Lari's Book reviews

I started this little "literary blog" in January 2010, to later remember what books I've read as I do read quite a few and sometimes tend to forget titles and in some cases subject matters for the less memorable ones, to practice writing in english, and also eventually to inform the occasional visiting book reader, may he be a friend or an anonymous websurfer whose linkdrifting has led unto this page.
As for the whimsical **** ratings, they are usually favorable, for if I do stumble on a book I dislike, I'll probably not bother reading it through and thus couldn't "ethically" review a book I hadn't fully read.

Ratings: ******Outstanding / ***** Excellent / **** Very Good / *** Good / ** Not bad / * Not too bad / ! Not Good/ !! Boring / !!! Terrible
To be continued : I didn't stop reading books in 2013, but have been too busy elsewhere to have time to keep writing these littles reviews. I will resume the practice at a later date, possibly. Cheers & thanks to those that read them.
   
Flatland by Edwin Abbott Abbott
*********
What happens when a 2D square discovers the third dimension, a geometric fable from the late 19th century, translated to french by me myself and I. Available here.
   
Potsderania, The People's Kingdom by Iago Serpenski & Laurent Lucien
*********
The only existing traveller's guide to the little known marxist kingdom of Potsderania, written by yours truly and the notorious potsderanian press mogul, Iago Serpenski. In english. En français.
 
   
2012: 53
DECEMBER 2012

We are not scanning all those books to be read by people,
we are scanning them to be read by an A.I
.
Unidentified Google engineer

Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett
***
Terry Pratchett has invented a fantasy world, the "Discworld ("a large disc resting on the backs of four giant elephants, all supported by the giant turtle"), which is the setting of numerous books (40 !) he has been writing since 1983. This is the first one I've read and it's a rather fun and entertaining murder mystery featuring likeable golems and other nonsensical characters.
Post-Scriptum : Dessins, manuscrits, inédits by Boris Vian
*****
A very pleasant book collecting drawings, sketches, doodles and manuscripts of the poet and writer Boris Vian. Better known for his writings and songs, Vian also shows his inventivity and sense of humor in his artwork. If like myself you're a Boris Vian fan, you'll enjoy this well documented book. Boris Vian died in 1959 and some of his pictures were ahead of their times, like the paintings depicting robot gunfights on top of skyscrapers or the proto-smileys that Vian called "miams".
   
Michel Vaillant: Km 357, Le Secret de Steve Warson, Concerto pour pilotes by Jean Graton
art*** text ***
Three comic book adventures of racing pilot Michel Vaillant, well drawn and told by Jean Graton, a french "bande dessinée" author very popular in the 60s and 70s. I had enjoyed reading his stories back then as a child, and reading them again today in a spell of nostalgia, I found they stood the test of time and were still entertaining with the Km357 episode even attempting some social commentary about the conflicts between the march of progress and the old fashioned rural lifestyle of french farmers as they face expropriation because of the construction of a highway on their land. Jean Graton, now retired, is a real auto enthusiast and really enjoyed drawing automobiles, planes and other gas guzzling machines, back in the days when fuel was cheap and cars were cool. Vroooom !
Un Métier de Seigneurs (A Noble Profession) by Pierre Boulle
***
A spy thriller set in World War II, featuring allied spies and nasty nazis, dealing with courage and cowardness, and man's resistance (or not) to torture.
 
Boris Vian, le sourire créateur by Valère-Marie Marchand
***
A biography of the poet Boris Vian , a favorite inspiration of mine told in a little bit too sensationalist way but nevertheless an enterntaining read, especially if like me "vous aimez le Bison", (en français dans le texte).
 
Tune of the month: Sugar Man by Sixto Rodriguez
NOVEMBER 2012

"Partout m'est desespoir,
et ma peine, infinie.
Face à mes noirs miroirs,
je ne vois plus qu'un cri"

L.Lucien

Les Jeux de l'Esprit (Desperate Games) by Pierre Boulle
***
Scientists decide to take over world politics from the hands of incomptetent politicians . Thanks to their superior minds they succeed and create a new society. Of course everything does not work according to plan and their dream society soon veers into the realm of soft fascism and opinion control through violent massmedia entertainment. A pleasant little scifi novel from the fifties by the author of Planet of the Apes and Bridge on the River Kwai, with a prophetic view on above mentionned mass media's more grotesque manifestations.
 
Lautrec, Mon Ami by François Gauzi
****

François Gauzi was a close friend of Toulouse Lautrec's and spent a lot of time with him sharing the rambuctious lifestyle of the late 19th century parisian painter. In this not too well written book (Gauzi sometimes repeats the same anecdotes, and his prose is somewhat clumsy, but one must remember he was painter and not a writer) he shares many anecdotes and rare moments from Lautrec's entire artistic life, as their friendship was a longstanding one. Gauzi's affection for Lautrec is evident throughout the book which is also an interesting and entertaining testimony on the life of the parisian artists of that era.

   
A Maze of death by Philp K. Dick ***
Some space pionneers are sent to the strange planet Delmak-O. They do not know each other and why they have been sent there. Soon communications with the ouside universe break down, and things quickly go wrong . But all is not what it seems with Philip K Dick who once again shows his prophetic insight, as we discover at the end of the book. A very paranoid "Dickian" atmosphere in this one ( as I've heard this neo-adjective used, an honor bestowed upon few writers , ie: shakespearian , proustian, balzacian, homeric.... In french there's also dantesque & rimbaldien ; can't think of any others).
 
OCTOBER 2012
The History Of The Universe In Three Words (sic)
CHAPTER ONE
Bang!
CHAPTER TWO
sssss….
CHAPTER THREE
crunch.
The End

I.M. Banks
The Drop by Michael Connelly
***
My favorite L.A. Detective Hieronymus Bosch on a double investigation ( one at the Chateau Marmont even ). Michael Connelly adds another episode to his sympathetic detective's career and once again lives up to his reputation as one of today's foremost crime writers.
 
The State of the Art by Iain M. Banks
*****
Much reading fun and fantasy in this collection of short stories and literary ramblings by Mr Banks, some rather experimental in form, albeit never lacking the author's apparently limitless imagination and his jubilant sense of humor. All the stories revolve around his science fiction series about the Culture, a future galactic society led by hyper intelligent space ships that human beings, far surpassed by these self repairing, self improving artificial inelligences, have gladly accepted as the organisers and rulers of a vast galactic democracy of sorts.
 
Tune of the month : Why this Kolaveri di by Hanush
SEPTEMBER 2012
Old longings nomadic leap
Chafing at custom's chain;
Again from its brumal sleep
Wakens the ferine strain

J.Myers O'Hara
Virginia by Jens Christian Grondhal
****
A story not quite told about a love affair that didn't quite happen between two teenagers during World War II. J.C. Grondhal tells this story with a great delicacy of feelings, well describing the subtle emotions and regrets of his characters as they deal with the consequences of their lost opportunities.
   
Midnight all day by Hanif Kureishi
*****
Ever since I read "The Buddha of Suburbia" a now substantial number of years ago, I've felt that Hanif Kureishi was the author who best described my generation. This feeling has been kept alive by his following books and film scripts which I've always enjoyed. This collection of short stories is no exception. All the stories are very good and one of them, Four Blue Chairs, is in my sense exceptional.
 
The Affair by Lee Child
****
Heavy handed headbuster Jack Reacher hits Hickville and hurts the hicks in yet one more of Lee Child's irresistible page turners. Child has an uncanny way of writing action thrillers that are predictable (Jack Reacher lands in some small town, this time in Misssissippi, and gives the local evil doers what they deserve), and yet extremely hard to put down . His stories are like donuts, you know you should be eating something healthier but mmmm donuts… In this one, a seminal donut of sorts, we find out why our favorite ex-MP left the army and turned into a lone drifter…
 
The Call of the Wild by Jack London
*****
The Call of the Wild, written before White Fang (see review below, march 2011) , is like its inverted mirror image. In White Fang a wild wolf dog finds peace and solace in domesticity, and in the Call, a tame family dog surrenders to its "ferine strains" and runs off to lead a pack of wolves in the Yukon wilderness. The two stories bear many similarities, the great North, the hardships of a sled pulling dog's life and London's gift for storytelling, though the more developed White Fang shows even more of his tremendous talent as if The Call of the Wild was the blue print or the draft for the richer and longer White Fang (published only 3 years later). It still remains a classic with London already displaying immense writing abilities.
 
The Robots of Dawn by Isaac Asimov
****
A robot murder mystery by the master of robotic stories and author of 470 books (470 !!!) Isaac Asimov. Can robots be murdered ? An excellent science-fiction novel, the fourth installement of Asimov's famous Robot novels, set in a futrie society wher robots have become all present and indispensable to human beings.and along the way we even we learn how "psycho-history" ( a science familiar to the readers of Asimov's Foundation series) was invented ans by whom.
   
The Productions of Time by John Brunner
***

A very british story set in a country manor with strange butlers, tweed jackets and all the frills, where a theater production brings together a group of actors on the decline under the pretext of rehearsing a new play. But unbeknownst to them, another fiendish agenda awaits the thespians. Not an essential Brunner book but fun to read. The mood reminded me of some of the early episodes of the english TV series "The Avengers" (the one with John Steed, not the Marvel gang of leotard wearing super hero freaks).

 
9 dragons by Mike Connelly
****
Where we learn a bit about Hieronymus Bosch's tragic family life as he has to deal with evil chinese triads and goes to Hong Kong. I also learnt the origins of the chinese triads from this solid thriller by the consistent Mike Connelly, Deon Meyer's american cousin.
 
AUGUST 2012  
Heart of the Hunter by Deon Meyer
****
Another great thriller by one of today's best authors of the genre. This one features the assegai (a traditional xhosa spear) wielding ex-KGB hitman "Tiny" Thobela Mpayipheli, a formidable character already featured by Meyer in one of his previous novels, "Devil's Peak" (see review below, september 2011). On top of being top notch thrillers, Deon Meyer's books also teach a lot about modern day South Africa, it's peoples, social issues and geography.
   
Simulacra by Philip K Dick
***
After the first five pages of this book, you understand why Philip K. Dick is one of the great science fiction writers. They contain more "scifi" ideas in than in many other science fiction author's entire books. This one deals with media manipulation, virtual heads of state, and other visionary technical developpments that make Dick one of the most prophetic scifi authors to date.
   
Rosalie Blum by Camille Jourdy
****for artwork /****for text
An original and well constructed graphic novel relating in a delicate and pleasant style the complicated relationships of some colourful characters in a french town. The story, at first disconcerting, slowly but surely encroached me and Camille Jourdy's fine artwork made this a very enjoyable read.
   
JULY 2012  
The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin
*****
This is the second Ian Rankin book I've read not featuring the great John Rebus but the "complaints" inspector Malcolm Fox. In Rankin's first Fox story "The Complaints", I did miss Rebus, his sidekick Siobhan and his nemesis Big Ger Cafferty. This time around I accepted the fact that Rebus is no longer around and got used to the younger Fox who is not so different from his predecessor. Rankin's storytelling and characters are as always solid and well depicted. Fox and his crew make up a bunch of good coppers and Rankin's new series seems well on it's way.
 
The Grandmothers by Doris Lessing
*
I didn't get this book, the situations and characters seemed improbable and unrealistic. I expected much more from a Nobel Prize winner. Boring and slightly annoying even...
 
La Petite Roque by Guy de Maupassant
******
A short murder mystery by Maupassant published in 1885 when such stories were not yet much in vogue. Before that only Poe, Wilkie Collins and few others had tested the genre. Maupassant does a great job of it, introducing a novel final twist for the times. Great reading as usual with Master Maupassant.
   
The Squares of the City by John Brunner
****
A rather strange and very "sixties-ish" book set in Vados, a fictional South american dictature where chess is the national sport. The book 's structure, though you can't tell when you read it, is based on a famous chess game.from 1892 between Wilhelm Steinitz & Mikhail Chigorin, with each character representing a piece on the board and each plot development echoing a move in the game. (I'll admit I had no clue of this as I read the book). It's also a reflection on "soft fascism" and media manipulation, like for instance the use of subliminal messages in advertisments, and other "big-brotheresque" crowd control techniques, themes which make the book somewhat prophetic.
   
