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.

Saturday, 31 December 2011

Book 60 - Mother Courage and Her Children

Book - Mother Courage and Her Children
Author - Bertolt Brecht
Year - 1939
Genre - Play
Pages - 93

Finishing 2011 on a nice round number is my book number sixty - the play Mother Courage and Her Children by Bertolt Brecht.  Brecht is one of the biggest names in theatre, and anyone who has studied drama will be very aware of him and what he bought to the table in terms of advancing the form, but if I am completely honest, I have never read nor seen any of his plays.  Picking this up in a little bookshop in Suffolk, I thought it may be a chance to change that.

Mother Courage is an anti war play.  It follows the life of the eponymous character, a lady who makes her profit from the war.  However, it causes a series of massive personal losses to her, and all combines to portray a rather bleak idea of war.  This is of course, exactly what Brecht was aiming for in this piece, and no doubt when performed can be very effective.  I found that as a play to read however, a lot was lost.  I spent too much time at the beginning trying to remember who was who, and an unfair amount of time being confused that one of the characters is called Swiss Cheese - not really too hard to get your head around when his name is written alongside his lines all along, but something I struggled with nonetheless.

There is a big bit of me that realises that I am wrong here.  This play is widely regarded as one of the best and most important of the past one hundred years.  But this is my blog, and if I want to not enjoy a piece of classic theatre writing, then I will.


Thursday, 29 December 2011

Book 59 - Around the World in Eighty Days

Book - Around the World in Eighty Days
Author - Jules Verne
Year - 1873
Genre - Classic Adventure
Pages - 161

When people heard that I was reading the Jules Verne classic Around the World in Eighty Days I tended to hear repeated to me a little fact about the book - one which if I am honest, I didn't know at all at the time - which I suppose constitutes a little spoiler.  There is no instance throughout the book in which our protagonist, Mr Phileas Fogg, actually uses a hot air balloon.  The balloon depicted on the cover is the main conveyance in Verne's earlier book - which is also included in the volume I read - Five Weeks in a Balloon.  It is tidbits like this that make me realise that I need to read more classic books.

The story behind the book is pretty well known, at least in concept.  On a wager, the enigmatic Fogg attempts to travel around the world in only eighty days.  This book follows his attempts to do so.

The question of whether I enjoyed reading it or not is a much trickier one.  For the first fifty pages or so, I was loving it.  There are certain books of the era that this was written - King Solomon's Mines being the other that springs to mind - which have an exciting pace that is very similar to a lot of books that are written today.  This has that feel to it.  However, for whatever reason, I became really really bored with the book.  I don't know why, and would love to pinpoint it to some literary reason, but unfortunately can't.  I just got a bit bored.  This could be the book's fault, or it could be mine, but however it goes, it is not a great sign.  I actually left it for about a month and a half, but came back in the end, and whilst I am glad I did, because it isn't actually a bad book, I can't shake the fact that my interest dwindled so much at one point.

As a sub note, it is something that I really dislike in books of this era, that each chapter starts with a line which tells you what is going to happen in the chapter.  I really don't understand why they do it, as whilst it isn't the most spoilerish thing in the world, it certainly doesn't help at all.  I end up trying my very best to skip my eyes over the start of each chapter, and that is a silly way to read a book.  So this is my shout out to any nineteenth century authors currently reading this - stop it with the chapter summaries.  They are rubbish.


Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Book 58 - Julian: A Christmas Story

Book - Julian: A Christmas Story
Author - Robert Charles Wilson
Year - 2006
Genre - Science Fiction
Pages - 86

I like to read a good Christmas book around this time of the year, and so when browsing the shelves of one of our local charity shops, I spotted this book, I thought it may be a pretty sensible thing to grab and take a read of.  There's nothing like a nice Christmas book to get you in the Christmas spirit.

However, I soon realised that the title of this book was pretty misleading.  Set several hundred years into the future on an Earth that has come to it's knees due to an over reliance on natural fuels, and is now effectively run by the Church.  This is a novella that introduces us to the early years of a family member of the ruler of America - someone in what is pretty much a dictator's role.  The name derives from the fact that everything takes place during Christmas time, but there is not a lot of Chrissmassy moments to take away.

Not that this makes it a bad book - just a little bit disappointing for getting my hopes up and then dashing them so cruelly.  In fact, as a novella it does a lot to whet the appetite for a proper follow up - something that Wilson followed through with, and which I intend to get my hands on at some point in the near future.  A nice read, with some great ideas that deserve expanding upon.


Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Book 57 - Mauve

Book - Mauve
Author - Simon Garfield
Year - 2000
Genre - Science/Biography
Pages - 204

This is a book which tells of the life of Sir William Perkins - the man who invented mauve.  That is all I knew when I received the book to read.  I had recently read another book by Simon Garfield and decided that I quite fancied reading some more by him, so I did a bit of a search on what else he had written.  I had already read about the British wrestling scene, and could now add Radio 1 DJs, cocaine use in Thatcherite Britain, the construction of a Mini, stamp collecting, font types, and the discovery of mauve.  Quite the eclectic mix, but massively intriguing, so I jumped on to the ever brilliant Read It Swap It (which I promise I will one day get to writing about) and got myself a copy of this book - Mauve.

Now first things first, don't get the impression that because it took me three weeks to read this - an eternity by my standards, particularly for a book that clocks in at just over two hundred words - that this is a tough to read, really sciency book.  It is far from it.  I have just been incredibly busy for a while, and haven't squeezed in as much reading as I would usually like.  In fact, this is a wonderfully easy to read book when you consider its content - something that now, by paragraph three, I should probably tell you about.

In 1856, William Henry Perkins was working with coal tar byproducts trying to invent a synthetic quinine - the drug used to treat malaria.  He figured that with a synthetic cure, he could make the world a much better place.  However, by accident, he created a substance which dyed his coat purple.  He did some tests and discovered that he had successfully found a dye that would hold fast and in a vibrant colour that it had not been possible to dye before.  From there he decided to market it, and despite becoming a little bit of an academic pariah, he was very successful.  It is from his discovery, that much of today's chemistry comes, and quite poetically, his work has resulted in some of the most important medical advances in the world.

The joy of Garfield's writing, is that even if you have no prior knowledge of a field - and unsurprisingly in this case, I had none whatsoever - he manages to draw you in.  I can think of few subjects that on the outside appear more boring than the invention of the colour mauve, but he somehow makes it all seem interesting, without appearing to be a throwaway book with no actual information.  I am now very much looking forward to getting my hands on some of the other strange books that he has written.


Find Simon Garfield's website here

Monday, 28 November 2011

Book 56 - Sexual Perversity In Chicago

Book - Sexual Perversity In Chicago
Author - David Mamet
Year - 1974
Genre - Play
Pages - 52
Lent to me by Alex Campbell

Hot on the heels of the previous update, I decided to continue and read the second play in the anthology of Mamet plays that I have borrowed, Sexual Perversity In Chicago.  Immediately, you notice that it is a very different kind of a play.  Instead of the two old chaps on a park bench talking in vague metaphors, the play starts with a description of a ridiculously over egged description of a weird sex act.  Not really the same kind of thing at all.

