Monday, 31 December 2012

Book #7 The Mind's Eye by Oliver Sacks

The Mind's Eye

Length Of Time In Possession : 1 week

Oliver Sacks, now nearly 80 is the respected neurologist behind the book The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat, and the well known book and film Awakenings. In this volume he discusses visual perception, what blind people can "see" for example and relates a journal of his own, terrifying, experience of eye cancer.

It was different from the book I thought it was going to be because it did have a lot to do with actual vision as opposed to what we see when we visualise inside our own minds and how that works, inner visualisation is only really discussed in reference to blind people, and not how it works neurologically for most people.

Like in "Hat" Sacks includes several case studies of people he has known or treated who have had to adapt to unusual types of blindness, and then a new case study, his own, as doctor becomes patient.

It was still, despite not being the book I expected, very readable and I will certainly continue to read Sacks.

Verdict : 7/10    

Destination : Ebook storage

Book #6 The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams

The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy

Length Of Time In Possession Before Being Read : 1 Week

Arthur Dent is an ordinary guy who just wants to the stop the council building a bypass through his house when long term friend Ford Prefect announces he's an alien and saves his life by removing him from Earth just as it is incinerated by aliens building a bypass.

And thusly, Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy joins the ranks of much hyped much celebrated popular phenomenon that I think is wildly over-rated. It's not very good, it's not well written, there's no decent plot, and the characters are annoying. Indeed Terry Jones of Monty Python writes "No one reads Douglas Adams for his plots or his characters but for his ideas". Well, sorry, I read fiction novels for characters and plots as well as ideas and plenty of writers are perfectly capable of writing all three very well.

Not at all interested in reading any of the follow ups and find its cult status and continued presence on Best Books Ever Lists very bemusing. A bit like a kids book if I'm honest and not like a good one either. I have a feeling that it's one of those things that once certain people have declared it's brilliant, then others feel they must declare it as brilliant because they don't want to look like they "didn't get it" - well, I "got it" but I just didn't get why it was supposedly so awesome.

Emperor's. New. Clothes.

I did enjoy Marvin however 4/10

Destination : Ebook storage

Book #5 The Day Of The Triffids by John Wyndham

The Day Of The Triffids

Length Of Time In Possession Before Being Read : 1 year

The Day Of The Triffids is a 1950's apocalypse novel by John Wyndham which one of my loyal blog readers told me was one on my list I should head for first.

In The Day Of The Triffids, biologist Bill Masen wakes in hospital to find that everyone who was awake and watching during an unusual comet shower has gone blind overnight. The few remaining sighted people begin to organise themselves as chaos descends on the city, trying to decide how humanity will survive with all its infrastructures wiped out. But only Bill Masen senses the danger posed by the Triffids, an unusual plant life which began to grow on the globe some years before.

In reading the Day Of The Triffids with its publication date in mind, what surprised me most is just how many other books, films and TV series about apocalyptic scenarios have heavily plagerised this novel. Most spectacularly in this case the remake of the BBC show Survivors.

Despite it being at 62 years of age a literary pensioner, there is zero trace of it having in any way dated, instead it's rather eerie and could just as easily be Modern Britain.   At first I wasn't sure I liked it, but as I went along I got really into the characters and the prose, and was a bit gutted when it ended to be honest and really wanted to read the"History Of The Colony" he refers to, even though it doesn't exist!

Verdict : A good one, worth reading 8/10

Destination : Ebook storage

 

Book #4 The Grass Is Singing by Doris Lessing

The Grass Is Singing

Length Of Time In Possession Before Being Read : 1 Week

The Grass Is Singing is the debut novel of Nobel Prize for literature winning Doris Lessing, set in Southern Rhodesia, where Lessing was born, there is a deliberate attempt to make the area represent all South Africa as a whole.

I've always had a "thing" for Africa and always enjoy finding novels set in the continent. This particular novel is the story of Mary Turner, and begins with reports of her murder, from there it traces Mary's story from her childhood to her untimely demise.

On one level The Grass Is Singing is interesting from the point of view of how much Lessing used autobiographical content, I wondered if the young Mary freed from her parents by education represented young Doris whereas the older frustrated farmers wife Mary who wishes for a less impoverished lifestyle represented her mother Emily, and essentially the fear, which is sadly realised for Mary, of "ending up just like her mother".

The other level is the examination of Apartheid society, and the shocking yet entirely acceptable in its day, bigotry and racism, it's quite eye-popping.

Doris Lessing is someone who "I've been trying to get along with" for some time, because someone I admire is a great fan, but this is the third book of hers I have now read with four others yet to go on my Book Mountain and I still haven't clicked with her.

My problem with The Grass Is Singing in the end is how grim it is. A relentlessly depressing, hopeless sinking of a woman who married because she felt like she had to. It's very well written of course, but not really the kind of novel one reads for enjoyment, and instead "an issues based thing" which are nevertheless good to read from time to time for the point of being cultured, but many novelists manage to both make you think and enjoy the plot and this doesn't do that really.

Verdict : 7/10  
Destination : Ebook storage

 

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Book #3 The Song Of The Lark by Willa Cather

The Song Of The Lark 

Length of time in possession before being read : 1 year

I’ve read a few Willa Cather novels before and really enjoyed them, you don’t seem to see her in popular bookshops in the UK which is a shame. I’ve had The Song Of The Lark for a year now, and after Exodus, somehow felt in “the mood” for it as I read its first few pages.

Like the other novels of hers I have read, The Song Of The Lark focuses on recent European immigrants to America, in this instance it’s a Swedish family The Kronberg’s and specifically their daughter Thea, one of seven.
The daughter of a Methodist preacher, Thea is singled out early on as a “person of talent” and encouraged musically. The reader follows her story from young girl to grown woman and her trials and tribulations along the way.

Wherever she is wherever she goes Thea seems to find people who adore her, from young doctor Howard Archie, to railway man Ray Kennedy as a child and onwards constantly throughout her life, she is described as somehow bewitching, possessing a kind of aura.

I wasn’t feeling it. Thea was to my mind often quite miserable, angry, spiteful, or snobbish, with very little of any good to say about other women in particular, and specifically rivals. I found her a bit of a bitch to be honest, and a whiner.
 Despite this, I really loved the storytelling of the book, the writing, the form, how it was constructed. Normally, I dislike it when novels leap great chunks of time, but it worked very well in this case. There are still unread Cather works out there for me, and hopefully, I will get to them as I work my way through the books I possess!!

Destination : Ebook = electronic storage

Verdict : A solid 8/10

Book #2 The 100 Most Pointless Things In The World by Richard Osman & Alexander Armstrong

The 100 Most Pointless Things In The World

 Length of time in possession before being read : 1 day

I’m a massive fan of the BBC quiz show Pointless, the sort of fan who watches it every day has it on Series Link, tweets along with it with my own group of Pointless friends who I’ve got to know well over the last year and who as a result, knows the best answers to give for any and all questions about Geography. As a mega-fan, it behoved me to ask for “The Pointless Book” for Christmas. I have to be honest it was a great disappointment, a bit of a poor mans Grumpy Old Men, Alexander’s choices particularly being rather “upper-middle”, the only time I laughed and nodded in total agreement was over my own pet hate “cushions on beds”.

A total Christmas Cash-In book I’m afraid. Does what it says on the tin though in terms of pointlessness

Destination : Charity Shop

Verdict : Meh 5/10

Book #1 Exodus by Leon Uris

Exodus

Length of time in possession before being read : 2 or 3 days

Exodus is the story of birth of a nation. The nation of Israel as a sovereign state recognised by the UN in 20th Century History. It begins at the close of World War 2 with many post Holocaust Jews endeavouring to be repatriated to the Jewish state promised them by the international community. It is very different from Anita Diamant’s Day After Night, which focused on female refugees themselves and not just because it is a better novel.

We are introduced early in the novel to its two central protagonists. One is Kitty Fremont, a bereaved American nurse, who has some intrinsic anti-semitic prejudices and Ari Ben Canaan, a native Israeli and a hard as nails freedom fighter, part of early Mossad. Kitty joins a party of immigrants in order to remain close to an orphaned girl, slowly finding that she falls in love with Israel and the other characters we meet.

In addition to the post war narrative we also get several other narratives, the journey of Ari Ben Canaan’s forefathers; Yakov and Jossi Rabinsky, as they travel from a closed East European ghetto to Palestine, joining the small groups of Jewish settlements in the late 1800’s, as well as aspects of Ari’s own childhood.

So too, do we get the Holocaust survival stories of Karen Clement and Dov Landau, each with very different stories to tell. The final strand is the birth of a Nation, a birth of blood, grief and loss as the Arab Nations turn on the returning Jews for control of what was once Palestine beginning what is now a 70 year Middle Eastern Conflict.

 I loved this book, each different strand was as compelling as the last and no section bored me. Interesting, informative, engrossing, entertaining, I had but one qualm against it: The book, written by a Jewish author feels biased. The Arabs are described as primitive, lazy, lacking in education or motivation and are rarely described in any positive light and their political standpoint is not given any consideration let alone balanced consideration. A thunderous hit at the time of publication, it is not very hard to see why.

Destination : Keeping this book

Verdict : 10/10

The 2013 Challenge - Climb A Book Mountain

I'm a bibliophile - I love books, I buy books constantly, I borrow books constantly, I acquire books relentlessly. It has got to the point where I no longer have much room for any more. I counted the books in my possession that I have unread and came to a total of more than 130!!!! A total of which I am deeply ashamed.

