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20. A Time of Torment by John Connolly

The latest Charlie Parker thriller. A solid addition to the series, but not one of the best. The usual stuff - Charlie gets pulled into an investigation that centres around a creepy reclusive rural community, only this time it's based in West Virginia rather than Maine. All the usual supporting cast are around.

I did charge through it because I always wanted to know what happened next, but it doesn't have the magic that some of the books in this series do.
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17. Night Music: Nocturnes 2 by John Connolly

My favourite John Connolly book is Nocturnes, his first volume of short stories. It's the first book of his I ever read and I was impressed not only by the individual stories in it, but the variety of voice that he employs.

So I was pretty excited when he put out another volume. I started reading the first one right away, but then it sat on my shelf for a while. The first story, "The Caxton Private Lending Library and Book Depository" is indeed good, but it is about fictional characters coming to life & the social mechanisms for looking after them. Unfortunately I'd just read Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair, which is based on much the same idea, and is done better (and while Fforde got there first, it's not like it's a completely original idea to either).

There follow a few really short numbers that failed to excite me.

Then comes "The Fractured Atlas: Five Fragments", which just blew me away. Creepy, interesting, it's got the lot. And all the stories that follow are just superb.

So my faith in one of my favourite writers was restored, just in time for his new Charlie Parker novel to come out (which I am reading now and I love it).
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28. A Song of Shadows by John Connolly

In the last book in the series, the protagonist Charlie Parker was shot and nearly killed. Now he is recovering and has taken a cottage in an even more remote part of Maine.

He's embroiled in trouble and murder straight away, as you might expect.

Not the best book in the series, but not the worst either. A real page-turner, and once again Parker isn't in a lot of it, due to his reduced physical abilities. There are hints applied with a sledgehammer that Connolly is looking to tie up the series and that all will be revealed in the not too distant future. In the meantime, Parker finally finds out who is behind the fact that he always manages to not only stay out of jail but also keep his PI licence, but not why.
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30 The Wolf in Winter by John Connolly

It's no secret that I love John Connolly's writing very much and I'm a big fangirl. However, I did feel that he'd lost his way with some of the more recent Charlie Parker novels.

He's found it again. I couldn't put this one down. It's got all the plot elements that tick my boxes, and some beautiful turns of phrase and perceptive writing, in particular a few paragraphs on the sheer hard work of keeping alive day to day when you're homeless that's breathtaking.

The last quarter is not quite what you expect. Charlie Parker is in a coma, and it's about the people who care enough to avenge him and to finish the job he was working on.

I tag this one supernatural detective series, but this has so little in common with, say, the Dresden Files or the London series that are doing the rounds. This is much darker, more elemental.
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7. Inherit the Dead by various authors

This is a hard-boiled crime number written in twenty chapters by twenty different authors. I only became aware of it because John Connolly contributed a chapter.

A wealthy woman hires an ex-cop PI to track down her missing (but estranged) daughter, who nobody seems to be too worried about.

It's not good, per se, but it's interesting watching the writers trying to write the next guy (or gal) into a corner and to out-noir each other. It's successful in that if you look hard you can pick up the voices of the individual writers (mainly in my case Connolly because he's the one I know best, but there's also contributions from Mark Billingham and Charlaine Harris), but it hangs together as a novel surprisingly well.
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62. The Wrath of Angels by John Connolly

I've been so busy that it took me in the region of two weeks to read this, and I can't remember taking more than 4 days to read any of his works. OK, also because it was in hardcover so I didn't lug it around on the bus with me.o because it was in hardcover so I didn't lug it around on the bus with me.

Another Charlie Parker mystery. I enjoyed this more than I have the last few. Charlie is hardly in it - most of the book follows the villains and victims. It's truly creepy. Highly recommended.

I got to meet Connolly at a signing for this book and told him the story of how I became familiar with him and his work, and he loved my comment that what hooked me was the "sheer variety of voice" that he used in Nocturnes, because that's exactly what he was trying out - could he convincingly do anything other than Parker? I also learned I'm a very poor fan - the woman in front of me buys *two* copies of all his books, in hardback and paperback, just in case something happens to one of them. I've got most of them out of the library - this is the first I've purchased in hardcover in the week of publication.
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78. The Burning Soul by John Connolly

The latest instalment in the Charlie Parker series.

A young girl goes missing in northern Maine, and it turns out that one of the residents of the town murdered a 14 year old girl when he was 14 and was given a new identity when he was released from prison.  Someone has found out and is blackmailing him.  Are the two related?  Charlie is hired to find out who is blackmailing the man.

It's a pretty good mystery, and I read the last 150 pages in one sitting, but I didn't rate it as a Charlie Parker book.  There's practically no supernatural element at all and nothing otherworldly and evil hunting Charlie down, which really makes it just another detective book.
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67. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

This was reviewed in New Scientist when it came out and the author was later on Start the Week, at which point my library finally got a copy.

