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Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha
Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha
by Roddy Doyle
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 19.74
165 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars There are no messers in Heaven, Aug. 12 2008
This review is from: Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha (Paperback)
Roddy Doyle was born in Dublin in 1958 and saw his first novel, "The Commitments" published in 1987. It was later adapted for the big screen, a version that saw Star Trek's Colm Meaney and a very young Andrea Corr among the cast. Doyle went on to win the Booker Prize in 1993 with "Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha".

The book is set in the 1960s Barrytown, and is told by Paddy Clarke- the eldest child of his family. Although he has a few younger sisters, it's only his younger brother Sinbad who features to any degree. He's a Manchester United supporter, and particularly idolises George Best. His chief hobbies involve playing football, and messing around with his friends on neighbouring farm and nearby building sites.

Sinbad doesn't always get a fair deal from his brother. He cries constantly, wets the bed and as a baby, he once got his head stuck in the bars of his cot. He never smiles in photos and doesn't eat his dinner - something that particularly infuriates his Paddy Sr. Despite wearing glasses with one black lens - to deal with an eye problem - he's a great dribbler on the football pitch. (Paddy and his friends used to make Sinbad be Nobby Stiles when playing football - so he stopped supporting United, and started following Liverpool).

Out of Paddy's friends, he's probably closest to Kevin Conway - though, to be honest, Kevin isn't an entirely likeable kid. James O'Keefe, for the most part, is a good deal more - deapite being, quite possibly, the biggest liar in Barrytown. O'Keefe is hated by their teacher Mister Hennessy - he even gets blamed on making noise in class when he's off sick. (Henno does appear to have a slight vindictive streak in him - in fact, he reminded me a little of a teacher I once had at secondary school). The two most likeable of Paddy's friends, however, are a pair of brothers called Liam and Aidan. The boys' mother is dead, and though their father is trying his best, he seems to be a little lost. The neighbours aren't above gossiping about him and - although they are officially part of the gang - Liam and Aidan are also on the receiving end of a fair few nasty comments. As much as Paddy loves going over to their house, even he's not immune to a touch of snobbery.

The story is told more from a child's point of view rather than by an adult looking back on things. There are some things that raised a smile - the childhood theories about Purgatory, for example - and it even inspired a touch of nostalgia sometimes. However, it's set at a time when not only is Barrytown changing, but Paddy's home life is changing dramatically too. Naturally, Paddy doesn't always understand his parents and the things they say - so it's only gradually, as the frights become more and more frequent, that you come to realise there are problems between Paddy's dad and mum. There's a certain sadness about watching Paddy grow up as the story is told, while the difference between Paddy at the book's beginning and on the book's final couple of pages is tragic. A lovely book, though very sad.

by Tom Holland
Edition: Paperback
10 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Damned to Everlasting Infamy, Aug. 12 2008
This review is from: Vampyre (Paperback)
George Gordon, better known as Lord Byron, is one of England's most famous 'Romantic' poets. He was born in 1788, the son of John Byron and Catherine Gordon, but inherited his title and property of his great-uncle in 1798. He travelled extensively throughout Europe and Asia Minor - his trips abroad included Albania, Greece and Italy - particularly when he was in trouble at home. (He piled up debts, his marriage collapsed after little over a year and caused a great deal of scandal with a series of illicit love affairs - his romantic entanglement with his half-sister, Augusta Leigh, was particularly noteworthy. In fact, it is believed that Augusta's daughter was fathered by Byron, rather than by her husband). After his marriage to Anne Milbanke failed, Byron left England in 1816. He settled in Geneva for a while - where he became friendly with Percy and Mary Shelley - before moving on to Italy. In 1824, he sailed to Greece to help in their fight for independence from the Ottoman Empire. However, Byron caught and died from a fever before seeing any action.

