Tag Archives: Books

WOOL, by Hugh Howey

I found out about WOOL from a Facebook friend, who recommended it highly. And boy am I glad she did! Post-apocalyptic and dystopian literature doesn’t come much better than Hugh Howey’s five novel series(with more to follow, as well as the prequels FIRST/SECOND SHIFT).

From WOOL’s ominous beginning – a recently widowed sheriff volunteers for “cleaning” – to its revealing conclusion, the author fills each page with characters that grow from accepting the status quo to questioning everything they’ve been led to believe about how and why they live the way they do. Even the ‘villain’ of the piece is motivated by what he thinks is right – and a part of me understood why he acted the way he did.

Mr. Howey’s writing is superb; his descriptions of life underground are both real and affecting, and his action scenes gripped me with their authenticity and pace. In WOOL, mankind’s future is as bleak as Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD, but the hope Hugh Howey offers at the end makes following Juliette’s journey a sign that maybe, just maybe, we can make amends for our mistakes.

Read WOOL. Please.

The Daily Rant: Raving Haruki Murakami and 1Q84

Rather than rant away on some topic that’s currently got my back up, today I wish to rave about an author I’ve recently discovered. I don’t know a lot about Japanese author Haruki Murakami, but 200 pages into his new novel, 1Q84 (first published in his native country in 2009), I am astounded and captivated by this literary marvel.

This is a long book and was originally published as a trilogy. However,  the American publishing company Knopf published all three novels in one volume last week and it’s this edition that I picked up in Hodges Figgis. For reasons best known to myself I tend not to read foreign authors (my recent attempt to read Les Miserables stalled at the end of the first volume), but it appears Murakami’s style is distinctly Western by nature.

I can’t give too much away about the story mainly because I don’t really know what it’s about. Okay, it has a fantasy feel to it because of its theme of parallel universes and a race of beings known only as the Little People. But it’s the power of Murakami’s prose that’s holding my attention. He is a very ‘readable’ literary fiction writer (an oxymoron if ever there was one) and his characters are uniquely drawn and compelling.

From what I’ve read so far, there is murder, sex, religious zealotry, magic realism and a 17-year-old Japanese dyslexic who may or may not have written a book called Air Chrysalis. It is this girl, Fuka-Eri, around which the plot revolves.

At the moment I’m taking every opportunity to read this novel, whether it’s stealing a page or two while working, or whole chapters when I have more time. Like I said, I’m only a fifth of the way through the novel. but already I feel like I’ve discovered lost treasure.

100 Words. 100 Days: Day 94. On Classic Novels.

There was a time when I wouldn’t touch a classic novel with a lighted pitchfork. They were too dense, I thought, written in a language no longer relevant for today’s modern needs. Too many thees, thous and words I need to look up in a dictionary.

But then I picked up Les Miserables, by  Victor Hugo. Yes, it’s dense, with passages that seem to go on forever, and for no particular reason. It has more tangents than a geometry manual; but it’s a joy to read. I feel that I’ve given classics a bad rep. Now I’ve changed my tune.



100 Words, 100 Days: Day 93. On Good Reads.

I pity those who say they’ve never read a book and don’t feel the need to. Sure isn’t it a waste of time? they say. We have bills to pay, mouths to feed, and work to be done. Who needs sparkly vampires anyway? We have cinemas and DVDs for that. To them I say, you’re missing the point. Movies and television shows provide the images for you. With reading you have to do the work yourself.

And yes, my non-reading friends (who are more than likely not reading this), reading is work, and it rewards better than most cash-paying jobs.

100 Words, 100 Days: Day 74. On Disappointments.

James Patterson was a writer for whom I had a lot of time. His earlier Alex Cross novels, up to an including Violets Are Blue, were outstanding pieces of entertainment: fast-paced, relentless thrillers. I could read a book a day if I had the time.

Then they got stupid. But worse than that, they became predictable. Even worse than that, I wished Patterson would kill off Cross once and for all. Then Patterson became a cash cow; so much so, he farmed his writing off (in my opinion) to anyone who had their hands out.

Have you been similarly disappointed?


100 Words, 100 Days: Day 73. On Impulse.

We’ve all been there: that moment of madness that overtakes us with such force that we have no choice but to submit to its will. I don’t know what drives you, my reader, to such behaviour; but for me it’s the need for a book. Not just any book – but one book that I need – must – get my hands on.

