Book Count (since 1 January 2012)

Book Count (since 1 January 2014): 30

Saturday, 28 August 2010

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

I always forget how much I like Margaret Atwood’s novels and this is no exception. It is another post-apocalyptic novel although unlike Far North this one details the cause of the apocalypse (a man-made plague developed as a biological weapon but released by mistake). The novel focuses on the fate of members of a religious extremist group called the Gardeners following the plague’s destruction of the majority of the human race. Summaries of post-apocalyptic novels do unfortunately always make the plot sound like a bad episode of Star Trek but this is honestly very believable and very enjoyable. The writing is, as always, excellent and the characters are also very well developed and likeable. Not Atwood’s best novel but still recommended.

The Devil’s Acre by Matthew Plampin

Quite an enjoyable read about a gun factory in south London in the nineteenth century. The novel has a few historical persons in it (Lord Palmerston, Samuel Colt and Charles Dickens) so has quite an interesting context. But generally it is just about different people beating each other up, often for fairly spurious reasons. Apparently that is what one did in nineteenth century London, leaving a bit of time of course for sleeping with servant girls and wandering through the slums. Definitely a boys book and not very high brow but quite entertaining.

Ellis Island by Kate Kerrigan

Cheesier than an Essex boy’s chat up lines. An Irish girl’s husband gets shot in circumstances which are completely unexplained but may have something to do with ‘the Troubles’. The husband survives but is paralysed and the wife does what any wife would do in the circumstances – piss off to America. But then she comes back again – airs, graces and silk stockings in tow – just in time to rediscover how much she loves her husband. I shall stop there or I am in danger of writing a review which has more two syllable words in it than this 400 page novel did.

Far North by Marcel Theroux

A post-apocalyptic novel set in the Arctic North, which sounds dire but was surprisingly good. A young woman struggles to survive in hostile conditions and the book follows her survival techniques as well as her interaction with other survivors. I know – it really does sound dire. The writing is very good and I did enjoy this novel although I am not really sure why. There is something very engrossing about the descriptions of the woman’s daily life which, unlike most descriptive writing, is neither boring nor pretentious. Another plus is that it can be read in an afternoon so not much to lose in giving this a go.

Girl in the Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold

Longlisted for the Booker Prize 2008

This novel is about an author in Victorian England, who is loosely based on Charles Dickens, and is written from the point of view of his estranged wife (called Dorothea in the novel). I am at a loss as to why this book was longlisted for the Booker Prize as it was, frankly, pretty light reading and is more suited to a Richard & Judy.

It also surprised me that this was written by a woman as Dorothea’s narrative is pretty unrealistic. Dorothea was usurped by her younger sister , forced to separate from her husband and refused access to her children whilst her sister continued to live in the matrimonial home. Instead of behaving like a normal woman and doing the nineteenth century equivalent of maxing out his credit card, keying her sister’s car and selling the story to Hello, Dorothea is perfectly understanding and forgiving throughout the separation and her 10 year isolation from her family. Maybe that was likely back in the day, before the Spice Girls and Girl Power, but it is pretty hard to swallow to be honest. There is no fury like a woman scorned and all that.

Leaving that aside, the historical context was quite interesting and it is entertaining. Good for a holiday read but the writing is pretty average so don’t pick this for an A level English critique.

Evening is the Whole Day by Preeta Samarasan

Very much enjoyed this book which reminded me of The God of Small Things. The writing is similar. It takes a bit of time to get into the dialogue because the English is written as it would be spoken by the characters, who are Malaysian, so the language is not British-English. But it is worth persevering as the writing is very clever (although not so clever that it is incomprehensible to normal people).

Having said all that, I feel obliged to warn my two readers that I am not sure they would like it. It isn’t really a boys book (sorry Andy) and it requires quite a lot of concentration (no offense Mum). So whilst I really enjoyed it I am not actually sure who else would.

Invisible by Paul Auster

This book doesn’t have speech marks for the dialogue which annoys me greatly – I know authors think it is very arty and clever to ignore punctuation but it makes a book much harder to read. The author has also played around with the grammar which switches from first to third person which is no doubt also incredibly arty and clever.

