Having just missed one hundred books in the first year of The Book Challenge, in 2010, I made the full tonne. Still reading, but without the challenge, take a look at the reviews for the books that I have read this year.

Friday, 31 December 2010

Book 100 - No and Me

Book - No and Me
Author - Delphine de Vigan
Year - 2007 (in French, 2010 English translation)
Genre - Fiction
Bought for me by my Mum and Dad

Wow.  It feels pretty good to be able to put a three digit number in the title space of my blog.  But I shall post in the next couple of days with some thoughts on the landmark, so for now, I shall review the final book of my challenge - and maybe give just a little plug to Bob's blog who is just behind me.

No and Me is set in Paris and follows a young girl called Lou with an IQ of 160, and a homeless girl she befriends due to a school presentation, by the name of No.  Both have had troubled lives, and the book does well to examine the parallels between the rough sleeping No, whose mother had her as a teenager after having been raped, and the intelligent outsider Lou, whose mother lives in a near comatose state after the death of her baby Chloe as an infant.  Adding in Lou's 'love interest' Lucus, whose father ran off to Brazil, and whose mother moved out to live with a different man shortly after leaving him home alone, and you see an author with something intelligent to say about not just the plight of the homeless in Paris - which is a rapidly growing concern - but also about underprivileged children.

At times the writing is incredibly moving, but I was a little bit frustrated at times by some of the cliched plot twists, and the occasional loose tie at the end of the book.  Overall however, this is a beautiful little book, and I would be keen to read more by the same author.

8/10

Book 99 - Magic Study

Book - Magic Study
Author - Maria V Snyder
Year - 2006
Genre - Fantasy
Lent to me by Faye Braggins

Having read the first in this trilogy the other week, I was very pleased when Faye lent me the second book, and read the whole thing without even breaking for more than a cup of coffee - this week has been littered with me reading until the small hours of the morning.

It's often pretty hard to write a review of the second of a series, as it tends to be much more of the same, but when you are reading a book of as good a quality as this, then that is certainly not a bad thing.  This time, our lead - Yelana - has graduated on from being a poison taster to a junior magician, and we follow her south to a land where magic is more tolerated than the setting of the first book.  I don't want to say too much more, as any plot points about a second book tend to give away spoilers from the first, and if there's one thing I despise then it is spoilers.

In short, it is a very similar summary to the first book - if you are a fan of fantasy books, then give this series a whirl.  I very much doubt that you will be disappointed.

9/10

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Book 98 - Awkward Situations for Men

Book - Awkward Situations for Men
Author - Danny Wallace
Year - 2010
Genre - Humour

So for Christmas I asked for books.  And my parents duly obliged.  Come Christmas day, I was presented with a wonderfully wrapped pile of about twenty brand new books.  And what a beautiful present it was.

I finished my ninety-seventh book last night, and despite it being in the small hours, I decided to get a few pages into my next book, but with such a massive pile of shiny new books to choose from, I wasn't sure where to begin.  In the end, I picked out the author that I knew best - Danny Wallace.

I was introduced to Danny Wallace's books via the one that has probably made him most famous - Yes Man, later to become a Jim Carrey film.  I read it whilst I was commuting to London for work, and it is most notable in my mind for the number of times that I burst into literally uncontrollable laughter on packed rush hour London Bridge to Dartford services.  From then on, I read Join Me and Friends Like These, which through no fault of their own are not quite as funny as Yes Man, yet are still probably both in the top five funniest books I have read.

Which explains somewhat how Awkward Situations for Men is not as good as I expected.  Wallace's style (weirdly classified by booksellers under 'Travel'.  No, honestly, take a look next time you are in Waterstones) is that of the man who undertakes a mission, be it saying yes to absolutely everything he is asked for a year, or getting in contact with all of his best friends from primary school once he has hit his thirties.  However, this book is a collection of anecdotes about his everyday life - written incredibly similarly to his Shortlist column.  They are all individually very funny, but it means that the book lacks the cohesive story that all of his other books have had.  This is disappointing, mainly in the way that I am looking forward to his next foray into doing something weird, but the quality of his writing does shine through, and I found it a very amusing, and enjoyable read.

8/10

Book 97 - Heart of Darkness

Book - Heart of Darkness
Author - Joseph Conrad
Year - 1902
Genre - Fiction

Right at the beginning of the year I discovered the Penguin Classics range in which you can buy loads of different classic books for just two pounds each.  I quickly bought The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as it was the show I was rehearsing at the time, The Great Gatsby as it is probably the first book that I think of when I think of a classic piece of literature, and lastly this book, Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, because... well, I don't know why, but three seemed like a good number of books to buy at that time.

Unfortunately, this was the worst of the three in my eyes.  A couple of times this year I had picked it up and read the first couple of pages, only to be distracted by a different book, but in the end I decided to sit down and blitz it.  The most interesting thing to note at the beginning, is that it starts in Erith, a local town to me that's only other claim to fame is... well, nothing really.  It is here that Marlowe starts his story of his time in the Congo which forms the basis of the book.  Every now and then we return to the ship that Marlowe is telling the story from, and it is mildly distracting, but the story itself didn't hold my interest very much at all - Marlowe finds himself a job as skipper on a steamboat in the Congo as he thinks it would be an interesting place to go, and meets the mysterious Kurtz there.  I am aware that it is a book held in high regard in many quarters, but it wasn't something that I could bring myself to enjoy too much.  Too often the sentences seemed to go nowhere, and overall, I was pretty disappointed in the writing style of a man considered a great of British literature.

5/10

Book 96 - Slaughterhouse Five

Book - Slaughterhouse Five
Author - Kurt Vonnegut
Year - 1969
Genre - World War II/Sci-Fi

Slaughterhouse Five is a book that I have wanted to read for a very long time, so it was lovely to receive a copy in my stocking on Christmas morning.  The main reason that I wanted to read it was that for a very long time I thought - simply from the title - that it was a comic book.  Once I found out that it was actually about the authors experiences during World War II, I thought that simply to correct my misconceptions about it, it was something that I needed to read.  However, it was only once I started to read the book that I realised that as well as being a war book, it is also based upon a Sci-Fi concept.

The story takes place in a massively non-linear fashion, with the main character - Billy Pilgrim - recalling memories of his life in a pretty random order.  This is because the story is a mixture of the horrors of the war, with focus upon the bombing of Dresden - an event that is widely regarded as one of the most unnecessary and excessive attacks by the Allies during the Second World War - and Pilgrim's travels to another planet after he is abducted by aliens.

As strange as this combination seems, it makes for an incredibly moving depiction of the hopelessness of war, and despite being considered as a science fiction book, I felt that it is left up to the reader to decide whether or not Pilgrim has actually been abducted by aliens, or whether it is his way of coping with the stresses of war.

