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Above His Station by Darren Craske

9 Jul

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The Station Guard of Regal Street is running away from his past.

With his wife gone and his children having lives of their own, he lives at home in a bungalow, filled with memories of his late wife. Wanting to escape his past and the memory of Molly where ever he goes, he accepts a new post.

The only thing is, he can’t tell anyone where the new post is, what the station is for or for whom he is working. This suits him fine as all he wants to do is hide from himself and enjoy his life underground.

The problems begin when the Station Guard hears a voice belonging to someone he can’t see tells him that he’s in trouble and that the tiger has scented him. The Station Guard looks around but is told to look down.

Looking down, the Station Guard takes in the presence of a rather foul mouthed talking rat. As if that weren’t enough, the rat tells the station guard that something has happened above ground, something to which he is oblivious to, being so far below ground.

The Station Guard knows that he must head above his station, but the rat reminds him of the tiger, the tiger that has scented him and is coming for the Station Guard, with no hope of escape in sight.

Well, that’s not strictly true. The problems really begin when the Station Guard tries to get above ground and has to confront a pack of wild wolves, flamingo car drivers, armadillo and tree frog policeman, a musical number with back up singers and a whole host of other problems.

Least of which is a musical number, a trip out of this world and the fate of humanity hanging in the balance. Now would be a good time for a chocolate digestive biscuit if you have any…

My meager plot summary does not really cover the whole plot of Above His Station. It only really scratches the surface. Why is that? Well, that’s because Above His Station is one of those rare gems, one of those lovely, incredible books that you can no way summarize without giving everything away.

Instead, it is meant to be delved into, head first, until you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I read Above His Station twice in three days. I finished it in a day and a half and enjoyed it so much that I immediately went back to page one and started all over again.

I love Darren Craske’s work quite a lot but with Above His Station he has outdone himself not only in characters (at which he excels) but also with plot (at which he is also ace). What sets Above His Station apart is that it is unlike anything you will ever read or will ever read again.

During the first chapter, I thought I was in for a right treat of a mystery of sorts…until I got to the talking rat. Then things went woky, went more wonky still and by that point, I was having a grand old time. I laughed out loud on the bus, laughed out loud in public and just kept flipping pages madly, engrossed completely in the world that Craske has created.

Though books of this sort normally require a huge suspension of disbelief, Craske eased me into the world so slowly that I didn’t really notice things had gone completely crazy until it was too late. Or not late enough. Either way, I haven’t enjoyed a book this much in years. The only other book I have read twice in a row is Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone. That ought to tell you something.

Craske has really outdone himself with Above His Station. His Cornelius Quaint Series is amazing, his novel The Lantern Menace incredible, but I feel as if all of his writing, all his work, has been leading up to this book, Above His Station.

It is quite simply the best time I have had reading a novel in years. To read Above His Station is to let yourself be taken on an incredible journey.

The problem is, you might not want to come back. An awesome read from start to finish and back again, Above His Station is required reading for anyone who loves a good book, period. 

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The Lazarus Curse by Darren Craske

26 Feb

Circus conjurer Cornelius Quaint is having a rough go of it.

Having escaped Egypt with his companion Madame Destine, he is forever changed and not just because of his immortality. He knows that an attempt on the life if Queen Victoria will be made and that all of humanity is at risk.

Cho-Zen Li, a man that is more than he seems, has unleashed the Eleventh Plague and Quaint must first save the Queen and then the world. With a few of his trusted circus family in tow, Quaint must travel from his beloved London to China and take care of Cho-Zen Li personally if he has any hope of saving the world.

Madame Destine, a true phsycic gifted with visions, tells Quaint that he must not go, that he will face more than danger there. “The immortal man meets the eternal man at the end of his life.” She tells him. She does not know if that means even Quaint’s immortality will keep him alive.

After being chosen by Queen Victoria to do away with Cho-Zen Li, however, Quaint has no choice. With a few of his circus family in tow, Quaint sets off towards China, towards his destiny, towards a future that could bring about the end of the world or just the end of his life.

All in a days work for a master conjurer…

My meagre plot summary doesn’t even come close to scratching the surface of what happens in this novel. Out of the entire Cornelius Quaint Series, The Lazarus Curse is by far the most adventurous with more twists and hairpin plot turns than you can count. The book is non-stop action from the first page and the story doesn’t let you go until the (very shocking) ending.