However, despite this opening, and despite the title of the play, it isn't a particularly sex orientated play.  It follows a relationship between Deb and Danny from start to finish, and the bad downturn that it takes.  Whilst sex is alluded to throughout, it is not the main thrust (sorry) of the story.  It instead serves as more of a backdrop to what is a tale of a relationship - not a particularly over dramatic or special relationship, but instead one that is quite natural, if somewhat doomed.

As ever, Mamet writes in a way that is very easy to follow.  Whilst these first two plays of his are not especially deep compared to some of his later work, they hold up quite nicely, and this strikes me as a play that would not need the greatest amount of interpretation to produce effectively, and therefore would last some time as a play.


Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Book 55 - Duck Variations

Book - Duck Variations
Author - David Mamet
Year - 1978
Genre - Play
Pages - 43
Lent to me by Alex Campbell

When I was at university, I had to read a section of a book called True and False by David Mamet, which is the playwright's book on how to be a better performer.  Despite only having to read a few pages of it, I found it so interesting that I read the whole thing there and then.  This is especially strange, as I pretty much managed to go my whole degree without reading anything that I was supposed to.  Although I can remember little of it now (a possible future Book Challenge read perhaps) I remember it particularly striking a chord with me as a book by a man who thought the same as me about theatre.

So it was interesting when Alex lent me this book of plays by Mamet, and asked me to read the first two.  I had not read any of Mamet's plays, so when I saw pretty much straight away, that the first play is very similar in style to that of Beckett's Waiting for Godot - my favourite play - I was pretty excited.  It is nowhere near as polished a piece of absurdist drama as Godot unfortunately, but was quite an interesting read nonetheless.

The premise of the plot, is that two men are sat on a park bench talking about ducks.  That is the total sum of what happens.  However, I am sure there is more to it in terms of depth (although that may not be the case, as that is the kind of thing that this type of drama can fool you into believing).  For what it's worth, I think that the two men are trying to say something to each other about the world, and what kind of a place it is, but through not having the right words to explain themselves, and through a certain awkwardness, they keep ending up talking about ducks instead.  Take what you will from it, and I am sure that a dozen different readers could come up with a dozen different ideas - all of which may be different to what Mamet intended - but that is my thoughts.

It is interesting as a play goes, and I think I'd quite like to see it performed on stage, but not the greatest play I have ever read, nor the greatest of even its kind.  But it took me about half an hour to get through, so can't hurt for a bit of a mind teaser if you like that sort of thing.


Saturday, 19 November 2011

Book 54 - Stone Cold

Book - Stone Cold
Author - Robert Swindells
Year - 1993
Genre - Young Adult Fiction
Pages - 135

When I was a child - probably about nine or ten - I first read this book, and I can distinctly remember the effect that it had on me.  I had never before read a novel that had such an effect on the way I thought about something in the real world.  As a kid, all I did was read, and had gotten through hundreds of books already, but they had all been a little bit twee in comparison to this I felt, because suddenly I was presented with the life of someone who could be real, and was put in bad circumstances.

The story follows Link, a teenage boy who is forced out of his home by an abusive stepfather and moves to London to live on the streets.  At the same time, we also see the journal entries of Shelter, a former soldier who now sees it as his life's job to rid the world of the homeless.  As you may guess, the two paths meet, and therein lies the plot.

However, this not the part of the book that is truly brilliant.  Whilst I suppose you need a plot like that to let the book work - and to make it exciting enough for younger readers to want to get through - it is the story of Link, and both how he became homeless and how he deals with it that is what makes this book so special.  It struck me then - and now on my reread - just how easy he falls into homelessness.  The Christmas that his family buy him a sleeping bag because it will be useful as he is sleeping rough serves as a reminder to him that his family don't care, and indeed the fact that both his mother and his sister own their own houses and yet can't see themselves to help him is both shocking and saddening to me.  Followed as it does by the stark reality of how hard it is living on the streets, and you receive a new appreciation that not everyone you see on the streets is a drunk or a druggie, and actually there are some genuinely sad circumstances behind some of their problems.

I would have this book down as a must read.  It is aimed at young adults, but there is so much to be gained from it, and it is a light read, that it is worth anyone picking it up.


Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Book 53 - God's Smuggler

Book - God's Smuggler
Author - Brother Andrew
Year - 1968
Genre - Autobiography
Pages - 291
Bought for me by John Gompers

This is not the kind of book that I usually read.  I am not a Christian, but when John bought this for me for my birthday, I thought that it would be interesting to read it.  It has been a massively influential book, pushing the growth of Christianity in places that persecute against the church, but I wanted to read it simply as a book, and not a piece of religious promotion.

And to that end it is actually not bad.  It is the story of Brother Andrew, a very poor man from Holland, who has some bad experiences in the war in Indonesia, and becomes a Christian.  He then decides that it is his calling to become a missionary, and smuggles Bibles into Communist countries where they would otherwise be outlawed.

There are moments that become pretty preachy, and even the occasional part that outlines a story where God provides Andrew with exactly what he needs at exactly the right moment, that my brain cannot help but believe is exaggerated for the effect.  But at the heart of the book is a fantastic story about a man who cares so much about something that he is willing to sacrifice everything in order to help others to see what he sees.  There is something pretty inspirational about that for Christians and non-Christians alike.  It also gives a very nice - if somewhat focused - view of life behind the Iron Curtain.  This is an area of history that didn't seem to have enough of an impact on Britain to be taught regularly in schools, so my knowledge of the rise and fall of Communism in Europe is pretty small.  Whilst looking it it primarily in terms of its impact upon the church, there is still enough in there to give an idea of the situation, and I would like to read more about it.

This is a book aimed at Christians, but certainly not accessible only by Christians.  When you allow for the incredible readability of his work, Brother Andrew has written a book that, whilst it may not change your life, is interesting enough to take a look at.


Monday, 14 November 2011

Book 52 - Dreadful Drama

Book - Dreadful Drama
Author - Rachel Wright
Year - 2000
Genre - Children's Non-Fiction
Pages - 142

I don't know if any of you have seen it, but there is a brilliant show on children's television called Horrible Histories.  The kids at my school love it.  It is an educational sketch show based on the children's books of the same name.  It involves things such as a rap about all of the King Georges, or a Elizabethan Wife Swap scene.  Not only is it brilliantly educational - the number of intelligent things I have heard the kids say about history that has come simply from this programme is incredible - but it is also one of the most genuinely funny shows I have seen on the TV for quite a while.

It was this that inspired me to try a book along the same lines.  There are loads in the series about history, but I happened to spot this, and as drama is my thing, I thought it must be worth a read.  As it goes, it is a very clever little book with a lot of useful information.  Everything that a child would need to know about the theatre at such a young age - a history of theatre, how we light the stage, what an actor does in his average day - is there, and nicely explained.  As a book to introduce kids to drama, I could give nothing to this but a 10/10.