JUNE 2012

The Star Rover by Jack London

*****
A gloomy novel about emprisonment, resilience and reincarnation. A very strange book indeed, sometimes reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe's work and featuring as always London's great storytelling capacities, powerful characters and his ruthless outlook on life and humanity.
 
Echo Burning by Lee Child ***
Maybe I've read too much of Lee Child's books, but this one seemed too reminiscent of his other Jack Reacher thrillers, even though Child retains his amazing page turning abilities.
   
Trundling Grunts by Glen Baxter
*****
Ah, the nonsensical and hilarious world of Glen Baxter ! What a treat !
   
Robert Crumb, de l'underground à la génèse
******
The catalog to Crumb's big 2012 exhibition at the Musée d'Art Moderne of Paris. A well documented and well printed survey of Crumb's entire career, with illustrations and drawings from his beginnings to nowadays. Amazing !
   
The complete Record Cover Collection by Robert Crumb
*****
If the most famous record cover by Crumb is probably Janis Joplin's Cheap Thrills album, he has drawn quite a number of them and they have been astutely collected in this fine book.
   
The Sweeter side of Robert Crumb by Robert Crumb
*****
Another fine collection of drawings by Robert Crumb that for once can be put in hands of all ages. No crumbian porn here, maybe an attempt to reach a wider audience. Undoubtedly one of the great drawing talents of of times.
   
Poems for a New Millenium by Laurent Lucien
**********
A new collection of poems in french and english written between 2000 and 2010. Guess who wrote them ?
It contains some of my best work to date, methinks.You can order it here.
 
MAY 2012  
Brazzaville Beach by William Boyd
**
A good idea to set this story in a campment of scientists studying chimpanzees in the Congo, but the plot and characters (apart from the main heroin) lack a little depth and the book's to-ing and fro-ing between two periods of the narrator's life prevent it from picking up steam .Some chapters seem repetitive and don't add much to the story. Not a bad book, it's quite readable but in my sense not Boyd's best, maybe because I've come to expect more from this author.
   
Prophecies by Leonardo da Vinci
****
Genius Leonardo's thoughts and maximes taken from his Codex Atlanticus. Gives you an idea of the great mind at work and the vast scope of his interests. Was this man really a human being ?
   
Skipid by Stefán Máni
***
Another dark story from Iceland set on a cargo ship aboard which a motley crew (^^) heads for disaster on the tempestuous Atlantic Ocean.. A dense gloomy atmosphere and numerous plot twists make this a rather good maritime action thriller.
  Tune of the month: Weep themselves to sleep by Jack White
APRIL 2012

"Striving to stay droll and jolly
Amidst all the poison and stink"
L.Lucien

Skyscrapers of the Midwest by Joshua W. Cotter
***for artwork /**for text
An original graphic novel, set in a familiar but unique and very personal world of crumbian cat children with no eyeballs living in a strange midwestern town where scary robots and other odd happenings abound.and where life is not simple.
Shibumi by Trevanian
**
Having read the "prequel sequel" to this book by another author using the same characters and background, I was curious to read the original story. Don Winslow, commissioned by his editors to write a follow-up to late author Trevanian's Shibumi, had done a rather good job of it and spun out a good action thriller, Satori. (See review January 2012) Reading Trevanians book which is set after its prequel-sequel, I enjoyed encountering the same characters and mood but nonobstant the fine descriptions of the Pyrénées mountains, and the passion for spelunking (a weird and good word !) the author conveys in a bit too many pages, I was left feeling the original from 1979 lacked the modernity found in more contemporary thriller books. A feeling similar to reading Robert Ludlum or Alistair Maclean today. These books meant to be cutting edge modern thrillers at the time of their writing, can't beat the fact that the digital revolution has happened and that today the lack of its presence in an action drama involving spies, survellance and covert communications inevitably makes that drama seem slightly dated and somewhat quaint. Still, kudos to Mr Trevanian for, already in 1979, describing a "Mother Company" a secret US security organisation run by ruthless oil barons and other powerful nefarious figures of the defense and industrial lobbies who use a "very powerful computer" ( in 1979 this might have been an 8 million dollar Cray supercomputer, a machine 30 times less powerful than today's average PC ) to spy and collect information on people. Though Trevanian's talent is not in cause, and duly his books were bestsellers in their day, this dated 20th century feeling made this is a rare case where for once I enjoyed the the sequel (or prequel sequel) better than the original.
MARCH 2012
"The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time."
J.London
Tales of the Fish Patrol by Jack London
*****
Inspired by London's teenage years, these short stories, all set in the San Francisco Bay, relate the adventures of a young man enrolled in the "Fish Patrol", a brigade of maritime coppers of sorts, or rather of naval game wardens, intended to stop fishing misdemeanors in the bay. Based on London's real life experiences, the stories portray the life of fishermen in the San Franscisco Bay at the turn of the 20th century, feature some very picturesque characters (there's even a sailor named Nick the Greek! ) and show that London was already a fearless adventurer as a teenager.
The Mutiny of the Elsinore by Jack London
*****
A tale of the high seas, aboard the Elsinore, a cargo sail ship running the merchant routes in 1913 around the terrible Cape Horn, before the digging of the Panama canal. On board, a motley crew rebels against the fearless Captain West (nice to write motley crew).. Hardships, adventure and tragedy await them as they suffer terrible storms and fight for survival, and the narrator, at first a gentleman of leisure, is forced by the tragic turn of events to take part in the ruthless battle between the crooked mutinees and their self-righteous opponents. London writes an epitomic tale of mutiny, comparable to the Mutiny of the Bounty, and confirms his great knowledge of the seaman's plight and as always, his immense storytelling talent.
In a dry season by Peter Robinson
*****
Another good one by crime story marksman Peter Robinson set as always in the Yorkshire Dales with Detective Inspector Alan Banks once again at hands with some old forgotten bones. Banks, over serious challengers such as Iain Rankin's John Rebus, Deon Meyer's Benny Griessel or Mike Connelly's Hieronymus Bosch, gets my vote for top cop: he listens to Tupelo Honey by Van Morrison while working on his cases.
Tune of the month: Tupelo Honey by Van Morrison

FEBRUARY 2012

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
****
Once again the strange fantastic world of Murakami entraps the reader, in this first installment of a trilogy that shows some ressemblance to Stig Larsen's Millennium. As in "Kafka on the Shore" (see review below, january 2012), we follow two main characters in alternating chapters, this time a writer and a hit-woman, as their destinies slowly lead them together. A good start that makes me want to read the rest of this trilogy.
 
Le Cahier Tropical by Simon Pradinas
*****
Another little book by very talented Simon Pradinas, this one in color, showing a series of paintings he made during a trip to southern China in the summer of 2007.
 
80 Dessins et Gravures by Simon Pradinas
*****
Simon Pradinas is a painter, drawer, engraver, poet and film maker whose work I really like. This little book in black and white shows 80 of his recent drawings and engravings and even contains an excellent poem "La ville qui courait". Self-published, it's hard to find but you can try contacting him through his website: http://simon.pradinas.com/
Bettý by Arnaldur Indridason
*****
Hé hé hé, ho ho ho ho. As not to spoil its plot and clever construction, I won't say too much about this book but ha ha ha, hi hi hi. Wily Arnaldur Indridason, my favorite islandish author (and also the only one i've read), must have had a lot of fun writing this dark roman noir full of twists and surprises set in wintry Iceland where passions burn as hot as elswhere, no matter how thick the snow.
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
*****
A good discovery this book by Haruki Murakami who leads us into the fantastic world of his imaginary Japan where things are not what they seem, cats can be talked to, old stones glow in the forest awaiting the chosen's touch, and mystery and danger lurk behind every palisade. An interesting new author added to my favorites in the fantastsic genre.
Tune of the month: The Floater by Henry Mancini
JANUARY 2012
The Acme Novelty Library Annual Report to Shareholders by Chris Ware
******for artwork /*****for text
A very impressive volume of Chris Ware's amazing ACME Novelty series. Since 1993, Ware has been publishing this series of very fine quality books that all come in different sizes and formats. This one is a large one and contains many bittersweet and often cruel comic strips featuring Ware's recurrent heroes such as Quimby the Mouse, Rocket Sam, cowboy Big Tex, Rusty Brown and others. Also featured in this sturdy and elegant hardboard volume are Ware's usual wacky prose inserts,silly fake advertisements, his incredible typography, cutout paper models that you don't cut out so not to ruin the book, a luminescent map of the stars and many more droll and interesting goodies altogether making this a major opus by one of comics finer artists.
Coffee with Marylin by Yona Zeldis McDonough
*
A useless little book pretending to be an unformal interview with Marilyn Monroe in which fans will learn nothing new about the famous actress. A scarce collection of things she might have actually thought and said, it completely passes on a fundemental aspect of the Hollywood legend and iconic photographer's model : not a single picture!
Need More Love by Aline Kominsky-Crumb
***for artwork /***for text
A fun account of the life of comic artist Aline Kominsky-Crumb, one of the inventotrs of underground comics in the 60s. Aline was one of the creators of the first comics made entirely by women. Her recollections of her childhood and teenage years in the 60s, her life in the San Francsisco hippy scene as a young artist-activist, and her later settling in the south of France with her family are fun to read and illustrated by many of her drawings and excerpts from her comics, plus to top it all there are a few of her husband Robert Crumb's drawings in there too.
   
Pluto, volumes 1 & 2 by Naoki Urasawa
*****for artwork /****for text
Naoki Urosawa is the author of "Monster" a manga I read a while back and really enjoyed. In this venture he revives Osama Tezaku's Astroboy, a classic of the genre created in 1952, as a tribute to Tezaku's work which he admires. Using a more realistic approach, Uzawa reinvents the futuristic world of robots where Astroboy, the very powerful boy robot and robot policeman Gesicht are faced with the mysterious murders of fellow combots (combat robots) and humans. The first two volumes, like the Monster series, show a great sense of plot, interesting characters, and excellent artwork, confirming Urasawa as one of the more sophisticated manga authors I've read.
   
Void Moon by Mike Connelly
****
A good Connelly book, set in Las Vegas and Los Angeles about audacious heisters stealing from mobby casino owners. As always with Mike Connelly, an efficient and well constructed thriller, featuring a female heroin, nasty mafia henchmen, shovels in Cadillac trunks, burials in the Nevada desert, and other Vegas traditions.
 
Satori by Don Winslow
***
Commissioned by his publishers, Don Winslow undertakes the difficult task of writing a sequel or rather a prequel to another author's work, the late Trevanian's Shibumi, a spy novel featuring international hitman Nicholai Hel. Though I've not read Trevanian's original novel, I found Winslow pulled it off rather well in this action thriller set in China and Vietnam in the 1970s.
Hero and Leander by Chris Marlowe
***

This is a long poem, written in the 17th century by the notorious Chris (aka "Kit") Marlowe, about greek mythology figures Hero and Leander and their tragic love affair. A fair setting for sure for a poet to roam, and though Kit tries his best and shows off his greeks, his rhymes oft tumble clumsy, and his rythm is naught. Hero and Leander is never the less quite amusing to read, very indicative of its time, and written by one of the few contemporary poets of Shakespeare to step out of his shadow. Marlowe would, but does not equal Shakespeare, nor has he the baggage to lay such a claim. Then again nobody can really compete with the great Will, even to this day. In the glare of the sun even bright stars look bleak. I would not really blame Marlowe though, whose gallant verse probably much appealed to the ladies of his time, (and seems apparently more aimed at their swooning than written as an earnest poetic pursuit), as the young man was busy elsewhere as a secret agent of sorts, a murky activity which led to his early death by stabbing at 29 years of age. Yet the comparison with Shakespeare is inevitable, the two contemporaries being both playwrites and poets, and it turns to Marlowe's disadvantage as here I found none of the Bard's profundity, a lesser understanding of human passions, and none of the ominous and rolling rhythm of the Sonnets, and though I've not read any of Marlowe's plays, I fear they would not stand up well to Macbeth, Lear or the danish slasher. Nevertheless an instructive read, epitomic of 17th century english poetry even if Marlowe's adventurous and shady life seems more interesting than his writing.