To say I was salivating for this book is an understatement. When I was finally able to read it, it blew all of my high expectations away, every single one of them. Craske’s most amazing ability is creating characters that should be caricatures and stereotypes, but aren’t. He writes them so well that you actually care for them, hope for them, worry right along with them.

I haven’t been this emotionally involved in a series of books since Harry Potter or The Hunger Games. Are The Cornelius Quaint Chronicles better? You bet your last farthing. Not only are they told in the style of old Victorian penny dreadfuls, but they are adventure novels of the highest calibre.

Just when you think the story is going one way, it takes you in a different and altogether surprising direction. Craske not only creates amazing characters that you grow to love, he pens a cracking good story that will have you clutching the book and turning the pages rapidly (or in my case, holding onto my iPad for dear life and flicking my finger across the screen in rapid motions).

For those of you who have not read the previous Cornelius Quaint novels (A Quaint Christmas, The Equivoque Principle and The Eleventh Plague, respectively) never fear. Craske fills you in on what you need to know so you can throw yourself headlong into the adventure contained The Lazarus Curse. After reading The Lazarus Curse, however, you will want to, no, need to read the other books in the series.

Darren Craske has not only written a tale of magic, adventure, destiny and fate. He has written a novel that will live beyond time itself and it’s one of the best books I have ever read and indeed its my favourite book of 2012 thus far. I can’t wait to see how the series draws to a close in the Rolmulus Equation.

I for one will be waiting with bated breath to find out how Cornelius Quaint’s destiny unfolds…

Blockade Billy by Stephen King

4 Jun

 

 

Blockade Billy is a slim little volume by horror master Stephen King. By now, everyone will have heard of the ruckus that the book caused when Cemetery Dance published the first edition amounting to only 10, 000 copies.

It was a surprise in the literary world; no one had heard a thing about Blockade Billy until it was announced, in early March, that it was going to be released. A baseball by Stephen King? Seriously?

Not as odd as you may think. Baseball had been one of the subjects of one of King’s most popular works: The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordan. In that book, a little girl imagines her favourite baseball player is with her while she fights to stay alive while alone in a forest. In Blockade Billy, baseball would finally be taking centre stage.

But would it be any good?

King, who is most known for writing horror, is usually at his best when writing non-horror stories; he is able to give us characters that we love, storylines that drive the plot home. His non-horror stories are incredible stories about people, about love, about redemption. I had no doubts that Blockade Billy would succeed on every level.

However, after reading it for the first time on my Sony eReader, I didn’t think the story succeeded at all. In fact, I felt that it fell flat on its face with little pizzazz and little fanfare.

Blockade Billy is the story of the New Jersey Titans and their new catcher, William “Blockade Billy” Blakely.

When a run of bad luck finds the New Jersey Titans without a catcher before the season is about to start, hope arrives in the form of Billy Blakely. “Granny”, the Titan’s second base coach, thinks there’s something off about Billy, but pushes it aside.

Sure, the boy talks to himself in the third person, but the boy can sure play ball.

When a player gets bloodied after colliding with Billy, it only begins to hint at the darkness that is hiding within William “Blockade Billy” Blakely. Though Blockade Billy can sure play ball, he hides within himself a dark secret.

A secret so dark that it could change the face of baseball forever…

Now, when I first read Blockade Billy, I wasn’t impressed. I thought there would be more menace to this book, more darkness, more grit as hinted at in the books blurb. In the end, this is really a baseball story with a good twist ending.

And it really is a baseball story. As someone who doesn’t watch baseball, or sports at all for that matter, a lot of what I read didn’t really make sense. I was reading about how The New Jersey Titans were playing the game but I kept waiting for the darkness I wanted, needed in a Stephen King book.

After finishing the story I was actually quite disappointed. I really felt the whole thing was one huge let down.

Thankfully, I read the story again.

I was still waiting for my copy of the Cemetery Dance limited edition to arrive in the mail. However, since I’m something of a Stephen King fanatic, I picked up the mass market hardcover version of Blockade Billy put out by Scribner. I had no intention of reading it.

However, after finishing a fluffy romance, I was looking for something to cleanse my literary palate. I picked up the mass market version of Blockade Billy and began to read; and was transported.

The second time around, the story within the pages of Blockade Billy grabbed and held me. I realized that the story wasn’t about grit and blood and horror. It was about baseball and about the darkness of the human spirit.

