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.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Book 43 - Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident

Book - Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident
Author - Eoin Colfer
Year - 2001
Genre - Fantasy
Pages - 288
Series - Artemis Fowl

The last of the books in this little flurry of reviews that I have put up today is the follow up to the previous book.  I usually try not to read two books in the same series one after another - I like to mix things up a little - but I was pretty excited to get a start on the second one here, and decided that as I have failed on this front several times in the past, it couldn't hurt to do so once more.

The same characters are there - Fowl, Holly, Root and Fowl's butler, Butler (this seemingly unimaginative coincidence is explained nicely in the book, but you can read it to find out), but this time they are working together in a compound plot that involves the rescue of Artemis' presumed dead father from the Arctic, and a goblin rebellion below the ground.  I have read somewhere that Colfer describes his Artemis Fowl series as "Die Hard with fairies" and this is a concept that I can get behind entirely.  There is a sense of action that is interspersed with both fantasy and humour that makes this series incredibly readable.  I mentioned in the last review about how there will always be parallels between any fantasy book with a young male protagonist, and Harry Potter.  I probably should have mentioned however, just how different these books are, whilst simultaneously being exactly the right kind of thing for each other's markets.

The best thing is that this is a series of eight books, so I still have another six to look forward to. Shall start gathering together my Christmas pennies...


Book 42 - Artemis Fowl

Book - Artemis Fowl
Author - Eoin Colfer
Year - 2001
Genre - Fantasy
Pages - 277
Series - Artemis Fowl

I remember my Mum suggesting this book to me years and years ago when I was pining for a new Harry Potter book.  As a fantasy series based around a young boy, there would always be comparisons made, but this series has a twist - instead of being a young hero, the eponymous Artemis is a young criminal.

Artemis is a great character.  He is immensely intelligent, incredibly wealthy and manages to combine enough bad qualities to make him look a criminal, but enough good qualities to keep him squarely as the main character of the book. This first outing sees him attempt to infiltrate the world of fairies to make himself more money, and introduces the fairy characters of Holly Short and Commander Root - also brilliantly written characters.  You would think from my description that it is a purely character led book, but the plot is brilliant as well.  I won't claim that it has the twists and turns of a literary classic, but it is engrossing throughout, and not just to the children's/young adult's audience that it is nominally aimed at, but even to me as a (slightly) older reader.

I always like starting a new fantasy series, and this is a great one to have gotten going on.  I only wish that I had made the plunge many years ago when my Mum suggested it to me.


Book 41 - Cirque du Freak

Book - Cirque du Freak
Author - Darren Shan
Year - 2000
Genre - Children's Fantasy
Pages - 192

Another book that came about due to it being covered at school (prepare yourself for plenty of these over the next, I don't know, forty years).  This is the first in a series about the young Darren who visits a freak show with his friend Steve.  Darren is a huge fan of spiders and is drawn to the strange spider act in the show.  I don't want to spoil the plot for anyone - I try pretty hard not to in these blogs - and it is pretty tough, as this entire book is pretty much a set up for the series of nine books, but a cursory look at the titles of them should tell you that this is a vampire series.

Vampires are not really my thing.  I am not a fan of gothic fiction particularly, and even when looking at modern books about vampires, there is a tendency to stray towards that kind of a feel.  It is difficult to explain why I have difficulty summoning up much enthusiasm about such a specific branch - I have no problem with most other fantastical creature types - but it simply remains a fact that they are not my cup of tea.  I tend to be able to appreciate them however, and books like Fevre Dream I have found very good (not Twilight though.  Never Twilight.)

So I feel happy enough to say that this is a good book.  It is accessible to younger readers, but the subject is mature enough for teens as well.  I have a feeling that the story will build very nicely, and the characters are set well in this first book.  However, I didn't particularly enjoy it myself.  As it is well written, I didn't hate it, but I just cannot summon up that love for this kind of thing to enjoy myself enough.


Book 40 - Holes

Book - Holes
Author - Louis Sachar
Year - 1998
Genre - Children's
Pages - 241

For those of you who don't know, this September I started a new job.  I am now training to become an English teacher.  All these years of reading plenty of books has paid off.  There is a certain irony to the fact that I now have such little time to read for pleasure nowadays when it is something that I try and persuade teenagers to do, but the one thing I do need to do is read the books that I will be teaching to students.  Whilst this means that I may have a little less choice in the matter of what I am reading at the moment, there is no reason to not include any of these books that I read here on the Book Challenge, is there?  Oh yes, I make the rules up don't I?  Well, review them I shall then.

I actually read Holes during the first Book Challenge in 2009 (the one that I failed at so miserably) and quite liked it.  It is a story about Stanley Yelnats (see if you can find the literary trick in the name... sorry, teacher mode there) who is sent to a camp for young offenders for stealing a pair of sneakers.  It transpires that this is not a normal camp, but instead the campers are forced to dig a five foot hole each day.  Stanley suspects that something is up - and of course for the sake of plot, there is.

It's a cracking book for kids with some great characters, a lovely series of chapters that intersperse the current day with the same place a hundred or so years before, and is also a great book to teach - I managed to put together some great lessons for my Year Sevens based on this one, and imagine I will probably teach it again in the future.


Book 39 - Freedom

Book - Freedom
Author - Jonathan Franzen
Year - 2011
Genre - Fiction
Pages - 570
Lent to me by Angharad Rees

After a bit of a reading block, I was lent Freedom by Angharad this summer with the highest recommendation.  I was feeling pretty frazzled from a lot of reading, so was a little reluctant at the time, but with a full free day ahead of me, I decided to give it a shot.

It is the kind of book that I find tough to categorise in terms of genre.  Set in a roughly contemporary time, and following the lives of a family as they branch out in different directions, the best overall theme I can give it is 'Fiction'.  To give you a little more, we find out in the opening that Walter Berglund has been involved in some kind of a scandal.  We don't know what, but it has made the front page of the New York Times.  What follows is the lives of Walter and his family, with all of the mistakes that they make, and the relationships that follow.  The book is written in several different forms, including a self help autobiography from Walter's wife Patty, alongside traditional narrative, and looks at not just this pair, but also their young Republican son, a washed up rocker, and revelations throughout.