This is the story of the HeLa line of "immortal" cells - the first cells scientists managed to keep alive in culture, and of Henrietta Lacks, the woman that the cells were taken from. Without her knowledge or consent.

This book is about a lot of things - the scientific advances made possible by the ability to keep cells alive in culture; the family history of Henrietta Lacks and her offspring; medical ethics.

As a whole and in all its parts it's a fascinating read. I haven't read a non-fiction book so quickly in years.

The parts about Lacks and her family are pretty harrowing though. It's not just that she was poor - her family was the sort in which there was perpetual, generational domestic violence and sexual abuse, and the poverty in which her rural relatives in Clover, Virginia still live today is astounding.

And who says watching TV doesn't teach you anything - Lacks lived in Baltimore and her cells were cultured there at Johns Hopkins. From years of watching The Wire and Homicide: Life on the Street, I was able to visualise the settings and hear the accents in a way that I couldn't have before.

Highly, highly recommended.

68. The Whisperers by John Connolly

It is no secret that I'm a huge fan of Connolly's. It usually takes me about three days to read his books. This one took me two weeks - there's nothing quantitatively wrong with it (I even charged through the previous one that I thought was a bit weak), but something about it didn't grab me. Except the last third.

Connolly always builds his story around real-world things, but usually they're obscure and long-past things, whereas the frame for this is that an ancient evil was looted from the Baghdad Museum in 2003 and has come back to Charlie Parker's neck of the woods. Charlie has his PI licence back and is asked to investigate what drove a ex-serviceman to suicide by the man's father. The Maine setting as always is well drawn and creepy as hell.

Like I said, there's nothing wrong with this book and his prose is lovely in places as always, but it didn't compel me to read it in the way his other works have.

69. Kissing Sin by Keri Arthur

The sequel to Full Moon Rising, which I read a couple of years back. It's like James Bond but with werewolves, vampires etc and the sex is more frequent and pornographic. Set in Australia. I'd say it's a guilty pleasure and that there's no possible excuse for reading these books, except that it's better written than it has any right to be, is extremely fast-paced - between the action and the "action" there's not a dull moment. Arthur's written a lot of books, and while they're not at the top of my "must read now" list, she's certainly got my interest.
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64. The Gates by John Connolly

This is a young adult novel in which a combination of the Large Hadron Collider and a group of Satanists in a cellar in the Home Counties open a portal to Hell, with only a young boy and his dog (and a completely inept demon) to stop the inhabitants of Hell taking over the world. It manages to be scary and silly at the same time.

One of the things that impressed me about Connolly's collection of short stories (the first book of his I read) was the sheer variety of voice that he manages to pull off; he's done it again here. The feel here is nothing like the Charlie Parker novels nor is it anything like The Book of Lost Things, his other young adult number. Although I understand why Book of Lost Things is good, it didn't do much for me, and I prefer The Gates. Even though the jokes are very much aimed at 11 year olds.

65. Affinity by Sarah Waters

A Victorian spinster who has recently recovered from a nervous breakdown becomes a Lady Visitor at Millbank Prison, where she falls under the influence of a spirit-medium serving a 4-year sentence for fraud and assault, and you know it just can't end well.

This is a lot heavier going than any of her books I've previously read, but it's well worth it - Waters evokes the desperation of the unconventional middle-class Victorian woman trapped by a tyrannical mother who cares too much what the neighbours think as effectively as she does the women prisoners at Millbank, and humanises all of them.

66. Transition by Iain Banks

Speaking of heavy going! The latest Banks offering is a multi-POV affair where the central premise is that there is an infinite number of parallel worlds, and that there are people who can move between them,co-ordinated by an outfit called The Concern (or l'Expedience). It is all very cloak-and-dagger with plots and counter-plots.

Very good but not one of his easier reads. Less effort than some of the Iain M Banks books have been, though.

And for reasons I cannot quite get to the bottom of, parts of it reminded me of Glass Books of the Dream Eaters (I think it's the names of the Concern characters).


Now that I've finished the pile of library books which all turned up at once, I can get on with Anathem, which has been somewhat neglected of late.
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58. In the Woods by Tana French

In 1984 three children go to play in the woods near their homes near Dublin. Only one ever returns.

Twenty years later, the surviving child is a police detective and has changed his name. So when a girl's body is found in the area where his friends disappeared, nobody stopped him being the primary investigator.

The first third of this is a better-than-average mystery. Then it gets really good. There's a lot of unsubtle foreshadowing that makes you think it's all going to end badly in a specific way, which makes for an interesting combination of "I can't put this down" and "I don't want to look". French is playing with your mind, though, and it ends not at all as I suspected, and she gets away with an interesting subversion of the convention.