The second time I read Blockade Billy, all the baseball jargon didn’t bother me. In fact, it pulled me into the story and transported me; I felt like I was watching the games they were playing, felt as if I was right there with the players.

Blockade Billy is a baseball story. So if you don’t follow baseball, you might be a little lost. But you know what? It doesn’t matter; the enthusiasm in Granny’s voice is infectious, the story thrilling in its own right, right up until it’s shattering conclusion.

So did I like Blockade Billy?

Not the first time around. But am I ever glad I gave it a second chance as I came away loving this little literary gem.

It may not be Stephen King’s best work, but its one heck of a story.

The Good Man Jesus and The Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman

24 May

“This is a Story…”

 

We’ve already heard The Greatest Story Ever Told right?

We’ve seen it in movies, in books about Jesus Christ, in novels that retell his story again and again. Anne Rice’s recent books Christ the Lord Out of Egypt and Christ the Lord The Road To Cana come to mind.

The Greatest Story Every Told, that of Jesus and his birth and the miracles he performed has been told and retold so many times that there’s no possible way to give it a new spin for a modern age. Or is there?

Philip Pullman is best known for the His Dark Materials trilogy and supplemental books, featuring Lyra Belacqua (or Lyra Silvertongue). The books received a lot of notice when they were first published as they are very anti-religion, very anti-God. This should come as no surprise to fans of Pullmans. Pullman himself as admitted that he is an atheist.

When I first heard that The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ was being written by Pullman, I wondered why an atheist had chosen to retell The Greatest Story Ever Told. I wondered if Pullman would colour the narrative with his own negative views on Christianity.

Thankfully, he keeps his views to himself. The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is an incredible new retelling of the life of Jesus…and his brother.

Pullman sets up the story in the very beginning. Mary gives birth to two baby boys, twins. One, she names Jesus, one she names Christ. Christ seems to be a bit sickly and thin whereas Jesus seems strong and thriving.

When the three Wiseman come, following the star, they see two babes in the manger. When they ask Mary which one is the messiah, which one will be their saviour, she points to Christ. He’s a little sickly and can use the attention, she thinks.

This sets in motion events that no one could have foretold, not even the angels. As Jesus becomes more and more well known, and his miracles become more and more exaggerated, Christ begins to receive visits from a stranger who seems very interested in him.

Who is the mysterious stranger? Will Christ ever be out of Jesus’ shadow? And when Christ begins to write down Jesus’ doings and exaggerating them beyond all truth, the consequences for Jesus and for Christ will be dire indeed…

I’ll admit, this book surprised me. I didn’t expect a book about the life of Jesus written by a well known and vocal atheist to be any good. But it wasn’t just good; it was fantastic. Not only did Pullman give us a new retelling of the life of Jesus that seemed entirely plausible, he kept the story historically accurate.

Pullman has obviously done his research and has written a story that is at once historical novel and modern parable. Though a lot of people will and have react badly to the idea that Jesus Christ was actually two children, Jesus and Christ, it makes the reader stop and think about the history of the story.

It makes us stop and remember.

That, in the end, is the true power of The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. You remember it long after you’ve turned the last page. Though it is written in very simple language, though it is written in a style much like a fable, it makes you stop and remember.

I found myself remembering pieces of scripture as I read it, remembering the commandments I had been raised on. It also helps to make you remember what it was like when you were a child and the whole world was at your fingertips. All you had to do was reach out and grasp it.

Though this is the greatest story ever retold, you’ve never ever read it this way before. The ending is cataclysmic and the book will leave you breathless. Told in simple, lyrical prose, The Good Man Jesus and The Scoundrel Christ is indeed The Greatest Story Every Re-Told.

Briefs: Stories from the Palm of the Mind by John Edgar Wideman

23 May

 

“An unwritten story is one that never happens…”

In recent years, how writers tell a story has begun to change.

When stories began, they were told orally; can you picture voices rising into the air, words floating on the breeze?

Then stories were told with pen and paper, the ink making the paper bleed the story that it wanted to tell. Writers could finally keep their stories, hold on to them, as if they were talismans against the dark.

Today, the way we tell stories has changed once more. No longer are people content to tell tales that are long and rambling. No, story has once again gone through a metamorphosis, changing itself from a caterpillar to a butterfly, shedding words as it would shed its cocoon or a snake sheds its skin.

