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      Important Announcement!   07/28/2018

      Dear BCF members,   This forum has been running now for many years, and over that time we have seen many changes. Generalised forums are nowhere near as popular as they once were, and they have been very much taken over by blogs, vlogs and social media discussions. Running a forum well takes money, and a lot of care and attention, as there is so much which goes on behind the scenes to keep things running smoothly.   With all of this in mind, and after discussion within the current moderator team, the decision has been made to close this forum in its current format. I know that this will disappoint a lot of our long term members, but I want to reassure you that it's not a decision which has been taken lightly.    The remaining moderator team have agreed that we do not want to lose everything which is special about our home, and so we are starting a brand new facebook group, so that people can stay in touch, and discussions can continue. We can use it for free and should be easier for us to run (it won't need to be updated or hosted). We know not everyone has FaceBook, but we hope that those of you who are interested will join the group. We will share the link, and send invites as soon as we are ready to go. Added: We may as well get this going, find us here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/195289821332924/   The forum will close to new registrations, but will remain open for some time, to allow people to collect up any information, reading lists etc they need to, and to ensure they have contact details for those they wish to stay in touch with.    The whole team feel sad to say goodbye, but we also feel that it's perhaps time and that it feels like the right choice. We hope we can stay in touch with all of you through our new FaceBook group.   I personally want to thank everyone who has helped me moderate the forum, both in the past and the present, and I also want to thank every single person who has visited, and shared their love of books.. I'm so proud of everything we've achieved, and the home we built.   Please visit the new section in the Lounge section to discuss this further, ask questions etc.
Raven

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Band of Brothers

By Stephen E. Ambrose

 

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In the summer of 1942 a group of men came together from all walks of life, and from all over the United States, to become paratroopers. Many would wash out, but for those who made it through the fourteen gruelling months of basic training, the reward was a place in Easy Company; part of the American 101st Airborne. From D-Day to the capture of Hitler

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I read this a few years ago and thought it was a really good read. Your description of it being 'intimate' is spot on, as each man and each situation is so well described to a depth not often seen in books that focus on wartime exploits.

 

It was also interesting for me to read things from the US perspective, and this book truly lays waste to the (unfounded) claims that the Americans did little in 'our' war. They sacrificed plenty.

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Another catch-up! (not sure you're going to like it Vanwa!):

 

The Magicians’ Guild

By Trudi Canavan

 

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In the Kingdom of Imardin The Magicians’ Guild controls the use of magic throughout the land; anyone found practising magic is compelled by law to join the guild or to have their abilities bound. By chance, the powers of a young girl are exposed and she is forced to go on the run, but with her powers growing beyond her ability to control them will she be forced to turn to the Guild she despises to save her life?

 

By and large, and with the exceptions of Tolkien and Pratchett, I’ve always given fantasy books a pretty wide berth, because I’ve long held the preconception that they are generally riddled with cliché and a lack of originality. Having played World of Warcraft for the last four years, however - something that itself is riddled with cliché and a lack of originality - my feelings towards the genre have mellowed somewhat, so I decided to give this book a try after having heard a number of favourable reviews. Well, I guess some experiments work out, and some do not . . .

 

The Magicians’ Guild is a very uneven, badly written and rather two-dimensional book, riddled with the cliché and lack of originality I was hoping to avoid.

 

To start with, the writing style is poor; Canavan can’t seem to decide what tone to adopt and there is a curious juxtaposition between the nice (people sitting around being chummy over a cup of tea) and the nasty (the odd charred corpse or blood soaked floor etc). It’s an odd mix, and it doesn’t just stop at the plot; the characters are just as mixed up, with a villain who is just misguided and a hero who is happy to kill someone in cold blood. The overall effect of this is muddled; Canavan seems to be trying to have the best of both worlds, but ultimately this approach just doesn't work.

 

Coupled with that there is a lot of repetition - I quickly grew tired of reading about people blushing or smiling after saying something - and Canavan also has an annoying – and distracting - habit of using made-up names for the common place along with deliberate misspellings of rather ordinary names (Sonea and Dannyl, for example).

