Books I have read from November 2010 – May 2011

Posted by admin on Oct 7, 2011 in books |

The ‘Books I’ve read‘ feature is the least popular feature I have on my blog. Frankly, none of my readers cares at all what tomes I’ve been devouring, so rather than share them  with you monthly I’m now going to do a huge round up every couple of months. This is more for my benefit than yours; after accidentally half reading the same book twice (the cover had changed, and if I reread a book it’s intentional) I find this list a good way to reference my reading habits. Here are the latest additions to my reading time, and you’re free to skip right past this and go read about crazy geek watches, or to my article on how to get a refund from the Apple and Android app stores.

{PS; Extra Note- this has been sitting in draft phase for a good while now, and then I accidentally reread the same book AGAIN (they’d changed the cover) so enough is enough, and I’m now back to listing} To make these mini synopsis more palatable to both you and me, they’ll be distinctly shorter, with only the stand out books meriting a paragraph or two.

Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann

It’s odd to read what’s considered a ‘classic’ book and realize how full of sex, drugs and general frippery it is. The acclaim for the book is not because it is particularly well written or will move you to tears, more that it was shocking for the time, and gives us a modern day Jilly Cooper novel in an era when women were more restrained. It charts the tale of three women. all dazzlingly beautiful, a singer, and actress and a model; from childhood insecurities right up to the pinnacle of their success- and their falls. A nice romping read, ‘Dolls’ are pills taken to enhance mood, a nod to the Dexedrine amphetamine generation. Froth, frippery and fornication blend in a novel that’s every bit as racy as the cover jacket.

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer/ New Moon by Stephanie Meyer/ Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer/ Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer

Note: The Twilight series ruined me. I read all four books in in one week and afterwards I was left empty and withdrawn. It wasn’t that I wanted more of the story -all teen pathos and way too much female limpness;  rather that I’d somehow exhausted my thirst for books, I was sated, quenched, over run by words upon words and I had ten days with no literature other than the daily Metro newspaper. It was an odd time- I’ve never had book exhaustion before, and hope I never will again. I genuinely had zero desire to read, a very strange affair for me. In brief, Bella Swan meets a vampire masquerading as a human, falls in love, gets told they can never be together and pines for him. Over and over for the period of four books. It’s readable, but like reality TV- you can’t turn away and you want to slap every character hard int he face. The one plus point is that the books are better than the movies.

The Lollipop Shoes by Joanne Harris

So sweet, the words wrapped around me like a cashmere cloak of loveliness and the prose sparked something warm and gentle within me. I loved Chocolat, but having read that so long ago, I’d forgotten just how velveteen Harris’s words can be and how neatly they capture sleepy suburbia, magical realism, and the type of indolent laissez faire style that only the French seem to have. Set in Montmarte, this story follows on from Chocolat with a new home for the family and new fiends to combat. This time it’s not the kindly ones, it’s a new witch who uses her powers indiscriminately and who has plans of her own for the sweet little chocolate shop that Yanne has painstakingly created. She changes the way the wind smells, yet forces the family to confront what they want out of life.

Twitchiker by Paul Smith

Take one grumpy freelance journalist, a marriage newly consummated and a love of Twitter and what do you get? One man’s decision to see if he can visit the polar opposite to his house (the other side of the world) getting there on nothing more than freebies from friendly Twitter followers. Can you social network your way round the world- and will the kindness of strangers really stand you in good stead? Paul holds no punches back, from thoughts on how this may affect his relationship to worries that potential Twitter friends are axe murdering Nazi’s. It’s an engaging tale, and one that truly heralds the birth of social media. One of the most poignant examples was when Paul was in SXSW and no one there offered to help his quest- it took a ‘non scene’ Twitter follower to help him continue his journey round the world. Did he make it? Read and find out.

