Monday 30 September 2013

DOUBLE REVIEW: Psycho, by Robert Bloch (4*)

~ The Book ~

by Robert Bloch (Robert Hale, 2013)
My rating: 4 stars

"You're a Mamma's Boy.  That's what they called you, and that's what you were.  Were, are, and always will be.  A big, fat, overgrown Mamma's Boy!"

I didn't even know Psycho was originally a novel until very recently, but since I wanted to watch the film this year around Halloween I thought maybe I should bite the bullet and read the book as well!

By now most people know the basics - Norman Bates, lonely motel, a girl murdered in the shower, a psychotic mother - but it was interesting for me to go back to the original and fill in the gaps before I watched the now-iconic Hitchcock movie.  The rest of the story was new to me!  It opens with Mary Crane stealing forty thousand dollars and taking off, with the intention of passing it off as inheritance money and giving it to her fiance Sam, who has refused to get married until he has finish paying off his late father's debts.  Losing her way en route to Sam's town, she ends up at the Bates Motel, where she meets overweight, bookish Norman, who runs the motel and cares for his sick elderly mother despite her constant venomous nagging.  That night the supposedly infirm old woman, jealous of Norman's attraction to their pretty guest, kills Mary, sparking off a chain of events that will pull Norman deeper and deeper into darkness and put everyone Mary loves in danger too...

It's actually quite a gripping little novel despite its age - it was first published in 1959 - and if the twist wasn't now so famous it would have been even more effective as a thriller.  Of course, the film has now eclipsed it almost entirely, and in my mind I read the whole thing in that half-English-sounding posh movie-star American accent that is so ubiquitous in old black and white movies.  The psychology behind the villainy is quite fascinating - Norman seems to know quite a bit about it already - and Norman's inner monologues have a kind of intoxicating, brutal poetry to them as he rattles through his conflicting thoughts and emotions.  It was a quick read, but I'll definitely be keeping hold of it to reread again in the future.

Notable Quotables:
  • "Cold-blooded murder is one thing, but sickness is another.  You aren't really a murderer when you're sick in the head.  Anybody knows that."
  • ""It's all right," he said, wondering at the same time why there were no better words, why there never are any better words to answer fear and grief and loneliness."
  • "Funny, Sam told himself, how we take it for granted that we know all there is to know about another person just because we see them frequently or because of some strong emotional tie."
  • "I can't even hate Bates for what he did.  He must have suffered more than any of us.  In a way I can almost understand.  We're all not quite as sane as we pretend to be."

Source:  I ordered this book from Amazon UK.

~ The Film ~

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock,  starring Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh (1960)
My rating: 4.5 stars

I actually did a paper on Psycho at school for a creative writing practice exam... but I'd never seen it.  I watched it during my first week at university... but my friend talked all the way through it.  So really, I was coming to this first 'real' viewing of the movie as a kind of half-knowledgeable half-new spectator.  Which was probably the best way to be, because I knew what to look for but couldn't quite remember all the details!

So, let's start with Norman Bates.  In the book, he's in his thirties or early forties, overweight and homely, and in my head I imagined him as a kind of cross between Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons and Chris from Family Guy.

Not all that attractive, shall we say.  Aaaaand then there was the movie.  In the movie, Norman Bates is famously played by Anthony Perkins, who looks like this:
Yup, Norman Bates is cute.  I read that Hitchcock deliberately made the choice to cast a handsome guy in his twenties rather than stick to the description in the book, because he wanted viewers to genuinely sympathise with Norman and see him as a boy-next-door type.  I remember watching Psycho the first time (over the top of my friend's chatter, obviously), not knowing the storyline or the twist at all, and thinking Norman was a sweetheart.  This time, knowing about the murderous Mother and about Norman's psychosis, I STILL thought he was a sweetheart - even more so than the book, where he was a little more aggressive and kind of sad.  Aaaaaaand then this happened:

Yeah, that was the moment I stopped watching the film as a proper horror movie and I fell in love with Norman Bates.  Possibly this makes me as psychotic as he is.  :)

Of course, crushes aside, this is a GREAT film.  There are other changes besides the boyish charms of Anthony Perkins, but for me they only added to the movie.  Mary Crane becomes the now-famous Marian (a tiny and fairly pointless change, admittedly), and she gets more attention in the adaptation.  Her part in the story is lengthened and fleshed out, and in turn, the investigation being conducted by her sister Lila, fiance Sam and a private detective after her disappearance is shortened and sharpened (which not only keeps the pace up, but also renders Lila feistier and less whiny).  Hitchcock, though daring for his time, does actually tone down the violence of the book, in which Mary is beheaded, not just stabbed, but he keeps Norman's horrified response at a high pitch to retain the same suspense.  And Perkins IS fantastic, playing a much more sympathetic Norman Bates than the one Bloch wrote: a sweet shy man-boy whose mother has him well and truly under her thumb - in more ways than one.