Also notable is how scathing she is about corruption in the Irish government, especially in anything to do with land development deals.

To date she's written one more book - I'm going to get it from the library soon, but now that I know what her angle is I suspect it'll be a law of diminishing returns.

59. They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the American Civil War by DeAnne Blanton & Lauren M Cook

Somebody referred to this on Facebook a few months ago and I couldn't resist.

At least four hundred women (that are documented) pretended to be men, joined up, and fought in the American Civil War. This is the story, so far as it can be told. In places it reads a bit like a laundry list putting together all the information, but the analysis is good and there's more than a few fascinating facts that rate more investigation. The aspect I find most interesting is that it was common knowledge at the time that there were women soldiers in the Civil War, and it was not until the 1930s that women soldiers' achievements were marginalised and erased from history. That, and farming/working class women found it easier to pass themselves off as soldiers than more pampered middle class women (which is, once you think about it, really obvious).

It's also introduced me to the whole range of academic literature about women who lived as men in the 19th century (it was a not uncommon phenomenon). Must....Resist.

If History Nobody Tells Us Because It Messes With Their World View is your thing, this book is for you.

60. The Lovers by John Connolly

Private eye Charlie Parker (sans PI licence and gun permits) decides to look into his father's death, something that is presented in the earlier books as a straightforward event. It turns out (predictably) that the entities responsible for his father's death are after Charlie now, and drops a great big hint about what kind of monster will be coming after him in the next book.

It's no secret that I'm a sad fan girl of Connolly's. I didn't like the last couple of books as much as I did the earlier ones, but he's back on form with this one.
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30. Ghost Stories of British Columbia by Barbara Smith

Not one of the best in the series, which is a disappointment as the history and geography of BC should make for some great ghost stories. There might well be some in here, but the way she tells them fails to excite.

31. The Reapers by John Connolly

I've been putting this off because I wanted to do this book justice, but my brain's not going to get into gear any time soon, so here goes:

It's not a secret that I'm a terminal fan girl when it comes to Connolly, so I've really been looking forward to this. The prose is, as always with Connolly, beautiful - he really makes you feel for characters that you really shouldn't care about, and the pacing is perfect.

Connolly's usual detective, Charlie Parker, is only a secondary character in this book, which is about Louis and Angel, who are Parker's closest friends, and Willie Brew, an elderly Queens-based mechanic who has a complex almost feudal-style relationship with Louis. Louis used to be an assassin in a group known as The Reapers, and his past finally catches up with him. It all goes pear-shaped, leaving only Parker and Brew to go to the rescue.

It's a great read, but, like Bad Men (the novel in which Parker makes only a cameo appearance), there's a lot of things that are morally dubious in ways I can't get past.
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67. The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

Not a Charlie Parker mystery, but a dark fairy tale/fantasy about a very disturbed 12 year old boy who finds his way to an alternate world. Some gorgeous prose, and I really liked it up to the point at which the protagonist ends up in the other world, but the fairy tale world did very little for me and I ended up being disappointed. Probably because it's John Connolly and I had rather high expectations, especially as this apparently is selling better than the Charlie Parker novels.

68. The Final Programme by Michael Moorcock
This month's Bibliogoths selection.

Two words:

Austin Powers

I might come back and write more after the meeting on Sunday.

69. Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
Another stinking cold, but I skipped the Terry Pratchett this time round.

Found this in a charity shop recently and couldn't resist. It's well written for trash, but it's still trash. It's pretty compelling (mostly in a train-wreck kind of way), and I know it's been really popular forever, but I'm still not sure how it came to be published as a "Virago Modern Classic". It was a very odd experience - I really don't read girly stuff or anything where love stories are the important strands at all.
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32. The Unquiet by John Connolly

Good news was, there was a new John Connolly book out. Bad news, my unemployed self didn't have money to shell out for the hardcover. I got it from the library, though, so everything was OK. It's the usual gripping stuff I expect from Connolly, but I was oddly disappointed by the ending.

33. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Yeah, this was last month's bibliogoth selection. I've been busy, so it took me some time to finish.

I first read this when I was 17. I'm somewhat less impressed this time around - it's still an important book with some moments of sheer genius, but now I can see a lot more faults - specifically, jokes that are funny the first time get repeated until they're just annoying.

Paramount 2 happened to be showing one of the Colonel Flagg episodes of MASH the other night - I'd never noticed how straight out of Catch-22 that is before.

34. Break No Bones by Kathy Reichs

I've bored you all to tears about Kathy Reichs already. You'll be relieved to hear that I've now read them all so you're safe until the next book comes out in...er - August, so that's a few weeks away.

