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Book Reviews 2010

 

Reading is another of my great passions. So this section of the web site is designed for book reviews and recommendations. I hope you enjoy it. If you have any comments you would like added please e-mail them to me by clicking here. Each book is given a rating out of 30 with 10 points being awarded for style, 10 points for story and 10 points for enjoyment or readability. A score of over 25 is outstanding, 21-24 good, 15-20 average, 10-14 poor and under 10 very poor. Books with a score of more than 25 are highly recommended. Of course I emphasise that this is all a personal view.

Books read in previous years

2010

The Lost Diaries of Adrian Mole 1999-2001 by Sue Townsend - 20

It is perhaps a little ironic that I started 2009 with a fictitious diary and ended it with a  fact based one. Now I am starting 2010 with another fictitious diary. This one smacks a little of Townsend bridging between books with a rather lame book set-up along the premise of these diaries having been seized by the police and eventually returned to their owner. Amusing rather than genuinely funny. Adrian is again making a mess of his life - trying to find the ideal partner but hopping from one lady friend to another whilst his life falls apart around him.

He moves into a council estate into a house which has been vacated on a number of occasions. "You'll soon find out why" he is told, but we never really do as the house and neighbourhood never seem truly as bad as we would have feared.

Townsend uses many of  the same quirky scenarios and even brings herself into the narrative. It is difficult to decide whether this enhances the story or not. So overall an enjoyable lightweight read, but little more.

50 People who Buggered Up Britain by Quentin Letts - 18

Okay the idea of this book goes so far and then falls on its face. The acerbic wit of Letts seems to get lost amongst a tirade of vitriol that by the end becomes annoying. For a start he takes his angst out on numerous politicians. Here he is at his wickedest. But then he turns his icy pen to such British gems as Alan Titchmarsh who may be bland but doesn't appear to have harmed anybody. The same can be said of his unfair assault on Jimmy Savile

When it comes to supporting fox hunting in one of his pieces he seems to lose all sight of reasoning claiming that there's no harm in the "sport" because it has supporters amongst many upstanding members of the community. So it might be but does that justify having a dumb animal ripped to pieces by a pack of dogs in the so called name of sport - I think not.

Then it gets even sillier with attacks on Topsy and Tim, weathergirl Helen Willetts and DJ Tim Westwood. How could it be claimed that any of these have "buggered up Britain."

Whether this book is meant to be cutting edge or tongue in cheek, I haven't quite decided. I do fear, however, that by the end I could put forward a good case for numbering Letts amongst my 50 People Who Buggered up Britain, just behind Simon Cowell!

Some of the prose is funny but it all tries to be just too clever and at times becomes just plain trite and dumb.

Brooklyn by Colm Tobein - 21

This is a gentle book, following the life of a young Irish girl who moves to Brooklyn because of promise of work. Tragedy takes her back to Ireland and her ultimate decision on whether to stay in the land of her birth or return to her new life in New York is at the heart of the story.

I mustn't give the game away, but I did feel that the book, much of which is lilting and almost poetic in nature, rather fizzles out in the end. Certainly the events that take place are in the best part mundane. Eiles, the heroine, seems to adapt to surroundings despite at first being home sick. But she never really seems to be truly at home in either Ireland or the USA.

Colm Tobein is an interesting writer. There is plenty of underlying meaning in his prose and often we are left wondering whether the course of the novel is dictated by events or the willingness of characters to bend and change.

Occasionally I felt like screaming out for something major to happen. It rarely did - just a series of life experiences put together in an episodic way that at times was poignant, but at others rather dull. It is, however, a well written book.

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown - 20

I can understand why this book has received varied reviews - anything from "it's an unputdownable classic" to "what a load of tosh."

I fall somewhere in the middle. I enjoyed it but towards the end it dragged and the unravellin gof the lost symbol was hugely disappointing as all Dan Brown books seem to be. It's almost is if the author is pulling back from producing something ground shattering because 1/he runs out of ideas and 2/ is afraid to take the book out of its believable past. Brown wants us to believe in his symbolism, but he stretches the point.

Firstly let's take the positive points:

1/ It is a good read. The early chapters rattle past

2/ Much of what occurs is intriguing. On more than one occasion I stopped reading to look up information and claims on the internet

3/ There is plenty of action

Now to the negatives which sadly outweigh the positives.

