Tuesday, 27 August 2013

REVIEW: The Pirates! In an Adventure with Moby Dick, by Gideon Defoe (4*)

(Bloomsbury, 2012)

"'It's not going too well, is it, Pirate Captain?' said the scarf-wearing pirate, staring at the conspicuously whaleless sea.  'I'm worried that perhaps this whaling business is a little more difficult than we thought.  Possibly that's why Ahab said he'd been chasing the whale for years.'"

This review really boils down to a very simple message.  IF YOU HAVEN'T READ ONE OF THESE BOOKS YET JUST GET ON WITH IT ALREADY.  Because they're funny and cheerful and warm and just a little bit naughty, and if you don't try one you'll never know if the humour clicks with yours or not.  If nothing else, you'll learn something from the helpful trivia footnotes (for example, this time I learned the origins of the phrase "freezing the balls off a brass monkey"...).  Soooo, go hit the library or something.

In this second installment of the series, the pirates buy a beautiful new boat from Cutlass Liz (who is AWESOME by the way) and spend the rest of the book trying to work out how to pay her off before their time runs out and she kills them horribly.  All your favourite elements are in there - the Pirate Captain's beard and pleasant, open face, the long-suffering pirate with a scarf, the Pirate Captain's charming nemesis Black Bellamy and some ship's biscuits (bourbons preferable).  Throw in a chance encounter with grizzly old Ahab, a prize ham, a randy whale, a casino, a lesbian albatross, a sexy figurehead and a compelling yet moving one-man show and you've got... well, just another Pirates! adventure, really.  The perfect way to while away an idle afternoon and put a mischievous grin on your face!  Oh, and don't worry if you haven't read Moby Dick - I haven't either, but so long as you know the absolute basics (y'know, whale, sea captain, Pequod, long rambling discourses about whaling) you'll be just fine.  :)

BONUS POINTS - for this: "I wanted to tell you one thing - Pirate Captain, you were always my favourite pupil.  Certainly you were much better than the others in your class, whom I regarded merely as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal."  ONE OF MY FAVOURITE MOVIES OF ALL TIME. 

EXTRA BONUS POINTS - for the little extras Defoe always includes at the back of the book.  This time there's some handy information about whale conservation, Nantucket and debt ("Like the Pirate Captain, more people than ever are getting into serious debt, with the accompanying risks of depression, worry and not being able to buy things that you want").  He rounds off the whole thing with an exhaustive list of non-existent (but they totally should!) Pirates! titles, including The Pirates! In an Adventure with Risk Management, The Pirates and the Edge of Reason, The Pirates! Learn German in Five Easy Lessons, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Shaft and perhaps my particular favourite, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Jazzy Jeff.  Hopefully that one would feature the Pirate Captain being forcibly ejected from a Bel Air mansion.  Horizontally. 

Notable Quotables:

  • "In the boat's dining room the rest of the pirates were already tucking into their lunch.  On board a pirate boat it wasn't considered rude to start before everybody was present, and you could even put your elbows on the table.  Those were just two of the perks that attracted people to the piratical life."
  • "Because the pirate in green didn't have the Pirate Captain's firm grasp of economics, he wasn't sure he understood the exact way in which false economy worked, but he vaguely remembered that it tended to crop up a lot when the Pirate Captain was shopping for meat and fancied treating himself to something from the butcher's Finest range."
  • "Out from the churning swell came the tip of something white, and it kept on coming until there, rising up on its tail, was the biggest whale any of the pirates had ever seen.  If the pirates had been alive a hundred and fifty years later and had happened to be drawing the diagrams in biology textbooks, they would have said the whale was as tall as three double-decker buses stacked on top of each other, or about a half of one St. Paul's Cathedral.  But they weren't, so they just thought that the whale was really very big indeed."

Source:  Hanna sent me this one for my birthday.  Very fitting, since she's the one who got me hooked in the first place!  :)

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

REVIEW: The Rats, by James Herbert (4*)

(New English Library, 1979)

"Harris would never forget the horror he felt under the gaze of the three pairs of sharp, wicked-looking eyes.  It wasn't just their size, or natural repulsion of vermin that numbed him.  It was because they didn't run, or try to hide.  There was no sign of panic.  Just three still bodies, malevolently watching the two men, as though deciding whether to swim across to them or go on their way."

There's something about iconic 70s horror paperbacks that I just can't resist.  I had a really good experience with Bernard Taylor's The Godsend when I read it last autumn, and I've heard people laughing nostalgically over both James Herbert's The Rats and Shaun Hutson's Slugs (which I assume is in a similar vein) when we've had them in the shop before.  So when I saw this, complete with dreadful 70s cover, stacked on our office shelves, I leapt on it and started reading it on the spot.  HOW COULD I NOT?!  LOOK AT THAT FREAKY FACE!  Like a nice rat from the front of a pet care book crossed with a rabid wolf.  I LOVE IT.  The cover, not the rat, obviously.  I DIGRESS.