 

But all of this pales against my biggest complaint which is that for a large part of the book nothing happens! The first half of the book is a chase, and the second is largely comprised of people sitting around talking, but there is very little actual story during all of this - indeed, it’s not until the last hundred pages or so that anything like a plot actually starts to surface but by then it was all too late, I just didn’t care anymore.

 

To be fair, some of the characters were likeable enough, but they were far from original (the street urchin who discovers magical abilities; the kind old wizard who acts as a mentor; the cocky young side-kick and the wise-cracking assistant – all nice enough, but they could all have come from anyone of a dozen other stories).

 

I think the basic flaw in the book is the belief that sticking a map at the front, and calling a spider a "faren" is what makes a good fantasy story, and I’m sorry but it just doesn’t. Trying to create your own universe needs more than some unusual names, it needs good writing with strong characterisation and a coherent mythology; this book fails to deliver on all three.

 

For me The Magicians' Guild just reads like a piece of fan fiction, and looking at the plot synopsis on Wikipedia for the next two novels only highlights to me how bad it can still get – suffice to say I won’t be reading any further.

 

Edited for odd characters that crept in during the board upgrade!

 

Edited by Raven

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Serenity: Better Days

By Joss Whedon & Brett Matthews

 

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Mal Reynolds and his crew are back to their old tricks; getting the job done - in a round-about sort of way - and getting screwed come the pay-off, but this time they've come out of it with a sack of cash, so something, somewhere has to be very wrong indeed . . .

 

The best praise I can give Better Days is that it is like reading an episode of the TV series Firefly in comic book form. Pretty much everything is here, from the fast-paced plot to the flippant comments and wry humour.

 

If you enjoyed Firefly you should find this a diverting way to pass half-an-hour or so.

 

Serenity: Better Days is set before the movie Serenity.

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Another catch-up! (not sure you're going to like it Vanwa!)

 

Eagerly awaited I assure you Raven :D

 

All points noted duly, and I will reread at some point purely to validate them (it has been a while since I read the trilogy).

 

On another note and entirely off-topic, WoW? Really? For four whole years? Oh dear... :D In that case, although this may confuse other forum members, I will say this:

 

LotRO ftw imho. The PvP's not up to much currently, but we have the upperhand on PvE. No doubt about that.

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On another note and entirely off-topic, WoW? Really? For four whole years? Oh dear... :D In that case, although this may confuse other forum members, I will say this:

 

LotRO ftw imho. The PvP's not up to much currently, but we have the upperhand on PvE. No doubt about that.

 

But WoW has the better all round package.

I'm only a casual player (compared to most) and don't go in for any of the hardcore raiding experience etc, but the PvE side has always been more than enough to satisfy me, and the PvP side of the game is great fun! There's just so much you can do in this game, and if I do get bored (and I'll admit I do from time to time) I take a week or two off, it's no biggie.

Different strokes and all that I guess . . .

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On another note and entirely off-topic, WoW? Really? For four whole years? Oh dear... :D In that case, although this may confuse other forum members, I will say this:

 

LotRO ftw imho. The PvP's not up to much currently, but we have the upperhand on PvE. No doubt about that.

Just a bit!

 

WoW? LotRO? (Lord of the Rings something, presumably), PvE? :D

 

:)

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Just a bit!

 

WoW? LotRO? (Lord of the Rings something, presumably), PvE? :D

 

:D

 

WoW = World of Warcraft

LotRO = Lord of the Rings Online (yes, you too can be a Hobbit!)

PvE = Player vs. Environment (which is basically you playing against computer generated characters as opposed to PvP which is Player vs. Player).

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Hehe - thanks!

 

I used to play a really simple interactive Hobbit game years ago on some old game console at a friend's house!

 

Instruction: Throw sandwich

 

You throw your sandwich at the dragon. It glances off his head...

 

:D

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Catching up on a few reviews . . .

 

Trouble With Lichen

by John Wyndham

 

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When scientist Diana Brackley accidently drops a speck of lichen in the cat's milk, and discovers that it stops it from turning, she stumbles upon the secret of Antigerone; the cure for ageing. Whilst her boss ponders the ethics of announcing such a discovery to the world, Diana sees it as a way of liberating women from the eternal cycle of marriage and child bearing, so she sets off to start a very unique revolution . . .

