Books I’ve been reading in September 2018

It is once again time to share my thoughts on the latest things I’ve been reading.

In this edition: forensic anthropology, Cybermen and Nazi cats…The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan DoyleThe Sign of Four does a great job at expanding the characters we were introduced to in A Study in Scarlet.

The first book is all about the mystery whereas this one is much more about the adventure. The book begins with Mr. Holmes injecting cocaine into his system. It appears that for Sherlock Holmes life is his drug and when life is not being very interesting he finds something to use in its place. Sherlock Holmes may be a brilliant detective yet he is still a deeply flawed character.

Watson here seems to largely enjoy the adventure he has been dragged into and it is clear his relationship to Holmes has changed to one of close friendship. We also see Watson’s romantic side as he falls hopelessly in love with the woman the case begins with, adding an extra element to the story. The case begins when the pair are asked to join a woman who meeting the person who is sends her jewels every year.

This is mysterious in itself but soon it turns into a bizarre murder case involving a man with a wooden leg and a man of an unusual race. Unfortunately the case is not particularly inspiring and for the most part not very ingenious in terms of mystery.

It is my no means a dull case but it doesn’t quite grasp the attention as other Sherlock Holmes cases do. A fantastic adventure/detective story which properly introduces us to the characters we know and love today. 4 Stars.

Zom-B Angels by Darren Shan(Spoilers for books 1-3 of the series but spoiler-free for this one)After Zom-B City the undead B finds her way to City Hall where a mysterious Doctor welcomes her to a sanctuary for the revitalised zombies, or the angels as he calls them.

Eventually the Doctor gives us lots of the answers we have been waiting for, giving some explanations into how the zombie plague came about, how B survived and who the scary clown Mr. Dowling is.

It’s probably not great as a standalone book as it is fairly light on the action and heavy on the talk but I get the feeling that the remaining eight books will be really heavy on the action! This book speeds the series along and finally gives us some answers, although how accurate these answers are remains to be seen.

Clearly an important book in terms of plot for the series, this one leads us into the meat of the series and in quite a different direction to Shan’s usual work. Intrigued to see where it will go next. 4 Stars.

The Chemistry of Death by Simon BeckettFormer forensic anthropologist David Hunter is forced back into his old life when a murder rips the small village of Manham, Norfolk apart. When a woman goes missing it soon becomes clear that David can no longer escape his former profession…It’s a fantastic crime thriller which gradually builds into a fast-paced, nail-biting read.

Beckett has really done his homework on the forensic stuff and it is easy to imagine that David is a rare expert. Despite some fairly detailed explanations of murder victims, the narration had quite a warm tone. It almost doesn’t feel like a crime novel in the writing style and that’s a good thing- it makes it seem more lifelike.

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This is mostly due to the fact David is a believable narrator. He seems like a man you would get along with and doesn’t really have any of the silly flaws like most leads in this sort of book do.

He has some history, but of course we all do and his feels real. The only reason I didn’t give this five stars was because I felt that most of the plot was quite predictable. In fact right from the start I’d worked out “whodunnit” and I could also see what form the climax would take. I can never decide whether being able to predict is a good thing or a fault of the book.

I felt that Beckett made the clues too blindly obvious- every time I had doubt on my theory he’d throw in another clue to prove me right. The actual ending was unpredictable though because it was impossible to know what the result would be.

There was also a part of the explanation that I didn’t see coming and led me astray so it’s clear Beckett made a good effort in twisting the plot around. Certainly one of the best crime thrillers I’ve ever read, if only the climax wasn’t so obvious. 4 Stars.                            

Maus by Art Spiegelman Usually I rate a book on how much I enjoy it. But Maus is not something you read for enjoyment and it is so much more than a book. This is proper art, and not just because it is a graphic novel.

It’s art because it means something so deep to the creator as Art Spigelman tells the story of his father, Vladek, surviving the Holocaust and the reader can interpret it how they like, being battered by all sorts of emotions along the way. This book is actually a collection of two books which tell the story of Vladek Spigelman in the Holocaust.

The first book is fairly simplistic in that it sees a family of Jews doing everything they can to stay out of the hands of the Nazis. It is a thrilling story and is not dissimilar to the likes of Anne Frank’s Diary. It’s the second book which was really incredible in my eyes. In it Vladek has been taken to Auschwitz and must try to survive despite the likelihood of failing.

It’s much more than one man’s story against adversity as we see the fate of Vladek’s friends through his eyes and he describes exactly what he saw of the gas chambers. Coupled with this is the author coping with the death of his father and sharing the effect the holocaust has on the Jewish community many years later. The thing you have to remember about this book is that it is all real.

