Having just missed one hundred books in the first year of The Book Challenge, in 2010, I made the full tonne. Still reading, but without the challenge, take a look at the reviews for the books that I have read this year.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Book 5 - Tietam Brown

Book - Tietam Brown
Author - Mick Foley
Year - 2003
Genre - Fiction
Pages - 241
Sent to me by angswap at RISI

This is the first book that I have read this year from the website Read It Swap It (more of that in another post but please check out the link above if you want piles of what amounts to free books).

Mick Foley has, over the course of his career, been known as Cactus Jack, Mankind and Dude Love.  Not normal pen-names for an author, but then that's because most authors didn't start their careers as a professional wrestler.  And not in the same way that Jimmy Saville started his career as a professional wrestler (there's and interesting tidbit for you), but he was several times WWE World Champion, and whilst not being a technical master, is widely regarded as one of the men to have pushed a more extreme style into wrestling - being blown up by C4 in a match (no, really) and losing an ear during one move.

When he wrote his first autobiography in 1999, it became a surprising best seller, and topped the New York Times bestseller list.  Many people - my former rival not included - thought that it was a wrestling autobiography that was readable by even people who had no interest in the WWE at all.  From here he was given the opportunity to write some fiction, and Tietam Brown is the first effort to that effect.

So what does a one-eared, good humoured, wrestling outsider write about?  Well, a one-eared, good humoured outsider of course.  And yes, wrestling does make an appearance, although to Foley's benefit, it is not the focal point of the story.  Instead, we get the story of Antietam 'Andy' Brown V, son of Antietam 'Tietam' Brown IV, who abandoned him as a baby, but then returns to find him when he is seventeen.  We see how he falls in love, about 'the rage' that overcomes him at particular times, and how he bonds and disconnects with his father again.

It is worth mentioning from the offset, that the writing is horrific.  Full of cliches, bad jokes and gaps in logic, there is little to be said for the way Foley writes the book other than at least he wrote it in the first person so all of this can be taken as a character trait of Andy rather than a fault of Foley's.  However, the story hooks you massively.  I was constantly interested in finding out what was going to happen next, and it became a read page turner at points.

However, the book is let down by Foley's wrestling mentality.  In wrestling, when things become stale, they make a bad guy good, or a good guy bad, with little thought as to why that would happen or anything that has gone before it.  Foley sadly uses this idea the whole way through.  A major point of the book sees Tietam going mental at Andy for saying how great Lincoln's freeing of the slaves was, and then shows his deep, sensitive side by proclaiming it is because he didn't go far enough and free enough people from oppression.  You see a nice side to a character that seemed far darker, but then, when later he suddenly becomes a racist, the whole incident about the slavery is completely forgotten .

I came away pretty unsure how to read.  On one hand, I had read a book that had wanted me to power on through it, and I found interesting.  On the other hand, it was also full of nonsense - and I haven't even ventured into mentioning the number of times that sexual abuse and rape happens, seemingly for no reason in some cases - and so I am torn.  And I have no idea when I will make up my mind on it, so for now, it receives a pretty average score, and the recommendation to read it if you like Mick Foley.  Then tell me what to think.

7/10

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Book 4 - Vernon God Little

Book - Vernon God Little
Author - DBC Pierre
Year - 2003
Genre - Fiction
Pages - 277

Whilst I know that a book that has won an award is by no means a guarantee of it's quality, I cannot help but think that any book that has won a major prize - such as this book did with the 2003 Man Booker Prize - must have a certain amount of quality.

And that is not a million miles away from the truth.  Vernon God Little is a very well written book, and by the end I had decided that I liked it.  However, getting to that stage was not the easiest of journeys.  We pick up the story with a small Texas town in mourning for the loss of sixteen students in a gun massacre at a school.  Vernon Little was the best friend of the gunman, who killed himself after the spree, robbing the town of a place to lay the blame.  As a result, suspicion falls on Vernon, who finds every little thing he has ever done wrong being turned into ammunition as a case swells for his being involved in the killing.

The biggest problem throughout the story, is that everything seems so cringeworthily futile the whole time.  Things keep cropping up that you know are going to mess Vernon up, and you spend about four pages cringing waiting for it to happen, before finally they do mess him up, and something else is set up for you to cringe over.  I found it hard to keep ploughing on through the book at times, just wanting the terrible tension to end.