All in all, this is a terrific book, and an excellent place to go to if you are keen on topping up the number of 'classic' books that you have read.

9/10

Book 95 - Half A World Away

Book - Half A World Away
Author - Tom Bromley
Year - 2003
Genre - Fiction

Well, I have now managed to pass the mark that I reached last year of ninety four books, and very proud I am too.  It has involved me reading all over the place, including until around three in the morning a few times, but I am determined to get there.

The book that took me past the mark is a very nineties book, with Britpop, New Labour, and all of the other mid nineties trappings that you would expect, but at it's heart is a love story between an Oasis fan and a Nick Drake fan.  As a fan of both artists, it was a nice thing to have so many references to them, and to be honest it is that, along with the other pop culture references, that make this book what it is.  As someone who grew up in the 90s, we only only relatively recently being treated to this kind of remenicing novel, and whilst you don't want it rammed down your throat, it is a welcome diversion from time to time.

Worth a grab if you are a fan of Oasis, Blur and the like, or a newer convert to the idea of popular folk music.  If not, then it is a lightweight love story which isn't terrible, but not the most gripping thing I have read this year.

7/10

Monday, 20 December 2010

Book 94 - My Uncle Oswald

Book - My Uncle Oswald
Author - Roald Dahl
Year - 1979
Genre - Comedy/Smut

So, you may be looking at this and thinking 'Nice one Alex, you are running out of time to reach one hundred books so now you are reading Roald Dahl to make up the numbers - the kind of book that even my kids could read'.  Unless of course you don't have kids, in which case this would be a very strange thing to be thinking.  Rest assured however, that I am not dumbing down, and if you are one of the readers with children, then please promise me that you will not introduce My Uncle Oswald as one of their bedtime stories.

The basic premise is that Oswald is telling us how he made his fortune.  He did this by discovering the world's strongest aphrodisiac.  He then found a very good looking woman, and they proceeded to use this aphrodisiac to rape most of the prominent artists, royals and writers in the world in order to steal their sperm to sell on.  Whilst rumours will continue to circulate that this was the original plot to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, suffice to say it is not the kind of book I would expect from one of the world's best loved children's authors.

Where it is remarkably similar to the books of Dahl's that I know so much better, is that it is wonderfully funny, and interesting throughout.  His descriptions of meeting Puccini, Proust and Shaw are masterpieces, as is the scheme concocted when approaching Freud.  Much as I remember being entirely engrossed in every last word of The BFG when I was a child, I was with this book.  So long as you expect to be reading it as borderline pornography, it is a book that is well worth the read, even if it just so you can describe to your friends what the Roald Dahl book you have just read is all about.

8/10

Friday, 17 December 2010

Book 93 - The Lawnmower Celebrity

Book - The Lawnmower Celebrity
Author - Ben Hatch
Year - 2000
Genre - Fiction

In The Lawnmower Celebrity, Jay Golden shares with us his diary as he is fired from multiple jobs, fights with his Dad and tries to come to terms with the death of his mother.  He is also one of the most annoying protagonists in any book I have ever read.

With regular comments made about JD Salinger's Catcher In The Rye, Jay sees himself as a voice of a generation, but in a very Adrian Mole kind of way, he is just someone who has an overinflated sense of ego.  He is lazy, unappreciative, mean and unperceptive, but less like Adrian Mole, unfortunately doesn't seem to have any upsides to go along with all of these problems.  Occasionally he shares an entry from his earlier diary, written whilst his Mum was suffering from the latter stages of cancer, and in here we find a character worth caring about - still probably over privileged and flawed, but decent and undergoing real problems.  The Jay we read about in the main throughout this book however, is so obviously and continuously wrong, and entirely unrepentant about the damage that he causes to others, that it is impossible to like him, and made the first hundred pages or so an awkward, difficult read.

It is not the most terrible book in the world, and a couple of the characters such as Jay's Dad who seems to have had most of his flaws balanced out by his wife for most of his life, so becomes slightly inept without her there, are actually fantastically written.  However, hearing everything from Jay's horrible point of view, when you know that you disagree with everything he thinks anyway, ruins much of the good will that the other characterisation gives.

6/10

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Book 92 - Poison Study

Book - Poison Study
Author - Maria V Snyder
Year - 2005
Genre - Fantasy
Lent to me by Faye Braggins

This challenge has lead me to read so many different types of book - romance, sci-fi, comedy, science, western - you name it, I've probably either read it this year, or have it in my impressively large 'to be read' pile.  However, no matter what I read, I have a special soft spot for fantasy books, and will always find myself coming back to them time and time again - especially if I manage to find a good series to get my teeth into..

Knowing this, Faye lent me Poison Study last week.  I always know I am in for a good fantasy read when the first thing I see upon opening the book, is a good old fashioned map, and I wasn't let down.  The first of a trilogy, it tells of a nineteen year old girl called Yelana, who is plucked from the dungeons of the Commander's castle, and pardoned for the murder she committed should she agree to become their ruler's personal poison taster - a dangerous job, but at least she will live.  With a Duke intent on her death, invading wizards and a possible traitor thrown into the mix, things are tough for her, and it all melds together to make a classic fantasy story.

It's a relatively big book - between four and five hundred pages - and at this stage of the game, I was a little worried that it'd be a bad idea and take up too much of my precious reading time, but when you become as absorbed in a book as I became with this, it is easy to whip through something, and during a weekend where I had two rehearsals, a concert, and a good evening of drinking, I still managed to get through the whole book.

Any of you fans of the swords and magic type of fantasy, this series is worth grabbing hold of.  Fingers crossed I can get hold of the other two, as I am raring to get going on them now.

9/10

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Book 91 - 84 Charing Cross Road/The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street

Book - 84 Charing Cross Road/The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street
Author - Helene Hanff
Year - 1970/1973
Genre - Memoirs
Lent to me by Julia Bull

It is lovely when people recommend to you a book that they love, and I have especially enjoyed it when people want to do so after finding out about this challenge.  At a rehearsal the other week I was chatting to Julia about The Book Challenge, and she was hearing about it for the first time.  The next rehearsal she came up to me with this book saying that she wanted to lend me something for it so she searched her shelves for something she liked which wasn't absolutely massive (I am on deadline you know).  It felt very grateful that she had taken the time to find something for me, and having now read the book, am even more so.

84 Charing Cross Road sums up quite perfectly the definition of a charming book.  It is written in the form of letters between New York based Helene Hanff and the staff of Marks and Co. - an independent bookshop specialising in out of print books - over a period of about twenty years, beginning just after the Second World War, and continuing until the late sixties.  Without ever having met, a relationship grows between the American writer, and the occupants of the shop, who off the back of Hanff's generous purchases of food packages to their rationed times, grow to see her as a friend rather than a client - particularly her main correspondent Frank Doel.  With letters appearing from Frank's wife Nora, and friends of Hanff's who have visited London, you get a real sense of the characters of everyone, the esteem to which each of them holds one another, and the community feel they generate.

