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, 30 April 2011

Book 22 - The Painted Man

Book - The Painted Man
Author - Peter V Brett
Year - 2008
Genre - Fantasy
Pages - 544
Series - The Demon Trilogy
Recommended to me by Bethan Wellbrook and Dan Norris

When two people independently recommend the same book to you within the space of about a week, you know that there must be something in the recommendation, especially when both make the effort to bring you their copy of the book.  With that in mind, I bumped The Painted Man up my rather large 'To Be Read' pile to the top, and anticipated great things.

The world of the book is one where demons rise from the ground every night and try to kill as many people as they can.  The people have no way to fight them, but are protected only by ward symbols with which they can form protective barriers to stop the demons getting in.  We follow three young people as they grow to adulthood, all of whom have their own reasons for hating the demons, and want a way to fight back.

There is nothing about the plot for this that sets it a million miles away from a lot of other fantasy literature.  However, it is one of the most compelling new books that I have read in a while.  The characters are well built up, the plot is sound, and most importantly it is genuinely exciting.  I found myself reading incredibly quickly at points just to see what was going to happen, and despite not having a lot of time to read at the moment, I still managed to get through its 550 odd pages in only a couple of days, such was my reluctance to put it down.

The only negative I have is the portrayal of one of the races in the book.  With their veiled women, Arabic style tongue, and religious observances, the Krasians are one of the most obvious allusions to Islam that I have seen in a book.  Whilst they do partly build up their strength and courage, the general attitude towards them is a negative one, and I can't for the life of me see why the Muslim comparison needed to be so blatant.  This is by no means a suggestion that the writer has a problem with Islam, or even some post-modern English Literature style analysis of the text - the comparison is very obvious - but just struck me as unnecessary, and left me a little uncomfortable.  I think that these characters may be a large part of the next book, so I hope that my worries will be allayed.

That said, this is a brilliant book, that definitely deserves a look if you fancy a new fantasy series from a new and talented author.


Monday, 25 April 2011

Book 21 - How Not to Grow Up

Book - How Not to Grow Up
Author - Richard Herring
Year - 2010
Genre - Autobiography/Comedy/Travel (probably where Waterstones would put it)
Pages - 315
Bought for me by Ellie Beaumont

Ellie bought me this as a birthday present due to the fact that despite getting increasingly older, I don't appear to be growing up at all.  In itself, it would be a great present, but what made it even better was the fact that it is actually a book about a comedian that I like a lot - Richard Herring.

Herring is probably most famous for being half of a nineties double act with my actual favourite stand up of all time - Stewart Lee.  Lee has had by far the greater success since then - although the fact that a forty something comedian is still touring regularly without being a household name is pretty impressive - but Herring has him beaten in the book stakes.  I have recently also started Stewart Lee's autobiography, and have found it surprisingly hard going, yet Herring's is pretty effortless in the main.

This stems down, at least in part, to the fact that it is not actually an autobiography.  It is one of those books - like those of Danny Wallace and Dave Gorman - which booksellers seem to have been unable to come up with a suitable section for, and thus label as 'travel' books, despite the vast majority of them not having anything to do with travel.  Instead, they follow a challenge or theme that is followed in the book a little like a stand up routine follows a structure, with plenty of meandering away from the point in the name of humour.

This particular book follows Herring as he approaches, and then passes, his fortieth birthday.  Having spent the first forty years of his life being childish and immature and sleeping with anyone who will allow him to, he starts to wonder if he should really be growing up a bit now and getting on with the business of being an actual adult human.  All in all, the book is very well dealt with and incredibly funny in places.  His self deprecating style just about cancels out the fact that he is moaning about a lifestyle that most would kill for, and the only real problems come when he starts to philosophise about something that is at a tangent to the story of the book.  I would rather hear his anecdotes about being beaten up by a university lecturer, or a girl who popped to the loo whilst they were sleeping together, only to spend half an hour in there playing Zelda on his DS, than four pages on why blue shoes make you a possible bad wife.  These bits are duller, but don't stem the flow of the book too much and so can be glossed over somewhat.

If you like books by Wallace or Gorman, then this is definitely a book that is worth a look, and equally, if you are a bit of a stand up fan, then this will also probably be for you.  However, if you don't like reading some pretty risque stuff, or are not a fan of penis jokes, then you can be forgiven for giving it a miss.  However, you will be the one missing out.


Thursday, 21 April 2011

Book 20 - Don't Touch The Nuts

Book - Don't Touch The Nuts
Author - Daniel Ford
Year - 2010
Genre - Humour
Pages - 128
Bought for me by Emily Jackson

Not a massive book, and with graphics on the front cover that could have been lifted out of any men's mag, this is the kind of present that you receive with trepidation.  When you read what the basis of the book is - a description of all of the (no longer) unwritten rules of the pub - then you know that you are going to be in for a blokey OTT piece of nonsense that will try its hardest to be funny, but only achieve a sense of preposterous male posturing.