The end section of the book takes a quite frankly ridiculous turn as well.  I don't want to spoil it for anyone who would like to read it, but the twists are silly, the reality tv concept that is inexplicably accepted by the government is awful, and the end is pretty unbelievable.

That's a lot of negative points, but it isn't all bad.  I just found that I enjoyed it an awful lot more once I had finished it.  And I don't think I will read the sequels.

6/10

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Book 3 - Teechers

Book - Teechers
Author - John Godber
Year - 1987
Genre - Play
Pages - 31

Yes, you read that right, 31 pages.  I have had a copy of this play since I was a drama student and bought it amidst a fit of guilt at only owning three plays.  I then proceeded to not read it, and it only cropped up again last year.  However, with a challenge to complete, I felt that I couldn't justify a thirty one page book, and thought I would save it for this year where I can afford to be a little more lax with my book sizes.

So, on a mission to read more plays this year - I am now a drama graduate and I sometimes have a fit of guilt over only owning four plays, including the one I bought whilst having a fit of guilt over only owning three plays - I grabbed this one off of the shelf and finally brought myself round to reading it.

And worthwhile it was.  I started out thinking that it was very definitely the kind of play that you needed to see instead of read - no problem with that, I would rather that than a play that you never would want to see no matter how nice it was to read - but before the end of the first act, I found myself thoroughly enjoying it as a story, not just a play.

The structure is that of a play within a play.  Three school leavers have been persuaded by their drama teacher (or teecher, depending upon your preference.  My spellcheck incidentally, is not a fan of this play) to produce a production based upon their last year of school, and how the new drama teacher has inspired them to become a little more than the toerags that they become.  The three students portray twenty different parts between them, and the script does well to paint the characters - an old fashioned deputy head, a stuck up PE teacher, a school 'cock' - which is where the play truly flourishes.  Having it about a school told from the point of view of school kids, makes the whole play work, and despite being twenty four years old now, could - with references to things such as O-Levels and Wham updated - work perfectly today.  Definitely a good play to start the year off with.

9/10

Monday, 17 January 2011

Book 2 - Kraken

Book - Kraken
Author - China Mieville
Year - 2010
Genre - Weird Fantasy (that's what the author calls it!)
Pages - 481
Bought for me by Mum and Dad

China Mieville has a slew of awards to his name, and a devoted following.  A purveyor of a subset of fantasy called 'weird fantasy', he aims to move fantasy away from the Tolkien-esque 'swords and spells' cliche, and root it in a wide variety of other ways - he has said that he aims to write a book in every genre throughout his career.  Having never read anything by him, I was quite interested to read this, his most recent effort, and see what the fuss is about.

Unfortunately, it is already a leading contender for the most disappointing book of the year award.  To look at the positives, the concept is breathtaking.  With the theft of the world's only intact example of a giant squid from the Natural History Museum, Billy Harrow - the curator who discovers its loss - is thrown into a London he never knew existed, with squid cults, gun farmers, Chaos Nazis and more magic than you could imagine.  Where Mieville gets some of the ideas from is beyond belief, and how he manages to introduce some of these ideas without the reader laughing at the ridiculousness of it all - one of the policewoman's 'snouts' is a ghost pig that talks like Tweetie Pie - is quite brilliant.  However, in harnessing this crazy world, he sacrifices some of the things that would make the book great.

The characters are terribly developed.  Most of the time I have no idea why most of the characters are doing what they are doing - fine if they are a dead police spirit with little intellect, but more of a problem when it encompasses your main character - and as such there is little reason to route for or against anyone.  The basis of so many of the characters is so sound that it makes this even more of a shame.

Additionally, certain sections of the text make little sense.  Several times I found myself reading a page a couple of times, convinced I must have missed something.  I definitely had, as major plot points managed to happen without me noticing.  No matter how many times I checked though, I often couldn't work out why the particular passage meant what it was supposed to mean.  Difficult to explain, but suffice to say, I was confused.  Stick in a seemingly unnecessary twist at the end which reeked of cop-out, and what was potentially a good thing is massively ruined.

However, I would definitely like to read some more by China Mieville.  Reading through some of the reviews of the book on Amazon, Mieville fans in large seem to see this as a bit of a dip in his writing, and say that some of his earlier work is far better.  I think that this might be where I am going next, because the idea of weird fantasy still appeals to me.

