The Exploding Book is the story of a book with the power to destroy any book different to itself. It's a bizarre story of a village living with access to only one book, and no knowledge of anything that is contained in any other book. It's a unique novel - a plot unlike any other I can recall, and it's peppered with humour and tragedy.

So to expand on the plot a little bit - the library of Gladeville is destroyed, and the only thing left is a copy of "The Dark Book", which quickly becomes the only book in town. Schoolchildren study it, adults obsess over it, and the whole village lives their lives by the teachings of the dark book. There is no mention of things like sex or love or babies in the dark book, so no one in town knows what they are. Slowly, things start to appear which aren't mentioned in the book, so what are they? How did they come to be? Does this mean that the Dark Book isn't the whole, complete truth? The unusual happenings take the villagers on a journey of discovery - a spiritual journey as much as a journey for knowledge, and the whole thing concludes in a hugely satisfying, moral ending with a humanist lesson that we should all be able to appreciate.

So I liked the plot. I've left out some of the more surprising elements, to mainly avoid spoilers and also to keep the sheer insanity of this book a surprise. This is truly out there, definitely one of the most memorable books I have read in the last 5 years.

One of the most interesting parts of the book is it is completely written in the second person. You, dear reader, are as much a part of this book as any of the residents of Gladeville. You fly from house to house, from school to bakery to observe the story unfolding. You will be there at the inception of this tale and you will star in the closing scenes. It is such a simple device, but it is so effective and immersive - it is a huge achievement. I've been wracking my brains trying to think of other examples of where the second person has been used to suck the reader in to the story to this effect...and I can't. Mike has performed that rare feat of finding a great idea that is original yet so simple. A real "why didn't I think of that?!" For example, the book starts with "You see a gold temple. The temple is glowing; it is emanating a gold aura of extraordinary brilliance. The gold light touches you and you feel bliss"." Then off we go, your spirit leaves your body in search for this fabled temple. The book keeps up the direct way of talking, as we delve off in a brief bit of the meta-physical, the we are shipped off to Gladeville.

This book is published by Strange Books, and to be honest I was a little bit put off by that. I am rarely a fan of things that are strange for the sake of being strange. I like strange things - strange music, strange films and certainly strange books, but only if there is something going on behind the scenes to justify the weirdness. Being weird for the sake of being weird - to me- doesn't hold any water and can be a veil for a lack of depth. Happily, this isn't the case here. The Exploding Book is undeniably weird. It is totally strange and off the wall. But, it does have depth. Mike Russell has planned everything out, and there is a lesson to be learned. The strangeness here is necessary for the story and the message that Mike wants to tell.

I really liked this book, and I am going to keep an eye on Mike Russell.

The Shadow Beyond is a paranormal thriller, full of mystery and a few monsters. It's a call back to the horror books of old, and reads like a true Gothic classic.

The Shadow Beyond tells the story of Robert Adderly. Born at the start of the 20th Century, he had a normal childhood, exploring his hometown and the surrounding countryside with his friends. They explored haunted houses and local folklore, which involved a few stories involving the occult, then he grew up and largely forgot about it. He was a gifted student, and went on to study mathematics at university. While there, he met the love of his life, who he quickly became engaged to. While they were celebrating their engagement, she suddenly burst into flames, and within minutes had quickly burned, leaving no remains behind. Obviously, Robert was devastated, and sought answers to what had happened - how did a human being just catch fire, and be completely devoured by the flames within minutes? The questions led him down a deep, dark rabbit hole; one of ancient wisdom, gods and demons, occultism, magic and dangerous ceremonies.

I was sent this book by the publisher, Vulpine Press, and it was described as a fantasy horror, which isn't my usual cup of tea. After a few emails were sent back and forth I decided to give it a go - it's good to try new things right? I'm glad I did. While The Shadow Beyond has strong fantasy elements - magic and demons are the main plot points - there is enough other stuff to keep anyone interested. Robert starts off as a good Christian man, who just wants to focus on his studies, but slides further and further into the occult and magic until he ultimately can't escape (this isn't a spoiler, it's all told to us in the foreword). His decline is something that's interesting to watch.Robert grapples with is morality and his priorities, and has a lot of internal conflict. There's also the mystery side of things - it quickly becomes clear that some people know something about his fiance's death - what are they hiding? Robert is on his own to figure out everything that is going on. There have been clues throughout his life, and he has to piece the puzzle together. This is another great thing about this book - I think Reiner covered all his loose ends, and all the little questions get answered in one way or another.

