The return of 52 pick-up: March

Posted in Books on September 20, 2015 by thebigsmoke

I’m a bit behind with these updates.  Here’s March.

9. Ringworld by Larry Niven


This was a fun book.  I loved the different characters and their individual traits.  I also enjoyed the space odyssey elements.  However, I felt like it lost momentum a bit towards the end.

10. The Shark-Infested Custard by Charles Willeford

The Shark-Infested Custard

I loved The Cockfighter so much, I thought I’d read something else by Willeford.  This wasn’t as good, but it was nevertheless an enjoyable ride.

11. The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

The Postman Always Rings Twice

Tight little pulp novel from this master.  I have been meaning to read this for a while and it was great.

12. Night Watch by Terry Pratchett

Night Watch

Every now and again I get a strong urge to read some Pratchett.  It’s just so… easy… and amusing.  It’s sad to think that there is now a limit to the books that are available to read.  I really don’t have a lot more to go before I have read the entire canon.  Rest in peace, Mr Pratchett.  You are missed.

The return of 52 pick-up: February

Posted in Books on April 12, 2015 by thebigsmoke

5. Breakfast At Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

Breakfast at Tiffanys

An easy classic to read.  Very short, but bolstered by some good short stories.  I need to see the movie.

6. Jason Cosmo by Dan McGirt

Jason Cosmo

I’ve had the Jason Cosmo books on my shelf for a while after getting them off eBay as a cheap set.  They are pretty immature stuff.

If you’re curious, you’re probably better off reading some Pratchett instead.

7. Royal Chaos by Dan McGirt

Royal Chaos

More of the same.

8. Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis

Imperial Bedrooms

Rounding off a rather dull month of reading was Imperial Bedrooms.  I’ve read all of the other Bret Easton Ellis books, so this had been on my radar for a while.

It’s a sequel to Less Than Zero, with some knowing nods to the movie adaptation and, I think, the movie adaptation of The Informers, plus a few other things.  So, it felt like an attempt to blur fiction and reality, the sort of thing that Ellis usually does well.

Unfortunately, though, it also felt like a throwaway book, something to keep the agent happy after between one long writing hiatus after another.  An attempt to spin something out of tried and tested characters.  Not a patch on Less Than Zero really.  Shame.

The return of 52 pick-up: January

Posted in Books on April 3, 2015 by thebigsmoke

I didn’t read a whole lot of books in 2014, so I decided to repeat the 52-books-in-a-year challenge that I completed in 2013.  I intend to post an update for each month, just as I did last time, so here’s what I read in January.

1. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven

I’m a huge fan of post-apocalyptic fiction, so this book club pick was instantly appealing to me.  I liked the way the story jumped back and forth in time and found this an easy read.  There were certainly some poignant moments. Unfortunately, it was let down by being a little bit twee, for want of a better word.  I like my post-apocalyptic worlds to be suitably brutal and this was only superficially so, ultimately sort of quaint.

2. All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

All You Need Is Kill

I enjoyed the movie adaptation, Edge of Tomorrow, and wanted to check out the book because of the possibilities of the plot structure.  It was a fun read, but the film managed to be superior to the book and the potentials of the plot were never properly explored.  It’s only a matter of time before someone does the same thing again but a lot better.

3. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carré

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

The first Le Carré I have read and possibly not the best to start with.  Nevertheless, this was a great book, intelligent and well-crafted, with believable characters and situations.  A very British kind of intrigue, where both the action and dialogue is consistently restrained.

4. Stoner by John Williams


This book is pretty fucking good.  It was a book club book and I have spent a considerable amount of time arguing about it in the pub because of this; not a bad thing, but I feel like I have already analysed this one to death. A plot summary wouldn’t do it any kind of justice anyway, as it transcends its subject matter.  I will just say it left me with a profoundly altered perception of life, and there can be no higher praise than that.