Scruples 2 by Judith Krantz

Eat your heart out Jily Cooper! I’m a  newcomer to Krantz and was blown away by the headiness of society life, intrigues and deceit- Gossip Girl for those of an older generation. I couldn’t help but love the mish mash of characters, whilst deploring their foibles at the same time. Frivolous self indulgent sexy fun.

You don’t have to say you love me by Sarra Manning

Once a fat girl, always a fat girl.. right? Neve has spent years shedding half her body weight only to pause at the threshold of her new life. She’s been saving herself for her college professor, but how can she have a relationship with the ONE when she’s never, y’know, done it? She decides a little practice would make perfect and embarks on a relationship with a very unsuitable man (her sister’s boss) yet finds her pancake relationship (the first one you make, you throw away) more satisfying than she’s imagined. Will she make the right choice? This may sound uber trite but the tale is conveyed with warmth and charm, and strikes close to home considering the writers past as both a magazine editor and a former size 22. Touchingly sweet, it carefully addresses how women feel about their bodies and what’s important (or seems important)  in life.

Funny Valentine by Amy Jenkins

Opposites attract- or do they? A film, star meets an eco warrior and romance occurs. A chick flick with a difference, some extra heart, and less agonizing about men, more about the state of the planet. Sweet, funny and very down to earth, the book has a dry sense of humour which I very much enjoyed.

The Black Lung Captain by Chris Wooding

Book two in the Ketty Jay series sees out lovable ragtag crew take on another unlikely mission that promises them riches beyond belief if they should win- or at least a way to stop people trying to chop off their heads with nasty swords for a while. Rogue captain Darian Frey charms with his inimitable style, whilst his copilot Jess has some secrets she’d like to stay hidden. All is not what it seems, and when an ancient enemy promise to descend, chaos rules supreme- with a side helping of profit, naturally.

The C Word by Lisa Lynch

A funny, brutally honest account of Lisa’s battle with breast cancer- and yes, I said funny OK? She never flinches at revealing the gory ins and outs of treatment, yet remains down to earth and addresses it all with a sense of humour, and yes, a bag full of tissues.  Lisa pulls back the curtain on the ugly world of cancer and shows that you can have chemotherapy and wear silly heels at the same time- that the two aren’t mutually exclusive. A breathtaking book that will have you in tears.

Smashed: Growing up a Drunk Girl by Koren Zailckas

This is a no holds barred tale of Koren’s life and her battle with alcoholism. What’s so shocking about it is how easily she morphs from a ‘binge drinker’ -someone we’re all familiar with- to a blackout drunk girl who can’t cope without the bottle. This is no drugs and drink tale of apathy and sex, rather it’s an introspective meander through Koren’s mind and her situation. Smart and intelligent, Koren looks at how adolescents view each other and suggests that they bond based on their alcoholic experiences- the only thing that differentiates hem from each other and their perfect grades/families/ upbringing. She speaks about girls in a  dorm at college, rows of identikit beds carrying people clones, and how the lure of drink and the freedom it gave people was one way of standing out from the crowds. Never promiscuous, Koren’s sexual encounters are remarkable rare, her love is for the heady feeling drinks gives her, not how boys view her on it. It’s well written and far less shocking than the title would have you believe. That’s almost the point- she’s an ordinary girl living through the 2st century wave of alcoholism and struggling with it.

Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb (Book one of the Rain Wild chronicles)

I’m a big fan of Robin Hobb. She manages to create huge worlds full of entertaining characters which all feel very real despite their oddities, and I love the Assassin series (less keen on the Solider Son series). Her latest trilogy focuses on the Rain Wild dragons, and draws in elements from other books- such as the LiveShip saga and the people of the Rain Wilds. The dragons born to the Rain Wilds are weak and malformed, and to survive they need to find their way upriver to an oasis of their memory. Into the mix come a band of unwanted children selected to be the dragon keepers, and a young woman eager to escape the bounds of her unhappy marriage. A good assortment of characters and the story is compelling, though a little slow. I’m looking forward to book 2.