 I am obsessed with books, OBSESSED. This has led to a growing mountain of books which I own but have either not read or not completed. The time has come to face the awesome task that is climbing Mount ToBeRead (TBR) - either reading an unread book or donating it to charity unread. I will declare the ultimate destination of the book at the end of each post. I must be brave I must be ruthless I must be frugal. Because I am a book addict and it is an illness I can’t control which must be recognised I give myself permission to buy one book a month, I can also receive any amount of books which are free. A belt tightening common sense 2013 for this years challenge.

Unread books I currently own or have in my possession (borrowed) ARE :

  1. Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth
  2. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
  3. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
  4. Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch
  5. The Kingmaker's Daughter by Philippa Gregory
  6. The White Princess by Phillippa Gregory
  7. Lady Of The Rivers by Philippa Gregory
  8. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
  9. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  10. Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl
  11.  In Cold Blood by Truman Capote 
  12. Notes On A Scandal by Zoe Heller
  13. Shadows Of The Workhouse by Jennifer Worth
  14. Farewell to The East End by Jennifer Worth 
  15. We Can Remember It For You Wholesale by Philip K Dick
  16. The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark 
  17. All Fall Down by Mark Edwards and Louise Voss
  18. The Mill On The Floss by George Eliot
  19. The Outcast by Sadie Jones
  20.  The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins 
  21. Bright Young Things by Scarlett Thomas
  22. No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
  23. The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness
  24. The Magpies by Mark Edwards
  25. The Trade Secret by Robert Newman 
  26. When God Was A Rabbit by Sarah Winman
  27.  Half Of A Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozhi Adichie 
  28. Love In The Time Of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez 
  29. A Perfectly Good Man by Patrick Gale
  30. A Room Of Ones Own by Virginia Woolf
  31. The Lion Sleeps Tonight by Rian Malan
  32. A History Of God by Karen Armstrong 
  33. Dune by Frank Herbert
  34. Last Night In Twisted River by John Irving 
  35. The Red House Mysteries by AA Milne
  36. Memories Of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  37. Man Eaters Of Kumaon by Jim Corbett
  38. Tanamera by Noel Barber
  39. The Wind Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Marukami
  40. The Other Half Lives by Sophie Hannah
  41. Little Face by Sophie Hannah
  42. Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
  43. Weight by Jeanette Winterson
  44. The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  45.  The Epigenetics Revolution by Nessa Carey 
  46. The Back Road by Rachel Abbott
  47. The City and The City by China Mieville 
  48. The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann
  49. The Hitch-Hikers Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  50. The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo 
  51. A Factory Of Cunning by Philippa Stockley 
  52. Perfume by Patrick Suskind 
  53. Return Of The Native by Thomas Hardy 
  54. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
  55.  Crime And Punishment by Fyodyr Dostoevsky
  56.  A Brief History Of Time by Stephen Hawking 
  57. 1984 by George Orwell
  58. The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh
  59.  Restless by William Boyd
  60.  House Of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
  61.  Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens 
  62. Go, Tell It On The Mountain by James Baldwin
  63. Shattered Blue by Jane Starwood
  64. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters 
  65. The Enchantment Of Lily Dahl by Siri Hustvedt 
  66. Then She Found Me by Elinor Lipman
  67.  The Mayor Of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy 
  68. Dark Eden by Chris Beckett 
  69. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
  70. The Whole Day Through by Patrick Gale 
  71. The Solitaire Mystery by Jostein Gaarder
  72.  The Mouse And His Child by Russell Hoban
  73.  Stuart : A Life Backwards by Alexander Masters
  74.  The Vesuvius Club by Mark Gatiss
  75.  Papillon by Henri Charriere
  76.  The Ipcress File by Len Deighton 
  77. Quantum : Why Everything That Can Happen Does Happen by Brian Cox 
  78. A Razors Edge by W. Somerset Maughn
  79.  Homicide : A Year On The Streets by David Simon 
  80. Pictures Of Perfection by Reginald Hill
  81.  The Chapel At The End Of The World by Kirsten Kenzie 
  82. The Remains Of The Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
  83. The Ancient Garden by Hwang Sok-yong
  84. The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins 
  85. Blow To The Heart by Marcel Theroux
  86.  Under The Net by Iris Murdoch
  87.  I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb
  88.  Dublin’s Lives by Bernard Malamud 
  89. Nicholas Nickelby by Charles Dickens
  90. HHhH by  Laurent Peters
  91. The Book Of Human Skin by Michelle Lovric 
  92. The Nose And Other Stories by Gogol
  93.  The Cloud Of Unknowing - Anonymous 
  94. The Twelve by Justin Cronin
  95.  The Prelude by William Wordsworth
  96.  A Place Of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel 
  97. The Player Of Games by Iain Banks
  98.  Les Miserables by Victor Hugo 
  99. The Trial by Franz Kafka 
  100. The Power And The Glory by Graham Greene
  101. Anatomy Of An Epidemic by Robert Whitaker
  102.  Breakfast At Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
  103.  Arthur and George by Julian Barnes
  104.  Dante : A Life by RWS Lewis 
  105. The Rise And Fall Of The House Of Medici by Christopher Hibbens
  106.  Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
  107.  Team Of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin 
  108. How To Teach Quantum Physics To Your Dog by Chad Orze
  109. The Marriages Of Zones Three Four And Five by Doris Lessing 
  110. The Sirian Experiments by Doris Lessing
  111.  The Making Of The Representative For Planet 8 by Doris Lessing 
  112. The Secrets Of The Volyan Empire by Doris Lessing
  113.  Small Island by Andrea Levy 
  114. The Magus by John Fowles 
  115. Magician by Raymond Feist
  116.  Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig 
  117. A Spot Of Bother by Mark Haddon 
  118. We, The Drowned by Carsten Jensen 
  119. The Master And The Margarita by Mikhail Bulgarov
  120. Fatherland by Robert Harris
  121. Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas
  122.  The Pillars Of The Earth by Ken Follett 
  123. The Song Of The Lark by Willa Cather 
  124. Divine Comedy by Dante Aligheri 
  125. The Road by Cormac McCarthy 
  126. The Sonambulist by Essie Fox
  127.  The Personal History Of Rachel Dupree by Ann Weisgarber 
  128. Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway 
  129. The Private Life Of The Brain by Susan Greenfeld 
  130. Absolution by Patrick Flanery 
  131. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry 
  132. The Angel’s Cut by Elizabeth Knox
  133.  Under The Dome by Stephen King 
  134. Tender Is The Night by F.Scott Fitzgerald 
  135. We Bought A Zoo by Benjamin Mee 
  136. The Stand by Stephen King 
  137. On The Origin Of Species by Charles Darwin
  138. C by Tom McCarthy 
  139. Pride And Prejudice And Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith
  140. The True History Of The Kelly Gang by Peter Carey 
  141. Jude The Obscure by Thomas Hardy 
  142. Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir 
  143. Trespass by Rose Tremain 
  144. The Memory Of Love by Aminatta Forma
  145. The Day Of The Triffids by John Wyndham 
  146. The Rapture by Liz Jensen 
  147. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseni 
  148. A Star Called Henry by Roddy Doyle 
  149. The Life Of Charlotte Bronte by Elizabeth Gaskell 
  150. Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte 
  151. Villette by Charlotte Bronte 
  152. Shirley by Charlotte Bronte
  153.  The Professor by Charlotte Bronte 
  154. Sister by Rosamund Lipton
  155. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy 
  156. The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window & Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
  157. Derby Day by DJ Taylor 
  158. Skippy Dies by Paul Murray 
  159. Hawthorn and Child by Keith Ridgway 
  160. The Given Day by Dennis Lehane 
  161. I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith
  162. The Horologicon by Mark Forsyth
  163.  The Grass Is Singing by Doris Lessing
  164.  Physics Of The Future by Michio Kaku 
  165. The Brief And Wonderful Life Of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz 
  166. To Say Nothing Of The Dog by Connie Willis
  167. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie  
  168. The Quality Of Mercy by Barry Unsworth
  169. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
  170. Bellman &Black by Diane Setterfield
  171. Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson 
  172. And When Did You Last See Your Father? by Blake Morrison 
  173. The Mind’s Eye by Oliver Sacks 
  174. Exodus by Leon Uris
  175.  The 100 Most Pointless Things In The World by Richard Osman 
  176. One Hundred Years Of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  177. Roots by Alex Haley
  178. The Clan Of The Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel  
  179. Thackeray by Lewis Melville
 As I get rid of each I will strike each one on the list through. If any of you have read these books feel free to pop up and say what I ought to get to first!

As I finished 2012's Challenge early, I am already making a start on 2013!

Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye!!!!!!

Saturday, 22 December 2012

The Bonfire Books of 2012 (Save)

In no particular order here are the books from 2012 that I would save from a fire, if my books were being burnt!

Save From The Flames! The Literary Heroes of 2012! :

With absolutely no contest whatsoever my number one book of 2012 is Orange Prize For Fiction Winner The Song Of Achilles by Madeline Miller. A novelisation of the Trojan War particularly focusing on the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus as it develops from childhood. This book is beautiful. Outstanding. Moving. Terrifically written. A feast for literature fans everywhere.

