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.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Book 6 - Drama Games for Those Who Like to Say No

Book - Drama Games for Those Who Like to Say No
Author - Chris Johnston
Year - 2010
Genre - Drama Teaching
Pages - 193

Another little gem from Nick Hern Books, Drama Games for Those Who Like to Say No, is a book that I have been reading for a few months off and on now, but decided to fill in the gaps so that I could put it in here.  I work in a primary school for children with special educational needs, and teach the year nine/ten drama class at the secondary school we are associated with.  Coupled with my Friday night drama class, and these books - following on from the quite excellent Drama Games for Classrooms and Workshops - are truly amazing for ideas and extensions to the work that I do there.

Whereas the previous book in the series that I read is focused simply on games which are useful to fill time, or to start a topic, but most of all are fun, there is a secondary purpose to the games featured here.  Each of them tries to fulfil all of this criteria, whilst also being very accessible to those who are not as excited about drama, or indeed getting up in front of other people and doing something, or even just being a part of a group.  Many of the games here are designed to allow people too feel comfortable in themselves, and it is only later in the book that the games become more productive when it comes to putting together theatre.

And many of these games are great.  Since I have bought this book, I have had many a time when I am searching for inspiration on a lesson that will get a group excited, and a game in here has prompted an entire hour long lesson.  The ease of access for each game means that it is usable in any situation, and hopefully I will find many more opportunities to use it further.

However, as useful as it is, and as much as I would recommend it to any friends who teach drama as a handy and easy to use resource, I cannot honestly say that it is quite as essential as Drama Games for Classrooms and Workshops, which is a book that has come to my rescue time and time again already in my short three terms of teaching drama.  However, as a cheap, convenient book, it is certainly worth grabbing and adding to the collection.

8/10

Monday, 30 January 2012

Book 5 - So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish

Book - So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish
Author - Douglas Adams
Year - 1984
Genre - Science Fiction/Humour
Pages - 167

Having started out so brilliantly, I was really disappointed with the third book in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, Life, The Universe and Everything, and when I was blogging about it at the time, I remember bemoaning the fact that plot had taken a backseat to silliness, and I hoped that would change for the last two books in the series.  Well, having just finished this - the fourth in the trilogy of five - I am pleased to say that it is back.

Not to say that it is perfect - there is more focus on plot, but still nowhere near as much as in the first two, and as such I am not sure it really goes anywhere particular, more serving to set up a fifth book in some ways - but it is at least more focused.  And of course, it is still really really funny.  Adams will break the fourth wall for a laugh, or go off on a three page tangent, or include a line that another writer would automatically leave out in order to get you to have a giggle, and it is this that is the eternal attraction to this series.

The whole series is incredibly accessible.  Each book is pretty short, and they are all incredibly readable - once I had started this, the pages flew by - and still stand up well today, despite the pop references of the time - at one point there is a chapter littered with references to the genius of Dire Straits, which still sounds as perfectly plausible today as it did then.  If you like your books funny, and more specifically, you like your sci-fi funny, then you can do much worse than to pick up these books and give them a go.

8/10

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Book 4 - Stand Up Put Downs

Book - Stand Up Put Downs
Author - Rufus Hound
Year - 2011
Genre - Comedy
Pages - 126

Amazon had a bit of a sale in the new year, and as a result, this book was knocked down to a couple of quid.  I love a bit of stand up comedy, and thought that a book such as this might make a nice bit of light reading.

The basic premise is that Rufus Hound has collected together as many responses to hecklers as he can and put them together in one place.  They are all linked together with some pretty rough attempts at a through line from Hound - every fifteen or so pages he comes out with some stuff about different types of hecklers, or how it feels to be heckled - and some pages with a story from a comedian detailing an incident that they have dealt with in regards to hecklers.  But it is of course a book based mainly on reading the comments that comedians have managed to come up with.  There are loads of people credited - old favourites such as Arthur Smith, Steve Martin and Bill Hicks, comedy circuit darlings such as Richard Herring, Andre Vincent and Adam Bloom, and even people who must just be Hound's mates, such as Brendan Dodds whose main claim to fame is being chucked out of Pappys a few years back.

Overall the whole thing is funny.  A bit silly, and not particularly long, but worth a check for a chuckle.  Especially if Amazon are practically giving them away.