There is nothing startlingly new or different about any of it, but it really doesn't matter when the book is as engaging and entertaining as this one is.  I think I managed to make my way through the whole 570 pages in a little over twenty four hours, which says something about how absorbing it is.  Most of my reading tends toward more specific genres - be it fantasy, autobiography, language etc - so this is not the kind of thing I would often read, but I am glad I did as it is an incredibly good read, and worth picking up if you have a spare day to read (or week if you don't read as fast as a freak like me).


Monday, 20 August 2012

Book 38 - Grumpy Old Men

Book - Grumpy Old Men
Author - David Quantick
Year - 2004
Genre - Toilet Book
Pages - 143

Over the past couple of years I have read several books that would be considered as 'grumpy old men' books.  It was a fad that was pretty big around the early 2000s, and spawned many books and talking head TV shows.  One of my recent reads in this category was the quite frankly dreadful Don't Get Me Startedbut unperturbed, I pushed onwards by reading David Quantick's Grumpy Old Men.

And very glad I am that I did.  Most of the time these books tends to try and make the reader think 'Ah yes!  I agree that this is something that makes me grumpy.  Ha ha ha.  It must therefore be funny that we agree on this, and you have put it in a book to validate it.  Ha ha ha.'  There is not necessarily anything wrong with books like this, but it is nice to read one that tries to inject actual humour into proceedings, and manages it brilliantly.

The subjects aren't particularly new - public transport, traffic wardens and D-list celebrities all receive the treatment - but Quantick manages to make his rants genuinely laugh out loud funny.  Instead of feeling the moment of resentment you usually feel with these books when the author chooses a subject you like, you look forward to reading how he will make you laugh at it. And I genuinely did laugh out loud several times whilst reading this book.  Of course, it is massively within the realm of quite disposable toilet books, but as they go, a very good one indeed.


Thursday, 19 July 2012

Book 37 - Mother Tongue

Book - Mother Tongue
Author - Bill Bryson
Year - 1990
Genre - History of Language
Pages - 244
Recommended by Colin Simpson (about ten years ago!)

When I was at school, my English teacher, Mr Simpson, recommended to us many books.  As he is one of the most well read men I know, if he picked any out, then I considered them to be important reads.  Over the years, I have read Three Men In A Boat, have started the Discworld series, and now, as I take my first steps towards becoming an English teacher myself (yes, this blog has gone some of the way to inspiring a career change), I thought I should read the last of the books that I remember him recommending to me at school, Bill Bryson's Mother Tongue.

Mother Tongue is a history of the English language.  Looking at its roots, through the different influences that other languages have had on it, to the growth of vocabulary, grammar and syntax, on to the formation of dictionaries, and the differences of British English and American English, but not ignoring any other dialect or pidgin on the way, this book really has everything.  And throughout, it is delivered in Bryson's signature style, in which even the most complex ideas, or theoretically dull points are made accessible.

There are far to many interesting things to share here, and it is maybe unfair to pick out the choicest ones, as this is a book that definitely falls into the category of a 'book you should read', especially if you are a bit of a reading buff, but something I would like to draw attention to is how it has aged in one or two places.  The book is only twenty two years old, and spends a long time describing how English has changed over the last thousand or so.  But when it talks about how English could change in the future, it starts to suggest things such as the separation of the American and British forms of the language, it talks about Americanisms that currently would not be understood over here, but may do in many many years.  I not only knew every one of them, but use them regularly, and would be surprised if many Brits didn't know them.  It all goes to show how quickly the English language changes and adapts, just as the book emphasises.


Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Book 36 - Foxfinder

Book - Foxfinder
Author - Dawn King
Year - 2011
Genre - Play
Pages  79
Lent to me by Alex Campbell

Another plug to begin with!  Alex will be directing her first show with DAODS this summer - this very play, Foxfinder, from 29th and 30th September.  If you want to come and see it then let me know, and I shall sort you out, as I think it is going to be a brilliant show.

Indeed, the play itself is brilliant.  No description is given of when it is set, but in my own mind it has a dystopian feel to it, and is based around a small farm where a foxfinder is sent to investigate.  Foxes have become the bane of humanity, and it is the job of William - our eponymous foxfinder - to seek them out should they be at the farm.

Sounds a little odd, and potentially lightweight, but in actuality, it is an incredible piece of writing.  The depth of the characters is immense for what is actually quite a short piece, and the complexity of the world in which they live shines through as it unfurls at exactly the right places.  As you read it, you can hear the performance in the words, which for me is a great way of telling that a play will transfer well from the page to the stage.

It has occasional faults - there are one or two scenes that I think I was unnecessarily uncomfortable with, and the ending is still niggling at me for one particular scene that I am not sure if it is right or not, but they are matters of opinion, and actually do nothing to take away the incredible effect of the piece.  I will be there both nights of the show, sorting out the lighting, and you should try and make it too.


Thursday, 5 July 2012

Book 35 - Sod That!

Book - Sod That! 103 Things Not to Do Before You Die
Author - Sam Jordison
Year - 2008
Genre - Toilet Book
Pages - 227
Bought for me by Jeni and Alinda

Adding to the neverending array of toilet books that are available, a relative king of the genre, Sam Joridson, has released this little nugget.  List books are all over the place, and a prime varient of this genre is that of 'Things To Do Before You Die'.

What Jordison offers is a subversion of that, with a pile of things that are commonly put on to these lists, but that he argues you definitely should not be doing.  Suggestions such as 'Read Ulysses' or 'Shave All Your Hair Off' recieve the treatment on why they should not be done.

And it's pretty amusing.  But much as you may expect, it is not the kind of book that is going to set the world on fire.  Give it a read by all means, and to pick up for a few minutes at a time, it is just right, but don't expect something that is going to stay with you for ever and ever.  And that is pretty much all I have to say.


Book 34 - The Power of Six

Book - The Power of Six
Author - Pitticas Lore
Year - 2011
Genre - Young Adult Sci Fi
Pages - 380
Series - The Lorian Legacy

When you are reading a series, and after a gap of only a few months between the first and second books, you still feel a need to read a quick synopsis of the first book to remind you what happened, it is not a particularly great sign.  It shows you that the first book was forgettable, and should really make you question whether or not to read the second one.