What I really liked was the ending.  Lila's exploration of the house, particularly the slow panning around Norman's little room, with its small bed, gramophone and childhood toys - that of a boy who was never allowed to become a man - struck a sad note that helped set the tone for the revelations to come.  The famous 'Mrs Bates in the fruit cellar' moment was just as awful and just as tense in the film, even though I knew it was coming (and I DEFINITELY remembered that image from my previous semi-viewing), and Norman's frenzied arrival was that much more 'psychotic' and that much less 'weird guy who needs to get out more'.  The psychiatrist's concise explanation of everything that's happened (no spoilers, just in case!) has greater clarity than in the book, giving it more impact than Bloch's original.

Of course, this is pure Hitchcock, so there's plenty to appreciate in terms of the cinematography.  The camera zooms in through a window at giddy speed; the scenes in which Mother attacks her victims are shot in innovative and interesting ways; tense moments are lit creatively to add to the dramatic feel.  Admittedly, the now-famous 'Arbogast falling down the stairs' moment, then a pioneering piece of filmmaking, actually made me laugh out loud, it was so hilariously awful - but at the time, it would have been the height of special effects!  And the penultimate scene, with Mother's voiceover and Norman wrapped in his blanket, is made utterly memorable by the death's head imposed over his devious smile.  He may have been weird, but Hitchcock was a genius!

Happily I still have the three later Psycho films (NOT with the same director, but apparently still pretty good), plus two more Hitchcock movies (The Birds and my old favourite Rebecca) waiting on my R.I.P. shelf for October, so the fun isn't over yet!

~ The Verdict ~

To read or to watch?  That age-old book-lover's question.  Personally, I'd hedge my bets with this one and recommend that you just do both.  The book only took me about a day to read and does fill in some of Norman's internal confusion via those intriguing flights of thought - but the film is pure Hitchcock magic, beautifully made and with his own distinctive flavour apparent in every camera trick and lighting angle.  Also, the film has that smile, so... *scrolls back up for another look*  Yeah, both.  Do both.

Saturday 28 September 2013

REVIEW: Vivien's Heavenly Ice Cream Shop, by Abby Clements (5*)

(Quercus, 2013)

Having read and enjoyed Meet Me Under the Mistletoe last Christmas, and being a fan of foodie novels like Jenny Colgan's Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe, I was well chuffed when Katie offered to send me her copy of Vivien's Heavenly Ice Cream Shop over the summer.  The cover is GORGEOUS - very much like the Jenny Colgan ones, in fact - and happily the contents were delectable as well!

It's about two chalk 'n' cheese sisters, homebird Anna and eager traveller Imogen, who unexpectedly inherit their grandmother Vivien's ice cream shop on the Brighton seafront when she passes away.  With Vivien's legacy to inspire them - though it's been a while since the shop did more than break even - they take the plunge and try to make a go of things.  After revamping the interior and renaming it after its feisty late owner, food lover Anna flies out to Italy to learn the art of professional ice cream and sorbet-making while Imogen takes the reins at home in Brighton.  Of course, all is not smooth sailing.  Mishaps and crises ensue, both girls' love lives get dragged across the rocks, family tensions are at an all-time high, and Imogen is still feeling the tug to return abroad to continue following her passion for underwater photography.  Meanwhile someone in Brighton seems to be out to sabotage their efforts before Vivien's can even get off the ground...

To be honest, I wasn't expecting much more than some fluffy entertainment to pass a day or two - but I absolutely LOVED this book.  I think the various settings helped: Vivien's is on the seafront in Brighton, Anna travels to Florence for her course, Imogen has been living on a Thai island, and later she goes to the Glastonbury festival as well.  All the different flavours of summer and holidays and the beach and music and sunshine, all rolled into one!  Between the interesting locations, the ice cream and the budding romances, I closed the book with a happy sigh on my lips, feeling all sunny and contented.