"The Vampyre" tells Byron's life story, though from a slightly different angle. Byron, as it turns out, never actually died and the book sees him telling his story to Rebecca Carville. He covers what he feels to be the key period of his existence, beginning with the trip to Greece where he became a vardoulacha - a vampire - and finishing with his faked death in Greece. Although the story is (obviously) embellished, Holland clearly had done his research before writing this book. It features Byron's most notable love affairs, his friendships with John Hobhouse and the Shellys, even the feeble contribution of his rather pitiful doctor, Polidor. In all honesty, I enjoyed how Holland wove Byron's `real' life into the story more than the vampire fact, the thought of a vampire playing such a key role in the 'creation' of Frankenstein was something I found quite funny. All in all, a very readable story, though it won't necessarily keep you awake at night.

by Ian McEwan
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 16.07
35 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars There's nothing about the coffee-shops..., Aug. 12 2008
This review is from: Amsterdam (Paperback)
An ex-photographer and a well known restaurant critic, Molly Lane had been a beautiful, lively and funny lady. Her life had, sadly, been cut short through illness - a condition that had began with something as simple as a tingling in her arm. "Amsterdam" opens in early February, at Molly's memorial service.

Despite being married to George, Mollie had been a rather prolific lover - she'd had a string of affairs and (apparently) never really cared for her husband. However, for some reason, she'd never actually left him. George is the head of a publishing `empire', one that operates in the crackpot conspiracy theories sector. His company also own a very small percentage of `The Judge', a `quality' newspaper based in London. He appears to be a morose, possessive man - a vaguely ridiculous character, though one who may have genuinely loved his wife. George had cared for Molly himself throughout her illness, rather than installing her in a home.

Among the mourners is Clive Linley, a famous and successful composer who had known Molly from their student days. He had been one of Molly's former lovers and is possibly a little deluded : he is convinced that he was the only one who had ever truly loved her, and that it should have been him who married her. Clive is currently writing the Millennial Symphony and, although it's close to completion, it's something that seems to be causing him a little stress. (A trip to the Lake District may just be the tonic he needs - Clive enjoys hiking, and sometimes visits the area when in need of inspiration). Unfortunately, Clive's stress levels aren't helped by vague tingle in his hand...and fears he has the same early symptoms that Molly had shown. Clive feels that Molly's decline robbed her of her dignity, and - given the opportunity - he believes he would have `helped' her die. When he decides that he'd want the same thing for himself, there's only one person he would ask to help him.

Vernon Halliday is Clive's oldest friend and another of Molly's ex-lovers. He and Molly had lived together for a year in Paris, though he's currently based in London. He's currently the editor of `The Judge' - a position he'd won by being generally inoffensive, getting wildly lucky with a major scoop and then not being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The previous four editors had been fired for failing to improve the newspaper's declining sales...Vernon is hoping to avoid their fate, by taking the newspaper towards the tabloid end of the market. Unfortunately, the situation seems to be getting to him a little, and he's feeling a little stretched. Like Clive, Vernon doesn't have a very high opinion of George - oddly enough, though, George may be in a position to offer both Vernon and the newspaper a helping hand. When going through Molly's effects, he'd stumbled across s few tasty photos of Julian Garmony - another on Molly's ex-lovers, and a high-ranking politician that both Vernon and Clive positively detest...

Garmony is a thoroughly unpleasant individual, a nasty xenophobe who (amazingly) holds the position of Foreign Secretary. (It's probably the sort of appointment a politician would probably find quite logical. Sadly, and unsurprisingly, he's also the hot favourite to be the next Prime Minister). He's strongly in favour of hanging, a punishment he once felt should have been applied to Nelson Mandela. (It's a position that should make his upcoming trip to South Africa a little spicy). Unfortunately, Clive and Vernon disagree on what should be done with the photos...Vernon is very keen to publishing them, and Garmony could well do with having the rug pulled from under his feet. However, Clive feels that publishing them would be a betrayal of Molly's trust...

