Thursday, 25 February 2010

Book #14

The Bitch Goddess Notebook by Martha O'Connor

In a small-town high school in 1988, three misfit girls join forces to form the Bitch Goddesses, a take-no-prisoners gang of fierce teenage rebellion. Rennie, the stunningly attractive straight-A student, finds herself way out of her depth when she embarks on an affair with her married teacher. Cherry builds a shrine to Princess Diana in her bedroom while nursing her hippy mother through her coke-fuelled rages. Amy tears up her cheerleader's uniform while her drunken parents concentrate on presenting a facade of perfect family life to the outside world. The three girls swear to stick together, whatever life throws at them, until one night when something so horrific happens it shatters their friendship for ever. Fifteen years on, Rennie is a writer living in New York, struggling to keep her life on track and hiding an erotic obsession. In her Lake Superior show-home, a heavily pregnant Amy is certain that her husband is cheating on her and that she is jinxed by her past. Cherry, a model patient in an institution, suffers horrific nightmares of four red letters carved on human skin. The Bitch Goddesses may have grown up, but one way or another they must come to terms with a shared past...

There were disclaimers all over the outsides and insides of this book, screaming that it's not chick-lit, no, it's anti-chick-lit! Well, O'Connor, I do apologise, but this is my idea of chick-lit. I am aware your characters are snorting coke and cutting themselves, but it reads like chick-lit.

It didn't take me very long to read, which is almost always an indication that something's amiss.

It dealt with extremely heavy issues - abortion, teacher/student relationships, alcoholism, drug abuse and more, but they were all seeped in melodrama. I found myself cringing constantly during the self-harm scenes where O'Connor almost glorified this addiction, romanticising it to a ridiculous degree.

I did like how the narrative was shared between the three girls in 1988, and again in 2003, giving a bit of variety and character depth, but this book had potential to be so much more.

The ending of the book was supposed to be draped in mystery, but I had it all worked out before long. I felt like someone had wrapped my birthday present up in cling film.

I wouldn't recommend. If you want to borrow it from me, you can keep it.

14 / 66 books. 21% done!

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Book #13

Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

A young man arrives in the Ukraine, clutching in his hand a tattered photograph. He is searching for the woman who fifty years ago saved his grandfather from the Nazis. Unfortunately, he is aided in his quest by Alex, a translator with an uncanny ability to mangle English into bizarre new forms; a "blind" old man haunted by memories of the war; and an undersexed guide dog named Sammy Davis Jr, Jr. What they are looking for seems elusive -- a truth hidden behind veils of time, language and the horrors of war. What they find turns all their worlds upside down.

It took me a while to understand the fragmented style of this novel - I almost gave up on it after only a few pages, but I am so glad I persevered. I fell in love with it, and then it broke my heart.

Half of the story is written by Alex, the translator. He doesn't have an excellent grasp of the English language, and his contributions were very quirky, amusing, and at times, extremely touching.

The other half is written by Jonathan and details the history of the village his grandfather grew up in, up until its destruction by the Nazis in 1941. These entries were usually very surreal, giving us glimpses of the past and future, of things we couldn't understand, but would come to understand in time. It's my opinion that this reflects the title - the present illuminates the past, and the past illuminates the present. It becomes quite philosophical, which can prove to be difficult to understand, but well worth it if you decide to keep at it.

I loved the humour in the novel most of all. I love a book that can make me grin like a lunatic, against my better judgement, whilst reading it in public. Everything Is Illuminated did this for me, despite the dark themes it was exploring. It was almost slapstick - Alex's hilarious ability to substitute long, difficult words for simple ones, Jonathan's unfortunate vegetarianism and the Ukranian reaction to this, there was even a blind man driving a car!

The humour contrasts with the sorrow in the novel perfectly. The last eighty pages or so are completely heartbreaking, beautiful and tragic. They put things into perspective and illuminate everything.

I've never known a book to make me laugh and cry so much. I'd recommend to anyone, but it does require a lot of perseverence. It's both hilarious and harrowing all at once, and an impressive debut novel from such a young author. I can't wait to read another of Foer's novels.

13 / 66 books. 20% done!

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Book #12

Marabou Stork Nightmares by Irvine Welsh

Roy Strang is engaged is a strange quest in a surrealist South Africa. His mission is to eradicate the evil predator-scavenger bird, the marabou stork, before it drives away the peace-loving flamingo from the picturesque Lake Torto. But behind this world lies another: the world of Roy's bizarre family, the Scottish housing scheme in which he grew up, his mundane job, a disastrous emigration to Aftrica, and his youthful life of brutality with a gang of soccer casuals. As one world crashes into the other, this potentially charming story of ornithological goodwill mutates into a filthy tale of violence, abuse and redemption.