But the thing I really enjoyed about this book, is how it felt like an old horror book. To me, stylistically, it was very reminiscent of Frankenstein, and that meant the book had a charm about it. It's set at the start of the last century, so the language and phrasing is old fashioned and has that "classic" feel about it, and it made it an absolute joy to read. If you enjoy Gothic horror stories, or classic horror stories, then I think you would enjoy this. There's monsters, so it's tempting to compare it to Lovecraft, but to be honest I'm not enough of an expert on H.P. to be able to do so. There are few nods to Lovecraft throughout the book (Cthulu and the Necronomicon being the mains ones, I'm sure there's more that I didn't notice), so I think it is fair to say that Reiner has taken a lot of inspiration from the master of monsters. I've had a quick look into the themes of Lovecraft (forbidden knowledge, non-human influences on humanity, fate, religion) and there all present and correct here. So if you're a fan of Lovecraft, or Lovecraftian horror, this is definitely one to check out.

I really enjoyed this book. It's good to read something outside of your comfort zone once in a while.
Rusticles is a collection of 11 short stories from indie writer Rebecca Gransden. These stories are all dark, dealing with the underbelly of the lives in the fictional town of Hilligoss, but I would hesitate to label it as horror. There is something more human about them all - they have been written to do more than scare us.

Rusticles is a collection of 11 stories centred around the town of Hilligoss. Hilligoss seems like a dark, dark place. The residents are dealing with stealthy flamingos, ghosts which may or may not have been summoned, missing addict family members and many other surreal and not so surreal predicaments. The eleven stories all read like they are an excerpt from much larger pieces of writing. They hit the ground running, with no introductions to characters or settings or motivations. The reader then must start to fill the gaps in the picture with dribs and drabs of information, and ultimately decide for themselves what the picture is. Take the first story, The Neon Black Wall for example. The lead character, a teenage girl is re-visiting a place where something awful happened to her. We don't know what. We don't know when or who. We just see this part of her life - the return to the place where it happened. And it makes for some great reading. I don't mean to say the stories are incomplete - it feels like Gransden has written exactly what she set out to write - and it's up to us to fill in the gaps.

The writing throughout the collection felt extremely deliberate. Every word seems to have been picked with a lot of thought, and Rebecca has manged to give the town of Hilligoss and the book a really dismal feel through the language she's used. In The Dilapidated Flamingo the flamingo is said to "stick its head out of the leaves, like a dog's lipstick". Gross. But surely Rebecca could have used a thousand different similes for this - what about regular lipstick? But she didn't. She gave us this image. Thanks Rebecca. Flamingo was one of my favourites in this collection, by the way. It tells the story of a teenage boy who keeps spotting a flamingo in his garden. His father and his neighbour can't see it, and he can't trap it. It's a wonderfully strange little tale, that mixes childish innocence with a more grown up way of thinking. And what does that flamingo represent? I think it's the narrator's sexuality - if you have read this please do let me know your thoughts.

Rusticles is a nice little collection - the eleven stories are told over 97 pages, so it is easy to read the whole thing in one sitting. It's like a little trip to a town where it's always night time and the residents are all hiding dark secrets. It's great fun. Rebecca has shown she has a natural talent for writing, and in particular giving her work a real atmosphere.

The Storyteller tells the story of a Lebanese family who have fled to Germany. Just like many other families who have made the same journey, they are still tied to Lebanon, and can never seem to fully escape the country. The father' heart belongs there, and he talks fondly of his life back among the cedars. One day, he disappears, and his son, Samir vows that one days he will find him .The Storyteller tells the tale of Samir's journey to Beirut to find his father, and the impact his disappearance had on his life.

