Review: Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh, Popular Penguins Paperback, 1930, 189p.

2.5 stars.

Evelyn Waugh’s second novel is a difficult book for me to review. I have little exposure to comedy texts, of either modern or classic authors, and so sometimes I was frustrated by Vile Bodies. I found some of the scenes to be overly short, and was interested in knowing more about the characters and annoyed when we were rushed onto the next scene. Some other scenes (most notably the day at the car races) dragged on for what seemed like eons. I understood that Waugh was setting up the plot and punchline, but found it unnecessary and boring – and the payoff did not warrant the tiresome build up. This would all come under issues of pacing, and I wonder if this was an identified critique of the book back in the 1930’s when it was first published – or if maybe I just need to read more comedy texts.

Waugh’s style is deceptively easy to read. He shies away from complicated sentences and words, but I found reading for longer than half an hour fatiguing, at least until the pace and tone changed about two-thirds through the book – I then powered through the last third in an evening. I had toiled through the first two-thirds over two weeks. I think the fatigue comes from the overuse of character names. Many scenes start with Waugh describing everyone in a room, and that’s annoying – especially because much of the book takes place with groups of people.

The characters in Vile Bodies were hard to keep track of. I found many of them to be similar and difficult to keep track of. My favourite character was Miss Runcible, who was the butt of quite a few jokes but was the most individual if you asked me. Adam Symes is the main protagonist, and much of the plot is centred on Adam’s attempts to marry Nina. The best thing about Adam is that he’s an idiot. I felt no sympathy for him at all, although he did make me laugh quite a few times. I loved when he started writing for the paper, and every visit he had with Nina’s father made me chuckle.

I read the Popular Penguin edition of Vile Bodies, which I find an enjoyable format. I like that the text includes notes on what was changed by previous editors in this text compared to the manuscript. The introduction (which I always read after the story itself) was informative and interesting – it actually illuminated quite a few of the issues/themes that I had felt but not quite understood.

I think that this is the last of Waugh’s works that I will be rushing to read – although if I find myself in the mood to read a comedic classic, I know where to turn.

Classics Club Spin #14

It’s time for yet another Classics Club Spin. We have until October 3rd to compile our lists and have to read the chosen book by December 1st. I’ve participated in a bunch of these, and so far have only failed out of one. So here’s hoping that this gives me a boot to update a little more often.

  1. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  2. Ulysses by James Joyce
  3. Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  4. Casino Royale by Ian Flemming
  5. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
  6. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
  7. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  8. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  9. What Maisie Knew by Henry James
  10. Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
  11. Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh
  12. Flesh in Armour by Leonard Mann
  13. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
  14. Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
  15. Out of Africa by Karen Blixen
  16. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  17. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  18. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
  19. Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
  20. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

NY Times By the Book Tag

I was tagged in the NY Times by the Book tag by Katie over at Bibliophile, check out her blog, it’s a favourite of mine.

