Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Chrimble Presents

Having finally gotten over the ubiquitous cough that has lasted as long as the snow I finally feel like writing a blog post. And what's better than a list of my book Chrimble presents. Well probably quite a lot but you're getting the list.

1. Handmade Leather Notebook
Not really available on the internet as it was crafted by a wizened old troll and sold to Lauren at one of the fleeting Christmas fairs around Woking. It has a lovely to touch leather cover and is full of thick, spongy pages ready for me to fill up. Probably with pictures of zombies. Lots and lots of zombies.

2. The Complete Essays Michel de Montaigne
All of life's problems solved, or at least talked about by some French bloke in 1570-something. But look at the beard*, you know what he says has to be right just because of that. This is the first book I have mistaken for a yoga mat. It's a long story. (Ok, my mum hid it in a yoga mat box and I was very confused and grumpy about getting a yoga mat for Christmas)

* My cover has a picture of Montaigne on with a fabulous beard. Buy the book for this alone.



3 The Four Skulduggery Pleasant Books I Don't Own
You may be wondering why I'm still reading books for kids and the fact is Skulduggery Pleasant has a hidden message which all adults should appreciate. And that is Skulduggery Pleasant is awesome. To be honest it isn't that hidden. But anyway, I've got four more books with rather incredible illustrated covers of a skeleton dressed like a pimp throwing fire balls. Inside is lots of text about a skeleton dressed like a pimp throwing fireballs. I find it all embarrassingly good fun. Is it really sad to play the website's secret games as well?




4 Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
My brother said it is one of the best books he has ever read. And it has cowboys in it. I'm sure to love it. Yeeeha! Though I do hope no one actually says yeeeha! in it. Yeeeha doesn't seem to be authentically cowboy to me anymore.







5 The Grudge by Tom English
If I'm not watching people display amazing skill and also sneakily try to hurt other people on the rugby pitch I quite enjoy reading about it. Even if the book has a quote from John Inverdale on the front. And a picture of a superior, smirking, Will Carling. Mainly because I know England lose the match and that makes it all worth while. One of the first rugby matches I can really remember, which is a bit strange as it didn't involve Wales. I'm looking forward to tales of how bright Jim Telfer's face goes.




And finally a lovely moleskine pocket book. So I can write important information down. Or sneakily draw more zombies.

Hope you got some decent presents at Chrimble.

Mark

Sunday, 28 November 2010

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, annabel Pitcher: During the Reading of Which Several Bits of Grit Fell into my Eyes

No cover image available
for this book
Sorry for the lack of updates, I've had a virus and I haven't trusted Lauren with a login of her own yet. On with the review!

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece is the story of 10 year old Jamie whose family has been torn apart after one of his older twin sisters is killed during a terrorist attack. Yep, it's that happy.

The story picks up about 5 years after Jamie's sister has been killed. He and his father and sister are moving to the Lake District to escape from London muslims (Jamie's dad  has a problem with muslims and thinks there aren't any in the Lake district) and try to start a new life.

Jamie's dad quickly falls into his old ways of drinking and it is left for Jamie's sister Jas to try to look after him. Much of the book revolves around their relationship and how Jas, who is 15 tries to cope with looking after an alcoholic father and a younger brother who won't take off his Spiderman top. The relationship between Jas and Jamie is fantastically developed and believable (along with the father when he isn't in a stupor).

Jamie has a tough time at his new school and his only friend is a muslim girl called Sunya. He begrudgingly accepts her and the conflict of the story develops around their relationship as Jamie tries to keep it secret from his father.

I can't really fault anything with this story, it has a good pace, is believable, doesn't simplify things or patronise the reader and doesn't give you a happy ever after ending. Things get better but in a believable way and only after some really tough times.

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece is out in February and will be about £7ish I guess.

Cheers,

Mark

Friday, 12 November 2010

The Guardians, Andrew Pyper: So Scary You'll Bury the Book After Reading it

Warning: Reading this book may
make you fill your pants.
I don't often read ghost/horror stories. When I was younger I read a few Stephen King books and they all seemed to be the same, and before that I was a kid and read kid's ghost stories. So this is the first ghost story I have read for quite a while.

The Guardians, initially seemed to be a derivative traditional ghost story. There is a haunted house, a group of childhood friends who share a terrible secret and a dark force brooding in the background. And to begin with I thought it was going to be formulaic and rubbish.