I was sent this book by World Editions, in exchange for a fair review, and to be a part of the blog tour for The Storyteller. I don't usually take part in blog tours - mainly because I don't like to stick to a schedule - but for The Storyteller I felt the need to make an exception. The premise of the story grabbed me - a story that looks into the life of refugees isn't super common, and Lebanon doesn't get talked about much these days.

And I'm glad I took this on. The Storyteller was absolutely fantastic. The story begins in Samir's childhood, just after the family has been given a home after fleeing to Germany. Things look good, the family is optimistic and happy, and they are living in a neighbourhood with lots of other Lebanese people - there is a really strong sense of community. The narration is from the point of view of an adult Samir looking back, so it is full of nostalgia and fondness. The emotions shines through from the text. This sentiment doesn't last long, Samir's life is a tough one, so enjoy it while it lasts.

Then the text jumps back and forth, from adult Samir in Beirut searching for his father, and his childhood, until the two catch up with each other. There's a shift in tone from the childhood parts and the adult parts - the chapters from Samirs childhood are full of wide eyed wonder that only children can find. They focus on what a child would - he doesn't care that he's thousands of miles from where he's spent the start of his life, he just wants to hear his father's stories and play with the little girl who lives next door. Jarawan is clearly an extremely skilled storyteller - this book has been a best seller in it's native German - but some credit belongs to the translators Sinead Crowe and Rachel McNicholl. I've said it before - a good translator is worth their weight in gold. The ability to keep the flow and meaning of the original work is extremely rare - many translated books seem to be extremely dry. Happily, The Storyteller flows. Like, really flows. It's a big 460 page book, but it felt like a little 150 page novella.

The only concern I had going in to this is I know shamefully little about Lebanon. The civil war stopped just before I was born, and it seemed to have fallen out of the news by the time I started to pay attention. The only knowledge of it I had was from a recent visit to the Tate Modern where I had seen "Monument for the Living". Lack of knowledge isn't a hindrance going into the Storyteller. I fact, it's a bit of a history lesson. It was originally written for German audiences, so an in depth knowledge of Lebanese history isn't assumed. After reading this, I think its fair to say, the layman would have a little bit more of an understanding of the country - or if he doesn't he would at least have an empathy for it's people. As the saying goes "If you think you understand Lebanon, someone has not explained it to you properly".

So really there are two sides to this book. There's the story of a father and son who have been split apart, the son searching for his father and the impact of their torn relationship on his life. Then there is the story of a refugees going back to his homeland. There's the Lebanese side to this story. It's a perfect balance here - the Lebanese story doesn't impose on the family story, it doesn't take over and lose the father/son story, but at the same time it is ever present, always in the background of everything that's going on.

I really enjoyed the Storyteller. It deserves to be a huge book. Unless I have a phenomenal year of reading ahead of me, this will easily be on my top 10 list for 2019. Probably top 5.
The Space Between Time is the story of a woman born into exceptional circumstances, struggling with being in the spotlight, and her families demons. It's a rare gem that mixes humour, tragedy, and a literary angle to keep analysts happy.

On the surface, Emma seems to be a very lucky girl. Her father's an A list celebrity, nominated for multiple Oscars, in the top 20 sexiest men, and a household name all over the world. Her grandfather is a world leading scientist, who has just published his ground breaking theory, and trying to get it to gain some traction with his peers. Her mother loves her deeply, and provides some normality in her life, despite being married to a top Hollywood actor and being drop dead gorgeous. But beneath it all, Emma's world isn't as happy as it looks on paper. Her father's absences are creating a growing tension in the Rossini household - her mother is suspicious about infidelity, and Emma just wants her father around. Emma and her mother are sick of being the famous family - Emma wants to blend in at school, and some friends who like her for who she is, not for who her father is. Her mother hates the spotlight, and shy's away from public appearances. Emma finds her only solace is in her grandparents, whom she adores. Her grandfather may be a top astrophysicist, but he's just a goofy Grandad to Emma, who hangs on his life lessons and finds his moustache hilarious. Tragedy soon strikes the family, in an unexpected event, and Emma's life goes down an unforeseen path. Seriously, the tragedy just comes out of nowhere, just as you begin to root for Emma there's a gut punch that leaves you genuinely concerned about how she will recover and put herself back together. No, Grandad doesn't die.