In the same month as I read the above novel I read The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Steadman. In this novel Lighthouse keeper Tom and wife Isobel face a dilemma, a dilemma so human and believable and real that I was brought to tears.

Popcorn novel of the year goes to Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion. Yes, it's a zombie novel, yes, it's a romance, but I loved it and I don't care! Movie due next year.

I don't think I'm alone in considering best selling The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern to be a great book of recent times. Two children are sworn into magical combat in a contest between nature and nurture, but can they take control of their own destinies? Beautiful imagery, and feats of imagination await you at the circus. Buy a ticket.

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry can best be described plot wise as "some cowboys go on a journey" but it's impossible to express just how involving the world of this book is, so that, even though it neared 1,000 pages I barely noticed this engrossing book's length at all.

Hilary Mantel's follow up to Wolf Hall, Bring Up The Bodies, was released this year and proved every inch as well written, well researched and entertaining as its predecessor. The Booker Prize Panel agreed and Bring Up The Bodies equally accoladed does not have to be the insecure younger sibling about its place in literature. 

The book which moved me most all year was Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, "a portrait of what it must be to be a 9/11 relative so believable I literally ached"

I followed up one of my favourite books of last year Jonathan Trigell's Genus with Boy A and Cham.
All three novels examine issues facing society with a skill, intelligence and ultimately subtlety not seen in other "issue" novels I read this year. An under-known writer who deserves to be more widely read. Get in now and be able to say you were a fan of his early work.

The most exciting novel this year, in terms of being thrilling to read was Ready, Player One by Ernest Cline. A total nerdgasm of a book, aimed specifically at people in their 30s so overflowing it is with 80s pop culture references. In this novel 3 young hackers take on an evil global corporation to save a virtual reality world for the masses, and it's awesome. 

Dystopia of the year goes to The End Specialist by Drew Magary. A cure for the aging process is found, but is far from the miracle people think it is.

Classic of the year goes to Anne Of Green Gables by LM Montgomery. I read it for the first time this year, and then went on to read the sequels. Though none of the sequels quite match the original, the story of the hilarious, mischief prone orphan on a picturesque island is not to be missed.  

The years biggest surprise came from Michel Faber's Under The Skin. Having read Faber's Crimson Petal And The White, I felt like I knew what to expect. I didn't. By far the single most original book I've read this year, the story of driver Isserley deserves to be promoted completely spoiler free.

The elegant, classy cover of AS Byatt's The Children's Book was matched by it's elegant, classy content as the lives of The Wellwood Family and their associates become interwoven with the events of history from the late 1800's to the First World War. Please bring this reader a sequel.

I went back even further in time with Anita Diamant to the lives of the women in the Bible in The Red Tent. Dinah was only daughter of Jacob of the many sons, Diamant takes what little is said of her in the Bible and extracts a hypnotic, lyrical and ultimately deep narrative identifiable in the lives of modern women. Conclusively a feminist novel if ever there was one.

My last two 10/10 novels were The Gift Of Rain by Tan Twan Eng - a beautiful story about a deep entrenched bond between two souls that will last eternally set within wartime Malaysia and the story of a troubled soul Rachel Kelly, a bipolar artist whose life story is told through Notes From An Exhibition by Patrick Gale 

These will be the reads that I will press upon people beyond 2012, I recommend them both for yourselves and as gifts for others.

Thank you for your support throughout this challenge and thanks for reading.

I will be back with news of my 2013 Challenge shortly.

The Bonfire Books of 2012 (Burn)

The reason I am using the expression "Bonfire Books" is that in one of my novels read this year, a character has to decide when the need for heat is desperate which of his precious books he will allow to be used for kindling and which books must continue to be saved from being burnt.

In no particular order and with no set amount, these are the losers of 2012 :

Put On The Bonfire! The Worst Of 2012! :

First up, Disputed Land by Tim Pears, the actual book from which the above reference comes. Though there is an interesting twist, the twist is not well executed enough to save this book from ultimately being a bunch of dull middle class types arguing about money over the Christmas table.

Next The White Lie by Andrea Gillies. The novel begins with a great concept of a family murder, but family ties rapidly feel convoluted and the central conceit that a wide group of extended family have all conspired to keep this secret over quite a length of time feels preposterous. I didn't even finish this.

The other book I failed to finish was Turbulence by Samit Basu, a tale of superheroes set in India, it's woeful wooden dialogue meant that I couldn't keep going with it no matter how hard I tried. 

John Niven's The Second Coming wins the prize for 'the biggest letdown of 2012' with an opening sixty pages of hilarious originality sliding swiftly into mediocrity and cliches.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time by Yasuta Tsutsui was 2012's biggest waste of money unless you enjoy paying to read the losing entrants in a high school short story contest. Not sure if it was the translation but regardless it's dreadful. 

In September JK Rowling returned and broke many hearts with her first adult contemporary, The Casual Vacancy, I say heart breaking because the novel essentially about class struggle and middle class snobbery dealt so unequivocally in cliches it was like reading a satirical hyperbolised mock Daily Mail article, except she meant it seriously.

Similarly irritating were Chris Cleave's The Other Hand and Amanda Craig's Hearts And Minds both novels suffering from the same complaint, their authors having used a narrative structure to bleat at their readership about "issues" from the moral high ground, pompously tell them how they must think and feel, if it were possible to die of "smug" both these authors would now be deceased. The anti-capitalist, pro-vegan, rantings that spoiled Scarlett Thomas's PopCo are naught by comparison. 

In April, wanting to read a book about Neuroscience, I picked Lone Frank's The Neurotourist though this was non-fiction, my issues with it were similar to the above books in that she hijacked the topic for discussion, to extensively promote her own feelings and beliefs in quite an egotistical way so that it quite failed as a "topic book" or "science book" and became an opinion vehicle. An arrogant opinion vehicle at that.

The disappointment in that book came hot on the heels of terrible disappointment in All The Myriad Ways an old short story collection by Larry Niven. Discussion about the relevant science behind the title story in various non fiction books I'd read whetted my appetite here, but all the excellent concepts behind each story were frankly, dreadfully executed.

Left of course, is Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov a book which I gave a more scathing review than any book I've ever read by calling it "a wanky book about a wanker for wankers" Pretentious in the extreme; I loathed the thing.

Now, with that rant off my chest I will turn to the heroes of 2012!!! 

   

The Full Rundown For The 2012 Challenge

And so, after failing by one book last year, I finally complete the 100 books in one year challenge. 

I DID IT !!!!!

Somebody else achieved it last year and wrote out their full list on their blog, I was really jealous that they could legitimately do that, so for the sheer purpose of showing off the full list of the books I got through is as follows :

January

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion
The Etymologicon by Mark Forsyth
Boy A by Jonathan Trigell
Coconut Unlimited by Nikesh Shukla
Disputed Land by Tim Pears
Far To Go by Alison Pick
The Damned United by David Peace
The Second Coming by John Niven
PopCo by Scarlett Thomas
The Girl In Times Square by Paullina Simons
Parallel Worlds by Michio Kaku

February

The End Of The Affair by Graham Greene
The Perks Of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
John Dies At The End by David Wong
The Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
Catch Your Death by Louise Voss and Mark Edwards
Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

March

The Assistant by Bernard Malamud
Another Bullshit Night In Suck City by Nick Flynn
Embassytown by China Mievelle
The Paperchase by Marcel Theroux
The Never Ending Days Of Being Dead by Marcus Chown
Death Comes For The Archbishop by Willa Cather
Cham by Jonathan Trigell
The Children's Book by AS Byatt
Under The Skin by Michel Faber
Julian Corkle is a Filthy Liar by DJ Connell
Thornyhold by Lady Mary Stewart
The End Specialist by Drew Magary

April

Headhunters by Jo Nesbø
The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings
The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan
The Neurotourist by Lone Frank
All The Myriad Ways by Larry Niven
Call The Midwife by Jennifer Worth
Rules Of Civility by Amor Towles
Tiny Sunbirds Far Away by Christie Watson

May

Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James
Fifty Shades Darker by EL James
Fifty Shades Freed by EL James
My Dearest Jonah by Matthew Crow
Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel
Look At Me by Jennifer Egan
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time by Yasuta Tsutsui
The Gift Of Rain by Tan Twan Eng
The Queen Of Whale Cay by Kate Summerscale
The Man Who Forgot His Wife by John O'Farrell
Fred And Rose by Howard Sounes

June

Every Contact Leaves A Trace by Elanor Dymott
The Quincunx by Charles Palliser
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
A Handful Of Dust by Evelyn Waugh
The Song Of Achilles by Madeline Miller
The Light Between Oceans by ML Steadman
Whispers Underground by Ben Aaronovitch
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

July

The Human Factor by Graham Greene
Killing Cupid by Louise Voss and Mark Edwards
Notes From An Exhibition by Patrick Gale
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
Pale Fire by Vladamir Nabokov

August

Death Comes To Pemberley by PD James
Jamilia by Chingiz Aitmatov
The Universe Next Door by Marcus Chown
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Philida by Andre Brink
The Garden Of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng
The Lighthouse by Alison Moore
Swimming Home by Deborah Levy
Skios by Michael Frayn
Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil
Alys, Always by Harriet Lane

September

Pure by Julianna Baggott
Anne Of Green Gables by LM Montgomery
A Short History Of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
The Other Hand by Chris Cleave

October

The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling
The Art Of War by Sun Tzu
Hearts And Minds by Amanda Craig
The Diary Of A Nobody by George And Weedon Grossmith
Ready, Player One by Ernest Cline

November

Anne Of Avonlea by LM Montgomery
Anne Of The Islands by LM Montgomery
Anne's House Of Dreams by LM Montgomery
Anne Of Ingleside by LM Montgomery
Rainbow Valley by LM Montgomery
Rilla Of Ingleside by LM Montgomery
Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay
Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You by Marcus Chown
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
The Testament Of Mary by Colm Toibin
The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

December

Flashforward by Robert J Sawyer
Day After Night by Anita Diamant
Jack Glass by Adam Roberts
The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick   




Book #100 The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

The Silver Linings Playbook

I went to see the film adaptation of this novel last month, absolutely loved it and then the friend I went with went on to buy me the book.