1. What book is on your nightstand now?
I never put a book on my nightstand, but my current read is Blackout by Chris Ryan, so if there was to be a book on there, it would probably be that.
2. What was the last truly great book that you read?
House of Mirth by Edith Wharton was the last truly good book that I finished. I completely fell in love with Lily Bart, and was blown away with the style that Wharton just bled on the page.
3. If you could meet any writer – dead or alive – who would it be? And what would you want to know?
I’d love to have a dinner party with Jack London. There’s something about his stories and life that really intrigues me. There’s nothing I would want to know, per se, more I would just wanna hang. And ADVENTURE!
4. What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves? 
A fairly substantial selection of educational theory? I never talk about the books I read for my education degree or my work as a teacher, but about a quarter of my shelves are full of this sort of material. I don’t talk about it on Ranty Runt of a Reader because it’s not what I read for enjoyment.
5. How do you organize your personal library?
So… my personal library is kinda chaotic. I have four different sections – Read, classics, education and everything else. I don’t organise by alphabet, but I do usually keep series together. I don’t keep books for their aesthetic, so I don’t really mind what my shelves look like or what editions I have. On my read shelf, I only keep books that I have yet to review, are favourites or possible contenders for a reread. It’s about 30 books. I only buy books I will likely love, and donate everything I don’t.
6. What book have you always meant to read and haven’t got round to yet?
Anything you feel embarrassed never to have read?
I love the good war book, and consider myself an enthusiast of the war genre, that I haven’t read Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose and The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien is a little weird.
7. Disappointing, over-rated, just not good: what book did you feel you were supposed to like but didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing? 
Slaughterhouse Five by Vonnegut. I hated it. I can’t remember if I have it one or two stars, but I really wanted to put it down and pretend like I hadn’t read it. The style was so antagonistic to the style I enjoy and the content was so backwards that I just didn’t like it.
8. What kinds of stories are you drawn to? Any you stay clear of?
I’m drawn to plot driven thrillers and military fiction, stories of survival, anything in which mortars are falling on the protagonists. I also enjoy classics that have a twist or really evoke a time and place. I avoid most modern romance  (and a lot of romance classics) contemporary and erotica, they don’t really give me much pleasure. I also avoid YA, as I enjoy more complicated writing styles or ‘adult’ topics. Also, if a book has a love triangle I will generally hit the abort button.
9. If you could require the president Prime Minister to read one book, what would it be? 
The Arrival by Shaun Tan. I think our PM needs to pull his head out of his ass when it comes to the experience of newly migrated Australians.
10. What do you plan to read next?
The Fighting Season by Bram Connelly. A military thriller written by an Australian? Sign me up.
I’m not going to tag anyone to complete this, but if you want to give these questions a whirl, then please link me so that I can read your answers!🙂

Review: Nothing Short of Dying by Erik Storey

nothing short of dying

Nothing Short of Dying by Erik Storey, (Clyde Barr, #1), eARC from Netgalley, Scribner, August 2016, 320p.

5 out of 5 stars.

Nothing Short of Dying is the debut offering from Erik Storey, and it’s one of the best thriller novels I’ve had the pleasure of reading. The advance praise and blurb of Nothing Short of Dying make comparisons to Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series in the way all lone wolf thrillers currently do – but Clyde Barr, the protagonist of Nothing Short of Dying, has launched a full scale assault on the tradition of the Reacher style novel and now the old man is bleeding out in the wilderness. Nothing Short of Dying novel is tense and full of action, while still evoking a beautiful wild setting.

The comparisons to Reacher aren’t that accurate, in my opinion. Personally, I think the atmosphere of Nothing Short of Dying is similar to that of a C.J. Box or Ace Atkins work – full of flawed characters who are just trying to get by in this world. Storey has Barr operating in a morally grey area that Box wouldn’t usually allow – letting Barr be a flawed and dangerous man walking a tight-line. Plus, his history isn’t as clean and palatable as the standard protagonist we usually see in thriller novels. He has no jurisdiction besides his sense of what is wrong and right, and that makes his character intriguing.

Storey is fearless with his characters – both in characterisation and how he handles them in the plot. In an attempt to avoid spoilers, I will say that something shocking happened half way through the novel, and at first I was shocked and angry, but when I put those feelings aside I saw the author had just plunged another knife into Clyde Barr, and upped the stakes even higher.

The plot races long quickly, if at times predictably, with multiple high tension battles and the odds always seem to be stacked against the good guys. The plot doesn’t focus so much on what the crimes are, or how the criminals came to be where they are now, just that there are bad guys to be brought to heel, and Barr is the man to provide the lesson and a can of whoop-ass.

With a setting that I won’t soon forget, Storey writes landscapes and places in an unrivaled fashion, transporting the reader to the mountains, rivers and forests – I was crawling with Barr through snow and mud, losing my mind in rivers with him, hoping that we were both going to make it to the other side.

Storey has a very sparse writing style – there’s no excess wordage in Nothing Short of Dying – he’s a gifted enough writer that when he does devote a paragraph or two to description, he does so with great effect and the imagery of place is extra evocative.

Without doubt, I will be checking out the next book in the Clyde Barr series, and as the character has such fabulous backstory and character traits, I’m excited to see where Erik Storey will be taking Barr next.



Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I Want To Reread

In honour of the low-key Re-Readathon that is going on this week – check out Bex’s blog and check it out if you’re interested in participating, I decided to list ten books that I want to re-read. Funny fact about me: I rarely re-read. As in, hardly ever. I’ve read the first four or five books of my favourite book series, the Dan ‘Spider’ Shepherd series twice, but besides that I only re-read something if I have to for university. Who knows, maybe this list will give me a gentle kick up the backside. If I was to re-read some literature, these would be my likely books.