And the big payoff - all of the letters are genuine.  Hanff collected them together, and after gathering some consents, had them printed.  Without having read it, it is impossible to realise just how affecting these letters become.  At one point I genuinely cried a little (on a 96 from Bluewater no less) as you become truly entangled in their lives.

However, upon getting halfway through the book I was holding, the story came to an abrupt end.  It was then that I realised that this was not just one book, but a double edition of two Helene Hanff books in one.  I was devastated.  In a little over a hundred pages, I had become so attached to the lives of the people in the letters, that I didn't want to read something else that she had written, I wanted more of the same, with the same people and the same ideas.

So imagine my happiness when I started the second book to realise that it all started again where the last book had left off.  After the publication of 84 Charing Cross Road Hanff was invited to London for the first time ever to promote the book, and she keeps a diary chronicling the meetings she has with the friends she made at the bookshop, and fans of hers in the UK who she is always happy to meet.

The whole thing is such an uplifting happy book, and makes you feel good and warm that people have ever existed who think the way that some of the books characters do.  Hanff's writing style it witty and self deprecating, and truly lets you see through her eyes.  I cannot recommend this book enough, so if you haven't read it, then do yourself a massive favour and go and grab a copy now.

10/10

Book 90 - It Is Just You, Everything's Not Shit

Book - It Is Just You, Everything's Not Shit
Author - Steve Stack
Year - 2005
Genre - Toilet Book

Written as a counterpoint to the books that go under the name of Is It Just Me Or Is Everything Shit?, Steve Stack's books set out to show that actually the world is a much better place than that, and such cynicism is unnecessary.  Only a true grumpy sod could find fault with that.  Well, chalk me up as a grumpy sod then, because I wasn't impressed.

Some of the entries in the book are genuinely quite charming - such as Staying Up Late To Finish A Good Book or The Xylophone Playing Of Patrick Moore - but in the main the whole thing pretty much read as Here Is A List Of Things Steve Stack Likes With No Particular Regard As To Whether You Do Or Not.  As a result shows like Monkey make the list, as does Stack's favourite director, despite him not being someone that I have heard of at all.  Not that I am saying they are not good, but I would hardly call them bastions of what is great about the world.  He just about manages to stay shy of the cliche of The Cold Side Of A Pillow (if I remember correctly), but the whole thing is not fully explored.  Having an entry in your list book such as A Nice Cup Of Tea And A Sit Down, and following it with the illuminating description of 'there is nothing like a nice cup of tea and a sit down.  Heaven.' does not constitute great writing to me, and in an entry about great sandwiches, listing the recipe for how you make your own favourite sandwich - when really of all the foodstuffs the sandwich must be the most simple to make without the aid of a recipe - reeks of self indulgence.

I know I am being picky now, but some things do just annoy me.  The original books that spawned this one are called Is It Just Me Or Is Everything Shit?.  To twist this around, this book is titled It Is Just You, Everything's Not Shit.  However, this implies that everything in the world is not shit.  Crime is not shit.  War is not shit.  Michael Winner is not shit.  As you can see, this obviously doesn't work, and should read, It Is Just You, Not Everything's Shit.  See, told you I was a grumpy sod about this book.

To make it all worse, this website, 1000 Awesome Things which I have been following on and off for a fair while, manages to fulfill the aims of Stack's book in a fair more eloquent, funny and heartwarming way.  If you have a few minutes to spare then I suggest you bookmark it rather than read it, because once you start you will want to keep reading the whole thing, which will take up rather a large amount of your time.  Do take a look though, because it is a brilliant website.

In conclusion, not everything is shit about this book, but I wouldn't waster my time reading it.  Except that I did.  Damn.  Now I'm an even grumpier sod.

5/10

Book 89 - The Restaurant at the End of The Universe

Book - The Restaurant at the End of The Universe
Author - Douglas Adams
Year - 1980
Genre - Sci-Fi/Comedy

Having started the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series of books right at the beginning of this year's challenge, I have finally gotten round to following it up with the second in the 'trilogy of five books'.  And what a pleasure it was.

I have read a couple of books recently which have been a little bit of a slog to get through.  Not so bad per se, but not books I was overwhelmingly into, so it was nice to be reading a book that I could thoroughly enjoy and actively look forward to picking up.

Picking up right where the last book left off, we follow our main characters to the titular Milliways restaurant, and then onwards in Zaphod Beetlebrox's scheme that he doesn't fully understand to find the ruler of the Universe.  The whole plot to the series is remarkably silly - so much so that to try and explain pretty much any facet of the plot to someone who has not read any of the books, is pretty much a futile task - but at the same time covers all bases so that no matter how stupid the concept plans, within the confines of the book, it all is quite logical.

A weird comedy sci-fi series of books, I suppose that upon release, few would have thought that thirty years down the line they would be regarded as genuine classics, but I can't help but feel that Adams' books have managed to reach that level now.  And I couldn't agree more.

8/10

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Book 88 - The Old Man and the Sea

Book - The Old Man and the Sea
Author - Ernest Hemingway
Year - 1952
Genre - Classic

There are several authors who are quite rightly considered literary greats whose books I have never read.  Dickens, Austen, Hardy - I haven't read any of them, but now I can take Hemingway off of the list.

I have always thought of The Old Man and the Sea as being the most famous of his works, and so I thought it would be the best place to start.  It was the book that reignited his career, and is still studied by many, particularly in America where Hemingway is considered one of their finest writers.  It tells of an elderly Cuban fisherman who has gone eighty-four days without catching a fish, but is certain that the eighty-fifth day will be his lucky one.  And indeed it is, as he hooks the biggest fish of his life, but it then proceeds to drag him across the sea for several days and nights.

The story has plenty of wonderful themes running through it - that of the loneliness of the sea, and of old age, of the respect due to someone who has worked his whole life, and even towards the end of the book, of the difference evident when tourists visit - but it has been suggested that the whole book has a large Christian parallel running throughout.  That particular last one was not one that I massively picked up on however, as to me, it is a story about one man's dedication.  It is a lovely story, but certainly not the big classic I had expected it to be.  I would be more that happy however, on the back of this book, to read some more Hemingway, so I shall see what else I can tuck into.

7/10

Book 87 - Tamburlaine Must Die

Book - Tamburlaine Must Die
Author - Louise Welsh
Year - 2004
Genre - Historical Thriller

Based around the final days of the playwright Christopher Marlowe, Tamburlaine Must Die is part reconstruction of the supposed facts surrounding his death, and part thriller.  Someone is framing him as an atheist, and there are plenty of candidates.  With plots running through government, friends who may or may not be who they say they are, and double crossings aplenty, everything points in the right direction for this book.

