer won over America as Molly Ringwald’s loyal and lovable best friend, Duckie, in the cult classic Pretty in Pink in a role that set the tone for his three-decade-long career in Hollywood. He went on to establish himself as one of the most talented comedic actors in the business, ultimately culminating in his current turn as Alan Harper on the massively popular sitcom Two and a Half Men.

With the instincts of a natural storyteller, Cryer charts his extraordinary journey in show business, illuminating his many triumphs and some missteps along the way. Filled with exclusive behind-the-scenes anecdotes, Cryer offers his own endearing perspective on Hollywood, the business at large, and the art of acting.

Cryer has worked with some of the biggest and most provocative names in the business, and here, for the first time, he details his experiences with Charlie Sheen, John Hughes, Robert Altman, Molly Ringwald, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, and Christopher Reeve, among many others. He shares the intimate details of his friendships and relationships, pays tribute to his mentors, and explores the peculiar combination of heart, talent, and wisdom it takes to survive not just the bad times in a notoriously fickle industry but even the good times.

In this revealing, humorous, and introspective memoir, Cryer offers readers a front-row seat as he reminisces about his life and experiences in showbiz over the past thirty years.

This was a very good memoir and audiobook. I did not realize how eventful Cryer’s career has been. I of course knew him from Two and a Half Men (a series I’ve seen a fair bit of, but also one that I felt was all over the map in terms of quality). Many people will be most interested in Cryer’s comments on Charlie Sheen’s warlock/wizard meltdown, and there’s plenty in the book about that — Cryer gives a chronological account, expressing his mixed feelings about his former co-star, his attempts to help and also eventual disappointment. It’s interesting, even-handed, and well-written. The rest of the book is also great — from his recounting of the making of Pretty in Pink, his small roles in Superman 4 and Hot Shots (his first brush with Sheen) — Cryer is witty, candid. He is self-deprecating without it being affected, he peppers the book with quips and cheeky remarks that never feel mean-spirited. Highly recommended, even if you aren’t that familiar with Cryer’s work: So That Happened has plenty of insight and commentary on the movie and TV business, from someone who has tasted success and disappointment.

So That Happened is published in print by New American Library in the US.

*

DenchJ-AndFurthermoreUKAND FURTHERMORE by Judi Dench (W&N)

From the moment Judi Dench appeared as a teenager in the York Mystery Plays it was clear that acting would be her career. Trained at London’s Central School of Speech and Drama it was her performance in her twenties as Juliet in Franco Zeffirelli’s memorable Old Vic production that turned her into a star. In the theatre since she has played every classic role from Titania to Cleopatra.

She first became a household name via television, thanks initially to a sitcom, A FINE ROMANCE, in which she played alongside the actor Michael Williams, whom she married in 1971. She has since made nine series of another sitcom, AS TIME GOES BY (with Geoffrey Palmer), as well as plays and classic serials such as CRANFORD. In the cinema her films have ranged from LADIES IN LAVENDER (opposite Maggie Smith) through NOTES ON A SCANDAL with Cate Blanchett to SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, in which she played Queen Elizabeth, a role which gained her a Hollywood Oscar. But it is her role as ‘M’ in seven James Bond films that has gained her worldwide recognition.

This book is, however, much more than a career record. Her marriage to Michael Williams, their daughter, and her impish sense of humour contribute vividly to her account of more than half a century as Britain’s best-loved actress.

This was a bit of a disappointment. It’s not that it’s uninteresting, it just wasn’t as interesting as I’d hoped. It’s well-written and performed (by Samantha Bond), but I never really sank into it. It’s a little bland, I suppose. Which I’m sad to say. Dench’s wit still comes through on occasion, but not nearly as much as I would have liked. Perhaps it’s because Dench was not entirely sold on the idea of a memoir in the first place (as she suggests in her foreword). It was nice to learn about Dench’s history in the theatre and so forth, considering she is easily one of Britain’s best actresses. If you’re a fan of Dench’s work, then it’s still worth checking out, but perhaps in printed format, rather than audio? Perhaps also one mainly for theatre lovers and those more knowledgable about the plays in which Dench got her start and excelled at.

And Furthermore is published in print by Weidenfeld & Nicholson in the UK.