The first rule of Book Club…

Posted in Books on March 2, 2015 by thebigsmoke

So, according to this blog I did nothing in 2014.  Probably pretty accurate, but I did in fact join a book club and so here are my thoughts on the selected 2014 reads.

For Whom The Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Only the second Hemingway I have ever read, after, yep, you guessed it, The Old Man and the SeaFor Whom the Bell Tolls was a much meatier read.  Tense and surprisingly brutal at times, it wasn’t bad at all.

Sadie When She Died by Ed McBain

Sadie When She Died

This was a fairly average detective story, but I’m going to give Ed McBain a chance and read some more of his stuff.  His work is the sort of thing I usually enjoy.

Post Office by Charles Bukowski

Post Office

I’m not a huge Bukowski fan, but this was a pretty fun, irreverent kind of read.  Anyone who has encountered bureaucratic injustice in the workplace will identify.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The Goldfinch

I loved this book, to tell the truth.  I also loved Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, but skipped The Little Friend after reading some mediocre reviews.  The Goldfinch was great, though, full of twists and interesting characterisations.

This book, with it’s coming of age tale, and the roster of interesting characters, felt like it was taking its cues from Dickens at his best.  I was reminded of works like Oliver Twist and David Copperfield, which is of course no bad thing.

The Crystal World by J. G. Ballard

The Crystal World

I’ve read a few Ballard novels now and he has a pretty turgid writing style in my opinion.  The premise for The Crystal World is fantastic and the book is full of action and adventure really, and yet he manages to make the whole thing a very solemn, gloomy affair.  His work is almost always worth reading, but be prepared to wade rather than skim through it.

Cockfighter by Charles Willeford


Another brilliant book.  I had seen the superb Monte Hellman film adaptation before reading and wish I hadn’t, as the book does a better job of keeping the surprises coming.  Of course this is ostensibly a story about the dubious sport of cockfighting, but underneath that is a superior study of manhood, pride and integrity.  This is one that will put hair on your chest.

Kafka On The Shore by Haruki Murakami

Kafka On The Shore

I loathed reading this Murakami novel at the time, because it quickly became tedious and felt like a waste of time.  You could get bogged down with the meaning of it all, but ultimately I doubt very much that the author had a clear idea of what it was he wanted to say.  With hindsight, though, it made me think, so I have some fondness for it and will try reading some of Murakami’s work at some point.

I could say more, but I think these books have already been dissected enough in the pub and on WhatsApp, so it’s time to move on.

52 pick up: December update!

Posted in Books on January 6, 2014 by thebigsmoke

Here it is, the end of the road for my read-a-book-a-week 2013 challenge.  It got a bit close to the wire near the end, which was surprising when I consider how ahead I was at the mid-year phase.  I blame the gym, which has taken up a lot of my time over the last six months.

Anyway, this is how I rounded off a great year of reading:

48. Tarzan Alive by Philip José Farmer


This book was the bane of my life for several months, as I really struggled to get through it.  I raved about Lord Tyger, another Philip José Farmer book based around Tarzan, which I really enjoyed.  I was hoping this would be as good, but it fell short and ultimately I found it very dull.  Tarzan Alive is written as a biography of Tarzan, as if he were a real person.  What starts out as a great premise quite quickly becomes a ludicrous exercise, with numerous far-fetched explanations, coupled with a very boring catalogue of events.  This was a missed opportunity for me.

49. Mindbridge by Joe Haldeman


I read The Forever War some time ago, and loved it, but didn’t bother anything else by Joe Haldeman because I’d been led to believe that he is a bit of a one hit wonder as a writer.  I thought I’d give him another chance and am very glad that I did so.  I actually really liked this book, which was full of neat sci-fi ideas.  A great little book.

50. The Wicked Cyborg by Ron Goulart


Ron Goulart writes these readable little sci-fi comedy books and I thought I’d check them out.  They’re not very well written, I guess, and they’re kind of throwaway; but they’re also lots of fun.