And no… I’m not participating in the rereadathon. See above.

Matterhorn – Karl Marlantes: Possibly the best war novel ever written, this is a masterpiece of the English language. It was released to some quiet praise, but wasn’t widely marketed. It is a novel of contrasts – the language used ranges from eloquent and flowing description to stark swearing and biting dialogue. Marlantes uses language to really evoke the battlefield, and considering how much I recommend this novel, I probably should give it a reread.

All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque: All Quiet was the first adult war novel that I read, and I fell in love with it immediately. It launched quite a bit of widespread war and action reading in the years following, but this was the book that started it. I remember having to look up the word ‘latrine’ and ‘mortar’. Oh, the innocence. I wonder how All Quiet would hold up now that I have read so many more war books.

Perfume – Patrick Suskind: Perfume was one of those books that I went into not knowing what to expect. I picked up the Penguin Books ‘popular penguin’ edition before a six hour bus journey, mainly because a TV show had referenced it the day before. I then sat there alternatively terrified and beholden. It’s the only book to scare me so much it actually gave me chills, and it is so beautifully written that I rec it to anyone asking for a creepy recommendation.

Kill Zone – Jack Coughlin: I love the Sniper series by Jack Coughlin, but I think that each book released in the series is weaker than the last. The first book made the main character frighteningly good at sniping, but strangely human. I wonder if the first book is actually as good as I remember, or was it just one of the first books I read about a sniper?

Fair Game – Stephen Leather: Above I said that I had re-read some of the Spider Shepherd series, and Fair Game is one of the later books in the series that I haven’t re-read. But if I remember correctly, it was one of my (and all my friends on goodreads) favourites.) It has Spider Shepherd doing his thing on a ship. I’m such a sucker for naval themes.

The Book Thief – Markus Zusak: This is one of those books that deserved all the hype that it got. I loved the narrator and although there were some aspects of the war narrative that bugged me, I loved the story that Zusak told. This is a great gateway drug for hesitant readers too, I’ve recommended it to a few of my older students and they find it challenging but rewarding. I’d love to do a unit plan around this, but I’m unsure if any of the schools would be willing to actually let me teach it.

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee: I read To Kill a Mockingbird, or how my dad and I always referred to it, To Mock a Killing-bird, for school and I remember enjoying it at the time, but not actually getting some of the story/language/setting. It was probably introduced too early into my reading career and I although I enjoyed it immensely, I have a feeling I would love it even more if I read it again.

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union – Michael Chabon: This was a read for university that I really enjoyed. My lecturer for that topic had awesome taste in literature, and he put this on the syllabus. He said he wanted to teach The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, but that was too long. I actually loved this book and have no interest in reading anything else from Chabon’s back-catalog. I love the noir crime story and the alternative history was a big tick for me at the time.

My Brilliant Career – Miles Franklin: Ah… yet another uni read, but this one was a book I was dreading that became a favourite. Miles Franklin wrote this before she was 18 and it is a feminist masterpiece. I would take this over any Austen or Bronte that I have thus far read. I will definitely reread this sometime in the future. The way she ends it… it is amazing. The movie is not a good substitute, that rubbish is rubbish.

The Tunnel Rats – Stephen Leather: A second Stephen Leather for the list, he has been my favourite author for a long time. The Tunnel Rats was my favourite of the pre-Spider Shepherd books, and the book that meant I begged my mum to buy/let me borrow each Stephen Leather book that was released. I reread this one when I was in high school quite a few times because it was the only one of his books that the local library actually had two copies of, so I could normally get one. I want to reread this and bask in the remembrance of being a violent, misunderstood teenager who reads really adult books.

Ranty Round Up – July

July was a strange month for me – I read quite a bit, but wasn’t as active with my blogging as I was in June, I found my month to be quite hectic, especially the last week or so. I’m only actually getting to do my wrap up a third through August, which should say something!

the house of mirthI read five books in July, I was hoping to get more read during July, while I am still on university holidays. Now I am back studying, I have less time to devote to leisure reading. The standout read for July was The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton. My second of Wharton’s works, and I loved this more than Ethan Frome. My classics TBR is now bursting – I’ve just added The Age of Innocence to the list.

