Monday, May 31, 2010

'The Road' -Review











Publisher: Picador

ISBN:
978-0-330-46846-6

Length: 307 pages

Opening Line: 'When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he'd reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him.'

Review:

I've previously blogged about how much reviews have influence on my choice of reading and this is one of those times. I chose to read this book, because of all the positive reviews I have read about it.

The story revolves around an unknown man and his son, travelling along a road. It is not clear where they are going, but they are trying to find safety after the earth has been destroyed in a disaster of apocalyptic proportions (the disaster is equally unknown, the only clues that the reader has, is that everything is burnt to ashes and the few people who are left, will go to extremes to survive).

Firstly, I found that the writing was rather sparse and barren. Punctuation is rarely used and at the beginning, this really annoyed me. I'm one of those people that find it uncomfortable reading a novel, with spelling mistakes in it. However, I soon got used to this and I think that the writer was clever, in the sense that by stripping the writing and punctuation down to a bear minimum, that added to the barren environment, in which the two main characters are faced with.

One criticism of this novel would be that I had problems, when the characters were talking to each other. There are no clear indications, as to who is talking to who. Sometimes the speech was labelled 'he said'(more often than not this wasn't the case), but as there are only two male characters at the forefront of this novel, sometimes I had to go back and re-read the conversations, in order to clarify this.

The landscape that McCarthy describes, is as equally sparse and barren, as the writing. However, I have never known a writer to describe the world within a book, so beautifully. McCarthy is able to take a muted, depressing landscape and shade it with interesting and powerful description.

All of these elements, are carefully wrapped around the relationship between the father and son. There is so much soul in their relationship, that I felt captivated by their plight and I couldn't put this book down. It is strange to have only 2 main characters within a novel, (with the exception of a couple of very brief cameos from other characters) but this novel is all about humanity and the strength to survive and these two characters encapsulated this message for me.

In retrospect, this novel should have been depressing and boring. However, this book is compelling, beautiful and left me with a feeling of optimism for the human race.

Similar titles you may enjoy:

Friday, May 28, 2010

How to be an Eco-friendly reader

Previously on the blog, I wrote a post on the ways in which you can help the environment, but still read books in their traditional, paperback form.

Following on from that, I found an interesting article highlighting 5 creative ways in which you can be an Eco-friendly reader. I thought that I would share this with you.

After reading the article, I am intrigued by the online book swap idea. Have you participated in something like this? Is it safe?

Desert Island Books

Every now and again I like to download a podcast of a programme on BBC Radio 4, called 'Desert Island Discs'. It is a weekly programme, where a famous or influential person chooses 8 songs to listen to, if they were stranded on a deserted island. I know that this is a tenuous link, but I started to make a list of 8 books, that I would take with me to read on a desert island:

1. 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' by Roald Dahl - This is a no brainer for me, because it has been my favourite book since I was a child. Actually in an ideal world, I would like to take a complete works of Roald Dahl, (much like the complete works of Shakespeare that you can buy) but sadly, I'm not sure if this exists. The reason I would take this novel, would be so that Dahl's wacky, funny style and imagination, would cheer me up on the loneliest of moments on the island.

2. 'Memoirs of a Geisha' by Arthur Golden- It may not come as a surprise to any regular readers of the blog that I would choose this novel, as I have mentioned how much I love it on previous posts. Also, as I would be bored of sitting in the same place for a long time, by reading this book, I could be transported (in my head) to somewhere else.

3. My third choice, would be a novel to puzzle over. Something like 'The Trial' by Franz Kafka or 'The Coma' by Alex Garland (I have read this novel twice and STILL don't understand the ending!) or 'Sophie' by Guy Burt. This choice would ensure that my brain cells did some work now and then.

4. My next selection, would be book with a title or author, that I have never heard of. That way, at least I would have something fresh to discover.

5. 'Little Women' by Louisa May Allcott- For me, this novel has the 'Feel Good' factor. It's so quaint, charming and wonderfully written, that it would make me feel warm and fuzzy, just by reading it.

6. My next choice would be 'Origin of the Species' by Charles Darwin. I've been interested in animals, fossils and botanical things for a while now, after watching programmes like "Last Chance to See" and "Museum of Life" (a documentary series about The Nature History Museum in London). As these programmes mention the work of Charles Darwin, I would like to read this novel, to learn about his theories and discoveries of the natural world.