Last week it was The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. After seeing Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, I just had to get my hands on some classic Cold War fiction.

As it turned out, I ended up buying three more books.

100 Words, 100 Days: Day 72. On Smiley.

No, not the emoticon but the character: John Le Carre’s famous spymaster, George Smiley. Coming out of a screening of the recent adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, I thought about fictional characters authors are most famous for. Fleming has Bond, Lee Child has Jack Reacher, Conan Doyle had Sherlock Holmes.

For people of a certain age, Sir Alec Guinness’s portrayal of Smiley was the benchmark by which Gary Oldman would be judged. But now Le Carre’s creation has a new lease of life, and  I would love to see him return for another adventure.

Classic characters will live forever.


100 Words, 100 Days: Day 69. On Stephen King.

Ever slipped into a pair of comfortable slippers for the first time in a while? Don’t you wish you never took them off? Okay, you know that you can’t wear the same shoes day in day out; they’d either fall apart or smell to high heaven.

A friend loaned me a copy of Stephen King’s Full Dark, No Stars, and I’m taking it on holiday with me. I read the first few pages when the comfortable slippers analogy came to me. King, like all my favourite writers, is a treasure: admire it but don’t overexpose it. It may lose its luster.



100 Words, 100 Days: Day 60. On Addictions.

Each of us, I think, has something we can’t live without, despite it being detrimental to our health and way of life. For some it could be alcohol, cigarettes, fatty food, salt or prescription/non-prescription drugs. Most of us are aware that such addictions can kill us.

But what about those addictions that are not fatal? If you could, would you be able to give up using the Internet, drinking coffee, buying too many books, eating too much chocolate, or possessing an unrealistic view of mankind and all its stupidity?

But enough about me. What should YOU live without?

Tell me.


The Famous Five…for The ASBO Generation.

A couple of years ago a friend on WEbook.com asked me to contribute a piece for his fan fiction project. This is what I came up with. Enid Blyton wouldn’t be pleased, no doubt.

The Famous Five: The Next Generation

“What ho, Dick,” said Julian, sucking on a Benson and Hedges. “Things are really quiet around the estate once Mummy took a restraining order against those dastardly hoodie type youths. They brought nothing but trouble.”

Dick looked up from his Nintendo DSlite(TM), his eyes still showing traces of last night’s monster of a party at George’s place. “Far too quiet for my liking, Jules. I reckon we could get bored very quickly. We need to go and have an adventure.”

Julian stubbed out his cigarette in the gold plated ash-tray that was the centrepiece of a mahogany table in the mansion library. “I agree, Dick old chap. Since winning the Euromillions, we’ve done shag all but party. Partying is so last week, I think.”

“We should give Anne a shout. Haven’t seen much of her since she had her licence taken away. Downright unfair, if you ask me. It wasn’t her fault George made her drink those slammers. Bloody policemen, they should be out there stopping the elderly from being beaten to an inch of their lives for their pension books.”

“Society is wasted on the uncivilised,” Julian mused. He patted his pocket, removed his Apple iPhone and dialled Anne’s number. “It’s gone to her voice-mail. Hello Anne, Jules here. Dick and I were wondering if you’d like to go on an adventure. We haven’t had one for years, not since old Enid passed away. If you’re interested call me back. Bye.”

“I hope she calls back,” Dick said. He put the Nintendo on the table and walked to the big bay window. “Do you remember the old days, Jules? When we went down to the coast, sailed to the islands and found buried treasure?”

“I do indeed, Dick. We were stupid buggers giving it all up to the authorities. We should have kept it to ourselves and bought some decent hash.”

“We didn’t have hash in those days, Jules. We drank ginger beer, ate cucumber sandwiches and frollicked in the fields with Timmy the dog.”

They bowed their heads in respect for the passing of their canine friend, run over by an oil truck while being chased by Smithers the gardener. Timmy was a good dog, a bit frisky with Smither’s Border collie Rhonda, but a good dog all the same. He died doing his duty. Rhonda gave birth to some ugly-looking mongrels a while later.

“Here’s George,” Dick exclaimed. “Looks like she’s brought a friend.”

“Male or female,” asked Julian inquisitively.

“Neither. It looks like we have a new Timmy.”

“Flaming Nora! I’m so excited, Dick. Have we any vodka?”

