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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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...