painted-skins

Review: Painted Skins by Matt Hilton

Painted Skins by Matt Hilton, (Tess Grey & Po Villere, #2), eARC from netgalley, Severn House Publishers, December 2016, 256p.

4 out of 5 stars.

Painted Skins is the latest book in the Tess Grey & Po Villere series, and although I haven’t read Blood Tracks, which is the first title, I was still enthralled in the lives of these characters. In Tess Grey, Hilton has managed to build a believable, real and strong female protagonist who carries the action of this series easily. Often female leads in crime thrillers are either infallible action stars who single-handedly take on gangs of bad guys and come out without a scratch, or they are purely the brains behind the operation and then rely on the men around her to deal with the sharp end of the action. Tess and Hilton fall into neither of these traps, and that’s refreshing.

The characters in Painted Skins are great, I really enjoyed both Tess and Po – they come from such different backgrounds and work together in a wonderful way. I loved that although they are romantically involved, there’s no subplot about their relationship – that often gets tedious and stops the momentum in thrillers – but you learn about their relationship while they are navigating the case and trying to save a young woman from a kidnapper.

I will try not to give anything away, but Painted Skins reminded me a lot of Matt Hilton’s early Joe Hunter novels, it is two friends hunting down a deranged individual and stopping at nothing to deliver justice. The bad guys that fill both the Hunter and Grey & Villere series are some of the darkest, bone-chilling monsters I’ve ever encountered in literature. I’m not very squeamish, and I read many thrillers a year, but Hilton’s bad guys always stick with me for years to come, and I have a feeling that this book’s villain will be the same.

Hilton’s writing is great – to the point and polished. Painted Skins is a tightly constructed and well-executed crime thriller. Whenever I am asked for advice on what constitutes a good fight scene I just point to the closest Matt Hilton book.

I will certainly be hunting out the first book in the Grey & Villere series, I can’t wait to return to this universe!

Thank you to Severn House Publishers for providing a review copy of this book.

heart-of-darkness

Review: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, Norton Critical Edition (4th ed). First pub. 1899, 506p.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

It’s taken me a long time to actually rea Heart of Darkness. I was supposed to read it in first year of university, but I skipped it and wrote my assignments on the other novels in the course. I now regret that decision, because Heart of Darkness is a great short novel that would probably have helped me out in my history degree as well as my English studies.

It is interesting to read Heart of Darkness as a text in light of colonisation and post-colonisation. You really get a glimpse into how people were thinking about the ‘exploration’ of ‘new worlds’. Be prepared for lots of mentions of ‘savages’, and archaic language that is now interpreted as offensive, but was accepted vocabulary at the time. It is interesting that at the end of the story, the white people come off as much worse characters than any of the ‘savages’ featured in the story.

I was expecting an adventure text from Heart of Darkness and instead I ended up receiving something more along the lines of a supernatural ghost story. This actually disappointed me – I love action and adventure. However, I think that it makes Heart of Darkness more accessible for many of today’s readers because we’re exposed to supernatural content in books all the time. I wonder what people of the time took from the supernatural element of the narrative.

Heart of Darkness was not my first Joseph Conrad, in fact I read and reviewed The Secret Agent last year for the Classics Club (link to review). I enjoyed the plot of The Secret Agent, and I would say that overall I enjoyed The Secret Agent more than I enjoyed Heart of Darkness. The writing style in The Secret Agent is different, not as descriptive or as full of allegory. The language in Heart of Darkness is certainly more lyrical and beautiful than The Secret Agent but to me, the language makes it harder to get at the story. I enjoyed reading passages of Heart of Darkness out loud, the language is beautiful – if you like accomplished writing, then Heart of Darkness is for you, if you like plot driven and simple prose, maybe try The Secret Agent first, like I did.

I will be picking up more of Conrad’s works, I did enjoy Heart of Darkness, and I’ve heard that Under Western Eyes is related to The Secret Agent, and responsive to Crime and Punishment, which sounds interesting.

grunt

Review: Grunt by Mary Roach

Grunt by Mary Roach, ARC, Oneworld, November 2016, 285p.

4 out of 5 stars.

Grunt is a book about war unlike any other I have encountered – and I’ve certainly read my fair share of war books. Mary Roach goes behind the science and technology of modern soldiering, and the issues and advances that scientists are making for the men and women on the front line. This is not a book for the faint hearted, it is full of blood, gore and swearing and doesn’t shy away from some hard truths about the US Defence Force. Grunt is a book for those curious about how uniforms come to be, what happens when you take shrapnel to your, uh, nether regions? Do soldiers get travellers’ diarrhoea like the rest of us? What is life aboard a submarine like?

Roach, of course, has investigated and researched all these topics and more and written a brilliant non-fiction book that is very accessible. Much of the research is communicated by descriptions of her conversations with people in the military, and her experiences while researching. Sometimes Roach throws in a reference from a medical or scientific journal, but most of her evidence takes the form of interviews with experts and those who are actually experiencing the technology and science – the grunts. This makes this book very easy to read and digest, but not something I would be reaching for as a reference text. Its value is purely entertainment, and on that score, it delivers.

Grunt is richly and at times, darkly humorous. There were quite a few times that I was laughing at a dead body or something that may have killed someone – most of the book is framed in a humorous fashion, with quips and hilarious facts accompanying the science and evidence. Grunt is also the first book that I felt physically ill reading (I don’t recommend eating BBQ meat while reading Chapter 9: The Maggot Paradox). I imagine some men would also feel a bit delicate reading through chapters 4 & 5, both of which deal with damage and recovery from injury to the male groin. Entertaining and informative for a woman, but when I read a couple selected paragraphs to my boyfriend, he promptly asked me to stop and made pained wincing facial expressions.

A could of years ago I added Roach’s book Stiff, which is all about the science of dead bodies, to my Goodreads TBR. I’m not sure when I removed it, but I certainly didn’t read it, but I will now be adding that back onto my TBR – Grunt sold me on Roach’s style and approach to writing and science. I’m looking forward to working my way through her back catalogue of weird and wonderful books full of strange and surreal facts. And I’ll be buying Grunt as a Christmas present for a family member who loves war non-fiction and has a really twisted sense of humour. I want to see his reaction to chapters 4 through 5. I might also put a putrid scratch and sniff at the start of Chapter 10: What Doesn’t Kill You Will Make You Reek.

Thankyou Oneworld publishers for the review copy. This book was provided to me in exchange for an honest review.

vile-bodies

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.