But then Andrew Pyper started insidiously slipping into my mind, and my unease grew with each chapter (I think this is a good thing for a horror story), until reading it before I went to sleep got difficult to cope with. I wasn't just fearing for the main characters but for myself (I mean what is that weird ticking in the bedroom that only happens when I turn off the light?*)

But still I read it and I read it fast. Much faster than I'd normally read a book. I put this down to the skill at story telling that Andrew Pyper has.

But it still felt formulaic. It concludes in a fairly predictable way. But does it really matter given that the story is told so well? I don't think so.

So The Guardians seems predictable but is so well told it will fill you with scarediness. Well it did me. You might be tougher than that.

The Guardians is out in February for about £7ish.

* Once the fear left me I guessed it was the light bulb cooling. Not the insane spirit of a former occupant of my flat trying to send me insane.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Rivers of London, Ben Aaronovitch: Oi Potter! You're Nicked!

Rivers of London is a fantasy adventure following the burgeoning career of a MET copper who finds out he is a bit magical and London has a more diverse group of criminals inhabiting it than he thought. The action starts pretty quickly, at the scene of a gruesome murder in Covent Garden. The copper, called Peter, is bored, standing in the rain, making sure no one has wild drunken sex on the crime scene.

Fortunately he spots a ghost who saw everything and soon he is tracking down a crazed supernatural killer, helped along by his perky female officer friend and his Master who teaches him in the ways of magic. His magic starts of rubbish (ooooooh, a glowing light) but gets quite good by the end (exploding apples and statue heads).

What has this to do with the rivers of London? Well I'm not going to reveal that but they do feature throughout the story and not just in damp, flowing watery way. There are lots of clues through the book to indicate 'who dun it' and you might be able to beat Peter to the punch and solve it. It culminates in an enjoyably bizarre and frantic conclusion.

No reason for this, I just thought it was freaky
Ben Aaronovitch has put together an enjoyable and exciting story that is easy to read. It is fantastically well researched, from the places mentioned (including my manor Chertsey!), to the historical details and how to do real magic (ok, the last one is a lie).

If you enjoy coppers, fantasy, coppers and fantasy (not like that you pervert) or just books where the main character gets brushed by female body parts a fair bit (you can perv now) you'll probably enjoy this book. I like fantasy, coppers and female body parts so I think it is a pretty damn good book.

Rivers of London is out in January and will cost about £9ish.

Cheers,

Mark

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Rivers of London, Ben Aaronovitch: Preview (Flippin' Rozzers)

A-hahahahaha! Smug git.
Rozzers. They are getting younger, bigger and cleverer. Probably at a speed slightly slower than rats (for two of the three anyway). Always there when you don't need them and eager to be somewhere else when you do. Some have been replaced by cameras, showing that inanimate objects are generally more effective than them. Rozzers.

This wild rambling abuse of the Keepers of the Queens piece Peace is badly thought out introduction to the next book we will be reviewing, Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch which is about a copper. Who is a wizard.

Need I say more? Ok, it is about a probationary constable in the MET (Metropolitan Police Service (London Filth)) who discovers he is a bit wizardy and joins the wizard branch of the MET (the flying squad? Arf arf!). I'm already  quite a bit in and it is really good, and not just because it mentions boobs. The cover is very good, it looks like something I would have drawn in my old job while very bored and slightly insane.

Also coming up, reviews of some if not all of the following.

The Double Life by Cora Parry: Orphan girl creates double life so she can nick stuff.

Broken, Lisa Jones: Something about an Indian Reservation.

The Guardians, Andrew Pyper: Remember that haunted house you knew as a kid? It's on the front of this book and given me the willies (and not in a good way!)

The Tiger's Wife, Téa Obreht: haunting story of a young doctor in a Balkan country. Hmmmm, I need to find more books about skeleton detectives.

and to sign off a video of the Manic Street Preachers sing a song related vaguely to the police.



Laughing policeman picture nicked from here.

Cheers,

Mark

P.S. Only kidding all my lovely friends who are coppers. I like you really. Even when you confiscated those stolen DVDs and kept them for yourselves.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Artemis Fowl: A Lame Duck

Fartemis Owl - Haha! That is
funnier than anything
in this book
Artemis Fowl is...not very good. There I said it. I didn't really want to have to say it. I was really looking forward to reading it. It seemed to have an original idea and I couldn't see how it could go wrong. But it did go wrong for me. Terribly, terribly wrong.