Shiraz : The Ibiza Diaries by Grace Dent

The third book in the Diary of a Chav series (Young adult section of the library) shows Shiraz Bailey en route to Ibiza with her friends for a girl’s holiday. She’s now 18 and rather at a loss for what to do with her life, so maybe she’ll find some perspective? Shiraz loves Ibiza so much that she stay with her friend to work the summer, only to find out that working in Ibiza is very different to a holiday there. Her friend is obsessed by fame and the money is running out when they get into some dubious company. Will Shiraz cope with the craziness and whatever happened to her ex and evil Sooz? Lighthearted, uplifting and keeping it ‘very real’, this series is entertaining with Laugh out Loud moments.

Shiraz: The Fame Diaries by Grace Dent

Shiraz is back int he UK after a hectic summer, and considering her career prospects. Her Mum wants her to stay in Essex forever but she has bigger dreams- so why is she still in Essex? When an opportunity arises to be the PA to a celeb she takes it, but not everyone is happy for her. She learns that reality TV lacks glamour and that she can no longer count on her friends. Once again, Shiraz triumphs and we enjoy every moment of her voyage of self discovery, as she never loses her humour or kindness. Grace Dent really has a way of capturing the teen psyche and her writing style flows beautifully, with page being turned with urgency.

Guantanamo Boy by Anna Perera

You always read about people being wrongfully imprisoned, but does it actually happen? This is a (fictional) account of a boy who was wrongfully imprisoned. As a teen, all he wanted to do was hang out with his friends and play computer games with his cousin online. Forced into a holiday to family abroad he finds himself arrested and taken to jail for  a terrorist conspiracy. Forced to sign a confession, we follow his imprisonment over a period of years and see his trials at the infamous Guantanamo Bay Prison facility, From being waterboarded to starved, his spirits are low, and though the book has a happy ending (for him) it’s a wake up call to the reader about the atrocities that are going on RIGHT NOW.

A Certain Chemistry by Mil Milington

Half tale of a ghostwriter’s monumental f*** up of his relationship, half scientist a.k.a God, explaining why hormones go so awry and that fidelity was programmed when you only had 40 years to live. Funny and sweet, the writer is engaging and entertaining from the get go, and the characters feel like people you’d meet in the pub, sometimes worryingly so. Pithy observations, from the way you sneakily check out the opposite sex to affair ridden guilt with a slight cocky slant.

Sara’s Face by Melvin Burgess

In a society that revolves around having the perfect features, how far is too far when it comes to cosmetic surgery? This book charts Sara’s rise to infamy through her body dysmorphic tendencies and her obsession and relationship with media star Jonathon Heat. Both obsessed with the outward appearance and with motives of their own, this is told through a third person perspective, combining testimonies from friends and excerpt from Sara’s video diary to create a compelling tale of horror and gothic goings on. It’s an eerie read as it seems to mirror reality fairly closely, and it’s not so much farfetched as expected- which is ominous.

The Woman who though too much by Joanne Limburg

An honest tale of a woman’s  battle with OCD is very moving and honest-almost overly so at times. Joanne is fiercely intelligent and he OCD is mental rather than physical, a worrying compendium of anxious thoughts, frets that people are talking about her and worries that is she goes to a party everyone will comment on her appearance. It’s a frightening tale, as I recognized many aspects of my character in here, the penchant for lists, the slight obsession with public opinion, the issues with appearance and perception. I’d never before considered OCD more than a hand washing issue, so this tale documenting a life fraught with worry troubled me. Joanne bravely reveals everything- literally everything- about her life, from violent thoughts towards her baby son, to issues crossing roads and poetry excerpts. She intersperses quotes from scientific journals as part of her text, giving you the feeling that not only are you learning- you’re also being educated. Intriguing.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

A bleak dark novel set in a post apocalyptic world which makes one question just what you’d do when all hope is gone- lie down and give up, kill your child to save them from cannibals, or keep going with a dogged determination that life has value no matter what. One man and his son set off across a bleak gray wasteland with the lure of the sea driving them, only to find it grey and dark. Lacking food, shelter and company they rely on each other, but how far can they go on love alone? A desperate novel that makes you consider uncomfortable things- and question how much inner strength you might have in such a situation.