7. My seventh choice would have to be something like an autobiography or biography. A book about someone like the Para Olympic sportswoman Tanni Grey Thompson or Nelson Mandela. If I were feel particularly sinister, I would read a biography on Jack the Ripper, not because I'm a psycho, but I think that because he was never caught, this give him some elusiveness and mysterious character.

8. This isn't technically a novel, but I would HAVE to take a rather large notebook (and pen!) with me on the island. This is because if I didn't have any way to write something on a regular basis, either journal pages, book reviews or creative writing, then I think that I would go mad. Also it would ensure that once I had read my choice of novels a few times, then I could always write my own stories, to be entertain myself

As I'm naturally nosey (I'm the sort of person that loves to know what books people are reading or what music they have on their I-Pods), I leave this question with you.

What 8 books would you take on a desert island and why?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Power of the Book Review

I've been writing this blog for a while now and whilst I was typing the last post on environmentally friendly reading, I started thinking about how much influence book reviews have, on people's choice of reading.

I write this blog mainly for writing practise and also to keep a record of the books that I have read (I have geekish tendancies!). However, if I can inspire people to read the books that I have reviewed or to get people interested in reading in general, then that is a great thing.

Personally, sometimes book reviews influence what I read next. If there are titles that I am thinking of reading, then by reading reviews either in magazines, websites or blogs, it helps me to decide whether to read that book or not.

Also, if I read a book review which says that a certain novel is awful, then that makes me what to read it, just to see whether it is as bad as they say it is. On the other hand, I also like to read books which are either obscure or recommended by friends, so it's not always a review which draws me to a book.

What about you? How much do book reviews influence what you read?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Green Penguins

Nowadays, society is concerned with ensuring that the products they consume, provide the least amount of damage to the earth's environment. Therefore, book buying could be seen as a environmentally unfriendly pastime. You could argue that with the introduction of E-Readers such as the Kindle, this could be the alternative to buying paper back books, thus saving more trees.

I'm all for finding energy and waste efficient alternatives, but as you may know, I have blogged on my preference on buying paper books, over the technological method.

So I'm pleased to say, that I have found the perfect solution.


Penguin Publishers has brought out a collection of novels called 'Penguin Classics', which are made from 100% recycled paper and offer a wide range of classic titles, from 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland', Poetry by Keats to Bram Stoker's 'Dracula'.

Not only do I feel that by purchasing these books, that I'm in some small way helping the planet, but also this selection of books is really cheap. Each novel costs a mere £2 (and less!) from Amazon.

So if you love reading books in the traditional way, but want to do your bit for the environment, check out the selection of titles available on the Penguin Website.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland'-Review
















Publisher:
Penguin

ISBN: 9780140620863

Length: 149 pages

Opening Line:' Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, 'and what is the use of a book,' thought Alice, 'without pictures or conversation?'


Review:

I chose to read Lewis Carroll's novel 'Alice's Adventure's in Wonderland, after seeing the recent Tim Burton film version of this book (well actually, it's a film which incorporates 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' with its sequel 'Through the Looking Glass') and I wanted to compare the two. Also, as I read this book when I was a lot younger, I wanted to see if, being someone who is now their late 20's, I would have a different perspective on this novel.

Most of us know the plot by now. A young girl named Alice, happens upon a white rabbit with a waistcoat and pocket watch, complaining that he is late. Alice follows the rabbit through a rabbit hole and into Wonderland.

Whilst there, she shrinks and grows to impossible heights, thanks to crazy cakes and drinks, takes part in a court trial and meets many weird and wonderful creatures including The Mad Hatter, The March Hare, The Mock Turtle and the masochistic Queen of Hearts, whose hobbies include croquet and frenzied beheading.

Firstly, as this is a children's book, nothing can be taken seriously with this novel. The plot is a little flimsy. In fact, those who thrive on plot development, may as well leave this novel alone because at times, the plot makes no sense at all!

However, what I like about this book, is that Lewis Carroll has the ability to write in such a way as to make the impossible, possible. It is as if we are transported into the imagination of Carroll and Wonderland itself.

The characters are eccentric and amusing, but also there are hidden depths within them. For example, at first glance The Mad Hatter may just seem....well mad, but through the text there are hints of sadness and poverty, which give the character an extra element. Also The Mock Turtle, shows that not only is Carroll an eccentric writer, but also there is a sensitivity to their writing. There is a lot of humour within the novel, some of it done in a subtle way. I particularly like the comments that Alice makes, whilst she talks to herself, of her surroundings. It's like there is a role reversal and Alice is the adult, looking on the creatures as children.

