Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Book #72

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

This novel is the story of Clare and Henry who have known each other since Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-two and Henry thirty. Impossible but true, because Henry is one of the first people diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder: periodically his genetic clock resets and he finds himself pulled suddenly into his past or future.

I originally read this when I was sixteen and loved it. I am twenty-three, I have read it again, and I don't really love it at all. I am not sure whether this is due to my heart growing blacker and colder in these seven years, or whether it's due to my ever increasing literary snobbishness. It's probably a bit of both.

The premise is amazing, and I was drawn in for a while. Henry is a time traveller, and although he can't choose when and where he travels to, this is what makes it all the more interesting. The foreshadowing is nothing less than brilliant - knowing what's going to happen before it does is absolutely delicious. I liked that cause and effect got tangled up in knots, and I enjoyed (but perhaps didn't agree with) the idea that everything is already set out; everything in the future has already happened somewhere else.

The novel was filled with unnecessary padding, which I mostly just skimmed through. Niffenegger described the weather, and what people were having for dinner in great length as though these tiny things were incredibly intrinsic to the plot. I also got incredibly annoyed at the cultural name-dropping that occurred throughout the novel. Classical musicians, literary greats, American punk rock revolutionaries, and great painters were all mentioned, passages in the romance languages were peppered through the pages; it all just seemed slightly pretentious for what it really was. It could easily have been a hundred pages shorter.

I also noticed some mildly stereotypical characters, which I don't want to go into in depth, but which annoyed me. I also will only mention in passing the hints to Lolita. Yuck.

Henry and Clare were lovely characters until they met in the present and fell in love. After this there was little to no character development - they were just these two people who were married and in love. I felt distanced from them because of this, and I ended up very indifferent towards them and their predicaments near the end. A lot of the other characters were very, very flat - such as Claire's family. We were given a snippet of them and then nothing followed. I liked Henry’s father, but again we were only given so much of him, and then nothing.

This isn’t too praising a review and it’s a shame because I didn't really want to slate this too much; it was readable, but too many things irked me. I think most people have read this and enjoyed it, and I would recommend it to people who like a love story. I think this is my problem with the plot - it was perfect as a science fiction idea, but in reality it was a love story, which doesn’t excite me as much. Give it a try if you like a chick flick.

72 / 66 books. 109% done!

This will be my last book review of 2010, and although I'll continue my quest in 2011, I'd like to take this space to thank everyone who reads, follows and comments on this blog, those who encourage me and those who make it worth it. I appreciate every single comment and every single reader. Thank you so much, and here's to 2011! Happy reading!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Book #71

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Raskolnikov, a destitute and desperate former student, wanders through the slums of St Petersburg and commits a random murder without remorse or regret. He imagines himself to be a great man, a Napoleon: acting for a higher purpose beyond conventional moral law. But as he embarks on a dangerous game of cat and mouse with a suspicious police investigator, Raskolnikov is pursued by the growing voice of his conscience and finds the noose of his own guilt tightening around his neck. Only Sonya, a downtrodden prostitute, can offer the chance of redemption.

I'd like to say firstly that this is the first time I've dipped into Dostovesky, but it certainly won't be my last. I really feel as though I have been through something in the three weeks it has taken me to read this. His writing transcends time, and is still as relevant now as it was in the 1860s.

This is Dostovesky's most famous work, and rightly so as it is somewhat of a masterpiece. It's more of a psychological study than a story, and this is what makes it increasingly compelling. Our protagonist commits murder at the beginning of the novel, after which we are an audience to his accumulating feelings of guilt, anguish, paranoia and these (along with his attempts at self-justification) manifest and ultimately cause the collapse of his psyche.

Raskolnikov's constant agonising got to me, and made the book heavy to read in places. I felt that it was a really hard slog at times, but I also feel that this is perhaps intended and did add to the feeling of misery the novel was emanating. I did notice the style of writing causing me to empathise more than I normally would. The syntax employed could make me quite disconcerted, in keeping with the protagonist's feelings, for example hurried paragraphs made me feel quite agitated and fidgety. Some of the prose also seemed a bit dreamlike to me, and I ended up forgetting things only to be reminded of them again some pages later.

The novel also deals with various religious, moral, and philosophical consequences that arise from the actions of Dostovesky's characters. I particularly enjoyed the idea that the murder should be pardoned due to the woman's causing misery to various other people, charging them excessive amounts of interest on their pawned goods. Can the death of one person be justified if it means the salvation of many others?

I loved reading about life in St Peterburg in the 1860s. The descriptions of lodgings, dress and behaviours were so interesting to me. It was a nice history lesson, and the endnotes in my Wordsworth edition were helpful and enlightening.

I'd recommend this one. I think many people put it off as they think it'll be a difficult read - it's not! However, it does require an ounce of patience. Every written line has meaning, nothing is superfluous, and every character has their own importance. I also got a bit confused with the Russian names (I even thought at one point that someone had given a fake name on purpose!), but a bit of perseverance brings great understanding here.

It's gloomy and challenging, but it's also thought-provoking and beautifully written. I'd say come out of your comfort zone and at least give it a chance.

71 / 66 books. 108% done!

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Book #70

Contest by Matthew Reilly

The New York Public Library. A silent sanctuary of knowledge; a 100-year-old labyrinth of towering bookcases, narrow aisles and long marble hallways. For Doctor Stephen Swain and his daughter, Holly, it is the site of a nightmare. Because for one night this historic building is to be the venue for a contest. A contest in which Swain is to compete - whether he likes it or not.

The rules are simple: Seven contestants will enter, only one will leave.

With his daughter in his arms, Stephen Swain is plunged into a terrifying fight for survival. The stakes are high, the odds brutal. He can choose to run, to hide or to fight - but if he wants to live, he has to win. For in this contest, unless you leave as the victor, you do not leave at all.

I was a bit indifferent about this one to begin with. I bought it for £1 from a supermarket, and it was a bit of an impulse buy. I only really bought it because it was set in a library; I had no idea it was science fiction, which is something I don't really read a lot of. I was dubious for the first fifty pages or so, it wasn't amazingly written, but what a story! I was gripped quite quickly.

An interesting factoid here is that Reilly had to pay for this novel to be published after being rejected by a good few publishing companies in Australia. I have a lot of respect for this; I think it shows true determination and self-belief.

I'm not a huge fan of science fiction or action novels, and this was a bit of both. I do, however, like fast-paced novels and this had wonderful plot flow. There were, however, some lovely but gruesome descriptive images put into place. This can sometimes be quite lacking in fast-paced novels, so I enjoyed the treat.

I liked the Battle Royale idea here, and I especially liked that each contest was a different species, all from different planets, each one being an alien to the other. They all had different shapes, and different ways of moving and fighting, which was incredibly interesting to read about.

There were parts that felt slightly clichéd in parts, but these do generally appear quite a bit in novels such as these. You are 99.9% sure that the protagonist won't be killed off with 200 pages to go, but the author tries to lull you into believing it anyway - there are a lot of narrow escapes. I'd normally be cynical of plot twists such as these, but this time it just added to the excitement.

This is a good, quick read, and would be wonderful for reading on a journey or even a holiday. I'd recommend it to anyone who fancies something different. It is by no means light-hearted, but easy to get through and compelling. £1!

70 / 66 books. 106% done!

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Book #69

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

When Elizabeth Bennet first meets eligible bachelor Fitzwilliam Darcy, she thinks him arrogant and conceited; he is indifferent to her good looks and lively mind. When she later discovers that Darcy has involved himself in the troubled relationship between his friend Bingley and her beloved sister Jane, she is determined to dislike him more than ever. In the sparkling comedy of manners that follows, Jane Austen shows the folly of judging by first impressions and superbly evokes the friendships, gossip and snobberies of provincial middle-class life.

My love of Jane Austen began with this novel. Her other works have fully supported this love, but this will always be my favourite. She really tells us a tale whilst teaching us a lesson in morality which is hinted to by the title of the novel. Both pride and prejudice are rife throughout the plot, being displayed by many of the characters, and the consequences of both of these traits are shown to us.

My favourite thing about Austen, and something which is prevalent in Pride and Prejudice is how economical she is in her writing. There are no trivial characters or plot developments - everything has its place for a reason. The novel is a lovely, smooth read because of this, and everything connects in quick succession, driving the plot forward.