My participation in the readathons in July was luckluster, I barely participated at all. Just read a couple of hours and didn’t do anything out of the ordinary.

I’m still trucking along with Middlemarch, I’m about 40% through and have just stalled, but I am planning on tackling that with some gumption once I’ve finished my current pulpy read. The readalong (#eliotalong) officially ends today, but I am going to put some effort into finishing it in the next week so at least I can offer a detailed review.

August Events

20 books of summerI will be continuing on with #20booksofsummer (in winter), and I’m allowing myself to cross a couple of the bigger, chunky classics off the list and put some mood reading on the list – and I know that I will be able to finish more books if they are pulpier. So bring on the war thrillers and crime novels – I’m finishing this challenge even if it takes me out in a storm of pages. As of the 8th of August, I have read 11 of the books from my list in full, and Middlemarch is just under half way cooked – so it will be a push but I’ll put some effort in.

bout of books augus 16The other event that will be kicking off in August is Bout of Books, which is my favourite of the readathon events – but August is the ‘thon that I generally don’t take part in or low key participate. It runs from 22 – 28 August, and this year my Dad’s 60th falls just before that, and my own birthday too. My sister is also due to have her baby late August – early September and I don’t want to be focusing on something like Bout of Books when I should focus on helping and being with family. If I do participate, it will probably be a limited amount of time. Or even limiting myself to how much reading I complete.

Books Read in July – 5

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman – Laurence Sterne – 4 stars
The Innocents – Ace Atkins – 4 stars
Fire Point – Sean Black – 4 stars
The Edge of Alone – Sean Black – 2 stars
The House of Mirth – Edith Wharton – 5 stars

Book Reviews in July – 3 full reviews, 3 tiny ones.

The Innocents – Ace Atkins
The Edge of Alone – Sean Black
House of Mirth – Edith Wharton
Review Spree: Some Unholy War – Terence Strong, Birthdays for the Dead – Stuart Macbride, One Hit – Jack Coughlin

Challenge Progress

Read My Books Challenge
Tristram Shandy

5 in 2016

Classic a Month/Classics Club Challenge

Tristram Shandy
The House of Mirth

Series a Month
Did not participate in the Series a Month Challenge in July

August TBR

Well, I’ve already read three books in August, so I’m not going to actually list which books I’m planning on reading but have already read. I’m going to be focusing on finishing my #20booksofsummer and actually mood read. There’s a couple of new release military fiction releases that I’m eyeing off… so I might give myself leave to read them this month. I’m also going to aim for at three books off my classics club list – I’ve already read Brave New World, hopefully finish Middlemarch and then one other (shorter/easier reading) classic.

Review: Deathlist by Chris Ryan


Deathlist by Chris Ryan, (Strike Back, #2), Trade Paperback, January 2016, 320p.

One out of 5 stars

Welcome to a devastatingly honest review of one of the latest books from one of my favourite authors. I have to give a language warning for this review. I’m full of filthy swears.

I loved Strike Back, a five star read a couple of years ago – so when I saw that Chris Ryan was writing a sequel after all these years, let me just say that my excitement levels soared. I love the Strike Back TV mini-series (the UK season, not the continuation on US seasons), and have been waiting for a return of John Porter with baited breath.

How I was disappointed. Devastated. Inconsolable. As I started reading, I was on the bandwagon of wanting to see things get interesting – it was a strange but dated premise for an action novel, but I told myself to be patient and give Ryan a chance to give one of his best characters a fitting swan song. I was confused about the way that Ryan had set up this book. He’d made some authorial choices that made no sense – for example, both of the main characters, who were often sharing scenes and working together were called John. This meant the reader had no idea which fucking John was being spoken about at any point. To add to the inability to tell the two characters apart, both were shit at their jobs, both were over the hill, old and prone to a drink or six. Often one of the characters would run somewhere wheezing and I would assume it was John. See how confusing that is? He didn’t even think to have a John and a Jon, to simplify things for the reader. So, confusion was already raining.

Next we have the alcoholism – which is such an interesting and believable character trait for a SAS man to be battling with. However, Porter seemed so washed up and beyond the brink that I had no idea how he was still serving with the elite unit, even in the training branch. This annoyed me, and then the constant references to his drinking and him quitting being such a large plot point that didn’t seem to add anything to the story. It was just him drinking whiskey and being a fuckhead.