6/10

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Book 1 - Fire Study

Book - Fire Study
Author - Maria V Snyder
Year - 2008
Genre - Fantasy
Pages - 447
Lent to me by Faye Braggins

The first book I read this year is actually finishing off a series that I started at the tail end of 2010.  As I am pretty sure that I mentioned whilst writing about the second book in the trilogy, it is tough to review a latter book of a series - problems with spoilers and the fact that usually the books are remarkably similar slightly hinder you - but it is suffice to say by the speed I flew through these books, that they are a cracking series.

I shall reiterate the rough premise.  Condemned as a murderer at the beginning of the series, Yelana grows to become the poison tester for the most powerful man in the country.  As the series progresses, poison is not her only trouble, as she learns more about her unusual magical powers, and her place in the biggest threat her continent has seen for two thousand years.

All in all, pretty standard 'swords and spells' fantasy fodder, but done well, and this gives you an impetus to read through the books one after the other - something I have only just managed to avoid.  Snyder is certainly an author that I will be keeping an eye on from now on - Faye has already lent me the series that is a spin off of these books, and I hear that she is already one book release into the new year which looks quite interesting.  If you are a fan of this sort of thing, then it is a must read.

9/10

Sunday, 9 January 2011

And beyond...

It is the question that literally several people have asked me since I finished The Book Challenge at the end of the year - What next?  And a good question it is too.

Well, I shan't be attempting the same mission that I did in 2010.  Reading one hundred books was a great challenge, but it did slightly take over my life at times.  I am currently involved with several different shows, have work to think of, sing in a choir, try to keep some semblance of a social life, and would like to be able to have time to sit and play computer games, or watch TV - things that I had to put on a back burner when attempting to complete last year's challenge.  So this year, no one hundred books for me.

However, I will still be reading a lot.  The challenge was taken up not because I never read at all, but because I wanted to increase the amount that I read as I enjoy it so much.  I don't intend to let that slip again now that the challenge is over, but will just appreciate the fact that the pressure is now off a bit.  And to follow that, I will still blog the books that I read.  I have enjoyed doing so, and I think I will appreciate having a record of the books that I have read and what I thought of them a lot in a few years time.  Expect the occasional facebook update with reviews as they arrive.

Blogging has been one of the best bits of this, and it's something that I think I will expand upon this coming year.  I intend to set up another blog here, and post regularly on that, however I won't just limit it to literary stuff.  If there is something interesting happening, then I will blog on that, or an opinion that I want to share, then I will blog on that, or if I mistakenly think that I can be funny about something, well, then I shall blog on that as well.  I have no intention of turning it into an emo 'Here is my life and how much it sucks' blog - please inform me if I look like I am heading that way - and hopefully it will be interesting whilst allowing me to keep blogging.

Just because I have finished the challenge, it doesn't mean that no one else should keep it going however.  If anyone wants to take up the mantle, then see how many books you can read in a year - it doesn't have to be one hundred, just set a realistic yet challenging target - or do as my friend James is doing and find a target of your own - he is aiming to watch all of the Oscar winning films this year - or even just set up your own blog and write.  There is a lot to be said for increasing your writing output, so that is worthy in itself - even if you do write an emo-woeblog.  Just let me know what you are doing, and I will link here.

Oh, and I finished book number one of 2011 on Friday.  I'm not doing the challenge, honest, but it will be interesting to see how many I do read anyway...

Monday, 3 January 2011

The Book Challenge: Lows and Highs

Well, we are a few days into the new year now, and I have had time to bask in the glory of managing to complete The Book Challenge.  Thank you to everyone who has passed on congratulations - it is much appreciated.  As I did last year, I wanted to post a few thoughts on the Challenge and some of the highs and lows, so if you are interested then read on.

The Lows

A Bad Start  For various reasons, such as a bit of burnout from the year before, and directing a (highly successful) show, I didn't start off too well in my quest.  In fact, as I check back on the blog from the beginning of the year, it's a little shocking to see that by the end of February, I had finished only three books!  That is ridiculous, and I may have saved myself some late nights had I just upped the pace a little at the beginning.