I really enjoyed this book, and there's a few reasons why. The first thing that grabbed me is the humour in Emma's narration. She has a really wry view on the world, and sees things for what they are. She has blunt way about things, but she's sharp at the same time. She's a very funny narrator, and this gives the book readability - it's a pleasure to go through the chapters and at no point an effort. Emma's narration and humour carry the story as it unfolds around her. 

There's a strong use of imagery running through this book too. Emma loves the sea - she grew up in East Lothian (which is gorgeous part of the world by the way), in Scotland, next to the coast, and has always felt an affinity with the sea. An the sea features heavily in the book - there isn't essays written about it, but important little drops here and there. If you read this, pay attention to the sea - it gives the book a bit of depth that can be lacking in contemporary novels at times. 

Also, stick with this to the end. The end casts a shadow over the rest of the book, and will change how you perceive the whole story. I don't want to say too much obviously, but now I know the end of the story, I want to read the book again, and pay attention to every single little thing that happens. Like when you watch a film again and notice the little details - I think this book has the ability to keep giving after the first read.

Only Americans Burn In Hell is Kobek's latest book of rantings and musings on the state of the world. It's a novel, but much more than just a story.

Jarett Kobek rose to prominence in 2016 with I Hate the Internet , which I read last spring, and really enjoyed. It was a refreshing book, which served a vehicle for Kobek to air his views on modern life, mainly the internet and the multi-billion dollar companies running the show. This is his second book since then - 2017's The Future Won't Be Long was largely ignored. Only Americans... picks up where The Internet left off, and at times feels like an update on what Kobek has been up to since then, and what he makes of what has been going on in the world. Expect lots of criticism of Trump, the people who voted for him and the system that allowed him to become the President of the United States. I know, that's a tired topic now, but Kobek manages to keep a fresh, entertaining look on things. For example, he uses the protests against Trump which took place outside of Trump Towers, when the main man wasn't there as a great metaphor for how democracy works. Kobek isn't just angry or cynical for the sake of it - it's not just to be edgy or for cheap laughs, each of his points and ramblings is thought out, informed and has an almost poetic edge. It's thought provoking and funny, and also at times an education. It's like being cornered by a drunk man, rambling and raving. Then as you walk away you realise he did have a point after all.

Don't be fooled into thinking this is a one trick pony. Yes, Trump pops up a lot in this book, but Kobek delves into seemingly thousands of topics. Each new chapter brought an exciting wonderment of what we're getting stuck into this time, and we go from black metal to Twitter to Snapchat to Game of Thrones (pornography about war) to the University of New York using slave labour to build their Abu Dhabi campus - this particular topic is dealt with on page 2. Kobek doesn't mess about.

There's an entertaining passage about people who review books online too. In particular, Kobek mentions people who compared I Hate The Internet to Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions. Oh. I did that. And it made the book much funnier for it. If I can laugh at all these other things, I have to be able to take it when it's my turn. In Kobek's eyes, we are not worthy to be reviewing books online. "Bullshit instant commentary by the stupidest people on the planet." Ouch. Sorry Jarett, I was sent a copy of Only Americans by your publisher, Serpents Tail, I'm kind of obliged to review it. Otherwise I'd avoid it - I'm worried I'll be writing more clichés, and you kind of scare me. 

There is a story which threads all of these musings together. It's a fantasy tale about the queen of Fairy Land travelling to modern day Los Angeles. It's great in itself, but it very much is here to give Kobek a platform to air his views, and acts as a thread to hold it all together. It's a big allegory to, for those of you who are into that sort of thing.

But there's an ending to it all which offers a little bit of comfort. It wasn't immediately clear what the ending's all about, but with some reflection it makes a whole heap of sense. Kobek is self aware. And extremely talented. I can't wait to read the next one in a couple of years.

The Willow Woman is a detective story set in China, following the long tradition of Chinese detective novels. It follows homicide detective Phillip Ye as he investigates a case of police brutality and a missing person, that quickly gets deeper and deeper.