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HoweS-MarvelComicsUKPBMARVEL COMICS: THE UNTOLD STORY by Sean Howe (Harper Perennial)

In the early 1960s, a struggling company called Marvel Comics presented a cast of brightly costumed characters distinguished by smart banter and compellingly human flaws: Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, the X-Men. Over the course of half a century, Marvel’s epic universe would become the most elaborate fictional narrative in history and serve as a modern American mythology for millions of readers.

For the first time, Marvel Comics reveals the outsized personalities behind the scenes, including Martin Goodman, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and generations of editors, artists, and writers who struggled with commercial mandates, a fickle audience, and — over matters of credit and control — one another. Marvel Comics is a story of fertile imaginations, lifelong friendships, action-packed fistfights, and third-act betrayals — a narrative of one of the most extraordinary, beloved, and beleaguered pop-cultural entities in America’s history.

Who hasn’t read a Marvel comic? Or seen one of the recent mega-blockbusters based on Marvel IP? This is a great book, and a must-read/-listen for any fan of the books and comics. It’s exhaustive, so there are moments when Howe takes us on long(ish) tangents. There are many names thrown out that non-afficionados/fanboys may not know, and it was sometimes tricky to remember exactly who was who. That’s not a big issue, though, as Howe’s narrative is a fascinating look into the forces that have driven the world’s largest comic publisher from its founding. There have been plenty of scandals, bust-ups, “betrayals”, a sea of ups and downs, and plenty of colourful and interesting people involved. There has also been a massive amount of money… Howe includes the creative origin stories of many of Marvel’s most famous characters, and also a number of smaller, but still fan-beloved characters. (Oh, so very much radiation and so many accidents in science labs…) Stephen Hoye’s narration is very well-suited to the tale, and I was genuinely gripped for most of it. There were times when my attention wandered, as some minutiae were discussed, but I was always drawn back in. Definitely recommended for fans of the books and movies, and also anyone interested in the history of publishing — this offers some interesting insights into a small segment of that industry. It’s also must-read if you are a fan of Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

Marvel Comics: The Untold Story is published in print by Harper Perennial.

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KiedisA-ScarTissueUKSCAR TISSUE by Anthony Kiedis (Sphere)

In SCAR TISSUE Anthony Kiedis, charismatic and highly articulate frontman of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, recounts his remarkable life story, and the history of the band itself. Raised in the Midwest, he moved to LA aged eleven to live with his father Blackie, purveyor of pills, pot, and cocaine to the Hollywood elite. After a brief child-acting career, Kiedis dropped out of U.C.L.A. and plunged headfirst into the demimonde of the L.A. underground music scene. He formed the band with three schoolfriends – and found his life’s purpose. Crisscrossing the country, the Chili Peppers were musical innovators and influenced a whole generation of musicians.

But there’s a price to pay for both success and excess and in SCAR TISSUE, Kiedis writes candidly of the overdose death of his soul mate and band mate, Hillel Slovak, and his own ongoing struggle with an addiction to drugs.

SCAR TISSUE far transcends the typical rock biography, because Anthony Kiedis is anything but a typical rock star. It is instead a compelling story of dedication and debauchery, of intrigue and integrity, of recklessness and redemption.

I’m not sure if I actually know anyone who doesn’t own a Red Hot Chili Peppers album… For me, Californication was when I took note. It’s one of my favourite albums, and still stands up today. During my many years reading myriad rock and music magazines (Kerrang!, Metal HammerRock Sound, Hit Parader and more), I gleaned some of the Chilis members stories. I was therefore very interested in this memoir — I remember when it came out it received much praise. One thing that becomes clear very quickly: Kiedis has put his body through hell. The sheer amount of drugs he seems to have put into his body is titanic. He’s brutally honest about his exploits, his mistakes, but also his luck and love for his bandmates, friends and family. There is, therefore, a lot of great content in Scar Tissue. However, the litany of drug (ab)use does seem to dominate the story, and it became a little dull to hear about another binge, or another near-overdose, etc. It’s laudable that Kiedis wants to be honest and so candid about his mistakes, but after a while the book became a little repetitive. I think I would have preferred it if that side of Kiedis’s story was pared back, and instead focussed on the story of the band and its music and history. Nevertheless, this is still a good book, and a must-read/-listen for any fan of the band. Rider Strong’s narration is very good, and suited the story.

Scar Tissue is published in print by Sphere in the UK.