As a love story, it’s wonderful and almost unusual in that it doesn't try to lull female readers into securities about how perfect a man should be. Our heroine falls for a deeply flawed character, and does so gradually. There is absolutely no notion of any sort of coup de foudre that normally happens in thousands of other romance novels. She realises she has judged the man too quickly, and too harshly, and slowly but surely falls for him. It’s by no means contrived, and I love it.

Austen's characterisation is always brilliant, in my eyes. She is able to conjure both love and hatred for a character so easily. She gives a great insight into the social norms of that time period simply by crafting her characters in a certain way. Mr. Bennet is my favourite character here, by far. He is incredibly witty and sarcastic, with a very low tolerance for idiots. He has absolutely no qualms of speaking his opinions of his daughters, no matter how disrespectful (but mostly correct) these are. I found him hilarious.

It's clear from Pride and Prejudice and her other works that Austen was questioning the position women held in society at that time. She shows a society where a women’s reputation is the most important thing to her, and she has to conform to certain behaviours to prevent her reputation being tarnished. Although gently making clear her opinions on the matter, she shows us later how serious the consequences would be should a woman behave in a different manner than expected.

Although this one is generally seen as women’s fiction, I’d definitely recommend this to anyone. I have known men to love this one, and to relate to Mr. Darcy on some level. It holds an important message which is conveyed in a very simple, light manner that is wonderful to take in.

69 / 66 books. 105% done!

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Book #68

A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Convalescing in London after a disastrous experience of war in Afghanistan, Dr John Watson finds himself sharing rooms with his enigmatic new acquaintance, Sherlock Holmes. But their quiet bachelor life at 221B Baker Street is soon interrupted by the grisly discovery of a dead man in a grimy ‘ill-omened’ house in south-east London, his face contorted by an expression of horror and hatred such as Watson has never seen before. On the wall, the word rache – German for ‘revenge’ – is written in blood, yet there are no wounds on the victim or signs of a struggle. Watson’s head is in a whirl, but the formidable Holmes relishes this challenge to his deductive powers, and so begins their famous investigative partnership.

I read The Hound of the Baskervilles last year and loved it, so I went out and bought the Sherlock Holmes collection. This is the first story ever written about the most famous detective duo, and it was lovely to see how they came together. Watson's descriptions of his first impressions of Holmes were fascinating, and reading the beginnings of characterisation work for both of them was exciting.

I really enjoy Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's writing; he is wonderfully precise and almost scientific in his use of words. He captures your attention so well and drags you into the mystery with him. He is incredibly engaging.

Just as the murderer is caught, the narrative goes back in time by twenty years and we are given the back-story to the killer and his victims. There is nothing quite like an insight into what has driven a murderer to act, especially when it is an act of revenge. I do love a revenge tale.

It was also interesting to see Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's opinions and views on Mormonism at the time. The facts in the book regarding the religion are far from accurate, and seem ridiculous at times, but they are quite consistent with the English opinion of the late 1880s, which is very interesting

I absolutely adore reading these works, and particularly love imagining Victorian cobblestoned streets and men riding around in horse and carts with huge moustaches and huge cigars! I can't wait to read the next one, The Sign of Four.

68 / 66 books. 103% done!

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Book #67

A Million Little Pieces by James Frey

James Frey wakes up on a plane, with no memory of the preceding two weeks. His face is cut and his body is covered with bruises. He has no wallet and no idea of his destination. He has abused alcohol and every drug he can lay his hands on for a decade – and he is aged only twenty-three.
What happens next is one of the most powerful and extreme stories ever told. His family takes him to a rehabilitation centre. And James Frey starts his perilous journey back to the world of the drug and alcohol-free living. His lack of self-pity is unflinching and searing.

My thoughts throughout this novel were that it was amazing, inspirational and enthralling. Spurring these adjectives into life was the fact that the book is truth. These are James Frey's memoirs from his time in a rehabilitation centre, and all of the things that happen to him in the novel have happened to him in real life. It was moving, and I fell in love with him and what he'd accomplished. In the time between finishing the novel and sitting down to write this review (ten minutes, perhaps) I have found out that the book is in fact semi-fictional. I'm gutted, and I want to get this out of the way before I begin the actual review. I now know that later editions of this book have notes inside explaining that some parts are fabricated, but my copy must be an older print because there was nothing of the sort in mine. I am really, really disappointed and upset. It was a wonderful story, and wonderfully written. I just wish I had known that it wasn't as non-fiction as I had originally thought because now I don't know how I feel about the book. It hasn't diminished my opinion a lot, but it has a bit. The book would still be wonderful if it had been fiction. I will try to review it as best I can, but this has really thrown me. And all I did was try to find an image of the book cover! So, here goes:

I did really enjoy the book. I like books that are dark and dull, but have a light at the end of the tunnel. Memoirs especially have this because you know the person has lived to tell the tale, and you're just peering at their journey towards redemption. We are shown a "self-inflicted apocalypse", the despair that follows, and Frey's trudge away from it.

Frey's writing is wonderful. In the first 100 pages he has his teeth knocked out and it's a while before he gets them fixed. I kept checking my mouth to make sure my own teeth were still there, and I felt the pain when he was going through the corrective dental work. I feel emotionally drained after reading it, as though I have personally been through all of Frey's hellish situations alongside him.

There is a certain rhythm going on with his writing; he gives us repetitions and beats that are almost melodic. This pulls the reader along at an incredible pace, and allows discoveries to happen at the right times. His prose drifts at times, and I believe this is reflective of his experience at the time, drifting through the conscious and subconscious. Many sentences lack punctuation, emphasising Frey's erratic trains of thought.

There were a lot of Frey's opinions that I agreed with. Although I've never been an addict myself, it does seem futile to drum into recovering addicts that the only way they can get better is by believing in a higher power, that it's a disease, it's not your fault, something has happened in your past to make you this way, it might even be in your GENES! Your grandfather was an alcoholic? Well, there you go. Frey put across his opinion that addiction is each time a decision, and he put this across well. Of course it's not easy, it might be the most difficult thing in the world to do, but God won't help everyone, and your parents aren't to blame.

Now that I've calmed down a bit from the first paragraph I'd like to just note that I am aware that memoirs are never 100% accurate. I know there is no way that conversations that have taken place years ago can be replicated exactly on paper. Memories are faulty. I am now calm and my only gripe about the whole thing happened on the very last page of the novel and will be a huge spoiler if I go on to moan about it, so I won't. Frey has gone through somead to tell us about it in such a beautiful, compelling way. I would really recommend this, but please just bear in mind that things might not be as they seem. It'll make you feel something, and that's all that matters in reading.

67 / 66 books. 102% done!

Friday, 22 October 2010

Book #66

Too Close to Home by Linwood Barclay

When the Cutter family's next-door-neighbours, the Langleys, are gunned down in their house one hot August night, the Cutters' world is turned upside down. That violent death should have come so close to them is shocking enough in suburban Promise Falls, but at least the Cutters can console themselves with the thought that lightning is unlikely to strike twice in the same place. Unless, of course, the killers went to the wrong house... At first the idea seems crazy - but each of the Cutter family has a secret they'd rather keep buried. What was on that old computer teenage Derek and his friend Adam Langley had salvaged? And where is it now? What hold does a local professor and bestselling author have on Ellen Cutter? And what does Jim Cutter know about Mrs Langley that even her husband didn't? To find out who killed the Langleys and why, everybody's secrets are going to have to come out. But the final secret - the secret that could save them or destroy them - is in the one place nobody would ever think of looking...

I really love easy to read, fast-paced suspense novels like this. They give me a nice break from some of the harder novels I try to get through, and I like the sense of satisfaction I get in the end once everything has been unravelled. I like to guess at the mysteries, and I’ve read so many of these kinds of books that I’m normally correct, but this time I was surprised - I was only right half of the time! (This is quite the killer for someone who prides herself on always being right!)

Some of the characters were, I felt, extremely well developed. I felt myself identifying and sympathising with the most evil of characters, even the killer! I liked how Barclay portrayed Derek, the narrator’s seventeen year old son. Sometimes I feel that writers tend to try too hard when depicting young people - they come across as forced, the author’s trying to be ‘hip’, and it rarely works – but I feel this time it worked incredibly well. Derek behaved exactly how a teenager should. However, I felt certain characters were quite dull, most of all the narrator, Jim. Whenever something happened that he didn’t like, he’d punch someone, or act aggressively. That seemed to be his only answer to a variety of problems, and it just seemed a bit superficial and almost puerile. His wife, Ellen, also seemed a bit dull and underdeveloped to me. I had no idea who she was.