However, as a grown up (!), I don't think I could.  Whilst the TV programme mentioned above has managed to find a way to make an educational show that is quite genuinely just as funny to adults and children, this particular book comes nowhere near.  I can put myself in a child's mindset unsurprisingly easily, but I still didn't think that it was anywhere near as funny as the show.  This may be my fault for having too high expectations from what is - at the end of the day - a kids book, or possibly Horrible Histories on the TV for being too good to follow, but I was still disappointed, and the book that would have been an easy 10/10 when I was 10, loses several marks.


Saturday, 12 November 2011

Book 51 - Daisy Pulls It Off

Book - Daisy Pulls It Off
Author - Denise Deegan
Year - 1985
Genre - Play
Pages - 48

Daisy Pulls It Off is sometimes described - alongside Top Girls - as a drama teacher's dream.  It is a play that is suitable for schools, with a cast made up almost exclusively of girls.  In a world where girls still dominate drama classes, this is an absolute godsend.  I thought however, that I would give it a bit of a read to see if it is actually any good.

And it turns out it is.  The play is set in a 1920s girls boarding school, and is written in a very unusual style.  The repeated 'I say', 'O Jubilate' and 'what japes' give the play a dating which, being written in the early eighties, you don't expect.  However, you soon get used to it, and it becomes a very endearing part of the proceedings.

The story concerns new girl Daisy finding her feet as the first elementary scholarship student at a posh girls school.  Whilst there, she gets caught up in the mystery of some missing treasure, and gets into all sorts of scrapes.  It is so reminiscent of an Enid Blyton novel - my favourite ever writer as a child - that it is so easy to get completely caught up in the plot, and I whipped through this whole play in a very short time as a result.

In what is possibly a first for me, I imagine that I would even prefer the reading of this to the staging.  Whilst there is a certain quality about it that would lend itself well to interpreting however you should wish - the number of asides explaining who each character is, and the occasional use of Daisy as a narrator work nicely - I can imagine that something is lost int he staging.  However, I would be interested to see for myself should I find a production taking place.  In the meantime, what an enjoyable little read.  Jolly hockeysticks!


Book 50 - Bad Girls: The Musical

Book - Bad Girls:  The Musical
Author - Maureen Chadwick and Ann McManus (book) Kath Gotts (music and lyrics)
Year - 2006
Genre - Musical
Pages - 86

Plug plug plug!  I am playing Jim Fenner (boo!  hiss!) in DAODS production of this in February.  Come and see it!  Details are on our website.  And yes, that is me in the picture there.  Although not the legs.  They are Ellie's.

It seems a little unlikely premise for a musical.  Many are based on classic books such as Les Miserables or Phantom of the Opera or old operas, such as Rent and Miss Saigon, and as an increasing trend, there are even many based upon huge Hollywood films such as Shrek, Legally Blonde and Big! The Musical.  However, I am not sure if there are a great deal of musicals based on ITV series from the early 2000s.

The first exposure I had to the show was watching the DVD of the West End production.  Aside from a couple of questionable casting choices - I would say that anyone cast in a West End lead should be able to at least hold a tune: the casting directors of this show seem to disagree - it certainly is an interesting show.  At first, I wasn't sure if I was going to enjoy it - I have never seen the programme, and I wondered if it was going to be as goofy as I expected - but as the play goes on, it becomes more and more involving.  You find yourself really rooting for the good guys, and really hating the bad guys.  Some of the lines - and in particular the songs - are incredibly funny, and there is a real feel good vibe about the show, even allowing for its darker moments.

We are currently rehearsing the show, and I am having a great time.  We have a great cast, and it really allows for a good company feel doing a show such as this.  If you are interested in the show, then please take a look at our site linked above, or get in touch with me.  It's going to be very good (if I get around to learning my lines!)


Book 49 - The Death of WCW

Book - The Death of WCW
Author - R.D. Reynolds and Bryan Alvarez
Year - 2004
Genre - Wrestling History
Pages - 335

Firstly, I wrote this blog once already, and Blogger crashed without saving it.  Thanks Blogger.  So if it comes up a bit bitty, then sorry.  Of course, as a wrestling book, I imagine that most of the people I know who read this blog will skip it anyway, so maybe no damage caused.

In 1984, Vince McMahon set out to make himself a monopoly of the wrestling industry in the United States.  His ruthless takeover of the country's regional system by his then WWF left most other promotions in tatters, and his company as the biggest in the country.  However, led by Ted Turner, the media mogul, WCW was his one remaining opponent.  Throughout the early nineties, WCW was a rival that was still regularly beaten, but with the advent of the nWo - led by a newly heel Hulk Hogan - WCW overtook the WWF by a long margin.

However, what followed was the complete destruction of WCW from within.  Bad booking, an old boys network, and a huge amount of money wasting led to WCW crashing and burning a few years later.  It stands as a perfect example of how to not run a wrestling company - or any company for that matter - and this is a book that explains how that happened.

There has been mention that this is the kind of book that a non wrestling fan can enjoy - from memory a Forbes review - due to it, in essence, being about how mismanagement of a company can lead to its death rather than in wrestling.  However, I would suggest that you would have to be a pretty big business fan to wade through the sheer wrestlingness of the book and enjoy it without a pretty good knowledge of all of the major players.

If you are a wrestling fan however, then this is a great read.  Written as an actual history, you would expect it to be a bit of a slog - and indeed there are whole pages dedicated to comparing viewing figures that to a Brit who doesn't understand the American rating system isn't the most thrilling thing in the world - but the sheer humour of the authors means that it isn't too hard at any point.  I have been a reader of Reynold's WrestleCrap website - a site that chronicles the very worst angles in pro-wrestling history - since I was in the sixth form, so I knew he could be relied on to be humorous.

I think that first time I wrote this I had loads of other humorous things to say about the book, but it is a slog to rewrite something like this, so they shall have to be lost to the annuls of time.  In conclusion, if you like wrestling and can remember WCW, then give this a read.  If you don't like wrestling, read something else.


Thursday, 3 November 2011

Book 48 - Crazy For You

Book - Crazy For You
Author - George and Ira Gershwin (music and lyrics) Ken Ludwig (book)
Year - 1991
Genre - Play
Pages - 124

Following on from the barnstorming success of DAODS production of Guys and Dolls the week before last, our next show at the Orchard Theatre is Crazy For You.  Whenever we start a new show or play, I always try and make a point of reading the source of the show (nearly every musical is based on something else - saves these musical types from thinking of anything new).  However, as a compilation of Gershwin songs, Crazy For You doesn't have a specific source material, and so I decided to go ahead and read the show itself.

