September and October journeys in literature

Posted by admin on Dec 7, 2010 in books, lists |


September and October seem an age away now. I was going through a transitional work period so read slightly less than usual, and a tad more eclectically. You know the drill by now- book title and review excerpt below.

Mister Roberts by Alexei Sayle

This is the first book by Sayle I’ve ever read, and it won’t be the last. The storyline is  pure science fiction, but the characters are so recognizable that you soon forget we’re talking about aliens wearing human suits as a disguise. A young boy discovers a discarded human ‘suit’ left by aliens and enjoys wearing it to scare people. His mother nicknames it ‘Mister Roberts’ and treats it as a person- and a money making scheme. Set in Spain the novels delves into the ex-pat relationships the close mindedness of small towns, and just how messed up the parent-child dynamic can be. Touching and funny, this book was devoured very quickly.

Aphrodite’s Workshop for Reluctant Lovers by Marika Cobbold

The title kind of says it all doesn’t it? A read that’s pretty much a letdown from the word go, where the story line is blah, the book is blah- do you see the general blahness that I’m sharing with you?Romance novelist has fallen out of love with love and Aphrodite needs to step in. Cue lots of Greek god shenanigans, a rather paltry love story and a sulky Eros. Yesss, exactly. Don’t waste your time.

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

I’m glad I’m vegetarian. If I wasn’t a veggie reading this book would make me one. I never really think that much about how food gets onto plates, but this book reveals all, in horrific gory detail. The worst part is that it’s not even trying to be that gory, the bare facts are enough to have you forswearing meat forever- like when you learn that fecal matter on chickens is called a ‘cosmetic blemish’ to allow them to sell it. Eww. It exposes what organic and free range actually mean, and it’s not good, not good at all. The book is a little long and can be a bit tedious at times, but the subject mater is very engrossing and the research seems immaculate- especially as a quarter of the book is footnotes that quote the various sources used.

The Curios Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I really, REALLY hated the film, so thought the long short story would be a disappointment. I was wrong- it was a sweet conflicted tale of a boy who was born into untenable circumstances, and how he dealt with the very tricky issue of ageing backwards.

Generation A by Douglas Coupland

I really enjoyed this book. It followed the same bizarre path as most Coupland models, twisting around seemingly unrelated circumnstances and making them somehow fit together. It taps into current public fears of mass medication, and addresses the way in which antidepressants are seen as the norm.  Ostensibly about five people who get stung by the last known bees on the planet, this tale is far darker and delves into corporate greed, the environmental shambles we’re heading into, and the way in which group solidarity turns people into clones. A compelling, entertaining read.

SuperFreakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner

The second book in the series had a lot to live up to, and somehow managed it. Each chapter addresses some popular science misconception, from card counting to how cows are killing the ecosystem. A good coffee table book, and plenty of discussion points.

Mini Shopaholic  by Sophie Kinsella

This lady is my guilty pleasure. I love everything she writes, partly for the zany characters he creates, but also for the way I’ll genuinely laugh out loud, repeatedly, no matter where I am. The humour is is so infectious that you can forgive her main character Becky for getting into debt (AGAIN) and laugh at how she acts instead.

Terry Pratchett, I shall Wear Midnight

The latest in the Tiffany Aching books see young Tiff take an even darker turn, as she has to battle the evil eyeless man, or face death by the other witches if she fails. Add to that a lairy band of NacFeefles ( a one inch high version of gypsy stereotypes) and an ex boyfriend who will be king, and, well, it’s juts a bit much sometimes. Setting her hat straight and summoning up her witchy presence, Tiff sets out do what must be done, and with as much style as she can muster. It’s a tale of magic, of mystery, and about how growing up is even harder when everyone treats you like you’re a child. Another great one from Pratchett.

The Meaning of Life by Rachel Riley (by) Joanna Nadin

This book was amongst the Young Adult section (you can tell by the lurid pink cover) but was strangely readable. I’ll quote directly here:

I’m going out with rock god and part-time meat mincer Justin Statham. Am certain that he is THE ONE and will prove it by having excellent relationship on every level. Oh no. What if he wants me to do it? Have only just got to grips with art of snogging so will need to get help fast. Or at least by 16th birthday. If it happens it needs to be earth-shattering and meaningful as it is, after all, the Meaning of Life. Thank goodness I have definitely found love of my life and am not hung up on Jack any more. Not at all’.

