The Transworld Summer Reading Challenge and a summation of my March- June reading

Posted by admin on Jul 18, 2010 in books, lists |

summer-reading-thumbnailSorry for overwhelming you with information, but there hasn’t seemed a right time to publish my latest literary forays. Seeing as it’s now July, I better just go ahead and publish what I’ve read for the months of March-June, which explains why there is so much to wade through. This is really a record for me, I totally understand if you just look at the pictures and skip away to something more entertaining like a dog on a surfboard.

Before I launch into my latest selection of mini reviews let me also draw your attention to an amazing offer from Transworld. Called ‘The Summer Reading Challenge’, the offer gives keen readers a whopping four books FREE, and all you have to do in return is write a review of each book on your blog or Amazon. That’s all, nothing else needed whatsoever, and to get your free books you simply leave a comment on Between the Lines HERE and they’ll get in touch with you. There’s a choice of ten to pick from, and I promise you that Dan Brown is the bottom of the pile (in my opinion).  Now for the reviews (please take a deep breath).

marchtojune-booksJulia Gets A Life, by Lynne Barrett Lee

This book was published in the year 2000, when chick lit and women orientated drama was at its peak, so its no that surprising that editors would snap up anything even vaguely empowering and woman does it for herself blah. However this book is not atrocious, as that would be to credit it with to much intent, its merely bland, boring, predictable and rather tedious. Part selection of drivel strewn lists, part inner monologue and part outraged wife, this tale follows the story of Julia dealing with her husbands infidelity. Cue, kick him out the house, brand new haircut and top notch photography job plus 24 year old rock god lover. I know, plausible right? If done with any verve or humour it would be sweet but the tale rings with a bitterness that suggests the author has some unresolved issues going on. Avoid.

Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey

This unlikely romance follows headstrong heiress Lucinda and her beloved priest Oscar in a tale of factories, wealth and religion that encompasses the world as they know it. Achingly written, with the most exquisite attention to detail, their persona’s are laid bare and exposed with straining unpredictability. Unputdownable.

The Elected Member by Bernard Rubens

Parents always expect to die before their children, so when they become embroiled in a  living death, a child caught in a parody of a world, caught between addiction and schizophrenia, the normal rules get changed. Norman has deteriorated to such an extent that he barely manages to live with his father in some sort of unconstrained adolescence, with his forty something sister steadfastly helping him in her white ankle socks. Told from multiple viewpoints, the saddest is perhaps that of Norman’s father, the despondent Rabbi Zweck, wondering how he managed to get it all so wrong. Will hospital help, or will it just mean he’s giving up on his son?

On Writing by Stephen King

King has a way with words, as anyone who has ever read Carrie or Christine can attest too. He also makes a lot of sense when just chatting in the vernacular and sharing his history and passions with you. This book is a mostly autobiographical account of his love affair with words, and how he became a writer. It also features a BIG section on how to be a dedicated writer, which is so succinct I had to stop reading at times as I felt guilty for my lack of drive and commitment to the craft. A great tool for any aspiring novelist or King fan.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Moshin Amid

A coffee shop chat with a stranger leads to recollections of a complicated life and the sounds and smells of Lahore absorb you in their many interesting ways, from the minutiae detailing how coffee is drunk to wider ideological perspectives on what is right in society and how the Eastern man has dealt with the rise of the West. Uncompromising in its truth, but veiled at the same time, the novel is uncomfortable reading, as one cannot feel for a potential terrorist, yet even a half understanding is more than expected.

The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

I was initially very reluctant to read this book. Not so much that I wasn’t intrigued by the cover, but I’ve had bad experiences with books which have such a HUGE bestseller status that they sell out in WHSmith (namely everything by Dan Brown-gag). However once I relented, OK, it was the cheapest book in the Miami bookshop, I was enthralled. The story is a detective/ criminal novel with gritty characters, lots of action, and weird personal displacement. There is sex (which is about as unsexy as it can be- if you’ve read it you’ll know), characters so vivid you feel like you want to call them and have a chat and a ridiculously detailed landscape that makes you feel familiar with Sweden. The main character is a partly autistic girl who has exceptional sleuthing powers, who joins up with a hardworn detective/ journalist in the middle of a breakdown. family secrets are revealed, lies unfolded and overall you’re hooked.  Mikael Blomkvist is the tired and reluctant sleuth who goes undercover on what pertains to be family history case, yet is really an investigation of murder, and Lisbeth Salander is the awkward yet lovable anti hero who comes to help him. When you discover the books original title is ‘Men who Hate Women’, you don’t exactly warm to it, but are enthralled nonetheless.