Unfortunately something doesn't quite gel, and the excitement is missing from the book.  It is fine enough, and teaches you a little about the history of Marlowe - who as well as being a playwright is believed to have been a spy, and as is acknowledged in the post script, some conspiracy theorists believe his death to be a ruse to allow him to write under the pseudonym 'William Shakespeare' - but somehow a certain urgency is lacking from the writing that sees you not sure how to relate to the principal character.  The twists are cleverly conceived from the somewhat blurry information that we still have about Marlowe's death, but are pretty much easy t spot, and in some cases not wholly interesting.

Not a terrible book by any means, but Tamburlaine Must Die will probably not be one of the books I remember most come the end of the challenge.  Of a slightly more interesting note is that I picked it up in a charity shop for about a pound, signed by the author.  Which is nice.

6/10

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Book 86 - Have I Got News For You Guide to Modern Britain

Book - Have I Got News For You Guide to Modern Britain
Author - Nick Martin
Year - 2009
Genre - Humour

Can you belive that the show Have I Got News For You has now been running for forty series?  The fact that it still remains funny and relevent is a huge testament to everyone that works on it, and as a side effect of that success, it manages to churn out an incredible amount of associated mechendise - DVDs, books, and in the olden days, even videos.  This is one such associated act.

Understand that I have no problem with that, but aside from an Ian Hislop introduction and a Paul Merton conclusion, there was probably no need to connect this with HIGNFY.  It is in essence a humourous look at the history, politics, and culture of Britain, which is admittedly the subject matter of the TV show, but with no particular tie-ins to the format of the show itself at all.

This is not to say however, that it is not a good book.  Several times I found myself laughing out (my particular favourite line referring to John Prescott, and suggesting that 'language is not really his first language') and the chapters are spread evenly with funny sections so as to not give it a massively up and down thread of quality such as some other comedic books achieve.  It strikes me as a stocking filler - albeit a meaty one - but at £9.99 may be a tad too overpriced for what it is.

At the end of the day, it's funny, and if you like the kind of thing that they do on the show, then it is still probably a fair bet that you will like this too.

7/0

Book 85 - The Maltese Falcon

Book - The Maltese Falcon
Author - Dashiell Hammett
Year - 1930
Genre - Crime

Whilst it is quite genuinely just a strange coincidence that the past two books that I have read have featured the tail end of a bird on the front cover, in terms of content, I assure you that not only are both of them completely different, but neither contains even the smallest instance of birdwatching.

Made into a classic film starring Humphrey Bogart some eleven years after the publication of the book, The Maltese Falcon was a massive point in the field of the detective novel.  Following the private eye Sam Spade as he unravels the mystery of a missing solid gold falcon, the book is exciting and interesting the whole way through.  I found myself drawn in to the story, and owing possibly to the complete absence of seeing into even the lead characters mind, I found myself doubting who had done what throughout the story.

Whilst seen as a classic in its field, mainly for being such an early example of a cool and calculated detective, there is something about the way that the genre has moved since which lends an air of low brow literature to the book, and that is a little sad, as it is a cracking read and well worth grabbing should you get the chance.

8/10

Friday, 19 November 2010

Book 84 - Automated Alice

Book - Automated Alice
Author - Jeff Noon
Year - 1996
Genre - Steampunk Sci-Fi

The reason that I picked up this book is the blurb which is a wonderfully interesting concept.  It introduces the idea that Lewis Carroll wrote a third book about his famed creation, Alice, called Automated Alice.  It then implies that this is not true, and that the book was actually written by Zenith O'Clock.  Then it finally admits, that Zenith is actually a creation of Jeff Noon himself.  I was massively intrigued by the idea of a book within a book within a book with a real life tie in, and decided to give it a go.

Unfortunately, despite this being the most interesting thing about the book, not nearly enough time is spent exploring it.  The occasional aside from Carroll as though he is writing it is mentioned, and once or twice the characters speak as though they are aware that they are in a book, but this occurs only five or six times in a 250 page book, and rarely if ever followed up.  The idea is sound, but administered in such a lacklustre fashion, that it is barely worth it.

Aside from that, the story reads much like a contemporary Alice tale would do - the word play for which Carroll is often famous is used continually, and in my mind over relied on, and there is a fairy tale feel to the whole book.  It reads almost like a children's book, but with the occasional massively dark moment - the scene where Alice meets an elderly version of Carroll who lives up to his possibly completely fabricated image of having a slightly less than appropriate relationship with the real Alice, leaves a vibrantly disturbing streak upon the book - and an unfortunate amount of things happening for no reason other than to further the plot.

I was expecting some good things from this book, but was massively disappointed.  What could have been a very clever intelligent read that would leave you thinking back on it for years, instead ends up as trashy, and quite forgettable.

5/10

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Book 83 - Why Does E=mc2? (and Why Should We Care)

Book - Why Does E=mc2? (and Why Should We Care)
Authors - Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw
Year - 2009
Genre - Physics
Bought for me by Mark Holdaway

By this stage in the challenge, getting through a book in under a week and a half should not exactly be quantum physics.  However, this quite literally was quantum physics.

Why Does E=mc2? written by professor of physics at Manchester University Jeff Forshaw, and former D:Ream pianist (and admittedly, a physics genius as well) Brian Cox, sets out to explain in an easy to understand way, and without using too much mathematics, everything there is to know about Einstein's famous equation, and what it means to our perception of physics over the past century.  It halfway achieves it.

Einstein's theories of relativity are very complicated, and involve you thinking in four dimensions, imagining movement of invisible particles that have a mass of literally nothing, and generally abandoning everything you may have learnt in GCSE science in order to understand.  Yet somehow, these writers managed to get me to that point.  After fifty pages of almost baffling science-speak, I somehow knew enough of the principals behind relativity to understand that they were not making it up when they wrote that someone on a bus ages slower than someone sat on the side of the road watching the bus go by.  This is genuinely true, and blew my mind to the extent that whilst walking down a road by myself at around midnight, I stopped and said out loud 'No way!' whilst looking around to see if anyone else was affected by understanding this ridiculous fact.  What made me even more pleased than finding out about this new perception of the world, was the fact that I understood not just the fact itself, but also why that was the case, and that is down to the excellent writing of the book.

As the book progressed, I realised that I was understanding more and more, with Einstein's second theory, that of general relativity, also osmosing into my brain.  I cannot stress enough how much I have taken out of this book, and in that token, it is a truly brilliant read, no matter how long it took me struggling over my third or fourth reread of a sentence until I finally half understood what it meant.

It is not without its faults though.  Despite continually stressing that they are trying to avoid as much maths as possible, through the nature of the beast there is still a lot, and whilst they do an amazing job of explaining it, I think that a lot of readers - especially those with zero maths or physics knowledge behind them - would struggle with these chapters.  They say that you can skip over the maths part if needs be, but I think that the amount you would take from the book would be massively reduced should you do so.