The book and the film are very similar, protagonist Pat has been in a psychiatric facility for some time when his mother calls time on it and checks him out. Post-breakdown Pat has a new philosophy : he is determined to look for silver linings and happy endings and he's going to turn himself into the perfect husband to his wife Nikki. The thing is, Nikki is nowhere to be seen, there's more than one restraining order in place, and what exactly happened to send Pat to "the bad place" is never spoken of. Living not quite in-step with reality, Pat strikes up a friendship with the equally damaged Tiffany. 

The film of this book made me howl with laughter and was really popular with the audience I was in, and the film has been true to the book in the sense that it recreates some of the books best moments like "the Hemingway scene". This is however among some of the rare cases where film beats book, the book gets dragged down by the sporting side of the narrative, players and scores etc, in a way that the film doesn't, and is so well acted that it is easier to take the characters into your heart.

The differences towards the end give the book the edge in terms of realism, and particularly Pat's struggle with the concept of time is left out of the film presumably because it would be hard to express visually, but adds weight to the extent of his delusion in the book yet ultimately for me the heartwarming humorous film is a 10/10 but the book is only a 7.

Book #99 Jack Glass by Adam Roberts

Jack Glass

I'm not quite sure how I was drawn to Jack Glass, I think it popped up in 'People Also Bought' on Amazon, it sounded interesting and I think ultimately I bought it as a consequence of that unforgivable thing of "liking the cover" which is very pretty, despite the well known proverb.

What is marvellous about Jack Glass is its originality. We are informed in its preface, that protagonist Jack Glass is an infamous murderer, and what the book comprises of is three short stories about crimes he has committed. These crimes are described thusly by the narrator who is the self appointed Doctor Watson to Glass's murderous Holmes :

"One of these mysteries is a prison story. One is a regular whodunit. One is a locked room mystery. I can't promise that they are necessarily presented to you in that order; but it should be easy for you to work out which is which, and to sort them out accordingly. Unless you find that each of them is all three at once"

As well as being three mystery stories, comprising of "In The Box", "The FTL Murders" and "The Impossible Gun" Jack Glass also belongs to the sci-fi genre with all three stories taking place in some futuristic time which is both recognisable and completely different from our present day.

What I liked so much about Jack Glass was that as well as being a story it's an intellectual challenge, both in terms of solving the mystery before it's revealed and in order to get "your head around" some of the high end Science concepts explored as part of the futuristic science fiction. The paradoxes and so forth.

I found that I utterly kicked myself when the second story "The FTL Murders" was resolved, and also really enjoyed the first story, finding the third weaker by comparison. It is only because I didn't rate The Impossible Gun as much that I am not giving this 10/10, because I really enjoyed the quality and integrity of the book in terms of how it made you think and I will certainly look out for more work by Adam Roberts in future.

Recommended : 9/10   
 


Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Book #98 Day After Night by Anita Diamant

Day After Night

Day After Night covers a period of history not often covered by fiction. Though there are plenty of books about the Holocaust, I do not know of many which cover the decision of many Holocaust survivors to travel to Jewish homeland Israel/Zion to be repatriated. There is, I am told Exodus by Leon Uris, a monster hit in the 1950s, but I have not read it and so this book was my first brush with this period.

The novel focuses on four women Zorah, Leonie, Tedi, and Shayndel who all survived the persecution of their race in different circumstances and are all seeking a new start. Thrown together at British detention centre Atlit, tentative bonds begin to form between the broken and distrustful women.

It is so so hard not to compare this book to The Red Tent, the Diamant novel I read last month. Where the prose in that novel is lyrical and beautiful, Day and Night is far plainer and less engaging. It is hard to feel involved with the women at times, and I hate to say it but at times they bored me, which feels like a terrible thing to say given the subject matter.

There are little pockets of greatness here and there, particularly in the way in which the women's dealings with Lotte are described, and the individuality of each woman's origin, but something about it feels like more of a history lesson than a story, less character than simply archetype, like its purpose is solely informative. For this reason it is a bit colourless as a novel, yet as the fates of each character were rounded up, I did shed a tear so I was definitely moved at the end.

Unlike the Red Tent though it is not a book which lights up your mind and imagination. At best I would consider it a 5 or 6/10    

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Book #97 Flashforward by Robert J Sawyer

Flashforward

In 2009, the US TV network ABC ran a short lived dramatic adaptation of the Robert Sawyer novel "FlashForward"  in which everyone on the entire globe suffers a black out for 2 mins during which they have a simultaneous vision of a day in the future.

Though the series shares its basic concept with the novel it was based upon, the novel is actually very different. The series "Americanizes" the idea, the drama focusing on ordinary Americans, and has a wide ranging scope of individual stories, but the novel focuses directly on protagonist Lloyd Simcoe and his colleague Theo; two physicists at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN who are shocked to find an experiment they have conducted has had far reaching and inexplicable consequences.

The fact that all of the focus is upon the workers of CERN throws away the global aspect of event impact. I  have to say that in spite of some thought provoking passages on free will and existentialism, I didn't think much of Flashforward as a novel, it is a fascinating concept suffering from terribly poor execution. Neither its prose nor dialogue are up to much and its central whodunnit mystery is a sad, lazy reduction of the many possibilities for plotlines that the Flashforward idea gives rise to.

Additionally I didn't invest much in the characters whatsoever, and aspects of the ending made no logical sense. Probably the most interesting aspect of it is its historical context, the hysteria/superstition that built up around the Large Hadron Collider that fed a fear that "something bad" would happen as a result of searching for the Higgs Boson, which in reality nothing did.  Passed a Sunday afternoon for me but will be going back to the charity shop from whence it came 4/10 

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Book #96 The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

The Fault In Our Stars

In The Fault In Our Stars, terminally ill teenager Hazel is forced to go to a support group for young people with cancer by her mother in the hope she'll make friends. Step forward Isaac and Augustus, a boy losing his sight and a boy who has lost his leg respectively.

Hazel and Augustus begin a romantic relationship, which is heartwarming and thoroughly believable. Though suffering from cancer the two become consumed with the need to decipher the secrets of (fictional) novel "An Imperial Affliction" by reclusive author Peter Van Houten, and having the answers to their question becomes a mission and distraction for them.

Earlier this year I read Stephen Chbosky's "The Perks Of Being A Wallflower" and questioned whether or not I had passed a certain age threshold when it came to identifying with teenage issues. The Fault In Our Stars was very different however; heartwarming without being sentimental or cloying, at times darkly humorous and refreshingly lacking in cliches or self help jargon, The Fault In Our Stars though about teenagers is not necessarily exclusively a teenage novel.   

The best thing about this book was its honesty and believability in the face of terminal illness and death, which leads me to wonder about the author's personal experience in this area. That which I liked least was its "Americanised prose" a tonal quality/style which seems to pervade contemporary American novels, making their inner voice sound the same. British novels don't do this, or at least I don't feel they do, perhaps Americans feel they do, and this is a problem both sides of the Atlantic!

Though this is a very accessible novel for all ages, I particularly recommend it to 14-20 year old reader for whom I think this novel will earn a special place in their hearts. Certainly a cut above most novels in this age bracket. Put Twilight down and read this! 8/10

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Book #95 The Testament Of Mary by Colm Toibin

The Testament Of Mary

It is an unintentional coincidence that I read The Testament Of Mary so soon after having read the also Biblical era set The Red Tent, about Jacob's daughter Dinah. For me there was plenty of contrast between the two and not much of it good.

I had mixed feelings about The Testament Of Mary, above all it's a good concept, how often has Mary's reaction to the events which befell her son Jesus been placed under the microscope in literature? Personally, I can't think of any examples, so points for originality.

It is well crafted, the excellent turn of phrase and the quality of prose, beginning as Mary, post crucifixion lives in semi exile and captivity watched over by followers of her son, who seem more like oppressors than guardians. Jesus is gone and Mary looks back on various points along the road which led her there.

The central difficulty with the Testament Of Mary is how slight it is, surely there's more, a lot more to her testament than this extremely short summary, which ultimately covers Lazarus, the Wedding at Cana and The Passion, as events and very little else.

In comparison to the Red Tent in which the life of Dinah's mother and aunts before Dinah herself was born is covered in great detail, it just seemed to me that masses of amounts of material and scope about the young Mary, her family, her meeting Joseph, Jesus childhood and birth  which is not present would have been a great addition to this piece, and would have improved by way of there being a greater longevity of readership the ability for it to have a profound resonance with the reader.