 
L'Armée Furieuse by Fred Vargas
****
The subtle commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg and his very likeable sidekicks, Danglard and Betancourt are back in this latest installment of Fred Vargas's roman noir series, set in Paris and Normandy. This time they are faced with ancient morbid superstitions and mysterious murders in the heart of the norman countryside. A very good "polar" by France's best author in the genre.
2011: 66
DECEMBER 2011
Batman: Dark Knight 1.2.3 by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley
***for artwork /*for text
Same things to say about this one as the review two boxes down except the artwork shows more originality than is usually seen in traditional Super hero comics. Miller's graphic style and Lynne Varley's coloring are often surprising and refresh the Batman myth. Alas once again I found the story never seemed to matter, was hard to get into and somewhat inane when I finally did.
Olympos by Dan Simmons
*****
The second part of Dan Simmons sci-fi saga about: quantumly displaced trojan and greek heroes re-enacting Homer's Illiad on Mars, Shakespeare loving robots from the moons of Jupiter, bewildered humans fighting for survival on an endangered Earth, and many more extravagant concepts and ideas, does not disappoint and once again I marvelled at Simmons's exuberant imagination and complex plot building abilities. Illium (see review september 2011) and Olympos are surely one of the major science-fiction works of this nascent 21st century.
Batman: Hush by Jeph Loeb, Jim Lee & Scott Williams
***for artwork /*for text
I've always had an interest for Bruce Wayne and his caped and leotarded adventures, maybe because my parents would not let me watch the Batman and Robin TV series when I was a kid. "You don't need to watch that kind of stupidity" would sternly say my dad, and my mum agreed because she'd read about an 8 year old boy who'd donned a Superman costume and, thinking he could fly, had jumped off the roof a building, subsequently killing himself in the process. I argued that I was not stupid enough to do such a thing, that the show was fun and that unlike Superman, Batman couldn't fly, but to no avail. Only Zorro was accepted as far as caped and masked vigilantes went. I caught up with the pleasant wacky camp series much later and even nowadays when I stumble on a Batman film or comic book, I take a look. Though contrarily to most caped crusader's fans, I miss the TV series's comedy aspect that is never present in comic book form, I've sometimes read pretty good installments of Bob Kane and Bill Finger's creation. This one is not bad and some panels make for pretty impressive comic book art, but the story, although it features many famous bat-ingredients like Catwoman, Robin, the Joker, Gotham City, the batcave (and bat-vehicles) and even Superman, does not do it for me as often is the case with superhero comics. Bang! Pow! Wham! Boom! is not enough of a plot to keep me interested anymore, part of the price for getting old I guess.
L'Invasion des Triplex by Laurent Lucien
********

Another book of 3D fractal images rendered by me (examples here). Like the Codex Mandelbulbus (see below september 2010), this is mostly a picture book, this time with a little fictional text accompanying the illustrations. Only in french as of yet (but I promise to translate it soon), and you can order it here.

13 Uur (13 Hours) by Deon Meyer
****
A very fast paced action thriller set in Cape Town, South Africa by the excellent Deon Meyer, featuring his anxious cop detective Benny Griessel. This is the second Deon Meyer book I've read this year and he is certainly one of the better crime writers I've discovered recently.
One Shot by Lee Child
****
Lee Child's -hard to put down though I should stop reading this and get some sleep but I can't even though I know Jack Reacher will obliterate the bad guys in the end- effect still works. I was somewhat sleepy the next day.
NOVEMBER 2011
"Clay lies still, but blood's a rover;
Breath's a ware that will not keep.
Up, lad; when the journey's over
There'll be time enough for sleep
.”
A.E. Houseman
Le Docteur Heraclius Gloss by Guy de Maupassant
*****
An excentric french XIXth century doctor discovers metempsychosis and is soon ensconsed by the doctrine's lores through a strange book found in an old bookstore. It leads to his ostracisation and the adoption of a monkey, the loss of all his friends and social respectability. A tall tale told as usual with great maestria and humor by Guy de Maupassant, undoubtedly one of the true great masters of french literature.
Kaltex en Chine by Kaltex
******
In 1986, a group of artists, sculptors, painters, and filmmakers known as Kaltex (Soizic Arsal, Willy Pierre & Simon Pradinas) accompanied by photographer Yann Layma took off for several months on an exploration of China. During their voyage, they painted, drew, sculpted and clicked away and came back with a rich trove of varied artwork . This book shows some of their work and testifies of the creative ebulliency and emulation that their travelling together induced. It's also an original and colourful depiction of China in 1986.
Blood's a Rover by James Ellroy
******
The third part of James Ellroy's trilogy following American Tabloid and The Cold Six Thousand, describing the dark underbelly of the US of A in the early 70's during Richard Nixon's election campaign against Hubert Humphrey, this final installement delivers the same kind of goods (or bads?) as the first two, with a few novel twists like important (and left wing ! ) women characters. But still everpresent are the same hysterical anti communist weirdoes, the same corrupt politicians and mob bosses, the same crooked cops and ultra right wing racist thugs indulging in the same kind of psychopathic behavior you've come to expect to find in an Ellroy book. And also the same redemptive love affairs, the same uptempo pace and ambitious unique writing style that Ellroy seems to have pushed even further this time, making this book an oustanding piece of modern literature.
Tune of the month: Ophelia by The Band
OCTOBER 2011
"In writing a novel, when in doubt,
have two guys come through the door with guns."

R. Chandler
61 hours by Lee Child
****
Big Jack Reacher goes after the bad guys and you can't stop turning the pages as always with Lee Child, one of the best action thriller writers around.
The story of Calife Hakem by Gerard de Nerval
*****
An amusing "long short story" by the eclectic de Nerval, who brought this tale back from his travels to Egypt, about a crazy haschich smoking ruler of Cairo from the 10th century who thought he was a divinity and expected his subjects to rever him accordingly. Calife Hakim did actually exist and is the originator of the Druze religion.Very loosely based on the historical facts, the story is told by a young narrator who is befriended by the delusional calife. Entertaining, original and very well written like all de Nerval's work I've read so far.
L'Enfant et la Rivière by Henri Bosco
***

This is a rather good story about a young boy who runs away from home and lives in the wild on the banks and islands of a river where he meets another young runaway more aloof than himself who helps him survive. It was pleasant enough to discover Bosco's writing but the problem I had is that Mark Twain had already written the Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn adventures long before ( Bosco wrote this book in 1945, Twain wrote his in the 1870s) so I couldn't help feeling that this was a sort of rip-off from those excellent books by Mr Samuel Longhorne Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain) also about young lads fending for themselves on a river. Here villain Injun Joe is replaced by a bunch of child stealing gypsies, the boys have a rowboat instead of a raft and these and other similarities somewhat miffed me. Had I not read Tom Sawyer I'd probably have enjoyed this one more as it's pretty well written albeit maybe a bit quaint and dated by today's hard-boiled standards.

Poil de Carotte by Jules Renard
***
A very strange book, about the life of a young redheaded country boy, Poil de Carotte (Carrot Hair), mistreated by his family and entourage, who nevertheless manages to keep a positive outlook on life. Set on a farm in some backwards part of France in the early 20th century, the book, written in a rather odd style by Jules Renard, shows the hardships of life for kids in the old days before child psychologists.
Blood War, Unholy Allies & The Unbeholden by Robert Weinberg
***
A set of three books set in a world ruled by clans of ferocious vampires that I was surprised to enjoy reading not particularily being a fan of vampire stories. Commissioned to write this trilogy by the makers of a video game set in the same vampire world, Robert Weinberg does a very good job of it, and the parts of the story set in Paris are well documented contrarily to for instance to Dan Brown's unresearched and preposterous Paris in the Da Vinci code.(Look at a map man!) Robert Weinberg did and got his Paris geography right. If there's such a thing as B-books like there are B-movies, then these are rather good ones.
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake
****
Written and illustrated by Blake himself, this is a major work of poetry from late 18th century England. Though I can't agree with some of his Proverbs from Hell like for instance "Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires." ( I beg to differ ), the volume is impressive and contains many powerful poetic visions and iconic illustrations, some of which are reminiscent of the Bible's style of writing. One memorable phrase is "If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite." which inspired the title of a book by Aldous Huxley and the name of the famous sixties rock band formed by James William Morrison and his acolytes, the Doors.
 
Un Fils by Guy de Maupassant
****
A short story by Maupassant, always a pleasure to read. This one deals with the consequences of 19th century men of the french bourgeoisie's lewd habit of jumping the maids in countryside inns when contraception was inexistent and thus begetting illegitimate children and leaving the mothers in desperate situations. Maupassant describes the qualms and regrets of one such humper and shows some compassion for the poor waif and her bastard son but ends his story with the cynical and somewhat realistic point of view of the narrator's accomplice, revealing the hypocritical mores of the 19th century bourgeoisie.
Tune of the month: Bad Girl by Lee Moses
SEPTEMBER 2011
"La gata de mi madre" & "La buena compañía" by Carlos Fuentes
***
These two short stories about ghosts set in Mexico reminded me of Edith Wharton's Ghost stories I read earlier this year, and I felt that like some of Wharton's they too ended a bit abruptly with no real explanations on the nature of the specters and I was left a bit frustrated, as if the stories stopped when the action really begins. Nevertheless they are rather well written and Fuentes succeeds in creating a good Mexican gothic atmosphere.
 
On Writing by Stephen King
*****
This is a very generous book. The great Stephen King has chosen to share some insights and thoughts on writing and he gives a lot of tips to aspiring writers. In the first part of the book he tells us how he came to be a writer, from his first stories wriiten in childhood to his first major success with Carrie. Since he's not trying to scare us this time, he reveals a great sense of humor and the book is fun to read on top of being instructive. In the second part he gives some great advice for anyone tickled with the need to scribble stuff on paper. It's a very inspiring read and worth any writing class in my opinion. Thanks Steve!
Restless by William Boyd
***
An english teacher discovers her mother was a british secret agent during WWII and helps her come to terms with her troubled past. A pleasant spy novel mixing the mother's story in Europe and the US during the war and her daughter's contemporary point of view.
Devil's Peak by Deon Meyer
****
The copper is an alcoholic, his wife is leaving him, two déjà-vus which trigger my "Uh-oh not again!" reflex, but the story is set in South Africa which made it original for me and Deon Meyer tells it well, and is very apt at bringing his characters to life in this dark tale of a murderous vengeance set in the shade of Devil's Peak, a mountain overlooking Cape Town.
Ilium by Dan Simmons
*****

Another literary feat coming from Dan Simmons's outstanding imagination, where he mixes galactic warfare, the heroes of Homer's "Iliad", the gods of ancient Greece, Shakespeare, Proust and little green martians into one story, and pulls it off too, in a thrilling and quite unique novel (not really that unique, as Simmons has written a sequel titled Olympos). If you're familiar with Simmons's work, you'll know he enjoys summoning great figures of literature in his novels, viz. John Keats and Ezra Pound in "Hyperion" or Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins in "Drood", and in this he indulges here unrestrained, much to my enjoyment. Not often does one get to enter the bedroom of Helen of Troy (who was actually from Sparta of course). Contrarily to "Drood", which I found a bit longish near the end, this one starts slowly and suddenly finds it's pace when the Shakespeare and Proust loving Moravecs from Jupiter's moonbelt are viciously attacked near Mars (no, I won't explain, read the book). From then on I was totally hooked and couldn't wait to know what would happen to the odd cast of characters the very erudite Simmons has assembled here. A major science-fiction novel for sure, by Zeus.

AUGUST 2011
"Those who restrain desire do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained."
W. Blake
Worth dying for by Lee Child
****
Big John Reacher gets the bad guys again in this irresistible page turner by Lee Child. What is so compelling about these stories starring an improbable invincible and merciless former US army MP ? Lee Child's books are very hard to put down so don't read them in bed if you have to get up early in the morning.
 
Poésies Complètes by François Villon
******
François Villon is one the first famous french poets (from the 15th century) whose work still resonates today though you have to be able to decipher olde french spellings to understand it. When you do and especially in a few of his more pertinent poems, he attains a level of poetry that few later poets have reached in form and substance. A clerk and a thief, he was often at odds with justice and barely escaped hanging at the end of his life. His adventurous life and poetic talent make him one of the all time major figures of french literature.
 