If you don't have a sense of humour, then maybe this book is not for you. However, I found 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' a short, fun read. It will enable you to leave reality for a while and let your imagination run riot.


Similar titles you may enjoy:













'Violet Jelly' can be purchased (in E-Book or Paper Back) at http://www.annsharples.com/

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

'The Bad Girl'- Review












Translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman
Publisher: Faber and Faber

ISBN: 978-0-571-23931-3

Length:403 Pages

Opening Line: 'That was a fabulous summer.'

I discovered this book on sale for €2.50 in my local Carrefour and being a sucker for a bargain, I couldn't resist buying it.

During research into the author of 'The Bad Girl', who I must admit was unknown to me, I discovered that Mario Vargas Llosa, is one of Latin's America's most significant writers, politicians and essayists.

I then discovered, that 'The Bad Girl' was published in 2006 and journalist Kathryn Harrison argues that this is a loose rewrite of french novelist Gustave Flaubert's novel 'Madame Bovary'.

'The Bad Girl' tells the story of Ricardo Somocurcio, a boy from Miraflores,a small town in Peru, who is captivated by 'Lily', one of two Chilean girls who arrive in the village. After an altercation at a party, in which it is revealed that the two new girls are in fact, Peruvian, the duo are cast out of the village and are eventually forgot about.

However several years later, when Ricardo, now a translator, finally gets his lifelong dream of living in Paris, he meets Comrade Arlette whilst helping house new recruits to the communist movement. Ricardo suspects that they have met before, but can't quite believe what he is seeing. Could Arlette be 'Lily' or is he imagining things?

'The Bad Girl' is a cat and mouse chase, which has the conventions of 'Film Noir', but in a novel. It reminds me of films such as Michael Curtz's 40's film 'Mildred Pierce' or Billy Wilder's 'Double Indemnity' in which 'The Bad Girl' is the classic sexy, calculating 'Femme Fatal' and Ricardo is the good, if slightly dumb man, who falls for 'The Bad Girl's womanly charms....I knew that listening to my Film lectures at uni would pay off in the end!

This book oozes drama, excitement and sex (so if you're easily offended,be warned!) but what makes this novel special, is that underneath the exciting plot, lies a comment on Peru's political struggles, the implications of the free living 60's and sexually transmitted diseases. Unlike some books that I have read in the past which explicitly express political or social views, for example 'Clean Cut' by Lynda La Plante, Mario Vargas Llosa weaves fiction with fact, seamlessly.

The descriptions in this book are wonderful. Since this book is set in many different countries, I found that he was able to transport me to many places, in a convincing way.

I also liked the way in which his writing didn't just simply state information in a linear way. A couple of times during the novel, the chapter started in such a way as to make me wonder what had happened and slowly, the information was explained. Not only did I find this form of writing clever, but also interesting, as I intrigued me enough to keep reading on.

Also, the ending wasn't something that I was expected. Mario Vargas Llosa, cleverly makes you believe that certain things are going to happen, but throws you off course and then takes you where you thought the story was going in the first place, which for me was a lot better than the normal, stereotypical ending.

To be honest, I can't really find fault with this novel. It's well paced, has great character structure and the story really took me on an unexpected ride. This is probably my favourite book so far this year and I'm looking forward to reading more novels by Mario Vargas Llosa, in the future.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I won!

About a week or so ago, I commented on another book review blog 'MarjoleinBookBlog', not knowing that a commenter would be picked to win a book. Well guess what, I won!

The book in question is 'Swapped by a Kiss' by Luisa Plaja and it arrived this morning. I'm not sure what the book is actually about, but it's a nice feeling to have won something, especially as I never really win stuff; well, my local pub quiz, but that's only once in a blue moon!

I've also been given a lush leather notebook and funky pens, as a present from a friend's recent trip to England. So as I had to be up at 6AM this morning, these things can compensate for the early start.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

More Books!

Another book arrived in the mail today! It's great that I have so many books, but where am I going to find time to read them all!? I'm sure I can find time from somewhere, as normally, I'd prefer to read a book than watch television. However, having had a few nights out lately, I haven't been home long enough, to have a proper reading session.

Anyway, the latest book to arrive, was sent by a friend of mine in England. She saw 'Three Girls and their Brother' by Theresa Rebeck, free with a magazine and thought that I would enjoy reading it. After reading a free copy of Lynda La Plante's 'Clean Cut' and not really enjoying it, I have been a bit sceptical about books included with magazines. However, after reading reviews for this novel, I thought it looked worth giving a go.