I'm a massive Irvine Welsh fan, and Marabou Stork Nightmares is one of my favourites. It's incredibly raw, brutal and disturbing, the characters are all horribly real people, all of whom you know in real life, but wish you didn't.

It's told from the perspective of Roy Strang - a man in a coma, and flits between his hallucinations of a life in South Africa hunting Marabou Storks, what's happening around him in hospital, and his memories of his life. It's wonderfully executed using a non-traditional format, such as changes in typeface, to make you feel that you're drifting in and out of awareness of different worlds with Roy. These layers kept me incredibly engaged and continually intrigued throughout the entire novel.

It's definitely not a book for the faint of heart. Difficult subject matter, or gore, has never really bothered me in a book, but I know of people who have stopped reading halfway through, or even binned the book, because of the awful things that go on inside it. You feel a bit dirty after you've finished.

12 / 66 books. 18% done!

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Book #11

The Resurrectionist by James Bradley

This book is set in London, 1826. Leaving behind his father's tragic failures, Gabriel Swift arrives to study with Edwin Poll, the greatest of the city's anatomists. It is his chance to find advancement by making a name for himself. But instead he finds himself drawn to his master's nemesis, Lucan, the most powerful of the city's resurrectionists and ruler of its trade in stolen bodies. Dismissed by Mr Poll, Gabriel descends into the violence and corruption of London's underworld, a place where everything and everyone is for sale, and where - as Gabriel discovers - the taking of a life is easier than it might seem.

I didn't enjoy this in the slightest. I found it to be a complete chore, which I hate in a book.

There isn't much plot to speak of, barely anything there to hold the reader's attention, and to make matters worse the plot jumped from present day into flashbacks and flashforwards almost constantly, leaving me slightly bewildered, confused and disinterested. The writing takes us nowhere in particular, being almost dream-like, and the ending is unsatisfactory to say the least.

I did like the imagery in the book, which was well written and descriptive, but at it times it came across to me as being sheer hyperbole.

I enjoyed the epilogue (an extended one at around 50-odd pages) slightly more than the main body of the novel, but even saying this is pushing the boat out a bit. I felt that here, Bradley was was writing with less restraint, and I felt that he'd almost become bored with the first part of the novel as much as I had. I expected a grand finale, but I didn't get one.

I don't recommend picking this one up unless you need something to put you to sleep.

11 / 66 books. 17% done!

Monday, 15 February 2010

Book #10

The Shining by Stephen King

Danny is only five years old, but he is a 'shiner', aglow with psychic voltage. When his father becomes caretaker of an old hotel, his visions grow out of control. Cut off by blizzards, the hotel seems to develop an evil force, and who are the mysterious guests in the supposedly empty hotel?

This was my first try at a Stephen King novel, and I enjoyed it much more than I had originally thought I would.

I think everyone is familiar with the general plot of The Shining due to Stanley Kubrick's movie adaptation of the book. I first saw the film with an entire bottle of wine already sloshing its way around my stomach, so I didn't understand much and blamed the wine. The book is more in depth than the film could ever have hoped to have been, and I feel that now I have a much firmer grasp of what was going on. Whether that is a triumph on King's part, and a flaw on Kubrick's, I couldn't possibly comment.

My favourite thing about the book was the tension, the slow build-up to things happening, the gradual way the characters succumbed to insanity, which in turn led to all normality crumbling in slow motion around them.

King's development of the plot and characters, particularly the Torrance family, is fantastic. I felt myself sympathising even for Jack Torrance's battle with his unravelling writer's mind - one which really should be able to distinguish between fact and fiction, but in the end loses this ability completely.

Danny was my favourite character - his courage and growth throughout the novel was gratifying, and, although in the beginning he was scared and confused by his powers, the way he matures in enough time to stand up to the face of evil really pulled at my heart strings.

The Shining shows how a physical location can be haunted by awful things that have happened there, and that's what scared me most. The idea of isolation also terrified me, with the Torrance family being so far from home and help.

I enjoyed the complex, moving storyline, and the depth of the tale and the characters. I'll definitely be trying another Stephen King novel before too long.

I'll conclude with a scene from Friends:

Rachel: Hmm. (she opens the freezer) Umm, why do you have a copy of The Shining in your freezer?

Joey: Oh, I was reading it last night, and I got scared, so.

Rachel: But ah, you’re safe from it if it’s in the freezer?

Joey: Well, safer. Y'know, I mean I never start reading The Shining, without making sure we’ve got plenty of room in the freezer, y'know.

Rachel: How often do you read it?

Joey: Haven’t you ever read the same book over and over again?