This is how the book goes, fast, thoughtless, dipping from exuberance to misery very quickly, yet all with some feeling of hope and potential, the sheer exhausting enthusiasm is what makes this tale work, and makes this a children’s author to keep an eye out for.

Wishful Thinking by Melissa Hill

Three characters, one train crash, three women who find that their lives are changed, or could have been. What would you do differently if you knew you were going to die? What becomes important?Told through the eyes of a mum growing disenchanted with her older kids, a girl recovering from a bad accident, and someone who feels she made a mistake in love- well, all changes in one moment, and what you focus on then is interesting indeed. Do not dismiss this as fluff- there are some very provocative themes within the chick-lit veneer.

Things to Make do and Mend by Ruth Thomas

I wanted to like this book, I really did try. The cover was cute and intriguing, the characters dull but understandable, and the drawn out friendship well fleshed out. The plot follows the stories of two friends who reconnect years later, told through a series of flashbacks, and an insight into the world of embroidery. Needlework is the constant metaphor for the changing lives of the protagonists, and it is well written.. just dull. You don’t really care how the friends end up, and that’s where the story falls short.

Conversations with the Fat Girl by Liza Palmer

This book was so surprising. The blurb had me thinking it would be a traditional chick flick, girl finds love, accepts body etc, but it was so much more. Maggie is a girl going nowhere, unhappy with her size and working in a fast food chain, while her degree goes to waste. The announced nuptials of her best friend Olivia throws everything into disarray, and Olivia isn’t acting like a best friend. Once ‘fat’ herself, Olivia has undergone gastric band surgery and has kept her former fat days a secret from her new friend and fiance- a world Maggie knows nothing about. The book looks at how people change as they age, and how a bad body image can stay with you whatever your shape. Thoughtful stuff, with the required happy ending.

Who Killed Simon Peters by Paul Hendy

This book is a funny look at the world of the popular celebrity, from the viewpoint of someone who has clawed his way up to a C lister. Simon Peters is an unlikeable man who doesn’t mind who he hurts, and his tale of pathos on the way to the top is very amusing- as is his sudden death. Who hated this vacuous star enough to off him? Told through the eyes of the investigative reporter and a series of interviews, you get a well rounded view of just how ‘popular’ Simon was. A great read.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

I’m a BIG fan of Safran Foer, and this book lived up to expectations. Not as sweet (or as funny) as everything is Illuminated, it nonetheless provided a gripping read and was filled with quirky observations and characters that were incredibly lifelike. Oskar Schell is obsessed with his father’s death in the World Trade center, and has found a key that he believes unlocks a secret to it. he sets off on a journey across New York, trying to find the answers, and along the way meets a cast of kooky people and learns some things about himself. Very likeable, his solemn meanderings are touching and entertaining.

The Good Divorce Guide by Cristina Odone

Can people have a positive divorce? That is the question posed at the start of this tale, and I think we all know what the answer will be. Rosie is determined to be civil in her marriage breakup, yet finds it odd that no one respects her choice- not even her ex. Rosie tries her hardest to make a new start, and finds that she actually prefers being divorced. You know the rest- readable, but nothing that stands out.

Year of the Griffin by Diana Wynne Jones

I love Diana Wynne Jones. She created science fantasy pre Harry Potter, yet doesn’t get enough of the credit. This book follows the adventures of new students at the Wizards academy, and their general antics. It may be a traditional format, but the spirit and the lightheartedness of the text carry the story, and make you empathize and laugh with the characters- the oversized griffin with a human crush, the gnome with a chip on his shoulder, and the casual annoyance of trained assassins lurking in the schoolground.

JPod by Douglas Coupland

I’m having a bit of a Coupland fest at the moment, and JPod was the latest book in my pile. The story focuses around the inhabitants of Jpod- called so because the people there have surnames that begin with J. Once encased in those cubicles you never get out, and the workers spend their day programming secret evil messages into video games and being generally disenchanted with life. A funny, if distressing insight on the evils of mundanity and geekdom

The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman

It’s hard to be a newbie in the sci-fi world, as you can’t help being compared to your predecessors. Hoffman holds his head up well though, with a tale of gothic ramblings and intrigue. Four boys escape from a military run monk style academy, where they have been trained to be mini soldiers. They rescue a girl along the way, and create an unlikely alliance. They then somehow stumble into the nearest city, befriend the lords and take places of prestige and position, all the while showing off their ‘uncouth; ways and saving the city to boot. One of them displays unusual powers and it all gets rather dark and mysterious. The plot is fast and action packed, the boys all exhibit charm and style, and the girl adds an element of softness to the rollicking action. A good yarn, and I look forward to the next book.