The novel was written in first person, from Jim’s point of view. I couldn’t help but think that it may have worked a lot better in third person. There were so many different stories from different people tangling together that I thought there might be more suspense should it have been written in third person, or if there had been narratives from various viewpoints, rather than just Jim Cutter’s.

Another thing I didn’t particularly like was that half of the plot was given away by the blurb on the back cover. Not only this, but Jim’s wife’s name was ‘Eileen’ on the back cover, and ‘Ellen’ in the book. Oh dear!

It was very engaging, and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a casual read that doesn’t require too much effort from the reader. I’m perhaps a bit out of season, but I think it’d make the perfect holiday novel.

66 / 66 books. 100% done!

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Book #65

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

Thought Police. Big Brother. Orwellian. These words have entered our vocabulary because of George Orwell's classic dystopian novel, 1984. The story of one man's nightmare odyssey as he pursues a forbidden love affair through a world ruled by warring states and a power structure that controls not only information but also individual thought and memories.

This book terrifies me, and always has done.

Orwell gives light to a totalitarian regime in a dystopian world that makes the likes of Hitler and Stalin look like pussies. Everything is controlled by the government - working, eating, talking - and even the most minor unorthodox thought can be detected through a variety of different technologies or groups.

What scared me most about this novel is the idea that the past does not exist. All evidence we have of the past exists in only written records and memories. What if these are false? What if both of these can be controlled?

Although 1984 has now been and gone (I wasn't even a figment of imagination at this time), it is hard to believe that this novel was first published in 1949 as a projection of the future. Although there are clear nods to Stalinist Russia, anyone reading the book now could quite easily find stark parallels to life as we know it today, and I believe even ten, or twenty years on, this may still be the case. It's essentially about propaganda, how this affects society, and how powerful it can be when put to use by government.

The ending was quite surreal, although I feel this was intended due to our protagonist's experiences.

It's absolutely timeless, and will no doubt remain a classic for an incredibly long time. It's so influential, not to mention important, and I feel as technology rapidly progresses it's a novel that will become more real year after year.

I'd encourage people to read this, or even to re-read it. I read it when I was in school and after reading it again I've gained a much different perspective than I did years ago. It's quite the cultural point of reference, and along with Animal Farm, is a good place to begin your Orwellian experience.

65 / 66 books. 98% done!

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Book #64

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

Summer, 1954. U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels has come to Shutter Island, home of Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Along with his partner, Chuck Aule, he sets out to find an escaped patient, a murderess named Rachel Solando, as a hurricane bears down upon them. But nothing at Ashecliffe Hospital is what it seems. And neither is Teddy Daniels.

This is going to be extremely hard to review without giving anything away.

Firstly, the story has a really good pace and flow, which is quite essential in mystery novels such as these. To coin an overly-used book reviewer's phrase, it was certainly a page-turner.

The book was so interesting in the sense that you never really knew who to trust, and nothing was quite as it seemed. The story kept twisting around and throwing out complete wildcards so that there's never really any certainty of what's happening, or who is being genuine. Most scenes can be construed from two different angles; it would have been nice to read this once, find out the twist, and read it again from the other perspective had I not already known all the secrets from seeing the film.

I really enjoyed the idea that when someone is proclaimed as insane, all of their protestations to the contrary will only add to the argument against them.

Lehane slowly gives out clues to what's really happening on Shutter Island, but many don't make sense until the end. It becomes quite cluttered and chaotic in places, and at times incredibly confusing, but I think that's a nod to how the insane human mind must be.

The characterisation was also really, really good. I'd like to delve a bit more into this, but there wouldn't be much to say without dishing out lots of spoilers, so I shall refrain.

The twist is delicious. I'm a sucker for a good mindbend, and this didn't disappoint. It may be one you see coming, but it does leave you reeling nonetheless. It's one that's weaved in perfectly through the entire novel, and makes a lot of sense once you think back.

I really would recommend this to anyone with an open mind who likes mystery novels and suspense. It's one that will keep you on your toes throughout, and keep you thinking long after you've reached the last page.

64 / 66 books. 97% done!

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Book #63

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

For 15-year-old Michael Berg, a chance meeting with an older woman leads to far more than he ever imagined. The woman in question is Hanna, and before long they embark on a passionate, clandestine love affair which leaves Michael both euphoric and confused. For Hanna is not all she seems. Years later, as a law student observing a trial in Germany, Michael is shocked to realize that the person in the dock is Hanna. The woman he had loved is a criminal. Much about her behaviour during the trial does not make sense. But then suddenly, and terribly, it does - Hanna is not only obliged to answer for a horrible crime, she is also desperately concealing an even deeper secret.

I found this novel quite odd. It begins as a tale of a boy's coming of age and sexual awakening and then slowly evolves into a far more philosophical endeavour that ponders ethics, guilt and moral responsibility in relation to the atrocities of the Holocaust. It almost felt like two completely different works.

The characters, I felt, were a bit thinly weaved. I felt very little sympathy for anyone, and I could barely relate to any of them. I also found Michael and Hanna's relationship to be quite disgraceful, and couldn't open myself up to appreciate it as a proper loving relationship. Our narrator describes it beautifully, never seeing himself as a victim of paedophilia, and this blatantly affects him later on in the novel.

The book dives headfirst into the depths of human brutality. It poses some quite melancholy questions on human nature, and also makes me wonder what Schlink was trying to convey through the novel. I can't really come to a conclusion on this one, but at the same time I'm wondering whether I'm supposed to. Perhaps the book is more concerned with the process involved in reaching a conclusion. I can't decide. However, I did like that the book didn't focus on good or evil, but rather the middle grey area in between those extremes that holds things such as morals and ethics.

I'm not sure I'd recommend this generally, but I'm definitely going to give it another try at some point and see if I can pick up anything I've missed such as symbols or recurring themes. It seems like a good novel to closely study, and I feel I may have missed a good few hidden secrets.

63 / 66 books. 95% done!

Friday, 24 September 2010

Book #62

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

Nine-year-old Oskar Schell is an inventor, amateur entomologist, Francophile, letter writer, pacifist, natural historian, percussionist, romantic, Great Explorer, jeweller, detective, vegan, and collector of butterflies. When his father is killed in the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Centre, Oskar sets out to solve the mystery of a key he discovers in his father's closet. It is a search which leads him into the lives of strangers, through the five boroughs of New York, into history, to the bombings of Dresden and Hiroshima, and on an inward journey which brings him ever closer to some kind of peace.

Extremely Sad and Incredibly Beautiful. I really, really loved this book. It's absolutely one that I'm going to start recommending to everyone I speak to. I think it's a very brave subject for Foer to have tackled, but I am certainly glad he did. He's done it in a gorgeous way, and it's one that will most definitely stick with me for a good while yet.

Oskar's journey throughout these pages is truly wonderful. He goes through a terrible bereavement process, makes the mistake of bottling up secrets, but in doing so embarks on a long quest. He doesn't do this for the end result, but to feel somehow closer to his father by doing it in his honour. His grieving methods and the fact that he was grieving in the first place really broke my heart.

I have already picked up some of Oskar's sayings and have begun to incorporate them into my daily vocabulary without really realising. He says he has "heavy boots" if he's feeling sad, and when he's talking about something quite academic or above his assumed level of intelligence, he talks about the subject, then adds, "which I know about". He is so gorgeous to me.

The narration skipped in places from Oskar, to his paternal grandparents. The typography changes with each of the narrators, which is something I typically enjoy. These changes show personality and at times the mental state of the narrator. The part I enjoyed most was where Oskar's grandfather was writing his story and was running out of space quickly in his notebook. He had to write smaller, and put his words more closely together. Quite soon, all of the words were on top of each other, and all I was left with was a page of illegible black ink.

I also liked how the story slowly came together. Although I felt the twist was slightly disappointing for Oskar, I had had a slight niggling feeling that perhaps Foer would end the novel in more of a trite manner. I was wrong, and I'm glad I was in this instance.

The climax of the book moved me more than I ever could have expected. It was written in such an identifiable way, and because I had already fallen in love with everyone in the novel (even Stan the doorman, and Gerald the limousine driver), I found myself to be wearing very, very heavy boots. I'm not ashamed to say that I cried big tears, because I think it's a wonderful thing when a writer can evoke such emotion in a person.