Rachel: Well, umm, I guess I read Little Women more than once. But I mean that’s a classic, what’s so great about The Shining?

Joey: The question should be Rach, what is not so great about The Shining. Okay? And the answer would be: nothing. All right? This is like the scariest book ever. I bet it’s way better than that classic of yours.

Oh! And I'll never be able to look at a topiary garden square in the eye again.

10 / 66 books. 15% done!

Monday, 8 February 2010

Book #09

Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Oskar and Eli. In very different ways, they were both victims. Which is why, against the odds, they became friends. And how they came to depend on one another, for life itself. Oskar is a 12 year old boy living with his mother on a dreary housing estate at the city's edge. He dreams about his absentee father, gets bullied at school, and wets himself when he's frightened. Eli is the young girl who moves in next door. She doesn't go to school and never leaves the flat by day. She is a 200 year old vampire, forever frozen in childhood, and condemned to live on a diet of fresh blood. John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel, a huge bestseller in his native Sweden, is a unique and brilliant fusion of social novel and vampire legend; and a deeply moving fable about rejection, friendship and loyalty.

This book has spat in the face of my previous scorn for vampire novels. John Ajvide Lindqvist has spat in the face of Stephenie Meyer by taking her pitiful attempts at a vampire novel, saying, "Oh, there's something not quite right about this," and changing the whole theme of the genre into something of a triumph.

It's not a book I'd recommend to someone who was particularly sensitive, squeamish in any way, depressed, nor is it applicable to squealing teens who ~*LuV*~ vampires.

The book is, in fact, more about the worry and terror of things that are in no way supernatural, such as bullying, paedophilia, alcoholism and revenge. It's disturbing, and it's depressing in the sense that each and every character you're introduced to is incredibly unhappy, and is doomed in one way or another. They all need some kind of personal substance, (be it religion, sex, booze, bullying) to live off, and they all live hopeless lives. It's almost as if John Ajvide Lindqvist has created his own world of monsters and gave birth to them through this story.

I really enjoyed all of the subplots and mini-characters that were peppered throughout the pages. They all added an intensity to the plot, which turned the novel into a bit of a page-turner.

I was disappointed in the lack of history given for Eli. Granted, some of it was fed through slowly, perhaps to create suspense, but I feel it wasn't concluded properly and there are still some questions that have gone unanswered for me.

The part of the book I loved most, though, was what happened when a newly infected vampire came into contact with direct sunlight. If this had been a Meyer novel, the lovely vampire would have started glittering like a Christmas tree. Pretty! In Lindqvist's version of events, the vampire bursts into flames and dies. No sparkles here, girls, sorry.

The horrors and gore here aren't the things that will stick with you. It's the human treatment of humans that will really get to you and become the true horror of this novel.

John Ajvide Lindqvist has definitely set the bar for the vampire genre with this modern masterpiece. I loved it, it's my favourite this year so far.

9 / 66 books. 14% done!

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Book #08

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The terrible spectacle of the beast, the fog of the moor, the discovery of a body: this classic horror story pits detective against dog. When Sir Charles Baskerville is found dead on the wild Devon moorland with the footprints of a giant hound nearby, the blame is placed on a family curse. It is left to Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson to solve the mystery of the legend of the phantom hound before Sir Charles' heir comes to an equally gruesome end.

I'm not much of a mystery lover, but I do love Sherlock Holmes. His ability to piece together puzzles is amazing and makes every Sherlock story a truly engaging read.

The story differs from many other Sherlock tales, as Holmes is actually absent from the majority of the novel, leaving Dr. Watson as our main protagonist. I loved that Watson got to shine in his own little way here, and the novel showcased more of his personality than we had previously been privy to. His clear account of happenings and landscapes was perfect, and his observation of emotional nuances was quite delicious.

I was entirely compelled by the story itself, it was by all means a page turner and it kept my attention throughout. I particularly enjoyed the sense of foreboding that is projected from the outset of the novel. However, I did notice that there were next to no red herrings in this story, whereas it's quite common for mystery novels to have a few amongst their pages. Whoever was acting suspicious in this one ended up being a culpit of something or other.

I liked the novel's darkness, and I liked the eerie tones the moor and the Baskerville house gave to the scenes set in Dartmoor. I read elsewhere that a great deal of the story draws upon real features of the moors, and also upon many local legends, which intrigued me.

The finale was very satisfying, with all loose ends being tied up and nothing being left unanswered.

I found it quite difficult to believe quite how long ago this was released (1901!!). It truly is a timeless classic, and I believe it's one of which everyone should read before they die. I cannot express enough my respect and awe for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The man's a genius.

8 / 66 books. 12% done!