Picture Perfect by Jodi Picoult

Not having read much Picoult I was unsure to expect. A bleak chicklit, I guessed, gauging that from the book cover. Well, that was true, but it was also more of a bodice ripper than expected. Very readable, but fluffy, if you know what I mean? Cassie, an anthropologist meets film star Alex on set, marries him, and then gets systematically abused. The book revolves around her trying to adjust to her new ‘perfect life’ and trying to work out how love can be so painful. More engaging that a lot of chick lit, yet also rather depressing.

Demon Apocalypse by Darren Shan

The sixth book in the Shan Demonata series, this is every bit as frightening and disturbing as the rest. Aimed at kids, I’d give this a R18 rating, as there’s maiming, torture, anguish- all explicitly detailed and enough to make the stomach churn. One boy must face up to a world of pain to save the world he loves.. but he’s not very brave. A great ending to a scary series- Lord Loss is one villain that won’t be forgotten quickly.

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell

I didn’t think this would be my cup of tea, but was enchanted by the tales of slums, tramps and tribulations Orwell endured. I like how the characters in the novel were just that- characters that were semi fleshed out as if for a play, and the way life was viewed with a funny detachment was very charming. The tales of life as a waiter struck a chord, and the tone of the novel was beautifully desolate and really made you think about the situation of street sleepers.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

This may be a kiddies book, but the views of adulthood and ageing are still very pertinent. This was a book club group choice, in case you think I’ve really regressed, and it was sweet to see how one person can be perceived as a world in their entirety, and how that moving from planet to planet changes nothing about oneself intrinsically, as you remain unique- your location, n0t perspective changes. The book follows the adventures of a Little Prince who lands on earth and is documented by a man who is mending his crashed airship in the desert.  Charming and poignant, the world has never seemed so exciting or so huge, and the idea ow ownership being a tangible hurt that is nonetheless worthwhile is presented to us-a very mature theme for a children’s book.

Dangerous Liaisons by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos

I wasn’t sure about this book to begin with, as it takes around 30 pages to get used to the style of writing, and the oddly enchanting tale told by letters. It’s the precursor to the Cruel Intentions film, so fans of that will recognize names such as Cecile, but here the cunning Marquise takes center stage. It’s a strange tale of sexual empowerment, sweeping statements on society (most women above forty are seen as crabbish crones) and an entertaining rebellion against the strictures of being proper. The last twenty pages were a tad trite for my liking, but I was pleased at how the ending wasn’t overly sanctimonious.

Parasite Positive by Scott Westerfeld

Bored of the traditional vampire books. Want some gore, but want something new? This clever tale should whet your appetite. Westerfeld writes great teenage fantasy (check out the Uglies series) and this is more in the same vein. Cal was an ordinary college freshman, till a one night stand infected him with a virus. Now he has supernatural abilities, but he doesn’t know why and something very fishy is going on in the city. His body adapts to the virus, and he remains sane, but there are those that turn into monsters- and he must hunt them down. Along the way he meets the underground secret service, and a girl that he likes. Problem is, kissing will kill her… A fast paced tale that had me staying up long past midnight to find out what happened- a sign of a great book.

Curse the Dawn by Karen Chance

This is my first Cassie Palmer book (the psychic detective) and I can’t say that I’m convinced. It probably doesn’t help starting in the middle of the series, but Chance does make it easy for you to quickly pick up the plot and characters with no prior knowledge. Cassie is fighting for her life as the dark and the light combine to attack her, and invests in some magical artillery- that has worrying side effects. The novel is a little disjointed and her sexual relationships don’t feel very real.

Ribblestrop by Andy Mulligan

This is a great book- a romp through a rundown boarding school with crazy teachers wayward children and evil goings on. Think St Trinians on a budget, and with evil government agents and made scientists and you’ll get the gist. Very entertaining!

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