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.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Book 10 - The Ancient Curse

Book - The Ancient Curse
Author - Valerio Massimo Manfredi
Year - 2010
Genre - Thriller
Pages - 247
Bought for me by Mum and Dad

Before I really start this review in earnest, I should mention that there will probably be some kind of spoilers in here, so if you intend on reading this book then don't go beyond this paragraph.  However, if you are intending to read the book, then be warned, it is a massive pile of awfulness and you really shouldn't bother.

The concept behind the book is this - an Italian archaeologist, Fabrizio, arrives in town to study a statue that he thinks he has discovered something very interesting about.  He is asked by the director of the museum he is seconded to, to excavate a newly discovered Etruscan tomb while he is there.  However, soon everyone associated with the tomb starts to be killed in a horrible way by a massive beast which can seemingly not be killed.

There is such a myriad of problems here, that I am not positive where to start.  I suppose I can start with the fact that the book is translated - by the author's wife - from Italian to English, and it can surely only be that that allows for the fact that things don't always make sense.  People arrive in different places without us being told that they were going somewhere, or it is suddenly and hour later with no indication in the words, or - to use a particular example, which might sound picky but is really just indicative of how the book reads - Manfredi tells us that the female lead covers her face with her hands as she is so upset, despite the fact that we know she is driving a car very fast.  Any publisher worth their salt should surely have read the book for errors before charging people £8.99 for it.

This is not the main problem with the book however.  The only way that Manfredi is able to keep the plot going, is by having his characters make ridiculous decisions.  There is a beast trying to kill Fabrizio and he is terrified of it, but he still keeps running out of his house to wander around the woods by himself - all just so we can see the beast itself.  The head policeman, who is important enough to be meeting with Italian cabinet members, runs most of his decisions by Fabrizio, despite him being just an archaeologist.  Manfredi's characters are not incredibly beautifully fleshed out, but even upon that framework so much of what they do is just not believable.

And talking of being unbelievable, the other massive issue is how the whole thing pans out.  The front cover of the book has a quote (from the Daily Express, so of course I should have ignored it anyway) which says that Manfredi 'shows Dan Brown how it should be done'.  Now whatever you think of Dan Brown, his books are high energy, and with a plot that - whilst completely unlikely - are theoretically possible.  There is always a clever - or at least pseudo-clever - convergence of plot lines to sort the whole thing out.  Manfredi tries a different tack with the old 'lead character has a dream which explains all of the missing plot points, and in the end everything is solved by magic' which is fine where you are working in a fantasy world inhabited by prophetic dreams and magic, but not so good when you are trying to be Dan Brown, but in Italy.  Such a pathetic cop out that destroys the - admittedly tiny - amount of goodwill that you had gathered for the novel in the preceding mess of pages.

I am trying to make an effort to finish as many books as I start this year, and as such I get pretty resentful when a book that claims to be great is actually terribly written.  One of the other books that I have not managed to finish yet this year is not that way - it is very, very well written but I am struggling with it due to my preferences being elsewhere - but this book unfortunately suckered me in and wasted some of my reading life.  So rest assured, this is the last Manfredi review you will read on this blog.

2/10 (it is still better than Goldust's autobiography)

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Book 9 - The Light Fantastic

Book - The Light Fantastic
Author - Terry Pratchett
Year - 1986
Genre - Fantasy/Comedy
Pages - 217
Series - Discworld (Book 2)

During the first (failed) Book Challenge in 2009, one of the books that I read was the first of the Terry Pratchett penned series of Discworld books - The Colour Of Magic.  Whilst I have been a reader of fantasy books and comedy books for about ten or eleven years now, I had never been into Pratchett, and although I enjoyed it, I don't feel that the first book in the series was anything massively special.  However, I liked it enough to - eventually - get around to reading the second in the series.