The story follows Artemis Fowl, a twelve year old criminal mastermind from Ireland. Artemis plans to steal the fairies gold and has a cunning plan to do it. But the fairies are old and cunnin-. Actually scratch that. The fairies are rubbish. Rubbish, rubbish, rubbish. They fly around cursing humans for destroying the planet. Fly around with petrol driven wings and nuclear powered cameras strapped to their heads, just waiting to set off bombs that wipe out great swathes of life. But fairy society is really interesting. what they have done is copy human society. The race they really don't like they have copied. I don't understand any of this? Why would you do this?  Why when you have the chance to create an imaginative, exciting new society would you base your society on 1970s American city with (nuclear powered) rayguns?

So the fairies are rubbish but obviously the character of Artemis himself can save this book, he is so calculating, so-. Sorry, sorry, no he isn't. He's got as much depth as the puddle outside my shower.  He's a small block of wood that occasionally smiles in a condescending way.

The plot is rubbish as well. Scenes overlap with a change of point of view in a really annoying way. Things make little sense. I really don't want to talk about it.

So in summary, in case you didn't guess, I really didn't like this book. When I was nine I think I'd have used it for some pyromaniac escapade rather than suffer much more after the second chapter. Seeing as a whole bunch of other books have been written about Artemis I can only guess they get a lot better but I'm not going to risk reading another one.

If you really want to buy it you might want to try here.

Oh, the whole bit about the whaler? Complete **** knocking **** splash. GRRRRRRR!

Sorry about the rant.

Mark

Monday, 18 October 2010

Minding Frankie, Maeve Binchy: Guest Review by Becky D

Do you remember me?
I must confess before beginning this review that I have never read a Maeve Binchy book before and that I have never had the inclination to do so either. I usually like my chicklit quick, bright and bubbly and always thought Maeve Binchy books might be a bit too, for lack of a better word, too emotional for me. However, when I was given ‘Minding Frankie” to read and review I found myself unable to put it down even putting aside my usual after work Friends episode in favour of picking up this book.

The story centres around the residents of a street in Dublin and their family relationships. It begins with the birth of baby Frankie born to a dieing mother and eventually entrusted to her alcoholic father, Noel, who seems happy to plod along with his life just heading to the office during the day and the pub at night. However, when he is faced with raising Frankie he steps up and the book follows his efforts to raise her along with help from the entire street. Although he works hard to raise Frankie well the author hasn't just opted for the easy route of him pulling up his socks and becoming a great father she has given him some trials and also shown his weaknesses which made for a really compelling read. I found myself having to read on the train to and from work and at lunchtime because of my curiosity to find out what happened. I admit usually my lunchtimes are reserved for gossip websites so this was a refreshing change!

The book also follows the lives of the other residents from love affairs to illness to the bid to erect a large statue of a saint no one has even heard of but is the name sake of the street the resident live on.
There is a large cast of characters in the story and each has there own journey through the book and I was gripped by many of these stories, keen to find out what happened to each resident. I enjoyed the camaraderie created by the author among the characters. It wasn’t just separate stories thrown together in one book but interconnected lives going on at the same time. There was a lot of warmth among the characters and I really did find myself cheering them on in their various pursuits. I always think it marks out a good book if I actually start to get involved and concerned about the fictional lives of people I am reading about!

My only issue with this book is that having so many characters did create a bit of confusion for me at times, trying to keep tabs on who was doing what and remembering who the minor characters were when they hadn't been mentioned for a while I might perhaps recommend the author add a “family tree” of the street to keep all the names straight!

But I would still definitely recommended ‘Minding Frankie’ as a great read. It was interesting and involving and has persuaded me it might be time to head to the book shop and look up some other Maeve Binchy books.

Minding Franky is available for about £9-ish.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

A Most Improper Magick, Stephanie Burgis: Why Mr. Darcy, you've Turned Me into a Frog

Reddditt! (Worst frog joke ever).
A Most Improper Magick follows the burgeoning adventures of Kat Stephenson the youngest daughter of a vicar and a witch. Kat's an impetuous and independent girl as demonstrated at the very start of the book where she is running away from home dressed as a boy (Kat is pretty close to Kate so I have wondered if there is a Blackadder influence...). With the loss of the family fortune by her prodigal brother Kat decides to try to restore her families wealth.

Unfortunately for Kat she lives in Pride and Prejudice times (that is the official name for the time period) so is held back in her efforts by society's conventions and a stepmother and two older sisters.