Dropping Off During Summer During August, I spent a week and a half in Edinburgh, and nearly a week singing with my choir.  In that time period, I managed only one book, which again is shocking.  When I think of all of the times when I tried to cram in a couple of pages here and there, and compare it to the times when I could have done far more reading, I can't help but feel that despite completing the challenge, I wasn't always very good at it.

Aldus Huxley As happens in this sort of challenge, I managed to read some terrible books this year, but only one of them was truly disappointing.  When you pick something up like The Big Book of Excuses or The Book of Fascinating Facts then there is a very good chance that it will be a pile of rubbish.  However, having read Brave New World, and truly loved it, I had much higher hopes for Doors of Perception.  Unfortunately, it was boring, self-indulgent, and left me with a worse opinion of Huxley than before I had read it.

The Highs

New Series  The Dresden Files, Percy Jackson, Poison Study.  Just a few of the excellent new series that I have started this year.  I love a good series and it was well worth reading these.

Old Series  Re-reading the Harry Potter series was truly fantastic.  They are such a good set of books, and I reckon it'll only be a couple more years until I read them all again.

How To Talk To A Widower and One Day  Two excellent modern books, that I really cannot recommend highly enough.  These are the two books that I will be suggesting to people to read for a very long time.

Catcher In The Rye  This is the only book that I think I under-rated in The Book Challenge.  I gave it a nine, but it is a definite ten - even allowing for the fact that I do give out some fairly generous scores.  As I mentioned at the time however, I wish I had read it when I was younger, so to my younger friends, this is the one that I would recommend to you.

Blogging  This has been one of the most pleasant new surprises this year.  Possibly even more than reading the books, I have enjoyed sharing it on my blog.  I have enjoyed it enough that it wouldn't even matter to me that much if no-one wanted to read it, but quite wonderfully, they have.  It's really nice when someone says that they have seen how I am doing, or someone I haven't spoken to for literally years gets in touch to say they have enjoyed it - and that has happened three or four times so far - or even when someone says that they have read a particular book because I said I liked it.  Thank you everyone that has read this blog at all, it really is appreciated.

My Nemesis  It is interesting that the times that I started to lag a little - other than the ones mentioned earlier - were the times when Bob hadn't posted for a few days.  We have had a rivalry going in regards to the Challenge since the beginning, but it has been truly fantastic battling him along the way.  I have had some great recommendations from him - such as How To Talk To A Widower - and have enjoyed reading his blog.  If you haven't had a look, then please do - it is here.  Oh, and of course, it was a true highlight to just pip him to the post.

Well, I've got a couple more blogs to post in the next couple of days - one of which will look at what's next, and one of which will be one of the geekiest things ever, when I put some stats together on the challenge (it's my blog so I shall do whatever geekiness I like), but I am pretty much done on the challenge for this year.  Thanks for sticking with it to the end!

The Full One Hundred

Now that I have finished The Book Challenge for the year, I thought it would be a sensible thing to do to list all of the books that I have read.  Of course, a much more sensible thing to have done, would have been to have kept this list up to date as I went along like Bob did.

Here goes then...