Despite the style irritations I quite liked this novel, which is about a young man who witnesses a murder and struggles with his conscience. He has a few affairs along the way including (possibly) one with his sister. Somehow this book is not as pretentious as that description makes it sound, possibly because the characters are actually quite well written.

The Man Who Disappeared by Clare Morrall

There are websites where you can input information, such as your name, a city and the name of your boyfriend, and the website outputs a short story for you (admittedly usually a dirty story). There must be one for novels about happy middle class families whose lives are turned upside down, and then they build it up again. The variable of course being what turns their life upside down. In this case, the father’s money laundering activities. Exciting stuff.

So, a very formulaic story with pretty average writing and dialogue and very two dimensional characters. It is light hearted so a bit of escapism but not recommended for boys.

Down graded half a star because HMS Victory is docked at Portsmouth not Plymouth. How hard is that to check?

The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf

A novel about two children who go missing in some woods behind their house. The only thing which is not average about this book is the story line, which is more depressing than average. This book is mildly entertaining as you read it but completely forgettable once you put it down (which, contrary to the claims on the back cover, is very, very easy to do).

The Island by Victoria Hislop

I read this book whilst on holiday in Crete at a hotel overlooking the island of Spinalonga, which is The Island of this book. I’ve given this book an extra half star because I was “on location” and so the story was marginally more interesting. Overall, I thought it was a very girly, very unsubstantial book.

The narrative follows the history of a Cretan family, two members of which suffered from leprosy and were exiled to Spinalonga which was a leper colony until 1957. I thought the book was poorly researched. It is very irritating to be smugly (and perpetually) informed that the popular misconceptions about leprosy are incorrect without being given any information on the disease whatsoever. I appreciate that I should not be looking for education in a chick lit trashy novel but I do expect at least a half hearted attempt at some background research. A google search would have done.

This book is definitely overrated. I suspect that the high sales can be traced back to our hotel’s gift shop, which stocked thousands of copies of this book and a few bottles of suntan lotion.

The Devil’s Star by Jo Nesbo

A guy from work recommended this book. I now understand that I do not have the same taste in books as the guy from work. This is a very standard airport crime thriller of the “free with the Daily Mail” variety. The characters are very black and white – with a hero cop and a Very Evil Man. It is at least marginally engrossing for the first 300 pages because it is not 100% obvious which of the 6 or 7 unrealistically degenerate side characters is the Very Evil Man. But the last 200 pages are a struggle.

Monday, 9 August 2010

The Girl with Glass Feet by Ali Shaw

This book is literally about a girl with glass feet. Which is, of course, completely ridiculous. If you are willing (100% willing) to suspend all your disbelief then this book is an average read. If not, I would avoid this unless you enjoy regularly sighing in exasperation and saying to the nearest person "can you believe this bit?"

Basically, a girl turns into glass whilst falling in love with a clearly mentally ill photographer who tries to get her help from a man who looks after a herd of flying cows. Like I said, completely ridiculous.

Nevertheless, it is fairly easy to read and pretty quick and a lot better than the other completely ridiculous novel of recent times - the one which is literally about a woman married to a man who travels through time. There is no punchline.

In summary, don't rush out to buy it but you can't go too far wrong with this as a beach read or if you are stuck in an airport and have to choose between this and The Iliad. In Greek. This will be more entertaining (unless you read Greek).

Thursday, 5 August 2010

A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif

Don't bother.

This is a very dull book. It is very hard to build up any sort of connection with the characters or to care enough to concentrate on the fairly disjointed plot. I think the story is about Pakistani military cadets and middle eastern politics. But I couldn't be sure as this book is not as interesting as my day dreams about being a gangster so I was really focusing on them rather than the story.

I gave this an extra half star because it is not as offensive as The Still Point (the worst book in the world), but seriously - don't bother.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz

It took me a while to get into this book because it is quite strange. It is a novel about two generations of an eccentric Australian family. Two brothers grow up in a small Australian town and their childhood experiences and personalities lead them to two very different lifestyles. One of the brothers has a son who is the main narrator and who struggles to fit in given his father's unusual parenting style.

The plot is pretty unrealistic but the narrative is very clever and engrossing. Once I got into it I also found the characters likeable and interesting. It is quite funny in places although not as hilarious as it says it is in the reviews quoted on the back.

This is quite a long book but I would definitely recommend it and it is worth putting the time in.