But Kat has one thing in her favour, FABULOUS MAGICAL POWERS!          And the exploration of these powers really drives the story. unlike magic that is learnt from heavy tombs by skinny men until their eyes leak from their skulls, Kat's magick is raw and uncontrolled. Such power draws the attention of several other magical parties.

A Most Improper Magick is a really enjoyable, funny and exciting. Sometime's your left (nearly) shouting at Kat to not be so daft but it isn't in an annoying way. Her actions fit in perfectly with her character. In fact the book has the most believable set of characters of the five children's books I've read in this last three weeks.

The story cranks up the tension well to the grand finale. Instead of the usual magical duel with fireballs and people exploding through walls, it is all resolved in a much more unique, interesting and genteel way. It leaves a few strands to be answered in the follow up, which I look forward to reading.

Only draw back is it probably doesn't contain enough explosions etc. to appeal to the majority of boys in the age group it is aimed at. But I think it should be a big hit, I can see it being made into a Sunday evening mini-series thing on the BBC.

A Most Improper Magick is out now and available for around £4-ish. The sequel, A Tangle of Magicks, is out next year. And if you want some other Jane Austen-style fantasy I can heartily recommend Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Cheers,

Mark

P.S. Stephanie Burgis is very interesting and friendly on twitter. Follow her at @stephanieburgis

P.P.S. No one gets turned into a frog in the book. Not sure if this is a good or bad thing. Hope I haven't ruined it for anyone.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Castle of Shadows, Ellen Renner: Princess Gets Dealt a Bad Hand

Castle of Shadows is a children's fantasy story set in a country called Quale which seemed to be loosely based on Georgian Britain. A near neighbour has recently become a republic and is threatening war. The king is mad and the proud nation is in decline.

The story follows Charlie, the near feral Princess of Quale. Her mother vanished many years ago and this event sent her father mad, endlessly making towers out of cards, awaiting the  invention of the Guinness Book of Records (I made that last bit up). Now Charlie is uncared for, dressed in rags and fed gruel, seeking revenge on those servants who slight her or her father.

It isn't long before Charlie discovers a clue to why her mother vanished and she quickly turns detective. Fortuitously Toby works in the castle. He is the greatest pick-lock in the world and joins Charlie in her quest.

The story rattles along incorporating strange and disturbing characters from a butler who seems to be half mole, a housekeeper who creaks like a ship under sail and an old drunk who guards the palace at night. Hard times indeed in Quale. But the characters are enjoyable and believable, Toby has a colourful way with language and the sparks really fly between him and Charlie through most of the book.

During the second half of the story things get a lot more complicated and I a couple of times found myself confused, especially with descriptions of how Charlie and Toby sneak from the Palace grounds. but an exciting conclusion looms which kept me turning the pages...

But, for me, the ending didn't live up to the build up. Mainly because in the finale Charlie seems to be a bystander. And I was left feeling a little flat which is a shame as the story up until this point was enjoyable and gripping. Saying that though I know there is a sequel and I'll be reading it.

It has a really good cover that adds to the feel of the book. Well done again cover designers!

Castle of Shadows costs about £4.

City of Thieves is the sequel, also about £4.

Cheers,

Mark

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Percy Jackson and the Titan's Curse, Rick Riordan: He's Greek-American

Yep, he's riding a Pegasus in a t-shirt.
His mum will be worried if she sees him.
Percy Jackson and the Titan's curse is the third book in the Percy Jackson series. It chronicles the adventures of Percy who is the son of Poseidon the Greek god of the sea (brother of Zeus), and a mortal woman (she worries about him having enough ambrosia and drops him off to fight monsters).

Now it was a little bit tricky to get into the story at first but this is understandable given that I haven't read the first two book. By the end of the second chapter I was feeling up to speed with the whole premise that naughty Greek gods are still trundling about the Earth, seducing mortals and siring heroic offspring. Though it does seem a bit cruel that in these modern times the kids are sent out to fight monsters before they have even dealt with their acne. But then if Percy was eighteen it would be a different story.

Yet again (I'm guessing) Percy is thrown into an exciting adventure, trying to foil the evil plans of Kronos and the Titans along with their demi-god minion and Percy's nemesis Luke. A quest is set and Percy is going to be included in it one way or the other. Various Greek monsters, Titans and Gods make appearances usually in a decidedly American fashion. Rick, what the hell have you done to Apollo?! I suppose you at least gave him a decent car and not some GM junk.