This shorter than short fiction is called Micro Fiction. Stories can be anywhere between thirty words to three hundred words, from five hundred words to a thousand. Generally, Micro Fiction stories are no longer than two pages or so. Each, though short, has a beginning and an ending. Though it may not be the ending you are looking for.

What is so wonderful about Micro Fiction is that it challenges our ideas of the norm; it goes against what has already been established by a long line of writers and establishes norms of its own.

Like every discipline within the craft of writing, there are some who think they can write Micro Fiction and some who actually can write it.

Thankfully, John Edgar Wideman is one of the latter.

A two time Pen/Faulkner Award winner, Wideman wanted to explore and discover words in a different way. Rather than writing another collection of short stories, Wideman wanted to explore a different side to his writing. To see if he could write even shorter stories. Micro Fiction stories. And he succeeds brilliantly.

From the brief explination behind the title, which serves as the first story in Wideman’s new collection of Micro Fiction, you know that you are in for a treat. The writing is crisp, the words are haunting and there are no stories longer than a page or two; perfect for our fast paced society that is constantly on the move.

The collection is actually a hodge podge of many different genres. Some stories are fiction, some are non-fiction and are indeed about Wideman’s own life such as the short and very private Divorce or the aptly named short story Writing.

Some stories in the collection are dark and haunting like Hit and Run, Haiku and Shadow; they explore the sides of the human heart that none of us want to look at. But at the same time, there are funny stories here too. My favourite called Dear Madonna, a litter to the Queen on of Pop herself.

All through out this collection, Wideman makes sure to use every word to its fullest potential. Some of the stories don’t make sense; but they don’t have to. The rambling stream of consciousness stories are essentially a very private look into Wideman’s mind that leave us wondering, and wanting, once the brief story is finished.

Briefs: Stories From the Palm of the Mind is really like a patchwork quilt. Each story is like a patch in that blanket; all sorts of textures and fabrics and colours blending together to make a whole. Though at first you may be put off by the colour scheme or the use of gold lame next to red corduroy, after a while it doesn’t matter anymore.

Because after a while, you realize that one story would not work without the other.

Since finishing Briefs, I’ve been haunted by Wideman’s words. Especially by the stories I didn’t care for. The words come back to me at moments when I should be thinking or doing something else. That is the true power of story: to take you away from the moment you are in now and take you somewhere else.

Do yourself a favour and take a moment or two to read and enjoy Briefs: Stories from the Palm of the Mind by John Edgar Wideman. He is truly a master of the Micro Fiction short story. You may not understand or like all the stories in the collection.

But you’ll have a hell of a journey going from beginning to end.

Bite Me by Christopher Moore

26 Apr

 

When we last left our vampire lovers in You Suck, Jody and Tommy had been turned into bronze statues by their minion, Countess Abby Von Normal, Back Up Queen of the Night. Jody wanted to remain a vampire. Tommy didn’t.

Rather then let the two lovebirds part ways, Abby had them bronzed. A love like their should stay together forever. But even the best laid plans have a way of unravelling themselves. As this is a Christopher Moore novel, unravelling is rather par for the course.

Abby and her love slave, the righteous Foo Dog, are enjoying their love nest, protecting the bronzed statues of Jody and Tommy. But when Abby’s BFF, an emo Goth by the name of Jared, accidentally frees Jody from her bronze prison while re-enacting a fight scene from his as of yet unwritten novel while wearing Abby’s high heeled Skankenstein boots, things go from weird to worse.

Jody and Tommy have been encased in bronze for five weeks. Able to turn herself into mist, Jody doesn’t mind the confinement so much. But Tommy, who had yet to learn that handy vampire trick before being bronzed, spends every night of his waking hours going slowly and quietly insane.

So when Jody tries to free Tommy, he goes stark raving mad. Jody goes out into the world of San Francisco to track Tommy down, but ends up having to find shelter before the sun comes up. She’s taken in by a warrior by the name of Otakka. He knows that he must keep the red haired woman safe.

Abby, meanwhile, continues on her quest to become a vampire while the notorious Foo Dog tries to find out if there is a way to turn someone from a vampire back into a human. As if that weren’t bad enough, Cavuto and Rivera, two cops who have become personally involved with saving the city a few times, have a new vampire plague on their hands: Vampre Cats.

It seems that Chet, the huge shaved cat we last saw in You Suck, has been ravaging the city of San Francisco and turning all the stray cats into vampires. A cat has to have a hobby, after all.