This occurred to me halfway through a quick synopsis of I Am Number Four, which I found was necessary several pages into this, the second book in the Lorian Legacies.  I remembered the first book as a film-like action book with all of the prerequisites of a teen action/superhero/romance storyline.  Looking back upon my review of it, I used words such as 'hackneyed' and 'obvious'.  Yet I still enjoyed it and had looked forward to the rest of the series.

About thirty pages in, and this seemed a silly statement to make.  Moving on from John, the Number Four of Book One, and his companion Six, we meet Marina - Number Seven - in Spain (stick with me).  The pace slows considerably as we find out what she has been doing as her legacies - superpowers for all intents and purposes - have been developing.  So far, so dull.  I considered giving it up, and leaving this as a promising series that I couldn't be bothered to keep on with.

But then, much like the first book, it just got good.  Things started blowing up.  Sword fights raged.  Lasers flew about indiscriminately.  And thankfully the romantic stuff (yuck!) was kept to a minimum.  Whilst this book seems slightly less written to a specific setting of 'Let's get a film deal out of this', there is still plenty of action, and keeps you on your toes throughout.

In summary, ignore the start of this review where I imply that this is a boring load of nonsense.  It is an exciting, silly, thoroughly enjoyable load of nonsense.  Roll on the end of August when the third book of nonsense comes out!


Saturday, 30 June 2012

Book 33 - Mockingjay

Book - Mockingjay
Author - Suzanne Collins
Year - 2010
Genre - Young Adult Sci Fi
Pages - 458
Series - The Hunger Games

As I mentioned in my post on the previous book in The Hunger Games trilogy, Catching Fire, I started this book at 2:30 in the morning, immediately after finishing its predecessor.  And to start with, I was pretty happy.  It is the same world that we have inhabited for the past two books, but there has been real change.  As a big plus to the books, they do give a real sense of progression, something which is occasionnaly lacking in series such as this.

Unfortunatley, the book really goes downhill.  Whenever I review a later book in a series I always try and be quite careful as to not give away any spoliers, so I shall of course continue that here.  It should come as not surprise however, that this is the wrap up of the series.  As such, you need a strong build to a good conclusion.  The build in these books has been tremendous, with characters that you care about, and nice relationships developed.  And of course, the action is particularly good for a young adult book.

This continues here, albeit with some character developments that you may not particularly want to see, for a large chunk of the book.  Then all of a sudden the wheels come off.  The action stops making perfect sense, in such a way that you sometimes have to reread sections to fully undertsand what is happening.  Character arcs are pretty much dropped, including one particularly important character.  The action builds, then stops incredibly abruptly, to be replaced with an ending that feels very flat.  Even within this ending, everything is pretty half hearted and lacks both the intrigue and urgency that has been built up in the first two novels.  And nearly everyone I have spoken to who has read the full trilogy has been disappointed with the ending, and as much as I would love to buck the trend, I can't help but agree.

At the end of the day, this shouldn't put you off.  The first book, The Hunger Games, is a truly brilliant read, and although they do get progressively worse, the whole trilogy is a triumph for young adult science fiction.


Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Book 32 - Catching Fire

Book - Catching Fire
Author - Suzanne Collins
Year - 2009
Genre - Young Adult Sci Fi
Pages - 472
Series - The Hunger Games Trilogy

The first book in The Hunger Games trilogy - suitably titled The Hunger Games - was a brilliant book, that on reflection, I should have doled out a ten out of ten score for.  When I had finished it, I rushed out to my nearest independent bookseller (*cough* Tesco *cough*) and grabbed a copy of both of the following books.  I could not wait to get back and start reading them, and delved straight in to the second of the series Catching Fire.

And about a day later, I put it down for three months.  Why?  Well, it just wasn't catching my imagination like the first one.  This book starts out bleak.  After such a high octane finish to the first book, there is a massive drop in the tempo of this one, particularly at the beginning, and where there was action packed intrigue before, instead there is a depressing feeling that everything is wrong in the beginning of this one.  And so I shelved it.

Until this weekend, where spurred on by the truly slow pace of the history of Britain I was reading, I grabbed it and thought I would give it a go.  I pushed past the depressing bit at the beginning, and now here I am, two days later, having not only finished this book, but also the final book of the series, Mockingjay.

I make no qualms about it - it isn't as good as the first one.  This is a commonly held belief, and I go along with it wholeheartedly.  But is still an excellent book.  You do need to battle the beginning, but once you do, the reasons that you enjoyed the first book start to crop up all over again.  The exaggerated world and cool characters are still there, and a story that quickly racks up to an excellent speed, even though the twists are hardly groundbreaking at all.

There is still the sense that the book was written with half an eye on a big screen adaptation, but that by no means takes anything away from the book at all.  In fact, may have helped with the writing.  I finished this book at 2:30 in the morning on Saturday, and when I thought "I should go to bed now", the thought was then followed by the more tempting "or I can start the next one".  Guess what won out...


Monday, 18 June 2012

Book 31 - The Stonehenge Legacy

Book - The Stonehenge Legacy
Author - Sam Christer
Year - 2011
Genre - Thriller
Pages - 481

After quite the fiction hiatus, I decided I would pick up this book, The Stonehenge Legacy.  Billed - like approximately 25% of books released int he past ten years - as a Dan Brown style thriller, I looked forward to something a bit meaty, with some clever twists, and hopefully something interesting about the focus so boldly displayed on the front cover - Stonehenge.

However, what I received was a book that is similar to Dan Brown in that there is a clever bloke as the main character(ish) and some crime occurs.  Everything else is so dully formulaic that I can barely be bothered to write about it.  In summary, suicide, code left for archaeologist son, secret cult, kidnapped celebrity, some explosions, a car chase and a vague whiff that there is something cultural happening.  Linking this together are some undeveloped characters, leaps of faith in terms of plot development and a nod at the end of the book that any facts in the book might not actually be facts, but instead are there to make the story interesting.  Which is a bit of a failure, so may as well not have happened.

