Review: Jonathan Coe – The Accidental Woman

jonathan-coe-the-accidental-woman-e1331237021290I realised after a few pages that I wasn’t going to enjoy this book, but I persevered anyway, because I don’t like to give up without giving a book a fair chance. I do wish I’d left it though, as I just didn’t like the book at all.

My first problem was that it seemed like the writer was trying to be too clever. There were so many sentences that I found myself reading multiple times just to figure out what he was trying to say. Sometimes there were sentences with so many commas that it just didn’t flow properly and took away from the telling of the story.

I also felt that the narrator got in the way too. We never find out who it is, but he has this way of telling things like he is aware of the reader and like its a conversation. He frequently references other chapters in the book too, which I found very off-putting.

“Did I not say, at the beginning of the chapter, that it was a Tuesday, and that there was something particularly interesting about Maria’s thoughts, as she walked home from work?

When I read a book I like to become completely lost in the story, and sentences like this just made it very hard for me to do so.

As for the story, it just didn’t capture my imagination, and I frequently found myself a bit bored, realising I’d read a few pages without taking anything in and having to go back and read it again. Now this could just be me missing the whole point, but I just didn’t get along with this book at all.

I’ve got two other books by Jonathan Coe to read so I hope they are better, but I’ll be leaving them for a while before I read them.

If you’ve read this book, let me know what you think!

1-5

Review: Dirk Hayhurst – Out of My League

dirk-hayhurst-out-of-my-league-e1330855312503It’s been a while since I posted a review, not been feeling great the last few days so had a break from the laptop. But this book was awesome! I kind of knew what to expect from the book after reading Hayhurst’s first book (The Bullpen Gospels), and I most definitely wasn’t disappointed.

This book was just as funny as the first book, it had me laughing out loud quite a few times! Lines like this were just what I expected:

Hitters are stupid, if they weren’t, they’d be pitchers.

The book is refreshingly honest, and gives you a great insight into what life is like for a baseball player, and a better understanding of just how big a difference there is between the lifestyle of the minor leagues and major leagues.

I felt like this book was a lot more personal than the first one, and contained a lot more about his relationship with his girlfriend/fiancee/wife Bonnie. He lets you in on a lot of events in their relationship – the proposal, the wedding, and even a huge argument they had shortly before the wedding after he had pitched a bad game. I liked that this was included, he wasn’t afraid to include the bad parts of himself as well as the good.

The book ends just as he has been claimed off waivers by the Blue Jays, setting up very nicely for book number 3. I have a feeling it’s going to be longer than I would like before it comes out though!

I’d recommend this book to any baseball fan, and also anyone who just wants a good laugh. If you’ve read this book and enjoyed it, you should definitely check out The Bullpen Gospels too. You should also follow him on twitter – @thegarfoose, he’s just about to start playing in the Italian baseball league which should make for some interesting tweets.

5-5

Review: Daniel Tammet – Born on a Blue Day

daniel-tammet-born-on-a-blue-day-e1330617744852I want to give a big thank you to Hannah for lending me this book because it was fantastic, one of the most interesting and well written biographies I have read in a long time.

The book is about Daniel Tammet, a man with Savant Syndrome and a condition called synaesthesia, which makes him see numbers as colours, shapes and textures, enabling him to do extraordinary sums in his head.

I’m sure we’ve all heard about people with Savant Syndrome in the past, you’ve probably seen Rain Man with Dustin Hoffman or watched a documentary on TV. But this book was completely different as it was written by Daniel and contained his thoughts and feelings, not someone else speculating what is happening in his head. It’s unusual for someone with this rare form of Aspergers to be able to communicate so effectively for themselves, and you find out through the book just how that came about. For example, he even travelled on his own to Lithuania to live for a year teaching English. While he was there he also learnt to speak Lithuanian, one of ten(!) languages that he can speak. He learnt to speak Icelandic in 7 days, conducting a live interview on Icelandic TV at the end of the week.