El misterio de la cripta embrujada (The Mystery of the Enchanted Crypt) by Eduardo Mendoza
****
In this wacky detective story set in Barcelona, the hero and narrator is a lunatic who lives in an asylum, has poor hygiene and no manners, but is nevertheless pulled from his nuthouse by a police inspector who uses his unusual deductive capabilities to solve mysterious dissappearances in a private school for girls run by whimsical nuns. Much nonsense and fantasy make this humorous book quite fun to read.
 
Le Fou de Bergerac (The Madman of Bergerac) by Georges Simenon
**
This is a Commissaire Maigret story, the famous pipe smoking french policeman invented by Simenon. Maigret was very popular in France in the 20th century, but, as for Hemingway (see below), the test of time shows no mercy to Simenon's writing and even though some good ideas are thrown in, the storyline and characters seem quaint and simplistic compared to the work of some of today's better crime writers.
 
Some words with a mummy by Edgar Allan Poe
****
I usually don't like to read translations of english works but I stumbled on this short story translated by Baudelaire who did an excellent job on Poe's work, so I read it in french... It's an amusing tale (and not so scary, coming from Poe) and maybe one of the first fictional stories about a resurrected mummy which shows how the man was way ahead of his times as an inventor of fantastic literature.
 
50 000$ by Ernest Hemingway
**
A bit of a dissappointment, this collection of short stories didn't altogether work for me and seemed a bit dated and not too subtle. I've read better by Hemingway. By comparison, the F. S. Fitzgerald's stories I reviewed in July (8 boxes down) stand the test of time much better, to mention one of Hemingway's contemporaries, but so do Jack London's stories that are anterior or even in my sense the 19th century ones by Maupassant .
 
La Maison Tellier, Une partie de campagne et autres nouvelles by Guy de Maupassant
******
A truly great writer, Maupassant dazzles with his immense talent in these classic short stories depicting 19th century life in France. The words genius and brilliant come to mind when you read them, his astute knowledge of human behavior, his sense of humor and awesome writing skills (the perfect phrasing and choice of words, the easy fluidity, the sense of flawless penmanship) making these stories a must read for literature aficionados.
 
Lilith by Primo Levi
****
A series of short stories, divided into three parts the first of which portrays people the author met during his captivity in the terrible Auschwitz nazi camp and the second and third dealing with different subjects ranging from science fiction to Levi's contemporary preoccupations, always showing a great talent for storytelling and a vivid imagination.
 
Le Gout des Jeunes Filles by Dany Laferrière
****

An interesting book about a young teenager in Haiti in the 1970's under the tragic rule of Papa Doc Duvalier and his discovery of life and sexuality with a group of liberated strong spirited young women in Port au Prince struggling to survive in the brutal world of the corrupt dictatorship.More sensual and poetic than political, this book nevertheless gives some insight into life in Haiti in those times.

 
The Babes in the Wood by Ruth Rendell
***
A solid and well crafted crime story by the famous Ruth Rendell. Pursuing my exploration of British crime writers I enjoyed this one more than the PD James book I read earlier, as it's a bit more modern in it's form and storyline. Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford is Ms Rendell's man on the job and he's a sturdy addition the UK's fictional police force, along with the likes of Detective Inspectors Banks, Rebus or Dalgliesh.
JULY 2011
"Rien ne m'est sur que la chose incertaine." F. Villon

Ceux qui vont mourir te saluent by Fred Vargas
***
One of the first stories by Fred Vargas, who is one of the best french "roman noir" authors I've read. Set in Rome and the Vatican, this early effort is entertaining and fun to read though the plot is less surprising and the characters not as endearing as in her later works featuring the sensitive Commissaire Adamsberg and his sidekicks Danglard and Retancourt whom I missed in this one.
The Third Man & The Fallen Idol by Graham Greene
****
The Third Man is a "novelisation" of Greene's script for the famous homonymous movie by Carol Reed and The Fallen Idol is a short story that was also adapted to film by Reed. Both stories are entertaining and well written, from a chap who knew what he was doing.
 
Les Filles de Feu & Les Chimères by Gerard de Nerval
******

This book contains one of my all time favorite poems, "El Desdichado" from the collection "Les Chimères". "Les Filles de Feu" is a set of short stories relating Gerard de Nerval's relationships with some of the women in his life. A hopeless romantic, Nerval can't help falling in love and has a hard time making his relationships work. He is a very likeable fellow and a very talented user of the french language.

 
The Diamond as big as the Ritz and other stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald
*****
Very good short stories from the excellent Fitzgerald, ranging from subtle social studies to science fiction as in the title story. This is a "how it's done" volume as far as short story writing goes from a master in his craft.
 
Imperial Bedrooms by Brett Easton Ellis
**
A bit of a disappointment here from an author I usually really like... The idea of bringing the characters from Less than zero (Brett Easton Ellis's first novel) back to life thirty years later seemed like a good one. But I would of hoped these characters, or at least the narrator, would have learnt something with age, and were not the vain, egotistic, useless idiots that they were in their youth. Alas no... They are even more stupid and pathetic this time which finally makes the book a bit boring, because what may have been excusable in young twenty year olds, becomes totally deplorable in middle aged people. Ellis, though he spares some of the female characters, shows them no mercy and seems a bit bored by them himself and his usually incisive writing seemed to me a bit dulled, I missed the sharp scalpel like penmanship that makes his previous books more enjoyable and meaningful than this one.
 
Drood by Dan Simmons
****
An original idea from Dan Simmons who makes Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens, the famous 19th century british writers, the heroes of a mystery tale set in London. Wilkie Collins is the opium addict narrator of this very entertaining (though maybe a wee bit longish) story that entwines fantasy with real facts from the aforementioned authors' lives. Simmons once again surprises with his very versatile talent, his burgeoning imagination, his erudition and love of writing.
JUNE 2011
"Mon front est rouge encor du baiser de la Reine". G de Nerval
Flatland by Edwin Abott Abott
******

A very imaginative fantasy written by a school teacher in the late 19th century, describing the arrival of a Sphere in a flat bi-dimensional world inhabited by circles, squares, lines and other polygons, and of the metaphysical turmoil this event causes. The tale, narrated by a square, is reminiscent of other british works of fantasy such as Swift's Gulliver or Lewis Caroll's Alice. A classic of sorts. I have been commissioned to translate it to french by the fine publishers from Carnets-Livres.

 
Modern Short Stories by Dylan Thomas, Geoffrey Dutton, Katherine Mansfield, Alan Paton, Ted Hughes, James Thurber, James Hanley, Joyce Carey, T.F. Powys, Patrick O'Brian, D.H. Lawrence, Ernest Hemingway, F.S. Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Walter de la Mare
*****
An excellent selection of short stories chosen by Jim Hunter, (Headmaster, Leighton Park School) intended for "young readers, about fourteen years old and upwards" and aiming to "please and hold the interest". His choice is a very good one and covers a wide range of different stories by famous authors giving a good overview of short story writing at it's best. Well done Head Hunter!
The Ghost Portrait by Gregory Norminton
***

An odd book by a talented writer, set in the 17th century just after Oliver Cromwell's rise and fall, but the author's choice of describing intimate moments and feelings of two painters and minor protagonists of the era, left me a bit frustrated from wanting to read more about the epic events of those turbulent times in British history. Though mention is made of the "Diggers", one of the first political movements advocating ecology and an early form of rural communism, I wanted to learn more about them and felt I'd arrived after the show and somewhat missed the party. Still it's a pretty bold literary idea and Norminton an author worth watching out for.

MAY 2011
"Je suis le Ténébreux, - le Veuf, - l'Inconsolé,
Le Prince d'Aquitaine à la Tour abolie :
Ma seule Etoile est morte, - et mon luth constellé
Porte le Soleil noir de la Mélancolie."
G de Nerval
Friend of the Devil by Peter Robinson
******
Hooked on Peter Robinson's work lately, I thoroughly enjoyed this double mystery (once again, two stories for the price of one, not an easy thing to manage for a writer). Settling down to read an Inspector Banks story, even though they are realistic and rather gruesome crime stories, gives me a "comfy" feeling, a bit like a cup of tea by the fireside on a cold rainy UK afternoon (with scones, if possible) or enjoying a pint or two in a friendly pub.
 
The Summer that never was by Peter Robinson
*****

Here Peter Robinson cleverly and prodigally entwines two stories into one book which is consequently twice as thick as the last one I read and possibly twice as enjoyable.You get to wish all coppers were like the endearing Alan Banks.

   
The Private Patient by PD James
**
If you enjoy the board game Cluedo, you might like this novel... There's a manor, a doctor, a butler, a maid, members of the british aristocracy and of course a murder and a clever inspector called Adam Dalgliesh. This is a classical english "whodunnit" mystery very much in line with Agatha Christie's work but it's a bit too classical for me. Good descriptions of crockery on chimney mantelpieces though.
 
The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly
****
In this one Connelly brings Hieronymus Bosch back into play to assist the Lincoln lawyer who is once again in a dangerous mess and Bosch's presence is maybe why I somewhat prefered this book to the previous one. Though Bosch has only a small part, it was pleasant to find him here. A good and entertaining Connelly book.

Tune of the month: Tamacun by Rodrigo y Gabriela

APRIL 2011
"Nulla dies sine linea" Appelles
The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly
***
No Hieronymus Bosch in this Connelly story. Instead his new main character is a lawyer in LA whose office is his Lincoln limousine. At first a bit disappointed, as I like detective Bosch and am not overly fascinated by judicial proceedings, I was neverthheless taken in by Connelly's skills at writing good thriller stories, and finally found myself interested by his well documented description of the american justice system.
 
Wednesday's Child by Peter Robinson
*****
Another fine Detective Inspector Banks story by the excellent Peter Robinson. Not much more to say than in the review below without revealing the plot so I'll leave it at that.
 
A Necessary End by Peter Robinson
*****
Along with Ian Rankin's John Rebus, Peter Robinson's DI Banks is one of my favorite UK coppers. Very humane and sympathetic, this Detective Inspector, based in the imaginary town of Eastvale in the Yorkshire dales, solves his cases without using spectacular violent means like some other of his fictional colleagues do, loves old blues music, good food, and an occasional stop at the pub. Robinson's plots are, like Rankin's, rather realistic and give a broad insight into British society and the life of a Yorkshire police inspector. Plus DI Banks isn't even a divorced alcoholic and gets along well with his superiors. A good man, that Alan Banks.
  Tune of the month: Cement Mixer by The Jim Jones Revue
MARCH 2011
"Meanwhile my life was under a cloud." E.A.Abott
White Fang by Jack London
******
Life in the Klondike, Yukon and California in the beginning of the 20th century as told by the now famous part wolf part dog canine named White Fang. This amazing awesome action-packed adventure novel is the pendant to "The Call of the Wild", London's other canine masterpiece. It's very cleverly crafted and London's talent makes the fact that the story is practically all told from the point of view of the wolf-dog totally acceptable, as he makes you enter the animal's psyche as few other writers I can think of have done. Undoubtedly a classic for all ages, but not for the squeamish, this is no Disney movie, it's a Jack London story and it rips, claws and bites.
 
Une Livre de Chair (A Pound of Flesh) by Pia Petersen
!
I didn't understand this book It tells the story of a sick whining uninteresting pitiful man who has nothing worthwhile to say and who lies on a couch feeling sick, while some other sorry blokes play cards in the room next door. Nothing much more happens and the writer has chosen a monotone style to write about this nothingness which makes the book all the more dreary. I read it through to see if maybe something would eventually happen, a twist, a surprise, something that would make the book worth reading, but no, nothing. Some vaguely described improbable hoods suddenly appear in the last chapters and shoot everyone and that's it. None of the characters have any appeal, they are all a bunch of loser schmucks and the main character does nothing but reminisce about his petty failed life while feeling nauseous on his couch and eventually all this made me feel the same way. I'll admit that towards the end I skimmed through and even skipped some of the pages. If this was a literary attempt to write a boring book about boring people then the author was successful.
   