The basic plot outline is this - Bobby wants to be a dancer, but the greatest theatre producer around, Zangler, will not give him a shot, and thus he is left working for his wealthy mother's bank.  She sends him on an errand to Deadrock, Nevada, to repossess a theatre there, and he falls in love with the owner's daughter, Polly.  However, when she finds out who he is, she slaps him and so he plots a crazy scheme to win her heart by pretending to be Zangler.  This, obviously, doesn't run smoothly.  But will he save the day, protect the theatre, and win the girl.  Well, I'm not telling you, but just a little reminder that this is a musical theatre show.  I am sure you could have a good guess.

It's pretty tough to review a show - particularly one that you are auditioning for tomorrow (!) - simply by reading it.  The bulk of the show is made up of songs, and only really by watching what is going on can you get a good appreciation of the show.  However, this script has a lot going for it.  It reads well, and you can tell that it will translate onto the stage very nicely.  There are a few nice laughs in it - although obviously musical theatre-y laughs - and I think that as a show it is going to be a lot of fun.

Obviously, this review means nothing really though.  As a great man one said - probably a baker - 'the proof is in the pudding'.  In this case, it means, 'come and see the show'.  So, come and see the show.  It'll be wicked.  Unless I fail my audition tomorrow and don't get in.  Then it'll probably be rubbish.


(For all of you picture fans out there, it'll be here when someone puts the flier for the show up)

Friday, 28 October 2011

Book 47 - Mock The Week: Next Year's Book

Book - Mock The Week: Next Year's Book
Author - Various
Year - 2010
Genre - Humour
Pages - 159
Bought for me by Annette Wickenden

I am a big comedy fan, and love most of the panel shows out there that seem to be a good launching ground for comedians to get some exposure.  Shows such as Have I Got News For You, Never Mind The Buzzcocks, QI, and They Think It's All Over... have proven to be incredibly funny shows, with some classic moments.  However, there is something about Mock The Week that I have never quite got on with.

There is an air of smugness to these shows sometimes, that is often easy to gloss over, but this show alone seems to be smug with no reason.  It is effectively a low brow version of HIGNFY but instead of having a genuine comedy genius like Paul Merton, they pull in people like Frankie Boyle and that short, bald one with the beard.  When Annette very kindly bought me this book however, I thought I may as well give it a shot.

Unfortunately, it lived up to expectations.  The book is basically one liners from different subjects such as 'Unlikely Things To Hear At An Awards Ceremony', 'Unlikely Health And Safety Advice' and 'Harry Potter Titles You'll Never See'.  And the overwhelming problem is that they are almost entirely not funny.

They fall into several broad categories.  The most common is 'Let's put some rude words or innuendo down because smut is funny'.  Alas, it isn't.  Then there's 'Let's be mildly sexist or racist because that is funny'.  Alas, this also isn't.  Add in some 'Funny obvious puns' (not funny), 'Let's laugh at celebrities' (still not funny) and some 'Sod it, let's just nick some things from our kids jokebooks' (did you ever think that that was going to be funny?) and you are left with something that not only didn't make me laugh very much, but didn't even raise a smile from me for about the first fifty pages.  I was going to put some examples on here, but really, just pick up the nearest item to you with some writing on - be it a cereal box or bank statement or bus ticket - and read it to get a similar level of hilarity.  Except with less swearing.

There were two jokes in here that I found genuinely funny.  However, this is a pretty poor return for a book of 159 pages with around fifteen jokes a page.  And the gloom bought on by the rest of the dross in the book meant that I forgot what they were immediately, so I can't even remember them.  Maybe I am overreacting to it and it is actually far funnier than I am giving it credit for.  Or maybe it's just a bit of a crap book that was rushed out to cash in on the inexplicable popularity of the TV show.  For their next book, I shall suggest the section 'Unlikely Things That I Will Recommend To Someone To Read'.  Guess what may make an appearance...

2/10 (because I am in a very good mood tonight, and I actually bought someone a copy of this last Christmas - sorry Jamie - and so should probably defend it in some way.  A bit)

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Book 46 - Sourcery

Book - Sourcery
Author - Terry Pratchett
Year - 1988
Genre - Fantasy
Pages - 270
Series - Discworld

This is the fifth book in the series of Discworld books, and the third of the Rincewind books, and continues a run of books that are great fantasy, whilst also being immensely funny.

Following his explusion from the Unseen University where wizards train, a disgruntled mage has eight sons.  However, if the eighth son of an eighth son becomes a wizard, then what does the eighth son of an eighth son of an eighth son become?  He becomes a sourcerer - a wizard so powerful that his existence threatens to destroy the whole of the Discworld.  Poor Rincewind, the inept wizard, is roped into trying to save the day - albeit somewhat reluctantly, and as ever, hilarity ensues.

With wizards, magical dimensions, flying carpets and levitation abound, Soucery adheres to so many of the standard tropes of fantasy writing, but by including an orang-utang librarian, a terrible poetic ruler, the four horsemen of the apocalypse getting smashed, and a dog called Wuffles, Pratchett churns out yet another fantasy book that will genuinely make you laugh.

Sourcery is not one of the books that I had heard of before in the series - the plaudits tend to go to more famous novels such as Mort, Hogfather and Making Magic but I was pleased to find that, whilst not quite as good as the previous book in the series, it is still a great read, and well worth a shot.


Thursday, 13 October 2011

Book 45 - Junk

Book - Junk
Author - Melvin Burgess
Year - 1996
Genre - 'Children's' (if you have children who mainly like books about heroin and prostitution)
Pages - 389
Given to me by Alinda Haynes-Hunte

A thought that I have often had is that the approach to educating children about drugs is wrong. Whenever we had talks about drugs at school, they were always so negative. Drugs kill you, and make you paranoid, and sick, and mad and so on and so forth. Now, I am someone who has never been tempted to even try drugs - I am too scared apart from anything else you will be pleased to hear, although maybe not as pleased as my mother - but even I when I was at school had the small thought of 'Well, if they are that terrible, then why do so many people take them?' Without pointing out the fact that drugs make people happy, and then contrasting that with the devastating effect that they can have upon people, there will always remain this element of doubt which encourages people to try dangerous drugs. Whilst this is a controversial idea I imagine, Junk is the perfect example of how this approach can work to make the idea of drugs less attractive.

It doesn't take too long until this book starts to become very uncomfortable.  Tar has run away from home because he has a father that beats him.  His girlfriend, Gemma, joins him soon after because her parents ground her.  Both of them are fourteen years old, and instantly you feel a sympathy for them both - Tar because of his horrible situation, and Gemma because she doesn't realise how good she actually has it.  The discomfort stems from the fact that you know that the book is called Junk, and so can have a pretty good idea of where it is going.

And go there it does.  Drugs - check.  Prostitution - check.  Police - check.  Theft - check.  Death - check.  If it is gritty and 'real' then you can bet that it is something that is going to come up in this book.  And this is where my problem sat.  Having done such a good job at establishing characters, Burgess managed to almost make me stop reading, because I knew that all of these horrible things were likely to happen.