And I should make this clear, it appears, from this book at least, that the Greek Gods all emigrated to the US at some point. They are now Greek-American. And mostly American, very little Greek. This grated on me. Zeus is in a pin stripe suit. Poseidon in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. I prefer my gods fickle, angry and horny. Not awkwardly readjusting to modern times as they seem to be. The only one that really stayed true to her self is Artemis.

But if you can ignore the heavy US influence you've got an enjoyable story which seems to advance the series on a little bit closer to its finally. Some times it's funny, sometimes scary and sometimes a bit formulaic. But there's a big scrap at the end to keep you happy.

So, overall I'd say if you can put up with the Yankification of everything Percy Jackson is pretty good. Just not as good as Skulduggery Pleasant.

All Percy Jackson's books can be found here.

Cheers,

Mark

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

A Most Improper Magick, Stephanie Burgis: A Most Proper Read

"I was twelve years of age when I chopped off my hair, dressed as a boy, and set off to save my family from impending ruin. "

A Most Improper Magick follows the ‘unladylike’ adventures of Kat Stephenson as she attempts to save her family from financial ruin whilst winning her sisters’ true loves. After Kat’s wayward brother squanders the family’s money on gambling debts, Kat’s stepmother is determined to marry off Kat’s eldest sister to the dangerous yet rich Sir Neville. Kat and her other sister are determined to stop this at all costs even if it means resorting to magic inherited from their dead mother, a notorious witch.

When Kat is catapulted to another world via a magic mirror she is shocked to learn the extent of her mother’s powers as a Guardian in a secret Order. Even more startling is the claim that Kat is her mother’s heir. Kat rejects the order that tried to thwart her parents’ marriage but cannot escape from the magic mirror and her
mother’s tutor who are intent on her joining.

Events culminate at Grantham Abbey where Kat gets some very unwelcome interest from the sinister Sir Neville, her mother’s tutor continues to hound her, her sisters dismiss her despite her best efforts to entice their true loves and to top it all off a dangerous highwayman remains on the loose. It takes all of Kat’s wit, ingenuity and a fair amount of magic to try and stay out of trouble.

I loved this book. I thought it was an exciting, adventurous page turner full of the unexpected. Cheeky and plotting Kat Stephenson is a breath of fresh air amidst the stiff Regency society she finds herself in. In an era where ladies make polite conversation and partake in genteel pursuits, Kat isn’t afraid of dressing as a boy,
cheeking her elders, getting into fights or even standing up against a villainous highwayman. The spirited and ‘unladylike’ youngest child, often erroneously overlooked by her elders, Kat is easy to warm to and the reader finds themselves rooting for her from beginning to end. Although probably more of a girls’ book I cannot help but feel that even boys will warm to the unique Kat Stephenson and be intrigued by her world of magic.

Burgis cleverly provides clues and offers us a tantalising glimpse into the magical world Kat enters and the characters that inhabit it to stimulate our interest. It is clear that this magical world and those that belong to it are going to be explained in more depth in the second and third books of the trilogy which I cannot wait for!

If you are after a period drama with a twist, a sprinkling of magic and a thoroughly modern heroine then look no further!

You can get A Most Improper Magick now and the follow up, A Tangle of Magicks will be out in 2011.



Lauren

Monday, 4 October 2010

How Cool is that Skeleton?

My hero.
During our lovely, lovely holiday where the sun nearly always shined and the beaches were secluded, deserted and beautiful, Lauren and myself read a whole bunch of children's books to review. "Why did we do this?" you shout like loutish objectors against adults that read books for kids. Well for two reasons:


  1. Lauren is writing a children's book and it was a chance to look at other new/popular books.
  2. Skulduggery Pleasant looks like the coolest character to have ever graced a book cover. 
I've been secretly wanting to read a Skulduggery Pleasant book for ages now. I mean look at him, over there, looking all cool with his skull and pimps hat on. I want to be him. I want to be a skeleton detective that shoots fire balls and stuff.

So before I got on with my review, which will be completely objective, I promise, here are the books we'll be reviewing over the next couple of weeks. We took a mix of established and new authors as well as picking books in the middle of series to see if you could jump straight into them.

So all those will be reviewed by one or both of us in the next week. Unfortunately one won't be. Which book has missed out? Which one will you have to wait a bit longer for the review for? Find out...SOON!

So Skulduggery Pleasant: Playing with Fire. Cover, amazing. Really like it. The front with him and Valkyrie on, the stitched together monster on the back, the little S.P. insignia at the top of the spine. It should be studied at university as the near pinnacle of book cover art. But I shall not judge a book by its cover (apart from Lyrics Alley back in July but you should forget about that).