South Sea Tales by Jack London
******
Still today, Jack London is the archetype of the writer-adventurer and in this series of short stories he takes us to Melanesia and the Solomon Islands, land of headhunters and cannibals where he traveled and came back with these dark tales of conflicts and hard relationships between brutal white colonisers and the savage island natives who were always keen to use their head-crushing clubs on unwary white men to cut off their heads and keep them as valuable trophies.Very entertaining, fast paced and rather violent, these exotic tales make up a literary classic and testify of the harshness of life and of colonial wrongdoings in that part of the world in the early 20th century.
 
La invención de Morel (The Invention of Morel) by Alfredo Bioy Casares
****

An original short novel about a convict shipwrecked on a strange island where mysterious machines built by a weird scientist make bizarre events and odd things happen. It reminded me of the TV series LOST (though much shorter and more coherent in plot development) and of H.G. Wells "The Island of Dr Moreau". It probably was influenced by the latter and influenced the former.It's an interesting piece of writing from the 1940s with a nice eerie atmosphere and some interesting and precursory ideas about virtual reality.

   
Indignez vous (Time for Outrage) by Stéphane Hessel
*****
This well written little book, a surprise bestseller in France this year, is a fiery political pamphlet by Stéphane Hessel, a 93 year old french ex "resistance" freedom fighter fromWorld War II ( and also one of the 18 editors of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948), who is alarmed by the current state of world affairs and more particularily by the sorry gouvernance of the country he fought and risked his life for. Striking out at blind liberalism, his clear headed point of view, well expressed ideas and shrewd analysis are very refreshing and reassuring, as he makes you feel that if there are still a few intelligent people like him with their heads and hearts in the right place left in this world, and that we listen to them and heed their warnings, then maybe all hope is not lost for humanity, and this in my sense is a pretty good achievement in only 32 pages.
   
FEBUARY 2011

"I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around me
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
And I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again"
P. Townsend

The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton by Herself
*****
A collection of short stories about ghosts and spectral apparitions, a theme the author seems to be quite fond of. Her impressive talent for quickly setting a mood and building solid characters works wonders again in each of these stories though some of them felt as if they had no real ending and as if Edith Wharton, who never bothers to give any explanations for the "scaerie phenomenae" she describes, had had her fun and moved on to the next story, leaving the reader a little frustrated. Still she remains one of the most gifted and interesting writers I've discovered recently.
   
The Dead Heart by Douglas Kennedy
****
An american journalist searching for a meaning to his life gets caught up with a bunch of super rednecks in the outback of the Australian outback. A fun to read little thriller, very different from and maybe less profound than "Leaving the world" by the same author which I read earlier this month (see below) but nevertheless very entertaining and a "page-turner" for sure.
   
Our Kind of Traitor by John Le Carré
****
Very british solid spy stories (or very solid british spy stories) are what you expect from John Le Carré and here he certainly delivers again with a story that takes us from the Caribbean through Paris to Switzerland on the tracks of a group of english spies toiling to reel in a high level russian mob defector, with the help of an innocent couple of british citizens. Le Carré's characters are strongly depicted, the plot veers off the spy genre's beaten tracks and the author's sense of humour is always present. The "old chap" retains his title of master of the spy novel as far as I'm concerned.
 
Apocalypse Bébé by Virginie Despentes
***
Look out, here come the tough girls! Virginie Despentes takes us on the tracks of two female detectives as they search for a missing teenager. Her characters are hard boiled macho girls who know how to hold their own in a world still dominated by men ( but not for long if this kind of women proliferate). The plot is well develloped with good twists and mood but the ending was a bit deceiving as I felt the author had to "wrap it up" a bit artificially because maybe her publisher was on the phone urging her to finish.
 
Leaving the World by Douglas Kennedy
****
Where the author creates a rather sympathetic heroin and then puts her through the most awful ordeals he can think of until she is almost utterly psychologically and physically destroyed. This dreary concept, the systematic bashing of the main character, could have been somewhat depressing but Douglas Kennedy's writing skills, the thorough psychological portrayal of his heroin and his insightful reflections on resilience and survival after great losses make the book, though quite a pessimistic one, an interesting read not totally devoid of hope.
Topical Tune of the month: Won't get fooled again by The Who
JANUARY 2011 "The perps were known to the vics" R.J. Ellory
X'ed Out by Charles Burns
******
I have been following the work of Charles Burns for a long time and am always impressed (favorably) by each of his efforts. This one, the first of a new promising series is no exception and once again summons the dark dreamlike atmospheres that Burns has accustomed me to. I very much like his graphic style, his very modern approach to classic comic book art, the hommage to Tintin, and the attention to detail and the precision of his drawings which borders on the uncanny. To quote the quote on the book's back cover by another brilliant artist, Robert Crumb : "...It's almost as if the artist... as if he weren't quite... human..."
     
Indecent Exposure by Tom Sharpe
****
A quite outrageous, rather naughty, very silly, most amusing, fairly nasty, surprisingly imaginative and highly refreshing charge against the immense stupidity of the Afrikaner police force during the apartheid years in South Africa. Tom Sharpe, an englishman who spent some time there as a teacher, social worker and photographer before the foul regime was abolished, and who was finally deported back to Britain for seditious behaviour, takes vengeful pleasure in mistreating his imbecile characters and exposing the absurdity and idiotic logic behind the enforcement of such paranoid politics. And so does the reader, at least so did yours truly.
     
The Looking Glass & Miss Mary Pask by Edith Wharton
*****
This small book contains two short stories by the excellent Edith Wharton. The first one deals with the coming of age and the passing of beauty in women generously endowed with it, and the second reads a bit like an Edgar Allan Poe story, with mystery, ghosts and eerie paranormal happenings on a stormy windy night in Brittany. Both are superbly written and reinforced my admiration for this talented woman's exceptional writing skills.
 
Dance of Death by John Case
****
A surprising thriller that manages to mix topics like the "blood diamond" trade in Africa, Lebanese drug trafficking, discrimination towards American indians, offshore fiscal havens and the inventions of Nicola Tesla all in the same story, and successfully so. Though the book took its time before really getting me hooked, it finally grabbed me and made for a very entertaining read.
L'Ame du Mal (The Soul of Evil) by Maxime Chattam
**
One more copper-chases-serial-killer story, and after having read R. J. Ellory's Saints of New York earlier this month, this one seemed a little under par, in terms of originality of plot and characters as it relies on too many déja vu clichés of this genre which has been treated so many times in books, movies and TV series that it is becoming very hard to surprise the reader, though it's not altogether a bad effort.
 
Aya de Youpogon #1 by Marguerite Abouet et Clémént Oubrerie
****for artwork /****for text
A nice comic book relating the lives of Aya, a young girl from the Ivory Coast and her family and friends, showing a humorous and positive side to life in Africa that is seldom depicted in european media. It's refreshing, well written and drawn and gives a good impression of teenage life in Abidjan in the 80s.

The Letters by Edith Wharton
****
A touching "long" short story set in Paris at the onset of the 20th century in which Edith Wharton subtely describes the feelings and sentimental life of Lizzie West, a sensitive and appealing young american woman and how she copes with love's disillusions. Well written and showing great finesse, this is a good example of the author's talent and elegance of spirit.
Tartarin de Tarascon by Alphonse Daudet illustrated by Albert Dubout
***for artwork /***for text

This is a minor french classic of french 19th century literature, and an amusing depiction of the epic quest of Tartarin, a matamore from Tarascon in Provence who is obliged, after boasting about great imaginary hunting prowesses, to travel to Africa to go lion hunting. He does not get very far and is conned by crooks and hustlers who see him for what he is and take advantage of his naive personality. Rather fun to read, the edition I read is illustrated by Albert Dubout a very popular french illustrator from the 40s & 50s.

Saints of New York by R.J. Ellory
****
Here we go again, the jaded cop with a drinking problem, the nasty serial killer, a totally unoriginal setup, but R.J.Ellory succeeds in making the story work and adds some instructive information about the large scale corruption and thefts perpetrated by the underworld in New York and particularily around JFK airport in the 60s and 70s. An above average detective novel with a sharp writing style.
Tune of the month: Early Bird byThe Eagles
2010 : 57  
DECEMBER 2010 "Ah ! Les fraises et les framboises,
Les bons vins que nous avons bus
Et les belles villageoises,
Nous ne les reverrons plus..."
Chanson citée par B. Cendrars
Just Kids by Patti Smith
****
An interesting and sincere account of Patti Smith's and Robert Mapplethorpe's encounter and relationship, and also a testimony about the plight of young artists struggling to survive in the lively New York City artistic scene of the 1970s. If the word OMFUG means anything to you, this is a book you should like.
 
The Persuader by Lee Child
****
Not much more to say that I haven't said about Lee Child's Jack Reacher series, except I've been reading maybe too much of these lately, but I keep on stumbling on new ones, and Child's great narrative technique is very hard to resist. You know a pleasant reading moment is assured when you start one of these. This one is no exception and delivers the goods once again.
 
Les Dix Femmes de l'industriel Rauno Rämekorpi by Arto Paasilinna
*****
Arto Paasilinna is my favorite finnish writer (he's also the only one I've read) and I was not dissapointed with this picaresque tale of a modern day Don Quixote and Sancho Pancha story set in Finland. Here Don Quixote is the fat one in the person of Rauno Rämekorpi, a wealthy and successful captain of industry who upon turning sixty decides to pay a visit to all the women of his life, helped along by a slim and devoted taxi driver who acts as his Sancho Pancha. Clever and fun to read, this book takes us on a road trip through Helsinki and Finland where we meet many colorful characters, all women, and follow the sympathetic Rauno and his sidekick in this humorous casanovesque quest.
A Contract with God by Will Eisner
*****for artwork /****for text
This is an important book in the history of comic books, as it is one of the first to be described as a "graphic novel", a term coined I believe by Will Eisner himself, in an attempt to elevate the status of comic book art and help it achieve the respectability that is shown to other arts. A master of this medium, Eisner, in these stories, depicts life in the early 20th century in the tenements of Brooklyn where he grew up among the yiddish community. The artwork is powerful and page compositions are bold and original, especially seen the time of their creation (1978), and though the characters described by Eisner are all a bit pathetic, this is and should be a classic in the world of comic book art.
   
The Hard Way by Lee Child
***
Another good action thriller by Lee Child. I was a bit dissapointed at first, this time Jack Reacher, Child's recurring macho man hero, doesn't kill a whole bunch of bad guys straight off , but waits till the end of the book to do so. And though it's somewhat embarassing to find Reacher, who is a brutal muderous thug, nevertheless rather sympathetic, the book is still a page turner in the Child tradition.

 

La Main Coupée by Blaise Cendrars
*****
In this autobiographical account of his experience during World War I in the Somme, Blaise Cendrars, then a member of the fierce french Foreign Legion, takes us into the trenches with his men and himself as they struggle to survive the carnage and desolation of this absurd and murderous war. Cendrars is a tough guy character and some of his anecdotes are chilling and picture him as a ruthless and hard boiled poet warrior, who has no qualms or regrets when killing the "boche" is called for, all the while retaining his poetic vision on life. Though he voluntarily joined the legion to go fight in this war, Cendrars has the clearvoyance and lucidity to clearly see and point out the stupidity and life wasting messiness of this conflict. His writing is fiery and powerful and "La Main Coupée" is one of the best books about the horrors of WWI.
Historia Universal De La Infamia by Jorge Luis Borges
*****
First published in the press, these hilarious short stories relating the lives and crimes of a series of infamous individuals, give an idea of Borges' exuberant sense of humor and his virtuoso writing talent. Taking great liberties with reality, (most of the criminals and evildoers described having actually existed), he adds imaginary episodes and facts to their lives, changes names and dates, (Billy the Kid for instance, aka William Bonney or Henry McCarty depending on biographers, is rebaptized Billy Harrigan) but Borges ultimately shows what a master storyteller he is, and as always when reading one of his works, comes through as a literary genius.
Carnets / Notebooks by James King
*****
Last year for the first time I saw a painting by James King in a collective exhibition organised by Carnets-Livres, the publishers of this book. I was at once struck by the quality and originality of the work, which combined a classical painting technique with a very modern approach. This book contains many sketches and drawings made by King in his sketchbooks between 1990 and 2006, plus some photographies of his paintings and his studio. He definitely is a rare artist of great talent and I really like his very personal approach to portraying the human figure. A word about the publishers, Carnets-Livres, who for the five past years have been doing an incredible job making beautiful handmade artbooks (50 to date), and who well deserve a tip of the hat, or as the french would say a "coup de chapeau". Links: James King Carnets-Livres
The Enemy by Lee Child
****
Once again Lee Child delivers an efficient, fun to read and extremely hard to put down action thriller starring the sympathetic murderous brute Jack Reacher. This is the third book I've read in the Reacher series and though the title is maybe a bit lame, the word consistency comes to mind concerning Lee Child's writing, which makes him in my eyes one of the most apt craftsmen in this genre today.
Tune of the month: Riot in cell block number 9 by Dr Feelgood
NOVEMBER 2010 "Quando io crederò imparare a vivere, e io imparerò a morire." L.de Vinci
A Giverny, chez Claude Monet by Marc Elder
*****
Marc Elder, a writer and friend of Monet, was the recipient of these rare confidences from the great impressionist master who usually refused interviews, arguing that words could never describe painting better than the work itself. Here nevertheless, helped by Marc Elder's friendly and able pen, he gives an engaging account of his thoughts on art and his relationships with fellow painters, art merchants and other figures of the late 19th century impressionist era.
****
Ordinary Thunderstorms by William Boyd  
An innocent man accused of murder goes underground in London to escape police and the hitman on his trail. On this familiar canvas, William Boyd succeeds in concocting a good thriller novel that has nothing much to do with thunderstorms. Incidentally, the last part of the novel takes place on Canvey Island, home of a good doctor.
 