But I persevered.  And managed to get through the entire 389 pages in one day as a result.  And I am very glad I did.  It is definitely a case of being one of those books that is 'written for teens' whilst being blatantly unsuitable for teens - it won the Carnegie Award the year after Northern Lights, another book that I feel is the same - but for the reasons above, I completely understand the reasoning behind it being a kids book.  Provided they can get through the beginning when the drugs all look pretty rosy, there is a message here that is not at all patronising or sanctimonious, and written in a style that is engaging enough to work, and telling teenagers that drugs ruin your life.

There is a part of me that wants to suggest that this is one of the most important books around - a concept that Carnegie promoted a few years ago, voting it as one of the most important children's books ever - and rate it with a full 10/10.  But that is tempered with the fact that it often made me feel uncomfortable, and I often found myself not enjoying it.  I am sure that this is Burgess' aim however, so I am instead going to give it a solid eight, but also suggest that you let your teenagers - or if you need to, make your teenagers - read this book.


Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Book 44 - The Wrestling

Book - The Wrestling
Author - Simon Garfield
Year - 1996
Genre - Wrestling/History
Pages - 215

'Kayfabe' is a term that is used behind the scenes in wrestling.  Loosely, it is a term to describe the presentation that wrestling is completely real.  Until the early 80s, pretty much all wrestling was kayfabe, and it wasn't until the Americans started to publicly suggest that wrestling was 'sports entertainment', that kayfabe was broken.

But for the dogged British wrestling scene, that admission didn't change too much about how the wrestlers felt, and this book explores that.  With interviews from all of the main players in British wrestling throughout World of Sport, as well as before and after - including Mick McManus, Jackie Pallo, Big Daddy, Robbie Brookside, Giant Haystacks and James Mason - this is as good an insight into the world of grappling in this country as you are ever likely to get.  And the main players still don't break kayfabe all that much.

In 1985, Jackie Pallo ostrisised himself from many other wrestlers by publishing an autobioghraphy exposing the staged nature of professional wrestling.  As obvious as it sounds now that wrestling is 'fake', this wasn't an altogether universal knowledge back then - with tabloids regularly running stories to debunk the myth of the sport of wrestling - and the damage was potentially huge.  Even eleven years later however, the likes of the people in this book tend to suggest that more was real than we know to be the case - and you have to have a certain amount of respect for that.

The amount of information in here is excellent, and just about all presented in the wrestlers own words.  Garlfield occasionally interjects in his own voice to clarify things, but generally everything is kept.  It is truly interesting for someone who was about ten years to late to see the impact of British wrestling, and has instead grown his fandom on the American product, to find out more about those who were just names before - be it Kendo Nagasaki's genuine strangeness, or the overwhelming view that Les Kellett was a horrible person - and buil up a picture of those who started things out here.

The amount of people for whom this book would appeal is probably not that huge - proper harcore wrestling fans such as myself, and people of a generation above mine who have fond memories of Kent Walton and the like - but for those who are interested in this kind of thing, this book is a real treat.

And if it isn't your cup of tea, then why not try one of Garfield's other books.  He has one on Radio One?  Or one on the rise of AIDS in the UK?  Or - most strangely of all - perhaps the one on the invention of dye?  Weird as it may sound, I think you'd find them interesting.


For more Simon Garfield books, see the Authors page above, or for more wrestling books, see the Wrestling page.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Book 43 - Mort

Book - Mort
Author - Terry Pratchett
Year - 1987
Genre - Fantasy
Pages - 316
Series - Discworld

The fourth in the Discworld series, Mort is generally considered one of the best of the lot, even appearing on the BBC's list of the hundred greatest books a few years back.  I have enjoyed the series so far, and have been looking forward to getting started on this one.

Death appears as a character in several of the books, and he is definitely one of the most interesting characters.  This book follows his adoption of an apprentice - the eponymous Mort - and how this affects their lives, and that of the Discworld.

All of the books of the series that I have read so far have been excellent and incredibly funny.  But I would definitely agree that this is the best of the bunch as of yet.  It sacrifices a few of the laughs in order to create a fantastic story, but still remains in Pratchett's trademark humourous style throughout.  Exploring the already brilliant character of Death is a great idea, and equally the other characters introduced here - particularly Mort - are great.

Discworld is a massive series, with so many books to it, and I am pleased that I still have plenty of reading ahead of me.  Roll on the next one.


Thursday, 6 October 2011

Book 42 - Endgame

Book - Endgame
Author - Samuel Beckett
Year - 1963
Genre - Play
Pages - 60

Samuel Beckett is one of the greatest playwrights of all time.  And he tends to write about... nothing.

Most famously he does this in Waiting For Godot where our two leading tramps spend their time waiting for the eponymous character to arrive.  Endgame is, if anything, slightly weirder than even that, following Hamm - who cannot stand up - and Clov - who cannot sit down - as they do... nothing.  Filling up the cast are Nagg and Nell, Hamm's parents who live in dustbins and have no legs.  Yes, it is an odd play.

And despite nothing happening - Clov looks out of the window, and Hamm strokes a dog, and this amounts to the vast majority of the play's action - it is totally engrossing.  We first looked at this play when I was doing A Level drama, and along with Godot it remains one of my very favourite plays of all time, although this is the first time I have read it in ten years.  The parts are all great - except for the poor sods who have to spend the play in bins - and it would be a wonderful thing to perform.

I am sure that I could go into some great detail about the deeper meanings behind everything in the play, but I don't really find that I want to.  I am sure that it is all there, but sometimes it is nice to enjoy a play simply for the sheer beauty of it - even if that beauty is based upon, well... nothing.


Book 41 - How To Disappear Completely And Never Be Found

Book - How To Disappear Completely And Never Be Found
Author - Fin Kennedy
Year - 2007
Genre - Play
Pages - 108

I rarely mention book publishers here on my Book Challenge blog, but I think I am going to make a little exception for Nick Hern Books.  I don't have a lot to say about them, except they make some cracking theatre books, and the layout and actual books themselves are always brilliantly easy to use.  If you like theatre, and like reading, and like to combine the two, then they are worth looking out for.

The unnecessarily long title of How To Disappear Completely And Never Be Found comes from the title of an American book about how to get rid of your current identity and start a completely new life.  Fin Kennedy used this - along with some alarming statistics about the rate of people that go missing in the UK - to form the basis of this play.

Written for five actors, playing around thirty odd parts, the play tells the story of a man who is having a bit of a breakdown.  We follow his thought processes far more than we follow his actions, and not everything makes sense at first, but through some clever techniques, we find out exactly what has happened to him.

The plot is great, and I ate it up as quickly as I could.  The play also leaves a lot of scope to do things, and should appeal to those directors who like to play around with what happens on stage.  It is also great to read - a complaint about reading plays is that you often lose a lot in the reading instead of the watching - making this a good play to add to your database of plays - should there be anyone else out there attempting to do such a thing.

A good book, worth reading.  And if you hear of any productions taking place, be sure to let me know.