In "Amsterdam", McEwan presents a collection of characters that aren't too easy to admire. It's really very difficult to feel any sympathy for Garmony, given his divisive views. George, Molly's husband, is the one character we probably should feel sorry for, but - by the book's end - I was left wondering why she had ever married him to begin with. Clive and Vernon's friendship fragments as time passes, with Clive (in particular) becoming increasingly deluded as the book progresses. Not great, though a short and easily read book.

Duncton Wood
Duncton Wood
by William Horwood
Edition: Paperback
42 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars The Stone Mole and the Book of Silence, Aug. 12 2008
This review is from: Duncton Wood (Paperback)
Duncton Wood is home to one of the seven great systems of the mole world. Many years before the book opens, the system was based at the highest point of the wood, in the shadows of the wood's standing Stone. The Stone was of vital importance at the time, with the system's religious beliefs centred on it. However, in time, the system slowly migrated down the hill - to the point where, now, nomole now lives in the Ancient System. Traditionally, the system's moles travel up the slopes to pray to the Stone on the Longest and Shortest Nights, though few now hold the Stone in any real regard.

Within the modern system, there are a few different districts - each with its own distinct personality. The Westside is home to the biggest, strongest moles while the moles who live on the Eastside are less aggressive, though stockier and better burrowers. The Marshenders, somewhat unfairly, are considered a suspicious, untrustworthy and unhealthy grouping - though the damp soil doesn't make it an ideal area for the average mole. Where the Stone was the natural centre of the Ancient System, Barrow Vale is considered the centre of the modern system. Close to the Elder Burrows, it's free from predators and is considered `neutral' territory.

Life takes a turn for the worse when Mandrake arrives. Originally from Siabod, he arrives from over the Pastures and makes straight for Barrow Vale. Big, strong and vicious, he kills any mole that stands in his way and - when he disposes of one of the Elders - quickly appoints himself as the replacement. Having effectively installed himself as Duncton Wood's leader, the mood of the system becomes a becomes tinged with fear and suspicion. Mandrake more or less operates a system of `divide and conquer' - any contact between the system's different wings is discouraged and movement to the surface is restricted. While some of the elders pledge their support - most notably the malignant, poisonous Rune and the aggressive bully Burrhead - Mandrake doesn't receive full support from the Elders. The ban on the Midsummer and Midwinter pilgrimages to the Stone meets with open opposition from Hulver - an aged mole who is very loyal to the old traditions. Mandrake's constant attacks on the Marshenders, on the other hand, leaves Mekkins unsettled - although he proves to be a little more circumspect than Hulver, he later has a significant role to play.

Things aren't entirely hopeless, though - two moles emerge who may be capable of restoring some light to the system. However, it's maybe a little surprising which two moles provide the hope. One is Bracken, the son of Burrhead. Although physically a little weak, Bracken proves to be not only brave and intelligent, but also a natural explorer - and, from his earliest days, has a great deal of curiosity about the Ancient System. When he eventually leaves the home burrow, he naturally makes his way up the slopes towards the Stone - where he meets Hulver for the first time. Hulver teaches him a great deal about the Stone, the Ancient System and the Holy Burrows at Uffington. The other mole to bring some hope is Rebecca - amazingly, she is Mandrake's favourite daughter. Initially, she isn't entirely popular - many resent her honoured position, and there are those who suffer at Mandrake's claws to make her life a little easier. However, in time, her kindness, patience and love win over all who meet her. Naturally, the pair can't make it alone - and they receive a great deal of help from others - most notably Hulver, Mekkins, Rose the Healer and Boswell, a Scribemole from Uffington.

While the comparison with "Watership Down" is maybe a little obvious, it's certainly a worthwhile comparison - there are certain similarities between some of the characters. Mandrake and General Woundwort have quite a bit in common - as do Comfrey and Fiver, Stonecrop and Bigwig while there's possibly even a touch of both Hazel and Fiver about Bracken. Although a pretty long book, it is an easily read and enjoyable book at the same time.