Oscar Wilde and the Ring of Death by Gyles Brandreth
***
At first the idea to cast Oscar Wilde as a detective seemed strange, then Gyles Brandreth's depiction of late 19th century London and his portrayal of Wilde and his friends, (among which Arthur Conan Doyle) make the idea work as Gyles has managed to make the famous writer and dandy's persona come alive in this agatha-christiesque whodunnit mystery. Using many of Wilde's aphorisms and witty repartees, the author succeeds in creating an entertaining detective novel that slightly loses pace towards the end.
 
The Pianoplayers by Anthony Burgess
****
A pleasant and fun to read novel by the very talented and witty Anthony Burgess, narrated by Ellen Henshaw, the teenage daughter of a piano player who plays along to silent movies in cinemas. It relates her life with this eccentric single parent and their difficult plight as sound arrives in movies and puts the colorful dad out of a job. Burgess shows he's a real music lover and connaisseur in this one and pays hommage to his own father who actually was a piano player in cinemas and pubs.
Tune of the month: Smokestack Lightning by Howling Wolf
OCTOBER 2010 " The doctor was a woman and the nurse was a man." L.Child
     
The Life and Most Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner
by Daniel Defoe
******
Another great classic that well deserves the denomination. The story of of a man, confronted with the hardships of surviving in absolute wilderness, who has to paradoxally rediscover and reinvent civilisation. An english plantation owner shipwrecked during a slavetrading voyage from "the Brazils" to Africa, Robinson Crusoe has to struggle and survive on a desert island off the coast of South America, first alone, then accompanied first by his "Man Friday", and later on by a host of other refugees. First published in 1710, and written with the nowadays peculiar spelling and phrasing of the times, the book is considered by many to be the first modern novel and indeed structure, pace and plot twists are still very effective by todays standards. It is also an educational book as the reader learns through Defoe's detailed descriptions how to sow corn, make earthen pots, build fortifications, and many other technical endeavours. One feels after reading the book that maybe it would be possible to survive if placed in the same cicumstances as Crusoe and it's certainly the book I'd choose to take to a desert island.
     
Me, Hood by Mickey Spillane
****
The term hard-boiled comes to mind when reading the short stories in this book. Spillane's desperate tough guy characters and his description of a seedy underworld from the first two stories remind of James Ellroy's books set in the 50s and 60s, except Spillane actually wrote them in that time. The main characters, be they hoods or cops, are ruthless types, killers and brutes, who nevertheless are smitten by love. Though the third one, about ex airforce bomber pilots is in a more nostalgic and sentimental vein, the three stories are very visual and all seem taylor-made for the film industry.
     
Blaise by Dimitri Planchon
****for artwork / ****for text
Short and funny one page stories about Blaise, a little boy, and his parents, and their coping with the modern world. Using an original and appealing graphical style, Dimitri Planchon shows a shrewd and critical sense of humour and is spot on at tagging the absurdities and malfunctions of present french society.
   
Jack B. Quick by Alan Moore and Kevin Nolan
***for artwork / ***for text
Another character from the prolific Alan Moore, this time a superintelligent young boy inventor, a pretext for Moore to toy around with notions of Quantum physics, the fabric of time and space, and other modern scientific concepts to produce a series of absurd short humorous stories that unfortunately tend to all be a bit similar in mood and pace, making this collection a bit repetitive.
 
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: 1910 by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill
****for artwork / ***for text
Alan Moore is one of the comic book's world more interesting writers. In "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" series he writes about a bunch of early 20th century adventurers and luminaries who unite to combat evil. Though well served by Kevin O'Neill 's original artwork, I found this issue a bit confused and not as interesting as some other stories I've read in the same series.
 
Vanished by Joseph Finder
***
Nick Heller is an ex "Special Forces" dude on a personal mission to find his missing brother, lost in the murky and sorry world of US military "private contractors". Similar in style to Lee Child's Jack Reacher novels (see below) , Joseph Finder delivers an efficient thriller, that maybe lacks a bit of the punch and energy of the Reacher series and is somewhat predictable at times. Still it's an honest thriller, too bad I'd read a Lee Child book shortly before reading this one.
 
Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child
****
Testosterone charged, macho man, Ramboesque, all these words come to mind when reading a Jack Reacher (Lee Child's action hero) adventure. Once again Reacher is set against a bunch of evil nasties whom he proceeds to mercilessly annihilate. Child is an expert in the action thriller genre and though Reacher's body count and invulnerability are quite unrealistic, the book is hard to put down and cleverly crafted so you don't.
Tune of the month: She by Gram Parsons
SEPTEMBER 2010 " These people were the devourers, the enemy. They made a ruthless demand on life. For them the world was being squandered, its resources used up, its wildlife decimated, its seas polluted, the sea life destroyed, and the seabirds in their thousands killed by their accursed oil-tankers." O.Manning
When God Laughs & other stories by Jack London
*****
An excellent (*****) collection of short stories by the greatly talented Jack London. These deliberately pessimistic stories deal with the baser aspects of human nature, such as cowardice, greed, cruelty, stupidity, injustice, selfishness etc, and depict mankind as a pretty sorry lot. All are set in different times and places and London even forays into science-fiction in one of them. A powerful writer, he is very adept at rapidly setting scenes and moods and portraying very solid characters in the short story format. He also has no illusions concerning human beings so this book is not for naive optimists or goody-goodies.
Absconsités by Laurent Lucien
*******
Another remarkable book by Yours Truly, it's in french and contains 22 absurd and whimsical short stories. You can order it by clicking here or on the little picture on the left.
Codex Mandelbulbus by Laurent Lucien
*******
This is a picture book presenting a 100 fractal images I've made this year. These are pictures of the "mandelbulb" a fascinating new fractal shape discovered at the end of 2009 by luminaries at fractalforums. To see what mandebulbs look like go here. You can order the book by clicking here or on the little picture on the left.
 
The Rain Forest by Olivia Manning
*****

Meet the Fosters, Hugh and Kristy, a british couple sent to the island of Al Bustan in the Indian Ocean. Once again Olivia Manning takes us on a journey with a rather sympathetic couple, as they struggle to adapt and survive in a foreign and not so welcoming environment. Set in an imaginary island and thus less autobiographical than Manning's Balkan Trilogy (see below, august 2010) the Rain Forest is still a very lucid and subtle account of the life and difficulties of british expatriate civil servants. Set in the fifties and written in the early 70s as the last relics of the colonial british empire crumble under the assaults of independence movements, hippy contestation, and the general evolution of society, the book retains Olivia Manning's great portrayal of characters and her "quiet and civilised humour" and also shows great understanding and foresight into the unfolding of world events. (See september 2010 quote above).

Bad Luck and Trouble by Lee Child
***
Jack Reacher, Lee Child's main character is no Hercule Poirot. He is a dangerous and violent ex military police, and never hesitates to kill his enemies who are also murderous psychopaths. Nonobstant this not too subtle approach to the thriller genre, Lee Child knows very well how to get you to turn those pages and though I tend to prefer more subtle and realistic heroes like per instance Ian Rankin's John Rebus (see below), I'll admit I was hooked and read this one fast and pretty much enjoyed doing so.
 
Eadweard Muybridge by Paul Hill  
This little book is about Eadweard Muybridge, the famous photographer, better known for his plates of figures in motion. It features a biography and samples of his photos. Before his "figures in motion" series, Muybridge did a lot of landscape and panoramic work which are sampled in the book. (My own panoramic photos sampled here.) He also developed new techniques and processes thus strongly contributing to photography's progress during the second half of the 19th century. Though print quality is good, the book's small format does not really do justice to the photos but nevertheless it is a fair introduction to the life and work of this inventive and eccentric man.
 
The Complaints by Ian Rankin
****

Scotland, Edinburgh (pronounce Edimbro), Fettes Street, the Lothian & Borders police station. But no John Rebus, he's retired and Ian Rankin has replaced him with a Malcolm Fox, a bit younger, a similar sort of bloke, divorced, ex boozer on the dole, working for the Complaints and Conducts departement, the one that investigates the misdoings of other coppers. Rankin's novels are always enjoyable and well written and even though the likeable Rebus, the main character of Rankin's previous work is no longer present, DI Fox (detective inspector ) fills in for him well and I was once again (I'm a Rankin fan) made to feel like I was a member of the Edinburgh police force and that the city was a familiar place though I've never been there. I did expect to maybe meet John Rebus or his nemesis Big Ger Cafferty walking round the corner or sitting in a pub, but no, Rankin, while remaining faithful to his city of Edinburgh, has moved on and created a promising new character. Still I do miss Rebus's sexy sidekick Siobhan a wee bit...(pronounce Shevawn)

Tune of the month: Cabron by the Red Hot Chili Peppers
 
AUGUST 2010
"The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure:-
But the least motion which they made,
It seemed a thrill of pleasure
." W.Wordsworth
Fortunes of War: The Balkan Trilogy by Olivia Manning
******

Meet the Pringles, Guy and Harriet, an english lecturer and his wife sent to Rumania at the onset of World War 2. Their ordeal, told mostly, from Harriet's point of view, is somewhat autobiographical as the author, Olivia Manning, was herself married to an english teacher and sent to Rumania in those days. You can tell she knows her subject well and she writes about it in a subtle and very engaging manner. She is a superiorly talented novelist, as Anthony Burgess has said in a review: "Her gallery of personages is huge, her scene painting superb, her pathos controlled, her humour quiet and civilised." She does indeed bring places and characters to life remarkably well and reading this trilogy I felt happy to discover this great english author. The rise of fascism in Rumania and the attack of Greece by the Italians and the Germans, very well related by an insider, are historically intstructive. All of the expatriate personnel of the British Legation in Rumania and later Greece are vividly portrayed and often gently mocked for their condescension and false sense off superiority towards the autochtones and my special sympathies go out to the most picturesque Prince Yakimov, "your poor old Yaki" as he calls himself, a destitute anlgo-russian prince lost in the turmoil of the war. The particular phrases and expressions of prewar english I always enjoy, and on that level the dear old girl does a spiffy job and shows a good deal of pluck. At the end of the book, fleeing the german invasion of Athens, the Pringles board a ship on their way to Cairo, and that part of their adventure is the subject of a second trilogy, The Levant Trilogy, which I definitely must read soon.

 
La Maison où rèvent les arbres by Comes
****for artwork / ** for text

Nonobstant Comes' very pleasant and original artwork, the story told in this book about a forest taking revenge on mankind for mistreating nature too much, is a bit simplistic and was a bit dissapointing compared to other works I've read by this author. It is nevertheless saved by Comes' drawings and some of the more surrealistic panels are quite impressive and powerful.