51. Death has Three Lives by Brett Halliday


My introduction to Brett Halliday and his Mike Shayne character.  I like this kind of hard-boiled detective fiction and will read some more of these stories.

52. Renegade Brand by Richard Brister


This one was a bit of a random choice.  I just wanted to read a pulp western, so picked up this old Gold Medal publication.  It was quite a bit better than I was expecting, so I cruised to my target of 52 books in a year.

53. Murder Takes No Holiday by Brett Halliday


I liked Death has Three Lives enough to read another Mike Shayne mystery.  This one was slightly better than the first, as Shayne tackles a smuggling cartel while he’s supposed to vacationing in the Caribbean.

So, I managed to finish 53 books in 2013, which I’m pleased with.  I wanted to hit 53 after I read The Ophiuchi Hotline and found out I had read it before; somehow it didn’t sit well with me that one of my 52 was a re-reading.  I half-read a number of books and finished a couple of things I started in 2012, but haven’t counted any of that.

On occassion I felt like I wasn’t making the most of the challenge, as I have read a lot of pulp fiction.  Looking back over my reading list, though, I think I did pretty good.  I have read a decent mix of stuff, all things considered.  If you missed my previous updates and you’re curious, here they are in order:












I want to focus on some other stuff for 2014, so alas, shall not be repeating this challenge.  However, I recommend it to others.  It’s a great way to encourage yourself to read more and really think about the stuff you do read.

Oh, and favourite read of the year?  Not an easy choice, but that would be Mr Blue by Edward Bunker.

52 pick up: November update!

Posted in Books on December 13, 2013 by thebigsmoke

We’re well into December now, so I’m a bit tardy with this update on my read-52-books-in-a-year challenge.  Nevertheless, here’s what I read in November:

45. Easy Go by John Lange


Yet another Hard Case Crime book, this one part of a set of reissues of Michael Crichton’s early work, written under the John Lange pseudonym.

This is the first Crichton book I’ve ever read and I can’t say I was overly impressed.  I have to make allowances for the fact this is such an early piece of writing, but this just wasn’t as fun as it ought to have been.  I read Plunder of the Sun earlier in the year, which is a similar kind of pulpy tomb-raiding adventure, and which completely captivated me.  I was hoping for something similar from Easy Go, but it managed to be a slightly dreary piece of story-telling.  None of the characters really engaged me, so the drama felt hollow.

46. The Truth by Terry Pratchett


I had a strange yearning to read some Terry Pratchett.  I’ve read the first 24 Discworld novels, so picked up the 25th: The Truth.  It had been a long time since I had read any Pratchett and thought I had kind of grown out of his books, but I absolutely loved reading this book.  Some new characters, some old familiar ones, and I found it very funny and entertaining.

47. Thief Of Time by Terry Pratchett


I liked The Truth so much that I picked up some more Pratchett.  This one was not quite as good, but was a solid read and entertaining nonetheless.

I really wish they had not messed around with Josh Kirby’s awesome cover paintings, though.  When your cover art is that damn good, just let it shine.

Anyway, that was it for November and now I’m on the home straight.

52 pick up: October update!

Posted in Books on November 18, 2013 by thebigsmoke

Oops!  Not only did I only manage three books for October, but we’re halfway through November and I haven’t even updated my blog.  In my defence, I have been travelling and very busy, so, yeah, but still.  Here’s what I read in October:

42. Lord Tyger by Philip José Farmer


This was only the second Philip José Farmer book I’ve read (the first being his superb The Unreasoning Mask).  He’s a huge fan of Tarzan, has written numerous Tarzan-inspired books, and has attempted to shoehorn the character into his Newton Wold universe.

Lord Tyger is stand-alone and a bit different.  I don’t want to spoil anything, but it’s an alternative kind of Tarzan story.  I thought it was very good.