 

Trouble with Lichen is something a bit different from the other John Wyndham novels I have read. There is no threat to mankind and, for a change, the middle-classes aren't really suffering that much (on the contrary, they are living longer!) but there is still a strong central theme and an awful lot of speculative thinking going on, that makes this accustomed territory for anyone familiar with the authors other works.

 

Written in the late fifties, the book has a cheerful optimism about it that embraces a time when rationing was being abolished and the standard of living was on the up. Into this walks Diana Brackley; probably Wydham

Edited by Raven

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Boogie up the River

by Mark Wallington

 

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One-hundred years after Jerome K. Jerome wrote Three Men in a Boat (that really is just a coincidence), author Mark Wallington sets out to find the source of the River Thames with his flatulent travelling companion Boogie. Will the pair make it through the backwaters of Suburbia? Will they overcome the challenge of Henley or the perils of the Goring gap? And will Mark's potential girlfriend, Jennifer, ever join them?

 

It is the late eighties, a time of endeavour for the daring business executive, when the rat race was really being run and when Yuppies were at the height of their power. Slowly rowing past all of this are Mark Wallington and his dog Boogie, in the restored camping skiff Maegan.

 

Like Wallington's previous books, 500 Mile Walkies and Destination Lapland, this is a comedy travelog. Starting from the pier at Tower Bridge, and heading up the Thames, he recounts numerous amusing exploits and intersperses them with trivia and historical information about the places the pair visit. All very good, and pretty much par for the course, really.

 

Where this book differs from the previous books, however, is with the inclusion of a sub-plot about whether Mark's high-flying, poetry writing friend, and prospective girlfriend, Jennifer will join them on their quest, and to my mind this is where the book falls down. It starts off as a bit of a running joke, as at each rendezvous the pair arrange Mark is met by a motorcycle courier carrying an apology, a takeaway meal and some bad poetry. After a while the joke starts to wear a bit thin though, and when Jennifer finally does turn up, I very quickly found myself wishing she would disappear again, as she is the literary equivalent of finding a stone in your shoe.

 

The parts of the book where Wallington is actually focused on the Thames are interesting and charming, and for anyone interested in the river - or his other books - it is worth a read, but ultimately the book is let down by the inclusion of the unnecessary and over-played sub-plot.

Edited by Raven

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Great review of Lichen, Raven! I've had this on my TBR pile for a while but I think I only bought it because it had Wyndham's name on it. I had no idea what it was about. :console: It sounds great though!

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It is a good book.

 

If you like Wyndham's other work, I think you will like this, even though it is a bit different from his other novels.

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After the Quake

By Haruki Murakami

 

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In January 1995 the Japanese city of Kobe was rocked by a devastating earthquake that claimed the lives of over 6,000 people and left another 300,000 homeless. After the Quake, a collection of six short stories, is author Haruki Murakami

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A Wild Sheep Chase
By Haruki Murakami

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Following the publication of an Insurance company PR bulletin, containing a very ordinary picture of a flock of sheep, a successful copywriter is contacted by a crime boss and sent on the most bizarre adventure imaginable, one that will take him from Tokyo to the far reaches of Hokkaidō in a search for a mystical sheep with a star shaped birthmark on it's back . . .

A Wild Sheep Chase is probably the most bizarre mystery novel I have ever read, but also one of the most enjoyable.

The story centres on an unnamed copywriter who is delivered an ultimatum to track down a sheep that has previously bought good luck to a powerful crime boss whose days are now coming to an end. Hoping that finding the sheep will also bring him luck, the crime boss’s deputy is keen to cement his position as the new leader of his organisation. Threatened with the destruction of his company the copy writer and his girlfriend have no choice but to go on this wild sheep chase, wherever it may lead them.

I really like this book. The narrator, the unnamed copywriter, is a likeable, if cynical chap who has an interesting and engaging way of describing the events that unfold, and the colourful cast of characters he encounters. The writing style is almost classic film-noir, but with an added twist of the surreal. Characters and places are vividly drawn, and the book has a suspiring emotional depth that leaves one with a profound sense of melancholy.