1/ The characters have become wooden. I no longer care what happens to Robert Langdon and when it looked as if he had been drowned I was quietly pleased.
2/ Much of the action is contrived and ridiculous
3/ The "baddie" is a typical Brown character that we have seen so many times in his previous books
4/ Brown seems to have run out of ideas - just forcing into us numerous codes
5/ He has an annoying ability to end every chapter as a cliffhanger with pompous phrases leading us to believe that a stunning revelation is about to be uncovered.
6/ The stunning revelations never come leading to a feeling of so what.
7/ The action is, as with all of his books, very difficult to visualise.
8/ The plot twists and turns and the whole thing becomes very dull towards the end where one of the main characters acts as if nothing has happened despite the fact his son has been killed and he has had a hand chopped off (a fact he seemingly ignores as being pretty irrelevant).

Brown seems scared to geniuinely give is a catyclismic novel, preferring to lead us on, promising much but delivering relatively little. For the first half of this novel I was intrigued but it then got rather dull and predictable.

Book of Souls by Glenn Cooper - 23

Certainly not as good as Library of the Dead, but that was a hard act to follow. This treads much the same ground. Will Piper the New York cop is again the main character and this time travels to London in search of the book in the title. There's plenty of intrigue and it is a good sequel to Library of the Dead.

 

The To Do List by Mike Gayle - 21

Feeling low, want to be cheered up. Then a Mike Gayle book is always a good idea. No surprises - just good fun writing and easy to read prose.

In this one Gayle undertakes a massive to do list that goes into thousands of aims for the year. No pretentions that this is about a novel. This is about Gayle and his family. It's easy going fun and at the end of the day just as instructional as any of those so called self-help books. This is just a book to be enjoyed. It will never win any literary prizes but can just be enjoyed at the level at which it is pitched.

Juliet Naked by Nick Hornby - 17

Nick Hornby has always been a blind spot in my reading. I have never been able to quite understand his appeal despite the fact that he writes about some of my favourite subjects and music in particular. I just find him difficult to read and so it was with Juliet Naked. There is a good story within this plot but sadly this wasn't it.

The characters were sadly two dimensional and I gave up caring long before the end as I struggled to see it through and even then was totally underwhelmed by the ending. Tucker Crowe is a far from legendary American singer songwriter who many years ago produced a cult album entitled Juliet. Now many years later a stripped down demo version aptly named Juliet Naked is released.

Meanwhile the internet has been responsible for web sites springing up to discuss Tucker's music, despite the fact that the reclusive artist hasn't released anything for many years. Problem is when Tucker enters the narrative he isn't really a recluse. He looks after his young son, goes to supermarkets and also goes to gigs.

Now the side plot (or maybe it's really the main plot) surrounds the obsession of Duncan for Tucker's music something that leads his girlfriend Annie to post comments on the internet, which in turn leads Tucker to get in touch. Much of the book tries to develop the relationship between Crowe and Annie when her relationship with Duncan breaks up. It all gets a bit introverted and in the end just fizzles out. I am sure I missed something, but this one really left little or no impact and at times pushed the boundaries of plausibility. After all why would a reclusive ex alcoholic American suddenly take to communication with a British flower via the internet - ridiculous.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson - 24

This is an intriguing novel that quite rightly turned into something of a publishing sensation. As you read this it becomes very apparent that the author's own spicy life is featured to a great extent within the plot. It is a rambling, shambling book with the Swedish background giving an intriguing spin to a mystery novel of great depths and one that features characters whose flaws make them even more believable.

The Girl who played with Fire by Stieg Larsson - 25

If anything I found this second part of the trilogy even more enjoyable than the previous. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo set a fast pace but here the characters and relationships are expanded and the plot thickens in impressive style. We learn more about the central characters, but always within the drama itself and if the scenes of violence border at times on the ridiculous, this can be excused within the fine writing of the book as a whole.

Piano in the Pyrenees by Tony Hawks - 23

A great fun book. I love Tony Hawks' pithy and amusing stories. Yes this has all been done before from the days of Pater Mayle's A Year in Provence but it is a thoroughly enjoyable and light-hearted entertaining read. Hawks buys a home in the Pyrenees and that's about it for plot. It's just a succession of stories about gentle people - both French and Brits. A lovely fun read for a summer's day.

Playing for Pizza for by John Grisham - 20

American books about American Football set in Italy may be on the surface a little hard to digest and this is a pretty low key Grisham novel about a washed up quarterback who is sent out to help pioneer the game in Italy and of course sets aside his prejudices to fall in love with the place. There's nothing greatly original and some of the technical passages on the sport leave a British audience cold, but there is a certain charm about the book that just about saves it.