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PeggS-NerdDoWellUKNERD DO WELL by Simon Pegg (Cornerstone)

Zombies in North London, death cults in the West Country, the engineering deck of the Enterprise: Simon Pegg has been ploughing some bizarre furrows in recent times. Having blasted onto the small screens with his now legendary sitcom Spaced, his rise to nation’s favourite son status has been mercurial, meteoric, megatronnic, but mostly just plain great.

From his childhood (and subsequently adult) obsession with Star Wars, his often passionate friendship with Nick Frost, and his forays into stand-up which began with his regular Monday morning slot in front of his 12-year-old classmates, this is a joyous tale of a homegrown superstar and a local boy made good.

I was actually a relative latecomer to the work of Simon Pegg. I missed Spaced when it aired, and it took me rather long to get around to Shaun of the Dead. After I started watching his work, however, I became hooked: Hot FuzzedPaul and his roles in the new Mission: Impossible and Star Trek movies have all been great. It was with great anticipation, therefore, that I started listening to Nerd Do Well. It’s an abridged version, which was a bit disappointing, but it is nevertheless a tightly-written, exceptionally well-performed and produced memoir. Pegg is on top form, and he speaks candidly and accessibly about his journey to stardom and success — from the early days of his acting at community theatres (where his mother also performed), to his discovery of Star Wars and the road to becoming a Nerd Do Well. This is a funny, interesting book, and if you’re even a little bit of a fan of Pegg’s work, then I highly recommend you check this out. I’ll be buying the book, soon, so I can read the full text.

Nerd Do Well is published in print by Cornerstone in the UK.

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RonsonJ-SoYouveBeenPubliclyShamedUKSO YOU’VE BEEN PUBLICLY SHAMED by Jon Ronson (Picador)

‘It’s about the terror, isn’t it?’

‘The terror of what?’ I said.

‘The terror of being found out.’

For the past three years, Jon Ronson has travelled the world meeting recipients of high-profile public shamings. The shamed are people like us – people who, say, made a joke on social media that came out badly, or made a mistake at work. Once their transgression is revealed, collective outrage circles with the force of a hurricane and the next thing they know they’re being torn apart by an angry mob, jeered at, demonized, sometimes even fired from their job.

A great renaissance of public shaming is sweeping our land. Justice has been democratized. The silent majority are getting a voice. But what are we doing with our voice? We are mercilessly finding people’s faults. We are defining the boundaries of normality by ruining the lives of those outside it. We are using shame as a form of social control.

Simultaneously powerful and hilarious in the way only Jon Ronson can be, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is a deeply honest book about modern life, full of eye-opening truths about the escalating war on human flaws – and the very scary part we all play in it.

A very interesting idea, given the changing nature of internet culture today (“Let’s call out everyone for everythingall the time!“). Ronson is an interesting writer, and one with a knack for finding interesting topics on which to write. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is certainly intriguing, but I think maybe the subject matter doesn’t justify quite as long a book as this one? Ronson’s point is quickly made, and as each example is presented and described, one can’t help but feel that he’s flogging the point a bit. It’s all interesting, and individually the examples and case studies are interesting in their own ways (some certainly more than others). Ultimately, though, I was not gripped throughout, and my interested gradually diminished as I listened. There were moments that brought me back in, of course (otherwise I wouldn’t have finished it), but it was far from the best audiobook I’ve listened to. Which is a pity. Worth checking out if you’re interested in internet culture and society.

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is published in print by Picador in the UK, and Riverhead Books in the US.

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New Books (April-May)

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Featuring: Kate Atkinson, Jenny T. Colgan, Sebastien de Castell, Jeffery Deaver, Nelson DeMille, Katie Disabato, Richard Ford, Jonathan Freedland, S.L. Grey, Charlaine Harris, Aleksandar Hemon, Chris Holm, Jason LePier, Duff McKagan, Todd Moss, K.J. Parker, Joe Perry, John Sandford, Stephanie Saulter, Stefan Spjut, Sabaa Tahir, Dan Wells, Robert Charles Wilson Continue reading

New Books (Jan-Feb 2015)

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Featuring: Dave Bara, J.L. Bourne, Peter V. Brett, Patricia Briggs, Royce Scott Buckingham, Ally Carter, Sara B. Elfgren, Chris Evans, Neil Gaiman, Wayne Gladstone, Erika Johansen, Caitlin Kittredge, Michael Moorcock, Naomi Novik, Mats Strandberg, Mark Stay, E.J. Swift, Erika Swyler, Ian Tregillis, Ben Tripp, Will Wiles, Dick Wolf Continue reading