Look to Windward
Look to Windward
by Iain Banks
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 15.81
48 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Resistance is Character Forming, Aug. 12 2008
This review is from: Look to Windward (Paperback)
Iain Banks was born in Scotland in 1954 and published his first book - "The Wasp Factory" - in 1984. He has since divided his writing career between writing 'standard' fiction - as Iain Banks - and Science Fiction, as Iain M. Banks. "Look to Windward" was first published in 2000, and was the sixth of his Sci-Fi books to feature the Culture.

The Culture is a symbiotic society - part humanoid and part artificial intelligence. The artificial intelligence element to the Culture can be sub-divided into two parts - Drones and Minds. For the most part, a Drone's intelligence will be roughly similar to a humanoids. Minds, on the other hand, are significantly more powerful than both humanoids and drones. They tend to act as the controlling intelligence behind, for example, the Culture's ships and Hubs (artificial habitats). Minds are also largely responsible for making decisions at the very highest levels of society - only a very small number of humanoid Referrers would be intelligent enough to join the process.

In the first Sci-Fi book Banks wrote, "Consider Phlebas", the Culture was at war with the Idiran Empire - a war they eventually won, though not without a great loss of life. Although 800 years have now passed, "Look to Windward" could be considered a sequel of sorts. A single battle, towards the end of the Culture - Idiran War, had brought the destruction of two stars. The loss of life was not restricted to the combatants, as both systems had supported life. The light from the first star's destruction has only now reached Masaq, a Culture Orbital. Hub, Masaq's controlling Mind, is observing a period of mourning, between the two supernovae - for reasons that become clear later in the book. However, there have also been hints of a very special occasion to mark the arrival of the light from the second star.

Not all of Masaq's residents are Culture citizens, however. One is Kabe Ischloer, a Homomdan who is accorded the title of Ambassador by those on Masaq. (Kabe is a modest, likeable character and occasionally admits to being a journalist). Physically, Homomdans are similar to the Idirans - three-legged, about three metres tall and glisteningly black. In fact, the Homomdans were allied to the Idirans in the early days of the Culture - Idiran war. Another is Mahrai Ziller, a very famous Chelgrian composer. (Chelgrians are nearly as tall as Homomdans, fast, strong and fur-covered. Having evolved from predators, they also seem to enjoy a fight). Ziller, however, is somewhat atypical for a Chelgrian, and his presence on Masaq is a little more controversial than Kabe's. There had recently been a civil war on Chel, known as the Caste War...and, unfortunately, there had been a certain amount of Culture involvement behind the scenes. However, Ziller found Chel society repulsive - despite belonging to the highest, most privileged caste, he has declared himself Invisible and effectively defects to Masaq.

Ziller isn't the only Chelgrian to appear in the book, though - it also features Quilan, a member of Chel's highest caste and a veteran of the Caste War. He has subsequently take holy orders, and is occasionally referred to as a 'Griefling' - largely because he hasn't been able to come to terms with the death of his wife in the war. However, Quilan is later offered a way to deal conclusively with his sense of loss and is sent on a mission to Masaq. Officially, his orders are to persuade Ziller to return home. (Ziller, on the other hand, suspects the Quilan has actually been sent to assassinate him and steadfastly refuses to meet the Major). In truth, Quilan's orders are a little more wide-ranging...and, thanks to his SoulKeeper, he isn't even travelling alone.

Before I'd picked up "Consider Phlebas", it had been a long time since I'd read any Sci-Fi - the main reason I picked it up was of how highly I rate Banks' 'standard' fiction. While it was easily good enough to convince me that it might be worth reading more of the Culture books, "Look to Windward" has convinced me to work my way through the entire series. With Banks, things aren't entirely straightforward : the Culture might be the good guys, and they may mean well, but they aren't entirely pure and flawless. Quilan, on the other hand, should probably be considered one of the main villains - yet he proves a likeable character, and it's hard not to sympathise with him at times. It would have been nice to have seen Uagen Zlepe's story a bit more fully told, but that's about the book's only flaw for me - and it's a minor gripe at that. Excellent stuff, highly recommended.