I'd love for everyone to have read this book. It's exactly what it says on the cover - extremely loud and incredibly close.

62 / 66 books. 94% done!

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Book #61

The Last Godfather: The Life and Crimes of Arthur Thompson by Reg McKay

One dark night in London during the 1960s, the city's famous twins in crime, the Krays, were holding court in their busy nightclub when they were told somebody wanted to see them. This in itself was audacious enough but what happened next simply beggared belief. There, on the Krays' home turf, the stranger who had made this bold request pulled a sawn-off shotgun from under his coat and demanded that Ron kiss his brother Reg's arse. As Ron knelt and complied with what he'd been asked to do, the grim-faced man smirked and, in a strong Glasgow accent, announced, 'Ma name's Arthur Thompson - ye'll remember me!' Backing out and still holding the gun, Thompson jumped into a waiting cab and sped off through the streets of London This is the opening of The Last Godfather, the true story of Arthur Thompson as it has never been told before.

I wasn't too excited about reading this as the last non-fiction book I'd read about Glasgow crime wasn't too exciting. This, however, was really good.

It was very clear, concise, and easy to read. I tend to find that a lot of non-fiction crime books get really bogged down with details, but this was a lot more about personality, and was written almost as fiction. It gives a good idea of what kind of people the characters really are, and the crimes become more shocking as a result of this.

However, there were a lot of areas where I was suspicious that I was reading fiction. There were instances where McKay had laid out dialogue that only the people who had been there would have known, and these were people were either dead, or the type whom I doubt would have submitted to an interview for this novel. Although this made the scenes more real, I felt a bit cheated.

Also, a lot of this book is dedicated to Paul Ferris and not Arthur Thompson. On closer inspection I've found out that Reg McKay is a friend of Ferris's, and that in fact this book is a retaliation! This is news to me, and very, very interesting.

All this aside, it is a good read, particularly if you're from or are familiar with Glasgow.

61 / 66 books. 92% done!

(A wee note to apologise - I struggle quite a bit when reviewing non-fiction. I know this review isn't up to standards, and it's for this reason! Hopefully I'll improve soon, any tips would be helpful!)

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Book #60

Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom

Maybe it was a grandparent, or a teacher or a colleague. Someone older, patient and wise, who understood you when you were young and searching, and gave you sound advice to help you make your way through it. For Mitch Albom, that person was Morrie Schwartz, his college professor from nearly 20 years ago. Maybe, like Mitch, you lost track of this mentor as you made your way, and the insights faded. Wouldn't you like to see that person again, ask the bigger questions that still haunt you? Mitch Albom had that second chance. He rediscovered Morrie in the last months of the older man's life. Knowing he was dying of ALS - or motor neurone disease - Morrie visited Mitch in his study every Tuesday, just as they used to back in college. Their rekindled relationship turned into one final "class": lessons in how to live.

Mitch Albom is one of my favourite authors. His novels always blow me away, and I'm a bit embarrassed that it's taken me so long to get around to this one since it's quite clearly a subject that's very close to his heart. I'm almost at a loss as to how to begin this review, as I can't seem to put my thoughts in order. It was wonderful.

Morrie is a remarkable character, and incredibly open with everyone in his life. He cries openly, asks to hold hands with people he loves, and in doing this inspires people not to hold back, to do things before it's too late. He also never missed an opportunity to help someone, or to make a difference. This would seem trite to me had the novel been fiction, but this man did all of these things. This book is non-fiction, and his biography.

I can't describe how inspirational this book was to me. It advises you not to hold back, to enjoy life and your own emotions to the full, without letting anything get the better of you. It teaches you to experience your emotions entirely, but also how to detach from them before letting them consume you.

Morrie's life lessons were laid out in such a way that I was able to completely absorb his opinions on different aspects of life. Mitch visited Morrie every Tuesday until his death, and every Tuesday they discussed a different matter. Love, forgiveness, emotions and family were each devoted a Tuesday to ensure nothing was missed, and everything was talked through.

Mitch Albom's writing style throughout the book completely gives away his sheer compassion for this man who taught him so much. His in-depth descriptions of Morrie and his past, even his childhood, really show how deep a friendship they had, and how well they knew each other.

I really feel this book has helped me to take a look at myself and how I'm living life. I have learnt an amazing lesson, and already I want to read through it again just to see how I'm doing. But I'll do that maybe a bit later, to see how I feel about the book at a future date.

I consider this a must-read.

60 / 66 books. 91% done!

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Book #59

Holes by Louis Sachar

Stanley Yelnat's family has a history of bad luck going back generations, so he is not too surprised when a miscarriage of justice sends him to Camp Green Lake Juvenile Detention Centre. Nor is he very surprised when he is told that his daily labour at the camp is to dig a hole, five foot wide by five foot deep, and report anything that he finds in that hole. The warden claims that it is character building, but this is a lie and Stanley must dig up the truth.

I really enjoy reading light, young adult novels from time to time, and this was a particularly good one. There wasn't much at all that I didn't like about it, and I finished the book with a lovely little feeling coursing through me.

It's an inspiring wee story. Our protagonist - the palindromically named Stanley Yelnats - is convicted to a juvenile detention centre for a crime he did not commit. His punishment, along with the other young offenders, is to dig holes in the desert

Sachar's writing style here is fairly simple, but he jumps between past and present with such ease that you're barely aware it's happened. The young characters were extremely developed, and felt incredibly real, but the adult characters could have done with some more background. However, this might be reflective of the kids knowing lots about each other in the detention centre, but seeing the adults as mysterious. I can't decide.

My favourite thing about the book was that events that had happened in the past were able to be resolved by the younger generations. It was really lovely.

I really feel that the underlying message of this book is that you can overcome anything that's thrown at you, and the fact that this message is aimed at young adults makes it amazing. The ideals of justice and injustice were also rammed home quite a bit here, with the story referring back to these themes constantly.

I think both old and young people can take a lot from this book and find a character to relate to. It is an easy, quick read for someone of my age and level, but it's more than worthwhile.

59 / 66 words. 89% done!

Monday, 6 September 2010

Book #58

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

"I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of l974. . . My birth certificate lists my name as Calliope Helen Stephanides. My most recent driver’s license...records my first name simply as Cal."

So begins the breathtaking story of Calliope Stephanides and three generations of the Greek-American Stephanides family who travel from a tiny village overlooking Mount Olympus in Asia Minor to Prohibition-era Detroit, witnessing its glory days as the Motor City, and the race riots of l967, before they move out to the tree-lined streets of suburban Grosse Pointe, Michigan. To understand why Calliope is not like other girls, she has to uncover a guilty family secret and the astonishing genetic history that turns Callie into Cal, one of the most audacious and wondrous narrators in contemporary fiction.

I'd like to begin by noting that it took me almost two weeks to read this book, which must be some sort of record for me. It was quite epic.

It's essentially about the narrator being a hermaphrodite, and this sounds freakish to begin with, but it is actually a lot more than that. It traces Cal's family over almost an entire decade, beginning in Greece and Turkey and ending in Detroit years later.

Cal is lovely as a narrator. His honesty seeps out of every word, endearing us to him almost immediately. The things he confides in us - the family secrets, the innermost thoughts of each character - each of these draw him into us emotionally as though he's an old friend.

I can't remember ever reading something so heavily detailed. The intricacy of Eugenides led me almost into not just imagining, but tasting and smelling the story too. It's beautiful in this way, but there is also beauty in the novel's rawness. There are tragedies, but with these come hope too.

The amount of research that must have been put into this tome is overwhelming. Eugenides uses medical jargon, ancient Greek, mythology and political, social and historical events to reel readers into his world. It really is incredible.

It's definitely a slow burner, but in this case I find it incredibly appropriate. It's almost like a saga; the characters are people you know and love. It feels like it lasts a lifetime, and in many instances, it does.

I'd love to recommend this to people if I didn't think they'd give up on it. Please, please, pick it up and persevere, it really is a masterpiece.

58 / 66 books. 88% done!

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Book #57

How I Became Stupid by Martin Page

Twenty-five-year-old Parisian Antoine is sick. The disease? Intelligence. Desperate to find a cure for his overactive brain, Antoine considers alcoholism, suicide, and lobotomy, but none seems quite right for his special needs. A new job, though, is just the ticket. Accepting a position in his high-school friend's brokerage firm, Antoine finds the burdens of consciousness gradually slipping away.