New Books (November)

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Featuring: Paolo Bacigalupi, M.L. Brennan, Peter Carey, John Cleese, Allen Drury, Michel Faber, Jacob Grey, Joe Hill, N.K. Jemisin, E.C. Myers, Michael Pitre, Patrick Swenson, Matthew Quick, Jo Walton, Cecily Wong, Chris Wraight Continue reading

New Books (September/October)

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Featuring: Mitch Albom, Gillian Anderson, Kelly Armstrong, Lauren Beukes, Adam Brookes, Christopher Buehlman, Blake Butler, W. Bruce Cameron, Michael Carroll, Al Ewing, Tana French, Peter F. Hamilton, Michael Harvey, Lee Henderson, Steffen Jacobsen, Rajan Khanna, James Luceno, Todd Moss, Claire North, Pierre Pevel, John Sandford, Graeme Simsion, Matthew Smith, Peter Watts, Alec Worley Continue reading

New Books (August #1)

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Featuring: David Annandale, Anne Blankman, Christopher Fowler, Felix Gilman, Emmi Itäranta, Philip Kerr, M.A. Lawson, Peter Liney, Caitlin Moran, Haruki Murakami, Lauren Owen, Greg Rucka, Brian Ruckley, Adelle Waldman, Will Wiles, Tad Williams

Annandale-HH30-DamnationOfPythosDavid Annandale, The Damnation of Pythos (Black Library)

In the aftermath of the Dropsite Massacre at Isstvan V, a battered and bloodied force of Iron Hands, Raven Guard and Salamanders regroups on a seemingly insignificant death world. Fending off attacks from all manner of monstrous creatures, the fractious allies find hope in the form of human refugees fleeing from the growing war, and cast adrift upon the tides of the warp. But even as the Space Marines carve out a sanctuary for them in the jungles of Pythos, a darkness gathers that threatens to consume them all…

This is the 30th book in the Horus Heresy series. Kind of cool that it’s lasted this long. Annandale is one of Black Library’s best new(ish) writers, and I’ve enjoyed all of his work. Lately, he has just been getting better and better, too, so I have very high hopes for this novel. I’ll be reading the 29th book in the series – Graham McNeill’s Spirit of Vengeance – first, even though this is set earlier in the chronology. (My series OCD is at play…) Hopefully I’ll get to this beginning of September.

Also on CR: Interview with David Annandale; Guest Post on David’s Favourite Novel

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BlankmanA-PrisonerOfNightAndFogUSAnne Blankman, Prisoner of Night and Fog (Harper Collins)

In 1930s Munich, danger lurks behind dark corners, and secrets are buried deep within the city. But Gretchen Müller, who grew up in the National Socialist Party under the wing of her “uncle” Dolf, has been shielded from that side of society ever since her father traded his life for Dolf’s, and Gretchen is his favorite, his pet.

Uncle Dolf is none other than Adolf Hitler. And Gretchen follows his every command.

Until she meets a fearless and handsome young Jewish reporter named Daniel Cohen. Gretchen should despise Daniel, yet she can’t stop herself from listening to his story: that her father, the adored Nazi martyr, was actually murdered by an unknown comrade. She also can’t help the fierce attraction brewing between them, despite everything she’s been taught to believe about Jews.

As Gretchen investigates the very people she’s always considered friends, she must decide where her loyalties lie. Will she choose the safety of her former life as a Nazi darling, or will she dare to dig up the truth – even if it could get her and Daniel killed?

A harrowing and evocative story about an ordinary girl faced with the extraordinary decision to give up everything she’s ever believed… and to trust her own heart instead.

I spotted this while still in the UK, and have been keeping my eye open for it ever since. I found it in the Toronto Public Library, so will hopefully read it ASAP. Like the premise, and have heard nothing by good things about it. Hitler seems to be quite the popular protagonist or subject, recently – see also Timur Vermes’s Look Who’s Back and Lavie Tidhar’s upcoming A Man Lies Dreaming.

*

Christopher Fowler, Nyctophobia (Solaris)

FowlerC-Nyctophobia

Isolated and beautiful, Hyperion House is a house of eerie symmetry; uniquely designed to ensure that one half remains always in the light and one half always in the dark.