The Plot Against America
The Plot Against America
by Philip Roth
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 15.37
92 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We Live In A Nightmare, Aug. 12 2008
Charles Lindbergh is best known as the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic. However, he was also a noted isolationist and, prior to Japan's attack on Pearl Harbour, opposed any American involvement in the Second World War. Following the conviction of a German immigrant, Bruno Hauptmann, for the murder of Charles Jr, the Lindbergh family spend some time abroad, and become regular visitors to Germany in the late 1930s. Lindbergh refers to Hitler as "undoubtedly a great man", and receives the Service Cross of the German Eagle in 1938 from Hermann Goring. He continues to defend Nazi Germany after the invasions of Czechoslovakia and Poland and - in a speech in Des Moines, in September 1941 - identifies "the Jewish race" as one of the most influential groups in pushing America towards war. These groups are looking to enter the war, Lindbergh claims, "for reasons which are not American".

In real life, of course, Lindbergh's views made no real difference. America declared war on Japan, Germany and Italy after the attack on Pearl Harbour and, having once been a revered hero, Lindbergh fell rapidly from grace. He and his wife were widely viewed with distrust and even hostility - Charles was unwelcome in the Air Corps and work, for a time, work proved difficult to come by. However, things work out differently in "The Plot Against America" - which is probably best described as an alternate history book. In it, Roth imagines what his life might have been like if Lindbergh had stood for - and won - the American Presidency. However, rather than following the people in power, it imagines how Lindbergh's policies might have affected the Roth family.

The book covers a period of roughly two and a half years and opens in June 1940 - at a time when Roth was seven years old and a passionate stamp-collector. At this point, Roth was living in New Jersey with his parents and his brother Sandy - twelve years old, and a gifted artist. Up until Lindbergh's nomination for the Presidency, the Roth family led a largely happy life. They lived in a Jewish neighbourhood, something Roth's mother, Elizabeth, particularly appreciated. (Elizabeth had been raised in an Irish Catholic area, and - although she had never mentioned any blatant mistreatment - had grown up feeling something of an outsider). Although a Jewish quarter, it seems to have been typically `American' in appearance. Admittedly, the butcher was kosher - however, the language most commonly used was English rather than Hebrew or Yiddish, no-one wore a skullcap and few sported a beard. Philip, meanwhile, pledged his allegiance to America every morning at school, and couldn't see why Palestine was of any relevance. Life naturally changes dramatically under Lindbergh : an isolationist who had warned against "the infiltration of inferior blood", before negotiating an `understanding' with the Fuhrer. Not surprisingly, his subsequent policies are not designed with the best interests of the Jewish community in mind.

The man in charge of some of these policies is, essentially, a collaborator : Rabbi Lionel Bengelsdorf, of B'Nai Moshe Temple. A well educated and rich man, he had been viewed by the media as the religious leader of the Jewish people in New Jersey. However, he endorses Lindbergh's candidacy early in the book, effectively guarantees his victory and is subsequently `rewarded' with a post in government. As the Director of the "Office of American Absorption", he's responsible for the running of "Just Folks" - a program that takes Jewish teenagers, and sends them to live with Christian families for months at a time. In time, Sandy is selected and sent to a family in Kentucky, who run a tobacco farm - a stint that has a worrying effect on him. The Rabbi casts a long shadow over the Roth household as Elizabeth's sister, Aunt Evelyn, has a very close working relationship with the Rabbi. There are some friends and neighbours who look towards a life in Canada - others join the Canadian army to fight in the war. Among these is Roth's cousin, Alvin - who leaves early in the book - though soon returns home injured.

This is an excellent book - rather frightening, depressing and even a little challenging, but excellent nonetheless. Lindberg's government view their policies as the right and proper approach - they claim what they're doing will increase the American public's security and guarantee their well-being. People like Alvin - who fought in the war - are, on the other hand, somehow viewed unpatriotic. Early in the book the family take a trip to Washington, where his Roth's father highlights a line from the Gettysburg Address : "All Men Are Created Equal". In an instant, I was reminded of "Animal Farm" by George Orwell : "but some are more equal than others". Very highly recommended.