I am unfairly laying into this book now.  It is not all dull, and diverts well enough.  I have just saddened myself that 481 pages of my precious time has been filled with such middle of the road stuff.  For all of the lampooning he receives, Dan Brown at least has the credit to his name that his books are very enjoyable - whether or not you think he is any good, there is a page turning appeal to what he writes.  This just screams of writing a book so that you can put a comparison between yourself and Dan Brown on the back cover, without actually taking the time to develop what could have been a pretty intelligent idea.  As a case in point of rushed the whole thing feels, I counted three typos in the book.  Not grammatical errors (I didn't count them, but I did notice plenty) or layout issues, but genuine jump out of the page typos that any basic proofreading should have spotted - in fact a spellchecker would have done the job.  Instead, it comes across as a stick it on the shelf and people will just buy it effort - and one that has done partly what is intended as the Goodreads reviews appear to be split.

I am not going to give it an awful mark, because it doesn't deserve that.  It isn't appalling in the way that some books I have read in the past few years are.  It simply is something that really doesn't deserve picking up, that is all.


Thursday, 14 June 2012

Book 30 - Letting Go

Book - Letting Go
Author - Morrie Schwartz
Year - 1996
Genre - Memior/Philosophy
Pages - 127
Lent to me by my Dad

Firstly, a disclaimer on the title.  I always use the exact same cover for this blog as the edition I read - just the way I do it.  You may notice that the cover to this book has a different title to what I have listed above.  This is simply because the book was originally released as Letting Go.  It was reissued some years later with the title Morrie In His Own Words.  I have decided to go with the title Letting Go simply because that is the title that the author himself chose to give the book.

I recently read the truly magnificent Tuesdays With Morrie, telling the story of Morrie Schwartz as he came to the end of his life and dealt with ALS.  Mitch Albom raises many of the major points that Schwartz realised about life and death throughout his book, but Letting Go is Schwartz's book containing these revelations.

They are quite inspirational, and the honesty with which he talks about his feelings on the disease that has left him a shadow of the man he used to be is something that is very touching.  There is a massive barrier which stops this from becoming a must read in my eyes, and that is that all of these coping mechanisms are for a man coming to the end of his life, and that is thankfully not a situation that I am in.  However, should I find myself in a similar situation, I think that this is the kind of book that would give me great solace, and I imagine that I would then rate it far higher than I currently am able to.

So a rating based on how I enjoyed the book, and in this case, certainly not how good I think it is.


Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Book 29 - Universally Challenged

Book - Universally Challenged
Author - Wendy Roby
Year - 2010
Genre - Toilet Book
Pages - 192

Bought for my Dad at Christmas as a 'perfect stocking filler', the basic premise of this book, is to list all of the silly answers that appear on quiz shows.  The best way to illustrate this is probably a few examples from the book itself.

University Challenge

Bamber Gascoigne: What was Gandhi's first name?
Contestant: Goosey?

Family Fortunes

Les Dennis: Name a bird with a long neck.
Contestant: Naomi Campbell.

And so on.  If these seem particularly funny, then that is probably because I lazily picked two of the quotes from the back cover (and even more lazily, didn't include the really long one).  As such, they are the pick of the bunch.  Unfortunately, they haven't quite managed to find enough as funny as these to fill the 192 pages inside the book.  There are a few that made me laugh out loud, but most are less funny, and a fair few are ones that seem like reasonable mistakes - if you don't know an answer to a quiz question then you have a guess, even if you are expecting to get it wrong.

I am a huge fan of quizzes, and this was mildly entertaining throughout, but it really isn't quite what I was hoping for.  Maybe not quite the 'perfect' stocking filler I was expecting, but not too bad overall.


Sunday, 3 June 2012

Book 28 - Screwed

Book - Screwed: The Truth About Life as a Prison Officer
Author - Ronnie Thompson
Year - 2008
Genre - Memoir
Pages - 359
Bought for me by Katy George

Following on from my stint playing the evil Jim Fenner in our production of Bad Girls: The Musical, my director Katy bought me this expose of life within the prison service.  Controversial for its no nonsense appraisal of prison life from the eyes of one of the prison guards, it has received a lot of praise from those who work in prisons, and those who are less eager to be there.

Within a few pages, I thought I was going to have to stop reading this book.  I don't think it is an exaggeration to suggest that there is more swearing in this book than in any other book I have ever read.  And it is all unnecessary.  Thompson sticks swearwords in to everything.  The number of f###s and c###s in the book is ridiculous, and within a few pages you are bored of it.  He is also an insufferable lad.  Spending his whole time getting hammered, and talking about how he hates screws (prison officers) who beat up inmates, but it is fine to give them a bit-of-a-talking-to-in-their-cell-if-you-know-what-I-mean.  His entire demeanour irritated me from the start, and I seriously considered stopping reading just to not have to read any more of his nonsense.

I am quite glad I persevered though, as once you get past the ridiculous style of the book, it is actually pretty gripping.  Thompson's stories are really interesting, and you get the impression that he isn't making any of it up.  He is staunchly against the kind of screws who bring in drugs for the inmates, and who abuse their power, but still does a fair few things that I think are pushing it anyway.  He doesn't seem to see the problem in this a lot of the time, and so you do at least come away thinking that despite him thinking that it is all okay when he does it instead of someone else, he is actually telling the truth.

And if he is, then there are some crazy things that happen in prison.  Whilst all of these stories are funny or interesting, I think that the main point to take away is just how severely understaffed the prison service is.  The most shocking statistic I read in the book, is that Thompson was accepted to serve two years after his interview process.  How many good people are going to wait around for that long before they have found and settled into a less stressful job?

Should you happen to pick up a copy of Screwed, push on through that (bad) language barrier, and I think you'll find a book that is worth a read.


Saturday, 2 June 2012

Book 27 - Don't Get Me Started

Book - Don't Get Me Started
Author - Mitchell Symons
Year - 2007
Genre - Moaning Man
Pages - 246

I should have known better when the supportive quote on the back was from Richard Littlejohn.

Mitchell Symons wrote what are quite simply the best trivia books in the world - This Book, That Book and The Other BookI started reading them years ago, and have delved back into them several times since.  So when I saw another book by Symons in a local charity shop recently, I thought it would be a great idea to give that a go.