When new owner Callie Shaw begins to uncover the house’s strange history she finds herself inexplicably drawn to the shrouded servant’s quarters at the back of the house, increasingly convinced that someone is living a half-life among the darkness there…

This sounds like it has the potential to be deliciously spooky.

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GilmanF-RevolutionsUKPBFelix Gilman, The Revolutions (Corsair)

In 1893 a storm sweeps through London, while Arthur Shaw – a young astronomer with a side career writing fiction – is at work in British Museum Reading Room. The storm wreaks unprecedented damage throughout London. Its aftermath of the storm Arthur’s prime literary market closes, owing him money, and all his debts come due at once. His fiancé Jo takes a job as a stenographer for some of the fashionable spiritualist and occult societies of fin de siècle London society. Meanwhile, Arthur deciphers an encoded newspaper ad seeking able young men. It seems to be a clerking job doing accounting work, but the mysterious head man Mr. Gacewell offers Arthur a starting position at a salary many times what any clerk could expect. The work is long and peculiar, and the men spend all day performing unnerving calculations that make them hallucinate or even go mad… but the salary is compelling.

Things are beginning to look up when the wages of dabbling in the esoteric suddenly come due: a war breaks out between competing magical societies, and Arthur interrupts Jo in the middle of an elaborate occult exploration. This rash move turns out to be dire, as Jo’s consciousness is stranded at the outer limits of the occultists’ psychic day trip. Which, Arthur is chagrinned…

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a negative review of a Felix Gilman novel. This has been on my radar for some time, so I have very high hopes. I’m sure I won’t be disappointed.

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ItärantaE-MemoryOfWaterEmmi Itäranta, Memory of Water (Voyager)

In the far north of the Scandinavian Union, now occupied by the power state of New Qian, seventeen-year-old Noria Kaitio studies to become a tea master like her father. It is a position that holds great responsibility and a dangerous secret. Tea masters alone know the location of hidden water sources, including the natural spring that once provided water for her whole village. When Noria’s father dies, the secret of the spring reaches the new military commander… and the power of the army is vast indeed. But the precious water reserve is not the only forbidden knowledge Noria possesses, and resistance is a fine line.

Threatened with imprisonment, and with her life at stake, Noria must make an excruciating, dangerous choice between knowledge and freedom.

I’ve seen a lot of positive buzz about this book, and so I’m quite looking forward to trying it. Sounds really interesting.

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praying-hands copyPhilip Kerr, Research (Quercus)

If you want to write a murder mystery, you have to do some research… In a luxury flat in Monaco, John Houston’s supermodel wife lies in bed, a bullet in her skull. Houston is the world’s most successful novelist, the playboy head of a literary empire that produces far more books than he could ever actually write. Now the man who has invented hundreds of best-selling killings is wanted for a real murder and on the run from the police, his life transformed into something out of one of his books. And in London, the ghostwriter who is really behind those books has some questions for him too…

Sounds like a great thriller. I’ve never read anything by Kerr, but he’s another of the established thriller/crime/fiction writers that is often recommended to me.

Review copy from NetGalley.

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LawsonMA-KH1-RosaritoBeachUSM.A. Lawson, Rosarita Beach (Blue Rider Press)

Bold, brash, and beautiful, Kay Hamilton is not your average DEA agent — she’s as infuriating as she is irresistible. Having recently moved to San Diego after a case in Miami brought her more notoriety than medals, Kay once again finds herself embroiled in an international bust.

Tito Olivera, younger brother of drug czar Caesar Olivera, is within her grasp. If she takes down Tito, Kay is positive that Caesar will follow — and when Caesar falls, so does the largest and most vicious drug cartel in Mexico. But when a mysterious stranger shows up on her doorstep, all of Kay’s carefully laid plans are thrown out the window. The Olivera case suddenly becomes far more personal — not to mention dangerous — and Kay must be willing to sacrifice everything to get her man. Rosarito Beach is an explosive, action-packed thriller that will have readers on the edge of their seats until the final moments of the epic conclusion.

This is actually a pen-name for one of my favourite thriller authors, Mike Lawson (not sure why he decided to go with a slight pseudonym for this one). It’s a separate series from his best-selling Joe DeMarco series, and I’m looking forward to trying it out. The second book in the series, Viking Bay, is due out in January 2015.

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LineyP-D2-IntoTheFirePeter Liney, Into the Fire (Jo Fletcher Books)

Having escaped the Island – a wasteland that housed those no longer able to contribute to society – ageing ‘Big Guy’ Clancy thought his fight was over. But they have returned to the mainland to find that it is not the haven they anticipated.

