Friday, 29 November 2013

A month in books - November

Can you believe we have been 'on the road' for a month already? We set out to Bosham on the 29th of October and it's now the same date in November. One of five months gone ... but still four months left so that's ok!
As there's not a lot to do of an evening once the sun has set, I have certainly been getting through a lot of books. If you're friend on Facebook or Twitter you might already have spotted these reviews being posted in real time. If not, or in case some were missed, I thought I'd do a recap post of my sixteen reads so far. Here goes ...

(The title links go to their respective Amazon pages.)

Armadillo by William Boyd *** Not sure about this book. I enjoyed the main plot which is quite intricate and well-thought out. However, there is lots of detail about journeys through London and about aspects of dress, neither of which really meant anything to me so I think I might have missed out on some of the deeper meaning.

The Men Who Stare at Goats by Jon Ronson ** I remember getting lost in all the details of who, where and when of the film of this book so hoped it would all become clearer in the written version. Unfortunately, I still feel none the wiser. I like a good conspiracy theory - and my next read, House of Rumour, is a fantastic conglomeration of many - but the book just didn't grab my attention. Perhaps the writing is too segmented so I didn't get a sense of an overall narrative, more a selection of varied events that, despite the best efforts and research of the author, didn't convincingly hang together.

Magenta Shaman by Lily Childs *** I enjoyed what there was of this novella but thought it felt like the beginning of a story, rather than a complete work in itself. I know that there is at least one other novella in the series. However, I would have preferred more to have been made of this opening.

The House of Rumour by Jake Arnott ***** Loved this book! Arnott cleverly entwines conspiracy theories from the 1940s onwards into his own narrative of a sci-fi writer. The book jumps about in time over the past seventy years with each chapter concentrating on different characters or real-life figures and I particularly enjoyed discovering how they began to appear in each other stories. Cleverly plotted and still a good read!

Stoner by John Williams ***** An unexpected find by Dave for our Kindle and possibly one of the most depressing stories I have read! Don't get me wrong. I loved the book and the writing is incredible but the lead character's life is very sad in that the personal cost to him of brief episodes of happiness is intense sorrow. The descriptions of certain classes of people at the beginning of the 20th century, particularly Stoner's wife Edith, are fantastic, as is the portrayal of his parents and their isolation. A great book but not a light read!

A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan *** Not completely sure how I feel about this novel. I only finished it today so perhaps a few days thinking it over will help cement my opinion. The novel is told from several standpoints, each character interacting with some of the others at a point in their lives, some more fleetingly than others. Progressing through the novel, we jump forwards and backwards in time, understanding how future events were the result of earlier ones and how the characters' relationships develop or are lost. Unfortunately, although I was impressed by individual chapters, I didn't particularly like or identify with any of the characters who, I felt, came across as shallow people.

The Village that Died for England by Patrick Wright *** Patrick Wright has taken the history and myth of the requisitioned village of Tyneham in Dorset as his central theme in this book but has created a work that covers a much wider scope. From the German Youth Movements of the 1920s to the Arcitecture Association of the 1970s, he wanders far from the main theme in order to explore all the influential factors, theories and people. While his research has undoubtedly been thorough, I found that the book has too much information and its sprawl becomes overwhelming. It's a fantastic collation of knowledge but I think it needed much stronger editing.

Empire of the Sun by J G Ballard ***** I initially chose this book due to its evocative cover art and being aware that it is a classic I 'should' read! I didn't realise Ballard had written it so recently so was pleasantly surprised not to have to wade through 'British Raj' style writing as I had expected. <br/>Empire Of The Sun came across as young adult novel, both due to its language and the age of its primary character, Jim. I appreciated this as it did help to keep a slight distance, I felt, from the truly horrific scenes being played out. However, the undercurrents and allusions of the text give the work depth and help to make sense of the complete confusion that must have been so frightening at the time. Jim's sheer energy and enthusiasm for life is incredible and I thought, among all the great characters portrayed, he really did carry the story through. It was interesting, having learnt about this aspect of World War Two through the eyes of the novel to then also read a short interview with Ballard about his genuine war experience.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn **** Dave downloaded Gone Girl on to our Kindle months ago and loved the book. I've been meaning to get around to reading it ever since, especially as everyone else who's reviewed it was raving too. And for once, the book does deserve the hype. I liked the two-person viewpoint and the characterisations were brilliantly done. Perhaps the plot does unravel a little by overthinking after the books is finished, but it thunders along at a great pace and made for an entertaining couple of days reading.

Child of God by Cormac McCarthy **** I started though the first part of this book thinking that it was a bit 'gentle' for a Cormac McCarthy tale. Lester Ballard has a horrendous life, being even more in poverty than those around him, and I had been feeling sorry for him. Then I discovered a little more about Lester ... The descriptions of the town and its people are evocatively written, as is the countryside around it. I like the flow of the short chapter scenes. This is another wonderful Mccarthy story, saddening and thought-provoking, beautiful and horrific.

Love Me by Garrison Keillor *** Picked up whilst travelling and this is a pretty good holiday read. Amusing and somewhat poignant but nothing too deep or taxing!  

Madonna by Mark Bego *** A breathless, gushing biography of the then recently famous Madonna in which, for author Mark Bego, she can't put a step wrong. We get interviews with a school friend, a couple of film directors, Jellybean Benitez and the woman herself. It is fascinating to read this portrait of Madonna giving the impression that she had already conquered the musical world when, with the benefit of nearly thirty years of hindsight, we know that she would go on to achieve so much more! 

Cross Bones by Kathy Reichs *** Fast paced police thriller with an interesting plot idea. I think I might have read an earlier Temperance Brennan novel as her name was familiar and in this, the eighth in the series, all the regular characters are reintroduced which was helpful to me but might become irritating to fans who already know all this detail. I didn't like the way every chapter had to end on a cliff-hanger as this device made the plot feel contrived, but as a holiday read that I swept through in 24 hours, Cross Bones was fine.

Capital by John Lanchester ***** For me, Capital was reminiscent of If Nobody Speaks Of Remarkable Things by Jon Mcgregor, both books being set along a single street and with a mysterious undercurrent throughout the work. I thought John Lanchester threaded his stories together beautifully with just enough connections between them but still maintaining the alienation of our contemporary society where neighbours are unlikely to mix. His characters are real, rounded people and I enjoyed the time I spent within their London.

NW by Zadie Smith *** I started out enjoying NW but unfortunately the book lost interest for me towards the end when it began concentrating solely on Natalie's story. I liked the interplay of characters earlier on and Smith's observation of life and speech is, as always, spot on. Perhaps reading NW straight after Capital was a mistake as both are primarily London novels. I thought NW was good but I had high expectations which it ultimately failed to meet.

Harlequin by Bernard Cornwell **** Having been a great fan of the Sharpe TV series all those years ago, I don't think I've ever actually got around to reading any Bernard Cornwell book before. I expected something much fluffier and certainly not the (I believe) well researched and interesting tale that unfolded. I am now a little wiser about this important period in European history but still feel as though I have been entertained rather than educated! Harlequin was a World Book Night choice for 2012 which is how I found the title, but I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the novel to a wide readership - not just those who have a particular interest in history.

And that's it for now. On the shelf still to be read I've got The Bookman's Wake by John Dunning, Agent 6 by Tom Rob Smith, Grey Souls by Philippe Claudel and Prophecy by S J Parris. Expect me to publish reviews of these over the next few weeks and you can see a random selection of reviewed titles in the Amazon.co.uk box at the bottom of the page. Click on any of the book covers to read more!

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