This is one of Murakami's earlier novels, and as such it doesn't seem as polished and lyrical as some of his later writing, but that doesn't matter because un-polished Murakami is still way better than anything most other authors will ever achieve.

Highly recommended.

Edited by Raven

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Unseen Academicals
By Terry Pratchett

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Trevor Likely is a lad with an eye for the girls, specifically Unseen University cook and part-time model Juliet Stollop, but they are from two feuding families; Trevor's dad used to play football for the Dimwell Old Pals whilst Juliet's family are staunch supporters of the Dolly Sisters. But then the Patrician decides to take an interest in football, and that can only mean trouble for someone and that someone is feisty head cook Glenda Sugarbean, inventor of the Ploughman's Pie. As Glenda struggles to keep Trevor and Juliet from getting into trouble, it seems trouble has taken a shine to her, in the form of the mysterious Mr. Nutt, and match day is fast approaching - gloing!

Unseen Academicals is the 37th Discworld book, and this time round the subject up for lampooning is football.

Like a lot of recent Pratchett novels, this one is again set in Ankh-Morpork and sees the welcome return of the Unseen University faculty and their new rivals, the staff of Brazeneck College headed up by their new Archchancellor Henry, the former UU Dean.

The story is pretty much standard Pratchett fair; a mysterious force is manipulating events whilst someone with a good deal of common sense tries to work out what is going on. The lead character, Glenda Sugarbean, is an engaging heroine, and the supporting characters are the usual entertaining mix of the interesting, the fun, the evil and the mysterious.

It rattles along at a good ole pace and Pratchett's observations are as sharp as ever and the writing is just good.

And that's pretty much it, really, which is why I was fairly apathetic about the whole novel whilst I was reading it.

It may sound churlish to complain about a book that is so well written, but there isn't a lot here that is particularly new or original.

The plot, the characters and the observations may all be new, but my general feeling is that this is more of the same but wearing a different dress (and this is only heightened by having the book set in Ankh-Morpork, yet again, after a run of other novels set there).

Don't get me wrong, this isn't a bad book at all, but even steak gets boring if you eat it every day.

Recommended (sort of . . .).

Edited by Raven

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Doctor Who: The Writers Tale: The Final Chapter

By Russell T. Davis and Benjamin Cook

 

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Russell T. Davies and Benjamin Cook return with this revised and updated edition of their 2008 biography, The Writer's Tale.

 

Consisting of a series of (often late night) e-mail exchanges between Doctor Who head writer Russell T. Davies and journalist Benjamin Cook, The Writer's Tale: The Final Chapter contains an additional 300 pages of new material, and covers a period of Doctor Who history that now seems like a distant memory.

 

The new material included in this edition, which picks up where the previous edition left off with the writing of the Christmas special The Next Doctor, charts the highs and lows of bringing the final few stories of David Tennant's time as the eponymous Timelord to the small screen.

 

Primarily this is a book about script-writing, and a number of examples from various scripts are included, but because Davies wore more than one hat this also covers most other aspects of the show's production, as well as that of it's sister shows Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures.

 

This was a bit of a cheat for me, actually, as I just jumped into this book where the previous edition finished (come on, it was over 500 pages, I wasn't going to re-read all that again just over a year after I first read it!).

 

Benjamin Cook does an excellent job in getting Davies to open up, with questions that often produce insightful and interesting answers. Davies, for his part, gives a warts-and-all account of himself and the events covered, as well as some genuinely engaging and touching glimpses of a man who has often been derided by fandom for his handling of the show.

 

If you are interested in the production of Doctor Who this is a must read, if you are interested in script writing and television production, doubly so.

 

Highly recommended.

Edited by Raven

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One Day

By David Nicholls

 

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It is Friday 15th July 1988, and students Emma and Dexter almost - but not quite - get together on the night of their graduation. As they look to the future, they speculate how they will fair over the next twenty years . . .

