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.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Book 27 - Eye of the Wolf

Book - Eye of the Wolf
Author - Daniel Pennac
Year - 1982
Genre - Children's
Pages - 110
Lent to me by my sister, Jeni.

Originally written in French, Eye of the Wolf is immediately noticeable as the kind of book that is actually 'read' in schools.  It's not the kind of thing that a child would pick up themselves, or an interesting five minute diversion for the class before break, but is instead the kind of book around which a term's work can be based.  And as thus is probably why my sister - currently working in a primary school - lent it to me - currently working in a primary school.

The story is effectively two halves.  A boy looking into the eyes of a caged wolf sees his story.  How he grew up in Alaska with his brothers and with his sister who had golden fur, and through to his capture by hunters and his lifelong mistrust of humans.  When that story is done, the wolf sees the boy's story in his eyes, and how he moved through Africa making friends with animals along the way until their worlds met.  Written in a style that kids would enjoy, but making some fundamentally interesting points about the world, you could definitely find weeks worth of projects to base around it.

But therein lies the problem.  At times, it starts to feel overly worthy.  You are always aware of the message, and pains are made to make sure that it is that that is at the forefront of all you read.  I understand that this is a kids book, and you can't expect children to understand the same level of subtlety that you can find in (some) adult books, but I can only judge it by how I felt about it, and whilst being a solid book - and one with a very definite market - I can't say that I found it overly exciting.  However, it is still worth a read, and at only 110 pages, even my sister could fit it into a train ride.


Thursday, 26 May 2011

Book 26 - Murmuring Judges

Book - Murmuring Judges
Author - David Hare
Year - 1991
Genre - Play, Legal
Pages - 109

The phrase 'murmering judges' comes from the Scottish legal system and refers to the - still illegal - act of criticising a judge, and carries a potential prison sentence.  Were that to still be an offence south of the border, I can imagine that David Hare would find himself guilty at some point.

Covering three social levels within the law - the barristers at the top of the tree, the police who capture the criminals, and those who are locked up in prison.  The plot is pretty thin on the ground, but roughly follows a young female lawyer and an ambitious policewoman who uncover injustices in the system - be they due to bent police or a lack of moral integrity amongst lawyers - and how they go about dealing with it.  By far, instead of the plot, the focus of the play is on Hare's perception of the law in this country, and the inadequacies of it.  And as such it is very successful.  He provokes a lot of thought - how much justice can be done when the people at the top are more about money and posturing than the people that they serve, when is it acceptable for a policeman to do something illegal if it helps to catch criminals, what price is put on those who wind up in prison for a single mistake - and delivers his arguments in a clever, obviously biased, yet not condescending way.

As a piece of theatre however, I can see that it may be a stretch.  With a cast of twenty five, some of whom only appear for a few seconds and must be of particular races or looks, it is not the kind of thing that you are going to see your local school or am dram group do.  But of course, that is not the point of this, or much else of Hare's work.  Instead, it is to be read - and indeed watched - more as a political essay than a masterpiece of plot and story.  So while it is appreciated, it is not the most exciting thing I have read, although at twenty years of age, still pertinent today.


Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Book 25 - The Desert Spear

Book - The Desert Spear
Author - Peter V Brett
Year - 2010
Genre - Fantasy
Pages - 579
Book 2 of The Demon Trilogy
Lent to me by Dan Norris

It was pretty recently that I read the first book of this series, The Painted Man, and I was pretty excited to read on to this, the second book.  The first book was one of the best new fantasy books I have read in a long time, but I was worried that the second book would be based upon the race of the Krasians - a group of people who are very obviously based upon Muslims, and truth be told, not really painted in the most flattering of lights.

I should start by saying, that they are the main focus here, and despite us getting to know them a little more, and seeing far more of their plus points, I am still not a big fan of the obvious - and quite frankly unnecessary - allusion.  I don't think it adds anything for them to be so similar, and whilst not actually being offensive, it does leave you a little uncomfortable.

That out of the way, it still remains that this book is absolutely brilliant.  Picking up from where we left off, we are introduced to a counterpoint to the first book's lead character, Arlen, in the form of Jardir, a man who sees himself as a warrior sent from God to unify the world of Thesa.  His intentions are always honourable, but his methods are often barbaric and unfair.

His backstory is told beautifully, and brings us up to the time that the last book left off.  Here the different threads of the story entwine, and all of the characters that we loved from the first book reappear.  After an initial two hundred odd pages of introduction to Jardir, it is a welcome sight, but also one that puts our new lead on the same footing.