I'm going out for dinner tonight, but for most of tomorrow, I'm planning to be curled up with a book. Don't you just love lazy Sundays?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

As if I didn't have enough books.....

some more arrived in the post from Amazon this morning! Tucked into the box containing my mum's new pressure cooker and a pressure cooker recipe book, I received:

'Around the World In 80 Days'- Jules Verne

'The Road'- Cormac McCarthy

'Memoirs Of a Geisha' -Arthur Golden. I had previously said in 'My Favourite Book Covers', that this book is also one of my favourite books ever, so I'm ashamed and even not entirely sure why I have never actually owned it. I'd previously read it via the library. So I'm excited to re-read this novel and to share my thoughts of this wonderful novel with you. Watch out for reviews of this and the other novels on my 'To Be Read' list, in the future.

In the meantime, I've been busy reading Mario Vargas Llosa's novel 'The Bad Girl' and I'm reading enjoying it so far. However, as I've been busy, I've not been able to devote as much time as I would like to reading, but I'm planning on posting a review of 'The Bad Girl' on the blog very soon.

As far as Amazon are concerned, I continue to be impressed with their efficiency, speedy delivery and service. I think that Amazon are going to get a lot of book orders from me in the future which great for them, but probably not good for my bank balance!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Audio Books

When I was a lot younger, not only did I devour books in paper form (not literally!), but I enjoyed listening to audio books every night before I went to sleep. This habit started off with listening to tapes on cassette and progressed to CD, until I reached my teens and grew out of it.

However, I've been thinking about getting back into listening to audio books again and whilst I was researching what audio books are available nowadays, I was pleased to see that one of my favourite authors Kate Atkinson, has recently brought out audio versions of her novels 'When Will There Be Good News', 'One Good Turn', 'Human Croquet' and 'Emotionally Weird', the novel which first introduced me to this great writer.

I was also excited to see that Kate Atkinson is bringing out a new novel in 18th August 2010, called 'Started Early,Took my dog'. I love her quirky, clever style of writing and I'm looking forward to seeing what she does next. Judging by the new novel's title, it sounds like it's going to be interesting!

Anyway back to audio books which is, after all, what the post is about. Do you listen to audio books, or do you prefer to read paperbacks? Which audio books can you recommend?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

My Favourite Book Covers


My next selection for 'My Favourite Book Covers', is a book which was created by a blogger/writer/ illustrator friend of mine Ann Sharples.

This is the first in a trilogy of 'Violet Jelly' books, aimed at children between the ages of 8 to 10 and also adults who are young at heart.

The book cover is fun, quirky and eye catching and what I particularly like about this book cover and the illustrations within, is the way in which Ann combines traditional illustration techniques i.e pencils and paint, with a more contemporary method of photo manipulation, in order to create them. In fact it amazes me how Ann can make the most extraordinary illustrations, from the most ordinary of objects.

If you would like to find out more about Ann or order a copy of her novel 'Violet Jelly' (available in paper or e-book form), go to her website at: www.annsharples.com

or you can check out her blog at: http://aguja-wordstitcher.blogspot.com/

Thursday, May 6, 2010

'Brixton Beach'- Review












Publisher: Harper Collins

ISBN: 978-0-00-730156-0

Length: 408 Pages

Opening Line: 'Only the young can feel this way.'

Review:

'Brixton Beach' is another 'TV Book Club' recommendation. It tells the story of Alice Fonseka, a child who is born in Sri Lanka in the 1970's, by her Singhalese mother and her Tamil father.

When violence and racism breaks out on the island, Alice and her parents are forced to leave the beautiful Sri Lankan landscape, their family and Alice's beloved grandparents, for the grey skies of London. Through her art, Alice unlocks her suppressed memories of Sri Lanka and it helps Alice comes to terms, with her complex identity.

In my opinion, 'Brixton Beach' is a book of two halves. The first half, when Alice is in Sri Lanka, Roma Tearne uses all of the senses to transport the reader to the exotic landscape of the island. I felt that the pace was even enough, to ensure that the characters and their relationships with each other, were very well developed. In particular, I thought that the relationship between Alice and her grandfather was heartfelt and tender and as a reader. This part of the novel drew me into the stories and into the characters, which was effective in my opinion.