Unfortunately, when he isn't giving interesting pieces of trivia, Mitchell Symons is a horrific man.  Reading like The Daily Mail in snippit form, this is a book that made me genuinely angry several times.  The concept is that Symons has split everything that he hates into seven levels of hatred - like the seven levels of hell.  He then gives you a little bit about each of them.

It is riddled with problems.  The first is that Symons comes across as an arse.  A massive quantity of the gripes he has are with the way people say things.  As a random sample I have just by opening the book, he hates - at about level three of his stages of hate - 'People who say "You do the math"'.  There are dozens of these.  And when something such as that is higher than 'People being falsely imprisoned for offences they did not commit', it doesn't really paint him out as the kind of person that should be compiling a list such as this.

His right wing views are all over the show here, and in so many cases that just made me want to shout at him to shut up.  Yes, you are rich and middle class, and some things bother you, but you have had a lot more advantages than a lot of the people that you are moaning about in this book.  People who disagree with you are not necessarily idiots.  Things change, and you are left behind.  Just because you don't use a particular phrase, it doesn't mean that there is a special place in hell for those who do.  If puns truly make you that angry, then you are the one with a problem.

I understand that this book is probably meant far more tongue in cheek than this, and often it is portrayed that way with the (very) occasional self mocking tone that suggests Symons realises how daft this entire process is.  But the constant negativity, and the two page long rants that sometimes occur don't keep that tone up throughout the book, and overall the whole thing leaves you feeling like the writer is a pratt who isn't worth listening to.  Which is a shame, because before this, I would have had Symons down as a writer that I enjoyed and admired.  He now has an odd position as someone who has had two reviews from me - one as a 10/10 and one as a 1/10.


Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Book 26 - Tuesdays With Morrie

Book - Tuesdays With Morrie
Author - Mitch Albom
Year - 1997
Genre - Non-Fiction
Pages - 192
Bought for me by my Dad.

There are plenty of books out there that I would say you simply have to read.  Some of my favourite books, such as A Game of Thrones or Harry Potter or even classics such as Of Mice and Men are all books that I would, and do, really push.  Even then though, I am aware that they are not necessarily books that you genuinely have to read.  They are brilliant reads, and you will really enjoy them, but I couldn't honestly say that you actually need to read them for your life to be better.

However, Tuesdays With Morrie is a book that you have to read.

Morris Schwartz is an American professor, who learns that he has Lou Gehrig's disease - a motor neurone disease that manifests in a way similar to that of Stephen Hawking.  When he learns that he has only months to live, he agrees to do an interview on Ted Koppel's show Nightline and a former student of his, Mitch Albom, sees it and comes to visit.  They then proceed to meet each Tuesday and talk about life, death, society, and a whole range of things.  Morrie has a way of presenting things that really speaks to Albom, and throughout the course of the book, Albom is able to communicate these to the reader.

Throughout, we are gifted with some wonderful pieces of advice from a man who has accepted that he will die soon, and is using the time he has left to try and work out some important things about life.  However, nothing comes across as being overly sentimental or dark.  Morrie has some simple statements which are simple, yet strikingly wise.  Coupled with Albom's own personal journey as he presents it, the overall effect is quite moving.

My Dad bought me a copy of this book when I was considering leaving a job that I no longer enjoyed, and I found it massively useful.  Since then, I have dipped into it from time to time, but I decided it was time to read it again, and I found it as charming and perfect as the first time I read it.

I regularly encourage anyone reading this to read the book that I have just read, and I will continue to do so, but if you only choose to listen to my advice once ever, then you should definitely make it this time.


Thursday, 24 May 2012

Book 25 - The Stone Cold Truth

Book - The Stone Cold Truth
Author - 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin
Year - 2003
Genre - Wrestling Autobiography
Pages - 328

Well, there has been a bit of a gap between my last book and this one.  I had one of those periods where it has just been tough to get in to a book.  I had planned to read the second in The Hunger Games trilogy, but fifty pages in, and I was not particularly enjoying it.  Having loved the first one so much, I didn't want to continue when my opinion of the follow up would be clouded by my lack of enthusiasm for reading, so I thought I would grab something that was pretty easy to read, and a wrestling autobiography seemed to scream out as a great example of that.

'Stone Cold' Steve Austin took wrestling by storm in the late nineties.  He grew from a mid card guy to one of the most recognisable wrestlers in the world, and one of the most popular to boot.  He was involved in a major feud with Vince McMahon, the owner of the WWE - a feud which is generally regarded as one that changed the face of wrestling forever.

In this autobiography, Austin covers all of this and much more, and it is fairly interesting.  But unfortunately he never really says anything particularly impactful.  We know that much like his wrestling persona, Austin likes to drink beer and hunt, and is a bit of a redneck, and he reminds us of this throughout the book, but when it comes to discussing anything particularly interesting - such as his real life argument with Bischoff, or with McMahon when he walked out - he is far too careful with his words.  Maybe this is a problem with his book being published in 2003, close to the start of when these reveal all autobiographies started to come out, and with it being a WWE one to boot.  It is trying too hard to be nice, unlike several others that came out later.

It is nice to see that it isn't all that though.  As a high profile wrestler who died in the ring for the WWE - specifically during a stunt - Owen Hart gets a lot of heartfelt good press in wrestling autobiographies, with everyone singing his praises.  As far as I can tell from these, he was genuinely one of the nicest guys in wrestling, so this is warranted.  However, he is responsible for the injury that eventually finished Austin's career, and it came about through him working sloppily and irresponsibly.  Austin doesn't disguise that, and though he is respectful and regretful about Hart's death, it is refreshing to see that he doesn't hold back in how he felt at the time.

All in all, this is worth a read, and is certainly better than many other wrestling autobiographies (Goldust, I am looking at you), although certainly not a classic.


If you happen to belong to what is probably a select band of people who both read my blog, and are wrestling fans, then check out my wrestling books page.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Book 24 - Mostly Harmless

Book - Mostly Harmless
Author - Douglas Adams
Year - 1992
Genre - Sci Fi/Humour
Pages - 230
Series - The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

I have a huge number of book series on the go at the moment.  With Hunger Games and I Am Number Four and Discworld - not to mention series where I have read everything available, but am waiting for more to be released such as The Demon Trilogy or of course A Song of Ice and Fire - it was reaching a stage where I needed to get something finished off, and as I was almost there, I thought that The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy seemed a great place to start.