Pale View Of The Hills
Pale View Of The Hills
by Kazuo Ishiguro
Edition: Paperback
22 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Shadows Across The River, Aug. 12 2008
This review is from: Pale View Of The Hills (Paperback)
Kazuo Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki in 1954 and moved to Britain at the age of five. He was awarded the OBE in 1995 and the Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1998. "A Pale View of the Hills" is his first book, and he has gone on to win the Whitbread Prize (with "An Artist of the Floating World") and the Booker Prize (with "The Remains of the Day").

"A Pale View of the Hills" is told by Etsuko, a Japanese widow now living in England. Keiko, Etsuko's daughter from her first marriage, was born in Japan though had later moved to England with her mother. She later moved to Manchester, where she had recently committed suicide. Niki - her daughter from her second marriage to her English husband - currently lives in London. Niki and Keiko were never close, to the point where Niki felt she couldn't attend the funeral. Keiko, in fact, she appears to have kept herself isolated - even when living at home, she wouldn't have been seen by her family for days at a time. Part of the book deals with Etsuko's current relationship with Niki, and their attempts to come to terms with Keiko's death.

Recent events have also led to Etsuko looking back to when she was pregnant with Keiko. The war was only recently over and she was living in Nagasaki with her first husband, Jiro. The couple were living in a recently built block of apartments, close to the river - though right beside a large patch of very unhygienic wasteground. At the far end of the wasteground, on the banks of the river, was a lone wooden cottage that had somehow survived both the war and the city's planners. For a short period, during the summer, that cottage was home to a woman called Sachiko - someone Etsuko came to consider a friend. Sachiko was originally from Tokyo, though had been in Nagasaki for around a year. Until her arrival at the cottage, she had been staying at an Uncle's house in a different part of the city - though she proves a little vague as to why she left such comfortable surroundings for such a dilapidated cottage. She doesn't appear to be a caring mother either - Mariko doesn't go to school and she's regularly left without a babysitter. In fact, Mariko seems to care more for her cat and kittens than she is cared for by her mother. (Mariko does speak of a mysterious woman who apparently lives in the woods and calls round when her mother goes out - this, however, is dismissed as a figment of her imagination by Sachiko). In time, Etsuko learns a little more of her new friend's past and her plans for the future - including a life in America with a man called Frank.

The same summer, Etsuko's father-in-law came to stay. Ogata-San is a retired teacher, and he proves a likeable character. While he's not in the same position as Sachiko, he is struggling a little with how attitudes have changed in post-war Japan. Ogata-San is a little troubled by an article he stumbled across in a magazine for teachers. The article had been written by one of Jiro's former school-friend, Shiego Matsuda, and had suggested that teachers like himself should have been dismissed at the end of the war. Ogata-San is naturally offended - Matsuda had spent a great deal of time at the Ogata house as a boy, and Ogata-San himself had introduced Matsuda to his current employer. He's hoping that Jiro will insist on an apology from his old friend.

A little frustratingly, there are a few loose ends that aren't tied up - it's only really hinted at how Etsuko's first marriage came to an end and how she met her second husband, for example. I also wondered about Etsuko's father-in-law, and how he felt about her decision to leave Japan for England - the pair had clearly been very close. Nevertheless, while it's not a cheerful book, "A Pale View of the Hills" is a well worth reading.

by Terry Pratchett
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.85
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pardon my Klatchian, Aug. 12 2008
This review is from: Sourcery (Paperback)
"Sourcery" is the fifth novel in Terry Pratchett's hugely popular Discworld series, was first published in 1988 and is the third to give a starring role to Rincewind, the cowardly one-spell wizard.

Wizardry is widely seen as the most appropriate profession for the eighth son of an eighth son - however, given that it's also a celibate profession, is isn't a job that is intended to run in the family. Unfortunately, accidents do occasionally happen and the eighth son of a wizard is known as a Soucerer - a wizard who is also a source of magic. They are hugely dangerous, and will increase the background levels of magic to such a degree that other wizards may just start building towers and launch another round of the Mage Wars...