The only thing I noticed that annoyed me a bit was the fact that the characters do a lot of 'recalling' - not just 'remembering' or 'thinking about' - which sounds very awkward and feels like a bit of a lazy way of filling in back story.  It's been a while since I read Meet Me Under the Mistletoe but I think Clements did the same thing in that one.  It's less jarring here, but I still noticed it!  I also noticed a couple of editorial errors - at one point Clements mixes up the Italian names of Anna's landlady and her course tutor, and later she mentions Vivien's husband Joseph when previously she'd called him Stanley.  Those mistakes were glaringly obvious and really should have been spotted during the editing process - but likewise, they can be easily fixed. 

As a business owner (technically) I really appreciated the realistic business side of this particular book - something I had a slight issue with in Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe.  Anna and Imogen have some money from their grandmother to help them with their start-up costs, but they soon get through it and unlike Issy's cupcake cafe, they don't seem magically able to invest in expensive events and hire extra staff within months.  They have to do the hard graft themselves, and have a real struggle on their hands to get the shop off the ground and onto the radar of locals and visitors alike - perhaps that was what helped make the story so compelling.  It was a much more honest look at the experience of opening a shop, and although of course Vivien's flourishes by the end of the novel, I really appreciated the fact that Clements didn't make things too easy for her characters!

All in all, this was a really sunny, bright and delicious slice of summer fiction that MIGHT even have toppled Sophie Kinsella's The Undomestic Goddess off its top spot as my go-to book when I need to bury myself in something lively, inspiring and generally fuelled by sugar and spice and all things nice.  Five stars, and I'll definitely be keeping it - along with Katie's Penguin postcard - ready for next time I need cheering up!

BONUS POINTS: for the now-standard recipes in the back of the book, which include a classic vanilla ice cream and a delicious-sounding salted caramel that I'm determined to make my stepdad try out sometime!

Source: Katie very kindly sent me her copy of this book after she read it for Once Upon a Readathon over the summer.

Monday 23 September 2013

REVIEW: Ashfall, by Mike Mullin (4.5*)

(Tanglewood, 2011)

"The ash looked almost white in the dim light, giving us a ghostly aspect.  Maybe we were ghosts of a sort, spirits from the world that had died when the volcano erupted.  Now we haunted a changed land.  Would there be any place for us in this new, post-volcanic world?"

I don't know why I'm struggling to write reviews at the moment - except that I'm reading like a maniac instead! - but I'm determined to get a few done this week even if they're a bit rubbish.  I want to be a little more up to date by the time we go on holiday at the start of October, especially given how much reading I'm hoping to do while I'm there.  I'll be even further behind if I don't get a crack on! 

So, Ashfall.  I can't remember where I first heard about it, but it immediately grabbed my interest and I ordered a copy the same day.  It's basically an environmental-apocalypse-type dystopian novel, for older YA readers, hypothesising about what would happen if the supervolcano squatting under Yellowstone actually erupted.  Within the first few pages Alex, a teenager left alone in Cedar Falls while his parents and sister head off to visit his uncle a couple of hours' drive away, has seen his house destroyed by a falling chunk of burning debris.  Escaping to the safety of his neighbours' house, the relentless deafening booming of the eruption, happening 900 miles away, is the next thing to hit, continuing for several days.  When it finally stops, all that's left is darkness, and rumbling thunder, and the ashfall, drifting grey...

Once this set-up is complete, the survival story takes over.  It actually reminded me a tiny bit of The Hunger Games in that respect, as every possible extreme of human behaviour is brought to the surface by the ongoing catastrophe.  Leaving his neighbourhood behind, Alex sets out for Warren, where he hopes he'll find his family safe at his uncle's farm.  En route he meets Darla, an earthy farm girl with some of the practical knowledge he'll need to stay alive, and she falls in with him on his journey.  On the way they have to balance their own needs - defending themselves and their property, and finding food where they can - with retaining their humanity, helping people they meet on the road and aiding community survival efforts as they pass through.

I was quite impressed by how thoroughly Mullin had thought everything through, working in every imaginable consequence of an environmental disaster in a scarily realistic way.  He covers the ongoing need for food and shelter, the lack of water and power, the scarcity of available medical help, and the collapse of authority.  He explores the possibilities for corruption and panic, and the way that while most people will instinctively come together and work hard to keep life going, others will allow their most brutal impulses to come to the fore and exploit the vulnerability of others, out of need or just for kicks.  It's amazing how quickly a civilisation can fall apart once people realise the fragility of the social boundaries we all live by.