After a truly brilliant start, I had a bit of a wobble with Hitchhiker's, and the third book Life, The Universe and Everything I found to be a massive disappointment.  However, I did thoroughly enjoy this final book of the series.  It is a lot darker than most of the others, with some pretty desolate sections, and not as laugh out loud funny as any of the others, but the story holds together far better than the previous couple of books have - particularly the third one - and it retained the magic that the first two books had in abundance.

Since Adams' death in 2001, there have been several books that have been released furthering the Hitchhiker's series - a book of his unfinished work, and a Eion Colfer novel picking up where Adams left off - and I imagine that I will get around to reading them in time, but for now, I am quite happy with where this trilogy in five books has ended.


Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Book 23 - Seussical

Book - Seussical
Authors - Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty
Year - 2000
Genre - Musical
Pages - 121

Crazy for You is in the bag now, and my theatre group, DAODS, is now moving straight on to its next musical.  And we have picked a very fun show.  As you may or may not guess from the name, Seussical is a musical based on the works of the American children's author, Dr Seuss.  All of the favourites are there - The Cat in the Hat, Horton and the Whos, The Grinch - and the plot is an elaborate weaving of around seventeen of his books.

The whole thing is quite mesmerising.  Written in verse, the story is odd and strange, and geared towards children, but with a fun script that would keep adults thoroughly entertained.  I realise that it sounds a little like I am simply shilling for my group now, but reading through the book for the show gives you a real buzz, and the scope for which it can work on stage is immense.

Coupled with the soundtrack - an essential second string when reading over any musical - Ahrens and Flaherty have recreated the worlds of Dr Seuss wonderfully.  You get the feeling that if the books were sung, then this would have been exactly what Seuss had in mind.  I am sure that I will start plugging the show nearer the time, but for now, it is worth saying that I am massively looking forward to getting this production under way.


Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Book 22 - What You See Is What You Get

Book - What You See Is What You Get
Author - Alan Sugar
Year - 2010
Genre - Autobiography
Pages - 643
Bought for me by Ellie Beaumont and baby Evie

The Apprentice is in full swing now for the 2012 series, and a nice birthday surprise from Ellie, was a copy of Alan Sugar's autobiography.  It is a beast, at well over six hundred pages, and has spent the past week taking up nearly half of the room in my bag, but I have made my way through it now and so my back can take a rest.

Firstly, it is worth me mentioning that it is almost definitely ghostwritten.  I am not necessarily saying that Alan Sugar would be unable to write his own memoirs, but I am pretty sure he wouldn't have the time.  And he would probably be unable to.  Whilst I do have a soft spot for people who have genuinely written their own autobiographies without a ghostwriter, I wouldn't say that it is a necessary thing to make the book interesting, and indeed, sometimes helps.  So no prejudice before I start.

So that out of the way, what of the book?  Well, it is full of anecdotes as we follow our way through Sugar's life, from a boy with the occasional grand idea, trying to make a few extra pence with a scheme, to the start of a wheeling and dealing group, on to national markets, and floating on the stock exchange, then his time at Tottenham Hotspur and the TV exposure he now receives.  And it is all really interesting.  I know him mainly from The Apprentice and a little about the scandal when he became a peer - also covered in the book - but learning all about the growth of Amstrad and how he made his fortune, I found fascinating.  He is an electronics geek, and the amount of technical information in there may be offputting to many - he apologises frequently for having to explain some technical info that is vital to a story - but maybe due to the speed I read at, I never personally found that a problem.  Instead I was pretty much hooked the whole way through.

It is definitely worth mentioning that if you want to read this purely for his insight into The Apprentice then you will be disappointed.  He doesn't even get to that part until a hundred pages or so from the end, and that hundred pages has to also include all of the peerage stuff.  What he does say is interesting enough, but he can't mention more than five or six candidates by name, and it is much more focused on the newness of making a TV show.  Don't think of this as a factor to steer you away however, because anyone who is a fan of Alan Sugar on the television, will find a similar sense to him in his writing, even if that is not the thrust of the book.  Just a public service notice to those of you who would otherwise be disappointed.  Although I find that unlikely with a great (not so) little book as this.


A post with reference to The Apprentice would not be complete with out a link to this, one of the best videos on YouTube.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Book 21 - I Used to Know That

Book - I Used to Know That
Author - Caroline Taggart
Year - 2008
Genre - Facts
Pages - 190

I have referenced this many times over the past couple of years, but I am a big fan of fact books.  I love little tidbits of trivia, and occasionally - just occasionally - I may be known to bring them out in conversation with my friends.  This particular fact book comes with a little bit of a twist however, namely that instead of giving you brand new nuggets of information, it takes a look back to your school days and the kind of information that you probably knew well enough then, but would forget as time goes on.

The problem with this, is that most of these subjects at school I hated.  Maths is dull.  Science is boring.  Why would you revisit them?  Don't get me wrong, I know I am a geek, and actually find these subjects pretty interesting, and read about them in my spare time, but it is the revisiting of basics such as long division and a definition of osmosis that makes them dull.  Popular science books manage to get across difficult ideas such as relativity and particle physics in an accessible way, so regressing back to the basics that I couldn't be bothered to remember anyway was not particularly exciting.

The whole book picks up about two thirds of the way in, when we get a run down of the history of all of the Presidents of the USA, and most of the British Prime Ministers - not something I particularly learnt in school, but pretty interesting.  Then we get some geography notes - I am a bit of a geography geek as well I am afraid - and some 'Miscellanious' such as art and music.  This bit boosts the book immensely, and added a couple of points on to my score, but only allow that for yourself if you are a history/geography buff, because otherwise, this stocking filler isn't really worth reading - it would be better to leave it in the stocking.


Thursday, 26 April 2012

Book 20 - Prince of Thorns

Book - Prince of Thorns
Author - Mark Lawrence
Year - 2011
Genre - Fantasy
Pages - 373
Bought for me by Robert Hyde

Prince of Thorns is quite unlike any other fantasy book that I have ever read for one reason.  It isn't very different in its theme - boy tries to fulfil his destiny to become king - or in its presentation - he faces various battles along the way, and is set tasks that he must complete.  It even follows the fantasy standard of having a map at the beginning - a sign that always shows you what kind of a book you are holding.  The big difference is quite simply that every single character in the book - including the titular protagonist - is entirely unlikable.