The second fault is that towards the end they devote a lot of time to the Standard Model.  This is pretty much a quantum physics equation which explains everything in the world ever (except gravity - a small point of annoyance to all physicists).  As you would expect, it is therefore pretty tricky, and despite dedicating a lot of time to it, I feel they barely scratched the surface, and I don't really understand as much about it as I would like to.  I realise that it ties in with E=mc2, but I think that it may have fit better either being covered in full length, possibly in another book, or just taken out with an aside that it exists and people may look further if they wish to know more.

In summary, this is essential reading if you really want to know something about the universe and how it works.  However, if you are not particularly interested, then I wouldn't even bother starting as it will be a hard slog to understand what it took several genius minds to discover.

9/10

Monday, 15 November 2010

Book 82 - Double Indemnity

Book - Double Indemnity
Author - James M Cain
Year - 1943
Genre - Crime

There has been a little over a week since my last book review, and this is quite simply because I am reading a book on theoretical physics which is quite frankly not particularly easy reading.  I shall have it finished soon, and of course there will be more said about it then, but rest assured it is a very well written book.  It does however have one major drawback, and that is that it doesn't fit easily into my jeans pocket.

And thus why in the middle of reading this book, I happened to read Double Indemnity.  Late to leave for the pub on Saturday night, I needed a book to keep me company on the journey, and I quite literally picked up the first book from my to be read pile which would fit in my pocket and, well, pocketed it.  It was only once I was on board a bus and settled down to read it, that I discovered it was by the massively disappointing author James M Cain.  Oh well, I thought, no two books are the same no matter who the author is.  It appears I was wrong.

For anyone who doesn't know the rough plot of the last Cain book I read, The Postman Always Rings Twice follows a man who falls in love with a woman he meets by chance and colludes with her to murder her husband, before everything comes crashing down around him.  Double Indemnity however, follows a man who falls in love with a woman he meets by chance and colludes with her to murder her husband, before everything comes crashing down around him.

If I'm completely honest, this book is probably slightly better than his previous effort, but I couldn't believe the whole way through just how similar the two books were.  When you include the fact that Cain's lead characters tend to be a little unlikable, and the plots a certain kind of edge-of-seat awkward, it didn't make for incredibly enjoyable reading.

If you are a big fan of pulpy, film-noir type books then give this a whirl.  If you don't like reading the same thing twice, then don't start reading Cain's back catalogue.  I think this will be the last of his I read.  Unless I just can't fit that hardback book in my new jeans...

6/10

Monday, 8 November 2010

Why Does It Always Rain On Me

As I come onto the home straight, there a couple of things that are getting in the way of me optimising my reading time, and the biggest of them is the weather.

If I was to be forced into starting a superhero league tomorrow - admitted, a fairly unlikely situation, but stranger things have happened.  Maybe - then my superpower would be 'Reading Whilst Walking Down The Street'.  Well, that or balancing things, which turns out to be an even more useless skill than walk-reading.  It has been a superpower which has helped me no end throughout this challenge, as my walk into work in the morning is twenty minutes, and my walk home is half hour - on account that I don't get fired if I arrive late home - giving me an hour of guaranteed reading every single day.  There is nothing else to do on route, so it has enabled me to power through some of the more boring books, or really get into a far more absorbing one.  In short, despite using plenty of my spare time to read, I really rely on these five hours a week to get me through the challenge.

However, one of the downfalls of books is their incompatibility with water.  You get a book wet, it won't thank you for it, and nine times out of ten make itself completely unreadable.  And now Autumn is upon us, the sky has taken it upon itself to chuck tonnes of the stuff at me on the way to and from work.  Even aside from the fact that it took till lunchtime for my jeans to dry properly, this causes a massive dent in my reading time.  I completely unreasonably spent my walks today internally grumbling at Mother Nature for inconveniencing my challenge for the year, just in order to avoid stupid little things like drought.  How rude.

Luckily, I have a backup plan.  I happen to be the owner of one of the campest umbrellas you will ever see a six and a half foot man carry.  It is bell shaped to keep the rain off, and completely clear to allow the light to fall onto my book - even now that the nights are falling earlier and earlier.  I shall not be defeated!

To paraphrase the theme tune to Round The Twist, "Rain rain go away, come again once I have finished reading one hundred books this year, or we are having environmental problems due to the lack of rain causing lots of plants to die resulting in a lack of fresh oxygen for us to breathe, which will in turn, cause an even larger hindrance to my challenge."  Or something like that.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Book 81 - The World According to the Man in the Pub 2

Book - The World According to the Man in the Pub 2
Author - Robert Anwood
Year - 2007
Genre - Facts

As this was a Marks and Spencer rerelease of a previous Robert Anwood book, it was an absolute nightmare to find a cover pic for this book - hence the very dark shot that I finally located being used here.  Despite the concept of a book marketed and published not by a reputable publishing house, but instead a supermarket, being one that doesn't necessarily fill you with confidence, this was a pretty good book.

Full of exactly the kind of things I enjoy to read about - is chewing gum illegal in Singapore (yes), are there wasps in Thailand (yes), did Ernie Wise make the first mobile phone call in the UK (yes) - Robert Anwood manages to mix the interesting truth behind some of the strange 'facts' peddled out by people in pubs who like to peddle out strange facts in pubs - yes, like myself - with plenty of humour.  Whilst reading, you are learning stuff, yet it remains lightheartedly fun throughout.

The only gripe I have is with the particular entry about the designer of the Sydney Opera House never having seen the finished product.  Apparently after difficulties whilst it was being built, he had an argument with the Australian government and vowed to leave Australia never to return, hence never seeing the building.  This I can believe, and a cursory internet search reveals that this argument did indeed take place.  However, Anwood then goes on to claim that an Australian department was set up to send him faked photos of the building on a regular basis, lest he should notice the changes to the design that were later made, and decide to sue them.  He claims that once the internet age hit us, thousands of dollars of Australian money has been spent on this.  This, I can find nothing of, and to me seems quite frankly ludicrous, and a little like the kind of thing that someone who likes to peddle out strange facts in pubs may like to peddle out.  Unfortunately, with no back up other than his own book.

8/10

Robert Anwood also runs this website which chronicals the use of the superfluous key change in pop music.  Worth a little look, even if it has been a while since it was last updated.

Book 80 - The Grifters

Book - The Grifters
Author - Jim Thompson
Year - 1963
Genre - Pulp Fiction/Crime

As the New Year deadline rapidly approaches, I am really having to put in the hours, and have managed to whip through this latest book, Jim Thompson's The Grifters.  Knowing that it was, in part, an inspiration behind Hustle - one of the best programmes on the television - it was something that I was quite looking forward to.  A tale of con artists and the interesting ways in which they ply their trade seemed like a cracking read.