The Sunset Limited by Cormac McCarthy

After reading The Road I decided I wanted to try more of McCarthy’s work. Sunset Limited was a strange play/book. It described itself as a ‘novel written like a play’ and was in play format throughout. It was a one scene book, so really more of a novella and featured two characters. There was one white professor who had just been rescued from jumping in front of a train by a black down and out. Throughout the tale they were only referred to by their colours- Black and White. It was interesting to follow the discourse, the black man’s criminal past and life with God and the white mans disillusion with life and conclusion that reality is not worth enduring. It’s odd to hear this point argued so fluently, as the black man cannot match the professor in terms of vocabulary, rather his belief that there still is a god- he believes in you, even if you don’t believe in him. You do wonder if the tale is about more than it appears- if the skin colour is a symbol for the lines that are crossed in life, and you could even interpret the men as being versions of the truth as we know it. Touching and far too short.

Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada

Books about Nazi Germany tend to be rather tedious, worthy affairs, full of horrific details, brutality and unpleasantness. There’s pathos and misery, and very little humour. Somehow, this book bucks the trend and manages to be charming, witty and dare I say it- funny. Yes, there’s sadness and violence, but the cast of well drawn characters, all with foibles and bad behaviour add charm and detract from the horrors. The good guys manage to maintain dignity through the worst of it, and though small actions may not make a big difference, we see how good people rebel against atrocity.  Otto and Anna Quangle rebel against Nazi rule by writing and dropping reactionary postcards with anti Nazi messages. The story of how an old well behaved couple comes to these actions is touching and this is their (and their associates) story.  The day to day activities of life under Nazi rule are personified and fleshed out, and it manages to somehow get under the skin and make you feel like you are living and breathing those days with them.

The Carbon Diaries by Saci Lloyd

I love this book- it takes the young adult fiction genre and places it firmly onto the school curriculum- well, it should! The year is 2015 and carbon rationing has taken over Britain, with cars discouraged, electricity metred out and families growing livestock to have enough food. Here’s the tale a of a reluctant eco-girl, we see struggling with her sister’s underhand solo panel venture, stressed out about the possibility of London floods and adjusting to the fact that the UK is cut off from the non carbon rationing worlds- hard to assimilate when you see MTV broadcasts from the states! Laura Brown just wants to be left alone and get her romance on, but school and its strange new classes force an end to that, and a natural disaster almost ends in tragedy. Wry, funny and scarily plausible this is the book to give kids and adults who don’t believe in global warming, as the procedures taken don’t seem that far fetched.

Matched by Allie Condie

This book takes the idea of the ‘Big Society’ to the next level, a rather dystopian look at dating genetics and how to find your perfect match. Cassia is happy to be part of her world where people get officially matched and then married at a young age- till her ‘match’ gets complicated, as first her friend and then an outcast gets displayed on the dating pool screen. Torn between what she wants and what society tells her is right, she starts to question everyday things- like why should one person be forced into a career and life based on a computer algorithm? This is Orwell distilled for a younger generation and the parallels between Matched and 1984 make it very relevant to a younger audience.

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Shusterman is my new favourite young adult writer as his books span so many themes. Unwind is set in a world where abortion is illegal- but you can choose to ‘unwind’ a difficult kid between the ages of 13 and 17. These kids get their organs harvested (yes, Never Let Me Go style) so they’re not considered dead. From rebellious teens to state owned charges, many get sent to the unwind camps, but three escape en route and try and see if they can make it to the age age of 18.  Connor is an unruly kid with an angry personality, Lev is a religious tithe raised by believers and Risa is a musician who isn’t quite talented enough. Together they have to face the fear of being free and keeping away from the police- but can they overcome their own issue sot do so? Challenging and thoughtful, it’s a page turner from beginning to end.