I am hugely attracted to books set in France, especially when they are written by French authors. This is what happens when you are a Francophile. Unfortunately, being a Francophile also leads me down garden paths and allows me to dip myself into some seriously underwhelming novels. This is one of these novels.

The idea is interesting, but that is where it stops. The characters start off interesting - such as Antoine's friend who can speak only in rhyme - but they are only ever introduced; no one is developed or given any personality at all. This includes Antoine, our protagonist.

The last chapter is simply ridiculous, giving us the beginning of a rather indie love story and then ending abruptly.

Please don't go near this.

57 / 66 books. 86% done!

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Book #56

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher (or the Murder at Road Hill House) by Kate Summerscale

In June of 1860 three-year-old Saville Kent was found at the bottom of an outdoor privy with his throat slit. The crime horrified all England and led to a national obsession with detection, ironically destroying, in the process, the career of perhaps the greatest detective in the land.

At the time, the detective was a relatively new invention; there were only eight detectives in all of England and rarely were they called out of London, but this crime was so shocking, as Kate Summerscale relates in her scintillating new book, that Scotland Yard sent its best man to investigate, Inspector Jonathan Whicher.

I had been so excited about reading this that I fast-tracked it to the top of my book-queue, which was quite against my normal book-reading rules. I was a wee bit disappointed, though. Don't believe the hype.

It started off wonderfully well, describing the inmates of Road Hill House and the nature of the crime. I hadn't realised it was a true story, so it began to take on a more gruesome edge once I had worked this out. It started off reading as a fictional novel, which I thought was a nice touch. However, everything slowly descended into a, frankly quite boring, research paper. It really felt to me like Summerscale just needed somewhere to dump all of her research, even the tiniest, most inconsequential little details about the case.

Summerscale mostly spent the novel quoting books which had been influenced by the crime and the subsequent investigation. Not only did she do this, but she laid out the plots of these almost in their entirety, particularly The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, and The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. When you have these books sitting on your desk waiting for you to read them, getting a simplified plot synopsis of them every few pages can be quite frustrating, not to mention spoilertastic.

Mr. Whicher, as the book's namesake, was barely given a voice. I had been looking forward to reading about this infamous case that brought the famous Scotland Yard detective down, but Summerscale did nothing to bring him to life. She guesses at his personal life, and he's never given any sort of human element.

The book barely mentioned the actual crime in the middle section, rather focusing on what everyone was up to now that they had left Road Hill House. I could have done without hearing about William's wonderful research on sealife creatures, because really, who cares? It was extremely irrelevant to say the least.

In hindsight, it seems that Summerscale aimed to write solely about the Road Hill murder, but instead found her research on that topic alone to be quite insubstantial, so instead she decided to pad out the book with silly little details such as the origin of words like "red herring" and "sleuth". I'd recommend the first third of the book, as finding out about the crime fascinated me, but after that I'd give up. Nothing of the remotest interest is given, and it is an overall flop, in my humble opinion.

56 / 66 books. 85% done!

Monday, 16 August 2010

Book #55

Divided Kingdom by Rupert Thomson

It is winter, somewhere in the United Kingdom, and an eight-year-old boy is removed from his home and family in the middle of the night. He learns that he is the victim of an extraordinary experiment. In an attempt to reform society, the government has divided the population into four groups, each representing a different personality type. The land, too, has been divided into quarters. Borders have been established, reinforced by concrete walls, armed guards and rolls of razor wire. Plunged headlong into this brave new world, the boy tries to make the best of things, unaware that ahead of him lies a truly explosive moment, a revelation that will challenge everything he believes in and will, in the end, put his very life in jeopardy.

I read Thomson's The Five Gates of Hell back in January and really enjoyed it, so I was looking forward to getting my teeth into this one. Unfortunately, I've been left feeling extremely disappointed.

It was an interesting premise to begin with - the United Kingdom being divided into four countries, and people being herded into different areas depending on their personality. I think Thomson could have done a lot with this idea, but for me it fell flat quite quickly. Although the book was set in a dystopian, alternate future, very little was given in order to deem this world plausible even in the slightest.

The main character is very two-dimensional, at times almost inhuman. He barely seems to register the ordeals he experiences, and he seems to have the emotional range of a teaspoon.

Towards the end of the novel, Thomson introduces a somewhat supernatural aspect that seems to do nothing but point to the possibility that our author was struggling to come up with a suitable ending, or was faltering in his ability to continue the tale. This plot twist does absolutely nothing to add to the novel's already poor believability, and just made me feel a bit uncomfortable and awkward.

I really wouldn't recommend this; I was looking for it to be an exciting political thriller that also delves deep into the intricacy of human nature and relationships, but instead I got a dull story of a man's decline. Also, the ending was weak and I was left feeling as though I had wasted my time. It's a shame, because I had really enjoyed The Five Gates of Hell. I'm hoping to try another of Thomson's novels in the near future, and hopefully I'll be able to reestablish my respect for his writing.

55 / 66 books. 83% done!

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Book #54

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye is a timeless tale of a teenager struggling with society and himself. Holden Caulfield is a teenager who hates his own life. He believes that every single person in the world is phony. One day, he decides to leave school. His life changes when he decides to go to New York for three days.

(The above blurb does nothing to really explain the book. I think this is why there is no blurb on the back cover of the actual novel - I Googled the above description. There is no real way of finding out about this book other than actually reading it.)

I am really ashamed to say that this is the first time I've read this book. It has really blown me away and moved high up in my list of favourites after just the initial read. I really believe that it's one that everyone should read at least once in their lifetime, and again I'm really embarrassed that I haven't done so until now.

Holden Caulfield is a wonderful character. He is troubled in many ways, and he's certainly an unreliable narrator due to the way he narrates his exact thought process, which is disjointed yet wonderful. His use of irony and sarcasm in his descriptions of simple things is hilarious, and very endearing.

Holden has everything that a teenager (or, in fact, an adult) can identify with, such as seeing everything as being a bit pointless, and seeing others as being fake (or as he'd say - 'phonies'). He has no wishes to be a popular, or even sociable, person, and it becomes clear very quickly that he is a teller of what is real. He doesn't sugarcoat a thing, picking up very quickly people's exact selfish reasons for behaving in certain ways. He is so wonderful, and real, that he's become one of my favourite literary characters in the space of a heartbeat.

The book raises a lot of questions, but doesn't go on to answer them. I think this is reflective to growing up, and moving on. Holden's life is never romanticised, you see what he is seeing and hope he can learn to see some beauty in things before too long.

Salinger describes the pain of growing up extremely well, making Holden almost resist the maturity process. He wants everything to constantly stay the same, and to be as simple as possible. He adopts this idea that the adult word consists entirely of 'phonies' (i.e. the superficial, the hypocrites, the pretentious, and the shallow) in order to make himself feel better about resisting entry into it.

The symbolism in The Catcher in the Rye was also something that I enjoyed immensely. Holden's hunting hat, in particular, was a favourite. I think because the hat was so odd, so outlandish, it became a symbol of Holden's individuality, and showed him trying his best to be different. But he is also incredibly self-conscious about the hat, and won't wear it if he thinks he'll see someone he knows. I think this is a gorgeous portrayal of how we feel growing up - wanting to be unique, but still fearing that someone will laugh.

I love this book so much. I'd recommend this to absolutely anyone, it could really change the way you see things, even just a little bit. It really is a beautiful masterpiece, it's made me happy, and it's made me so sad. If you get a chance, please read it, it honestly is wonderful.

54 / 66 books. 82% done!

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Book #53

Abandoned by Anya Peters

'Abandoned' is the true story of a childhood full of secrets, abuse and a little girl who didn't belong. This inspirational story is about how one woman finally overcame her traumatic childhood and adult homelessness to find a place she could call home.

This book is a true story; I didn't realise this until I had actually started to read it. I don't normally read a great deal of non-fiction, but I enjoyed this slightly more than I imagined I would have.

Anya Peters has been through some really awful times in her life, and hats off to her for being a survivor. For these reasons, I'm going to be very careful how I criticise the novel, and keep some of my opinions to myself, in fear of sounding distasteful.

The first half is extremely difficult to read and disturbing on a lot of levels. I can read about practically anything without batting an eyelid, but child abuse is a lot different. The suffering Peters was put through by her uncle is something no one should ever have to experience, especially at such a young age. The abuse scenes are extremely vivid, and made me feel a bit sick at times. It must have been terrible. I found it shocking that Peters' aunt let the abuser back into her home after he was released - and then allowed Peters to come back and live there! That is truly disgusting behaviour.