Coming Back to Me by Marcus Trescothick - 21

Really the only reason for reading this autobiography is to try and understand the depressive illness that turned Trescothick from one of England's finest opening batsmen into almost a gibbering wreck. So that renders most of the cricket side of the novel as just an aside. Without the illness this would be a very ordinary cricket book and probably one that nobody would read. But it is the man's fight against his inner-demons that makes it a reasonably intriguing read - how, for no apparent reason, a skilled sportsman can end up as a total mess and how eventually he manages to fightback but at the expense of his international career. This is as much a book of relationships and family life as it is about the sport of cricket.

My Autobiography by Johnnie Walker -22

Walker is another man who suffered from bouts of depression. This is an interesting read, although at times you just feel the author is skipping certain details as the narrative shoots from one place to the next, becoming ever more confusing and leading us to a number of passages that just don't add up. Nevertheless it is an honest account of one of our top DJs and particularly interesting when he discusses Pirate Radio. Well worth a read.

Auschwitz A History by Sybille Steinbacher - 20

A fairly short history of the German concentration camp and its place in history, told in straightforward language and placing it in the context of German industrial history as a whole.

It's Not What You Think by Chris Evans - 22

In many ways I was loathe to read this book as I have never been a fan of the ginger one. But I warmed to the guy. We have to assume that it is an honest account of his life (or certainly part of it as a second volume is on its way) as he sees it. It's written in a light-hearted way but still manages to include some serious content. The main seachange in my views surround the fact that I can now appreciate that Evans struggled to reach his status with plenty of energy rather than just being handed a silver spoon. Overall the fun side of the guy always comes to the top and that makes for an entertaining autobiography.

The Chosen One by Sam Bourne - 20

Comments I made about relationships in The Final Reckoning being old hat continue in this book by the same author. Do we really need yet another thriller about a fictitious President of the USA.

Ultimately this is a thriller about power broking but it rather rambles and the ending came as no real surprise. There is a cleverness in the plot but overall the book lacks the depth of the previous novel - almost as if the author is going through the motions and trying to use American slang to prove that, despite being British, he can write an engrossing novel about the USA.

Once again it follows the fortunes of Maggie Costello and her attempts to clear the President's name after various slurs against him. I found the first sections of the book tedious. It did [pick up pace in the latter third and provided a decent read, but overall left a lot to be desired.

Drood by Dan Simmons - 23

A very strange book indeed. One of those some people will find fulfilling but others will give up on well before the end of a book that runs to almost 800 pages. History, literature, the supernatural, opium addiction, Victorian London are all depicted at length as the story follows the relationship of writers Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins. But nothing is what it seems in a rolling narrative that I thoroughly enjoyed. It gives an excellent insight into both writers, although you are never quite sure how much is fact and how much is fiction. The story is written by Collins. Some readers will find it confusing that most of it is written through a drug induced haze, so you are never quite sure what is reality and what is dream induced nightmare. Put simply the story follows the relationship of the two after Dickens suffers a near death experience in a train crash which leaves him mentally scarred. In the aftermath of the crash he meets the mysterious Drood and much of the book involves Dickens and Collins'  relationship with this creature. To go any further would give the plot away too much. Considerable chapters in the book are given over to the relationship between the two writers and their decline from various ailments - some of which are self induced. It is unusual for an American writer to focus so closely on London but Simmons has done a good job. I still reckon, however, that after reading 50 pages of this you will have to make a conscious decision as to whether to stay the trip or not.

The Shack by William Young - 17

File this one under "ridiculous." I can see how it became a "publishing sensation" in self obsessed America but really this book stretches to boundaries of believability to an extraordinary level. At first the book seems to be a straightforward mystery story about the disappearance of a young girl and how the father "Mack" blames himself for both her disappearance and murder at the hands of a serial killer. So far so good. Then the whole thing goes off the rails in a cod religious way. The main character receives a note signed Papa (God) inviting him to the "shack". There he finds American manifestations of the Trinity.

Well if you have stuck with the book up to this point it then beggars belief. Most of the remainder of the story involves the main character's discussions with the threesome - God, Jesus and Sarayu (the Holy Spirit). Then we are asked to believe that God is depicted as an African American woman, Jesus a Middle Eastern carpenter and the Holy Spirit an Asian woman.

So if you stick with it this far you find the threesome talking in American accents and using American slang. As the main character grows in faith the whole thing gets more and more ridiculous, particularly as we are left wondering at the end of the book whether any of it took place anyway as Mack was involved in a motoring accident on the day of his visit to the shack. The book has evoked controversy but to my mind it is just too ridiculous to even be controversial.

 

The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl - 18

This one seems to fly all over the place and is hugely disappointing after reading Drood by Dan Simmons. In many ways the themes are similar but this one is confusing and gets bogged down, apparently heading nowhere fast with a convoluted plot that ultimately peters out into nothing and sub plots that never develop. I would find it difficult to recommend particularly as Dickens has died by the time the action begins, but we keep dipping back into his life.