Ipslore the Red is one of the exceptions : he fled the halls of the Unseen University, married and had a family. The inevitable eighth son, Coin, is only a baby when Death arrives for Ipslore and the ex-wizard decides to choose his son's destiny. The future he picks for Coin includes wearing the Archchancellor's Hat of the Unseen University and, in an attempt to cheat Death, Ipslore enters his staff when he leaves his body. His intention is to guide Coin to his destiny....

Coin is roughly ten years old when he makes it to the University, and isn't long in taking over. When he deals with two of the Wizards - including the incoming Archchancellor - in a swift and very final manner, the remaining members of staff are understandably reluctant to stand against him. However, two of the survivors - a rather devious pair called Spelter and Carding - smell an opportunity. In seeing themselves as Coin's most senior and trusted advisors, they don't realise that Ipslore already has that role to himself.

Coin's arrival isn't universally welcomed - the rats and the gargoyles are amongst the first to flee, while the books in the University's library are distinctly unsettled. Rincewind, now acting as the University's honourary assistant librarian, is the first member of staff to realise there's something strange happening and nips off to the pub in a panic with the Librarian (an orang-utan), and his Luggage. (Luggage is a large brass-bound box, made from sapient pearwood - the same material wizard's staff is traditionally made from. It can move around by itself, has rather a vicious temper and - like Dr Who's Tardis - appears to be much bigger on the inside than on the outside). While Rincewind has been lucky enough to avoid Coin at the University, he's unfortunate enough to be apprehended by Conina at the Mended Drum. Conina, a very successful thief, is the daughter of Cohen the Barbarian and has pilfered the Archchancellor's Hat from the University. In this case, however, she stole the hat at its own request. (It is a magic hat after all...and it has realised that Coin's arrival will signal the Apocralypse). Under the Hat's instructions, Rincewind and Conina travel to Klatch, where the Hat believes there is a mind devious enough to wear it...and stand against the Sourcerer.

As usual from Pratchett, this is an easily read, rather silly and very enjoyable book.

Out After Dark
Out After Dark
by Hugh Leonard
Edition: Paperback
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Curmudgeon, Aug. 12 2008
This review is from: Out After Dark (Paperback)
Hugh Leonard, an Irish playwright and journalist, was born in Dublin in 1926. He spent fourteen years working for the Irish Civil Service, before he was able to concentrate fully on his writing. Leonard - known in 'real' life as John Keyes Byrne - received the Tony Award in 1977 for the play "Da", which was largely based on his own youth and his relationship with his adoptive father. (It was also made into a movie, with Martin Sheen playing the Hugh Leonard role). "Out After Dark" follows on from "Home Before Night", and tells part of his life story in prose form.

"Out After Dark" is less of a year-by-year account of Leonard's life, and more a collection of anecdotes - largely from his early working life. There are, naturally, a couple of exceptions - including his traumatic last performance as an altar boy and how, despite the offer of another scholarship, he made his decision to leave school. His first job as a clerk was with Colombia Pictures, before moving onto the Land Commission. (He didn't particularly want to become a Civil Servant, but he recognised it as an easy escape route from an amorous colleague called Dolores). Like his mother, Leonard had always loved going to the cinema, though by the time he joined the Land Commission he knew he wanted to be a writer. Nevertheless, he soon gets drawn into acting - with a very helpful shove in the back from office typist, the persuasive, lively and lovable Kay Kelly. Leonard, by his own admission, proved a rather limited actor...he could've been a comic genius, only for the fact he was generally playing serious roles. (Still, his acting career does include connecting with a femme fatale called Sandra). Sadly, Kay's time as a character in the book proves limited. Leonard's best friend from his time in the Land Commission was a gentleman called Mick - the pair manage to get each other into no end of trouble. A couple of trips to Belfast feature, where he hopes to be taken advantage of by the women who live there, and he touches on his encounters with Behan, Kavanagh and O'Connor.