Book 40 - Guys and Dolls

Book - Guys and Dolls
Author - Damon Runyon
Year - 1956 (this collection)
Genre - Short Stories
Pages - 285

So, why am I reading the original series of stories that form the basis of the musical Guys and Dolls?  Well, obviously, because it is the next show I am in.  Might as well get the plug out of the way immediately before you all leave me.  19th -22nd October at the Orchard Theatre in Dartford, we will be performing, and I am playing the part of Benny Southstreet.  Check out our society's website.

Damon Runyon is famous for having created a world which shows the seedy underbelly of New York in the early 1900s, using a very distinctive writing style that has influenced gangster movies for many years since.  The show Guys and Dolls is based upon two of his short stories - The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown and Blood Pressure - and as I am a bit tragic and like to do a bit of research into the shows that I am doing, I decided to set upon reading the book.

The first, and easily most, disappointing thing that I found, is that only the first of the two short stories is in this collection.  There are dozens of variations in how the short stories are published, and despite the fact that you would expect them both to appear in a book with the show's title on, Blood Pressure is in fact in another collection.  Just to make it worse, my character - Benny Southstreet - is not even mentioned in this collection!  The very cheek.

This is where the disappointments end however, as this is a truly special set of short stories.  If anything seems gangster cliched, or derivative, it tends to be because the books have influenced so much over the years, and many of the stories have been adapted for stage and screen.

Each of the stories - be they telling of a murdering femme fatale, or a drunk finding true love - are incredibly charming, and Runyon's strictly present tense way of writing - including no contractions, and some rather outrageous slang and turns of phrases - makes much of the book even more charming, and often laugh out loud funny.

It took me a while to get through it - without a through line, I tend to get sidetracked on many goods - but it was thoroughly worth it.  Come and see my show before you read it though - we don't want any spoilers now, do we?


PS - as an aside, I have - as ever - used the front cover that I actually had to my copy here.  Seems fine, but when I have been reading it on the way to work in the morning, and I pass the primary school around the corner, the parents dropping off their kids stare at me, presumably thinking that the scantily clad women on the front denote my book as being top shelf stuff, as opposed to classic literature with a Marlon Brando film adaptation.  Heathens.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Book 39 - Dawn of the Dumb

Book - Dawn of the Dumb
Author - Charlie Brooker
Year - 2007
Genre - Columns
Pages - 338
Bought for me by James Sheppard

I'm still not reading an incredible amount at the moment, but I have managed to work my way through this - the second Charlie Brooker book that I have read, after The Hell of It All last year.

I've always liked Brooker.  His TV shows are brilliant, and despite being a grumpy sod all of the time, you always get the idea that it would be good to be his friend.  Much like the previous book I read, Dawn of the Dumb is a selection of articles and columns that he as written for newspapers, and is split between television reviews and more generalised musings about anything else that springs to mind.

Brooker is amazing at showing disdain for things, and the entire thing has so many laugh out loud moments as a result.  Whether he is berating the current crop of Big Brother housemates, or spouting off about the latest government initiative, he tends to be brilliantly funny, and a clear cut above most other writers who do a similar thing *cough* Jeremy Clarkson *cough*.

It's not a heavy read, but is pretty accessible to anyone who likes a 'grumpy old man' kind of a laugh.  I shall now look forward to him releasing another collection of this kind of thing.


Saturday, 10 September 2011

Book 38 - Don't Tell Mum

Book - Don't Tell Mum
Authors - Simon Hoggart and Emily Monk
Year - 2006
Genre - Humour
Pages - 174

Think of all of the hilarious stories that your friends bring back from their time travelling.  I have many friends who have been travelling over the years, and many of them bring back genuinely funny, exciting stories.  It is good to know what your friends have been up to, and I have loved to see how excited they get about places they've visited and people they have met.

Now think about being given these same stories about someone you don't know.  And in abridged form.  And being smacked over the head by several hundred of them.  And they usually aren't that interesting.

Guess which of those situations is more like this book.  There are moments of this that are entertaining enough, but this series of 'emails to home' falls flat because they are largely similar stories about people who we don't know or care about getting into scrapes that usually involve being drunk and falling over.  An unfortunate case of something that is usually interesting in real life, not transferring over to an interesting book.

Maybe it's just because I am not someone who has ever gone travelling - or more to the point not a parent of someone who has gone travelling - but without being absolutely dreadful, the whole thing is a little dull, which is almost worse.


Friday, 9 September 2011

Book 37 - Drama Games for Classrooms and Workshops

Book - Drama Games for Classrooms and Workshops
Author - Jessica Swale
Year - 2009
Genre - Theatre Theory
Pages - 169

I am writing this on the eve of taking my very first drama lesson at Gillham's School of Performing Arts.  As I may have mentioned in the past here, I am quite into theatre, and am incredibly excited to be starting work at Laura's school.  In preparation, I have been reading a fair bit of, not just plays, but also some books based on teaching drama.  If anything is worth doing, then someone has written a book about it.

And the someone that has taken the time here is Jessica Swale.  I wanted to get a hold of a book that would be a handy reference for drama games.  Something that I would be able to dip into for inspiration, and to find a workshop game that would fit the lesson I want to plan best.  If I am completely honest, the thing that drew me to this book over any other is the fact that it was significantly cheaper than anything else about.

A fact for which I am very glad.  This book is a fantastic little compendium, and I have already recommended it to a couple of my friends.  It is worth mentioning that you will probably find little new here.  Of the 101 games in the book, I think I must have played at least 80 of them over the years, but it is great on a couple of different levels.  Firstly, it reminds you of things that you have forgotten.  There was a time when I played the game 'Rubber Chicken' - not as silly as it sounds, but still pretty silly - before most rehearsals, but I had completely forgotten its existence until I opened this book and discovered it was the first one in there.  As a result, it is now definitely in my lesson for tomorrow.  There are loads of games like this, and a few of which I think I can plan whole lessons about.  The second reason this book is great, is that it categorises everything so well.  Each game is laid out the same, and includes details such as recommended age range, number of people to play, areas that the game develops, and then everything is indexed.  This makes things really handy.

It's not a book to plan a year's work around, but nonetheless, is one that I can see myself referring to regularly over the next few weeks, months and years.  I have always seen drama games as an incredibly important precursor to developing theatre skills, helping with devising work, and working on full scale productions.  Having such a handy book seems like a great idea for anyone who feels the same way.

As a side note, I Googled the author - Jessica Swale - just after I had ordered the book, and was pleasantly surprised to see that she is the director responsible for a production called Palace of the End - a theatre piece that I saw in Edinburgh a couple of years back, and remains the most powerful thing that I have ever seen.  Funny how it all ties together.


Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Book 36 - Animal Farm

Book - Animal Farm
Author - George Orwell
Year - 1945
Genre - Fiction
Pages - 95
Given to me by Alinda Haynes-Hunte

In a lovely treat this weekend, Alinda arrived at our house with a massive stack of books that she had no room for any more.  I am currently sat in my living room surrounded by a stack of second hand paperbacks, and am so excited to get going on them - no matter how many hundreds of books that puts in my 'To Be Read' pile now.  Of all of the books that she bought over though, I was most excited to see a copy of Animal Farm - so excited in fact, that I started it straight away.