The Chinese have a long, long tradition of detective novels. The tradition goes all the way back to the Tang Dynasty, (618 - 907 CE) - that's nearly 1500 years of detective stories! It a rich cultural phenomenon, and the typical Chinese crime novel has certain shapes and characteristics that define it as following the tradition. The author, Laurence Westwood has good blog post on them here. In The Willow Woman, Laurence has stuck to the traditions, taking the lessons of over a thousand years of history, but moulded them to fit the tastes of western readers, and the result is a great, great book.

The story opens with Phillip Ye, a homicide detective in Chengdu and son of the former mayor. He sees an apparition in his room telling him to travel to certain area of the town, which he does. While he's there he witnesses a case of police brutality, ending up in the murder of an elderly man - a case that he takes on and starts to look into, and it leads him to a missing person case, which leads him on to more and more mysteries in Chengdu's underbelly. There's a lot more in here than that simple explanation - the cast of characters is absolutely huge for a novel this size, so there's many sub plots orbiting around this central case. Laurence has woven a web in The Willow Woman - and a masterful one at that.

I'm no expert in Chinese culture by any means. I don't know how the society works, or what the common understandings of Chinese people are. I certainly know nothing about the legal system there. So this book was intimidating. In the first few pages there's a cast of characters that is a few pages long, full of names which were unusual to me. How on earth am I going to get through this and make sense of it all? How am I going to remember Superintendent Zuo from Superintendent Ye, or Prosecutor Deng from Prosecutor Ya? Luckily, Laurence does seem to be an expert on these things, and the book manages to make everything clear to the English reader, without becoming patronising. The tradition of Chinese Crime novels is to explain everything to reader, leaving little to the imagination, and this book fills the gaps where my English understanding reaches it's limits. Laurence is English, but is an expert on the Chinese legal system and Chinese culture, so he knows where he needs to explain the cultural differences. Sometimes, reading a book set in a different culture, especially if the author is from that culture, so doesn't have an outsider perspective, can make things confusing - the author can assume things are common knowledge that simply aren't outside of their own culture. Happily this isn't the case here. The Willow Woman throws you straight into Chengdu, but Laurence is your tour guide.

This is a great detective novel. The plot is good, fast paced with a few curve balls and surprises here and there. Laurence's writing is fantastic. I think this is his second book, but the prose and the narrative feels like a writer with much more experience. This one is strongly recommended.

The Wall is a dystopian novel abut a teenage girl fleeing England in the 2040's - after a disastrous Brexit has left the country almost unfit to live in.

Brexit is a hot potato right now. It's all over the news, and everyone has a strong opinion on it. If you're not from the UK you might not understand just what a big deal (or no deal) it is over here. It is absolutely everywhere, completely inescapable. And rightly so - its an important issue - it could have a big impact on the future of the UK. This is where Margaret Mason has found her inspiration for The Wall.

The Wall focuses on Harra, a teenager from York. Her family has saved up to send her to the Scottish border, and to cross the wall that marks the edge of England (Scotland has gained independence). It's illegal for anyone to cross the border and leave the country, so the journey is taken undercover, in total secret. Harra is given a set of thirteen instructions (Day 1, walk 10 miles North, for example), and there are stewards along the way who have safe houses where she can eat and rest.While she is travelling, she is on here own - it's a long dangerous journey and not everyone makes it - they either get caught by immigration or they don't survive the trip.

The England in The Wall is almost unrecognisable. Thick smog is everywhere - so dense in places that a mask is required to breathe safely. There are no cars, since fuel is scarce - that includes electricity. Food is short. Healthcare is non-existent (I guess the NHS is no longer around). The people scrape by, do what they can to earn a living and stretch their earnings as far as they can. They don't travel outside of their hometowns, eat what they can in their cold homes. This is all a result of course of the UK leaving the EU, and the Brexit referendum.

I'm not getting into Brexit here - I am giving that a wide, wide berth. Margaret is obviously a remainer, and this book is geared for other remainers. If that puts you off, then it's probably not for you. And obviously, no one thinks this is going to happen - this isn't a prediction or a warning, it's a bit of fun - almost satirical.