The second half of the book is about Peters escaping an abusive relationship and her subsequent homelessness as a result of this. The relationship was mostly documented in retrospect, whereas the first half of the novel happened in real time. Then we go along with Peters as she tries in vain to pull money together and find a home.

She then discovers blogging in a library, and now we have her book!

How she ever survived, I can't even begin to imagine. Many would just have given up. But Anya Peters now has a successful blog and a novel, and she has truly risen up from the dirt.

You can check out her blog at:

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Book #52

Apathy and Other Small Victories by Paul Neilan

The only thing Shane cares about is leaving. But this time it's complicated: there's a sadistic corporate climber who thinks she's his girlfriend, a rent-subsidised affair with his landlord's wife, a dentist who won't stop crying, and a deaf woman who winds up dead. When Shane becomes a suspect, he'll have to clear the good name he's never had and doesn't particularly want: his own.

Paul Neilan dedicates this book to his parents at the beginning, saying: To my parents, who will hopefully never read this book. I can see why. It's actually quite an offensive novel, and I think it could be viewed as quite politically incorrect in so many ways. I almost don't want to recommend it for these reasons, but since I'm a rather immoral girl - read it, it's amazing.

It's so good! I spent my entire time reading it laughing, and then feeling bad for laughing. The way Shane, our narrator, describes life is absolutely hilarious, and his inner thoughts reminded me a bit of my own deep thinkings on simple life matters. He is rather cynical and spiteful of everyone and everything, which also echoes a bit on the way I personally see things.

Neilan's characters are insane. My favourite was Doug the dentist, who gets his head stuck in the bus door every time he goes on it, and freaks out at the sound of people walking on sand. All of the characters were incredibly interesting and disgusting at the same time.

I really think that Neilan's humour here is what salvages the book. The plot isn't overly brilliant; it's just Shane's observations of it that make the book worthwhile. I was a bit disappointed in the ending, too, it seemed really formulaic to me, but maybe that was something to do with the apathy of the whole thing. I've been debating this with myself, and I'm still not too sure.

It's definitely worth a read, though, if you like dark humour and laughing at grossly inappropriate things that are in no way supposed to be funny.

52 / 66 books. 79% done!

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Book #51

Sarah by J.T. Leroy

Cherry Vanilla, twelve years old with a penchant for short leather skirts and make-up, has one ambition: to become the most famous 'lot lizard', or truck stop whore, in the business. With his blonde curls and naked ambition he is determined to be more woman than most and to match his idol, rival and mother, Sarah - also working the lot. Cherry is recruited by Glad - the most sophisticated pimp there is. Glad dresses his boys in the finest silk from China, feeds them gourmet food and teaches them to tell what a trucker wants by the look in his eye. It is only when Sarah leaves Glad's protection that he discovers just how perilous his chosen profession can be.

I was so excited about reading this. It just seemed such an odd, sick kind of book, with a cult reputation - the kind that particularly appeals to me. I had read that it was a semi-autobiographical account of the author's life, and this spurred me into acquiring the book as quickly as I could. However, it seems that the author of this book is in actual fact a woman who has never experienced any of these things! How fraudulent. I even skipped this one past other books in my 'to be read' list just so I could dive into it as soon as I could. All this was a bit silly, though, because I've ended up severely disappointed.

The plot is compelling in places, but none of the characters are developed in any way. When characters from the beginning of the novel came back into the story at the end, I struggled to place them.

I'm confused as to how anyone could have considered the writing in this to be autobiographical. Nothing in this book rang true for me at all, it almost read like someone's memory of a dream they'd had months ago, where they fill in the parts they can't quite remember with sheer hyperbole.

It's easy enough to get through, and you are driven to read on by the complete oddities you are exposed to. However, it really feels to me like a waste of good reading time, and I wouldn't recommend this to anyone I liked, and I feel like a bit of an idiot for being excited about it in the first place. I should probably stop taking book recommendations from self-appointed cool kids.

If you're interested at all in the literary hoax that was J.T. Leroy, I found the literary article quite informative. But to be honest, the entire hoax is almost as boring as Sarah.

51 / 66 books. 77% done!

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Book #50

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

A father and his son walk alone through burned America, heading through the ravaged landscape to the coast. This is the profoundly moving story of their journey.

I loved it.

There is very, very little plot involved here. Hardly anything really happens, but you know what you're dealing with, and the fact that not much happens is almost a relief. The book is based almost entirely on father and son, and how much they love each other.

It's deeply moving as a whole. The dystopian setting of the novel brings us into a stark, grey world, depressing us right from the beginning. The only shining light we are given is the man's love for his son, which never falters.

The prose bothered me to begin with. The absence of punctuation is normally a deal-breaker for me, but I soon came to understand the need for skeletal prose. It quickly became beautiful to me, evoking the emotional weight of the journey and emphasising the starkness of their landscape incredibly well.

Although very, very dark and depressing, I really feel this is one that everyone should try at least once. The realism McCarthy gives to a post-apocalyptic world is absolutely something to be experienced.

50 / 66 books. 76% done!

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Book #49

Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk

Carl Streator is a reporter investigating Sudden Infant Death Syndrome for a soft-news feature. After responding to several calls with paramedics, he notices that all the dead children were read the same poem from the same library book the night before they died. It's a 'culling song' - an ancient African spell for euthanizing sick or old people. Researching it, he meets a woman who killed her own child with it accidentally. He himself accidentally killed his own wife and child with the same poem twenty years earlier. Together, the man and the woman must find and destroy all copies of this book, and try not to kill every rude sonofabitch that gets in their way.

This was wonderful, as I expected it to be.

The premise originally borders on the ridiculous. Oh, a lullaby that can put people to sleep forever? How believable! If you have feelings along these lines as you begin to read this, they quickly evaporate. Palahniuk writes so well that the story turns into something that your mind can comprehend as something that could absolutely, without a doubt, happen to any one of us.

It gets frustrating and confusing about a third of the way in, with the plot twisting and writhing in all sorts of odd shapes, but perseverance is definitely the key here, and the loose ends tying up at the end is almost mouth-watering.

Palahniuk's comments about life's distractions were what I loved most of all. He berated all the things that cluster around us, preventing us from thinking properly, things like noise, television and marketing jingles. It really gives you something to think about. Whether that's in any way ironic or not, I couldn't say.

This is classic Palahniuk - he takes something truly disgusting and turns it into something you don't want to forget, something you'll continue to think about, and something that may make you question your morals. Call him over-hyped, call him the hipster prince, call him anything you like, I love him.

49 / 66 books. 74% done!

Monday, 12 July 2010

Book #48

The Acid House by Irvine Welsh

Two professors of philosophy turn pugilists; Leith removal men become the objects of desire for Hollywood goddesses; God turns Boab Coyle into a house-fly; and in the novella, 'A Smart Cunt', the drug-addled young hero spins off on a collision course with his past. The Acid House is a bizarre, disturbing and hilarious collection from one of the most uncompromising and original writers around.

Another wee collection of short stories! I'm really getting through these this year. I realised two stories into this that I had already read it as a teenager, but I'd forgotten almost everything that happened in the stories, so it wasn't a great loss.

In true Irvine Welsh fashion, everything about this collection is vile, dark, disturbing and vomit-inducing. It really is spit your dinner out material, but it grips you unbelievably hard.

Welsh explores a lot of different themes and styles here, it's a good expression of his various literary abilities. There were some particularly insane sections that did make me wonder for a while what actually goes on in that baldy head of his, but his style is intriguing more than anything else.

His characters are, as always, flawed and vicious, but mostly wonderful. I do love it when characters from Welsh's other novels make an appearance, this time Spud from Trainspotting cropping up in the novella A Smart Cunt.

Twisted as he may be, Welsh remains one of my favourite authors, and going back to some of his older works helps to remind me of this. I'd recommend this to anyone who can handle something that's on the wrong side of macabre.

48 / 66 books. 73% done!

Friday, 9 July 2010

Book #47

The Book With No Name by Anonymous

For many centuries the shelves of a library in South America held a terrible secret. Sitting on these shelves was a book with no name, written by an anonymous author. Everyone who ever read it ended up dead, yet the book always found it's way back to the library. In 2005 a special government investigator uncovered the truth about the book and it's link to the murders. Now available in paperback, you can discover for yourself the reason why no one ever read the book and lived, until now.

