Monday, 25 April 2011

Book review: 'The Alchemaster’s Apprentice' by Walter Moers.

In a sentence: The fifth of Moers’ novels that I have read, and while not my favourite of his works it is still wonderfully imaginative, spine-tingling and exciting – a great read.

Walter Moers is a well-known German writer and cartoonist who created such delightfully named comic characters as ‘Adolf, die Nazisau’ (Adolf the Nazi pig) and ‘Das kleine Arschloch’ (the little arsehole). The first book of Moers’ that I read was The thirteen and a half lives of Captain Bluebear: a novel. The first of his works to be translated into English, I’m not ashamed to say that it was a slog to read. At 703 pages it is a tome when I read it in 2000. Of course, once I’d finished it and could look back it was wonderful and now when I re-read it, I go back and pick one of the ‘lives’ and re-read that chapter – yes, there are 13.5 chapters.

His literary creations are almost all set in a land called Zamonia, a fantasy world full of glorious characters and creatures such as miniature pirates, Nocutromaths, Ugglies and Vorpels. Zamonia is a place with cities many entirely of metal, Gloomberg Mountains, deserts made of sugar and forests inhabited by Spiderwitches. Not only are the novels wonderfully imaginative, they are illustrated! Too few books are illustrated nowadays. Moers’ illustrations are amusing and chilling and sprinkled liberally throughout his works.

Possibly my favourite of Moers’ novels is Rumo and his miraculous adventures, a great love/adventure story which has the bloodiest, most violent beginning of any book I think I will ever read. It also houses ‘General Ticktock’ the most vile, evil character in any literary work I’ve read since ‘The Witches’.

So, The Alchemaster’s Apprentice. It’s about a crat called Echo. A crat is like a cat except they have 2 livers and can speak and understand almost every language of every creature. Echo lives in a town called Malaisea; a place whose inhabitants are always unwell and almost the only business is that of doctors and apothecaries, herbalists and witch-doctors. Left starving in the street after the death of his mistress, he makes a deal with the evil Alchemaster. In exchange for saving Echo from death by starvation, the Alchemaster takes him in and feeds him for one month and at the end of that month he is allowed to kill Echo.

It’s a pretty grim premise for a book but the darkness and evil lends the wonderful spine-tingleing, thrilling, can’t-put-the-book-down sense I get when reading a Moers novel. He is an author I love to escape with into fantastical adventure stories that are jam-packed with full of characters, events and stories. His books are, at heart, adventure stories. There is sometimes a love interest but it is guaranteed that at some point the hero will be fighting for his life, there will be evil villains and surprising friends all brought to life through Moers’ wonderful use of language and vivid imagination.

If I’m honest, The Alchemaster’s Apprentice is not my favourite of Moers’ novels and if I were recommending a book to a first time reader, I would suggest Captain Bluebear as a great introduction to his delightful style. However, I greatly enjoyed The Alchemaster’s Apprentice and as always, am now disappointed that I have to wait two years for the next Moers novel to hit the Australian bookshelves.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

B's bookshelf

As you may have read, this blog started out as a motivating tool to get Jane and I to read all the unread books on our respective shelves.

Unlike Jane, I’m going to post my full list of books – scary as it is - so that in 2 months time I can re-post it with many books crossed out and so have that delicious sense of achievement one gets from crossing out items form one’s to –do list.

One of our Thursdays is Missing – Jasper Fforde
The Alchemaster’s Apprentice – Walter Moers
In Defence of Sin – edited by John Portman
The Heart has its Reasons – the Duchess of Windsor
The Diviners – Rick Moody
Sophie’s World - Jostein Gaarder
The Flaneur – Edmund White
The Subterraneans and Pie – Jack Kerouac
The Group – Mary McCarthy
The Book of Revelation – Rupert Thompson
Soul Mountain – Gao Xinjian
Guns, Germs and Steel – Jared Diamond
Twelve Bar Blues – Patrick Neate
Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
Dangerous Liaisons – Pierre Choderlos De Laclos
The Inheritance of Loss – Kiran Desai
The Red and the Black - Stendhal
Turkestan Solo - Ella Maillart
Man of My Dreams – Curtis Sittenfeld
Harry Potter und die Heiligtumer des Todes – J.K. Rowling

It’s a pretty heavy list. Very little in the light bed time reading area and a little too much that will send me to sleep after 4 or 5 pages.