The Tenth Chamber by Glenn Cooper - 21

A good read but not as powerful as his first two books which had a great originality about them. Here the mystery seems to be stilted although many of the same themes arise.  That doesn't mean to say that the book isn't enjoyable and it's an easy read with plenty of twists or turns although at times it falls into the same category as so much of Dan Brown's writing i.e expected revelations being disappointing and leaving the reader with a feeling of so what.

A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks - 17

And talking about disappointing books - well you can't do better than this one which totally loses any sense of reality as it meanders to an end and no conclusion. We follow numerous characters through a week in December and the expectation is that towards the end of the book their lives will intertwine but many of them never really do.

There are long dull passages discussing a kind of state of the nation from a London perspective and even longer duller passages about hedge funds and making millions. The characters are one dimensional and never really develop as the book winds its way onwards. I continued reading hoping that it would have something vital to say. There are one or two humerous passages but these do more than a nod to Ben Elton who is much better at writing biting satire than Faulks.

Reviewers have suggested that this is Faulks' attempts to write a genuinely modern novel. If those were his motives he has sadly failed.

Something Sensational to Read in the Train by Gyles Brandreth - 25

I have always loved reading diaries - they seem to give a true insight into a person, although of course they can be heavily edited.

Gyles Brandreth is also the kind of character that has always intrigued me - larger than life and strangely over the top. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. In fact the only problem was the huge amounts of text and the huge number of days just missed out completely.

Brandreth is a prolific writer and to condense this book into one volume means that much more has been left out than included. It could, in the hands of a lesser stylist, have become just a catalogue of famous names, but Brandreth leaves us in no doubts that his path has crossed some of the most famous names in the arts, the theatre and politics.

It takes us from his early school years until the new millennium and is never less than highly entertaining. I read it in a few days  and would love to think that there might be some kind of follow up on the way. My favourite read of the year to date.

The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse - 22

Firstly this book is much shorter than Kate Mosse's more epic offerings. That doesn't necessarily mean it's not as good, but certainly there are fewer twists and turns. A decent winter ghost story, it once again gives a good idea of French history and countryside and has much in common with the Tenth Chamber by Glenn Cooper in that respect. A journey towards some kind of understanding, leaping across the ages.

Currently reading John Lennon The Life by Philip Norman and The Atlantis Revelation by Thomas Greanias

 

Books I couldn't get through

The Children's Book by AS Byatt - After 50 pages I just had to give up. Laudable as AS Byatt's literature is this was too turgid to go on with.

Found Wanting by Robert Goddard - Just too confusing which is a great shame as I have enjoyed many of this author's books.

New York - Edward Ruthurford - Never have made it through a Ruthurford book. Storylines always very similar - just a different location and after ploughing through a few hundred pages I always lose interest in the characters and the generations.

Handling Edna The Unauthorised Biography by Barry Humphries - I love Barry Humphries and his portrayal of Edna but this was just too silly for words. It tried to be amusing but mostly failed and his use of "big words" rather suggested that amongst all the light-heartedness Mr Humpries was just trying to be clever - either that or he had swallowed a dictionary. Got about one third through before giving up.

Nights in Rodanthe by Nicholas Sparks

Desperately disappointing. I had seen the film and in a strange way liked it. The book reminded me of Bridges of Maddison County but it had nowhere near the poignancy or literary merit of that book. Here the characters are wooden and the dialogue trite and silly - the kind of love story you might expect from a very young writer. Got halfway through and just gave up as I knew what was coming anyway.

 

The year

.

25 Something Sensational to Read in the Train by Gyles Brandreth 

25 The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson

24 The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

23 Drood by Dan Simmons

23 Piano in the Pyrenees by Tony Hawks

23 Book of Souls by Glenn Cooper

22 It's Not What You Think by Chris Evans

22 My Autobiography by Johnny Walker

22 The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse

21 The To Do List by Mike Gayle

21 Brooklyn by Colm Tobein

21 Coming Back to Me by Marcus Trescothick

21 The Tenth Chamber by Glenn Cooper

20 The Lost symbol by Dan Brown

20 Pizza by John Grisham

20 The Lost Diaries of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend

20 The Chosen One by Sam Bourne

20 Auschwitz by Sybille Steinbacher

18 Fifty People who Buggered up Britain by Quentin Letts

18 The Last Dickens By Matthew Pearl

17 A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks

17 Juliet Naked by  Nick Hornby

17 The Shack by William Young