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, 20 March 2011

Book 16 - Rumble Road

Book - Rumble Road
Author - Jon Robinson
Year - 2010
Genre - Wrestling
Pages - 188

It may come as no surprise by now to know that I love wrestling.  Combine this with my love of reading, and I am now working my way through the output of the WWE's publishing arm.  With the recent going under of one of our better local bookshops, Sussex Stationers (RIP), we lost a great shop for book-buying, but one the plus side, I did manage to add another of these said wrestling books to my collection.

Rumble Road is a collection of real life stories from the wrestlers about their time on the road.  Wrestling has no off season, and the wrestlers have to get themselves to most of the different shows themselves - it could be California one night and Florida the next, so there is a lot of driving involved.

I expected a pile of silly stories that would not be so interesting, and in one way I suppose that is what it is - were you not a wrestling fan, then there would be little of interest here for you - but the true interesting thing of this book, is getting behind the relationships behind the wrestlers in real life.  Finding out who are friends for real behind the scenes, and what they like to get up to is half the point of these kind of books, and it gave a nice chance for us to find out a little about those wrestlers who are unlikely to ever get their own autobiographies.

Even for a wrestling book, it's pretty trashy, but it is good fun, and to any wrestling fan, it is something I would recommend.  I'd also like to see the WWE release more of this kind of thing as well.

8/10

Friday, 11 March 2011

Book 15 - The Perfect Murder

Book - The Perfect Murder
Author - Peter James
Year - 2010
Genre - Crime
Pages - 127

This book is part of a series called Quick Reads.  This is a fantastic little initiative whereby top authors have written books in aid of World Book Day which are shorter than usual, and retail for only £1.99.  This gives people a chance to pick up an author that they have never heard of before, or just buy a new book for a bit of a cheaper rate, and as such gets the full thumbs up from me.

The book itself follows Victor and Joan, a married couple who do not get along at all.  Living under the same roof, they both plot to kill the other in the perfect, undetectable murder.  Of course, things don't go to plan, and we find out why.

The book is pretty lightweight, and borrows pretty heavily from the entire concept of James M Cain's Double IndemnityThe characters are forgettable and unlikable, and the ending is obvious from a million miles away.  It isn't terribly written, and considering it is supposed to be quite specifically a leisurely read, I suppose it would be a little mean to say that the whole book is ruined by either of these facts, but I was certainly left a little disappointed, and pleased that I could simply whip through it without really thinking.

If you're a quick reader, then a simple little book to fill a train journey, but otherwise, I wouldn't bother.  Do however look up some more of these Quick Reads books, as they are definitely worth a shot.

5/10

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Book 14 - Equal Rites

Book - Equal Rites
Author - Terry Pratchett
Year - 1987
Genre - Fantasy
Series - Discworld

The Discworld read rolls on apace with this, the third book in the series, and the first that I have read which is a part of what is known as 'The Witches' thread.  Instead of following the inept wizard Rincewind, we are instead introduced to one of the major players in the Discworld universe, that of Granny Weatherwax as she guides the world's first female wizard on her quest to reach and train at the Unseen University - the hub of all wizard training on the Discworld.

Aside from the personnel the biggest change that I felt is the throughline.  The first two books have quite a jumbled feel in the main, with events happening abruptly and ending just as abruptly, whereas you could always tell where this one was going - it being more of a traditional fantasy travel-to-your-destiny kind of a storyline.  This not particularly a positive or a negative, as it is equally as good as the first two books, but seems to represent a little bit of growing up in Pratchett's writing - something that seems silly to say considering his global popularity now, but bear in mind this is only the third of forty Discworld books, and was written twenty four years ago.

I am thoroughly enjoying the series at the moment, and encourage any fantasy fans who like a little tongue in cheek humour with their fiction to read this series if you haven't already - which you probably have; I think I must be one of the last to jump on the Pratchett bandwagon.

8/10

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Book 13 - A Simples Life

Book - A Simples Life
Author - Aleksandr Orlov
Year - 2010
Genre - Autobiography/Comedy (both are loose terms)
Pages - 127
Bought for me by my Mum and Dad

See if you can see where my problem is with this book.  It is an autobiography.  But it is not just a normal autobiography, it is an autobiography of a meerkat.  But it is not just an autobiography of a meerkat, it is an autobiography of a fictional meerkat.  But it is not just an autobiography of a fictional meerkat, but it is an autobiography of a fictional meerkat who is the mascot of an insurance company*.

Yes, Aleksandr Orlov is that meerkat off of the comparethemarket.com adverts.  Somehow, they appear to have become rather popular, and there is an incredible amount of merchandise based around this meerkat in a cravat.  I don't particularly get it - I don't even like the adverts - but when I received this book for Christmas, I thought I should give it a shot.