 

 
Tune of the month: Police and Thieves by Junior Murvin
 
JULY 2010

"The Rhine was red with human blood,
The Danube roll'd a purple tide,
On the Euphrates Satan stood
And over Asia stretch'd his pride
" W. Blake

Tarass Bulba by Nikolaï Gogol
*****
Beware the Zaporogues ! This is a tale set in the 16th century when the Zaporozhians, a terrifying bunch of murderous warmonging Kossacks spread terror and destruction in Ukraine and neighbouring countries along the Dniepr River. The kind of guys who think that war is the meaning of life and who are happy only on horse back, sword in hand, as they fight, loot, plunder rape and destroy other human communities in their path. It tells the story of one of their more psychotic leaders or hetmans, Tarass Bulba, and of how this way of life brings only catastrophy and death to himself and his kin. Flamboyantly narrated by the great Gogol, one of the prime masters of russian litterature, this book is action packed, full of violence, romance, historical information and tragedy, and eminently fun to read. It also shows the profound antisemitism of that era in Ukraine and how jewish people had a very hard time surviving as all parties would always turn against them, blame them for every woe and slaughter them, but nevertheless count on them to provide supplies and organise commerce and even seek their help to succeed in difficult deals and negociations.
 
Gulliver's Travels (into several remote regions of the world)
by Jonathan Swift, Dean of St Patrick's, Dublin
******
No wonder this is a classic. Swift, a brilliant mind of his time, uses the fantastic epopee of his restless character to write a subtle and humorous satire of European society in the early 17th century, which was not something one could do out front without getting into trouble in those days. I was pleased to discover that though Gulliver is a book you think you know without having read it, because of the many adaptations it has stemmed, there were several of Gulliver's voyages I did not know. Not only does Gulliver visit the famous kingdom of Lilliput, land of the tiny, and Brobdingnag, the land of the gentle giants, he also goes to Laputa, the flying island city where science and technology have reached novel heights, to the neighboring Glubdubdrib, (the island of sorcerers and magicians) to Luggnagg (where the pityful immortal Struldbrugs can be found) and finally to the land of the Houyhnhnms, a society of noble and clever horses, where humans, called Yahoos, are but nasty apelike creatures in the service of their equine masters. Each new journey is pretext to malign and criticize diverse aspects of society, from politicians, royalty, magistrates, merchants, religion, doctors etc. No one is left unscathed by Swift's sharp and lucid eye and many of his commentaries are still valid today. I read Gulliver in an old english edition by George Routledge and Sons, London, Manchester and New York, a quality editor supposedly from the early 20th century as no publishing date is to be found anywhere and I have to quote the introduction of their catalog at the end of the book: "MESSRS GEORGE ROUTLEGE & SONS beg to announce that under the above title they are issuing an entirely New Series of Copyright and Non-copyright Novels, well printed on good paper, and strongly bound in cloth, bevelled boards, with gilt tops." Thanks George.
Tune of the month: Laydown by the Purple Yoda
 
JUNE 2010
"By our own spirits we are deified:
We poets in our youth begin in gladness;
But thereof come in the end
despondency and madness."

W. Wordsworth
Impossible (Issues # 6,8 & 9-10) by Joseph Ghosn, Philippe Dupuy & Charles Berberian
*****
As I wrote in my review of previous issues (see below April 2010), this is still a very fine graphic publication, and this review is mainly to remind that there's an Impossible exposition in Paris till the 19th of June, presenting many original drawings. (Ofr. galerie - 20 rue Dupetit-thouars 75003 paris)
 
A People's History of the American Empire by Howard Zinn, Mike Konopacki & Paul Buhle
***for artwork / ***** for text
An adaptation into comic book form of Howard Zinn's very instructive account of american history, exposing the not so well known dark side of US interior and foreign politics. This is a voice not often heard from an american. Howard Zinn is a well informed insider and a harsh critic of the ugly and sometimes bloodcurdling behavior of some of his more stupid compatriots and the struggles and hardships of the brave people who stood up against them throughout the country's history. The artwork, without being extraordinary, is effective and to the point.
 
The Concrete Blonde by Michael Connelly
***
L.A... A jaded middle aged cop... A serial killer who murders prostitutes... When I started this book, I thought "Oh no! Not again..." The setting seemed all too familiar with the cop being in trouble after shooting a suspect during an arrest, having problems in his private life, etc... But the book is written by Michael Connelly who is one of the better writers in this genre, and his likeable detective hero is cleverly named Hieronymus Bosch (it may be that simple trick that makes me read Connelly's books), so I was slowly drawn into this well crafted and finally enjoyable "whodunnit" mystery.
 
Tunes of the month: Mister Jack by Mattrach
MAY 2010 "We got the starboard tacks aboard, we cast off our weather braces and lifts: we set in the lee-braces, and hauled forward by the weather-bowlings, and hauled them tight and belayed them, and hauled over the mizzen-tack to windward, and kept her full and by as near as she would lie." J. Swift
Le temps des cerises by Dan Franck & Jean Vautrin
****
This is the second installment of the series "Les aventures de Boro reporter photographe", a collaborative effort by two well known french writers. The main hero, Blemia Borowicz, is is a fearless photo reporter much inspired by the famous Bob Capa. In this volume set in Paris in 1936, he is thrown into the agitated politics of that era, meeting with socialist governement leader Leon Blum, fighting against the hateful french fascist organisation known as La Cagoule (The Hood) and finally covering the start of the spanish civil war. This is a good adventure series, and though the descriptions of Boro's romantic pursuits and conquests seem a bit lame as the authors try too hard to describe him as a lady killer, the story takes you in, and the well documented accounts of prewar political turmoil in France and of the onset of the Spanish Civil War make it also instructive. Also amusing is the authors frequent use of 1930s very picturesque french slang and so I'll end this review by saying that "le Boro c'est pas un cave et que question jactance des faubourgs du Front Popu, le Jeannot et le Dany y z'en connaissent un rayon."
 
Chroniques Birmanes by Guy Delisle
**** for text / **** for artwork
Sent to Myanmar (formerly Burma) following his wife, a doctor with MSF (Doctors Without Borders) on her mission to this south east asian country run by a military "junte", Guy Delisle, a canadian artist, has made a good account of his stay in the form of a comic book. He describes the everyday life of an expatriate and his relationships with burmese people and other expatriates in Rangoon. The graphic style is simple but engaging and expressive and his little anecdotes and often humorous notations are fun to read and give a little insight on what it's like to live in Burma under a dictatorship.
 
Miss Pas Touche by Hubert & Kerascoët
**** for text / *** for artwork
Set in a parisian whorehouse in the 1930s, Miss Pas Touche is an entertaining murder mystery, rife with suspense and plot twists. The colorful somewhat naive style of the drawings contrasts strongly with the rather gruesome storyline, so don't be fooled, this is not a comic book for children, as the heroin, faced with the brutal murder of her sister, sets out to avenge her and goes undercover into the seedy world of the brothels of prewar Paris.
RG by Pierre Dragon & Frederik Peeters
**** for text / **** for artwork
RG stands for Renseignements Généraux which is the old name of the french equivalent of the MI5 or the FBI. This comic book is written by Pierre Dragon an ex agent of this bureau, inspired by his true life experiences, which gives the story a very realistic flavor. The characters and their relationships are well described, helped by Frederik Peeters' very cinematographical artwork
Tune of the month: Old King by Neil Young
APRIL 2010 "I was given taps from a tolly by him when I was a callow atramontarius. He was the best of the younger crows, however, always ready to pin a shouting cake with us in the haggory. Never creeping up on us in the silent oilers worn by the crabbier jebbies." A. Burgess
The Devil's Mode by Anthony Burgess
*****
Shakespeare, Cervantes, Debussy, Mallarmé, Browning, Attila, Sherlock Holmes and other historical or fictional luminaries are all conveyed by Anthony Burgess in this excellent collection of short-stories. Burgess shows great prowess at writing in different styles, sometimes "pastiching" (or rather paying hommage to) some of his favorite authors, like for instance Poe in the story "The most beautified" which could of been written by old Edgar himself, or Conan Doyle in the last story " Murder to music". "The cavalier of the rose", a literary adaptation of the opera by Hugo von Hoffmanstahl and Richard Strauss, reminded me of DAF Sade's "Ernestine" which I read last January. The longest of the stories "Hun" is an excellent account of Attila's bloody invasion of Europe and his dealings with his nemesis Aetius, a general of the then declining two headed Roman Empire.
Burgess seems to have had a lot of fun writing these stories and his erudition and literary capabilities are impressive and well demonstrated in each one, showing even in the order of their presentation, as the first story "A meeting in Valladolid" (in which Shakespeare meets Cervantes!) sends a group of Englishmen to Spain, and the last one "Murder to Music" (featuring Sherlock Holmes and narrated as proper by Dr Watson) sees a bunch of spanish royals visiting London. All in all, a "top of the crop" collection of short stories, each one set in a different and well documented geographical place and historical epoch, thus also being often rather instructive.
 
Vagabond Vol. 28 by Takehiko Inoue
*** for text / ***** for artwork

This is a "manga" based on the novel "Musashi" by Eiji Yoshikawa, which is the story of a great figure of Japanese history, Musashi Miyamoto, a very famous sword fighter and samuraï from the 16th century. This volume finds Miyamoto very seriously wounded after a great battle where he singlehandedly defeated 70 other swordsmen (60 according to history books). Compared to other more violent swashbuckling or rather katana-slashing episodes, this is a quiet and reflective opus where his companions take care of the the afflicted hero, whose injuries are so bad that they may forbid him to ever be a swordsman again, a skill to which he has devoted his whole life. Takehiko Inoue's artwork is quite amazing, his dynamic rendering of Miyamoto's swordfights and his attention to the era's clothing and architecture make this one of the more interesting "manga" comics I've read to date.

 
Poison River by Gilberto Hernandez
***** for text / ***** for artwork
This is part of a great comic book series or rather saga drawn and written by Gilbert Hernandez. It tells the story of Luba, a mexican woman who, along with some members of her large family, is the heroin of many of "Beto" Hernandez's comics. This episode tells of Luba's hardboiled childhood and teenage years in Mexico amidst gangsters, drug dealers and other lowlife characters. I really like this series for it's originality and the breadth of themes it adresses. I also enjoy the artwork, as Hernandez has a very pleasant personal style and his characters are never stereotyped. This is a "Love & Rockets" comic book, a collection that Gilberto has been producing since 1980 with his brother Jaime who is also an excellent comic book artist with his Hopey & Maggie, or Locas series. The Hernandez brothers have created some of the most interesting and complex female characters in comic books and it's always a pleasure to discover another one of their numerous productions. Plus, for an ink and paper person, Luba es muy guapa y sexy y linda!
   


A Story of the days to come & A dream of Armageddon by H.G Wells
*****

Published together in the edition I read, these two short stories by one of the inventors of science fiction with Jules Verne, both deal with romantic love affairs set in the twenty second century.
"A Story of Days to Come", which is really a short novel (or a long short story) of about 100 pages is set in London which has become an immense city of 30 million people where the wealthy live on the higher levels of incredibly high buildings and do no work while the poor scrounge and struggle in the dark lower levels. The story tells of two young lovers Denton and Elisabeth who choose to elope and marry against the will of their families and entourage. Disinherited and thrust out of their wealthy milieu, hardships of the ruthless 22nd century will put their love to the test. While the romantic aspect of the story could have taken place in Wells' victorian era, it is fun to see how this visionnaire portrays his lovers' future, sometimes describing things that we have already surpassed technologically and sometimes being spot on about many social aspects of our society. Mass air transportation for example or the rule of stockholders and speculation are well described (albeit Wells' flying machines have sails instead of wings). If one remembers that this story was written in 1899, one has to admire the author's imagination and prospective talents.
"A Dream of Armageddon" written in 1903 tells of a man of that time who while riding on a train from Rugby to Euston shares with a fellow traveller a recurrent dream about a second life he lives in his sleep and that is set on the island of Capri in a distant future. This one is really a short story and deals with the escalade towards war and the man's refusal to take part in it's folly to instead spend his time with his beloved nurturing their love affair although he is a prominent and influential political figure who could maybe change the tragic course of events. Switching between reality and the dream, Capri and the commuter train, the story is cleverly built and written and adresses interesting issues like the choice between one's social responsibilities and those owed to one's loved ones.
The two stories are pleasant to read and reveal Wells' highly romantic inclinations and confirm his ability to depict and imagine possible futures. Afficionados of the steampunk genre should greatly appreciate them both.