Unfortunately, this book is light on the cons and heavy on an Oedipal relationship between the protagonist and his mother, and some seemingly random character developments.  Despite being a con artist as a profession, our lead - Roy Dillon - is plagued with guilt over treating someone badly.  Relationships seem to change on a dime, and at some points you lose track of how certain people feel about others.

There are also times whereby sections of the plot seem to make no sense.  I defy anyone who has no knowledge of not just horse racing, but bet rigging in horse racing, to understand that section of the book.  All I was aware of was the incidence of this occurring, but three pages of useless descriptions did little to interest me.

The plot does remain interesting enough in itself, and the occasional twist in it is great, however, if you are expecting something of the exquisite touch that TV's Hustle employs, then it will become a bit of a disappointment.

6/10

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Book 79 - The Slightly True Story of Cedar B. Hartley (Who Planned to Live an Unusual Life)

Book - The Slightly True Story of Cedar B. Hartley (Who Planned to Live an Unusual Life)
Author - Martine Murray
Year - 2002
Genre - Young Adult

The first thing worth mentioning, is that this book is currently leading the longest title of the year award by a considerable length.  Should I have cause to write it again here, I think I shall abbreviate to Cedar.

Picked up in a charity shop three-for-two deal on account of it having a bright and vibrant cover, I wasn't expecting an awful lot of this book, but it just happened to be on the top of my 'to be read' pile (or more accurately, one of my 'to be read' piles) as I was dashing out the door for work one morning, having finished my last book late the night before.

After a few pages, I began to feel that this was just a bunch of childish fluff - the basic premise is of a twelve year old girl who is a bit of an outcast, so she daydreams a lot and hopes to become an acrobat.  But the trick of this challenge is to persevere, and this was a lovely case of that ethos paying off.

Cedar is a perfectly charming read, and the vast majority of that is down to the style of the writing.  At twelve, our narrator Cedar is not a little kid, but not quite a young woman, and is instead somewhere in between, and her language backs this up beautifully.  It is a mixture of childlike whimsy and attempts to sound grown up, resulting in her announcing to us that her mother is forty but looks younger 'because she has a small nose' or that her friends dog is about 'twice the size of a slipper'.  Nothing she says is quite the way that we - as refined, educated people - would put things, but nonetheless, it usually makes perfect sense, and is several hundred times more interesting.

So talking of all this magical language means that you may think me a little silly when I say that I could draw some very direct parallels between this and The Catcher in the RyeBoth are stories of people who have gone through some disturbances in their lives, and both - in slightly different ways - are massively affected by losing brothers.  Both try to brush aside their sadness and think of running away to sort it all out.  This is before even mentioning the stream of consciousness style of writing that both books employ to such good effect.  Maybe I am reading to much into things, but in one section where Murray discusses the term 'chewing the fat' - a phrase used in The Catcher in the Rye - I could almost feel that there was a certain homage to the book, however different they may be.

It's always nice to find a pleasant little surprise such as this one, and is certainly worth a look should you need a third in a three-for-two deal at your local charity shop.

8/10

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Book 78 - The Catcher in the Rye

Book - The Catcher in the Rye
Author - JD Salinger
Year - 1951
Genre - Classic
Recommended to me by Emma Head and Alex Campbell

The only thing I really knew about The Catcher in the Rye is that it was famously often found to be a major part of the lives of many murderers.  The man who attempted to kill Ronald Reagan was a big fan, and Mark Chapman - the killer of John Lennon - had a copy of the book on him when he committed the murder.  I also knew that it is a highly controversial book that has had more than its fair share of bans, particularly in ban-happy America.  With that in mind, I was expecting to find a very dark and disturbing book.  In reality however, it is nothing of the kind.

The book is written from the point of view of Holden Caulfield who has just been thrown out of his school for failing all of his subjects except for English.  He decides to return to New York before his parents find out, but instead of going home, he spends three days living in the city, drinking, smoking and meeting new people.

From that, I am sure you can deduce that the book is still not all sweetness and light.  Holden spends a lot of time talking about how he feels, and he gets very annoyed about a lot of things that would not bother most people, but he is overall a pretty polite and pleasant person.  This means that whilst we see his inner thoughts and realise his not so happy outlook, for all intents and purposes he, is often seen as pretty happy go lucky.  This is where the book truly comes into its own, and probably the reason that it is still so popular today.  Despite being nearly sixty years old, the book perfectly encapsulates the 'angst' that teenagers still feel today.  Holden has identity issues and seems on the edge of a breakdown for the entirety of the book, but all in a way that seems instantly recognisable to readers.  So many times, the book gives you 'I feel like that sometimes' moments, and the idea of people relating to the book seems very easy.

One thing that I particularly like about the writing of the book is an incredibly simple idea that I can't believe I have never seen anywhere else - particularly in plays.  The idea of italicising a word to give it emphasis is common in literature, but in The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger sometimes uses it to emphasise just a syllable; for instance "They can't just ignore it".  By telling the reader where the stress is in the sentence, the meaning of the sentence is nowhere near as open to interpretation, and it manages to work without ever breaking the flow of the reading.  You barely even notice it after a while, but the emphasis remains.  This would be such a useful thing to do in a play - I have seen so many performers struggle over a particular line simply because by moving the stress, the meaning has changed - and when I finally get around to writing my magnum opus of a play, I shall try and incorporate this technique.

I genuinely feel that I could keep writing about this book for hours, and this is probably why it is so popular as an English Literature text.  I only wish that I had found it earlier; despite being written for adults, it is certainly a book which I feel would be best appreciated by readers in their mid teens.  It is just a shame that it is the only full novel that JD Salinger ever wrote.  It might not be the highest mark that I have awarded a book this year, but it is possibly the book that I would most recommend everybody to read.  A true classic that I think will live on for a great many more years.

9/10

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Book 77 - The Postman Always Rings Twice

Book - The Postman Always Rings Twice
Author - James M Cain
Year - 1934
Genre - Crime (again, thanks Wikipedia, but I'm not sure I agree with that)

Another from the pack of books that were adapted to films that I recently bought, The Postman Always Rings Twice tells the story of Frank Chambers, a wanderer in the south of the United States who falls in love with a married woman, and their plans to be together.

The story is fine, if somewhat predictable, but doesn't drag at any point, with a fast paced narrative and plenty enough happening to keep your interest, but in my eyes, is never truly anything special or groundbreaking - even allowing for the fact that it is now seventy six years old.  The most unusual thing about it is how Cain writes his dialogue.  You will sometimes go a whole page and a half of short lines of dialogue, and not once be told who is saying what.  Sometimes this is no problem and easy to follow, and indeed in doing this it keeps up the excellent pace of the book.  However sometimes it just becomes confusing, and working out who is speaking becomes a mathematical task of relating all of the other lines back to one stand out line which can be attributed to one direction.