 

The premise of the book is simple; to tell the story of two people by relating the events of the same date each year, but David Nicholls' realisation of that premise results in a complex tale of friendship and love, and of how things don't always work out as planned or hoped for.

 

By and large the events that unfold are relatively predictable. If you were to sit down and lay out a road map of two people's lives for a will they/won't they style novel, that has to span twenty years, then there are some obvious plot lines that immediately come to mind, and by and large they appear, but the strength of this book isn't in the plotting, it is the characters.

 

Emma Morley is a bright, intelligent girl who lacks direction and self-confidence. Dexter Mayhew also lacks direction, but he has charisma and good looks by the bucket, and he isn't afraid to use them to get what he wants. Nicholls' draws the two characters perfectly. They are both written with a brutal honesty that makes them very real indeed, to the point where I stopped thinking of them as characters in a book, and start thinking of them as real people. Emma's somewhat rudderless path though life is at the same time both heart warming and saddening, and Dexter's arrogance and lack of self control are painfully realised as he battles to do what he knows is right, but repeatedly fails.

 

It is by no means a perfect book; I could see several of the plot points coming well before they happened, and that so many important events happen on the same date does stretch credulity somewhat, but it is a conceit that one is ultimately willing to turn a blind eye to when the characters are as good as they are.

 

I found myself both laughing and crying whilst reading this book, it is a novel that has genuinely moved me and is one that I believe my thoughts will dwell on for some time to come.

Edited by Raven

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Yes, I've not long finished reading this and I really liked it too. It grabs you right from the beginning doesn't it and the characters stay with you. I absolutely adored Emma.

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I absolutely adored Emma.

 

Yes, she's certainly become one of my favourite literary characters.

 

Nicholls has written a screenplay for a film of the book, which will be directed by Lone Scherfig, who previously directed An Education. Casting is taking place now, and filming is scheduled to start in the summer. If they don't get the casting right, I'm not sure this is something I will want to see.

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Yes, she's certainly become one of my favourite literary characters.

 

Nicholls has written a screenplay for a film of the book, which will be directed by Lone Scherfig, who previously directed An Education. Casting is taking place now, and filming is scheduled to start in the summer. If they don't get the casting right, I'm not sure this is something I will want to see.

 

At the bottom of my review I wrote that I thought it had film adaptation stamped all over it so I'm not surprised. You're right, it depends on the casting ... hopefully they will get it right but I doubt they will be the people I've conjured up in my mind .. they never are.

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Finished The Gum Thief, by Douglas Coupland, this afternoon - very good.

 

Review to follow at some point in the - probably - distant future!

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Black Sun Rising

By Celia Friedman

 

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On the planet Erna, the descendants of a group of human colonists live in precarious balance with a force called the fae; a natural phenomena that has the power to gift people who can control it extraordinary abilities, and at the same time turn the darkest nightmares into reality. When the memories and abilities of a powerful sorceress are stolen, the only way to restore her is for her friends to journey deep into enemy territory to hunt down and kill the demon that took them . . .

 

Black Sun Rising is a quest story that follows the trials and tribulations of a small party as they try to set right a wrong committed against one of their number. The group is led by a priest-come-warrior called Damien Vryce, who is attempting to restore the memories and abilities of his lover, the adept - a type of powerful sorceress - Ciani. They are joined by Ciani's apprentice and long time friend Senzei, who is hungry to taste the power of the fae, but who is unable to control it and the mysterious Gerald Tarrant, a servant to the sinister and powerful Hunter, a dark sorcerer renown for preying on women after nightfall. As the group pursue their quarry, they face a number of challenges both from the terrain and inhabitants of the lands they travel through, and from the groups own internal differences and divisions. Central to the tale is the relationship between Vryce and Tarrant, who only suffer each other out necessity, and by and large the events of their journey serve as a back drop against which this relationship plays out.

 

I haven't found this book to be the easiest of reads.