With the punishment satellites that kept them on the Island – and the city under control – gone, hell has been unleashed. A mysterious organisation has begun to decimate the population; those it doesn’t kill outright are herded into the streets and then set free to run – for the rich and powerful to hunt. Clancy is about to discover that his work is far from over. The fires of hell don’t burn much hotter than this.

The sequel to The Detainee (which I shamefully still haven’t read…), this is a series I really want to get caught up with. Hopefully I’ll manage it soon.

Review copy from Edelweiss.

Also on CR: Interview with Peter Liney; Guest Post by Liney; Excerpt of The Detainee

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MoranC-HowToBuildAGirlCaitlin Moran, How to Build a Girl (Harper)

What do you do in your teenage years when you realize what your parents taught you wasn’t enough? You must go out and find books and poetry and pop songs and bad heroes — and build yourself.

It’s 1990. Johanna Morrigan, fourteen, has shamed herself so badly on local TV that she decides that there’s no point in being Johanna anymore and reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde — fast-talking, hard-drinking gothic hero and full-time Lady Sex Adventurer. She will save her poverty-stricken Bohemian family by becoming a writer — like Jo in Little Women, or the Brontës — but without the dying-young bit.

By sixteen, she’s smoking cigarettes, getting drunk, and working for a music paper. She’s writing pornographic letters to rock stars, having all the kinds of sex with all the kinds of men, and eviscerating bands in reviews of 600 words or less.

But what happens when Johanna realizes she’s built Dolly with a fatal flaw? Is a box full of records, a wall full of posters, and a head full of paperbacks enough to build a girl after all?

I’ve read some of Moran’s journalism, but for some reason have never got around to reading any of her books. This novel, though, caught my eye a few months back, and I was very happy to find it on Edelweiss for review. Expect more soon.

Review copy from Edelweiss.

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Murakami-ColorlessTsukuruTazakiUSHaruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage (Doubleday)

Tsukuru Tazaki had four best friends at school. By chance all of their names contained a colour. The two boys were called Akamatsu, meaning ‘red pine’, and Oumi, ‘blue sea’, while the girls’ names were Shirane, ‘white root’, and Kurono, ‘black field’. Tazaki was the only last name with no colour in it.

One day Tsukuru Tazaki’s friends announced that they didn’t want to see him, or talk to him, ever again.

Since that day Tsukuru has been floating through life, unable to form intimate connections with anyone. But then he meets Sara, who tells him that the time has come to find out what happened all those years ago.

I have never read anything by Murakami. I’m not sure why. I guess I just never got around to it, and surrounded by review copies I never felt a need to go out and buy it (although, that hasn’t stopped me in other situations…). With this just arrived, though, I think I’ll have to make this my first read. I’ve been told he’s brilliant, so I have high hopes.

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NichollsD-UsUKDavid Nicholls, Us (Harper)

I was looking forward to us growing old together. Me and you, growing old and dying together.”

Douglas, who in their right mind would look forward to that?”

Douglas Petersen understands his wife’s need to ‘rediscover herself’ now that their son is leaving home.

He just thought they’d be doing their rediscovering together.

So when Connie announces that she will be leaving, too, he resolves to make their last family holiday into the trip of a lifetime: one that will draw the three of them closer, and win the respect of his son. One that will make Connie fall in love with him all over again.

The hotels are booked, the tickets bought, the itinerary planned and printed.

It’s been a long time since I last read a novel by Nicholls – I remember reading Starter for Ten and The Understudy back-to-back when I was younger. Since then, I have been well and truly distracted by SFF and thrillers, so Nicholls’s novels always seemed to pass me by. This sounded fun, though, so I’ll hopefully get back into reading his books, and do some catching up as well.

Review copy from Edelweiss.

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OwenL-TheQuickUKPBLauren Owen, The Quick (Vintage)

You are about to discover the secrets of The Quick –

But first, reader, you must travel to Victorian England, and there, in the wilds of Yorkshire, meet a brother and sister alone in the world, a pair bound by tragedy. You will, in time, enter the rooms of London’s mysterious Aegolius Club – a society of the richest, most powerful men in England. And at some point – we cannot say when – these worlds will collide.

It is then, and only then, that a new world emerges, a world of romance, adventure and the most delicious of horrors – and the secrets of The Quick are revealed.