Everlost by Neil Shusterman

Everlost is where kids go when they die.. badly. Populated with people 14 years and under, Nick and Allie wake up into a ghostly place haunted with buildings of their memory and filled with a ragtag band of kids who don’t know what they’re doing. Frightened by tales of the evil McGill they search for companionship, but with it comes rules and a strange routine. Nick and Allie don’t know what they’re doing, but they know something isn’t right- but how do you go from half death to full death- and do you even want to?

Towers of Midnight by Brandon Sanderson/ Robert Jordan

This is the 13th book in the Wheel of Time series, with one more on the way. I’m not sure how Sanderson will manage to to tie up all the loose ends, but he gives it a fair try. All the main ta’veren players make an appearance from Perrin and his wolf issues, Mat and his uncouth charm and uncanny leadership skills and Rand, one handed and ready to fight till the end. Queen Morgase reappears and seizes some control, whilst factions of th Aes Sedai fight amongst themselves and Egewene’s unity over them is still shaky.

It’s hard to really give an overview of the tale, as it is the 13th after all, and if you’re not up speed this will just be confusing.  Suffice to say that battles take place, Elayne’s power at creating angreals grow and more Forsaken and Black Ajah are outed. The rescue of Moiraine Damodred from deaths door is a stunning twist and those that save her pay a heavy price- an eye plucked from the socket. Rand and Egwene seem to go head to head in her bid to stop from from breaking the world, where he aims to heal it- both risky strategies and then moves to Saladea where he helps win the town’s battle against the dark. Next step is Tarmon Gai’don, but can the light really win against the Dark One on his home turf?

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

Starring probably the most unlikeable character ever, Igantius O’Reilly is amazingly despicable and charismatic. Overweight overwrought, filled with his own importance, the book follows his failed ventures as a hot dog sales man, an office boy and an attempt to be an intellectual thinker. His put upon mother, strange relationship with the ‘she devil’ and general disregard for anyone other than himself make him hated- yet strangely you’re drawn to his corpulent, flatulent adventures. A one off novel, published post humously, you won’t put this down.

She Came to stay by Simone De Beauvoir

A dark tale of the relationships between men and women and that no one is ever as free spirited as they pretend.  Based on Simone’s actual experiences with Sartre she semi fictitiously documents her friendship with a protege who takes no joy in her care, and seeks to seduce her away from her long term lover. The novel features complex emotional betrayal, everyday pathos and a certain languid insolence which only the very young and beautiful can achieve. Distressing but a riveting read.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I really really wanted to like this. It had a million accolades, looked like it could be portentous and beautiful, but I found it longwinded and boring, You’re free to disagree as many do, but this quasi gothic tale that spans generations starts so well and ends so poorly. A young boy is given access to a giant hidden library, whereupon he selects a book that others come to covet. The author of the book is a mystery, with all other copies destroyed and masked men stalk the shadows. Their is intrigue, their is romance and there are about 300 pages more than need be. The concept and execution is compelling but the tale lacks pace, and whilst some might revel in the slow burning descriptions of musky tomes and sun dappled streets of Barcelona, I’m not one of them.

Into Thin Air by John Krakauer

Into Thin Air is not the usual book I’d pick up, but recommended to me a by a friend just about to attempt climbing Kilimanjaro I thought I’d give it a try, I was hooked- it documented something so alien to me but with such great details and passion that I couldn’t help but devour it. John Krakauer attempted Everest in 1996, and by the end of the trip, 8 of his fellows were dead. He packs no punches- you feel every frozen step, feel the eyes go icy from the cold and live every moment of the tragic events. He’s brutally honest, often painfully so when describing what he might have done to save more of his companions and the accompanying frostbitten pictures are gruesome and illustrative of the event. You learn a lot about what drives men to push themselves beyond their physical limits and the book leaves you in awe of those who venture forth.
On Writing by Stephen King

I’ve been told to read this book for years by one lovely Chris Bidmead, and despite the guilt at feeling I haven’t accomplished enough yet, found it an engaging read. Tips for beginning writers are well laid out, and King spares no details when describing his early works and his difficult start in the industry.