Without going into it too far here, the story itself is brilliant as well.  In a short space of time, Brett has built up great backstories, and given us reason to care for most of the characters we meet.  Add to that an action packed and exciting storyline, and it is really something to enjoy.

The only pain is that he has not yet written the third in the trilogy.  It is predicted for next year, so in the meantime there is plenty of space for all of you to get reading on The Painted Man, and this, the first new book of the year to get a 10/10 from me.


Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Book 24 - Arcadia

Book - Arcadia
Author - Tom Stoppard
Year - 1993
Genre - Play
Pages - 97

I know that I said towards the beginning of the year that you could expect to see a lot more plays from me.  Well, I haven't quite lived up to that yet, but that has been mainly due to the glut of brilliant novels I have sat on my shelf.  I resolved to at least up my quota a little however, and thus grabbed a play by Tom Stoppard from my shelf - Arcadia.

As part of my drama degree, I took a module titled 'Science On Stage'.  For this, I had to read a dozen or so plays which focused on theatre built around the idea of science.  Of course, this being me, I read one - the one that I had to give the presentation on.  This is one of the plays that I was supposed to have read.  Well, my homework may be late, but at least it can't be said that I didn't get it done.

I read my first Stoppard play - Hapgood - as part of the first (failed) book challenge in 2009, and I remember commenting at the time how one of the really nice things about it was that the stage directions are actually there to be enjoyed.  Rather than just the typically humdrum announcements of 'Exit Left' or in a play that prides itself on its non-typically exciting stage directions, 'Exit Left rapidly', Stoppard peppers his directions with other comments.  For instance, at one point he describes how a book on the stage is arranged in the style of Repton.  He then carries on unnecessarily to tell us that, of course, Repton did his pictures the other way round to described.  Completely not necessary, but there for the play reader rather than the audience.  He also describes the scene at the beginning as being a stately home which is in a big park.  He says this might be seen from the windows.  Or not.  It's our call.  Whilst these asides are less frequent in Arcadia than Hapgood, it is an interesting style, and one that makes me inclined to read more by Stoppard.

As for the play itself, it is pretty confusing.  The action takes place simultaneously in the 1800s and in 1993, and follows a family of the aristocracy who are hosting Lord Byron, and later in time, by scholars trying to piece together what happened in the stately home some couple of hundred years ago when Byron was there.  This makes for a nice set up, and I can imagine the play flowing well on stage.  The confusion comes from the aforementioned science.  One of the modern day scholars is researching a recurring pattern in nature to attempt to form mathematical sense from a natural world.  As it goes, the groundwork for this has gone unnoticed in the work of the young girl of the house in our past time.  This much is easy enough to understand, but the difficulty comes in trying to tie the scientific fact into the allegories for the characters relationships which is implied.  Stoppard gives you little of the actual science, and instead relies on your understanding of either theoretical physics and biology, or scholarly speech in order to figure this out.  A skilled company could probably help to put this on stage in a way that would not alienate the audience (and not in a Brechtian way drama fans, but in a bad way), but to the reader, it necessitated plenty of trips to Wikipedia, or blind faith that the particular bit I didn't understand would not be of vital importance.

This does not mean that it isn't a play to be read, but just be aware that unless you are pretty much au fait with a lot of the science behind it, it may not be the easiest of things to get everything from.  If only I had paid more attention in Science on Stage...


Book 23 - The Blokes' Book of Bloody Terrifying Stuff

Book - The Blokes' Book of Bloody Terrifying Stuff
Author - Ben Ikenson
Year - 2009
Genre - Toilet Book
Pages - 169
Bought for me by Paddy Fairbrass

The Blokes' Book of Bloody Terrifying Stuff is an archetypal toilet book.  Consisting of three page chunks of information - in this case a 'how to' guide on how to perform some very dangerous stunts such as pulling off a wheelie at 100 mph on a motorbike, or how to walk across broken glass - it is not the kind of thing that requires sitting down and dwelling on, or snuggling up with a hot chocolate to read, but contains interesting little bits of info.

In terms of the how to guide, it is pretty silly - I don't think anyone who intends to actually skewer parts of their body with swords is going to actually do it under the advice of a toilet book, and even those of us who would never have any intention of trying ourselves, but are just wondering how such a thing is possible are not going to gain much from Step 1 - make sure you know where your arteries are, Step 2 - Stick a sword in your arm.  Much more of the interesting stuff comes from the snippets of interview with the experts who have been there and done this kind of thing.  Some of what they say is quite cool, although I think I'd have rather seen this expanded on than the pages being bumped with clipart pics of the stunts discussed.

All in all, not a terrible book, but don't expect to often see it listed up there with Tale of Two Cities or A Farewell to Arms as a classic of the ages.