In order to fight this new threat and save the city, Jody must find Tommy and join forces with Abby, Food Dog, Jared, the Emperor of San Francisco, his dogs Bummer and Lazarus and the frozen turkey bowling Safeway crew.

Because the final battle is coming. And nothing can prepare them for what is about to happen when a horde of vampire hairballs descends upon the city….

Confused yet? Oh boy howdy! But remember, this isn’t a normal novel. This is a novel by genius comedic writer Christopher Moore.

Oh, Christopher Moore, how I love you. How I love your books. Moore’s books are really studies of the theatre of the absurd mixed with some Dave Berry, and perhaps some Anne Rice for good measure. In short, they are absolutely freaking brilliant.

Nothing goes as you expect it in a Christopher Moore novel, and Bite Me is no exception. However, one note of caution: If you are not familiar with the two novels that precede Bite Me, do not start here. The fun begins in Bloodsucking Fiends and continues in You Suck.

You could probably read Bite Me without reading the fist two books (Abby Von Normal does give us a confusing recap of the last two books in the first chapter) but why would you want to? Read the first two books if you want to get to know these characters.

Personally, I think Bite Me is one of Moore’s best novels. My top favourites are Bloodsucking Fiends and then Fool, but Bite Me comes a close third. In the third book in his vampire trilogy, Moore has pulled out all the stops and is going for broke. Thankfully it works.

The book is a laugh a minute, frenzied race to the finish. Not only does it have the same Christopher Moore humour, but it’s also a great look into what makes people human, what drives the human heart. Though it was funny, I was surprised by how dark the book was, how insightful and thought provoking it was. More than just another funny read, Bit Me is a dark look at what love can bring you and what it can take away.

No matter how you look at it, Bite Me is a winner in every way and one of the best books of 2010 so far. If you haven’t read it, or Bloodsucking Fiends or You Suck, read them now.

I’ll have some blood waiting for you…

Horns by Joe Hill

26 Apr

 

Ig Perrish is having a rough go of it.

After a night of drinking, he wakes up hung over and not entirely sure what he got up to the night before. Added to that, he has two small horns growing out of his head.

He knows that they weren’t there before, that they are a new edition to his body. He also quickly finds out that they influence others around him. The horns force others around him to tell him what they’re thinking.

Exactly what they’re thinking.

Those close to him begin to share their innermost secrets. The “I can’t believe you just said that” kind of secrets. Secrets and thoughts about a past that haunts all of them.

Years ago, Ig was accused of the rape and murder of the one woman he loved, the one woman who was his heart. Though he maintains his innocence, he finds out what his family and friends really think.

Everyone believes that he did it. Everyone thinks he killed her.

With his newfound talent, Ig decides to take the only course of action left to him. He decides to find out who really killed the one woman he loved.

And then take out his revenge…

I love Joe Hill. Rather, I love his writing. His first novel, Heart Shaped Box, was one of the creepiest, scariest novels I have read in years. His collection of short stories, 20th Century Ghosts, was one of the most amazing collections of short fiction I have ever had the pleasure of reading.

I wasn’t sure about Horns at first. Second novels have a tendency to be lacklustre and usually don’t live up to the sacred gem of the first novel, especially one as widely heralded as Heart Shaped Box.

Before opening the book, I wondered if Horns would be a one trick wonder. I mean, how can you make a novel out of someone who can force you to share your inner most thoughts? It would get boring and repetitive after a while, right?

What I didn’t take into account was that Horns is a book by Joe Hill, an author who isn’t afraid to take the story one way and then veer off in a completely different, and sometimes shocking, direction.

Though the main story of the novel is Ig trying to find his revenge, the rest of the novel is told in flashbacks that are beautifully, incredibly written. The flashbacks are very emotionally charged. When Ig first meets Merrin, when he learns about love. When he gets his hear broken. The emotion on these pages is tangible.

I was also surprised by how funny the novel was. And I mean laugh out loud funny. Hill has an incredible ear for dialogue and he’s in top form here, giving us shocks, thrills and chills along the way. By the time the first half of the book is over, the people in Horns have stopped being characters on paper; they are real people.

Though the novel dragged a little in the middle (like most good novels do) he picks everything up again and steers us towards what is surely one of the best showdowns in modern fiction history.

Not only has Hill given us an incredible horror story. He’s also written a parable on love, life and, ultimately, the pursuit of happiness.

An incredible read from start to finish, Horns is one literary treat you’ll want to sink your horns, er, teeth into.