Like so many other works of this sort, I'm thinking particularly of the Good Man Jesus and The Scoundrel Christ, emphasis is placed on the fact that the version of events presented to us via The Bible may not be what actually happened.   I am tired of this non-revelation as though it must be startling for readers to consider. Although it is interesting that Mary seems to see all Jesus followers as misfits and lunatics, and is scared that Jesus himself is out of control and manic.

My personal issue with the novel was the sourness of Mary as a character her internal dialogue is very vitriolic and the former followers of Jesus are anathema to her and she to them. You may say this is only to be expected the woman has lost her son to a cause she apparently does not care for, but the "Our Lady" I grew up with, the Mary of the "Hail Mary" does not feel like this woman (again I know this is part of the point) she does not seem to possess the air of peacefulness, or compassion or meditative air one would hope for.

Ultimately, a bitterness which proves depressing pervades the testimony despite its advanced literary qualities, which in the end did not endear me to the book 6.5/10

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Book #94 The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

The Red Tent

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant is a novel which caught my eye in a bookshop many moons ago, listed in the back of my mind as a 'To Read' and never actually came to read it until roughly 12 years later, as a result of it slipping in and out of recall.

The novel is the story of Dinah, the only daughter born to the famous Jacob of many sons of the Bible (and the musical), his four wives, all apparently siblings and Dinah's entire life story from when her father met her mothers to her eventual death.

Though Dinah is a Biblical character, not much was known about her, apart from one main biblical story around which Diamant weaves the most dramatic section of narrative, so in general Diamant was free to build the picture of Dinah she chose.

It is beautifully done. In many ways The Red Tent is a very female very feminist novel, The Red Tent itself being the place the women retreated to from the general family camp whilst they bled at the new moon. There is a huge focus on sexual awakening, menstruation, womanhood and the entry into womanhood, and fertility in general. The story follows the Biblical emphasis on the woman providing her husbands legacy, providing him with sons, the joy of being able to do this and the heartbreak of being unable.

The book also looks at the secrets of women, their private conversations, feelings, superstitions and rituals, kept sacred from the men in the privacy of the Red Tent, and childbirth itself too, a private process of pain, fear and delight dealt with only by women.      

In many ways the barriers between men and women's lives are now broken down, and so it is interesting to see this separation of the two, the clear lines between the female world and the male, down to the stories the two genders pass on, the heritage they feel is worth telling. It is another time and in many ways another world.

The prose is very beautiful and I connected with it straight away and had read the book in hours, it was poetic and had a hypnotic quality, you really felt like you could picture the characters and their surroundings, the atmosphere was great.

Dinah's story is in many ways sad, reflecting the difficult lot of women at the time, the loss of which many, though of course not all, modern women can be thankful for,  but it is also somehow sad to see that this private culture and camaraderie between women, also broken with the passage of time.

I really enjoyed this book, and read it in one day within a seven hour period. When a book grabs you like this, and doesn't let go, you know it's quite special and this book is surely, particularly for women worth the read 9/10  

Monday, 12 November 2012

Book #93 Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You by Marcus Chown

Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You

In the last two years I have become more and more interested in theoretical physics, Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You is the fifth such book I've read in the last 2 years. Marcus Chown is really good at making difficult topics accessible.

This book has such topic headings as "The Schizophrenic Atom", "The Death Of Space And Time" and "The Force Of Gravity Does Not Exist"

It's mind boggling, challenging and entertaining, yes, it's also frustrating because the information is so complicated, but it's not impossible to retain, and there are some really mind broadening details contained within. I do think that it is a book that will bear re-reading again.

It is comforting to know that these issues baffle Scientists as much as they baffle the lay reader, though I did have several light bulb moments, that answered questions which I had puzzled over before. 8/10  

Book #92 Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay

Darkly Dreaming Dexter

Darkly Dreaming Dexter is the first of a sequence of books about Miami serial killer Dexter Morgan, upon which the US series "Dexter" is based. I have seen the first season of Dexter and read the book on that basis. This isn't something I generally like doing (in this order) because if you see someone else's interpretation of a novel before you read it, it is liable to stick with you and effect your feelings about the book during the reading. This happened with Darkly Dreaming Dexter which is why I always try to read the book first. 

I really enjoyed the first season of Dexter and so I thought I'd enjoy it equally in written form, I've often wished that The Wire or Breaking Bad textually rich series original to the small screen had novelisations so suited are they to a literary form that they are visual novels.

Dexter Morgan isn't any old serial killer hiding in the shadows, Dexter is the adopted son of a cop, who works in the forensic department of the local police, he has a girlfriend, named Rita, a sister named Debra, also a cop in the same force, and a Code, the Code given to him by his father Harry, who recognised that Dexter had a dark desire in him, a Dark Passenger, which couldn't be tamed, but might be controlled.

Harry, a jaded cop who has seen too many people get away with murder, or be too lightly sentenced, instills in Dexter that he can kill, but he must only ever kill bad people.
So that's the premise, and it's a good, original, one. The writing quality is solidly good, I particularly liked the opening paragraphs beginning with :

Moon. Glorious Moon. Full fat, reddish, moon, the night as light as day, the moonlight flooding down across the land, and bringing joy, joy, joy. Bringing too the full throated call of the tropical night, the soft and wild voice of the wind roaring through the hairs on your arm, the hollow wail of starlight, the teeth grinding bellow of the moonlight off the water.  
Dexter may be a killer, but his voice is often a poetic one. What is amusing and perhaps disturbing is that there is a feature on the Kindle which shows which sections of the novel have been most highlighted. All Darkly, Dreaming Dexter's most highlighted are insights into the disconnect from normality experienced by the sociopath, so clearly there is a readership out there identifying with the character!  I liked some of these asides, also used as voice over "If I had feelings I'd have them for Deb". Somehow Dexter does have feelings, he just doesn't realise it himself

To begin with the novel more or less follows the series, but a huge deviation occurs at the midway point when, though the outcome is roughly the same, the road it takes to that outcome massively differs from on screen. Having had both versions, dare I say it that the series brought us to the conclusion in a much more believable way.

I dare say I will read the rest of the Dexter novels in time as I did enjoy it and it was well written 8/10

Friday, 9 November 2012

Books #86-91 The Anne Shirley Sequels by LM Montgomery

Anne Of Avonlea
Anne Of The Island
Anne's House Of Dreams
Anne Of Ingleside
Rainbow Valley
Rilla Of Ingleside

Seeing as I so much enjoyed Anne Of Green Gables, I thought I would read all the sequels, I haven't posted on the blog in a long time because I decided to write one big blogpost about all the books rather than 6 small ones as there isn't much to delve into about each book. Beware, for there be spoilers ahead!

Anne Of Avonlea

In Anne Of Avonlea, Anne sacrifices her chance to go to Redmond College from Queens in order to be a companion for surrogate mother Marilla, and somewhat implausibly at the age of 17 becomes the local schoolteacher. I say implausibly but all her fellow Queens students like Gilbert Blythe and Jane Andrews also become teachers, which implies historical accuracy. The book covers Anne's life between the ages of 17-19, her setting up of local conservation society A.V.I.S. and the arrival of the Keith twins who Marilla takes in the same way she once took in Anne. I was frustrated by the Keith twins, Davy as a character is a total mischief who leaps off the page,  but sister Dora barely exists as a character, and when if ever she is described is basically described as having no personality, and this continues throughout subsequent novels. Bizarrely, though she is entirely a character of fiction, I found this a bit cruel! And also from a writing point of view rather lazy, I would have appreciated some storyline for her. I also found the A.V.I.S. storylines and Anne's new adult friendships with her neighbours rather dull. 6/10

Anne Of The Island

In Anne Of The Island, Anne gets her chance to go to Redmond as Mrs Rachel Lynde becomes Marilla's companion. There she makes a new little set of female friends, moves into a house left vacant by sisters who go travelling, studies and for the first time courts a boy despite the readers annoyance that she isn't with true love Gilbert Blythe whilst Gilbert apparently courts someone else. I found I didn't take to Anne Of The Island much, I didn't like her companions, or the romance that was doomed to fail. I'm not sure why I pressed ahead with Anne's House Of Dreams but I did anyway and in the end I was glad I did. Anne is between 19-22 in this novel 6/10

Anne's House Of Dreams

Anne's House Of Dreams leaps ahead 3 years, she and Gilbert have been engaged but unable to marry until Gilbert finished medical school, so Anne spent 3 years teaching high school. This is where it gets complicated, Anne's House Of Dreams is the 4th published book, published in 1917, yet in 1936 Montgomery returned to her characters and wrote Anne Of Windy Poplars a novel covering this 3 year gap. It is the only one of the novels I have not read because I found, having read the stories to what felt like a fitting end, I didn't want to go backwards and couldn't get into it at all. I find, as I also especially found when this happened a second time that had I been a contemporary reader of the Anne novels I would have been massively irritated by this. The only reason I didn't include it in a chronological reading is because the first collection I bought didn't have it.
With regard to Anne's House Of Dreams, I really enjoyed this novel which covers Anne's first 2 years as a bride, and Gilbert's start as a popular young doctor in Glen St Mary, their having moved away from Avonlea. I loved their friendships with Captain Jim, Cornelia Bryant and Leslie Moore and especially how the Leslie Moore storyline turned out. I particularly loved this quote :
I've nothing to look forward to. Morning will come after morning - and he will not come back-he will never come back. Oh when I think I will never see him again I feel as if a great brutal hand had twisted itself among my heartstrings, and was wrenching them. Once long ago, I dreamed of love and I thought it would be beautiful and NOW it's like THIS
I do think Cornelia's story only turned out a certain way to avoid reader speculation she was a lesbian, considering how down on men she is with her humorous catchphrase "that is just like a man"