And I hated it.  It has been suggested to me by friends who also read a lot and like some classic literature, that it is quite funny, and as it has no pretensions of being anything other than a silly merchandising read, it shouldn't be judged too harshly.  Unfortunately, it really isn't funny - unless over a hundred pages of mispronouncing words and thinking of food based puns ('mushy fleas' anyone?  No?) is the kind of thing that gets you rolling in the aisles.  And even though it is not claiming to be the latest addition to the Bronte legacy, that doesn't mean that it should get away with being crap.

If you are a fan of someone, then you can do worse than read their autobiography, no matter how dull a celeb other people may think they are, or how ghostwritten their book is.  If you are enough of a fan of a fake meerkat that you were clamouring for his life story, then you really, really need to sort yourself out.

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

* As Pat quite rightly pointed out to me, Aleksandr Orlov is not the mascot of an insurance company, but the mascot of a meerkat comparison service which is regularly mistaken for an insurance company.  However, following this train of thought involves buying into the whole concept of this bloody meerkat actually existing, which I pretty much refuse to do.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Book 12 - Slam

Book - Slam
Author - Nick Hornby
Year - 2007
Genre - Teenage Fiction
Pages - 292

In reading Slam I have now managed to read all of Nick Hornby's novels.  He truly is a terrific writer, and I shall make a point now of suggesting to anyone who hasn't read anything of his to grab hold of one of them now.  This is the first Hornby book to have been written for a slightly younger audience - although only just, it is a teenage book and is full of sex and swearing just by its very nature - and I was not quite sure how I was going to find it.

Written from the point of view of a sixteen year old skater (that's skateboarding, not ice skating, as he is keen to point out) called Sam, it tells the story of how he finds himself with Alicia, and how the pair of them find themselves expecting a child.  Throw in a talking poster of Tony Hawk and some possible time travel, and you would expect that things are a little weird, but actually it is an entirely natural book, and it's realism is both its strongest and weakest point.

The plus side is that you completely understand your narrator from the word go, primarily because he talks in exactly the way that a sixteen year old skater would speak.  Or possibly more to the point, as a twenty six year old man, I don't know how a sixteen year old skater would speak, so Hornby has managed to write a book in the way that a twenty six year old man imagines that a sixteen year old skater would speak.  Which when you think about it, is even more impressive.  I would suggest that it has always been a bit of a hallmark of Hornby's writing that his main characters are believable, and it draws you in straight away.

The only bad side to this, is that when things are going wrong for Sam, the whole book becomes almost unbearably cringeworthy.  At one point I felt so embarrassed for him that I couldn't read more than a couple of lines without shutting the book up again, and had to resort to blasting through a couple of chapters to get on track.  It is of course, a massive compliment to his writing that he has managed to make a reader feel that way, but I would be lying if I said that they were pages that I enjoyed.

However, despite me thinking that it would at the time, it does not detract from what is an excellent book.  The story is great, the writing great, and the message great.  In sixteen years, Hornby has managed to put out only six novels, with the most recent one being last year, so I am not massively hopeful for when the next will be out, but I shall be awaiting it eagerly.

9/10

Book 11 - Nine

Book - Nine
Author - Arthur Kopit and Maury Yeston
Year - 1982 (Broadway Production)
Genre - Play

In a first for a book on this blog, this is something that I had to read.  The theatre group that I perform with, DAODS, has a very talented Youth Group.  They are performing this show, Nine at Heathfields Hall in Dartford from 15th to 19th March this year, and I am stage managing for them.  Some of the talent on show is incredible, and with the amount of effort that they put in - especially whilst fitting in A Levels - deserves some excellent audiences.  You can book tickets through David on 020 8300 8148, and find more details at the DAODS website.

Plug aside, I have dutifully read the script for the show.  The story is based upon the early 60s film 8 1/2 (see what they did there?) and follows Guido Contini, an Italian movie director who has only a short time to come up with an entire new script for a film he is due to be shooting.  However, his life is pretty much taken up by all of the women in his life - be it his wife Luisa, his mistress Carla, his producer La Fleur or shades from his past such as his mother.

The whole thing has a very metaphysical feel, and without telling you the ending, and spoiling the production that you are going to see in a couple of weeks, there is a wonderful self referencing twist to the plot.  The characters build perfectly together, and the part of Guido is turned into one that any musical theatre actor would be salivating to play.  There is such a scope for what can be done with the show, that you could go and see a dozen different productions and see a dozen different interpretations.  I am so proud to be a part of this production, but would love an opportunity in the future to be in or direct the show - I thought that when I saw it in Edinburgh last summer, and think so even more having seen the guys rehearsing and having read the script.

If there is one very definite criticism, it is that - like most musicals - it is certainly not a book made to be read, but to be performed on stage.  There are sections with alternate Italian wordings in, and the songs that work so perfectly on stage make the pacing very difficult.  This is mainly why I have refrained from reviewing musical scripts here before, but with such a wonderful show, I wanted to get a little plug out - and hopefully not turn this into a theatre review instead of a book review (I think I failed, and made it mainly advert.  Sorry!  Oh well, see you there!)

9/10 (could it be anything else)