The story itself doesn't get too weighed down with the whole Brexit thing. We're told that Brexit was the cause of the problems England is facing, but there is no detail or timeline offered. We don't know why food or fuel is scarce, we don't know where things started to go wrong or why the economy has collapsed or really whats causing the pollution. Just that Brexit happened then the country has gone to shit. For me, what would have made this book more interesting would be some more detail into what happened between the UK leaving and the time Harra is alive. It feels almost irrelevant to the story that Brexit was the cause of everything, since there isn't a link given between Brexit and the situation Harra is in, we're just told that Brexit is the root of it all.

Having said that, if you ignore the Brexit backdrop, and look at this as a dystopian novel, it's pretty good. There's some real tension. Harra is a good every-man, full of doubt and worry, but at the same time a real warrior. She's left hr home and family, knowing she will never see them again and knows nothing about the journey ahead of her.

One other cool thing I noticed is that at one point Harra randomly picks up a book, which is about the history of England. The first chapter is called Saxon Dawn, which I recognised from somewhere. Quick trip to the bookshelves, and I confirmed it. I read this book! It's A Short History of England by Simon Jenkins.
This is the story of a young man who, in a plot of revenge, decides to frame his late mother's doctor for murder. For some reason he skins the corpses in a gruesome, bizarre form of art after reading about it in a mysterious textbook. The flayed skins come to life, and start to carry out his murders for him - and things quickly start to unravel.

So the backbone of this story is Trevor, like all good serial killers, was very close to his mother. Unfortunately for Trevor, she recently died of a brain tumour. She consulted the family doctor - Dr Mellick, who thought it was just migraines and told her to take some paracetamol and get lots of rest. In Trevor's eyes, Dr Mellick is responsible for his mothers death, and he plans to take his revenge. Trevor starts killing prostitutes in an effort to frame the Doctor, and skins the corpses after reading about it in a strange textbook. Just like anyone would. The skins come to life and help carry out the killings, the doctor disappears, and Trevor's activities lead him down a very dark and mysterious path, and his grip on reality becomes weaker and weaker.

This story is absolutely crazy. Easily one of the most original plots I'v read for the last few years, Morgan has come up with something that (to my knowledge) is completely original, yet has that classic feel to it. This book is super reminiscent of those old low budget horror movies - think Evil Dead or the Troma films - it's all gore and over-the-top violence with a wacky plot, that makes it so much fun. I spent my teenage years watching those films, so this book was almost like a trip down memory lane.I felt like I was 15 again, watching scary movies. I loved every minute of it, and recommend it to any gore-hounds or horror fans. It's not hugely terrifying though it is scary at some points, but it is crazy good fun.

Trevor is a great main character too. he explains his logic and his motivations, and I'm sure to him everything makes great sense, and it's all completely logical, but to the reader it seems a bit fuzzy round the edges. His grip on reality gets weaker and weaker, and the reader follows him on his downward spiral, getting lost in his hallucinations and black outs. It leads to a disorientating narrative, and it creates a dizzying atmosphere. I also grew to actually care for Trevor - he's clearly a mixed up guy - and the weird psychopath that infuriated me at the start of the book slowly revealed himself to be a troubled kid who is in desperate, desperate need of help.

This is a great little book, easily read in one sitting, that I would really recommend if you want a quick little story full of the macabre and dark humour. If you enjoy this sort of thing, you can't go wrong with this one.
Men Without Women is a collection of short stories from the Japanese author. It contains seven stories about single men, and their histories or encounters with the women in their lives, who are no longer

The stories in this collection all share the one common theme - all the main characters are men, who have no women in their lives - I should add they are all straight men, so they are living their lives without partners. The stories all share this theme, so it would be reasonable to expect seven very similar stories here, about miserable men moping about their bachelorhood, but the seven tales all very hugely in their style and tone. The first Drive my Car is a realistic tale about a widower trying to figure out his late wife's affairs, and her reasons for them - which is a fairly straight forward story, with no surreal surprises, but then one of the other stories Samsa In Love is an unofficial sequel to Kafka's Metamorphosis, where Gregor Samsa has returned to human form and has an encounter with a woman, and not understanding what is happening, which is pretty out there and is a great example of the weirdness Murakami is sometimes known for. The varying styles here, from the ordinary to the surreal and almost fantastical make this book very interesting. It gives it the opportunity to delve into the alienation these men are feeling, and it gives scope to the Men Without Women. It's not just one story on repeat of single ageing men - they all have backgrounds and stories to tell, and mysteries in their past that they can't really explain.