The plot itself, felt like something I had read before. In fact, elements within it made me think of Monica Ali's novel 'Brick Lane'. However, what differentiated this novel from 'Brick Lane',was Roma Tearne's use of description. The visual imagery that she conjures up in Sri Lanka was so beautiful and succinct, that I could picture everything Roma Tearne was writing about in my mind. I can tell that her artistic background influenced her ability to paint a picture of the surroundings through her writing, because everything is so vivid.

Also something that I thought was interesting, was the way in which Tearne explores the constant shift and change, within a person's identity. Throughout the novel, she illustrates how the notion of identity is not just shaped through time but the landscape in which you live. It was interesting to see how Alice struggled with the fact that parts of who she was as a child, were being replaced with other parts of identity, influenced by her experiences in London.

The second half of the book when Alice was in London, is the thing that lets this novel down in my opinion.

I felt like the story became undeveloped, there was no mention of several earlier, central characters. The plot felt rushed and jumpy, it read more like a montage compared to the first half of the book. I do realise that it wasn't possible to fill in everything that happened within Alice's life, but I found that the previous development in plot and characterisation within the first part of the book, was wasted.

Towards the end of the novel, the story moved towards Alice's relationship with a medic named Simon and that is where the book became extremely disappointing. This part within the book read more like a Chick-Lit novel, rather than the interesting book it had started out to be.

Their relationship in my opinion, was unrealistic and over sentimental. Call me hard hearted, but I just didn't care as much about what would happen to these two people, compared to the relationship Roma Tearne had developed, between Alice and her grandfather.

This could have been a fantastic novel. However I feel disappointed and exasperated, that I can't say that. Due to the inconsistencies within the plot's pace,the poor character development within the second half of the novel and the over sentimental ending, I can only say that 'Brixton Beach', is a mediocre novel.

Similar titles you may enjoy:

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The world within......

I wasn't sure what I was going to blog about when I woke up this morning. However whilst I was having coffee in my local coffee shop with a fellow writer/blogger friend of mine, our conversation inspired me.

My friend and I both discovered that we have been creating stories and characters, even before we could write. Both of us enjoyed 'making books' from old exercise books or scrap paper, brought in from our parents' workplace.

Even before that, we used to have conversations with dolls or other inanimate objects, believing that they were real.The link between the both of us was that as children, we were relatively introverted.

In my case, the inability to walk until the age of about 5, restricted my interaction with other children, so I had to find ways to entertain myself. The easiest way for me to do that, would be to create a world through my imagination.

Also when I was at school, we would have to write about what we had done over the weekend. My stories were never about me, but I wrote about my experiences through the eyes of a doll which I had a child. I felt more comfortable expressing myself through something or someone else, rather than from my own personal perspective. Perhaps that's why I was also interested in drama whilst growing up.

In reflection I felt and still feel, that creating and writing about fictitious characters helps me to express myself and is way for me to do or say things, that I would never actually do in real life. Whether it was to do with my circumstances earlier on in my life I will never know, but I still tap into my sense of imagination, both for my writing and also to entertain myself when I am bored. Before you start thinking that I'm some sort of anti-social hermit with no friends, I'm far from it. However at times, I prefer my own company.

It is a well known fact that comedians are generally shy, introverted people and I wonder whether these characteristic traits, were common in fiction writers? Are writers or indeed readers of fiction mostly introverted people, who are happy to live in the world created within the pages of a book, or is that just a myth?

I'd be interested to hear what either writers, bloggers or readers think about this...

Monday, May 3, 2010

My Favourite Book Covers


Firstly Happy May Day to everyone, I hope you enjoy the long weekend. This time on 'My Favourite Book Covers', I have included 'The Rapture' by Liz Jensen, a book that I recently reviewed for the blog.

I like this cover, because of the clever image on the front. The way in which the eye is actually the earth and the face fades into a storm, makes the picture striking and unsettling.

Unlike some book covers, which tell you nothing much about the story inside, the front cover of 'The Rapture' perfectly illustrates the plot within the book and I think that this book cover, is one of the most striking on the market at the moment.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

It's the little things.....

The last week or so, I've been given some cool presents from different people.

First of all, I was given these very glam pair of sunglasses, which when the sun is out will make me feel very 'Joan' :

















and then yesterday, my friend gave me a notebook which she brought back for me, from her trip to New York. I'm looking forward to filling it up with all my scribblings, whilst making people think that I have actually been to New York....which I haven't!
















These are only small things, but in my opinion, the little things are more thoughful and they can really brighten up my day.