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 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.