As well as finding out about his extraordinary ability for learning languages, you also find out a lot about his love of numbers, and how he experiences them. To him, each number up to 10,000 has it’s own shape, colour and feeling (e.g. the number 9 is large and towering). When he does calculations, he sees the results in his head as a composite of the numbers involved. Throughout the book, Daniel draws out examples of what he means by his descriptions, including a picture of the number on each chapter’s title page.

Here’s an example of what he sees when he multiplies 53 x 131. The shape on each side is the shape of each number, and the shape in the middle is the shape of the result. All this happens subconsciously, which is why he can do these sums so quickly – how incredible is that?!

daniel-tammet-example

There was a documentary about him on Channel 5 a few years ago, which I think I am going to have to find and watch. You hear about his experience of filming in the book, but I would love to watch it too. He also wrote a second book called Embracing the Wide Sky, which I will have to read. A definite 5 star book, if only because of how incredible this man is!

5-5

Review: Rob Lacey – The Liberator

rob-lacey-the-liberator-e1330254420433As I have already read this book a few times, I knew it was going to be great, but I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. Every time I read it I get something different out of it, and this time I finished the book feeling more connected than I have in a long time.

If you don’t know, The Liberator is a re-telling of the life of Jesus, but the language in the book is brought completely up to date, Lacey was definitely not afraid to change it up a little. It make the book very easy to read (once you get used to the new language he has used – e.g. Prophets are called God’s Couriers, and the temple is referred to as Religious HQ). Here’s an example from the book, from Matthew 5:17-18:

It’s time to rumble the rumours: I’m not here to bulldoze through Moses’ Big Ten Rules. I’m not here to do a character assassination job on God’s Couriers. I’m not here to finish off the Instruction Manual. No, I’m here to complete it. Straight up, on the level, nothing’s getting deleted from Moses’ Contract – not the smallest dot from your paper print-out, not the tiniest pixel, not the faintest watermark – zip. Not till every ending, from main theme to smallest subplot, gets wrapped up and filed under ‘C’ for ‘Complete’.

Compare this to the NIV, and you can see the difference:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

Throughout the book are little fictional pieces, for example articles from a newspaper called ‘The Jews News’, and interviews with people from the time. It’s all very fun, and does help you see deeper into the story – a very clever idea.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, Lacey was battling cancer when he wrote this book, and he passed away shortly after it was published. It’s a shame, as he was truly talented and had a natural gift for communication and explanation.

I would recommend this book to anyone wanting to get into the Bible or find out more about the life of Jesus, or to anyone who has read the Bible many times and wants a refreshing take. If you’ve read this book and liked it, I would also highly recommend The Word on the Street – another book by Lacey in very much the same style, only this time he takes on the whole Bible – a very worthwhile read!

5-5

Review: Maureen Lee – Amy’s Diary

amys-diary-e1330119940401Well, as expected, it didn’t take me very long to read this book. But I felt that the book didn’t really suit the Quick Read format very well, it all felt very rushed. I guess that would always be the case when you try and fit a 6 year war into 100ish pages, but I would have preferred if this was longer with a bit more detail.

The book is supposed to be the diary of an 18 year old girl called Amy, but at times it drifted way off from diary format and turned into more of a story, which was a little confusing. The language was also very simple, making it seem like Amy was a lot younger than she is supposed to be.

The author chickened out of writing a few scenes, reverting back to diary form and saying something like “I’ll not write about what happened next just in case someone reads this diary”. I guess it didn’t matter too much in the overall story-telling, but it just seemed like a bit of a cop-out.

I’d only give this book 2 out of 5, it would have been more if the book had been longer, or at least told with language appropriate to an 18 year old. It’s probably not one that I would read again if I’m honest.

2-5

Review: Jim Bouton & Eliot Asinof – Strike Zone

strike-zone-jim-bouton-and-eliot-asinof-e1329777352178This book is the first baseball fiction book that I’ve read, and it was great! It’s been a long time since the end of the baseball season, so it was nice to feel the excitement of a baseball game again.

The story revolves around two main characters. The first is an aging rookie pitcher called Sam Ward, pitching for the Cubs in the last game of the season, a game that will decide whether the Cubs make it to the post-season or not.