It would be harsh of me to particularly criticise this book, but I find relatively little to recommend in it.  If you are a massive fan of early twentieth century American literature, then knock yourself out, otherwise, I wouldn't worry too much should you not get around to reading it.

6/10

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Book 76 - Gallows Thief

Book - Gallows Thief
Author - Bernard Cornwall
Year - 2001
Genre - Historical Proto-Detective (thank you Wikipedia)
Lent to me by Jackie Campbell

Bernard Cornwall is probably most famous for his Sharpe series of books, the first of which I read as part of last year's challenge.  I found that book to be incredibly well written, but as my knowledge of the Napoleonic wars is not immense, I am pretty sure that I missed a certain something of the appeal.

Gallows Thief is set in the early 1800s - a similar time to the aforementioned Sharpe novels - and tells the story of Captain Rider Sandman, a former soldier fallen on hard times who is appointed to investigate the possible innocence of Charles Cordey, a painter accused of murder.  Sandman's continued honour and determination lead him on a huge and dangerous mission to uncover all of the truths of the case before the condemned can be executed.

This kind of historical piece is rarely the kind of thing that I look forward to reading, but Gallows Thief is an incredibly engaging story, and with such wonderfully defined characters that I had no trouble whatsoever in getting fully involved in the book.  There is enough intrigue - although I managed to work out how it would pan out; not something I often manage with mystery or crime books - to keep you on the edge of your seat, and at several points I found myself reading over the pages so quickly to find out what was going to happen that I realised I was going to have to go back and read it again - always the sign of an exciting book.

Cornwall is a pretty prolific writer, and one who is often referenced by other authors - particularly in the fantasy genre, despite it not being an area he delves into himself - as an inspiration to their work.  Having finished this book, I feel that maybe I have been missing out a little in not reading more of his work.  All you charity shops had better start stocking up for me.

8/10

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Book 75 - Elling

Book - Elling
Author - Simon Bent
Year - 2007
Genre - Play
Lent to me by James Sheppard

As I slightly tardily roll in to the three quarter mark of my challenge, it is another play that I have set my sights upon.  I start rehearsals tonight for Of Mice And Men in which I have been cast as Lennie, and so a play lent to me by James, a theatre designer playing my opposite number of George, seemed quite appropriate.

Based upon an Oscar nominated film, which in turn was based upon a novel, Elling tells the story of two Norweigan men who are set up in a house of their own in Oslo having just left an asylum.  The play follows their attempts to readjust to normal society and meet new people.  After a start where I was fully expecting some GCSE like shenannigans involving one character being 'the inner subconcious voice of the other' or somesuch nonsense, it actually evolved into a clever little play with some very nice interactions, and left its quota of theatrical cliches at a couple of split scene flashbacks which look to fit very well indeed.

The massive problem with Elling however, is that it is very much a play to be watched and not to be read.  The rapidfire dialogue and merging of places in the text makes reading it very confusing, and a not always entirely pleasent experience.  However in looking beyond that, it strikes me as a play that would work beautifully on stage - indeed a Broadway version starring Brendon Frazer is currently rumoured - and all in all, rather worthwhile reading.

6/10

For James' website click here.
For Daods website - featuring Of Mice and Men in February - click here (the plugs begin!)

Monday, 25 October 2010

Book 74 - Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell

Book - Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell
Author - Aldous Huxley
Years - 1954 and 1956
Genre - Essay
Lent to me by Faye Braggins

One of my favourite books of the year so far was the classic by Huxley Brave New WorldHaving been lent another Huxley book - or more correctly books as it encompasses both Doors of Perception and the effective follow up Heaven and Hell - by Faye a long time back (sorry Faye, I will return them, I promise) I thought it would be a great book to follow up with.

Unfortunately however, instead of the clever writing and wonderfuly imagined writing of Brave New World, neither of these books could hold my interest at all.  The basic premise is that Aldous Huxley takes mescaline - a haluciogenic drug - and sees the world through a different light.  He then spends a long time extolling the virtues of the drug.  He says that he sees the world entirely differently, and in the way that it should be seen.  Along the way he makes up such pretentionly awful terms as 'the Non-self' and 'is-ness' to describe how he felt.  He suggests that the only way to truly see the world is to open up our minds enough to let everything in.

The whole thing reeks of the kind of blonde dreadlocked surfer bum with a 'wacky' cannabis leaf print on his unwashed tshirt, flyering you outside of Camden tube station, yet written in the high falutian words of one of the most well respected writers of his generation.  Maybe there is a lot of merit to these books that I just can't understand due to not taking drugs and so having no point of reference, but as Huxley says that under the influence he lost interest in everything other than looking at a particular object for hours on end, I have no greater desire to find out.

What probably sums everything up is that off the back of the experience he has in the first book, he moves on to harder drugs in the second.  A moral lesson for everyone to learn from, that no matter what station you have in life, drug taking can be a slippery slope.

3/10

Book 73 - The Bumper Book of Fads and Crazes

Book - The Bumper Book of Fads and Crazes
Author -  Richard Lewis
Year - 2005
Genre - Toilet Book

As a general rule of thumb, I would suggest that any book title beginning with The Bumper Book of... is hardly the kind of thing that you will be writing about in a GCSE English class.  However, that is not to say that there can't be merit to the book itself.

Through this book, Richard Lewis brings us a list of hundreds of different crazes that at some point or another have swept Britain.  Ones that stood out particularly from my youth are those of Tamagotchis, Yo Yos and in particular Pogs.  The idea behind each of these things is that they capture the imagination of the nation for a particular period of time, and then pretty much disappear from the radar into a more cult demographic.  I remember this happening so well with Pogs - 1995 they were everywhere, and everyone in school spent all lunchtime playing with them.  Then by the end of the year, you couldn't buy them in a shop even if you had wanted to.

The Bumper Book of Fads and Crazes does not just deal with children's toys however, and includes entries such as The Executive Toy, Team Building Weekends and it's favourite failed fad, the Sinclair C5.  All in all, it is an incredibly entertaining trip down memory lane, and in the cases where the fads are too old for you to remember - apparently the Hula Hoop dominated the world for all of 1954 before becoming the cheap plastic throwaway toy I remember - then it is nice to learn a little more information.  All presented nicely with the occasional personal story thrown in and some silly lists, as well as plenty of factual and historical information about the history of the toy industry, this is a more than worthwhile book.

8/10

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Book 72 - My Story

Book - My Story
Author - Dannii Minogue
Year - 2010
Genre - Autobiography

This challenge has enabled me to take on some titans of literature over the past couple of years.  Rushdie, Haggard, King, and now Minogue.  Okay, so I jest (King's supernatural fantasy will never make him a titan of literature) but it has been a tough couple of weeks, and the book i had been reading on the history of language seemed a little hard going for my spare time, so I went out and bought the autobiography of Dannii Minogue.