The feeling I had after putting this book down is one of Sonder- that is the realisation that everyone lives a life as full as your own, with their own histories and ambitions and emotions. All these men which could be written off as lonely old fools have all the emotions and thoughts and pasts as a man who has been married for 50 years.They have their own reasons for being alone - death of their wives, infidelity, or wanting to live their own ways. There's no one reason why these men end up alone, and none of them have simple pasts. There are mysteries that are impossible to piece together - and that's how life is sometimes.

 Ultimately, this book is about love, and is romantic in a way - showing how love can define our lives and characters, but it says something more about a nearly universal condition - that of wanting a partner (although this isn't the case in all the stories), and of loneliness. Great collection of short stories, and it's clear to see why Murakami is held as one of the best writers around.

Cucina Tipica is the story of Jacoby, an out our of work PR guy from New York, who has taken a year off in Italy, with his fiancee. He's there to relax and unwind, but has has a secret agenda - to try and dig into some family history. It's a relaxed novel, which highlights the charm in a slower pace of life.

Jacoby has suddenly lost his job in New York. An offensive text message intended for a close work friend went rogue, and ended up being sent to the whole company, including his new boss. He's not taken it well, and when his fiancee, Claire was offered a year's trip to Italy as a travel writer, they decided he should go along to try and unwind and find his mojo again. Jacoby's mother was Italian, so he decides to try and find out about his his family history while they are there, and it leads him down a path of friendship, self-discovery and lots of good food. Jacoby is lost in life - as well as losing his job there are clues early on that there are problems between him and Claire, and he is unsure if their relationship will survive the trip. The combination of losing his job, as well as any hope of finding work back in the professional world of America, and sensing that there is no future in his serious relationship would give anyone a lot to worry about.

Italy is more than just a setting for this book. It is a whole way of life - good food, good wine, good company and plenty of culture. The way people live their lives there is slower, more relaxed and much more simple than the life Jacoby is used to in the States. The Italian way of doing things influences almost every page of this book - and it gives it a great atmosphere. It makes the book supremely memorable - I'm sure in a year's time I'll be able to think of this book and remember images of piazza's and Dante's statue looking down upon the characters. Obviously, it's not as immersive as trip there, but after reading this, I think I've got a bit more of an understanding of what life's all about in Tuscany. Cotto has obviously got a great love and respect for the country, and it shows here.

The other highlight of the book was the food. Food seems to be what keeps Jacoby going. He's got a great love of good food - it seems to be what keeps him going at times, and every meal in this book sounds divine. He's in the right place for it - I don't need to tell anyone about Italy's reputation for good food. Italian's seem to have a natural gift for it - I've had the pleasure of eating with the Italian families of friends a few times, and it really is a treat. The passion for good food seems to be in their blood, and they seem to have a natural understanding of how to prepare and serve a good meal. This book is worth the read just to witness the meals Jacoby and co get through.

This book is a charming, chilled out affair, and there is little action, but enough drama to keep it going. Don't be fooled into thinking it's a slow burner - the momentum keeps up through the main plot line and the handful of sub-plots running through it. It's good book, and Cotto has a great passion for what he is writing about - Italy, food, music - and it's one I would recommend for a chilled Sunday afternoon, maybe with a cold white wine.

10:04 tells the story of a few weeks in the life of a writer living in New York. It's an eventful few weeks, and the books weaves from one scenario to another, ending up in a collage of events.

10:04 is based around the nameless narrator (I suspect his name might be Ben), who at the beginning of the book is told by his agent that a publisher has given him an advance in the strong five figures for his next novel, only he must make it more marketable than his previous debut. The narrator has recently been diagnosed with Marfan syndrome, where his aorta is expanding and could be fatal if it grows much more. The narrator then starts off down a road of writing fiction, thinking about how real life could be reflected through the novel, if he just changes this person's name or that person's situation slightly, and how real life would prove the best inspiration, making the reader wonder how much of the book is based on Lerner's life - there are certainly similarities between the narrator's career and Ben's - both poets originally, who achieved surprise success with their first novels. The book seems to blur the lines between fiction and reality, and leaves us with something really remarkable.