The Girl who played with Fire by Stieg Larsson

The second book in this gripping trilogy sees Lisbeth forced into the spotlight as she becomes accused of murder, and her past delved into by both friends and the force. Many secrets are revealed and we get a closer insight into why she acts the way she does, as well as some truly disturbing scenes that make you grab the mouthwash in order to remove the bile.

The Painted Man by Peter V.Brett

This book invites you into a fantasy land that is remarkably detailed and surprisingly captivating. 11 year old Arlen has his world destroyed when night falls, as creepy ‘corelings’ rise from the ground and feed on the living. People must hide behind barriers to protect themselves, or rely on special symbols to hold off the night. This keeps people imprisoned in their own fear and enclaves as hatred of foreigners spread and diseases runs rampant. When his parents sicken Arlen sets off on a course to help them, that will change the way he is seen forever, and he takes upon the mantle of the ‘Painted man’, a warrior with wards tattooed into his skin. He joins forces with other outcasts and together they attempt to rid their world of the plague.

G by John Berger

Dubbed experimental, I found this rather indulgent stream of consciousness to be turgid and dull, a fiasco of a novel and something I wouldn’t pick up again. With no main plot it meandered around the authors consciousness and the hazy notions of sexuality were never well explored.

The Sun also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

I like reading a good classic, as when they’re gripping you realize how literature can transcend time and place and create something of beauty and worth. The novel follows Jake Barnes and his unrequited love affair with Brett Ashley, a winsome awkward woman who toys with men’s affections and drives people to distraction. The plot follows a summer holiday with Jake following Brett and her latest lover, and unwittingly introducing her to a young bullfighter who becomes her new bedfellow. Dusky and passionate, the book creates the vivacity of Spain, the texture of crisp water in a glass, and the feel of rocks below ones feet and submerges you in the highs and lows of romance without pausing for breath. Exquisite.

A Princess of Landover Terry Brooks

I’ve been a big fan of the Landover books for many years, so was excited to get my hands on the latest Brooks. However, this feeling quickly dissipated as I read through these turgid pages. It’s not so much that this title was bad, more that it didn’t live up to the expectation created by the Magic Kingdom series. Ben Holiday is now King of Landover with one trouble- a surly teenage daughter who causes trouble. Mistaya runs away from home, and.. you guessed it, finds a cause, a boy and some responsibility. Yawn. The villains are pretty tame, the lessons learned predictable, and the love affair a joke. Sigh. Maybe the next book will be back to form?

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

Set in the 32nd century the book is an open compendium of a dystopian world by numbers. Disaffected ants mindlessly filling in their routines? Check? Lonely protagonist torn away from ideals for something illicit? Check. Oddly vulnerable side characters who might die? Check. D-503 lives in a world of numbers and rules, where everyone votes the same at elections and partners are shared and assigned so there is no jealousy. His girlfriend O-90 seems to want more of him however, and his mind is full of I-330, who smokes, sulks and doesn’t fill in her paperwork. She speaks of rebellion and corruption of the very system he is creating.. yet he can’t forget her. She has turned on his imagination, and the only way to restore order is to have it removed, at which point he is calmer and can watched her die with equanimity. No one wins, nothing wonderful happens, just the bleakness of a dystopian world with no easy way out.

Come Clean by Terri Paddock

This story strikes remarkably close to home.

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.’

Larkin may have got it so right with that poem that he can now be considered a figure of hate, and this book follows the next step in parental mess ups where they send their daughter off to a drug rehabilitation centre, despite the fact that she’s never had more than a swig of booze. Wrongly admitted, Justine is determined to learn what happened to her twin brother, and realizes that those who work there are just as tormented as the patients. It’s an emotional page turner, as only from escaping from an evil system can she save herself, but by doing so reveals herself as unequivocally ‘mad’ in their eyes.