Yes, that's right.  It has only been out a couple of weeks, so instead of buying it from a charity shop, or borrowing it from somebody, I actually walked into WHSmith, and bought the hardback copy (making it a first edition of course - I can almost see the dollar signs dancing in front of my eyes).  And I make no bones about it, because I really enjoyed it.

I love Dannii Minogue.  There is probably little reason for this, other than a childhood infatuation with her big sister Kylie, and of course my huge love of the X-Factor, but when you like a celeb, then I don't suppose you always need a massive reason (on the opposite side of the coin, there are sometimes celebs that you just hate for no good reason - Carol Vorderman, Michael MacIntyre and Michael Winner all spring to mind for me).  Part of the point of celebrity culture is that it is all so disposable, and as such this book is hardly challenging, but does give you an insight into Dannii's life.

Starting out her career at just seven, Dannii has been through TV shows, singles, celebrity boyfriends, marriage, divorce, several different continents and now a baby.  Nothing is massively dwelt on here, but everything is covered, and it gives you a little snapshot of someone who has had a famous life, but is, at the end of the day, just a person from Australia who made it lucky.

So no, it isn't Pride and Prejudice, but I really enjoyed the lightweight reading of this book.  I would have certainly liked a lot more X Factor stuff in there of course, but can't complain to much, and I am completely unashamed to have read this book - although I might have taken the dust cover off of it lest I should be seen in public with it.

8/10

Book 71 - The Red Pyramid

Book - The Red Pyramid
Author - Rick Riordan
Year - 2010
Genre - Fantasy

Rick Riordan is not a writer I had read before this year, and now I am writing up my sixth book of his, taken from the second of his series, on the day that the first book of his latest series is released (read it again, it does make sense - just).

Where do you go having just finished a very successful series based around the concept of the gods of the Ancient Greeks still being alive and flourishing?  Obviously, decide that in the very same universe Ancient Egyptian gods are also alive and flourishing and base your next series there. 

Told through the device of a transcripted audio recording, the action is able to switch between the two principal characters, Carter and Sadie, as they discover the secrets of the Egyptian world that is still all around them.  This is an interesting way to introduce the relationship between this brother and sister pair, and works incredibly well to showcase their love/hate dynamic, which fundamentally forms the basis of the book.

But of course the true focus, much like Riordan's Percy Jackson series, is the connecting of our current world with that of the Ancient Egyptians.  Gods you will have probably heard of like Horus, Isis and... some others, are there alongside gods slightly lesser known such as the hugely featured Bast - God of Cats.

It is incredible fun, and in trademark style, Riordan manages to fit in an incredible amount of action over the course of the five hundred odd pages, so that you feel you have read a whole series in one go.

It is pure coincidence that today also happens to be the release date of the first book of the follow up series to Percy Jackson - The Lost Hero.  I shall be grabbing that as soon as I can I think.  At a current release rate of between one and two a year, Riordan is pretty prolific - and in a very good way - so there should be some more of this excellent series to read pretty soon.

9/10

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Book 70 - Summer Knight

Book - Summer Knight
Author - Jim Butcher
Year - 2002
Genre - Fantasy Detective
Lent to me by Robert Hyde

One of the best things about reading a series of books - and especially a fantasy series - is that it builds up its own little world.  You will see characters return, or change as the series goes on, new things happen to them that make plots change, and just when they are needed, and old friend with a particular skill or piece of knowledge can turn up at a call.

This is what The Dresden Files is now starting to offer as I finish the fourth book in the series.  We have seen some characters change, some disappear, others return, and slowly we are piecing together information about important people from the past of our lead, Harry Dresden.

This book has Harry involving himself in a war between the faerie kingdoms of Summer and Winter (yes, I know, but it is a fantasy book and I like them, so there).  Old characters crop up all over the place, and as is seemingly characteristic in Butcher's book, the excitement level is held high.

And this is but the fourth in a series that currently runs at eleven novels, with the author managing to religiously turn a new one out every spring since he started (George RR Martin, take note).  I am looking forward to getting more and more involved in the series, and already - despite the number of books up ahead for me to read - am looking forward to the next release.

8/10

PS - Finding the cover for this on Google was a tricky process.  It would seem that Summer Knight is also the name of an adult film star...

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Book 69 - Hombre

Book - Hombre
Author - Elmore Leonard
Year - 1961
Genre - Western

With the slight exception of the fantasy tinted Gunslinger earlier this year, Hombre is - I believe - the first Western novel that I have ever read.  Generally considered to be a true classic example of its genre (at least by Wikipedia), it tells the story of a cool handed man by the name of John Russell who has spent a lot of time with the Apache Indians.  Along with the narrator of the story, and several others, he is off on a stagecoach journey when things take a turn for the worse.

It is an enjoyable book, but for me at least, nothing more than that.  I enjoyed it enough to be able to whip through it in a little over twenty-four hours, and would have no objections to reading a similar book, but it didn't do enough for me to make me run out and grab a hold of as many similar books as possible.

So in conclusion, not a whole lot to say about this one.  A good book, which I would certainly not dissuade anyone from reading, but for me personally, one of the most middle of the road books of the year.

7/10

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Book 68 - No Country For Old Men

Book - No Country For Old Men
Author - Cormac McCarthy
Year - 2005
Genre - Fiction

Cormac McCarthy is generally considered to be one of the greatest American writers of our time.  With books such as this and The Road he is held with high regard across the Atlantic, and - possibly off of the back of the Oscar winning film adaptation of this book - is becoming increasingly well read over here as well.

No Country For Old Men is very American.  It tells the story of a Vietnam war veteran who finds a caseload of drug money and sets off on the run.  Add into the mix a grizzled sheriff, a bunch of Mexican drug runners, a psychopathic Native American (at least in my eyes, although I can't remember a passage describing his ethnicity) and a teenaged wife, and we have all of the stereotypes of Texan America.

The book is tough to get into.  McCarthy writes with no speech marks, and usually without apostrophes - although he does use them sometimes, possibly just to prove to us that he actually doesn't know the apostrophe rules - and this is a little disconcerting to start with.  However, once you do get used to it, it doesn't always help you to follow what's going on particularly well.

Things happen when you don't expect them to, trying to keep up with who is who - particularly during conversations - is difficult, and investing emotionally in many of the characters is tough.  It also committed one of my cardinal sins of not describing one of the leads till around page 250, when I already had a different picture in my mind.  It is a good job that the story itself is pretty exciting, because otherwise I don't know how well my interest would have lasted.

Bob reviewed this book pretty early on in his challenge and he seemed to enjoy it quite a bit (he is a much harder marker than me - in fact I think this is the first time we have read the same book and he has given it a higher mark), but for me, I couldn't quite see what the hype was.  I am glad I read something of his, but I am not positive I would be rushing out to grab another.

6/10