So cool. So, so cool.
So, the actual story, Playing with Fire is the second Skulduggery Pleasant book in the series and kicks off straight in to the action. You don't really feel like you have missed anything by not reading the first book, background information is imparted during the story in a natural, unforced way.

It is pretty much none stop until the end, dragging you in with a roof top tussle and finishing with a big old scrap. Skulduggery is as effortlessly cool as you'd want him, his sidekick Valkyrie nearly as much so. And for all the witty word play and fights that inevitably follow Derek Landy manages to provide enough human vulnerability in Valkyrie and her family, and some glimpses in Skulduggery's past.

The supporting characters are as unusual  as you'd expect where the main character is a Skeleton. unfortunately the more interesting of these characters are on the sidelines for most of the book and it is left for two 2-dimensional characters to play the Nemeses bad guys. Pretty much everything else is perfect for me. Just the bad guys seem to be fillers. Only other draw back is if you don't want your kids reading books with exploding vampires and things best not get this one.

So pretty much brilliant and possibly summed up by this quote:

"Skulduggery, your entire plan consisted of, and I quote, 'let's get up close and see what happens',"

I wish I was him. I'm off to raid my piggy bank to buy the rest of them.

You can see all the Skulduggery Pleasant books for sale here.

He has a very good website here as well.

Cheers,

Skulduggery Pleasant
Mark




Sunday, 3 October 2010

Back from Holiday

Little Haven beach at sunset.
We have returned back home from a week away in sunny Pembrokeshire. Whilst the rest of the country seems to have been shrouded in rain, fog and mud we've been enjoying sunshine and log fires on a tiny headland in South West Wales.

But fear not, the out-come of this is several book reviews that will be published this week and you'll finally find out the reason behind this mad scheme. If you're interested.

If you want to see any more of the photos from our holiday, you'll find a selection on my Flickr account.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

An Object of Beauty, Steve Martin: Lauren's Review

An Object of Beauty focuses on the ambitious and beautiful Lacey Yeager who inhabits New York’s art scene, working her way up from a lowly employee at Sotheby’s to eventually owning her own gallery. Her meteoric rise and subsequent fall after a controversial scandal are narrated through the eyes of her friend, Daniel Franks. The reader is left in no doubt that ‘the object of beauty’ refers not only to the exquisite paintings that Lacy pores over but also to Lacey herself. The novel fits into the category of intellectual chick lit as it blends stories of Lacey’s glamorous life with factual snippets on the background of paintings and the art market. Photos Martin intersperses of the paintings he describes succeed in giving the book the feel of a journal and providing gravitas to the glitz and glamour of the art world and this young beautiful employee within it.

Whilst the reader can admire Lacey for her drive and determination that lead her to ‘….the top person in the room, and her cleverness made [him] believe that he had guided himself to her,’ she is largely painted as a charismatic yet self-absorbed creature, intent on her own gain thus making her unsympathetic. Franks describes her as having the ‘pizzazz of a Broadway star’ causing a ‘moment of deflation’ when she
exits a room. Yet, it is clear her impact is carefully calculated as she attempts to be ‘…a wicked detail standing out…’ Lacey is shown to dislike those who threaten to eclipse her or prove competition as she looks down on her beautiful and clever work colleague Tanya Ross. She is also shown to mercilessly use and cast aside men for her own ends as she sleeps with those it is to her ‘advantage’ to keep ‘interested’ or
those she wishes to placate. ‘…rash with people….her body…her remarks…considered no one her peer …’ Men’s emotions are ‘pesky annoyances’ and the reader cannot but feel for Patrice who allows his lust to turn to love. It is evident that Lacey’s will, ambition and high self regard will only ever allow her to belong to
herself. ‘….watched her sink into her own thoughts, he could feel the communion slip away, and he knew that she was not his.’

Lacey’s entry into the art world is a ticket to a lifestyle. Franks describes it as ‘new collectors and personalities raging, competing, socialising…dinners and openings, invitations to fundraisers and a fluctuating, dynamic mix of people…’ Through sheer hard work Lacey ‘…develops an instinct that would burrow inside her and stay forever.’ Lacey learns the thrill and sentient beauty of a painting and wants the funds to aid her ‘…rapidly evolving taste.’ She learns to convert objects of beauty to objects of value, buying and selling paintings for profit. Ultimately, it is Lacey’s steely determination to fully belong to this world that leads her to participate in a scam that whilst making her a lot of money, costs her several jobs and her reputation. Whilst partly admiring of this reckless determination that endangers everything she holds dear, the reader is also unsympathetic to the greed it stems from that costs her family their inheritance and ultimately leaves her jobless.

