sexta-feira, agosto 30, 2013

Barmy Kafka: "What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast - And Two Other Short Guides to Achieving More at Work and at Home" by Laura Vanderkam

(Original review, 2013)

This is all grimly self-helpish and there is no common denominator, so there is no top tips take-away. I’m coming from the Rough Guide’s “50 things You Must Do Before You Die and all that, this is a bit of a double whammy. Are we supposed to squeeze the last drop of productivity out of every second? I spotted a book with the title What The Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast” and I just had to buy to see for myself what it was all about. (Make it, presumably - or if they're really successful, have the help make it.) There is no end to it. Can't we just get our Weetabix down us in peace?

A lot of the examples are solitaries who live in their own imaginative world, so can defy the dictates of daily routine more. The old drugs help creativity thing does need to be laid to rest. Although, each probably had some mild stimulant - I believe Erdös said something like: 'A mathematician is a machine for turning caffeine into formulae.' But most of humanity's rhythms are dictated by an employer who sticks them on shifts that will trash their body clock. They won't recognize the delightfully eccentric world portrayed here. Some imaginative souls, though, obviously, welcomed the routine. Wallace Stevens was a life-long insurance salesman and was no doubt coming up with some pretty bizarre imagery and original language while poring over policies, as an antidote to the mundanity of it all. Maybe he and Eliot deliberately went against the romantic cliché of the poet for their own sanity.

I don't know if anyone else feels this, but I have always felt that the basic unit of physiological time - the day - is just too short for me. It's just too itty-bitty and doesn't suit my rhythms but I can't see it being changed under edict of the EU. Maybe if it was a normal-two-days long day, then you could get into stuff more, but it seems before you know it, you're getting undressed and into bed again and then staring at that damned toothbrush again next morning in a very Groundhog Day kind of way. Routine is essential to humans but it is dreadfully double-edged.

And you can imagine a Kafka being driven barmy by noise - he probably was glad of the 'horror' of the office. There may have been some relative serenity there. How can anyone study toward and work at any profession in a working-class area, or anywhere which tends to be unholy bedlam. You need this precious commodity of reasonable quiet more than anything. Without it - if the mind cannot be quietened and focused - what of any seriousness can be achieved? More a class handicap than many others.

So for best results, I should get ready to down coffee (which I don’t drink) and a martini, then fix up, and sniff rotten apples, all in the nude. But where do I get this Bergman Ready-Brek?

quinta-feira, agosto 29, 2013

"Leviathan Wakes" by James S. A. Corey

Leviathan Wakes - James S.A. Corey

Edmond Hamilton meets E.E. "Doc" Smith in the 21st century, but in a bad way.

Do you all remember Smith's book about an evil planet of evil naked lesbians who only needed the love of a few good men to become nice ladies? This is almost as bad.

This novel should have been called "Firefly - the book". Holden is Malcolm Reynolds minus the charm and backstory. The crew also has a strong resemblance to the crew of the Firefly:

1 - Amos, a big, dumb weapons guy who talks a lot = Jayne (from Firefly);
2 - Alex, a likable, easy breezy pilot = Wash (from Firefly). 

Another big no-no is related with the threat in the novel. In the first part, all the threats are quite well designed. In the second part of the book, the threats are just pushed away. The all-winning enemy with their army of stealth ships that launch waves of nukes and take out Martian battleships all of a sudden changes, becoming little more than a plot device. Lack of ideas?

And don't get me started on the coincidences that populate the book.

After almost 600 pages it seemed like that it'd been written by someone with absolutely no knowledge of the history of SF.

I was bored out of my mind. I couldn’t get into the characters, the plot seemed to drag, and I also found it to be badly written. I just had to finish it to see how the all thing would end.

Redeeming factor: the title.

domingo, agosto 18, 2013

"Miami Blues" by Charles Willeford

Miami Blues - Charles Willeford, Elmore Leonard

The massive coincidence at the beginning almost ruined the book for me. I demand not to be put out of the story... Fortunately what comes next more than makes up for the faltering beginning.

Miami Blues is a wonderful novel: off-the-wall, fun, off-target with a clean, sublime prose style. Detective Hoke Moseley is quite pathetic (he even has false teeth...), but what I really liked were the villain and the hooker. Junior Frenger is a very convincing psychopath and Susan Waggoner, the abused hooker he teams up with, is a mystery for me. The last chapter demands a re-assessment of Susan and who's been playing who...

When I think of crime fiction that really works for me, it all comes down to the bad guys. They want the same things we want. They want money and success, remain undisturbed by life's hassles, be loved, and to stop the voices in their head. They’re flesh and blood people with wants and needs, just like Moseley, it’s just that in order to get these things, they sometimes do terrible, terrible things.

This book is not really a mystery in the usual literary sense of the word. Sparse details throughout the book, which leaves lots of room for the imagination. What's surprising is how much Willeford does with so few details. That's how I like it. As I said, it’s not a mystery, it’s just a story, about two frantic people who collide heads-on with a cop at the bottom of his inner collapse, told as spare and lyrically as an haiku.

segunda-feira, agosto 12, 2013

"London Boulevard" by Ken Bruen

London Boulevard - Ken Bruen

I don't know what makes Ken Bruen's books so appealing to me, but they certainly do.