I’m pretty sure The Heart has its Reasons is going to be both light and a bad read. I picked it out of a throw away box out of books more for author interest than s suspicion it had true literary value.

As you may have guessed, Harry Potter und die Heiligtumes des Todes is Harry Potter and the Deathy Hallows in German. I’m re-re-learning German through the Institute of Modern Languages and bought Harry Potter in 2008 when I was over in Germany. When you’re trying to learn a foreign language, you need to read as much as possible to improve understanding. I like to read books that I know in English because that way I don’t spend the entire time wondering what the hell is going on. When I read Harry Potter, I know exactly what is happening and I can concentrate properly on the words. So I bought Harry Potter over 3 years ago, and I’m still only up to chapter 12.

So that's my list. It's long and a little scary. But I've already made a start and am most of the way through The Alchemaster's Apprectice, so my first book review will be coming very shortly.

Jane's Bookshelf

Okay, so hi! Welcome to what will hopefully be the first of many amazing posts. You'll laugh, you'll cry, etc. etc.

But down to business. The point of this whole blog is that me and B both have unread books in our bookshelves, and we thought we could encourage (read: force) ourselves to read them if we set up a blog where we were supposed to review said books for the internet. Or something.

Anyway, this is a post about my bookshelf. I'm aiming to pin down the ones I'm going to read for this blog. I don't want to commit to too many books at once, because we'll be here forever if I get into a serious list of every book I could possibly read. But I can list a few to start with, anyway, so here's the first set of books I'm (probably) gonna read and review:

Apathy for the Devil - Nick Kent. A UK rock writer's memoirs of hanging out and doing drugs with some of the most famous rock and rollers of the 1970s, including Iggy Pop, Chrissie Hynde, the collected Rolling Stones (but mostly Keef), and more. Sounds like it'll be a good time.

Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell - Dave Thompson and All Yesterday's Parties - Clinton Heylin. Continuing on the theme of 70s rock, these two are both about Bowie-era music. The first is apparently about "the dangerous glitter of David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed" and the second is about the Velvet Underground (Lou Reed's band, for the undereducated).

The Hunger Games trilogy - Suzanne Collins. YA speculative fiction, and I'm cheating a bit here because I've already read them. But they're super, they'll be a nice contrast to all the 70s rock music going on, and they're making a movie so I'll probably want to re-read them at some point. And whoever ends up reading this blog, you'll get three books in one review! Bonus!

The Book Thief - Markus Zusak. More YA speculative fiction, this time a book that I've had forever and never read. I know I've totally missed the boat, it's been out for ages, but whatever, I need to read the damn thing! Plus I read the first few chapters and it's pretty good so far.

Fight Club - Chuck Palahniuk., it's about fight clubs? But no, I thought I should add something to this list that wasn't rock memoir or spec fic, and I totally loved Invisible Monsters, so Fight Club seemed like a good idea. And I promise not to cheat by just watching the movie again.

Kafka On The Shore - Haruki Murakami. I have no idea what this book is about, but I've had it on my shelves forever and I need to read it. I'll let you know how that goes...

Transition - Iain Banks. Apparently this is about an alternate world secretly run by a shadowy organisation, and featured characters apparently include an unkillable assassin, a day trader, and a torturer. So, you know, it sounds interesting. I loved The Crow Road, and I'm still a little spun out by The Wasp Factory (might have to cheat a little and re-read that one, just so I can review it), so yay for Iain Banks!

That's probably enough commitment for now - B, I can hear you laughing at me, because now I have go and read all of these books. Where's your list, huh? Huh??

In terms of the future, my bookshelf also features a lot of unread China Mieville, a lot of random spec fic books I've picked up, a lot of Henry Rollins, some Joseph Campbell, more music writing of various kinds, and I'll probably muster up the nerve to read The Road at some point, so fair warning. I may decide to include my DVD collection in this mess, by the way, just because I need to watch the stuff I've bought and it all technically lives on my bookshelf...

Ta ta for now!

Friday, 22 April 2011

Welcome to Project Time Suck

Over the next couple of days, we're going to post a list each, of the books we've got to read.

We may also post things about food, TV, music, clothes and shopping...whatever we feel like. Cause this is our blog, and what else are we going to do with it?
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