Everything in it actually happened and that is a terrifying thought. The graphic novel format is the perfect format to tell this tale and whilst the art might not be that sophisticated Spiegelman uses it masterfully, showing us what he needs to show us and telling us things which are too gruesome to show. His idea of making the Jews mice, the Poles pigs and the Nazis cats is inspired and works wonderfully.

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It is very rare indeed for a book, or a film or any other medium, to bring a tear to my eye but this one broke me. The simplistic telling of the worst years in humanity’s history was challenging to handle. At one point in the book even Art questions whether the public needs another story from the Holocaust. But for every story that has been told there are ten times as many that haven’t, of those that didn’t survive the horror.

We can never have too many tales of the Holocaust as we must remember those who suffered and to make sure that humanity never falls to this level again. There might be many stories of the Holocaust but this is one of the best and it will not be forgotten in my mind for some considerable time. 5 Stars.Time by Stephen BaxterThis is not the easiest book to describe in terms of plot for two reasons.

The first is that there of loads of different strands- intelligent squid being used to pilot spacecraft, a new breed of hyper-intelligent children and entrepreneur Reid Malenfant, aided by his ex-wife Emma Stoney, at first attempting to start the human race’s conquest of space and then investigating the end of the universe.

It is also complicated because there is a lot of heavy science going on here and I think a decent level of physics is need to be able to enjoy this book. If you ignore the ending this is largely a fairly simplistic sci-fi book which is set in the near future and involves humans attempting to go into space. Baxter isn’t known for his great character work but I’ve now read a few of his books and here the characters are pretty fleshed out and there is some good development. It’s certainly his best character work I’ve read to date.

I loved the first three-quarters of the book with lots of great sci-fi ideas from intelligent squid to mining asteroids and a fantastic scene where the characters get to witness the future of the universe. And then it all gets a bit weird as Malenfant and co travel through various universes and the intelligent children do all sorts of things that don’t make much sense, although as there is a sequel maybe things are cleared up a bit there. It’s a good book but I think Baxter crossed the line of having too much science in a science fiction book.

At times I felt much like the adults in the book did when faced with the intelligent children- completely baffled. 4 Stars.Doctor Who: Plague of the Cybermen by Justin RichardsThis book sees the Eleventh Doctor face his old enemies the Cybermen.

It is not entirely clear exactly where it is set in the Doctor Who continuity but it sees the Eleventh Doctor companion-less so it is probably after “The Snowmen”. The Doctor arrives in a 19th century village to discover the locals dying of a plague or being taken away by “Plague Warriors” and the dead apparently walking from their graves.

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It’s obvious from the title what the real cause of all this is and it soon turns into a generic Cybermen story. It’s certainly a good story but it doesn’t really cover any new ground. A big chunk of it was based on “Tomb of the Cybermen” which is certainly no bad thing.

In fact if you are a fan of that excellent Patrick Troughton story there are a few little treats for you in this book. As someone who has been writing Doctor Who books since the series returned in 2005, Richards has no problems in characterising the Eleventh Doctor. In fact I would say this is the most accurate prose version of the Eleventh Doctor out of all the books starring him I have read.

We have a one-off companion here named Olga who makes a decent companion, although she is pretty much a copy of Clara.Overall a good quick read for Doctor Who fans but not the most innovative Doctor Who book you can find. 4 Stars.

The Light Of Other Days by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter
This is an intriguing book which gives us a near future universe where through the use of wormholes people can see anywhere in the universe and in the past history of the universe. It’s a great idea and I felt the authors explored the ideas well. Half the book pretty much tells the story of how an industrialist ends up creating something which completely changes the world and his relationship with his two sons as they attempt to cope in the new way of life.

The characters are not great but I feel this is more because the book focused on others rather than the fact they are just poor characters. The other aspect of the books is essentially speculative fiction as the authors imagine what history and all the myths and legends we have we really like.

There are lots of short glimpses into history and several extended ones- we get decent look back at Jesus, which I felt was done respectfully and felt quite plausible and one where the characters track their ancestors back through time and witness millions of years of evolution.

I think the fact there are two very different aspects is what lets the book down a little. The character side of things is pretty weak though I am sure if it was extended it would be much better.

The speculative side of things is great and I feel the book would have worked at least as well if not better if it was just a scrapbook of fictional news accounts and biographies etc which shared the basic premise yet allowed for much more expansion of the speculative ideas.

Still, it is an interesting read and whilst I feel it didn’t quite live up to its full potential it is definitely worth checking out for fans of either author. 4 Stars.

That’s all for this week, do let me know if you read or want to read any of the books I’ve reviewed. There’s plenty more Book Club to come so watch this space!

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