1.  The Seventh Tide by Joan Lennon - 7/10
2.  E2 by Matt Beaumont - 9/10
3.  The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L Frank Baum - 9/10
4.  World's Stupidest Instructions by Michael O'Mara - 3/10
5.  Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams - 8/10
6.  The Scarecrow and His Servant by Phillip Pullman - 5/10
7.  Book of Fascinating Facts by John Blake Publishing - 1/10
8.  How To Talk to a Widower by Jonathon Tropper - 10/10
9.  Three Men In A Boat by Jerome K Jerome - 7/10
10.  Starter for Ten by David Nicholls - 7/10
11.  Where Underpants Come From by Joe Bennett - 6/10
12.  Storm Front by Jim Butcher - 9/10
13.  The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tipps by Michael Morpurgo - 7/10
14.  Who Moved My Blackberry? by Lucy Kelloway - 2/10
15.  Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by JK Rowling - 10/10
16.  The Top 10 of Everything by Russell Ash - 5/10
17.  Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling - 9/10
18.  K-PAX by Gene Brewer - 9/10
19.  The Fall by Garth Nix - 6/10
20.  Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling - 10/10
21.  The Art of Standing Still by Penny Culliford - 8/10
22.  Wit of a Nation by Richard Benson - 7/10
23.  Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling - 10/10
24.  Fool Moon by Jim Butcher - 10/10
25.  The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Moshin Hamid - 6/10
26.  The Thing With Finn by Tom Kelly - 8/10
27.  Rugby Tales by Lawrence D'Lallio - 7/10
28.  The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night Time by Mark Haddon - 10/10
29.  Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling - 8/10
30.  Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan - 8/10
31.  The Book of Big Excuses by Tracey Turner - 1/10
32.  The Hell of It All by Charlie Brooker - 8/10
33.  Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw - 8/10
34.  Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote - 9/10
35.  Steel Rain by Tom Neale - 4/10
36.  Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by JK Rowling - 9/10
37.  Anthropology by Dan Rhodes - 9/10
38.  The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald - 8/10
39.  Heroes by Robert Cormier - 6/10
40.  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling - 10/10
41.  Of Mice And Men by John Steinbeck - 9/10
42.  The Life Shop by Margaret McAllister - 5/10
43.  Jurassic Park by Michael Chrichton - 9/10
44.  Longitude by Dava Sobel - 8/10
45.  Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs - 10/10
46.  Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan - 7/10
47.  Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips - 7/10
48.  Percy Jackson and the Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan - 9/10
49.  Percy Jackson and the Battle of The Labyrinth by Rick Riordan - 9/10
50.  Percy Jackson and the Last Olympian by Rick Riordan - 10/10
51.  Spies by Michael Frayn - 7/10
52.  The Dark Tower: Gunslinger by Stephen King - 7/10
53.  One Day by David Nicholls - 10/10
54.  I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou - 8/10
55.  The Other Book by Mitchell Simmons - 9/10
56.  Chris Moyles:  The Difficult Second Book by Chris Moyles - 7/10
57.  The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter by David Colbert - 7/10
58.  Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin - 7/10
59.  Adam Copeland on Edge by Adam Copeland - 8/10
60.  The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks - 9/10
61.  Hitman by Bret Hart - 10/10
62.  The Truth Behind the Helsinki Roccamantios by Yann Martel - 5/10
63.  Brave New World by Aldus Huxley - 10/10
64.  The Winslow Boy by Terrance Rattigan - 6/10
65.  A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess - 8/10
66.  Fury by Salman Rushdie - 5/10
67.  Grave Peril by Jim Butcher - 8/10
68.  No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthey - 6/10
69.  Hombre by Elmore Leonard - 7/10
70.  Summer Knight by Jim Butcher - 8/10
71.  The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan - 9/10
72.  My Story by Dannii Minogue - 8/10
73.  The Bumper Book of Fads and Crazes by Richard Lewis - 8/10
74.  Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell by Aldus Huxley - 3/10
75.  Elling by Simon Bent - 6/10
76.  Gallows Thief by Bernard Cornwall - 8/10
77.  The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M Cain - 6/10
78.  The Catcher In The Rye by JD Salinger - 10/10
79.  The Slightly True Story of Cedar B Hartley by Martine Murray - 8/10
80.  The Grifters by Jim Thompson - 6/10
81.  The World According to the Man in the Pub 2 by Robert Atwood - 7/10
82.  Double Indemnity by James M Cain - 6/10
83.  Why Does E=mc2? by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw - 9/10
84.  Automated Alice by Jeff Noon - 5/10
85.  The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett - 8/10
86.  Have I Got News For You Guide to Modern Britain by Nick Martin - 7/10
87.  Tamburlaine Must Die by Louise Welsh - 6/10
88.  The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway - 7/10
89.  The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams - 8/10
90.  It's Just You, Everything's Not Shit by Steve Stack - 5/10
91.  84 Charing Cross Road/Duchess of Bloomsbury Street by Helene Hanff - 10/10
92.  Poison Study by Maria V Snyder - 9/10
93.  The Lawnmower Celebrity by Ben Hatch - 7/10
94.  My Uncle Oswald by Roald Dahl - 8/10
95.  Half A World Away by Tom Bromley - 8/10
96.  Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut - 9/10
97.  Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad - 5/10
98.  Awkward Situations for Men by Danny Wallace - 8/10
99.  Magic Study by Maria V Snyder - 9/10
100.  No and Me by Delphine de Vigan - 8/10