43. The Graduate by Charles Webb


Another book I’ve been meaning to read for a while.  Despite being a fairly short book, I was worried that it might be a bit boring to read.  In fact I couldn’t put it down and got through it in a weekend.  I need more like this.

44. The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy


I’m not 100% sure why, but I don’t get along with James Ellroy so much.  This wasn’t bad, and has all the crime ingredients I usually like, but it dragged a bit.  I think maybe there were too many events that seemed unrelated to the main plot and the characters never managed to fully engage me.

So there you have it.  I need to read another eight books before the end of the year just to hit my target of 52.  It started off easy, but a few slips here and there and suddenly I am playing catch up.

52 pick up: September update!

Posted in Books on October 7, 2013 by thebigsmoke

I completely forgot to update my blog with my September reads, so here they are, rather belatedly.

38. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline


This was recommended to me by two different people, so I felt obliged to read it.  It’s a sci-fi adventure story set in a dystopian near future, where everyone logs into a virtual world called the Oasis.  The creator of this virtual world dies and leaves his fortune to the first person to navigate a series of puzzles and challenges based on 80s pop culture.

At first, I was a little put off, because the book boasts its nerd credentials a little too proudly.  It felt like the literary equivalent of someone wearing a Bazinga t-shirt to the pub.  It’s like, okay Ernest Cline, I get it, you like nerdy shit and you’re proud to be a social outcast.  Good for you.

However, I managed to get past this and found the story highly entertaining.  It’s not deep sci-fi, it’s more of an adventure, but I didn’t mind that.  I got caught up and enjoyed the book for what it is.

39. The Ophiuchi Hotline by John Varley


Totally forgot that I had read this before until I reached the end.  Obviously it was forgettable the first time I read it.  This time around it was actually a lot better.

The central character is cloned multiple times and the lives of the different clones are different narrative branches.  At times, particularly early on, this is a confusing gimmick, but it was my favourite thing about the book.

40. Created, The Destroyer by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir


This is the first book in the expansive Remo Williams series, which I have been meaning to dip into for a long time.  I found it a very easy read but not particularly good, although I am told the series gets a bit better by the third book.  At some point I might pick up a few more for some light reading.

41. Breakout by Richard Stark


Sadly, I’m almost through the Parker books, so I’m staggering my reading of the last few.  I find them an effortless read and this latest was no exception.  Essentially a collection of situations involving Parker trying to escape.  Very fast paced and very well written.

52 pick up: August update!

Posted in Books, Film on September 1, 2013 by thebigsmoke

33. Death Wish by Brian Garfield


Most people are familiar with the Bronson movies, but they were based on a book.  This book.  And a very good book it is indeed.  I loved reading this one, but then I loved the movie and I love all things vigilante-related.  Top notch.

34. A Rage In Harlem by Chester Himes


The second Chester Himes novel I have read this year (the first being Cotton Comes to Harlem).  This was even better than the first one, I think.

35. Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard


When I posted about reading Swag earlier in the year, I mentioned that Elmore Leonard’s work sometimes falls flat for me.  I know I should enjoy it, but I struggle to find the enthusiasm.  I liked Swag quite a bit and it made me reconsider my opinion of Leonard’s work, but Get Shorty I genuinely loved.  It was a great book and completely entertaining, so now I need to read some more of these books.

Rest in peace, Mister Leonard.

36. Branded Woman by Wade Miller


Another Hard Case Crime novel to keep me going.  This one had some nice twists, but I didn’t enjoy the writing a great deal.  It might have been partly that Get Shorty was such a hard act to follow.

37. Breakfast Of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut


I have read a lot of Kurt Vonnegut’s work.  Although Breakfast of Champions is not his best, it is still good.  Full of charm and insight.

Cool stuff I want, Part 100,000,017: Nike Air Max 1 (Sunset)

Posted in Stuff on August 10, 2013 by thebigsmoke

I like all the Sunset editions, but the Air Max 1 are my favourite.  I wish I had bought them at the start of the summer.



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