So, the book.  It was so cheesy, it was great.  I mean, don't get me wrong, I quite like pet rats.  James (our resident Owl Man) even has a Giant Rat called Norman who's pretty cute.  We have brown country rats in our walls sometimes.  But Herbert's rats are enormous mutant London black rats, which is totally different.  There is no subtle psychological terror here beyond, y'know, our natural aversion to disease-ridden vermin.  There's no sneaking up on people, no dastardly plotting and growing suspense.  It's pretty much just a series of "ZOMG a giant rat!"  END OF THE LINE FOR YOU, MY FRIEND.  "I shall just pop out and leave this door open for a moment."  AND NOW YOUR CHILD SLASH LOVEABLE FAMILY PET SHALL DIE.  "I'll wander down into this deserted underground station to wait for the last train home."  THERE'S A DIFFERENT LAST TRAIN ON THE CARDS FOR YOU, DUDE.  You kinda want to scream, "Don't you know you're in a book about killer rats?  WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!"  Like the book version of a bad horror film.  Someone aaaaalways goes off by themselves, someone aaaaaalways tries to play the hero.  CUE RAPID AND BLOODY DEATH.  Marvellous stuff.

Basic summary?  There are giant rats in London.  They start attacking people and animals, reducing them to a few tatters of clothing and a scattering of bones in minutes and developing quite a taste for human flesh.  The attacks get larger and more public until they start to be described as 'massacres' and a state of emergency is declared.  The city begins to shut down, while those mutant rats just keep on multiplyin'.  By the end, action is taken to find out where the monsters came from and save London from this atrocity.  BUT ARE THEY ALL DEAD?  Course they're not.  Given the fact that there are two sequels, OBVIOUSLY there's going to be a kind of "And then his hand twitched..." moment at the end.  Y'know, like in The Terminator.

Yes, it's cheesy, yes, it's predictable, but I loved it.  I raced through it in about a day and a half - a miracle, given my sloth-like reading speed this year - and happened to stumble across the second book on the office shelves just before I finished the first.  I don't normally read series back to back, preferring to break up my reading with other stuff, but I couldn't resist and I'm already well over halfway through Lair.  Next up:  A good shop-shelf hunt for the final book, Domain.  I can't WAIT to find out where this series is going to end up!

Source:  I spotted this book in the shop and couldn't resist the tacky cover!

Saturday, 3 August 2013

My best blogging buddies

Okay, so this post has taken me AGES to write, not because it in itself is difficult, but because this subject is rife with 'OH MY GOD WHAT IF I FORGET SOMEONE OR OFFEND SOMEONE?!' angst.  Something akin to writing an Oscar speech but forgetting to thank your mum...  So, I'll add a disclaimer right here and right now.  I read plenty of people's blogs.  I comment, and I sometimes subscribe via email so I get these things right to my inbox to read, and I love you all.  BUT.  I can't mention everyone here, so I'm not even going to try.

These, then, are the blogging friends I read devotedly.  I've met three of them, book shopped with two of them, and it's only a matter of time before the final two get dragged up north to visit at last.  These five lovely ladies all share my eclectic taste in books, so I take away a load of book recommendations from their blogs and feel quite safe taking their advice on books I'm a bit unsure about.  Not only that, but we also Tweet, we email, we chatter, we send each other stuff, we text...  All of these things a blogging BFF doth make!

Hanna (Booking in Heels)
Check out her blog here.

Aaaaah, Miss Hanna.  I think she was actually a blog stalker of mine before she started her own, rather more stylish blog, and we officially 'met' when I sent her presents for the bookish RAK project.  We ACTUALLY met when she visited the shop last year, and even though her hair wasn't bright pink any more I knew it was her because I could hear her heels coming from all the way down the road.  We've also been book shopping here, and met up in Leeds for an EPIC book binge with Charlotte.  Basically, if Hanna likes or dislikes a book, I listen.  If I have a book on my wishlist, her review can determine whether or not it stays there.  If I have a book on Mount TBR, I refuse to read her review properly until I'm done, because if she hates it I'll be biased before I even open the front page.

Defining characteristics:  Rapunzel hair; a collection of shoes that I couldn't even stand up in, let alone walk around town for three hours; a no-holds-barred reviewing style; a firm belief that reading can... well, not cure many ills, but certainly make them more bearable
'Hanna books' include:  The Pirates! series by Gideon Defoe; We Bought a Zoo by Benjamin Mee; The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender; 11.22.63 by Stephen King
In short:  This woman is a straight-talking bookish goddess in 6" stilettos.