Maybe it's because my head wasn't in a good place, but I enjoyed this one less than the others in the series. It could be a law of diminishing returns situation. Guess I'll see when the new one comes out.

35. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

This month's bibliogoth selection. Another re-read. Definitely stands up to a second reading - if anything, I enjoyed it more this time around (having a memory that would embarrass a guppy might help there). [livejournal.com profile] techbint described it as "what the Blair Witch Project could have been like if it had been good" when she first thrust it upon me years ago, and to this day that's the best description I've heard. Difficult in parts, but totally worth it! Seriously scary stuff.
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31. Dark Hollow by John Connolly
The second Charlie Parker mystery. This one took a while to get into, but when it got started I ended up staying up far too late reading it Wednesday night and whoops, there went yesterday morning.

Usual cast of characters, usual high body count. Once again Connolly makes Maine far creepier than Stephen King ever did.
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I did actually read some books during the course, what with all that time I had to spend on the bus every day:

27. Every Dead Thing by John Connolly
The first Charlie Parker novel. Unremittingly grim, but damn good. Pretty much par for the course with the Parker series.

28. The Flanders Panel by Arturo Perez Reverts
I think I have [livejournal.com profile] scathe to thank for alerting me to the existence of this book some years ago. It was finally in the library at the same time as I was recently. It's Damn Fine, with two really good mysteries - the characters have to unravel the secrets behind a 15th century painting, and then start to get bumped off. It all revolves around chess, which is something I Just Don't Get, but that didn't get in the way of enjoying the book. I found the end somewhat disappointing, so it hasn't bumped The Seville Communion (same author) off its place as my second favourite book os all time.

29. Rough Cut by Gary McMahon
I picked this novella up at FantasyCon because I liked the look of the cover art. This turns out to have been a good move - although there's not a lot to it, it's really creepy. Haunted disused insane asylum, satanic rituals performed by the makers of bad 70s horror movies and a hidden film that could end the world - what more could you want?
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15. Bad Men by John Connolly
This one's not a Charlie Parker novel, though it's still set in Maine and Charlie makes a cameo appearance (which I didn't feel helped at all). Although it's well written and full of suspense, it's nowhere near as good as The White Road. The body count is so high it bothered even me, and the collection of extreme psychopaths who make their way to a remote island off the coast of Maine to take revenge on the leader's wife are too extremely psychopathic as a group to be believable. Seriously, the ghosts and spirits of the island are easier to swallow.

16. Salaam Brick Lane: A Year in the New East End by Tarquin Hall
The author comes back from 10 years of working in India and discovers he can no longer afford to live in white suburbia, and rents a complete shithole on Brick Lane. He gets to know his neighbours - many Bangladeshis (including his slumlord, with whom he inexplicably becomes friends), an elderly Jewish woman, an Afghan and two Kosovan asylum seekers, and a dodgy Cockney character. It's nicely written and well observed, and possibly even heartwarming at the end. There's not a lot to it, so it's definitely worth what little effort it requires.

Apologies for the crap reviews even by my standards. I'm falling asleep but if I don't put these up now I'll probably forget.
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14. The White Road by John Connolly

Even better than the last one! Charlie Parker goes on the road to the swamps in South Carolina, to try to clear an innocent black man of the rape & murder of a white woman, gets caught up in the centuries-old feud between the two families and falls afoul of white supremacists. Oh, and the bad guy he put away in the last book hasn't finished messing with him.

A definite "go away I'm reading" number.
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I think I've been hit by a truck. Got home from the gig at a reasonable time and then had a visit from the insomnia fairy. Bastard. Anyway, finished another book yesterday:

13. The Killing Kind by John Connolly

A few months ago I raved about Connolly's collection of short stories. I have now acquired some of his novels from the library. The use of the supernatural in this book is confined to the fact that Charlie Parker sees ghosts, and a couple of the characters seem not quite human. I was expecting more because the Charlie Parker novella at the end of Nocturnes has some serious demonic stuff going on. Although The Killing Kind is technically a straightforward private detective novel, it feels more like a horror novel.

I was less impressed by this book than by Nocturnes, but it is still very good. If I stop and think about it, the number of people Parker kills is somewhat disturbing, as is his choice of sidekicks (Louis and Angel are respectively a hit man and a thief), but if I just let myself get carried away by the story, it's all OK.

Connolly has set his series in Maine, which is significant because a certain other well-known horror writer also does so. Whereas Stephen King's Maine is a place you'd never want to go, Connolly's is far more appealing. Despite the fact that he doesn't live there (he's from Dublin), he's spent time there and done copious research, and there's even a bibliography at the end. He's interested in the history of Maine and how that's led to it being such an odd place, which I of course think is totally cool.

So, definitely another winner.

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