Until now, I had never read any Orwell.  It seems a shocking thing considering how much I read, but I had just never gotten around to it, and of the two massive books that he has written (I shall leave it to you to guess which other one I consider as huge, but I doubt you will have much trouble) this is the one I fancied most.  I was a little shocked by its size - under a hundred pages for one of the biggest classics of all time - but keen to give it a shot.

Even before having read it - although dim memories of seeing Article 19 perform a very good production of it at university remain - I already knew a few facts about it.  It concerns the uprising of animals against their master on a farm, where he is run out, and they take over for themselves.  Despite this being a wonderful release from the oppression that they had suffered, things don't run particularly smoothly.  I also knew that the book was written by a staunch opponent of the Stalinism that was running amok in Russia in the lead up, and through the Second World War.

My knowledge of political history is really not all that great if truth be told, and as such I am sure that I am not the best person to expand upon the hows and whys of how this links up to Russia of the time, but even I can see the links between characters such as Napoleon and Old Major, with Stalin and Marx (Karl, not Groucho).  If you are interested in that kind of link, a quick Google search reveals hundreds of pages dedicated to just that kind of thing.

Instead I shall say two massive points in the favour of the book.  Firstly, despite this lack of knowledge, it is written well enough that I was able to understand the political aspects well enough.  You need know nothing about Communism to understand how the principals are not fitting into any society that contains human - or in this case pig - notions of greed and self.  There is a whole argument I am sure to be made for either side of the coin, but Orwell puts forward his in a brilliant layman way that is rightly applauded.

The second point is that the book is really very enjoyable.  I am sure that the number of politically minded books that are out there is in the thousands, but I know that much of the (limited) exposure that I have to them tends to say that they can be pretty dull.  Not so with Animal Farm which even whilst giving across a strong political message, manages to be entirely engrossing.  I feel that an author can feel free to try and get across any point that they wish with their writing, as strongly or as implied as they like, and they should not be criticised for this.  However, if you cannot make your book enjoyable, then there is no point whatsoever, and it is this that lifts this book to that of a true bastion of classic literature.


Sunday, 21 August 2011

Book 35 - The Hardcore Diaries

Book - The Hardcore Diaries
Author - Mick Foley
Year - 2008
Genre - Autobiography
Pages - 371

If you read regularly here, then you will probably notice that I do enjoy a good wrestling autobiography.  It's sort of an aim of mine to read them all - something that I should manage within a few years - and then catch them as they are released.  We have a real glut of them at the moment, with everyone from the almighty Bret Hart down to the lowly Goldust (worst.  book.  ever) having their own book, but it is only back at the beginning of this century that they really started to be released, and that was all down to this man - Mick Foley.

With the release of his first book, we had a true glimpse behind the scenes of the wrestling world for the first time.  Becoming an instant best seller, it was a book that wrestling fans lapped up, and even non wrestling fans were reading - such as my nemesis Bob, who probably receives more links to this review than any other book he read last year, despite the fact that he wasn't a fan.  Foley then followed up his first autobiography with Foley is Good, a second along the same vein, and nearly as well received.  Then a few years back, he released his third autobiography - this, The Hardcore Diaries.

I loved the first two autobiographies, and even went so far as to read the first of his fiction books due to the easy nature of his writing, and the interesting things that he had to say about the industry.  Unlike some other wrestlers who have used their autobiographies to slate other people, Foley usually had good things to say about most, and came across brilliantly.

Which is why I was so disappointed with this one.  Foley is quick to point out at the start that he doesn't feel he is another Winston Churchill, and thus doesn't have a third autobiography in him, and so instead he writes like a diary to show how he comes up with a concept and follows it through to a big pay off match - in this case a tag match pitting himself, Edge and Lita against his mentor Terry Funk, Tommy Dreamer and Belluah in a hardcore match at One Night Stand.  This strikes me as a really interesting concept, but he tends to wander all over the place as he tells the story, and when you add in the flashback style chapters about other events that have taken place since his last book, it becomes pretty hard to follow.  Instead of an interesting development with some good gossip, you find that now he is not friends with almost everyone in wrestling, and is instead bitter when plans don't go his way.  Not that I am saying he is wrong to think this, but some of the likability factor goes out of Mick Foley in this tome of his autobiographies.

He also says near the beginning that he knows that we are all reading for the wrestling stories, so he will try to stick to them.  He then proceeds to spend most of the book telling us about the charitable work that he does nowadays.  I am sure that he does do a lot of this work - he is quite famed for being a generous and caring man - but as wonderful and wholesome as it is, it is really boring to read about.  We are treated to six or seven stories of ill children who Mick visits and they suddenly have their lives brightened.  I am not knocking the work, or trying to be callous, but as nice as this is, it has no place here.  I want to hear about the wrestlers that Foley knows and the gossip he can tell.  Unfortunately, most of this seems to have been used int he first book, so instead we get stories about Trish Stratus making a sandwich, and far too much of Foley telling us that he doesn't fancy the Divas (female wrestlers for any of you non-wrestling fans who have actually made it this far).  Methinks the hardcore legend doth protest to much.  Foley needed to make it cool again, but it isn't.  And he isn't by the way he keeps telling us how great he is.  "I really changed that boy's life" "It was worth it to know that I had given him the greatest day ever" "That is when rock legend Dee Snyder stopped me to say that I had made him a better person".  The more it goes on, the more frustrating it gets, and does little to endear me to a man that I previously had a lot of love for.

It isn't the worst autobiography ever - that would be Goldust's, so bad I will not link it twice in one blog - but the bar was set high, and Foley really missed it this time.  Last year his fourth autobiography came out, and, in keeping with this 'read them all' challenge, I will eventually get around to it.  I hope it is an improvement over this installation.


Saturday, 20 August 2011

Book 34 - A Doll's House

Book - A Doll's House
Author - Henrik Ibsen
Year - 1879
Genre - Play
Pages - 72

Continuing with one of my little challenges this year - namely the one that says 'read more plays because you really haven't read very many' - I thought that I would pick up one of the plays by a playwright who falls firmly in the category of 'someone you really should have read or seen one of their plays, but probably haven't'.  A 132 year old Scandinavian play seems a ridiculous place to start, but as a legend of the theatre, I needed to read some Ibsen, and this is arguably his most famous play.

A Doll's House was a massively controversial play at the time of release.  If follows Nora, a wife who is treated much like a plaything by her husband, as she gets into some trouble.  She raised a loan several years back after a doctor told her that only a move to sunnier climes could save her husbands wife.  As women were unable to borrow in those days, and she wanted under no circumstances for her husband to find out, she forged her father's signature onto the loan.  When this comes back to haunt her, she is left with difficult decisions to make.