Overall I was genuinely impressed by this novel, particularly given the rather cheap feel of the cover design and the book itself, which did ring alarm bells a bit when I first bought it!  I was completely gripped by the end of the first chapter, and remained hooked through every twist and turn, every tentative encounter and dangerous confrontation, that Alex (and later, Darla) encountered on the road to Warren.  There were some truly horrific moments (hence the Hunger Games comparison), including one early on which I felt might have been a bit TOO gratuitous - I have a strong stomach these days but this particular incident made me feel a bit queasy - and if you can't read any scenes of animals being harmed then you might want to skip this one.  After all, the aim is survival, and food is food...  Blood and gore aside, however, I thought it was superbly written and emotionally astute (yes, I cried at least once), and I can't wait to read the next installment of Alex and Darla's adventures in the second book, Ashen Winter.

Bonus points: for the extras at the back.  Mullin includes a few pages of information about the Yellowstone supervolcano - and others like it - along with some suggested further reading, which I've duly scribbled down for later.  He also has an amusing 'about the author' page, in which he mentions that he's a black belt in Songahm Taekwondo (something he shares with his young protagonist, who naturally finds it rather helpful on his journey!) and lists some of his crappiest jobs to date, wryly noting that "he's really hoping this writing thing works out."  I hope so too...

Source:  I preordered this book from Amazon UK... then didn't read it.  Naturally.

Monday 16 September 2013

A-Z Bookish Survey

This meme has been floating around for a while (Jamie always makes the best ones!), and loads of my favourite bloggers have already done it, including Katie, Hanna, Bex, Alley, Sarah and Laura.  Now it's my turn!  You know I can't resist a bookish survey...

Author you've read the most books from:  Probably Enid Blyton, as a little girl.  I read everything I could get my hands on of hers, including her short stories for younger children, Noddy, The Magic Faraway Tree, The Wishing Chair, through The Secret Seven and The Adventurous Four to The Famous Five, St. Clares, Malory Towers...  My favourites were the Cherry Tree Farm and Willow Farm books, which taught me a lot about woodland wildlife and farm animals.  So many series featuring picnics and ginger beer, so little time!

Best sequel ever:  Ummmm.  Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets?  That basilisk was bloody terrifying, zooming around in the pipes hissing about killing people, and Gilderoy Lockhart is just FABULOUS.  Seizure, the second book in the Virals series by Kathy Reichs, was excellent too - all Indiana Jones-style underground adventures and pirate treasure!

I can't even look at this GIF without laughing!

Currently reading:  Psycho by Robert Bloch.  Yes, THAT Psycho.  There's a new 2013 edition with a suitably freaky cover, and I bought the four Psycho movies in a box set to go with it.  It's great so far, but it definitely preys on the mind a bit.  Nothing says 'autumn reading' like a sudden urge to give myself nightmares...  :)

Aaaaah, Norman's so sweet...  Shame about the mother thing, really.

Drink of choice while reading:  Usually either coffee (normal at work, decaff before bed) or Twinings chai tea with milk and a little blob of honey.  In winter I sometimes have Ovaltine or hot chocolate instead.  Anything to keep warm in our cold shop!

Ereader or physical book:  I tried a Kindle, but I hated it and sold it on again for a fraction of what I paid for it.  Total waste of good book money!  I hated not being able to see the cover, I hated not being able to flick backwards and forwards easily, I hated the nasty generic type on the page, I hated not having the 'spatial awareness' of knowing roughly where I saw something ("about a quarter of the way through, on the left hand page"), I hated not feeling the physicality of the book in my hand, I hated not being able to peek at the top of my book to see how far my bookmark had progressed over the day...  Maybe I should have known better, running a second-hand bookshop and all, but I'm now firmly back in the paper camp and there I intend to stay.

Fictional character that you probably would have dated in high school:  They would probably never have dated my pudgy teenage nerd-self, but I always liked boys who were dark, clever and a little bit different.  Off the top of my head, my crushes could have included Ben Blue from the Virals series, Lochan from Forbidden, Dash from Dash and Lily's Book of Dares, and Jacob Black.  I'd definitely have crushed on Kevin Khatchadourian (yes, THAT Kevin - he's described as handsome, smokily exotic, smart and enigmatic, after all), but I'd probably have ended up shot full of arrows for my impertinence.