 
Impossible (Issues # 3,4,5 & 7) by Joseph Ghosn, Philippe Dupuy & Charles Berberian
*****

"Impossible" is an art "fanzine" made by three very talented and prolific artists who although they are published professional comic book artists, nevertheless still feel the need to publish these very nice portfolios of some of their art. Each issue is eight 24,5x35cm pages (16 full page drawings) and follows a theme. The drawings are all very inspired so this is the type of graphic object I really appreciate and enjoy looking at. Prints are in black and white on diversely colored paper and of fine quality. The issues are not stapled, just folded so you can take out a page and hang it on your wall if you want to. Publication is irregular and "Impossible" might be hard to find outside of France but for parisian amateurs it can be found at better bookstores like for example Philippe Le Libraire, 32 rue des Vinaigriers, Paris 10e.
Expo Impossible du 9 au 19 Juin 2010 à la galerie Arts Factory

   
MARCH 2010
"La pression de l'ombre existe." V. Hugo
The Goon by Eric Powell
*** for artwork / * for text
Another comic book set in Zombieland this time in a less "realistic" style than "Walking Dead" (see review feb 2010). The author, Eric Powell, who writes draws and does most of the coloring has chosen a more comical approach and his work often reminds of Wallace Wood's Sally Forth or Will Eisner's Spirit graphically. Storywise the episodes in this volume are all a bit similar. The main character, the Goon, is provoked by his evil nemesis and his zombie cronies, goes out and bashes some heads, clobbers some more, and finally wins over the bad guys. And that about sums up all the episodes I read. But so does it also most superhero comic stories on the market today, so the author isn't alone to blame... Still, after a while this sort of plot line does get a tad wee bit slightly somewhat boring despite Powell's well-crafted and often amusing artwork.
     
In the Winter Dark by Tim Winton
**
I admit having been disappointed by this book. Which is too bad because of a good "stephen-kingish" beginning, a scary story set in some lost place in the australian outback, but once the setting and characters are rather well defined and the menace of some ominous unseen terrible danger lurking about gets you hooked, the author finishes the book with a pirouette but in my sense does not finish his story in a satisfying way... As the french say "il m'a laissé sur ma faim" (he left me hungry) and slightly annoyed. Too bad because Tim Winton seems capable of creating, like the master at this game Stephen King, a creepy atmosphere that makes one uneasy but still turning those pages, and also because he's from Perth, WA, where I grew up, and about my age so I sort of sympathised.
   
Confessions of an English Opium-Eater and Other Writings by Thomas De Quincey
**** Overall / ****** for Suspiria
This edition presents four texts by Thomas De Quincey, a sympathetic english intellectual from the beginning of the 19th century. It was an interesting follow up to Aldous Huxley's "Eyeless in Gaza" as De Quincey was also a highly literate Oxfordian fluent in latin and greek and a lover of poetry, living in Wales, London and Edinburgh a hundred years before Huxley, and both men hardily tested their perceptions with the use of psychotropes. But how they seem odd today, these young men whose means to shine before their peers was not by scoring a goal at football, driving a fancy car or making millions on the stock exchange, but by being the best at latin or greek versification...
The first part of the book, the Confessions, is fairly interesting because of de Quincey's unique and baroque style and the originality of his phrasing often brings a smile, but the description of his woes as an opium junkie does get slightly tedious at times as often a junkie's laments will. Having already read Baudelaire's "Les Paradis Artificiels", the second part of which is a translation and adaptation of the Confessions, I was not entirely taken in, though very admirative of De Quincey's style. The poet drug fiend nevertheless comes through as a rather sympathetic and compassionate fellow and his depiction of being "down and out in London and looking for a fix in the 1800s" as he hangs out with prostitutes and sleeps where he can, is an entertaining and instructive description of a poet's life in early 18th century England...
Follows a short essay entitled "On knocking at the gates in Macbeth" where De Quincey tries to convey some thoughts concerning his sensations about a scene in Shakespeare' play, but I'll admit I didn't fully grasp what he was on about. Luckily this is only a few pages long.
The third part, "Suspiria de Profundis", (Sighs from the Deep) impressed me much more as a powerful and gothic piece of "poetic prose" rife with baroque visions from a desperately romantic man and masterly poet expressed with an admirable use of the english language. It is a rather unique work and only Lautréamont's fantastic "Chants de Maldoror" come to mind in a similar style.
The final part, "The English Mail Coach", is a sensitive and romantic slightly more humorous account of De Quincey's adventures as a passenger and co-pilot on the english horsedrawn Royal Mail stage-coaches, that were at the time, just before the arrival of the railway, the fastest and best organised means of transport and news delivery in Britain. All in all this book easily qualifies as a classic in English litterature and "Suspiria de Profundis" is definitely a masterpiece in terms of poetry.
     
Freud by Sebastian Smee
****** for artwork / **** for text
Not about Sigmund, but about his grandson, the painter. Lucian Freud is probably one of the greatest painters alive today and certainly one of my favorites. Knowing little about him I was curious to read a bit about the man and this book provides a good biography and study of his work by Sebastian Smee. Freud comes through as somewhat an artist warrior, a "samouraï" painter, in the sense that he truly lives for painting and follows a code and principles of his own, never succombing to facility, wielding his brush as a weapon, with bold strokes and daring choices, in some ways reminding me of the samouraï with his sword and bushido code. The reproductions of Freud's paintings are, as is customary with Taschen Books, of fine quality and it's fascinating to see how powerful and striking they are and how alive the characters in his portraits look. From the more illustrative and polished aspect of his early work to the broad audacious strokes of his more recent portraits, Freud seems to always capture some essential truth in his models, each time making a strong pictorial statement. This man is clearly in my opinion one of the rare painters alive today to have pierced the "mystère de la peinture", and that, my friend, is no small or easy feat.
   
FEBRUARY 2010 "...Ask for this great Deliverer now, and find him
Eyeless in Gaza at the Mill with slaves..."
Milton.
Walking Dead Vol 1 : Days Gone By, story by Robert Kirkman, art by Charlie Adlard & Cliff Rathburn
*** for artwork / **** for text
This is a comic book set in the now familiar setting of a "living dead" world where a bunch of survivors have to struggle against overwhelming numbers of decaying zombies that try to eat them in the vicinity of Atlanta. The characters and dialog are pretty well written for this kind of fiction and though the genre has been visited many times over in movie form, this is the first comic book I've read on this topic. The graphic work is solid and pleasant to look at, and the writer has actually given some depth and subtlety to his characters which is quite rare in the world of comics. This is an ongoing series and 10 volumes have been published in the french edition which I read. The original edition, published by Image Comics as a traditionnal monthly comic book, has already reached number 69. Having read only the first volume, which is a compendium of the first six issues, I wonder if the series remains interesting, as often TV or comic book serie authors tend to overstretch a good initial concept to finally lose pertinence and enter the dreaded realms of boredom. But this first volume, made by writers and artists who know their craft, holds up well and, if you like comics and zombies, is very entertaining.
   
Poèmes épiques et Colégrammes, by Laurent Lucien
********
No words exist to praise this book enough. Not only did I read it, I also wrote it... :) It's a book of poems, written way back in the 20th century. Most are in french but there are a few english ones too. You can buy it by clicking on the wee image on the left or here, or even here.
   
Eyeless in Gaza, by Aldous Huxley
******
This is a surprising book about a group of british men and women, all of Eton-then-Ofxord schooling living in the first half of the 20th century. They are all highly literate, speak latin and greek, and are always quoting english, french and italian poets in the text. The storyline follows an unchronological plot pattern, some chapters are set in 1914, others in 1925 and some more in 1934. At first I wondered if there was a story at all or if this was just a collection of scenes depicting the atmosphere and behavior of this unfamiliar milieu in a sort of british proustian manner... Do this kind of englishmen still exist? Do I really care what they feel or think? After a while though, I got hooked by Huxley's refined use of the english language and by his sharp intelligence and wit. As apt as Proust at describing the emotions, the subtle moods, the social embarassments, fears and angst of his characters, and as keen an observer of the human condition, Huxley, unlike the famed Marcel, is not a whiner spending his days in bed, but a sharp political analyst and a fervent militant for peace, with a strong sense of humor. Chapters about his male and female protagonists are interspersed with his political and philosophical points of view, and one is finally drawn in and seduced by the man's brilliant mind and stylish prose. His defence of pacifism (this book was first published in 1936 when war was clearly looming ahead) is one of the best I've read and is the real subject of the book, though one understands this only during the final chapters, when Anthony, one of the main characters, whom we've followed through his Oxford years, his complicated sentimental liaisons and his Mexican adventures, finally realizes that advocacy for peace is the only cause worth fighting for. That's a bit of a spoiler I guess but not a very big one, and to finish I'll say, to speak like Huxley's characters, that Eyeless in Gaza (the title comes from a poem by Milton, "Samson Agonistes") is a smashing book brilliantly written by a very decent chap.
   
JANUARY 2010 27/1/10: Bad day for banana fish, the laughing man is crying, who will catch us now?

Eugénie de Franval by D.A.F. de Sade

****
"Eugenie de Franval" tells the tale of wicked Mr de Franval and of the odious treatment he reserves to his wife and daughter and of how he is punished in the end. In 1800 when this was published it was certainly very shocking and subversive and throughout the narrative Sade tells us several times how sorry he is to have to depict "such monstrous details" but that it is only to better make the reader hate such horrible misconducts. Though the story does adress incestuous relations between Mr de Franval and his daughter, it seems hardly shocking today and even sometimes reminded me of an adult version of some of the Comtesse de Segur's nasty tales for children. Sade's style is still pretty unique and impressive but I did prefer "Ernestine". Both these stories come from the short story collection "Les Crimes de l'Amour". Shortly after it's publication Sade was placed in the Charenton asylum for the insane, for sexual obsession, where he died in 1814.

Ernestine by D.A.F. de Sade

*****
This is a tale by the notorious Marquis Donatien Alphonse de Sade himself set in Sweden in 1775 and relating the story of Ernestine and Herman a pair of young lovers whose wedding plans and lives are destroyed by the very evil Count Oxtiern and Madame Scholtz, two machiavelic members of the Swedish upper class. Highly entertaining and very well written as Sade is one of the great masters of french prose, and despite his nasty reputation, a philosopher and moralist way ahead of his time.

La Princesse Ligovskoi by Mikhail Lermontov

****

"La Princesse Ligovskoi" ("Princess Ligovskoia" in english) is an unfinished novel about a malfunctioning love affair between two young members of the Russian upper class set in 19th Century St Petersburg. Mikhail Lermontov's writing is sharp, ironic and humorous and well depicts the vacuity and vanity of the 1830's russian aristocracy. Lermontov, a recidivist duellist was killed in his last unlucky duel and never finished this novel.

 

Kafka by David Zane Mairowitz, Robert Crumb

***** for illustrations / *** for text
A short biography of Franz Kafka with summaries of his major works illustrated by the amazing Robert Crumb, one of the great masters of drawing alive today. I read it because of Crumb's drawings which I love, but was happy to learn more about Kafka's depressing misfit life, rife wirth self loathing and a feeling of inadequacy to society, which is probably one of the reasons Crumb worked on this book, himself once publishing a series of comic books called Self-Loathing comics, which I also recommend.

Fellini On Fellini by Federico Fellini

*****
If you like Federico Fellini, film-making, and Italy, this is a great read collecting articles, essays and souvenirs by the great maestro cinematographer and poet himself.

The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks

*****

Another excellent book in the Culture series by Iain M. Banks. His uncanny imagination enthralls once more in this tale of J.M. Gurgeh, a hardcore gamer of the future, and his supersmart drone sidekick, as they are sent to undo the cruel regime of the outergalactic Azad empire.

 

Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks

*****
I enjoy the work of Iain M. Banks. His science fiction series about the Culture, a future galactic civilisation run by superiorly intelligent machines working with humans, is one of today's most interesting and imaginative science fiction works.
Tune of the month: Kansas City by Fats Domino

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