With this book he uses Sunset Boulevard by Billy Wilder, one of my favourite movies of all-time, as the perfect canvas for a wonderful book. Everything is almost right.

After meeting the infamous Lilly Palmer in the book, we understand that she's quite diferent from Nora Desmond, the Diva in Wilder's movie. After a few more pages, the book and the movie diverge almost completely. I'd say the movie serves as an inspiration for the book. Only that. The aging actress isn’t the major character that she is in Sunset, though she and her devoted butler do still play a critical part in the story.

Bruen successfully takes the spirit of Sunset Boulevard and turns it into something that’s new and different…and altogether wonderful. It has all the grit of a down-and-dirty pulp thriller. It twists and turns, and you’ll never really know who can be trusted and who can’t.

But is it the story itself that makes London Boulevard such a noteworthy novel? That's a definite no. What made my day while reading it was his prose, which is like a round of machine-gun fire: quick and sharp and to the point. And although his style is simple and clipped, it’s also strikingly lyrical—heavily seasoned with references to literature (almost all of my favourite crime fiction writers are represented: Derek Raymond, Charles Willeford, James Sallis, etc), music, and even philosophy. 

Bruen grabs you by the throat and this story is nothing short of asskicking at its finest. 

Pulp poetry and it’s sheer fun to read. 

sábado, agosto 10, 2013

"High Heat" by Lee Child

High Heat - Lee Child
Reacher portrayed as 16-year-old and behaving like a 30-year-old. 

Child is a terrible writer. His short, uneven sentences à la Dan Brown and his proneness for meticulously describing every simple physical motion, not to mention his readiness to begin almost every sentence in a row with the same word, really (almost) puts me off. I know, I know Lee Child is no Shakespeare, but somehow I can't help myself. Each time one of his books comes out I swear to myself I won't pick it up, but once again I couldn't resist. I've sinned again. After finishing "The Cuckoo's Calling" by J.K. Rowling late last night and after perusing my digital library I came across the latest Lee Child (not "Never Go Back", which comes out at the end of the month).

I just wanted to read the first pages and then stop reading and put it aside, but I kept on reading to see what happened next. When I got to the end of it I was beside myself, because I had needed to keep reading it. Voodoo book...? 

Child is an terrible writer but a shrewd storyteller. After a while you forget how awful his prose is, because you become engrossed in the story and can't wait to see what happens next. Cheater... 

I fear I will sin again when "Never Go Back" comes out...

sexta-feira, agosto 09, 2013

"The Cuckoo's Calling" by Robert Galbraith, J.K. Rowling

The Cuckoo's Calling - Robert Galbraith(disclaimer: I did know that Robert Galbraith was J.K. before reading "The Cuckoo's Calling" :) )

My main motivation was to see whether J.K. could in fact write something different from the Harry Potter books. I think I could say that's it's definitely a yes. Is the book entirely successful, sadly no. Some things kept nagging me while reading it...

J.K. seemed to be aiming for something like Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus. But rather than than the boorish, hard drinking and wry Rebus, Cormoran comes across as a bedraggled cuddly bear with a British public school education. The Literati likes to pigeonhole writers into neat little boxes. Write one fantasy novel and you wear that cape for the rest of your life. Same goes for Crime Fiction and SF and on and on. Some writers happily wear their personal heavy cross, others fight it. J.K. seems to be wanting to fight it, which is a credit to her.

One of the enjoyable aspects of this book was the language. Having read the first two HP books, I was also quite surprised by the use of language, which is quite different from the HP books... It was a rude awakening lol. 

J.K. also describes a view on life that's so thoroughly British that you do know and understand that you are also taking part in a bit of an anthropological expedition while reading this book. So often today’s Crime Fiction can be confused with action adventures as heroes run from one location to another while bodies pile up. That is not how Cormoran works and this's why I like him. This book it's also all about the dialogue. She is a master at this. Strike’s talent is in listening and asking the right questions. 

For me another plus of the book was the strength of the characterization. Whether it’s the self-centered bravado of fashion designer Guy Somé or the maternal deceptiveness of Lady Bristow, Strike’s journey toward the truth is the piece de resistanceof the typical Londoner. 

I guessed who the murderer about halfway through the novel, but that was not really relevant. I still enjoyed the ride to get there. What I didn't enjoy that much was the way Strike used the clues to figure out (almost) everything, which stretched out credibility to its limit (eg and off the top of my head, the puddle on the floor made him think flowers instead of snow even though it was snowing outside. Ahm... Cormoran's ability to wildly speculate was a little mind-blowing to say the least, but all is (almost) forgiven and forgotten when the ride satisfies as this one did.

I'm putting "The Casual Vacancy" on my TBR pile. I got curious...

quinta-feira, agosto 08, 2013

"A Good Way to Die" by Simon Kernick

A Good Day to Die: A Novel - Simon Kernick
Good gracious, this book is the most cliché riddled bag of rubbish ever committed to paper. 

Every character is so uninspired and unoriginal. Lee Child come back! All is forgiven!

A minus mark would be the most appropriate rating.