7/10

Friday, 13 January 2012

Book 3 - The Age of Consent

Book - The Age of Consent
Author - Peter Morris
Year - 2002
Genre - Play
Pages - 37
Lent to me by Alex Campbell/Andrew Valsler

The Age of Consent is a two hander consisting of some pretty massive monologues.  One character is Timmy.  Timmy is very obviously based upon one of the killers of Jeremy Bulger.  The play was first produced around the time that they were released from prison, and as such raised some controversy.  This is not surprising when considered the play casts a relatively sympathetic light upon him.  This is not to say that it condones his actions, but rather questions whether a childhood spent in prison has left him as the same person he was when he went in.

The second character is Stephanie.  A twenty-five year old with a six year old daughter, she decides that the stage is the way that they are going to make their fortune.  And goes about it in a way that is not only brash and bold, but shows no regard for her daughter, and becomes increasingly more abusive.  Her monologues become less about her, and more about her daughter and the stoic way in which she deals with an awful lot of terrible stuff.  The implied consequences for her at the end of the play are pretty chilling.

The script is written in such a way that it is very easy to follow.  Both characters speak quite naturally, and are very engaging - something that I think would be massively important in such a wordy play.  It seems a dream for anyone looking for a monologue for audition that shows a conflict in character, as both of them are telling quite hard, poignant stories with a certain element of humour.

I felt that it ended somewhat early however, specifically with regards to Stephanie's story.  There is an implication at the end that is not quite strong enough, and could use just a little more of a push in that direction in my opinion.  It is a shame, because this is a strong piece, and something that I would like to see in performance.

8/10

Book 2 - The Night Circus

Book - The Night Circus
Author - Erin Morgenstern
Year - 2011
Genre - Fantasy
Pages - 387
Bought for me by Sam and Simon Blanking

The first thing I want to mention here is what a beautiful looking book this is.  With a monochrome cover containing just a splash of red, and black sided pages it was already one of the best looking books that I have read in a long time, but when I discovered the red ribbon bookmark in the middle, it became an object that I wanted to - and did - show off to friends.

To make things even better, this was a prime case of it being acceptable to judge a book by its cover.  Set in a Victorian era, a challenge is issued by an enchanter that will pit his daughter against an opponent of his counterpart's choosing.  The venue for their encounter is set as a circus - one that appears without warning, and opens only at night.  We follow many of the principal players in both the game, and the circus, over many years, jumping forward and backwards between different times, places, and viewpoints, finding out snippets of information about the challenge as the story progresses.

The story is solid.  It is a complicated plot, with a wonderful slow reveal throughout, and some charming characters along the way.  I always wanted to know a little bit more, but unlike many books, it didn't make you wait until the very end for the full reveal.  However, the true joy of The Night Circus is the world that Morgenstern has created.

The Circus of Dreams that the book is based around is popular because of its dreamlike atmosphere - it is a circus where anything could happen, and its visitors are not sure if they have been there for half an hour or a whole night - and Morgenstern's writing paints this picture perfectly.  She evokes not just the smells and sounds of the circus, but the ideal of it as well.  The ethereal quality that she tells us her characters are feeling is the same ethereal quality to which we are treated.  The fact that this is a debut novel only makes it all the more impressive.

In reading bits here and there about the book, a lot of people have been comparing the book to Harry Potter or The Twilight Saga.  This seems to me to be a mile off - the depth of the character base, and the creation of a fictional world of the Harry Potter series is, whilst by no means being anywhere near the only example of it, a great feat and one that isn't replicated her, and the less said about Twilight the better - but I know exactly what they are getting at.  This book is definitely not it, but you get the feel that with little effort, Morgenstern would be more than capable of creating a series that does the same as what these other books have achieved.  And it would be a beautiful, rich world with some real scope to develop into a long term series.

In the meantime, I shall just keep an eye out for whatever Erin Morgenstern puts out next.  And just like the Circus of Dreams, I will be anxiously waiting for it to arrive.

10/10

Find Erin Morgenstern's website here.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Book 1 - The Color Purple

Book - The Color Purple
Author - Alice Walker
Year - 1982
Genre - Fiction
Pages - 261
Bought for me by Alex Campbell

Starting out my books for 2012 is one of my Christmas presents from Alex - The Color Purple - which is not, as she suggested with tongue firmly in cheek, a sequel to last year's MauveThe Color Purple is a book that I have always had in the back of my head as something that I should read, but not once have I ever made any move whatsoever to find anything more about it.

It is a story about a black lady from the south of the United States who is raped by her father, and is then married off to a man that she doesn't like, let alone love.  Her lot is pretty terrible, and through a series of letters that she writes to God, we follow her over the years and see the different ways that her life changes.

There are so many reasons that this is not a book for me.  It is a book about a time period I know little about, in a country I know little about, with a culture I know little about, and all written in a dialect that I don't really understand.  And yet I found it one of the most beautiful things I have ever read.