The other main character is an umpire called Ernie Kolacka, umpiring his last game before his forced retirement at age 60. He has been persuaded to throw the game in favour of the Phillies, by his friend who is in big trouble after he got over his head with gambling.

The book goes back and forth between Ward and Kolacka every half inning, and I was gripped all the way through. I also loved the way that as well as going back and forward between the gameplay action, we also got completely involved in the personal lives of both players, so much so that you really didn’t know who to root for. There’s also quite a lot of insight (whether it’s true or not, who knows) into the hard slog of making it to the major leagues for both characters, and the thought processes that occur during a big game.

Right up until the end, I couldn’t tell how it was going to end, I kept swaying back and forth between a win for Ward or a ‘victory’ for Kolacka. I won’t spoil the end of the book for you, but let’s just say that it made me smile. There’s also a bit of a bombshell thrown in at the end, which shocked me and put a slightly different spin on the story.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone that likes baseball, it will definitely keep you gripped all the way to the very last page.

5/5

Review: Jessica Thompson – This is a Love Story

jessica-thompson-this-is-a-love-story-e1329424003476It’s been a busy past few days for me (more about that in a blog post tomorrow), so I’ve only just finished reading this book. I have a few days off work now though, and I’m expecting a parcel from Amazon tomorrow with the baseball books that I ordered last week.

It was really good though, especially for a debut novel. At first, I was a bit dubious as one of the main characters (Sienna) seemed a bit thin, but after a while her character was fleshed out a bit and I started to really get along with both her and Nick.

Like a lot of books in this genre, the book was written from two viewpoints, but unusually you saw most parts of the story through the eyes of both characters. It was a refreshing change, and definitely made the story more engaging.

The main storyline was obviously Sienna and Nick, and the almost love story between them. As I had guessed, it wasn’t quite a perfect love story, it’s definitely unusual when the two main characters don’t actually get together until the last 3 pages of the book!

The book also brought attention to a condition called Narcolepsy which most people find quite trivial (if they’ve heard about it at all), but you find out from the book that it’s actually quite serious and the effect that it has on the person and their family and friends too. Sienna’s Dad has this condition which makes him fall asleep (and fall over) whenever he feels any kind of strong emotion, and she spends a lot of time looking after him. In the end, it’s him that plays a big role in bringing Sienna and Nick together. He was also the reason that I almost cried in the last few chapters, I’ll not tell you what happened but it was very emotional!

I definitely enjoyed this book, very easy going and a nice (mostly) light hearted story. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for Jessica Thompson in the future.

5-5

Review: Alastair Reynolds – Century Rain

alistair-reynolds-century-rain1When Mike lent me this book, he thought that I might not like it, but it actually turned out to be my favourite of the four books. I have definitely found a whole new genre of books that I will be trying more of this year – I couldn’t put it down!

The first few chapters introduce you to the two main characters, Verity Auger and Wendell Floyd, and the respective worlds that they live in. It didn’t make much sense to me to start with, but I’m glad I stuck with it because after a few chapters you start to see the links between the ‘Paris’ in both worlds.

The Paris in Auger’s world is way in the future after Earth has already been destroyed by a build up of weather control machines designed to reverse global warming, but end up destroying the earth in an event called the Nanocaust. Auger is an archaeologist exploring the ruins of Paris for any remaining artefacts, and when a girl she is working with dies in her care, she is offered the chance to get out of the tribunal and inevitable punishment and carry out a mission. She is initially given no real information about this mission, but doesn’t really have much choice but to accept, knowing the alternative.

The mission is to Floyd’s version of Paris, which is 300 years back in 1959, and turns out to be a copy of Earth made before the Nanocaust wiped out all traces of life on Earth. E2 (as it is known) was frozen in time until 23 years prior, when suddenly it came back to life again.

After Auger has completed the mission she is sent to E2 to complete (with many hiccups and a LOT of help from Floyd), she and Floyd end up on a mission to save E2 from complete destruction by the Slashers. The Slashers believe that they should embrace all new technology, whereas the Threshers (to which Auger belongs) believe that they should never embrace any technology which could lead to a repetition of the Nanocaust. These two sides are now at war with each other in a battle to keep control of the Earth.