I liked how that for once Anne, for whom things have always turned out perfectly in the novels previously is finally touched by real tragedy, but, I grew annoyed by the fact that in this and subsequent novels, Marilla and Diana to whom Anne was so attached seem irrelevant and forgotten, which really doesn't seem likely for Anne. Anne only has one scene of note with Diana in the later novels, and Marilla's inevitable death through old age barely warrants a sentence. Her friendship with Leslie also seems to vanish later down the line, though Leslie's children feature. Often Anne or her children are mentioned in passing as having gone to Avonlea and that is all the reader gets. This is just frustrating for the reader who is attached to the established characters and doesn't ring true. 8/10

Anne Of Ingleside     

Anne Of Ingleside is a similar situation to that of Anne Of Windy Poplars, chronologically the sixth Anne Shirley novel it wasn't published til the 1930's a long while after Rainbow Valley which was the next published book after Anne's House Of Dreams in 1919. I read the 2 books in chronological order. In Anne Of Ingleside, Anne and Gilbert have moved to a bigger house and Anne is pregnant with her last child.
The couple already have Jem, Walter, twins Anne and Diana, and Shirley (a boy) her final child is named Bertha but known by her middle name Rilla after Marilla. Each section of the novel focuses on a different child, and their various pitfalls and scrapes. Diana is gullible and seems to pick the wrong friends, Anne (Nan) lets her imagination run away with her like her mother once did. Walter is teased for liking poetry, and is frightened by other children when Anne goes into labour and so forth. There are also some stories about Anne, the long standing difficulty of Gilbert's aunt outstaying her welcome, her quilting circle and the natural ups and downs of marriage.
What is also highlighted is that though Anne was first in her class at college, she has no career of her own following marriage and children and it seemed to me that it was important for Montgomery to highlight that, that a high intellect like Anne's has gone to waste through society rules. It also by nature of its style points out the loss of individual identity for women who are uniformly referred to by their husbands name : Mrs Marshall Elliott, Mrs Alec Davies, Mrs Dr. Blythe etc. Overall I enjoyed Anne Of Ingleside as much as House Of Dreams, and think it was a completely necessary reverse insertion into the Anne Shirley saga, which the series suffered without.  8/10

Rainbow Valley

I can only imagine that in its day, in 1919 when published, Rainbow Valley was massively unpopular with fans of Anne Shirley and the Blythe family. Having left off Anne's House Of Dreams in 1917 with Jem a toddler, Jem is now 13, so it's a massive leap forward in time, leaving the readers with this huge drought of knowledge of the last 13 years of the Blythe's. Fortunately, not being a contemporary reader I had read the later published Anne Of Ingleside covering this period.  
Additionally though the novel initially makes the appearance of being about the Blythe's 80% of the focus of the novel is on the Merediths, the motherless children of the new minister, their scrapes and the general scandal and gossip they cause by being inappropriately dressed or behaved for ministers children. The novel for lack of the Blythe's doesn't come unstuck though as Jerry, Faith and Una Meredith are lovable, engaging, characters.
However, it is to be noted that things which which would have been acceptable and unremarkable language in Montgomery's day are now offensive or have taken on new and inappropriate meanings which render the book eyebrow raising or dated in this day and age, something which most of the previous novels with the exception of "Ingleside" completely side-stepped. These include :

"If you aren't good a big black man will come and put you in a big black bag and take you away" (Ingleside)

"I do like spunk"

"Faith and Una had never had a muff"

"I've been working like a nigger all day"

To Montgomery's great credit, those remarks which are racist are mildly frowned upon by other characters, but it just goes to show how much the world and the English language has changed.
Despite not really conforming to expectation Rainbow Valley is enjoyable in its own right and more so for the knowledge that I had another novel in the sequence to go anyway. 7/10

Rilla Of Ingleside   

At the beginning of Rilla Of Ingleside, we have come full circle with most of Anne and Gilbert's children now attending Redmond or Queens like their parents before them with Gilbert and Anne in their early 50's by the end. Not academically minded, Rilla, 15, intends not to follow in their footsteps and to enjoy the rest of her teens as much as possible before settling to marriage.
But these ideas of frivolousness are swept away with the outbreak of World War One which sees many of the sons of Glen St Mary join the Army and sees Rilla burdened with Home Front responsibilities, and the worry of the survival of her brothers, friends and boyfriend.
Montgomery uses Rilla of Ingleside published in the 20's to reflect on the effect of the war on Canada and its young people making it a far more serious novel. Rilla is a likeable central character and surrounding characters remain intact, though twins Nan and Di hardly feature. At the end of the novel it feels like a fitting close to the stories of the Blythe's and I don't see how Montgomery could have continued it much further, though it is good that she went back and wrote Anne Of Ingleside as neither Rainbow Valley or this novel would have worked well without it.

There are further Avonlea stories in the Chronicles Of Avonlea short stories and later The Blythes Are Quoted, but I feel like that's enough now for me, and that in many senses the source has been bled dry.

Overall 8/10 

Monday, 15 October 2012

Book #85 Ready, Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready, Player One

As regular viewers of my blog will have noted, I've been having a tough time with the books I've read lately. Out of the last six or seven books I've read, I've failed to finish one, found two seriously underwhelming, and outright disliked three. It's become dispiriting.

Therefore I could literally kneel down and kiss the feet of Ernest Cline, because I adored Ready, Player One , I loved every single page of it, and I powered through it over a matter of hours, I can't think of a single thing I didn't love about this book, it's both a thrill to write about and a massive sigh of relief.

Ready, Player One takes place in the none too distant future the earth is over populated, resources are depleting, there's a Global Energy Crisis. In the midst of this James Halliday; eccentric billionaire computer inventor of the universally used OASIS virtual reality computer universe, dies leaving his fortune to the person who can solve the Easter Egg puzzle he has encoded within the vast system.  

Years pass, and the unsolved Easter Egg becomes an urban legend, but many computer geeks still hunt it. They are up against "The Sixers" employees of the dreaded IOI corporation hunting professionally for the egg in order to take control of Hallidays fortune, and the OASIS system, and turn it into a corporate entity.

The genius of Ready, Player One is that while set in a future world within a kind of MMORPG that does not yet exist, the billionaire Halliday was a child of the 80s and the key to the Easter Egg is knowing enough about 80s gaming, films and pop culture  to be able to crack his codes.

So rather than a bunch of meaningless references to things that don't exist in the minds of the reader, Ready Player One is grounded within actual history, it's one long nostalgia trip, particularly for people of my generation.

Our heroes Parzival, Aech and Art3mis live in the 2040's but need to know as much as they can about subjects like the Atari and all its games, the Commodore 64, the films of John Hughes, the music of the period, the developing reflection of computing within popular culture, and they do, because they study it as if it were a religion.

The research in this novel is mindblowingly meticulous, rich and detailed on every level from the years certain games were released to the names of their programmers, no detail is too minor. It makes for an authentic, dazzling experience. It is the nerds dream novel, and there will be many a nerdgasm had over it and much envy from those who share these obsessions and who will wish they had written it. It is a Herculean effort in terms of factual clarity.

As a minor scale nerd, I too gave little jumps of joy when certain obscure references were made and I understood them. For example when "Setec Astronomy" is used as a password and not explained I knew that it came from the 1992 Robert Redford film Sneakers about a group of off the grid hackers and was an anagram found via Scrabble tiles for "Too Many Secrets"  I loved that film, I saw it more than once.

In addition to this rich detail, our characters are great, and uniformly easy to care about, and our baddies, faceless grunts working behind a smarm bucket called Sorrento easy to hate, which means that you root for outcomes and you get excited by developments as well as getting off on all the retro goodness.

I cannot speak highly enough of this novel, I thought it was awesome. If you too were a child of the 80s and you played arcade games and you had an Atari or an Acorn or a Spectrum and you watched these films and you listened to these bands, or watched these shows I think you will love it too. Naturally there's a slightly skewed bias towards American culture, but it really doesn't have a negative effect on the book as a whole. Yes, the outcome is always obvious, it's a hero's journey tale after all, but don't let the inevitable destination spoil the thrill of the journey!

This book is epic. 10/10

Turbulence by Samit Basu

Turbulence

On paper, Turbulence by Samit Basu, seems to be directly aimed at me as its target market. Superheroes? I'm there. Ordinary people acquiring super powers? Again up my alley. Similar to the NBC series Heroes? Go on then.

A group of people are on a flight from London to New Delhi - they all have strange dreams, fantasies of who they could be, and when they wake up they have acquired a power which correlates to their fantasy, so Vir the pilot can fly, Uzma the wannabee actress is irresistible to those around her, Aman the computer geek can mentally hack into any computer, the journalist gets premonitions about newsworthy events and so on...

The trouble arises with the structure, we meet our heroes shortly after powers have been acquired and to my mind the huge opportunity of an origin story is missed the chance to build up the scene of all these people before the flight and boarding it, dreaming and disembarking. A chance to build wonder, and mystique. It all seems a bit disjointed somehow.