The main character, Celie, is written in such a vulnerable, clever way that it is so easy to empathise with her throughout.  The story has twists and turns, and around halfway through makes a massive shift, which feels incredibly natural, and then has another shift even later on.  The whole book is structured in such a way that the story feels very naturally paced, no matter where it jumps in real time.  There are real issues addressed, and nothing is hidden away as taboo or un-PC.  And most importantly, throughout it is entirely engaging.

The Color Purple is not a particularly old book, but for most of my life already, it has been considered to be a modern classic in the eyes of many people I have spoken to.  Having now finished it, I could not agree more.

10/10

Sunday, 1 January 2012

The Book Challenge 2011 - Lows and Highs

2011 has come to a close, and The Book Challenge has rumbled on apace.  Having spent all of 2010 pushing myself as hard as I could to get things read, I decided very early on that I was going to be much less selective about what I read - if I wanted to read a book that was only fifty pages long, then I would, and not feel bad about counting it afterwards.  And of course, the big difference for this year, was that I decided I was not going to actively try to reach one hundred books.  Once it had been achieved, I needed a step back, and have at times enjoyed my reading a little more.

As I did last year, I shall try and give a few highs and lows of the year, this time with a little bit of a look at what will be coming up for me in terms of reading for 2012.

Lows

Wrestling Autobiographies  I am making it a bit of an aim to read all of the various wrestling autobiographies out there - I know a lot of you find it sad, but I like it, okay!  Unfortunately, after reading some gems in the first couple of years of the challenge, I read this year the incredibly disappointing third autobiography from Mick Foley, and Cross Rhodes by Goldust, which goes down as possibly the worst thing I have ever read.  Not a vintage year.

Mock the Week  I feel bad listing this again, as Annette who bought it for me came and apologised for getting me a rubbish book.  I will reiterate, that I just love reading, and having the odd bad book is good for appreciating the good ones, and also because writing reviews of bad books is fun.  And this really was a bad book.

Flying Solo Having spent my victorious year blogging alongside Bob, it has been sad being the only one blogging regularly - especially seeing as due to his sadness at being vanquished by me last year, Bob went on a bit of a book drought for the first few months of the year.  All of this looks set to change now however, as Alex has her blog running, Matt is starting a book challenge of his own, and Rob is returning to New York for a few weeks and thinks he may be persuaded to revive his own blog of his travels out there.

Highs

Hits To my utmost surprise, my little blog here gets what I consider to be a pretty good number of hits.  Compared to my rarely updated Alex Writes Things blog, which currently sits on nearly 200 visits in a year, in the past two years, this site has had around 25,000 hits.  I am pretty proud of that, so if you are someone I don't know who does read this blog, then give me a shout, I'd love to hear from you.  And if you do know me, then please feel free to do so anyway.  Now if only I could work out how to set up the ad revenue thing on the site...

GRRM Finally finishing A Dance With Dragons I have made no secret of my love for George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, and after a wait of six years, we finally got the fifth book in the series done.  This was a perfect excuse to read the rest of the series, and whilst the fact that they are all massive hasn't helped my total for the year, and the fifth book itself was somewhat a disappointment, I am pretty chuffed that we finally got to read it.

Terry Pratchett and Peter V Brett These two are the new series this year that I have really enjoyed.  Pratchett is someone I had not really gotten into before - I had read his first Discworld novel, but no further - but I am so glad I am started on them now, and following several recommendations, I decided to read Brett's The Painted Man - a brilliant book that I am massively looking forward to finishing the series for now.

Simon Garfield Garfield has been somewhat my revelation author this year.  From reading The Wrestling I decided to read Mauve and enjoyed both of them a lot.  He has some other books on particularly weird subjects which I hope to read in the near future as well.

The Future

Well, I will still be blogging all of the books I read (I hear you all sigh in relief). And whilst I don't intend to do the one hundred challenge again this year, I have a tentative plan to simply try to beat this year's score.  But what will I be reading?

Well, the first thing that I am going to do is to read all of my Christmas books - perhaps noticing my pile of approximately seven hundred books in my To Be Read pile (no, I am actually not exaggerating) I only received four books this Christmas - and get them blogged.  My other aims for this year include finishing the Hitchhikers Guide books, getting a few more plays under the belt, start a couple of new series, and read some new authors - I have never read any Dickens for example, and should rectify that.

Any recommendations, please do throw them my way - I received a beautiful book journal for Christmas, and shall be logging suggestions in there as I receive them.  And if you have any inclination to join me in this blogging malarkey, please jump on board.  It really is a lot of fun.