The narrator is really what makes this book what is is. Self-deprecating, observant and deep-in-thought, he is a likeable guy who gives this book it's charm. He's got a lot going on, with his writing, and his best friend has asked him to father her baby through artificial insemination, and the new diagnosis as well as a few other situations he's found himself in. This all gives him plenty of food for thought, and various themes and ideas just keep popping up into the narrative. The idea of the future influencing the present - and more broadly whether the context through which we experience things effects our reactions to them - just keep popping up. This kind of idea which float around in the book hold the happenings and events together - it sews them up into a comprehensive narrative. Not so much a plot-driven story, but real life isn't plot-driven. This book is more of a window into the narrator's mind, which gives some extraordinary insight.

Lerner's writing has been criticised for being overly verbose - there are lots of words here I had to look up, but it isn't too distracting. It gives a the book a real style, and the narrator some real charisma. When this book hits the right notes it is amazing - the narrator walking through NYC being bombarded with billboards and texts and hearing Rihanna's Umbrella and all the other stimuli is immersive, even when he is walking through the city with his own thoughts sneaking in.

This really is a great novel - I think one of the smartest  I've read that's come out in the last 5 years. I'll definitely be keeping an eye on Ben's work in the future.

The Wasp Factory is the story of a 16 year old boy, Frank, living on a remote island off the Scottish coast with his father. Frank is no ordinary teenager - he already has 3 murders under his belt, and isn't against the idea of more. This book has a reputation for being a dark read that is hard to stomach at times and is often ranked way up there as one of the sickest books of the last few decades.

The Wasp Factory focuses on Frank, who spends most of his time killing animals on his family's island. He really revels in it. When he isn't picking off rabbits, he likes to indulge in other strange behaviour, like building dams in the streams and little villages under the dams, only to let the dams collapse and flood the villages. He also has a contraption he calls "The Wasp Factory" which he uses to predict the future. Also, his dad has a secret room in the house they share which he locks at all times, and an obsession with the measurements and dimensions of everything in the house. Oh, and Franks older brother has escaped from the mental institution he has called home for the last few years, and is making his way back to the island. Frank has also murdered 3 children in his past, but seems to have gotten away with it. I think that just about sets the scene, and should give you a taste of what this book is like.

The book starts off fairly slowly with Frank going about his life, doing things which are completely sensible and logical to him - putting rabbits heads on sticks to protect the island, and talking about the factory's predictions, with little explanation to the reader as to why he is doing these things. It makes it a bit of a tough start, and a lot of the events just have to be taken at face value, in the hope that all will become clear later on. Frank's ideas and actions are slowly explained to the reader, and they start to make a bit of twisted sense, which gives the book a satisfying edge to it, and for me was really one of the only things I enjoyed. The insight into Frank's mind is interesting, and Frank as a character shows Iain's rich imagination, and ability to create a real villain - Frank is weird, but not simple. He is a complicated character with theories and thoughts that are developed, though sometimes lacking in clear logic.

The murders seem to be the bit of the book that everyone focuses on. There are 3 of them, and though they are pretty grisly - mainly because they are child murders, there is nothing really, really shocking about them. Nothing as graphic or disturbing as say American Psycho. They are all pretty creative though - there's no stabbings or poison or any of those old-fashioned methods of killing - Frank is pre-meditated (mostly) and can spot an opportunity to make a murder seem like an accident. The absurdity in the methods he uses to kill give the book a nice feel to it - it is reminiscent of old gothic horror and add to the book's surreal-yet-realistic atmosphere. I explained them to my wife and she thought they sounded stupid - and out of the context of the novel they do, but within the world of the Wasp Factory they fit in perfectly and to me that is why they are such big talking points.

The Wasp Factory has a huge reputation and is loved by many, and Iain Banks has gone on to achieve great things, but I didn't especially enjoy this book, and I can't really put my finger on why. I can see why people love this book, and I can see why people loathe this book, but for me it was middle of the road.

Have you read this book? Do you agree? Am I completely wrong? Let me know