Talking of repetition – if I hear a soldier referred to as a blade one more time, I might take a blade to my eyes so that I don’t have to see it again. Once or twice a chapter, fine. Once or twice a page? I’m hoping that my eye issues get worse and they spontaneously explode. How the hell did an editor let this go?

The plot revolved around the two John’s hunt for revenge after a terrorist attack takes out a whole bunch of SAS recruits and their instructors. The terrorist bombing was stupid too – Ryan made them a sitting duck of a target and then had them all wiped out by a bomb. No one noticed anything odd or wondered about the strange van. So so annoying. There was an interesting conspiracy thread that was introduced way too late in the plot to have been fully effective. Maybe if those elements had been introduced earlier, this novel could have been saved.

Scratch that, there is no saving this novel.

There is no saving something that is so full of casual racism and sexism. I know that these books sometimes have racist characters, but as this is becoming less and less socially acceptable, I expect authors to acknowledge in some way that their characters behaviour and language is inappropriate, whereas the omnipotent narrator of this tale actually uses the phrase “as narrow as a chinaman’s smile.” When I read a thriller from the 70’s I expect and disregard that sort of rubbish – but in a book written today? Nope. I won’t condone that. Have a racist character – fine. Write a racist book – not fine.

Shall we now move on to the sexism? There is a horrible assault on two prostitutes, who were assaulted and abducted just so that two spies could go undercover in their place. This is an actual quote from that part of the novel.

‘We don’t want to hurt you.,’ he said calmly. ‘If you stay quiet, you’ll be free in a couple of hours. You have my word. But if you make trouble, you won’t leave us any choice. Nod if you understand.’

Legs stilled. Then she nodded. it made sense. A Romanian hooker in her thirties working in Valletta. She’d probably been threatened on multiple occasions. By boyfriends… she’d made it this far in life. Therefore she was a survivor. Therefore she wouldn’t do anything to upset her captors.

Because she was a prostitute and had most likely been assaulted before it makes it okay to assault her again? It was overly rapey and this paragraph actually felt trigger-y to me. As someone who has read plenty of crime novels with horrible rape scenes, I find myself to be hard to trigger – but this was the good guys. Good guys hitting prostitutes and threatening them. These women are only referred to as ‘hookers’ if talking about them collectively, or by the nicknames ‘legs’ and ‘petite’ if talking about them singularly. Women are either sex objects or victims for abuse in this novel.

I’m not sure if my constitution has changed or if this is actually too far. The idea that it’s only men reading these books is bullshit – women are also picking up military thrillers, and I think authors need to be a little more mindful that their audience isn’t the stereotypical boys club they believe it to be.

There were two brutal torture scenes wedged in with the racism and sexism – if I was encountering one of these things I would have been able to take it all in stride, but when these misogynist assholes go from abducting women and then hacking off someones toes and then cauterizing the wounds using a blow torch. They say that if he spills the information they will give him a nice death (a bullet to the back of the head) the guy does tell all, but they continue to torture him to death. Torture isn’t cool. It’s something that does pop up in these books, and I understand that it is sometimes used in the real world – but I don’t want torture glorified. Good military fiction writers include their protagonists torturing people to add moral dilemma to their stories, to show the extent to which their characters are willing to go for the objective. I have no compassion for the “good guys” in Deathlist. They have become my antagonists and I’m now rooting for the bad guys to take these two fuckers out.

Deathlist is full of lazy and uninspired writing. It’s full of repetitive word choice. It needs some pretty heavy editing, which would include reducing the first 150p into 50, and that might not even save it. The attack on the regiment is poorly written and doesn’t get across the levels of grief that such an event would entail. It’s meant to be seen as justification for what follows in the rest of the book, but it falls short, which means the rest of the book feels like a homicidal, psychotic rampage. Queue Archer falling into this novel screaming “RAMPAGE” without any of the tongue in cheek snark and irony that cartoon character would usually contain.

This doesn’t mean that I won’t be reading the next book that Chris Ryan releases – I’ve read almost two dozen of his books and loved all but this one.

I hope Deathlist was ghost written.