The Final Empire, Brandon Sanderson

I was looking forward to this trilogy, and I wasn’t disappointed. The first book of the Mistborn trilogy takes you into a world divided by castes, the Lords and the Skaa. Skaa have rougher features and breed more and do the grunt work, and treated like slaves. The Lords serve the ‘Lord Ruler’ a 1000 year old deity, and every night mists shroud the city, comforting or killing as they please. To walk the mists you need allomatic powers, which is just what Vin, a fourteen year old sulky street urchin discovers she has. Against her wishes she joins a crew set on restoring order and overthrowing the throne, and discovers comradeship, companionship.. and even some love. Her powers are amazing, flicking off rooftops whilst burning different metals, and the concept is well thought out. Everyone in her troupe has their own desires though, as nothing is as simple as it should be.

The Well of Ascension, Brandon Sanderson

The pace was fast, the characters well set up.. and then there was that overblown copout of an ending which left you feeling like you’d just been sucker punched and paid for it. How could Sanderson draw us in like that and end on such a poor note? Very unhappy.

The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson

The final book of the Mistborn trilogy was equally gripping as the first two, yet lacked a vital something to take it into the realms of the truly exceptional. Perhaps it was the continued nubility of every female character, the way Elend gained powers and didn’t struggle with them, or the continual hypocrisy of ‘we’ve thrown down the bad aristocracy, and created a good one’, that made it a little unpalatable. I also wasn’t hugely impressed with the way ‘new’ metals kept getting discovered, maybe 1 or 2, sure, but to go from ten to sixteen- that’s a stretch! I won’t ruin the ending for you, but suffice to say, the last quarter of the book took an annoying pseudo religious slant and felt like a cop out. I realize this sounds like I’m slating it, but I did read it avidly, I just expected more as the first two books had so much promise. I’m slightly worried this means that the final Robert Jordan books might be lacking something…

Atomized by Michael Houellebecq

Some people may think this book is profound, a wonderful piece about socialism gone awry, but I see it as a rather unpleasant series of encounters with one man’s member, and the profoundly horrible images that came with it. Unlovable, unlikeable, the two brothers who feature are neither nice nor charismatic, just potter along in their individual worlds with equal distaste and resentment grown in every fibre. Avoid.

Size 12 is Not Fat by Meg Cabot

Less about a twenty something and dress size issues, more about an ex pop star/now dorm leader trying to solve a murder, restart a career, oh and shed a few pounds. Entertaining froth, though you do experience a few of those ‘why did she do that’ head in hands moments.

The 2 1/2 Pillars of Wisdom by Alexander McCall Smith

Alexander McCall Smith is kinda hit or miss with me. I really LOVE the 44 Scotland Street books, but can take or leave his Ladies Detective Agency series. As such, I was hopeful but no too excited about this book in the ‘Von Igfield series’. It follows the life of Von Igfield, a professor of Philogy who is obsessed with his own stature and spends his days pontificating over vowels, his colleagues ‘diabolical’ plans and how to communicate with the fairer sex. I found it touching but dry, – this book doesn’t make one laugh out loud, but you’ll probably experience a couple of entertaining sniffs.

Coming Up Next, Penny Smith

Another of my great ‘free with mags’ purchases. This tale follows the career of a failed breakfast TV presenter who *shock!horror!* against all odds manages to get back on her feet and meet an attractive man. Wow, didn’t see that coming. Along the way, their is backstabbing, bitchiness and reconnection with parents. It’s not that I mind a trite premise, as most stories follow certain basic routes, it’s more that this book has no joie de vivre, there’s little humour, a lot of whininess, and a lot of unseasonable attractiveness. Best avoided.

Friends, Lovers and other indiscretions by Fiona Neill

The credit crunch has hit and four families are feeling the pinch. The story is told in a series of flashbacks, with some characters more favourable than others. Quite sweet, and would have been very timely about a year ago, which is when it was published. Would work as a beach read.

Poppy Shakespeare by Clare Allen

Hauntingly accurate with overtones of lunacy, this novel documents the relationship between ‘N’ a hardcore day patient at the Dorothy Fish hospital and Poppy, a reluctant day patient. It follows the convolutions that happen on a mental health care ward and contrasts Poppy’s reluctance to stay with N’s fervour about remaining in her comfort zone. It also makes one question the idea of sanity- if you’re treated like you’re insane do you then sink into that pool? I love how Disability is called ‘Mad Money’ as well. ;.)