Charlotte (Lit Addicted Brit)
Check out her blog here.

Gawd, where did we meet?  Were we friends on LT first?  I feel like we were!  Charlotte, heeeeelp!  I think we may ALSO have bonded via RAK - I gravitated towards UK bloggers when I was choosing gift recipients, and made some great friends along the way.  Anyway, she wrote a wonderful post called On Why You Should Always Read What You Want which really hit home for me, and that was when I became a bona fide blog stalker.  I pay devoted attention to her thoughts on all kinds of books (so I know whether to read them!) and tend to buy certain lit-fic books based almost solely on her reviews.  When we finally met up in Leeds last month we bonded in about two minutes flat and had THE BEST TIME book shopping with Hanna for the next... six hours?  Wow. 

Defining characteristics:  So relaxed and easy to chat to; very tolerant of my fancy phone/Starbucks ordering-related neuroses; an excellent source of recommendations for literary fiction; a champion of reading what you want, in your own time, and loving every page
'Charlotte books' include:  The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller; The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood; Swimming Home by Deborah Levy; The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence
In short:  A devious bookish enabler with a wardrobe that I WANT NOW.

Laura (Devouring Texts)
Check out her blog here.

Laura is my blog wife.  I can't even remember how this happened, but she is.  We both looked amazing, by the way...  We have very similar taste in books, except she actually reads the more highbrow ones whereas I just look at them on my bookcase.  We also have a kind of spooky thing where we can practically read each other's minds - like for Bex's birthday where she sent a Steinbeck book that I almost sent too, and we both bought her books by Nora Ephron WITHOUT DUPLICATING.  We both love Nora, obviously.  I always read Laura's reviews, because like Caitlin Moran's TV columns, I know they'll still be insightful and make me smile even if I've never heard of the book she's talking about!  We bonded over a conversation about the hotness of cartoon characters, and although we've never met, we've never looked back...  :)

Defining characteristics:  Hilarious writing style; strong opinions on big issues; love of red velvet and rainbow-coloured cake pins on Pinterest; devoted use of Alexander Skarsgard/Ryan Gosling/Joseph Gordon-Levitt GIFs in all possible blog posting scenarios
'Laura books' include:  The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins; How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran; Arcadia by Lauren Groff; anything by Stephen King
In short:  In sickness and in health, etc etc...

Bex (An Armchair By The Sea)
Check out her blog here.

Was this another RAK meeting?  I know Bex sent me a book - did I send you one, chuck?  I CANNOT REMEMBER THESE THINGS!  *consults blog*  Ahhh yes, I sent her some Fitzgeraldy goodness for my first ever RAK!  But we already knew each other, apparently.  My, how time flies (and memory dies)...  So, Bex is just generally awesome really.  Her blog is more like a window into her life, especially now she has baby Benji and does lots of lovely crafty things alongside all that reading!  I still haven't met her (*hic*) but I'm trying to make up for this by obsessively stalking her library book posts, awwwwing over her cute handmade nursery things and Tweeting about our shared love for Eddie Izzard.  :)

Defining characteristics:  Comes with bonus beautiful baby boy; the only one of us to truly stick to her book buying ban; poster of delicious library-enabled book pile photos; inspiring interest in self-sufficiency
'Bex books' include:  Wild by Cheryl Strayed; Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver; The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen, anything by F. Scott Fitzgerald
In short:  A serene Earth Mother, only with better bookshelves.

Katie (Katie's Book Blog)
Check out her blog here.

A fellow bookseller!  An Isle of Wight book queen, Katie is more than familiar with the horrors of the summer season in a tourist spot, so we do much sympathetic Tweet-consolation at this time of year.  Although she reads more graphic novels and sci-fi/fantasy than I do our tastes definitely broadly overlap, especially in literary fiction and non-fiction - as evidenced by the fact that when she came a-visiting recently with her awesome friend Judi, half the books she bought from the shop were previously mine!  It was so nice to share war stories in person, and they brought CAKE, and came back the next DAY, and we chatted for AGES, and it was just lovely really.  She also sent me a book the other week, and it smells like the beach and it's perfect.  I like stalking Katie's 'Currently' box, and thoroughly approve of her penchant for toffee ice cream.  And trees.  And cats, obviously.

Defining characteristics:  Bookseller with less of a Bernard complex than me (at least in public - congratulations for that, by the way!); knits ALL THE THINGS; Gaiman fangirl; slipped over in the Chatsworth Cascade ensuring I'll never walk in it ever...  :P
'Katie books' include: Is It Just Me? by Miranda Hart; The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst; The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen; anything by Neil Gaiman
In short:  Understands my pain AND provides cake therapy.  What's not to love?
This has been such a hard post to write - hope you five like it and that I did you all justice!