Additionally the powers they possess are either bog standard (human flight) or a bit naff in terms of their capacity for dramatic impact (mental internet, the power of allurement) And the guy who can control the temperature with his stomach, what's that all about? Useless!

By far the greatest and for me fatal flaw of this piece is the dialogue. It's dialogue heavy, and the dialogue is extremely poor and weak, cringe inducing even. "Hey! we're like the X Men!"
When the writing switches to prose or private thoughts it isn't so bad, but it isn't long before you're hit in the face with yet more cliched conversation of the most contrived, artificial kind. A masterclass in how not to write a cheesy, one star action film that flops at the box office.

I gave this book up at around the 100 page mark, persuaded myself to give it a second go, and quit for the second and final time at around page 140, which is why there's no number present on my count towards 100.

 I just found the excessive, and dire, dialogue too much to bear. This is why Turbulence doesn't have a number by its name as it's classed as "Failure To Finish"

Of the 10 Amazon reviews present for this novel, 9 give it 5 stars something that genuinely baffles me, as it is so marred by its flaw as to not even succeed as a genre piece of fluff.



Can't really mark it out of 10 seeing as I failed to finish.

Book #84 Diary Of A Nobody by George & Weedon Grossmith

Diary Of A Nobody

Diary Of A Nobody is the private diary of one Charles Pooter, an ordinary anonymous clerk, chronicling his everyman middle class life in which he gets frustrated with tradesmen and servants, is embarrassed by his son, pleased with his own jokes and goes through ups and downs with his friends Cumming and Gowing who are always coming and going.

The novel is often amusing and diverting but is neither as laugh out loud hilarious or as amazing as I expected. A portrait of the cringeworthy incidents in the small life of the unremarkable ordinary person, it was a massive hit in its day, as people identified with the day to day annoyances of running a household made humorous and as a piece of schadenfreude.

The fact that the Grossmith's wrote it as one voice is remarkable because it flows as if it were one writer. Ultimately, I thought it was OK, and it passed an afternoon for me, but the funniest or best book ever?

Not really.   

It's passed out of copyright now so it's free on Kindle, so you may as well give it a go if you've got one!

6.5/10

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Book #83 Hearts And Minds by Amanda Craig

Hearts And Minds

Hearts and Minds begins with a body being dumped into a river, so one expects it to be a crime novel but I wasn't far into the novel before I realised that it was a novel about immigration and specifically the immigration population of London. We are introduced to lawyer Polly, the descendant of 1930's Jewish emigrĂ©s with an American ex, South African teacher Ian, American PA Katie, Ukranian prostitute Anna, a victim of human trafficking, and Job a Zimbabwian taxi driver who works for Tariq, a Pakistani. So, a huge exercise in "box ticking" as many "types" of immigrant in the UK as possible.

It's a novel apparently about the changing face of London, yet it's clearly a polemic in every way. It's clearly designed to bash its readers about the head with the position that to in any way believe that Britain faces a "problem" with immigration makes you IGNORANT AND A RACIST. Polly practically has an apoplexy of self righteousness when Hemani, herself of immigrant stock has the audacity to suggest as much.

Polly is a human rights lawyer for asylum seekers and naturally everyone she represents is a clear cut case of need for right to remain, the schoolboy without nation or family, heroic Job, and the woman who has suffered degrading abuse. No Abu Hamza's for Polly. It's about as subtle as a brick in terms of shouting "don't you see??? if they didn't need to come they wouldn't!!!"

The thing is, by and large I agree with this notion, and also again with the ENTIRELY unsubtle point that no-one takes issue with white South African, American and Australian immigrants because "that's ok" but it's hard not to feel utterly, utterly patronised by Craig on this. If ever there was an opinion rammed down your throat, it's in this novel and even in this case, where it mirrors my own, it's quite sickening and also completely unbalanced.

In addition there are massive character issues, Polly, for all her bleeding heart save the world lawyer crusading pays an illegal much less than Job Seekers Allowance to be her general skivvy at home, and though she acknowledges the irony herself, and wrings her hands over it, it doesn't make her any less of a hypocrite for all her self righteous indignation at what she interprets as xenophobia.

Katie works at a magazine which I interpreted to be not dissimilar to Private Eye, everyone surrounding Katie are called things like Jocasta and Quentin, they are all wealthy yah Hampstead connected. They barely come off the page as people just floating empty drawings of a stereotype.

Ian is an English teacher, but he teaches at a comp in Hackney so naturally he can't wait to get out just as soon as he possibly can. Naturally the school is a hell hole, the playground is full of Bangladeshi and Somali gangs, there are no textbooks and none of them can be bothered etc. It's a total cliche of an "inner city comprehensive school" of which I believe there are many good ones in London. John O'Farrell recently wrote a piece about the one his kids go to in The Guardian. It comes off as Craig's own prejudice, so on the one hand she sanctimoniously preaches about the importance of immigrants to this country, but God Forbid their children be educated alongside hers.

Likewise, a cliched portrayal of the NHS where patients lie ignored in their own filth, & visitors have to feed their own family members, yet at the back she thanks the doctors who saved her life, she must have been lucky enough to pay, just like Ian. I have never, ever, seen this nightmare NHS the tabloids scream about.

In the end as all the strands and connections come together, writing skill is shown in her ability to tie up all loose ends, but everything is so dreadfully over coincidental and therefore entirely unlikely.

Craig recently wrote a jaw dropping piece for the Guardian following the death of Maeve Binchy in which she pretty much stated that Maeve Binchy could never understand the full spectrum of human emotion because she had never been a mother. And of course Binchy was prolific because again she had never been a mother.

I venture to say that in return this is the wrong kind of book for her to presume to be the voice of, I know she isn't Polly but it's hard not to think of her as exactly that. A South African immigrant she may be, but it's easy to sit in your middle class Cambridge educated Ivory Tower and lecture other people about how society ought to be in an ideal world; from a position of great privilege and disconnection from the day to day realities faced by the poor, the desperate and the dispossessed.

In a word : Condescending         4/10

This is 3 books in a row now with the exception of the short interlude of The Art Of War that have been absolute wank, please God let me have a run of good ones now, I've done my penance.

Book #82 The Art Of War by Sun Tzu

The Art Of War

The Art Of War by ancient Chinese general Sun Tzu is a treatise on military strategy. I bought it for a friend of mine years ago, but never read it myself. Then, it was referenced on Breaking Bad and I thought I'd give it a whirl. At only 70 pages long it's a fairly quick read, but it is packed full of truisms that apply even outside of a war if one finds oneself in a contentious situation. I read this on the Kindle but I really think this is one that needs owning as a paperback, because it contains words of philosophical wisdom I'm sure I will come back to again and again. 9/10

Friday, 5 October 2012

Book #81 The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling

The Casual Vacancy

When I heard that JK Rowling was bringing out an adult book, my thought was that people would doubtless find means to criticise it how ever good it was, the usual kind of British behaviour of taking someone successful and taking them down a peg or two by letting them know that they can't be good at everything.

With this in mind, I wanted The Casual Vacancy to be great, I wanted her to be able to move on from Harry Potter, I wanted to be supportive of her book, but having read it, I just can't be.

The story of an election for a council seat left vacant by a death; the characters are less that by definition than they are caricatures, walking Daily Mail cliches, the woman who resents the Asian doctor wearing a sari and won't speak to her lesbian child, the domestic violence husband, the disapproving NIMBY response to the council estate encroaching on the Village school catchement. The one guy who managed to rise "despite his background" and is seen as a bleeding heart. The fact that a character being from a Council Estate is automatically synonymous with drug taking, drug dealing, being the school problem child, trying for a baby to get your own house, incest, and social worker involvement. It's all so Daily Mail editorial extreme on the one side and on the other "middle class stereotype" characters that only exist in the minds of people who generalise "typical Daily Mail readers" it's all so hackneyed and unoriginal. JK seems to be using her characters to sneer at "middle class" sorts who have that opinion, yet her council estate based characters live up to every one of the prejudices they hold.

The inclusion of swearing and sex often feels forced and only there to state "hey, look everybody, this isn't Harry Potter' I'm not writing Harry Potter anymore! Frequently it just feels surplus.

As has been stated, whilst the adult characters are embarrassingly cliched, and the general writing itself not particularly high quality (at the beginning of the second section, I felt like it was an alternative opening to the novel that she had rejected) there is an interesting story to be found among the towns teenagers but they too are tainted with the cliches of their parents. The Indian child just isn't living up to her mothers perfectionist expectations, the son of the domestic violence couple just wants to stand up to his violent father.

Amongst all this "been here, read that" familiarity lie two characters who actually have an interesting story to tell... Colin Wall and his adoptive son Fats, but not enough is explained about what Colin's unusual psychological problems are  - there's a whole novel to be found in there, and I think it would be a sight better than much of the banality on display here.

I did like the last 40 pages or so, but that's simply not enough to warrant calling the book "good" I found that through most of it I was splitting it up into chunks "read X amount of pages in this sitting" just so I could finish it, because I didn't have the automatic desire created by enjoyment spurring me on but I wanted to treat it fairly and read the whole thing.