He is truly horrid.  He does awful things, and does not regret them for a minute.  He is surrounded by murderers and rapists, and doesn't care.  He doesn't like any of them, but that is only because he doesn't like anyone, not because of their choice of what they get up to in their spare time.  It also isn't a case of the book simply following the bad guy either.  The people he opposes are just as dreadful as he is, and it leaves you rooting for the lead simply because you think you probably ought to, and there are no viable alternatives, not because of any fondness for anything he ever says, does or thinks.

Not that this is a criticism in itself.  There is no need for any book to have likable characters in order to make it any good, and it is a brave choice that Lawrence has made to try and write something from this viewpoint.  It is relatively successful as well.  The book is quite the page turner, and I swallowed it up in only a couple of days.  Rob, who bought it for me for my birthday, loved it, and I imagine that there are a great number of people out there would think the same.  I didn't love it quite that much, but I did enjoy it.  Any book that holds your interest solidly is worth something, and as Lawrence has proposed that he write a trilogy based around the world, I think I would take the time to read the follow ups should they be published.

As a final note, I spotted the price tag on this book as being £14.99.  It is a hardcover admittedly, but this still seems a very high price for a book, especially a book by a first time author.  Maybe shopping in charity shops and swapping on RISI has clouded my judgement, but with this following on from the £25 price tag on A Dance With Dragons when it arrived last year, it seems an indication that full price books will not be the way forward from now on.


Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Book 19.5 - Are You My Mummy?

Book - Are You My Mummy?
Author - Little Bunny
Year - Unknown
Pages - 14
Genre - Detective
Lent to me by Maddie Francis

For a book to become truly great literature, it must in some way connect with its audience.  All of the greatest books manage this on some level - whether it be Catcher In The Rye, Harry Potter or any other great novel.  This is the first way that Mr Bunny goes wrong in this, his debut novel.

The basic premise is thus - a young rabbit approaches several different animals and asks them if they are its Mummy.  After having been rebuffed, the rabbit then approaches another animal and the cycle continues until - spoiler alert - his Mummy is located.  Even leaving aside the monotony of the many similar meetings, which it should be noted does not make for a suspenseful novel, the book finds a failing in that the lead character is quite obviously incredibly stupid.

On his journey, the rabbit encounters animals such as a cat, and a cow.  In turn he asks each of them if they are indeed his Mummy.  Now, it is difficult to understand how our protagonist can fail to understand that not only are these beasts unlikely to be his Mummy, but furthermore, as a separate species, are entirely unlikely to even be related to him.  This raises some uncomfortable questions, such as the possibility that he has never met his Mummy and is working through some abandonment issues.  The other possibility is that Mr Bunny is using his main character's questions to explore the idea of what a Mummy is.  Is he saying that in some ways, a cat could be your Mummy?

Unfortunately, I found little of literary merit to this book.  Its prime redeeming feature seems to be that the rabbit has a furry tummy which is touchable on each page.  Whilst I must admit to spending several minutes doing so before reading on, I don't know if this is true justification for the inclusion of this into our world of reading.  Maddie will have to up her level if she intends to recommend me anything else, although I have high hopes for the copy of Each Peach Pear Plum that she has lent me.


Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Book 19 - Metamorphosis

Book - Metamorphosis
Author - Steven Berkoff (based on the Franz Kafka book)
Year - 1969
Genre - Play
Pages - 51

Last week, I performed in DAODS production of Crazy For You - and very well it went too.  What was particularly nice, is that on the final night of the production, a group of friends of mine from my university days came to see the show.  Some of them I hadn't seen for seven years, and it was wonderful to see them all, and in anticipation of their arrival, I decided to reread one of the plays that I worked on with many of them - Stephen Berkoff's Metamorphosis.

The original Kafka book is generally regarded as one of the most important books of the twentieth century.  Gregor Samsa works hard to keep his family clothed and fed, but one morning everything changes when he awakes to find himself transformed into a giant beetle.  The play covers how this affects the family, and is - in all honesty - a pretty grimly dark piece.

Even rereading the play, the scope for what you can do with a production such as this is impressive.  You are given the central idea of a beetle living with the family, and this gives all kinds of possibilities for physical theatre to rear its head.  There are flashbacks that flow straight into the dialogue, and the whole thing has a very grotesque feel to it - a quality that we wholeheartedly anchored in our production.  I have never enjoyed being in a production quite as much as this one, and urge you to try and see it performed - I have done so twice since I was in it and enjoyed it each time.


Thursday, 12 April 2012

Book 18 - The Tipping Point

Book - The Tipping Point
Author - Malcolm Gladwell
Year - 2000
Genre - Social/Non-Fiction
Pages - 272
Bought for me by Bob and the Wench

It's brilliant when you start to read a book that if about a topic that you know absolutely nothing about, and then it turns out to be massively interesting.  Not only is that how I felt whilst reading Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point, but I imagine it is how hundreds of thousands of other people have felt as they have been reading it.  Hands up out there, how many of you right now would say that you have a massive interest in epidemics, and how a fad or craze goes from being a small thing practiced by a few people, into a national, or even international, thing.  I should imagine that very few of you readers out there (which admittedly number ever so slightly under the hundreds of thousands that Gladwell commands) have lifted a hand right now, unless you are indulging in the British epidemic of tea-drinking.  Well, I wasn't one of those before, but now I am.

Whether Gladwell is telling you about how Sesame Street became the number one televisual educational tool, or how Hush Puppies regrew into a fashion force due to the efforts of a couple of dozen hipsters in New York, it is incredibly interesting.  He has a way of writing that means that you feel you understand things that should probably be flying over your head.  When he introduces terms such as the three types of people involved in spreading word about something - Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen - he doesn't do so and expect you to know what he is talking about.  He explains things thoroughly.  No story is lingered on too long, meaning that you never get bored.  Everything flows together so that you get the whole picture.  It is a complete book, and leaves you feeling cleverer than you did when you started reading.  Which is good enough for me.