This book is insane.

I was drawn to it in the first instance because it was untitled, written by an anonymous author, and told me, "Whatever you do, don't read the book with no name". I am the type of person who, when told not to do something, will do exactly that. It's incredibly, incredibly complicated, with an array of very strange characters, very strange occurences, and some very strange plot twists.

It would be difficult to go into exactly what happens, but to summarise, each character is pursuing a precious stone called the Eye of the Moon. Each character's reasons for desiring the stone are different, yet vague, and nothing is revealed properly, or falls completely into place, until the very end. One character who is particularly determined to get his hands on the stone is the Bourbon Kid, who really has no qualms about who he blows away on his mission.

It's definitely not for the faint of heart. The violence and gore involved was quite intense, I even found myself cringing in places, which I never really do. It reminded me of Quentin Tarantino's films, and although I never really put a book down and think it'd make an excellent film, if Tarantino did this one I think it'd blow everyone away.

It packs in so many genres that I'm finding it quite difficult to choose one for it. It's a thriller, mystery, supernatural, crime, horror, and even a romance novel in places.

My favourite part was the author's use of a different character's point of view in each of the chapters. This allowed us to see everything as a whole, and sometimes to find things out before certain characters do, which I always enjoy in a sort of, "OMG DON'T GO IN THERE!" kind of way. It also added more suspense, as the author would switch to another character quickly while something exciting was just happening elsewhere. Although I hate using clichéd book review phrases, it was definitely a page-turner.

There is a sequel, called The Eye of the Moon, which I'm going to try and source immediately because I enjoyed this one so much. If you like a bit of violence and blood, give this one a go. I enjoy a good punching, and I loved this.

I'd also like to add a little something that people who have read, or who plan to read this, may have missed. I am a geek and looked at the publisher's notes at the front before I started reading this. Why? There is always a copyright note there with the author's name beside it. The copyright is c/o The Bourbon Kid.

47 / 66 books. 71% done!

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Book #46

Somewhere To Lay My Head by Robert Douglas

This is the beginning of Robert Douglas's stirring memoir of growing from boy to man in the fast-changing Britain of the fifties and sixties. We follow him from the RAF Boys' Service to a Dickensian life down the pit, from there to slaving in a hotel, then back to Glasgow for work on the docks and a spell in a fearsome establishment for homeless men, before it is time to return to the forces for National Service.

I didn't realise when I first opened this book that it was actually an autobiography, nor did I realise that it was the second installment of a trilogy. I feel a bit odd now that I've discovered this as I hate reading things in the wrong order. However, I really enjoyed it.

I loved Douglas's writing style - it was really simple, yet somewhat comforting, and it times I almost felt like he was writing directly to me, as if he'd written all this in a letter.

There are some photographs peppered throughout the novel, too. I thought these were a great wee touch. They were mainly of Douglas's friends and family, but there was one in particular of Glasgow in the fifties, and I was mesmerised by it. It's amazing how you can instantly recognise an area you see almost every day, yet it's so different.

This was another reason for enjoying the novel - hearing about a familiar place in an unfamiliar time is something I really love. Douglas's descriptions of post-war Glasgow were gorgeous.

I'm going to try and get a hold of the first and third installments of this trilogy and try to catch up!

46 / 66 books. 70% done!

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Book #45

Scottish Ghost Stories by Elliott O'Donnell

This spine-chilling collection of 'Scottish Ghost Stories' is the work of an acknowledged expert in the field of the supernatural.

This is quite an old, rare book, written back in the 19th century. My uncle gave it to me about ten years ago and I have no idea where he managed to procure it from. I really should find out, because it's a strange little read.

The stories here are written in a very old-fashioned style, which I think adds to the suspense and atmosphere O'Donnell creates. They are extremely dark, and almost Victorian, and there are no clues whatsoever as to whether or not they are true accounts. I believe they may be true stories at the core, but there does seem to be some dramatisation involved on O'Donnell's part. Further research into his personality has reported him as a lover of melodrama, so perhaps the stories only have a tiny element of truth to them. Nevertheless, I was scared!

The locality of the ghost stories is slightly disturbing. There was one set in a house in Blythswood Square, and I was a bit freaked since I'd been there only a few days ago!

The illustrations were also a bit much for me. There was one at the beginning of every new story, but now and then one would pop up mid-narrative and they'd usually be quite disturbing.

I really like it when I ghost story has an insight into the ghost's history - why they are there, how they died, why they are angry - and each of these stories did their best to explain the ghost's motives, which I really appreciated.

I'd recommend giving this one a read - if you can find it! It is, however, extremely old-fashioned and requires a wee bit of patience since O'Donnell is very randomly descriptive.

45 / 66 books. 68% done!

Monday, 28 June 2010

Book #44

No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July

A benign encounter, a misunderstanding, a shy revelation can reconfigure the world.

I think I'm rediscovering my love for short stories this year, and these have helped me on my way quite a bit. I do think I'll have to read them all again at some point to improve my understanding of them, but for a first read it was wonderful. Having said that, I didn't really love it in the way I thought I was going to, and I still can't quite figure out whether this is a good or bad thing.

I felt a couple of the stories fell flat, but I really did enjoy the majority of them, particularly This Person, which made me cry on a train because I felt I could identify with it so much.

Each of the stories have elements that are either forlorn or perverse, sometimes both. I enjoyed reading about all of the characters, and fell in love with a few of them too, despite the fact that many of them were downright disgusting.

At times it seemed like July was behind each word whispering, "It's okay, everyone really is like this, it's not just you," but realising this still makes you feel incredibly alone and strange. It's an odd feeling.

I'm finding it quite difficult to put my thoughts on this one into words. It really is quite difficult to review short stories that have been bound together as a novel, as they can all be so different.

I will say that the first few stories aren't as good as ones that come later on, so if you're planning on reading this, please persevere because it gets a lot better further in.

I'm putting this one back on my 'to be read' pile because I feel that a re-read may bring some more things into perspective for me. Prepare yourself for a future review. This one was a bit watery, I'm still overwhelmed.

44 / 66 books. 67% done!

Friday, 25 June 2010

Book #43

Poppy Shakespeare by Clare Allan

Who is mad? Who is sane? Who decides? Welcome to the Dorothy Fish, a day hospital in North London! N has been a patient here for thirteen years. Day after day she sits smoking in the common room, swapping medication and comparing MAD money rates. Like all the patients at the Dorothy Fish, N's chief ambition is never to get discharged. Each year when her annual assessment comes round, she is relieved to learn that she hasn't got any better. Then in walks Poppy Shakespeare in her six-inch skirt and twelve-inch heels. She is certain she isn't mentally ill and desperate to return to her life outside. Though baffled by Poppy's attitude, N agrees to help. Together they plot to gain Poppy's freedom. But in a world where everything's upside-down, are they crazy enough to upset the system?

There really wasn't much in this novel that I could say I enjoyed.

It's narrated by a day-patient of the Dorothy Fish, a mental institution in London. She writes in exactly the same way you'd imagine her to speak, and this took a lot of getting used to, particularly her constant use of the phrase "would of/could of" instead of the proper "would have/could have". This is blatant nit-picking, of course, since it's not Allan's language, but the narrator's. Still, I was really annoyed, and the voice I hear inside my head when I read couldn't quite come to grips with the accent.

There was some good humour in the book, the narrator, 'N', was such a character and I particularly enjoyed it when she insulted people by "showing them the back of my head." I do feel that the constant repetitions, although they managed to convey N's apparent madness, got tiring in places. I found my eyes to be glazing over more than once as I was trying to wade through the drivel.

The ending was very, very disappointing and didn't make much sense to me. In fact, the entire novel didn't much a great deal of sense to me, and was a small step away from nonsense the entire time.

In all, this was a confusing book that I'm still trying to get my head around. It was a lovely idea in theory, but I really think it's been very badly executed. There is, however, a television adaptation available on 4od which I haven't seen as of yet, but which I've heard quite good things about. I just wouldn't recommend the book.

43 / 66 books. 65% done!

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Book #42

The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite by Beatrice Colin

As the clock chimed the turn of the twentieth century, Lilly Nelly Aphrodite took her first breath. Born to a cabaret dancer and soon orphaned in a scandalous murder-suicide, Lilly finds refuge at a Catholic orphanage, coming under the wing of the, at times, severe Sister August, the first in a string of lost loves.