90% terrible and a genuine struggle 4/10   

Monday, 24 September 2012

Book #80 The Other Hand by Chris Cleave

The Other Hand

I picked up The Other Hand in a charity shop and I said to my friend: Isn't this the best blurb you've ever read? For the record the blurb goes something like this:

"We don't want to tell you what happens in this book. It's a truly special story and we don't want to spoil it...once you have read it you'll want to tell your friends about it. When you do, please don't tell them what happens either"    

This is really clever, and I've never seen it before, but this book goes further still. Inside the cover there's a letter from the Editor utterly effusive in its praise for the book and compares it to David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas and Thomas Keneally's Schindler's Ark in terms of the global impact it's going to have.

Impressive, no? Then suddenly you realise that both the blurb and the letter are just part of a marketing strategy, designed to make you buy the book and talk about it, and that's all. But there's a problem here, if you're going to make this kind of extreme over the top guarantee that this novel will be a modern classic, that it will be one of the best books that you the Reader, will ever read, then it damn well better live up to it in every sense, or you look utterly ridiculous.

For the record, the assertion is utterly ridiculous.

The novel is average at best, and is yet another novel set amongst the crashingly tedious London Media and Social Elite which occupy about 1% of this country, but seem to occupy a lot of its novels.
There's the obligatory affair, the Home Office shindigs, the working mum who loves her son SOO SOO MUCH but is content to ship him off to a nursery which is literally described as airless and smelling like toilets, whilst she tells other women what to care about in a glossy magazine whilst agonising over whether she's obeyed that days dress code.   Her cowardly husband  is one of those right on broadsheeters who writes condescending articles telling other people they need to have a social conscience (yah, yah, etc)  but can't muster himself to have one when the time comes, and the actually vile lover who is the ultimate "someone else's problem NIMBY" all for donating to Oxfam but god forbid one actually helps an actual African!!!   

Also, at one point, David Blunkett gets called a twat, for no reason essential to the overall story. Does Chris Cleave know David Blunkett? Does he know him personally? Why single him out amongst a plethora of politician twats? It seems almost vindictive. Though, I'm sure had it been Darth Mandelson few would have objected!! 

Yes, the actual event which unites the 2 main female characters is utterly harrowing, but then with our Nigerian protagonist, who has all the hallmarks of a character one could come to care about; the author uses her voice to beat his target audience with the stick of "white guilt". It's all the fault of your ancestors, BE ASHAMED, sins of the fathers.

Ultimately the message is - you people who read books like this aren't you all self important, first world problems shits just like my awful awful characters. It's hard not to feel like the author is preaching on a soap box. There are some nice pieces of prose now and then, but the characters are by and large ugly, which makes it hard to like or care.

The lesson here with regard to its essentially artificially generated hype is: don't write a cheque your product can't cash 4.5/10   

Book #79 A Short History Of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

A Short History Of Nearly Everything

Firstly, what irritated me about this book was the title. It isn't a history of nearly everything, it's exclusively a history on Science. Neither, though it attempts to sum up the history of Science and therefore has abridged it would I consider it, at 579 ish pages to be especially short. So the whole title is a misnomer and annoyed me, though I'm probably just being a silly pedant about a fun title.

Bill Bryson's motive for the book was one of those old Science books that shows the inside of the Earth, he felt he never got the education he needed to appreciate the ideas behind the page. The book covers many things from cells to astronomy to atoms, to evolution and all the ideas as they developed therein.

Slightly frustratingly I have since read online that a lot of the information Bryson imparts is actually inaccurate, sometimes a little, sometimes entirely. The book is information dense, and I realised as I went along that though I understood it as I read, I wasn't actually retaining much.

Part of that is because the majority of the book didn't "blow my mind" though it's a history of Science, Bryson himself seems to have got side-tracked and made it a series of potted biographies about the scientists themselves, the tragic life of Max Planck, the rise of Einstein. He seems fascinated by the far most fascinating aspect of the book the unexpected cut throat rivalries between scientists and how many were done out of the credit they deserved. Though this is really interesting, it's not the history of the ideas but of the men.

The two things which really did stick in my mind during this book were his writings on asteroids and the consequences of impact and the possibility of an eruption from the Supervolcano under Yellowstone Park, the massive consequences of either event are both poo your pants scary, and a reminder of how fragile life on earth really is.

Towards the end of this book I got a bit fed up and was really looking forward to moving on to other things, so it was nowhere near as enthralling as other Science books I've read. Meh. 6/10     


Monday, 17 September 2012

Book #78 Anne Of Green Gables by LM Montgomery

Anne Of Green Gables

I tried to read Anne Of Green Gables at the age of about 7, didn't "get it" and had to admit despite my precociousness that I was "probably a bit too young".

Anne Of Green Gables then remained unread and misremembered as tedious until I had a dream in which I was held hostage by terrorists in a bookshop whilst trying to buy a copy! After a dream like that - well I had to read it then, so I downloaded it for humour value.

It was not at all as I remembered it. I fell in love with it from the off. Unmarried brother and sister Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert getting on in years decide they will take in a young boy from an orphanage to help on their farm, in the days before emails and phones and general legal enquiry, their message goes awry, and Matthew is met by a red haired eleven year old Anne Shirley.

Anne Shirley is no ordinary girl. With a flair for imagination, the dramatic and romantic notions about the world, she talks non stop and takes interest in everything around her.

Anne makes the book what it is, she is actually hilarious, over the top, and theatrical, her long speeches made me smile so much. She reminded me of a young me, and I hope that if I ever get to have a daughter she is a total Anne. Anne's funniest moments often come when by some unintentional mishap she gets into trouble, which like any teenager usually leads to her behaving as if the world had ended and refusing to leave her room.

Secondary characters are fun as well, Anne's touching relationship with Marilla that develops over time, and her understated secret love hidden beneath animosity for academic rival Gilbert Blythe.

Anne Of Green Gables was an utter joy to read, and there are several sequels yet to be read, though I doubt any of them will quite live up to this, I tore through this book, smiling constantly. From a book I once dismissed as being complicated and dull I'm now a massive, massive fan. 10/10      

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Book #77 Pure by Julianna Baggott

Pure

At the time of the "Detonations", Pressia Bellze was aged 6 and on the outside, a hot white light came and the doll she had in her hand, became her hand. Partridge Willux, son of a government official, had a place inside the Dome, and has remained unharmed and Pure.

Outside the Dome, the "wretches" were told they would be helped, eventually, but 10 years have passed, and no help has come, they live in fear of a brutal regime, but the regime within the safe, clean Dome is no less sinister.

Pure is another young adult dystopian novel, in the vein of the Hunger Games or Chaos Walking trilogies by Suzanne Collins and Patrick Ness respectively, the theme like those novels is of earnest, persistent strong young people fighting an unjust system. It also has shades of Justin Cronin's The Passage in its tone and delivery.

The imagery is inventive and arresting, original in its choices, particularly with the variety of fusions on display. Deliberate parallels are drawn to the real life events of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a brave new world imagined from a global scale similar disaster. There are some holes in the plot, and unanswered questions, mainly unbelievable coincidences, lucky escapes that wouldn't occur and bizarre failure to properly act on extensive surveillance, but it is by no means a fishnet. 

It has the obligatory teen romance, which for both couples really feels a little weak and there by force, as though the publisher requested it to line it up with the current trend, and sometimes the dialogue is a bit Famous Five, they all seem to know rather a lot for, on the one hand, 2 kids with little education, and on the other, a kid with a heavily censored one. Bradwell particularly being ridiculously knowing about pre Dome history and politics for someone orphaned at the age of 9.

That said the book  as an opener to a new young adult dystopia trilogy or quartet was good, I did enjoy it, and will probably read the follow up as it comes out, if the other books I mention in this review appealed to you, this book will too 8/10

Friday, 31 August 2012

Book #76 Alys, Always by Harriet Lane

Alys, Always

Taking a break from this years Booker list which I've been rather disenchanted by, I turned to Harriet Lane's Alys Always which Amazon had been recommending to me for some time. I actually read this book really quickly, I had read over half of it before I realised it, so its a real page turner, not just an easy descriptor to use.

In this novel, protagonist Frances Thorpe appears to be a stereotypical loner, single, living alone, visiting her parents on weekends, and virtually invisible in her offices. Quiet, mousey, and uninteresting to those around her, Frances edits copy for the book component of a London newspaper.

One night driving home, she is the first on the scene of an accident and last to speak to the victim, a woman, "Alice", who then dies. This is, at first, an unusual diversion in a mundane life for Frances; but then the realisation comes that the "Alice" in question is Alys Kyte wife of literary giant Laurence Kyte.

What then follows is Frances Thorpe giving those reading her story a total masterclass in opportunism and social climbing as she inveigles her way in to the lives of the Kytes, through deceit, manipulation and flattery.

Frances, seems as you first read her words to be perfectly normal and then you realise by the little things she lets slip and her skewed views on things, and particularly by the way in which she studies the behaviour of everyone around her, calculating how best to win them over, what a sociopath she is.  
I found it a bit tame that the one or two people who began to become suspicious of her were easily diverted or won over, I would have liked her to have had a bit more of a fight on her hands at least once.

It is odd, that though Frances is so devious, you find yourself rooting for her, I think this could be because nobody she's deceiving in her pursuit of better things is that likeable anyway. A modern day Becky Sharp, but without the same vivaciousness, Frances is a dark character  and her closing lines give you the creeps. I did wonder whether Harriet Lane had encountered a Frances type in her own life and whether Alys, Always was an expose or portrait of such manipulative, self interested Talented Mr Ripley type women. 8/10