“There should be some left. I hid it behind the Stephen King books over there. Pull away The Shining, Julian.”

Julian went over to one of the bookshelves and took away the King book. Behind was a half-full bottle of Smirnoff. “That’s spot on, Dick. I’ll go to the kitchen to get the ginger beer. You let George in.”

“I don’t think your mother’s going to like a rottweiler in the mansion, Julian.”

“George has a rott? That is so cool. Let them in, Dick. Mummy won’t hear a thing. She’s sleeping one-off, I fear.” Julian cast his eyes to the ceiling, shook his head, and left the library. Dick followed to let George and the rottweiler in.

“George, it’s so good to see you,” said Dick when he opened the front door. “Is that a new nose-ring? You didn’t have that at the party last night. You didn’t have that either.” He was pointing at the dog when he said this.

George barged passed him without a word, dragging the dog behind her. It seemed obvious to Dick that the animal was afraid for his life of the tomboy. So were most animals, except for dearly departed Timmy.

“Blasted social services,” she groaned. “Brain-dead morons.”

“What’s gotten into you?” Dick asked her when they got back to the library.

“They only want me to move back with my foster parents. They don’t like me kipping in with Jimmy Neville.”

“Why ever not? He’s a decent sort.”

“It’s because his dad’s still locked up and won’t be out for another seven years.”

“That’s a sticky point. Oh, there’s Julian now. He’s brought drinks.”

George dashed over to Julian, grabbed a drink from the tray and knocked it back in one gulp. “Not enough vodka,” was all she said.

“I’m sparing it. Mother found my stash and confiscated it.”

“Drank it, you mean,” Dick scowled. He turned to George, “She’s sleeping one off.”

“Again?” George queried.

“Again,” Julian agreed, downcast. “I’ll have to get her into rehab, the one that Winehouse tramp goes to every second week.”

“Why weren’t you at my party last night, Julian? You missed a right old knees-up, didn’t he, Dick?”

“Once the police went away, it was alright.”

“Me and Sam decided to have a quiet night in and watch Big Brother,” said Julian with a dreamy smile on his face. “We shared a bottle of Bollinger and a prawn curry.”

“Very romantic,” George said sardonically. “And how is lover-boy?”

“He’s very well, but he hasn’t told his father yet. He’s waiting until he’s written his will and about to croak it. Doesn’t want to be cut off from his inheritance.”

George took another glass from the tray, but sipped this one slowly. She appeared to coming back to her old self – the impish grin had made a reappearance. “So what are we up to today?”

Just then Julian’s iPhone rang, the theme from The Dambusters echoing around the library. “It’s Anne,” he said. “Hey there, cousin. You’ll never believe what’s after happening. George has a new dog, a rottweiler. What’s its name, George?”


“Timmy? Did you hear that, Anne? George has named him after good old Timmy.”

“It’s a bitch, Julian,” said George.

“Hold on, Anne. The dog is a girl-dog, and you called her Timmy? That is totally awesome…………Anne wants to know where you got her.”

“Jimmy gave her to me as a going away present. I thought I might leave her here. I doubt my foster parents will like her in that dump they call a house.”

“Did you hear that, Anne?” Julian said again. “Timmy’s going to stay here with me and Dick. Are you coming over?………….Excellent! I’ll do a beer run.” He hung up.

“What an amazing day this is going to be, isn’t it Dick? Dick?”

Dick had fallen sound asleep – last night’s revelry had finally caught up with the poor boy. Even the attention of Timmy the rottweiler, who was chewing at his trouser leg, had failed to rouse him.

“Amateur,” spat George. “So what’s the story with Anne?”

“She’s on her way,” replied Julian. “She’s calling a taxi and should be here in an hour. I’m going to the market to get more alcohol.”

“Bring back vodka. Lots of vodka. I’m in the mood to have an adventure, just like in the old days. You can forget getting ginger beer. That stuff makes me puke.”

“No problem, Georgina. I’ll be back in a jiff. See if you can wake Dick up.”

“I’ll do my best, and if you ever call me Georgina again I’ll split your head open.”

“You’re the boss,” Julian said chirpily and off he went, singing to himself, “We are the Famous Five. Julian, Dick and Anne, George and Timmy the rott……..”

Text (c) James McShane 2008

Characters (c) Enid Blyton