It is unusual to think that the reasoning behind this play being so controversial was that it showed women thinking for themselves, and being strong willed and independent, when upon reading nowadays, the controversy seems to be that women were ever put into such a repressed situation.  Despite the datedness of ideas, A Doll's House remains a truly brilliant play - particularly to read.  I found myself being swept up in the characters and the concept, and thoroughly enjoyed the ride.  I was recently fortunate enough to pick up a book of four of Ibsen's plays (one of which is unfortunately a second copy of this one) for a mere thirty pence in a second hand bookshop, and I shall now look forward to reading some of his other work.


Book 33 - The Sea

Book - The Sea
Author - John Banville
Year - 2005
Genre - Fiction
Pages - 263
Winner of the Booker Prize 2005.

One of the things that I intend to manage eventually over the next few years, is to read all of the winners of the Booker Prize.  It is one of the most prestigious book awards here in the UK, and I always keep an ear out for who has been shortlisted.  I don't quite remember why, but when John Banville won in 2005, it is the first one that sticks out in my mind - I have a feeling there may have been some semblance of controversy - and I always said I would read it.

Well, I got around to it.  The Sea is effectively set in three places.  Max has just lost his wife, and in a fit of grief comes to stay in the holiday town of his childhood.  He is writing about the end of his wife's life, and about the people that he is now staying with - his B&B host Miss V, and the mildly befuddled Irish Colonel - but with much focus on the days of his youth interacting with the somewhat strange family who stayed in the hotel he is now staying at.

Banville's writing - unsurprisingly for someone who is so highly acclaimed - is excellent.  He paints a perfect picture of everything the whole way through, and at no point does this shifting around between places ever seem contrived.  The big problem with it is that it is mainly pretty boring.

I know that from a review point of view this is probably pretty unfair, as there is nothing wrong with the book at all - descriptions I have seen of it find pretty much zero faults in it, and from a technical point of view they are probably right - but for the vast majority of the book I was really really bored, and could barely even be bothered to pick it up.  The fact that I started this book back in February, and have picked it up only in fits and bursts since then to get through it says it all really.

It is page 196 that things start to get interesting.  The whole book is delivered as the writing of Max from his hotel.  On page 196, we get a sudden diatribe, swearing and cursing at how he has been left alone.  Completely out of character, only half a page long, and never referenced again, it is a wonderful moment in the book, and in fact, one of the best moments in any book I have read this year.  It does not continue to be this good for the remainder of the pages, but a marked improvement is made from here, and things stop being quite so boring, but instead begin to come together quite nicely.

Despite this wonderful little moment, I couldn't honestly recommend this book particularly.  Unless of course you are trying to read all of the Booker Prize winners.  In which case you had better give it a go.

6/10 (mainly for the final third)

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Book 32 - A Dance With Dragons

Book - A Dance With Dragons
Author - George RR Martin
Year - 2011
Genre - Fantasy
Pages - 959
Series - A Song of Ice and Fire

Here it is.  The book that I have been waiting for for the past six years for.  The continuation of my favourite series ever.  The book that - after eleven years - will catch us up on some of the cliffhangers that we were left with at the end of the third book.  The book that I have spent countless hours scouring the internet for theories or updates on.  And this summer it finally arrived.

Rather than just devour it in one go, I wanted to savour it a little, and as such spread the reading out over a few weeks - holidays and a show also colluded to lengthen this out.  My verdict is that this is a brilliant book, and I will give you an early glimpse of the numbers at the bottom of the page by saying that it is definitely a 10/10 book.  Martin's writing is immense and it was so good to get back to Tyrion and Jon and the like who the entire fanbase has been hankering after for so long.  The most important thing is however, that I really enjoyed reading it.  The whole way through I actively enjoyed sitting down to get some read time in, and hot off the heels of a manic reread to be ready for this one, that was massively appreciated.

But - and I am sure that you realised that there would be a but - I am still somewhat disappointed.  I know that that might seem a contradiction to a book that I loved, and have given a perfect score to, but my disappointment stems from the incredibly high standards by which I hold this series.  Let me explain my problem.

When A Feast for Crows came out, it received a fair bit of criticism from many of those who had been waiting so long for it.  It was a bridge book.  Sitting in the middle of the series, its main purpose was to get us from the early parts of the book to the endgame.  To me, it draws many parallels to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.  Both were eagerly anticipated, took far longer to write than we thought they would, and were ultimately disappointing to their respective fanbases as they were bridging the story.  However, with the Harry Potter books, Rowling took the series straight back to form with Half Blood Prince.  Martin however, had to split his bridge book, which leads us to Dance - the second half of the bridge.

Quite frankly, not enough happens.  Too many of our cliffhangers are not properly resolved, and new ones added, so that eleven years after the literary peak of the series so far, we seem to be not much further on than we were.  Martin has learned his lesson, and the intrigue is kept better here than before - especially by the incredible number of 'reveals' of characters who we thought were one person but turned out to be another - but there is no avoiding the bridgelike nature of the book.  It is all setting us up for the end of the series, but is not quite the blockbuster that we all hoped for.

The next bit will be a bit more spoilerish, so if you haven't caught up to date with the series to the end of this book (what have you been doing with your life if not!) then don't read this paragraph.  The big problem is Dany.  Her chapters - usually so brilliant in the other books - are genuinely dull in points, and there is so many of them that they are unavoidable in their relentlessness.  I know that they will be setting her up for greater things, but she was much better as an all powerful rampaging queen, than a slightly lost and inept city ruler.  It speaks volumes that her best chapter - and probably my favourite in the book - is when she leaves the city behind.  Tyrion suffers from the same problem as Harry Potter does in the aforementioned Order of the Phoenix - he becomes moody and not as nice as usual, thereby taking away some of his charm as the character that is seen as a monster in the books, but we as the reader understand is probably a far better person than any other in the series.  He rectifies this as the book goes on, but at the start it is a little disappointing.  Jon has a similar complex, as he blocks himself off and becomes less of the likable character he was, although his chapters are some of the best in the book.  Bran's are even better, and the only problem is that there are not enough of them.  Theon's are painful to read - no matter how brilliant they are - and seem to have sparked quite the debate online as to whether he is liked or not.  I have warmed to the Greyjoys - particularly Asha - and enjoyed their chapters, although I would like to know where we are going with them now as it doesn't seem much more advanced than before.  I like having Melissandre as a POV, and wish there was more of her - the same goes for Davos.  Arya was probably my favourite point of view character in the first three books, and whilst I still enjoy all of her chapters, I can't help but feel that she will be better once she is back in with everyone else in Westeros.  Jaime and Cersei probably didn't need to be in this book in my eyes, and could have waited for the next - ditto Aero's little chapter.  And finally, I liked having a Barristan POV.  He is a great character and one that I have been keen to hear from the whole series.

Spoilers over.  In summary, this is a brilliant book that series fans will definitely enjoy, although may feel a little let down by if they have been waiting six/eleven years for it.  Those who are just starting now, or start in the future will love it to pieces though.

Oh, and read.  These.  Books.


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