I loved "Home Before Night", but I wasn't quite so taken with "Out After Dark". It is, admittedly, easily read, and a largely affectionate book. However, there's an occasional quip made an another's expense that could have been left out - Leonard only manages to make himself look bad, rather than his intended victim.

The Club Dumas
The Club Dumas
by Arturo Perez-Reverte
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 18.92
75 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars You're as dead as your books, Corso, Aug. 12 2008
This review is from: The Club Dumas (Paperback)
"The Dumas Club" was first published in 1993, and was first translated into English in 1996. "The Ninth Gate", which was directed by Roman Polanski and starred Johnny Depp, was loosely based on the novel.

The story is told by Boris Balkan, a rather well-known in Spain's publishing industry. He's done the occasional translation, edited a few other books, written reviews and ran courses for writers- as such, he's regarded as Spain's most influential literary critic. In fact, when someone needs an opinion on the nineteenth century novel, Balkan is the man to ask. It's this expertise that leads to his meeting with Lucas Corso - who proves to be the story's central character.

Corso is what Balkan describes as a "mercenary of the book world". He works for a very small number of clients - exceptionally rich book dealers who pay very well to avoid getting their hands dirty. He does appear to be very good at his job - patient, an excellent memory, an expert knowledge of the literary world and a conscience that doesn't bother him unduly. He has also mastered a number of rabbit-like expressions, designed to tease more information out of the person he's questioning. However, he can change from a rabbit sharing half a carrot to a mean wolf, off on the hunt, in an instant. (He is also an expert on Napoleon's battles, and has a certain obsession with Waterloo in particular). Corso comes to Balkan with a manuscript he's wants examined - chapter forty-two from "The Three Musketeers", apparently in Dumas' own handwriting. Balkan refers Corso to a graphologist, based in Paris, by the name of Achille Replinger - both a friend and an expert on nineteenth-century French writers.

Corso is hoping to authenticate the manuscript on behalf of a friend called Flavio La Ponte - who had, allegedley, bought the manuscript from a publisher called Enrique Taillefer. Slightly awkwardly, Taillefer had died the previous week in an apparent suicide. (The unfortunate Taillefer had also failed to leave a note). Corso and LaPonte have known each other for many years and have quite a bit in common - Corso, for his part, nearly seems fond of LaPonte. Together, the pair have founded (and remain the only two members of) the Brotherhood of Nantucket Harpooneers - in honour of their shared enthusiasm for "Moby Dick".

Corso is also working on an investigation for Varo Borja - Spain's leading bookdealer and a man who can always afford the asking price. Borja is particularly interested in a book called "The Book of the Nine Doors of the Kingdom of Shadows", written in the seventeenth century by a man called Astride Torchia. Since the book was regarded as a dummies guide for summoning the Devil, this naturally got Torchia in trouble with the Inquisition. (Everything they could find written by Torchia was burned - a similar fate was endured by the author not long afterwards). While one copy of the Nine Doors did apparently survive, there are now believed to be three copies - one in Borja's collection, another in Portugal and the third in Paris. Borja wants Corso to discover which of the three copies is authentic. Since Corso will be travelling to Paris at Borja's expense anyhow, he decides to look up Replinger while there. In time, Corso comes to believe the two investigations are somehow linked. Furthermore, it appears he is being stalked by flesh-and-blood versions of Rochefort and Milady - two characters who worked for Richlieu in "The Three Musketeers". Naturally, that leaves the implication there's also a real-life Richlieu somewhere calling the shots...

This is a hugely enjoyable book - it's one that just bounces along and it constantly had me smiling. It obviously owes a certain amount to "The Three Musketeers", and I picked up a few things about that Dumas I didn't know before. (Dumas isn't the only one to have an influence - there's a couple of nods in the direction of Umberto Eco and Sherlock Holmes). Absolutely recommended - I'll certainly be reading more by Arturo Perez Reverte.

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