There are many nail biting moments along their journey, including many times when I absolutely couldn’t stop reading because I had to know what happened next. I won’t say too much in case you want to read the book, but I will say that I didn’t expect the book to end up quite how it did, although the way that it ended was brilliant.

It’s hard to pick my favourite part of the book, but I do have a favourite quote which jumped out at me as soon as I read it. Auger (a Thresher) is reflecting on the help that she has had from Cassandra (a Slasher), and the feelings that she had towards her from the start of the story.

The simple fact was that she no longer hated them as a matter of principle. It was also a source of shameful amazement that she could ever have wasted so much energy on groundless prejudice, when acceptance and tolerance would have been the easier, even the lazier, course.

Pretty meaningful, it definitely stuck in my head, and I think it’s something that we could all take to heart at times.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in sci-fi novels, but also to anyone who likes a good nail-biter with plenty of action and a bit of romance thrown in. It’s definitely changed my mind about reading sci-fi novels in the future.

5-5

Review: Michael Morpurgo – War Horse

photoAfter seeing War Horse at the cinema a couple of weeks ago, I was expecting this book to be brilliant and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a kids book, so it was very easy reading and didn’t take too long, but it was entertaining and very well written. I think it would definitely be aimed at older children, some parts were quite upsetting.

As I expected, I couldn’t help but compare the book to the film, and I did find myself waiting for certain things to happen. The film was definitely more dramatic than the book, but I suppose that’s what happens on the big screen. With a book you can fill in the story with your own imagination, but with a film they tend to spell it all out for you.

The book was slightly different from the film in that it was written completely from the perspective of Joey (the horse). It’s quite unusual for books that I read to be narrated by a non-human character, but I felt it really made this book more effective. You can feel how completely helpless he is caught up in the war, and when he’s stuck in the middle of no-man’s land, you can sense the confusion and nervousness more than you could in the film when seeing the horse through the soldiers in the trenches.

I was glad to find that one of my favourite lines in the film was actually from the book. When Joey is in no-man’s land, a soldier goes out to get him from each of the English and German trenches. It’s quite a tense moment in the book as the German soldier gets to Joey first, and you immediately think that Joey and Albert will never be reunited. However, they flip a coin to decide who gets to take Joey, and this quote from the German when he loses made me smile:

“That’s the face of my Kaiser looking up at me from the mud, and he does not look pleased with me. So I am afraid you have won.”

As it’s a kids book, you can probably tell how it ends, but not without a few hiccups along the way, including Joey being struck down with tetanus and almost being sold away from the Army in an auction at the end of the war.

All in all, I’m very glad that I read this book, although as usual I wish I had read it before I saw the film – when will I learn?! I do think after reading the book that the film was a very good book-film adaptation, one of the best I’ve seen in a while.

5-5

 

Review: Gabriel García Márquez – One Hundred Years of Solitude

20120129-113323Well, this is probably going to be a shorter review than usual. It’s not often that a book takes me this long to read, and it’s been quite a while since I found it so hard to get involved in a book. It took me a long time to just get through the first few chapters, I was enjoying it, but I just couldn’t  find any motivation to actually read it. Even though I liked the book, it just didn’t grab me enough to want to read it non-stop like my favourite books usually do.

The last time I had a book like this, it was an F. Scott Fitzgerald book and I ended up leaving it to come back to later. I persevered through this book when maybe I shouldn’t have done. I think because I wasn’t 100% involved in it, I didn’t get as much out of it as I could have done, so I would like to read it again in the future.

I found the actual book quite strange, and wayyyy outside my comfort zone. All the reviews of the book and the comments that I had read said that this was a great book, so I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t get into it as much as I would have liked. I’ll definitely be reading this again, hopefully I’ll be in a different mindset when I do and I’ll enjoy it more.

I think my next couple of books will be easier going. I’ve not decided which one will be next yet, but I think it will either be War Horse, or a ‘quick read’ that I picked up at Morrisons by one of my favourite authors; Tony Parsons. I’ll decide which one tomorrow…

2-5