The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas

A story within a story, interspersed with mathematics may not sound like the most gripping tale, but this tale is curiously enthralling. When a eccentric research student finds her professor has gone missing she is curious.. and when a book (Mr Y) that was presumed lost forever turns up she is even more intrigued. The book tells the tale of Mr Y, a man who discovers a potion to enter the troposphere- an odd world, where you can move from mind to mind- the student has to emulate and thus enters a world full of equations, the God problem and a ludicrous chase across mental landscapes. Very compelling, even if I had to skim read some of the more complex mathematics.

Lord Sunday by Garth Nix

The final novel in the Keys to the Kingdom series, see Arthur struggle with losing his humanity and trying to save the world from Lord Sunday. A little confusing to explain if you haven’t read the other books, Arthur has basically had to fight all the ‘Days’ Mister Monday, etc to win control of the House, a place which lies in another realm and exerts control over the earth. Not only must he overthrow the evil denizens but he has the nothing to contend with…

Death’s Head by David Gunn

Violent furious and fast, Sven Tveskoeg is not someone you’d want to  meet in a dark night. Somehow this odd anti-hero who isn’t entirely human manages to become a compelling central figure, a mixture of  a Starship Troopers Commando with the grittiness of the Joker. He may take no prisoners but is loyal to his comrades and Sven works his way through worlds and wars whilst caring about his crew. Great stuff.

Myrenn’s Gift by Fiona McIntosh

You’d think doing someone a good turn would reap rewards, but that’s not the case with  Wyl Thirsk. When he ends tortured Myrren’s life she blesses/curses  him with a gift that is to last a lifetime.  Thirsk is an interesting protagonist, but the novel is poorly structured and the main plot confusing and a little spread out.

Beautiful People by Wendy Holden

Full of middle class and the acting elite, the story follows a variety of unlikeable characters on their dreams for stardom. Belle is a self centred actress who has adopted a child ‘for the good press’, and Emma is a nanny who just wants to do good, but is chastised for not having a double barreled surname. Add some class A’s, some middle class pretension, and a good dose of attractive boys with floppy hair, and you have a great beach read.

You Don’t Love me Yet by Jonathan Lethem

Lucinda is troubled. Problem is, she’s not sure by what. Drawn into a world where nothing feels satisfactory and everything feels like it’s some weird game, Lucinda answers complaint calls for an art installation, where it’s the call not the service that focuses on human interaction. Confused yet? You should be. She finds that one caller somehow means more to her, and though nothing ever gets resolved, she can’t let go. We never know who is really engineering her life, but are somehow drawn into it despite ourselves.

This is How by M.J.Hyland

An awkward boy ends up at a seaside town and accidentally commits a murder. Told touchingly and beautifully, Patrick is a strange central character, so aware of himself and his thoughts, yet completely mindless about how his actions affect others. It’s a grim but haunting tale of how people can slip through the system, and the parts of the novel that deals with his incarceration is worrying- it can’t be that bad, surely?

Strictly Love by Julia Williams

A variety of characters feel their life lacks meaning, but how exactly do they change that? A dance class, naturally, where a cha cha or a salsa can heal a broken heart.. maybe. Two couples meet, twirl, and tango and find that they heal themselves by the fact they’re being slightly pro-active. Don’t waste your time on this, unless you love the chick lit genre, minus the humour.

Prep: A Novel by Curtis Sittenfeld

This book is brilliant. Brilliant, genius, an Adrian Mole for the Gossip Girl generation, a new Holden for the new generation of people who haven’t read Catcher in the Rye yet. Don’t let the cover fool you, this book is not lightweight fluff, but seriously intriguing and an in depth analysis of the various relationships established at boarding school. Lee Fiora is the main character, a repressed youth who has little, if any self esteem and focuses so hard on not being noticed that her very absence of identity defines her. Lee joins Ault, a prestigious school ona scholarship, but finds the shining walls do not equal the promise the brochure showed her, and is embarrassed of everything, her background, her appearance and her awkward interactions with her cohorts. This coming of age drama neatly encapsulates the fragility of the adolescent ego and intersperses this with razor sharp observations of youth in action, from painful awakenings to drawn out love affairs. Read this!

Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris: Including Books, Street Fashion and Jewelry by Leanne Shapton

A story told in photos this is probably the most exciting book I’ve read in a long time. With no physical narrative, the whole romance is told through excerpts from photo albums, pictures of receipts for new shoes, invitations to events, a beautifully photographed tale of a romance from the beginning to bitter end. Inventive and incredible, this redefines how we think of the term book, and whether words can be supplanted by images.

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