And far better this one was indeed.  Picking up where the first book left off, and following the inept wizard Rincewind - I am led to believe that there are several different people who are followed over the course of the five thousand odd Discworld books that there are, each with their own fanbase - as he tries to cope with having one of the most powerful spells in the world stuck in his head.  Add to that a walking suitcase that eats people, a galactic tourist who teaches bridge to Death, an old aged barbarian and various other particularly ridiculous conceits, and it is simple to understand why Pratchett's books are always slightly askew of the more traditional fantasy that is churned out.

That is not to say that it is not proper fantasy.  Far from it, the Discworld books seem to bring in every single concept that could exist in fantasy writing - druids, gnomes, elves, wizards, swords, spells, flying turtles with elephants on their backs carrying circular worlds - together into one place.  And importantly, they are written in a way that is genuinely funny.  It is tough to find yourself laughing out loud when reading a book by yourself, but I did sneakily find myself doing so from time to time here - even if some of them are from terrible puns "Can you believe that all of those people are stealing musical instruments from that shop during this riot?" "Oh, they're probably just luters".

With over seven million books in the series, Discworld is going to keep me going for a little while.  But after this book, I think I might just push on with it.


Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Book 8 - SilverFin

Book - SilverFin
Author - Charlie Higson
Year - 2005
Genre - Young Adult/Spy
Pages - 372
Series - Young Bond

Most people will know that one of cinema's longest serving characters - James Bond - was created by the author Ian Fleming.  Slightly fewer people will know that a few years back, Sebastian Faulks wrote a new book in the Bond chronology, furthering the legend.  Most people, such as myself, will not know however that there have been no fewer than six writers of the main Bond series of books, plus numerous other writers of film novelisations, short stories and spin offs.  These included names such as Kingsley Amis and Jeffery Deaver.  So when the decision was made a few years back to write a series of books focusing on a teenage Bond, they chose to write it... Charlie Higson.  Yes, the Charlie Higson from The Fast Show.

An interesting choice, but was it a wise one?  Well, having just read the first of this series, I have to say that yes, it was.  I have never read any of the original Bond books - although I have seen all of the films - but I hear that Higson managed to keep somewhat to the original style whilst still managing to write for young adults.  There is somehow still car chases, and set pieces and a stupidly named Bond girl (who for the first time ever, is actually a girl in age and not simply gender), and the whole thing is a lot of fun - if ludicrously far fetched.

Split into two parts, we meet up with Bond as he starts at Eton in the 1930s.  Orphaned, and not used to socialising with large groups of people, he struggles a little to fit in, but begins to make friends and deal with everyday school problems.  Our second half sees him take his holidays in Scotland, where he runs into one of his school bullies, and a fantastically over the top plot ensues.

There is no denying that there is a lot of silliness to this book, but it is all done in a very serious way that still manages to seem as though it is not being too self important.  In this way it is much like the films, and it became a real page turner - any book that you just have to keep reading to the very end despite it being 1:20am on a school night is worth a look - so I think that I shall try and grab a hold of the rest of the series.


Saturday, 12 February 2011

Book 7 - Cross Rhodes

Book - Cross Rhodes: Goldust, Out of The Darkness
Author - Dustin Rhodes
Year - 2010
Genre - Autobiography
Pages - 225 (sort of) 84

In the past couple of weeks, I have picked up and started no less than five different books - all of which I will get through - but haven't been able to stick with them for long enough to finish.  I thought I'd need to start something that I could just devour, and was quite excited by reading, and thus I took the plunge and bought a brand new book on Amazon.  This was the result - the autobiography of the wrestler Goldust (sorry, yes, it is another wrestling book).

For the majority of you who don't read wrestling books, a (very) brief history.  Around a decade ago, the wrestler Mick Foley wrote - without a ghostwriter - his autobiography.  In a profession where the acknowledgement that everything is staged has only been about for around twenty five years, this was one of the first 'behind the scenes' looks at wrestling, and was an amazing insight - helped by the fact that Foley's writing is excellent.  In the years that have followed, there have been a slew of wrestling autobiographies, ranging from the well written, interesting behind the scenes views - such as Edge, Bret Hart and Foley etc - and a few cash ins - The Rock, Chyna etc.  Dustin Rhodes comes from a wrestling dynasty who has worked with nearly all of the big names that I have followed over the years, and as such this had all of the workings of being an excellent book.