Daniel Franks the narrator appears a weak and foolish man as he participates in Lacey’s scam, later blaming her for the fact that it costs him his girlfriend. He appears to be obsessed by the glittering Lacey declaring that he is forced to write about her unless he is ‘unable to ever write about anything else.’ Whilst stating that
he has never succumbed to Lacey’s ‘tentacles,’ he admits to ‘hiding envy’ for her conquests and admiring her beauty. The reader is left to assume that this man that had to introduce himself ‘…half dozen times before [his]….face started to become familiar’ and whose ‘…relationships….seemed to lack ignition’ relies on Lacey for
the drama, vitality and interest that his own life acts. Indeed, his own act of writing about Lacey, this ‘object of beauty’ is reminiscent of Lacey converting objects of beauty to objects of value. Martin suggests that Franks’ writing that could potentially increase his wealth and status through depicting his relationship with Lacey is parasitic. Although Lacey states she is not trying to be depicted as ‘…a good little girl…’ in Franks book, Franks act of sacrificial exposure that could ‘….ruin her or make her famous’ appears a cold and calculated act from a friend. Her demise, her false friend and Patrice’s belief that ‘Lacey is the kind of person that will always be okay,’ leads the reader to both respect Lacey and to hesitate in judging her too severely. Martin’s book is reminiscent of the hedonism and decadence of Fitzgerald’s novels, where the glamour and froth hides a rotting utopia.

An Object of Beauty is available to preorder and will be published on 25th of November.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

The Quantum Thief: Guest Review by Rob

Rob is a friend of mine who is a fan of science fiction and currently has a job where he knocks people out so other people can chop them up. Here's his review for The Quantum Thief, Hannu Rajaniemi's debut scifi novel.

It's weird.

Cheers for that Rob. Glad I gave you the book to review now.

The Quantum Thief is out in about 9 days. Currently available for preorder at about £9.74.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

An Object of Beauty, Steve Martin: A Foxy Lady Sells Lots of Paintings

An object of Beauty is an enjoyable romp (and there is a fair bit of romping) through the New York art world through the 90s and early 00s. it follows the career of Lacey, the world's most beautiful woman (she seems to be that from the book), through the eyes of her friend, a dull art journalist.

Telling the story of someone through another person's eyes is a bit odd at times but the it generally ticks along quite nicely. Lacey looks at some pictures, talks to some people, shows off her brilliance. She moves up and on in the world.

The story is punctuated with pictures of the art involved which is quite good and while reading it I started noticing the Gallery adverts at train stations a lot more. I also became a lot more pretentious.

The story is broken by a mystery event early on. Lacey and the boring journalist get up to something after which Lacey becomes a lot more wealthy. It'll take you all of 2 seconds to work out what this event is. There is another mini mystery in the middle that is unsatisfactory.

So you are left with an enjoyable story about one girl who builds herself a mini art empire. Steve Martin makes the story easy to read with plenty of witty dialogue. There is a good bit of foreshadowing involving one of the pictures featured but you'll have to guess which one along with whether the title refers to Lacey or the art.

An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin is released in November. It is available for preorder now.

Cheers,

Mark

Monday, 6 September 2010

The Grinning Bridesmaid

Hi all!

I am quite excited as in 2 weeks I get to be bridesmaid for the first time at a best friend’s wedding blessing. Yesterday was spent trying on my dress alongside my other best friend who is also bridesmaid. We cooed, twirled, posed and generally would have made any self-respecting male sick with our girlish chatter. I am proud to say that I was with my friend when she met her future husband in a dank and dingy nightclub where my friend and I threw some hideous shapes and never thought they would woo her husband to be. I’m surprised my deranged grinning when they started talking didn’t deter him slightly. Full marks for perseverance. I’m sure I will be reaching for the Kleenex as I witness their blessing and telling anyone that will listen
that if it wasn’t for me, well, we wouldn’t be here!

Just hoping that I don’t fall over when walking down the aisle, sneeze inappropriately, snort with laughter or suffer any other embarrassing misfortune.

If I’ve put you in the mood for a wedding and you enjoy chick lit, why not try Katie Fforde’s novel Wedding Season which follows the life of a wedding planner who doesn’t believe in love and her two friends, also dubious about love. Follow their adventures and choice encounters. This is the perfect read for a holiday or as light escapism from work.