 

Friedman has chosen to write a dark tale that is generally pretty grim and lacking in any real warmth or humour. Also, the book is a hard slog to read in of itself, and it took me a while to pin down why. Friedman revels in detail, and she spends far too much time describing things that don't matter rather than just getting on with the story (at times, reading the book is the literary equivalent of trying to wade through treacle). Everything is described in such detail that Friedman quickly runs out of adjectives and as a result the book gets very repetitive very quickly. It also doesn't help that the main relationship between Vryce and Tarrant is also highly repetitive. Tarrant does something Vryce doesn't like; Vryce gets angry; Vryce is forced to back down because they can't do what they need to without Tarrant's help; Tarrant smiles smugly. And so the cycle repeats, time and again throughout the book until the whole loop just gets monotonous, not to mention redundant.

 

I came to this story (fantasy wise) off the back of The Magician's Guild, and whilst Black Sun Rising is an infinitely more complex book, I'd struggle to claim it is any better written. To start with I don't think I've read another book which has been so poorly edited. There are a number of mistakes and contradictions throughout the book, and whilst in a better novel I probably would have shrugged them off and got on with it, the slow pace of this book just made them all the more obvious.

 

A trait this book has in common with The Magician's Guild is the schizophrenic nature the writer adopts towards her characters. Friedman sets up Tarrant as her anti-hero, someone who does horrifically dark deeds in pursuit of his goals, but then she undermines that by trying to make him likeable and, to a point, have everyone like him as well. Personally, I just didn't buy this. For me it would have been much better - not to mention more in keeping with the character as initially set up - for Tarrant to remain cold and distant - doing what needed to be done and damn the consequences - rather than turning into a character that is, well, actually an okay kind of chap really . . . (even if he does drink the occasional pint of blood). It is exactly the same problem I have with the portrayal of Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels, where we are asked to believe that someone who murdered a group of children in cold blood can actually be redeemed.

 

For a large part the book is a slog, where not a great deal happens. It does pick up pace in the last hundred or so pages, and I did enjoy this section of the book more, but by that point the battle was lost (I think the only reason I finished it was sheer bloody mindedness that it wouldn't beat me). As with the Magician's Guild before it, the plot summaries on Wikipedia for the next two parts of the trilogy have slaked my appetite for any more.

 

For anyone wanting to read a dark novel, which doesn't exclude elements of humour and has a true anti-hero who doesn't get his edge blunted, read Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks - far better written, far darker and far more convincing to boot.

 

As for myself, the quest for a decent fantasy novel goes on . . .

Edited by Raven

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The Gum Thief
By Douglas Coupland

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When twenty-something Bethany discovers that her middle-aged colleague Roger has been writing diary entries pretending to be her, they begin a correspondence that marks the start of an unlikely friendship between the two . . .

The Gum Thief is the story of two disillusioned Staples employees who communicate with each other only through written notes. Roger is a middle-aged divorcee, hiding from life and other people at the bottom of a vodka bottle. Bethany is an intelligent but troubled girl, who is wondering what the point of life is, and what her place in the world is supposed to be. The two start corresponding when Bethany discovers Roger's diary in the staff coffee room and realises that he has been writing entries pretending to be her. Intrigued, more than disturbed, she suggests they start a correspondence with each other, and from there their relationship starts to grow. Interwoven within this is Roger's first attempt at a novel, the bizarrely titled Glove Pond.

Coupland really is a master of observational humour, and I can't begin to count the number of times I found myself nodding in agreement or laughing out loud whilst reading this book, but at the same time it is also a very touching and tender story.

The characters are excellent; Roger, who hates the world, but hates himself even more; Bethany, who is just trying to find her way and Bethany's Mum, DeeDee, who is as petrified about her own future as she is petrified that her daughter will end up repeating her mistakes. At first it all seems a little run-of-the-mill, but as the character's stories develop you begin to realise that there is a real heart to the book, coupled with a poignancy and melancholy that goes with finding that life doesn't always turn out as you hope it would.

It is the characters in Roger's debut novel Glove Pond, however, that really steal the show. Steve and Gloria are brilliantly drawn, and as their freakishly bizarre dinner party plays out over the course of the book, a depth is bought to them that makes them surprisingly real.

After being disappointed by jPod, The Gum Thief is a welcome return to form for Coupland for me. If you are interested in stories about modern life and people, that are both humorous and touching, this is the book for you.

Edited by Raven

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