Bob read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell during his challenge, and he and the Wench also bought me another of his books - What The Dog Saw - last year, and having read The Tipping Point I shall make sure that I read them both.


Thursday, 29 March 2012

Book 17 - The Tales of Beedle the Bard

Book - The Tales of Beedle the Bard
Author - JK Rowling
Year - 2008
Genre - Fantasy/Short Stories
Pages - 109

I started my 'challenge' way back in 2009, the year in which I read a total of ninety-six books.  It was only the year after that I started this blog, but in that time I have now read over two-hundred and fifty books.  And I have now finally reached my first repeat!

The Tales of Beedle the Bard was one of the first books that I read back in 2009, but as I have grown to love my little blog here, I have adopted a slightly completist view, and having this book left off of the nearly complete list of JK Rowling books felt a bit wrong.  So added to the fact that I think it is a wonderful little book, it seemed a great idea to give it another read.

I think that most people will have now read the full series of the Harry Potter books, finishing off with Harry Potter and the Deathly HallowsI shan't however ruin the book for those who haven't yet done so, but I don't think it spoils anything to mention that at one point in the book we are introduced to a book of fairy tales that circulates in the wizarding world.  After the publication of the final book in the Harry Potter series, JK Rowling decided to make a limited run of seven copies of this fictional book in full.  Six of these she gave to friends and colleagues who had been involved in putting together the series with her, and the seventh she auctioned off to the highest bidder for charity - and rather than the £50,000 it was estimated to make, it pulled in £1.95 million.

With Pottermania running rife, it made sense to release the book to the general public, and that is exactly what they did.  The book itself is made up of five fairy tales, each with the twist that instead of the witch or wizard being a bad guy, they instead become the hero.  The stories are much what you'd expect, with a tale crafted around a basic moral premise, but instead with wizarding morals - such as magic cannot help you to find love, or cheat death - and are a lot of fun, but it is the bits in between that really make the book.

Each story has a follow up written from the point of view of Dumbledore.  It looks at themes from the stories and the effect that they have had on the wizarding world, and gives you and expansion of the Harry Potter universe.  For those of us who are huge fans, and will hang on every new bit of information about the series, this is brilliant, and makes me want more.  There were rumours a few years back that Rowling was writing a Harry Potter Encyclopaedia containing more expanded stories such as this, but that seems to have been sadly cancelled.  I do believe there is more life in the Harry Potter books however, and I hope that at some point she will return to them and give us more like this.


Monday, 26 March 2012

Book 16 - The Hunger Games

Book - The Hunger Games
Author - Suzanne Collins
Year - 2008
Genre - Young Adult Sci Fi
Pages - 454
Series - The Hunger Games Trilogy

This is about as topical as I get I think.  Tomorrow the big screen adaptation of The Hunger Games goes out in cinemas, and as everyone and their mother seems to be reading it (I shall be lending my copy to my mother in due course), I thought I would hop on board and join in. (And just to prove that I am unable to be that topical, I started this review last week, and am just getting round to finishing it, meaning that the film has been out for a few days now).

Hot off the tail of the last book I read, I Am Number Four this book seems to be again very much geared to the idea of there being a feature film made of it.  With huge nods to the films Battle Royale and The Running Man, it seems tailor made to become a huge film.  Katniss lives in our future.  The United States is split into a capital, and twelve districts, but the districts revolt.  The capital wins out, and as such, each of the twelve districts is forced to send one boy and one girl to compete in The Hunger Games, a bloodthirsty reality TV show where all must kill the others until there is only one left.

The world is beautifully imagined, with a proper backstory and history, and politics that are easy to comprehend, yet seem complete.  The action is the most exciting I think I have read since Jurassic Park and at every page I was eager to know what would happen next.  The twists are believably explained, and the whole thing is just a thrilling experience, and I am thoroughly glad that they are receiving the attention that they deserve.

The only problem I had is that it does not end how you want it to.  This is only a disappointment until you realise that it is part of a trilogy, and it is not a bad ending, just one that simply sets you up for the next book.  Hopefully the following two will be so good that they pick up the dropped mark that this book receives for its disappointing finish.


Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Book 15 - I Am Number Four

Book - I Am Number Four
Author - Pitticus Lore
Year - 2010
Genre - Young Adult Science Fiction
Pages - 374
Series - Lorian Legacies
Recommended to me by Katie Minnett

Since the explosion of film franchises such as Harry Potter and Twilight (shudder), there is a bit of a feel that Hollywood is looking hard for more pieces of young adult fiction to plunder for films.  This is never a bad thing, as it means that more books get read, but often the increase in book sales is balanced against a film that isn't really all that good (Percy Jackson, I am looking at you).  Sometimes the book - no matter how amazing it is - is not quite suitable for filming.

I have never seen the film version of I Am Number Four, but I imagine that it works well.  From the very offset you get the impression that a big screen adaptation has been in mind.  The story is that in the dying moments of their planet, the Lorians send nine of their children with carers to the nearest populated planet - Earth - in order for them to grow, develop the awesome powers that their race get, and repopulate Loric by defeating the evil race of Mogadorians that have taken over the planet.  To protect them, a charm is placed on them which means that they can only be killed in order.  In thirteen years or so, the first three have been killed, and we now follow number four.

Why does is feel like a film already?  Well, as well as the big battle set pieces that crop up the whole way through, we are also introduced to our hero's supporting cast early on - Sam, the geeky, skinny guy with thick glasses; Sarah, the beautiful cheerleader, and Mark the quarterback and jock with an attitude - who could have been taken straight from any teen film released in the past thirty years.  There is very little new in any of this, and in fact the whole book is made of a mish mash of Percy Jackson, Glee, Twilight, Heroes, Transformers and Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

Note however, that at no point to I say this is a bad thing.  One of the great joys of teen fiction, is that even when ideas seem hackneyed, they often transfer over to make a great novel nonetheless.  And this really is that.  Some of the plot points are obvious from the start, and you rarely feel a real sense of danger or urgency, but few series such as this actually do in their first book.  Instead we are left with a thoroughly enjoyable action book, with enough backstory and history to expand into the seven part series that is hoped for.  This is a series that I will certainly be keeping an eye on and keeping very much up to date with.