Another book I’ve seen mentioned on most of the blogs I still read, and almost always positively (or, at least, impressed and intrigued). Sounds interesting, so I’ll hopefully get to it soon.

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RuckaG-JB2-BravoUSGreg Rucka, Bravo (Mulholland Books)

In the wake of a failed attack on America’s premier theme park which put his own daughter at risk, Special Forces operator Jad Bell is sent after the man who arranged it. But it soon becomes clear that capturing him is just the start: his employer, known only as the Architect, has already set something far worse in motion.

At the centre of it all are two women deep under cover. One is an American spy whose intel is the only hope they have, but who has lived a lie for so long she cannot be trusted. And the other is a woman as beautiful as she is deadly, already living in the States, and poised to execute the Architect’s plans at a moment’s notice.

The stakes are even higher, the clock is ticking, and this time the enemies are hiding in plain sight…

I love Rucka’s comics work, but have never read any of his prose fiction. I also have the first book in this series, Alpha, and I intend to read them both pretty close together, and hopefully in the not-too-distant future.

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RuckleyB-TheFreeBrian Ruckley, The Free (Orbit)

A warrior of legend. A warrior to be feared.

The famed Yulan is leader of The Free, the last remaining band of mercenaries in the Hommetic Kingdom. Feared and revered, they were once seen as a threat to the Hommetic Kingdom’s power – until they outlasted it in the course of a bloody rebellion.

With the oppressive monarch overthrown, The Free plan to finally lay down their weapons, hoping for a chance of peace at last – until Yulan is offered one final contract that he is unable to refuse. The target is the very man responsible for the worst atrocity Yulan has ever witnessed, one that has haunted him ever since. And now is his last chance to right that wrong.

But as Yulan and his companions embark on their last journey, a potent mix of vengeance, love and loyalty is building to a storm. It is a storm so violent it is likely to destroy the last of the free companies. And only then will they discover the true price of freedom.

I’m a big fan of Ruckley’s novels. This is the start of a new series (perhaps? It may be a stand-alone), and I’m eager to get around to it.

Review copy from NetGalley.

Also on CR: Interview with Brian Ruckley

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WaldmanA-LoveAffairsOfNathanielPUSAdelle Waldman, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. (Picador)

Writer Nate Piven’s star is rising. After several lean and striving years, he has his pick of both magazine assignments and women: Juliet, the hotshot business reporter; Elisa, his gorgeous ex-girlfriend, now friend; and Hannah, “almost universally regarded as nice and smart, or smart and nice,” who holds her own in conversation with his friends. When one relationship grows more serious, Nate is forced to consider what it is he really wants.

In Nate’s 21st-century literary world, wit and conversation are not at all dead. Is romance? Novelist Adelle Waldman plunges into the psyche of a flawed, sometimes infuriating modern man—one who thinks of himself as beyond superficial judgment, yet constantly struggles with his own status anxiety, who is drawn to women, yet has a habit of letting them down in ways that may just make him an emblem of our times.

I read the short-story prequel to this and thought it was pretty good. It left me wanting more – partly because it felt incomplete, but also because I thought the characterisation was interesting.

*

WilesW-TheWayInnUSWill Wiles, The Way Inn (Harper Perennial)

Neil Double is a “conference surrogate,” hired by his clients to attend industry conferences so that they don’t have to. It’s a life of budget travel, cheap suits, and out-of-town exhibition centers — a kind of paradise for Neil, who has reconstructed his incognito professional life into a toxic and selfish personal philosophy. But his latest job, at a conference of conference organizers, will radically transform him and everything he believes as it unexpectedly draws him into a bizarre and speculative mystery.

In a brand new Way Inn — a global chain of identikit mid-budget motels — in an airport hinterland, he meets a woman he has seen before in strange and unsettling circumstances. She hints at an astonishing truth about this mundane world filled with fake smiles and piped muzak. But before Neil can learn more, she vanishes. Intrigued, he tries to find her — a search that will lead him down the rabbit hole, into an eerily familiar place where he will discover a dark and disturbing secret about the Way Inn. Caught on a metaphysical Mobius strip, Neil discovers that there may be no way out.

I only heard about this novel from Christopher Priest’s positive review of it. (Which was, in turn, only found through a Twitter link.) It sounds interesting, so I requested it on Edelweiss.

Review copy from Edelweiss.