There she meets Hanne Schmidt, a teen prostitute, and forms a bond that will last them through tumultuous love affairs, disastrous marriages, and destitution during the First World War and the subsequent economic collapse. As the century progresses, Lilly and Hanne move from the tawdry glamour of the tingle-tangle nightclubs to the shadow world of health films before Lilly finds success and stardom in the new medium of motion pictures and ultimately falls in love with a man whose fate could cost her everything she has worked for or help her discover her true self.

I was quite surprised by this, to be honest. I wasn't expecting to enjoy it a huge deal, but I ended up finding it to be quite gratifying and also rather provocative in certain places.

The story was interesting, if a bit miserable at times. It seemed that all of Colin's characters met some dark end by making one or two ill-advised choices at some point in their lives. I don't think any of them had a happy ending; Colin dealt all of them some extremely severe blows throughout the whole thing. A lovely little nuance about Colin's characterisation, however, is that we are given a great deal of history about them, and even in some cases a glimpse of their futures. This happened often, at times even with the most minor of characters, and I really appreciated it and as a result felt more affinity with her characters.

The historical setting of this novel was incredibly impressive. It was apparent that a staggering amount of research was put into this era by the author, and this alone gains a lot of respect from me as a reader. Colin went into extreme depth describing the political events that took place during these years, but also went to great lengths to correctly portray the despair and starvation people experienced during the First World War. She then went on to describe the glitz and glamour of the film industry in the early 20th century, which was a stark contrast to Lilly's earlier experiences.

The ending disappointed me in a big way. I don't want to spoil anything for potential readers, but I found it extremely unsatisfying and even after I turned the last page, I was still worrying about Lilly. It's quite obvious that Colin is a realist and not a romanticist like I am!

I'd definitely recommend this if you are interested in this period in history, or more specifically, the early years of cinema. Failing that, if you fancy a rags to riches, wartime tale with a romantic sub-plot thrown in, then it's a good one to try.

42 / 66 books. 64% done!

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Book #41

Blood on the Streets: A-Z of Glasgow Crime by Robert Jeffrey

For more than a hundred years, Glasgow has been right up there in the major league of big-city crime. From Madelaine Smith and Oscar Slater, by way of the Bridgeton Billy Boys and the Norman Conks, through to modern villains like Paul Ferris and Tam McGraw, Glasgow's streets have spawned a succession of fascinating tales of true crime. Films, plays and books have long chronicled the evil-doings of experts in crime, such as Walter Norval and Arthur Thompson, and the hard men who never flinched at doing their bidding. Notorious gangs, like the Penny Mob, the Cheeky Forty and the Cumbie, have also had their stories told in print and on celuloid. Even in the twenty-first century, as the new Glasgow polishes a growing reputation for sophistication and culture, blood still gets spilled on the streets and scams of one kind or another are always in the pipeline. The A-Z of Glasgow Crime is a compelling journey through an extensive history of crime and crime-fighting in a city where the illicit is never far away. From the tough streets of the east-end to the leafy avenues of the west-end; from murder behind velvet curtains in the douce homes of the wealthy to the violent and bloody street battles on postwar housing estates - all this and more is covered in gripping detail in Jeffrey's definitive true-crime guide to a city with a notoriously violent history.

I don't read a lot of non-fiction. Maybe I should read more, I'm not sure. Maybe if I were more accustomed to reading non-fiction I'd have enjoyed this a bit more. Again, I'm not sure, but the fact remains that I didn't really enjoy it at all.

It started off okay, I was quite excited to read about Glasgow crime, but I lost interest pretty quickly.

I think this was mainly due to the structure of the book. It was set out using subtitles of alphabetical order, which was all very well and good, but since a lot of the stories involved were interlinked, it meant that certain people or events were mentioned before I had come to their section of the book. It also led to an abundance of repetitions, which was incredibly frustrating. I found myself quite confused with the chronology of events, thinking that one thing had happened before another, and being mistaken. I think the book would have worked better if it had been written in more of a chronological order, a timeline of Glasgow crime, rather than an A-Z.

There were also a number of spelling and grammar mistakes that were peppered quite frequently throughout. These were, however small, met with a huge sigh on my part, and ruined the flow of the writing for me.

However, most aspects of the book were interesting and enlightening and I feel that I've come away from the book knowing a lot more about Glasgow and its dark corners than I previously did.

41 / 66 books. 62% done!

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Book #40

The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson

A son of the manse, Mack has grown up in an austere and chilly house, dominated by a joyless father. Unable to believe in God, he is far more attracted by the forbidden cartoons on television. Father and son clash fatally one day and it may be guilt which drives Mack to take up a career in the Church. This minister, who doesn't believe in God, the Devil or an afterlife, one day discovers a standing stone in the middle of a wood where previously there had been none. Unsure what to make of this apparition, Mack's life begins to unravel dramatically until the moment when he is swept into a mountain stream, which pours down a chasm before disappearing underground. Miraculously Mack emerges three days later, battered but alive. He seems to have lost his mind however, since he claims that while underground he met the Devil.

I had been looking forward to this one. It had been recommended to me by at least two people, perhaps more, so I had very high expectations. I did enjoy it, but I think perhaps I didn't quite understand where things were going because of my limited knowledge of religion.

I really liked that the book was a manuscript written by the main protagonist before his death. The manuscript had been dug up by a publisher who was looking to make it into a book, and so we are allowed both Gideon's views, and also the views of an outsider. For this reason, though, we are told from the off exactly what the macabre ending will be, and this ruined the whole thing for me somewhat.

I did love Gideon. He really appealed to me, mostly coming across as sweet and vulnerable at times. I found myself completely supporting him and his decisions, which seemed strange at times because his decisions tended to be quite risqué. I am still not entirely sure what attracted me so much to this man in the first place.

I also really liked that the story was set in Scotland, fairly local compared to other books I read, and also that some parts of it were written in Scottish dialect. There was even a section with some helpful translations, and I felt considerably smug about not having to use them.

The epilogue consisted of the publisher interviewing characters who had appeared in Gideon's manuscript. I felt there was so much potential here to uncover some secrets, or tie up some loose ends, but not much was given.

I think there may have been a few messages in here about religion, beliefs and morals, but I've missed them entirely. I am a complete dunce when it comes to Christianity, not to mention other religions, so it is highly likely that I have missed some sort of great hidden symbol implanted somewhere in the novel.

Although I read through it quite consistently, I never really felt that I was being pulled into the story enough. I actually feel a bit depressed when I think about the story in general; it's definitely not a happy book. I'd recommend it to anyone with interests in religion or Scottish literature, but for those who are looking for something a bit more supernatural, like me, my advice would be to give it a miss.

40 / 66 books. 61% done!

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Book #39

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Esther Greenwood is at college and is fighting two battles, one against her own desire for perfection in all things - grades, boyfriend, looks, career - and the other against remorseless mental illness. As her depression deepens she finds herself encased in it, bell-jarred away from the rest of the world. This is the story of her journey back into reality.

I have to say I was reluctant to read any Plath at all to begin with. I had never experienced any of her work - whether poems or prose - and I was dragging my heels mainly because of the manner in which she had died. I thought this novel would be incredibly dark and depressing, but I was really surprised. I have nothing but praise for this book; I enjoyed every single word of it.

The timeline of the novel bothered me slightly to begin with. Scenes were flitting to and fro, and I found it confusing at times to work out where I was. I soon realised, however, that this was Esther's descent into madness, and everything began to fall into place.

It is interesting to see Esther's decline, actually. At the beginning of the novel, she comes across as a sort of plain, naïve, young woman, who is coming of age. We follow her exploits, some which are hilarious, until a certain point comes where she leaves New York and enters into her depressed state. She becomes a completely different person, and it's like a change from black to white.

Esther's decline is worrying for these reasons, but I was also shocked at how much I felt myself relating to her, and understanding entirely where she was coming from. At first, this made me think that I was also doomed to depression and madness, but on closer inspection, I believe that many women will be able to relate to Esther.

Plath's prose is so eloquent that I am tempted to read some of her poetry, even though I am not such a huge lover of poetry in general. The writing is truly incredible, and the image of the bell jar is one I will keep with me for a while. The idea is so clever, simple and true that it's one I can't possibly forget, and one which has given me endless love for this novel. I just wish I had been able to find out sooner how wonderful a writer she really was.

39 / 66 words. 59% done!