Books wot I red: Paperboy, The Bleeding Heart & The Dwarves

Well I’ve managed to get this latest three-book post out in less than a year, which is pretty good going by my standards – especially as one of them was a 700-page behemoth. And two of them are even by the same author – although I’ve again managed to get a non-novel in (an autobiography counts, right?).

Once again it looks as if I’ll have a four-book year in terms of reading. Maybe I should just accept that’s the way it will always be – at least while my job involves so much reading. But I’m increasingly enjoying time away from the computer screen, while finding less people to play board games with, so maybe things will change.

PaperboyI don’t ordinarily read autobiographies or memoirs, but when it’s your favourite author the idea seems a little more compelling; even if his life was boring at least I know he can write! So with some apprehension I jumped into Paperboy by Christopher Fowler.

Any fears I had melted away immediately. His story feels both honest and compelling, describing post post-war era London (from the 1960s onwards) from within a typically dysfunctional suburban family.

Hi love of books, and perhaps more importantly words, springs from every page; as well as film and television. But the honest portrayal of his family’s problems adds another, more sensitive dimension and stops it becoming something of a pop culture love-in. But whichever tale he’s telling at the time, he conveys with his usual skill; being able to make the reader laugh or cry at will.

You certainly don’t need to be a fan of Fowler’s writing to enjoy this, although it does help explain his fascination with both London and the supernatural. And if you’re an only child, a bookworm, someone who grew up in an ever-expanding London or just a lover of books that are beautifully written, I’d highly recommend Paperboy.

The Bleeding HeartHaving just read his autobiography, it seemed sensible to move onto the latest Bryant & May paperback, The Bleeding Heart by Christopher Fowler. As ever it was worth the wait – although I was nervous early on.

Bryant begins the book in uncharacteristically dour fashion, while the new managerial foil to the Peculiar Crimes Unit seemed to be following the same plot line as their previous nemesis. But as the various plots unfolded by fears faded away and by the end I was, as ever, left eagerly awaiting more.

for the uninitiated, the Bryant & May novels are like The X-Files meeting Last of the Summer Wine in London for a few pints of ale: two elderly detectives solving the most peculiar crimes, with inevitable links to the fascinating and macabre history of England’s capital city.

This is the 11th outing for the duo, with numbers 12 and 13 already on the shelves and more to come. It’s the best series of books I’ve ever read and unfortunately the first one, Full Dark House, can be a little difficult to get into as it skips between two time zones (present day London and the Blitz, in the detectives’ early career). But the rewards are a wonderfully fluid writing style and a memorable cast of characters, alongside some great plots and fascinating facts about London’s underbelly.

The DwarvesNext I immersed myself in the fantasy world of The Dwarves by Markus Heitz. I’d heard slightly dodgy things about it, but having thoroughly enjoyed the co-operative board game based on the series I was determined to flesh out the characters.

First things first: haters of bog-standard fantasy books should walk away now. This isn’t big and it isn’t clever – in fact it follows the typical fantasy tropes quite frighteningly close to the letter.

Good vs Evil? Check. Bunch of good guys up against unspeakable odds? Check. Dwarves, elves, spells etc? Check. Off on an ‘incredible journey’? Check.

But if you do like that sort of thing, it’s hard not to recommend The Dwarves to you. The writing level is OK (standard for fantasy novels), it’s the obligatory trumpetybillion pages long (about 700) and there are several more books in the series. But more importantly it does a good job of scene setting, character interaction/progression and storytelling.

This really isn’t my kind of thing anymore, but I didn’t find myself skipping pages and was never bored: it moves things on at a fair click and while the over-explanation did at times wear my patience thin (why do these people feel the need to telegraph the characters’ emotions to the point a two-year-old would understand?) I was never close to quitting.

Will I read on past this book? It’s unlikely. But then I’d pick the second one of these up before any other fantasy novel, which has to say something. My one gripe would be that, while several string female characters do emerge at certain points, their coverage (in pages) is way lower than it should be – but then if you didn’t mind that in The Lord of the Rings et al, I’m sure you’ll be OK with it here too.

What’s next on the list?

This time I managed to knock numbers three, four and five off the list, but two of those were new entries – surely I can hit numbers one and two this time. And this has, of course, left room for three new entries:

  1. Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch. Its fourth time at number 1, having been on six of these lists (a record). I still really want to read it; what the hell is going on?
  2. Teach Yourself: The Cold War by CB Jones. I got a copy of Cold War board game Twilight Struggle and wanted to put it in proper context. I really should know more about this history I lived through, so this is on the list – three times so far.
  3. Dark Cargo by Andrew Rice. New entry! This is a book written by a friend hat I started proof reading for him, but stopped after three chapters (I think it’s fair to say I’m no proof reader). I got a physical copy from Amazon so I could finish it.
  4. The Burning Man by Christopher Fowler. New entry! The next Bryant and May novel. Nuf said.
  5. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks. New entry! Lent to me by a friend (hello Candice!) who was very enthusiastic about it. Not my usual fayre though: a book about cases of people with extreme, bizarre neurological disorders.

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