Glad you gave this book a chance:  In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.  I'd never had much interest in it, thinking it'd be dry and not my sort of thing at all, but I picked it up from the library and gave it a go.  It turned out to be my favourite book of 2012 and one of the best, most immersive and compelling books I've ever read!

Hidden gem book:  Eating for England: The Delights and Eccentricities of the British at Table by Nigel Slater.  People love his cookery books, and his memoir Toast is pretty well-known, but nobody really seems to have heard of this one.  It's structured a bit like Toast, in little mini-essays about different food-related topics, but it's more of a charming and whimsical celebration of British food and food culture.  Also, the cover has colourful rock on it, which makes me immediately think of summer and sunshine and donkey rides on the beach!  A fantastically nostalgic read.

Important moment in your reading life:  I suppose, going back to basics, the biggest moment was when I was reading The Wishing Chair as a little girl and the whole 'reading silently' concept suddenly made sense.  In that instant my reading changed completely because I didn't have to talk aloud any more and could read more quickly.  I remember it just suddenly working, like a jigsaw piece had slotted into place!

Just finished:  We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver.  It's been a long time since I read a book whose characters and situations were so very real to me - I've been boring my poor mum to tears all week, bending her ear about bad parents and damaged children and the school shooting culture...  Fascinating, compelling, thought-provoking and a pleasure to read.  It's the best book I've read this year - and when I can finally get my thoughts together, there's a five star review on the way!

Kind of books you won't read:  Ummm.  Mostly I live by a 'never say never' rule with books - but I won't read Christian fiction or books about living the Christian Way.  I have it rubbed in my face enough, being an atheist in a rather conservative church-centred town, so I don't need to read about it too.

Longest book you read:  The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.  Not that it felt like 1200 pages, it was absolutely gripping!  It was also the first book I ever reviewed on this blog, which means I have a bit of a soft spot for it anyway...

Major book hangover because of:  Lord of the Rings.  I read straight through The Hobbit and all three LOTR books, so I was completely emotionally invested by the end and had been mentally inhabiting Middle Earth for several weeks.  I'd also seen the first LOTR movie in the middle of all this, immersing myself even MORE.  I think when I finally came to the end and closed the book, I didn't read anything else for a good week or more, just because I knew full well that nothing could top that.

Post LOTR-feels: I haz them.

Number of bookcases you own:  Just one, in the new house.  I used to have at least four, plus extras in piles and boxes, so the downsize has been quite dramatic!  Of course, that doesn't mean I've done away with all my books - it just means they're staying in their plastic storage boxes for now, half in my bedroom, half in my dad's spare room a few minutes away.  If I read and release one from the shelf, another one moves up out of a box to take its place!

One book you've read multiple times:  The Cat Who Came In From the Cold by Deric Longden, the first in his series of funny cat-based autobiographies about life up north with his wife (the writer Aileen Armitage) and an ever-shifting crew of feline friends.  My mum bought me this one when I was about eleven and they've been some of my favourite comfort reads ever since!

Preferred place to read:  The first thing I did in my new room was set up a little reading corner for myself.  Well, it's not quite a corner yet - the ACTUAL corner is still full of yet-to-be-unpacked crap - but I'll keep shuffling it backwards until it gets there!  It's under the main light, so it's nice and bright (I might put a lamp behind it once the corner's cleared), and I have a comfy wicker chair (when Domino isn't hogging it) and a Myakka table of solid wood, shaped like a stack of books!  Perfect for reading with a cuppa and a snack in peace and quiet...

Quote that inspires you:  "Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you." - From The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón.  I think it's a beautiful way of explaining how an individual reader brings his own life, his own memories and values and even deep inner secrets, to the table when reading a book.  A person sat next to him reading the same book won't have the same reading experience; if he rereads that book years down the line, he'll have changed and his response will differ yet again.

Reading regret:  Ummm, I don't know!  The only thing I can think of is starting a duff book on holiday last year and wasting three days of luxury reading time pressing through about 20 pages.  Poolside holidays are all about reading and good food and sunshine for me, so I was a bit annoyed with myself for not switching books faster and moving on!