Unfortunately, it is one of the worst things I have ever sat through.  I could have learnt more about Goldust on wikipedia.  He glosses over career highlights, misspells the names of very famous people in the world of wrestling, I noticed three very obvious factual errors - I can only assume they were mistakes instead of lies, but probably proves that he hasn't even read the book, let alone written it as they are facts that don't even need research to be sure of - and as the most cardinal sin, it is incredibly boring.  Here is a summary of what we learn in his book...

  • Dustin wanted to be close to his father but they had a bad relationship
  • Dustin likes wrestling
  • Dustin wishes he hadn't taken drugs
  • When Dustin did some things he 'had fun'
That last point is very noticeable.  The writing is similar to some of our younger kids at school.  He says what he did, then follows it with a new sentence saying 'I had fun doing it'.  In isolation, fine, but when the first fifty pages of the book are made up of the four bullet points here, repeated over and over in random orders, and only sometimes in different phrasing, it does not make for good reading.

And mentioning the pages, there is pretty much nothing to it.  As a book that only came out the week after Christmas, I half expected it to come to me as a hardback.  However running at 225 pages, it wouldn't really reach that.  As I read it as well, I noticed just how much there wasn't anything written on most of the pages.  Leaving aside the large font and double spacing for now, I was so disappointed with the book that I counted how many pages of the 225 were taken up with either full page photos, full page chapter titles, or simply blank pages which are there for no reason.  That total came to 84.  That means that this 225 page book is actually only 141 pages long (double spaced with large font).

This is all so disappointing.  I really feel that Dustin Rhodes could have had something to say about wrestling that I would be interested in, but alas, it was all just a load of rubbish.


Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Book 6 - Juliet, Naked

Book - Juliet, Naked
Author - Nick Hornby
Year - 2009
Genre - Fiction
Pages - 249
Swapped with pidge on Read It Swap It

Any man should be able to name his three favourite films immediately.  It is in the rules of man-ness.  As someone who watches very few films (due, in part, to spending so much time reading), this is very very easy to me.  The Matrix occupies top spot because it is seven levels of awesome.  Then it is The Last of The Mohicans which is equally manly and cool.  However, massively taking down my cool factor at the end is my third place film, which is *ahem*... About A Boy.  No, Hugh Grant is not manly and cool.

But the film is.  The soundtrack is great, and the acting awesome, and the plot is wonderful.  I can (and have) watch it over and over.  And from here, in what is the opposite way round to how I usually manage it, I started reading the books of the creator of About A Boy - Nick Hornby.

Having written the excellent High Fidelity, Don't Look Down and About A Boy, for the past few years, Hornby has mainly been a writer who spends most of his time commenting on the front cover of other people's books.  He did however release this book a couple of years back.  It follows Annie, who is approaching her forties and is in a relationship with Duncan - a fortysomething music geek - which is going literally nowhere.  Duncan has an unhealthy obsession with eighties singer songwriter, Tucker Crowe, who in a strange twist of fate, ends up getting in touch with Annie and sharing his troubled life with her.

If it all sounds a little contrived when I write it here, then you should try reading 249 pages of it.  Hornby is an excellent writer, and I found the whole thing page turning enough, but the story is quite frankly ridiculous, requiring an incredible leap of faith for nearly all of the plot points.  And just when you start thinking that you are running out of pages for another incredible coincidence to come along and sort out all of the problems, it turns out to not be a worry - the book just ends.

I love Nick Hornby's writing, which is probably why I was so disappointed with Juliet, Naked.  The concept is clever, but it just doesn't seem to work at all - a little like one of his previous books, How To Be Good.  This means that I am possibly being a little harsh - it isn't a wretched book by any means - but when there is an author that you truly like, you really want them to write books that you really enjoy.  Hornby has only one novel that I haven't read now, so I shall see if I can get hold of that to restore my faith in one of my favourite authors.

Read what Bob had to say about the book here.