*

WilliamsT-BD3-SleepingLateOnJudgementDayUKTad Williams, Sleeping Late (Hodder)

Bobby Dollar thinks he’s seen it all – after all, he’s been to Hell and back again. Literally.

But he has another think coming. Sleeping Late on Judgement Day will find Bobby back in his adopted hometown of San Judas, California, trying to stay out of trouble… and failing. His love life is still a mess, there are one too many people who have it out for him, and drowning his sorrows in a nice glass of whisky won’t keep the demons at bay forever.

Bobby’s going to have to pull himself together and make a few tough decisions before time runs out. The problem is, time could run out at any moment. In the final Bobby Dollar novel in Tad Williams’s groundbreaking epic fantasy trilogy, fallen angel Bobby Dollar will finally be force to confront the one problem he can’t talk his way out of: his own.

This is the final volume in Williams’s Bobby Dollar supernatural/urban fantasy series, following The Dirty Streets of Heaven and Happy Hour in Hell. I haven’t read either of the first two volumes, much to my confusion. This sounds right up my alley. Maybe because I’ve been devouring Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series, which is in the same sub-genre. Maybe after I finish the latest Slim novel, I’ll get started on Bobby Dollar’s (mis)adventures.

*

Mini-Review: “Back Story” by David Mitchell (Audible / Harper)

MitchellD-BackStoryA marvellous memoir by one of Britain’s best new(ish) comedians

David Mitchell, who you may know for his inappropriate anger on every TV panel show except Never Mind the Buzzcocks, his look of permanent discomfort on C4 sex comedy Peep Show, his online commenter-baiting in The Observer or just for wearing a stick-on moustache in That Mitchell and Webb Look, has written a book about his life.

As well as giving a specific account of every single time he’s scored some smack, this disgusting memoir also details: the singular, pitbull-infested charm of the FRP (‘Flat Roofed Pub’); the curious French habit of injecting everyone in the arse rather than the arm; why, by the time he got to Cambridge, he really, really needed a drink; the pain of being denied a childhood birthday party at McDonalds; the satisfaction of writing jokes about suicide; how doing quite a lot of walking around London helps with his sciatica; trying to pretend he isn’t a total **** at Robert Webb’s wedding; that he has fallen in love at LOT, but rarely done anything about it; why it would be worse to bump into Michael Palin than Hitler on holiday; that he’s not David Mitchell the novelist. Despite what David Miliband might think…

The synopsis does a very good job of suggesting the tone and content of the memoir. But what it doesn’t fully convey is just how good it is. Delivered in Mitchell’s distinctive voice, with just the right amount of sarcasm and cynicism, this could very well be the best memoir I’ve listened to from Audible, or at least an equal to Stephen Fry’s The Fry Chronicles. This memoir had me laughing out loud plenty of times (something only Tina Fey and Jane Lynch have done so far).

I was surprised to learn just how much great television Mitchell has been involved in over his relatively few years of fame and celebrity. That being said, it was the chapters covering his early years that were hilarious – when talking about his successes, he came across as almost embarrassed (which was rather endearing). Tales from his childhood and years at Cambridge were great, and quite relatable. Recounting his post-university years of near-poverty, and his eventual success also gave me a modicum of confidence that I’ll be able to make something of myself, too (though, not in the way Mitchell has, I’m sure).

While the memoir is undoubtedly funny, as one can expect, it is also quite moving. When talking about his friends and colleagues, he is always gracious and warm. His respect and brotherly love for Robert Webb is obvious, and he is particularly heartfelt when talking about his writing/comedy partner’s wedding. The second-to-last chapter of the book, however, was the greatest surprise: in it, he talks about Victoria Coren, who he recently married. It is a very sweet and endearing story of a long courtship, with its ups-and-downs, but also shows Mitchell has a hitherto unseen romantic streak. Very moving.

Overall, and I know this review is relatively short, I loved listening to this. It’s funny, curmudgeonly, honest, and entertaining from beginning to end. There were no drops in momentum or interest. Excellently and clearly performed, great production, and a great story.

Very highly recommended. If you have any interest in comedian/actor memoirs, or comedy, then you must listen to and/or read Back Story.

I liked it so much, I’ve also bought the eBook, so I can read the best bits again, later – I’d like to share some of the best nuggets of wisdom, but I didn’t write any of them down while listening.

***

Back Story is out now – available as an audiobook from Audible, and in print and eBook from Harper.