Series you started that you need to finish:  I have to pick just one?!  Haha, I'm so bad with this.  Unfinished series I'm currently hoarding include The Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris, the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, the Lords of the Underworld series by Gena Showalter and even The Hunger Games trilogy - I read the first book and never carried on, for some reason...  A lot of the series I've stalled on are kinda fluffy reads - mostly YA and paranormal novels - so they're good for idle days off, readathons and holidays.  I WILL finish them eventually!

Three of your all-time favourite books:  Okay, I tried really hard, but I could only narrow it down to four: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, Books, Baguettes and Bedbugs by Jeremy Mercer, Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  All favourites of mine that I've read and reread, and will continue to reread over the years to come!

Unapologetic fangirl for:  Chuck Palahniuk.  Rant completely blew me away, and Snuff was pretty daring too.  I've been steadily collecting more of his books ever since (Fight Club being the most famous, of course), because they're exactly the sort of twisted, depraved, darkly funny, rather provocative novels I love.  I'd pay good money to hear Palahniuk talk, I hear he's a fantastic speaker and a pretty amusing interviewee!

Very excited for this release:  I'm looking forward to the Hyperbole and a Half book that's coming out at the end of October.  Allie Brosh's website is hilariously funny and very insightful, so hopefully the book will be fantastic too!  I've preordered it already.  As a devoted fan of The Secret History I'm also looking forward to Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, though I'll probably wait for the paperback edition next year.

Worst bookish habit:  Buying too many books!  I can buy as many books in a week as I'll read in three months, which is inevitably either going to wind up with Mount TBR collapsing in a giant avalanche and killing me (what a way to go!), or having to cull a ton of books unread years down the line, which is a total waste of money.  BUT I JUST CAN'T HELP MYSELF!

X marks the spot! Start at the top left of your shelf and pick the 27th book:  I've got all my potential Halloween-y reads on my bookcase at the moment, so that I don't have to go delving through boxes looking for suitably freaky books every five minutes.  The 27th book, counting left to right from the top, is Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane.  I've heard such good things about this one!

Your last bookish purchase:  This morning I found a copy of Hester Browne's brand new shiny book, The Runaway Princess, on the market for £2.99.  I couldn't believe it - I looked for it in Waterstones the other day and couldn't find it, yet there it was, already going cheap with a remainder sticker on it...  The nice lady gave it me for £2.50, because I'm the crazy girl who runs a bookshop round the corner yet still stops by her stall every other week to say hello and look through the new stock!

Zzz-snatcher. Which book kept you up way too late?  Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier had me absolutely glued to the pages into the wee hours of the morning - quite a surprise, given that I'd expected it to be a bit dull!  I was also reading The Shadow of the Wind for most of the night - finally closing it as dawn broke, just as Daniel finished reading HIS copy of The Shadow of the Wind at sunrise IN The Shadow of the Wind.  Very meta!

I feel your pain, Joan... *world's smallest violin etc etc*

Wednesday 4 September 2013

REVIEW: The Rats 2 - Lair, by James Herbert (3.5*)

(New English Library, 1988)

First ... we brought you RATS IN THE CITY... now... there are RATS IN THE FOREST!*  The second book in the Rats trilogy (read my review of the first one HERE), this novel is set four years after the mass cull of the mutant black rats that caused such terror and carnage in London.  Now, a few miles away in Epping Forest, it seems that the survivors of the cull - and their hideous new leader - have bred and multiplied to such an extent that their fear of humans has become secondary to their overwhelming strength in numbers... and their renewed taste for human flesh.  Now it's up to Ratkill investigator Lucas Pender to contain the problem, working with the local farmers, conservation workers and the military to find the rats' new lair before they can take over again. 

A cracking sequel that I sped through as quickly as the first - I particularly liked the addition of short Jaws 2-esque** insights into the existence of the rats.  The only thing that really pissed me off is how spoilerific the cover art is - it gave away the location of the rats' hideout by the time I got a quarter of the way through the book!  Anyway, one more ratty horrorfest to go - and I think the final one, Domain, is RATS IN A DYSTOPIAN FUTURE LONDON, which should be interesting!

*  To be read in a 'movie trailer voiceover guy' voice.  OBVIOUSLY.
** Seriously, Jaws 2 by Hank Searls is a great book.  Vastly superior to the movie, from what I gather!  He uses the same technique - short sections in italics - to let us into the 'mind' of his female great white shark.

Source:  I nabbed this one from the shop shelves just as I was finishing the first book, The Rats.