The Gum Thief by Douglas Coupland

Don’t expect the likes of J-Pod or anything particularly clever, this is Coupland coasting along on his fame with a story that has a myriad of holes in it. It’s an OK tale, but doesn’t really merit the Coupland moniker- such is the problem with having built a solid rep that it seems editors are scared to edit out the chaff now. Not much happens- office workers complain, fake diary entries are written, a general lack of compatibility with society- the usual Coupland manifesto in a less engaging shell.

The Kings Bastard by Rowena Cory Daniels

A new fantasy novel by a promising author. Byren is a supportive brother to his twin/King in waiting, but his friendly personality and bravery make him seen as a threat rather than a friend. Can he manage to avoid his brother’s ire (love that word) save the girl, the kingdom and get his brother back? He’ll do him damndest- and that’s why this book is such a good read. A little obvious at times, it’s a nice mix of Game of Thrones with some magic thrown in for added mystery.

A Touch of Dead by Charlaine Harris

I recently read all the Sookie Stackhouse books, and these aren’t it. This is a five story novella which fills you in on some background info as well as lets you ogle Sookie as she gets hot and heavy (again) with all manner of beasties. It’s good to get some details on the fairy twins (Claude and Claudette) and there are some sweet tidbits such as insurance sale fraud and Eric when he was younger. Fans will like it, newbies to her novels will be disappointed.

My Once Upon a Time by Diran Adebayo

The only reason this book gets a description is to share just how bad it was. Painstakingly slow to read it has an air of thinking it’s really clever and cutting edge when it fact it’s shallow, self indulgent and about as far from sexy as you can get- Susan Boyle in suspenders beats this hands down. Ostensibly it;s the story of a futuristic private eye and his search, but all it does is racially stereotype every single creed to a repulsive and unrealistic level.

The Five People you meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

This book is strangely touching, It follows Eddie’s last day on earth, an 83 year old fairground worker and flashes back to people from his past and how he has helped make a difference to them. Less trite than it sounds, you’ll find yourself tearing up at some of the descriptions and I love how interwoven the story is- the idea that everything we do is circular and adds to a pool of our experiences.

The rest;

Due to the breadth of my reading, these are the books that I don’t feel merit a play by play of the action. This tends to be that they’re inconsequential- little bits of fluff that added no real meaning to my life, and I frankly don’t have the energy to break them down into sarcastic chunks. Some were good, some OK, but none of these captured the wow factor for me. Those that are horrendously bad WILL be written about- if only to decry them publicly and warn others away from wasting there time. So here are the perfectly acceptable but non standout books I’ve read. You are free to disagree- I realize that any book penned by Hills star Lauren Conrad might be considered questionable, but it was actually a sweet nondescript read, so why be mean for no reason. I read EVERYTHING- as this list attests too, so feel I can give a reasoned overview in most genres (bar historical fiction- not quite made it to that yet).

Sweet Little Lies by Lauren Conrad
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
Crown of the Blood by Gav Thorpe
A Week In December by Sebastian Faulks
Scarlett Dedd by Cathy Brett
Nought and Crosses by Malorie Blackman
Snow by Orhan Pamuk
Full dark, No Star by Stephen King
The Light of Burning shadows by Chris Evans
26A by Diana Evans

In total I read a rather large amount of books in this period-46 in total, but spread out over 6 months that averages at 7.1 a month which isn’t as high it sounds. In fact I’m almost surprised- I reckoned I read about three to four books a week, and this level is lower. Let’s bear in mind that after Twilight I couldn’t read for a week, and just how weighty the Robert Jordan/Sandesron novels are.

Have you read any of these books- or have you just skimmed past the pictures?

 

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