So it is actually a delight when you read the book and find that it surpasses all of that to become a genuinely funny read.  You can already imagine most of the content - rules for using urinals, what type of pub suits you best and so forth - but the author, whilst still presenting it in a style which befits a former GQ editor, has obviously thought about it and not just presented every cliche about.  The which urinal to use section is about six pages long, and all male stereotyping aside, every man knows that there are rules about which urinal to use that are genuinely complex enough to warrant six pages of text.  When you add to that Ford's style, which sees him talk about his own locals (which he dedicates the book to, and include some in Dartford), and is remarkably casual when compared to the style of the men's mags that the book looks to emulate (men's mags tend to refer to themselves in the third person grouping all of the time, as in 'FHM was eating a curry last night'.  It is a style that, when I read that kind of thing regularly, drove me mad enough that I no longer read that kind of thing regularly), the whole thing becomes a funny and warm read, that is worth a little look from anyone.


Book 19 - Top 10 of Everything

Book - Top 10 of Everything
Author - Russell Ash
Year - 2009
Genre - Lists
Pages - 303

This was a little stocking filler present that I got my Dad last Christmas, and have been slowly progressing through over the past few months.  Purely coincidently as I didn't notice when I bought it, but it is by the same author as the stocking filler book that my parents bought me the year before.  Thankfully, this one is far better.

The format is pretty easy to guess from the title - it is a series of top ten lists all of which pertain somehow to Britain.  The massive difference - as Ash says in his introduction - between this book and the other books in the series, is that he decided that not all of these lists needed to be quantified.  Whereas all of the lists in most of his books are entirely unarguable and backed up with sources - like Wikipedia, but in book form! - this time he wanted to put in top tens that are just interesting, such as 'Top Ten Haunted Houses in Britain' and 'Top Ten British Saints'.  This allows Ash to put in more interesting titbits and makes the whole thing a little less, well, dull.  Of course, there are the occasional bits that I wasn't too interested in - my knowledge of golf courses remains narrow due to reading those bits whilst thinking about anything that wasn't golf - but all in all, an entertaining book that is worth a look at.


Book 18 - Life, The Universe and Everything

Book - Life, The Universe and Everything
Author - Douglas Adams
Year - 1982
Genre - Comedy/Sci-Fi
Pages - 197
Series - Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

The problem with most humourous fiction is that it simply isn't very funny.  All too often the laughs are either discarded to make the story make sense, or vice versa, it becomes a string of wittiness which can't hold together a good plot.  So I have been happy in recent times to have been reading two different series that do work in making you laugh whilst still being great stories - from the world of fantasy, the Discworld series, and this, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

The first two books have been brilliantly structured, with particularly strange events happening throughout, but at it's heart, an - admittedly weird - science fiction story about intergalactic travel, hopping through time, alien spaceships and all of the other usual stuff, but with genuine laugh out loud moments.  Unfortunately - and oh how often there seems to be an unfortunately in this blog - in this third one, the plot seems to have been somewhat abandoned in order to get laughs from the oddities that occur.  The tightness of the plot seems to have been left behind, and in the main doesn't really start until halfway through.  In the meantime we are left lurching from happening to happening in such a zigzagged way that it becomes simply frustrating.  It is not a long book, but took me a week or so to get through, and that is disappointing when it took me a similar amount of time to get through the last book I read which was over 800 pages long.

There is a slight bit of unfairness at my moaning, as it is a genuinely funny book with some laugh out loud moments, but this is not enough to save it from the lack of depth it has - especially when compared to the first two books int he series.  The leading character of Arthur Dent - a classic character of literature if I ever heard of one - seems to follow this dumbing down, and his character plays second fiddle to the silliness that we are instead subjected to.  I hope that the last two books in the series can sort this out, as I wouldn't like a great series to become spoilt.


Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Book 17 - A Game of Thrones

Book - A Game of Thrones
Author - George RR Martin
Year - 1996
Genre - Fantasy
Pages - 807
Series - A Song of Ice and Fire

How do you write a sensible review of the greatest book you have ever read?  Especially when it is the fifth time that you have read it?  Well, I suppose I shall start with plugs, and not even show ones this time (despite me being in Calamity Jane at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford this week starting Wednesday night and running till Saturday).

George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series is the best set of books that I have ever read.  If you haven't read them, then go out and get them, or borrow them, or do whatever you can to get a hold of them.  If you can't read (then you may as well stop looking at these strange characters on my blog) then you are still in luck, as HBO have made an awesome looking series of the first book which starts on Sky Atlantic here next Monday.  Watch it.  Then learn to read, and read the books.

I would usually try and sum up a little of the story next, but it's tough.  Told through the point of view of about ten different characters, it looks at the medieval style world of Westeros.  Since King Robert took the throne from the Dragon-riding Targaryens, there has been peace, but of course that cannot last forever, and the great houses are roused to battle.

So far, so every-fantasy-series-ever.  But it is so much more than that.  In no other book have I ever seen such character development, or such a sense that absolutely anything could happen.  When reading this series (so far four of seven books completed) for the first time, there were a couple of points at which I could do nothing but put the book down in amazement.  I really cannot recommend this highly enough.  If you are a fantasy fan then there is no excuse for not reading it, and if you are not, then it is time to be converted.

The next book in the series is (finally after a six year wait) due to be released in July, and as such I am doing a reread to get myself back up to speed with everything that is going on, so expect a couple more similar blogs for the next books in the next few weeks.  If this blog - which I must admit tells you little about the book other than 'Read It!' - doesn't persuade you to read Martin's series, then hopefully one of the others will.