Finally, speaking of celebrations and suchlike, a HUGE well done to Mark who completed his 15 mile walk for the British Heart Foundation. Truly impressive. Sporty and socially minded as well as literary. I say! Have fab weeks and read lots!!

Lauren

Friday, 3 September 2010

I've Been Lurking about in the Dark

It looks smaller from Earth
The last two nights I've been getting a crick in my neck watching the International Space Station pass over head. In fact I've just come in after watching it sail serenely through the sky to the sweet music of the neighbourhood harpies discussing their disturbing sex lives.

I've been prompted into this viewing by @DrLucyRogers on twitter who has been rousing people into standing about in the cold. Make sure you wave to the ISS or she'll put the slap down on you.

Last night Lauren offered to take me up to the space station. I'm not sure how she'll manage that but Dr Lucy Roger's book It's ONLY Rocket Science might help. It is a guide to building the rocket, planning the mission and getting home again. Maybe I should buy it for Lauren to help her out...

The next pass of the ISS is tomorrow night at about 20:10, from the West. It's a steady white light that will progress from the horizon right over your head to disappear into the East. It doesn't flash like a plane.

I'm walking 15 miles on Sunday for the British Heart Foundation. Give me a couple of quid here.

Cheers,

Mark

Monday, 30 August 2010

A Winning Streak!

Hi all, I thought I would provide you with a few highlights of my August bank
holiday. Sadly, for all those ladies out there who read Mark’s last post the ‘winning
streak’ I refer to does not involve Mark taking to the pitch at the rugby. Fuelled by
alcohol and the excitement of the Woman’s Rugby World Cup there was a certain
amount of banter but we managed to keep a cap on any patriotic nudity! Wales v
New Zealand proved an exciting game with Mark handling Wales’ defeat with dignity
and a few well chosen expletives! The speed, skill and strength of some of those girls
playing was amazing. A stunning win to England against the USA finished off the
day. We left for home mostly happy, Mark carefully tucking his Welsh flag back in
his bag.

Sunday led to a win of a different sort. The local pub quiz beckoned with its £100
prize for the winning team. Armed with a few friends we strode to victory. Imagine
our jubilation when ten of the questions involved naming the five characters in Enid
Blyton’s Famous Five and naming the first five Harry Potter books. Knowledge of
children’s books had never been so important. It really does pay to read. Thank the
Lord for literary rounds!

Speaking of reading Mark and I have begun Steve Martin’s An Object of Beauty so
keep watching for our next review.

Hope you all had a good bank holiday and that a little winning streak enters your
week ahead!

Lauren

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Ladies with Balls

Debauched Haka
This weekend I'm off with Lauren and a couple of friends to go and see the Women's Rugby World Cup games at the Surrey Sports Park , Guildford (come along it should be fun).

I'm looking forward to the Wales vs. New Zealand game. Being a Welsh supporter it is a bit disappointing to see them at the bottom of their group but hopefully they'll be able to put on a game in the final group match.

I'm also looking forward to the haka, though I'll be surprised if it is like the one in the picture (though not disappointed).

The men's world cup usually spawns a bunch of autobiographies so I'm wondering if the women's will be the same. It will be interesting to see if the same happens with the women as it would give an interesting insight into culture of the game.

If you want to learn a bit more about rugby you could buy Rugby union for Dummies or find me in a pub when a game is on and I'll talk to you about it at great length.

I just hope I don't have too much to drink and streak the pitch.

Cheers,

Mark

P.S. If I do I'm sure Lauren will tell you all about it on Monday.

Monday, 23 August 2010

An Object of Beauty, Steve Martin: Our Next Book Review with Some Bonus Canoe Related Stuff

Steve Martin - genius
Yes, that's right! Our next book review is by the comic genius who portrayed Ruprecht in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. It is only as I grow older that I truly appreciate the puerile silliness of that character.

An Object of Beauty is some kind of intriguing tale revolving around New York's art scene. And it has pictures! My kind of book. So we should have the review done in about 3 or 4 weeks.

After that we'll have something a little different. Then you'll realise all this has been a cunning plan so I have an excuse to read a certain book. Bwahahahaha! But you'll have to wait a bit to find out what that is...

An Object of Beauty is scheduled to be published in November

Bonus Canoe Related Content
Roughing it.
On the weekend I went on an exciting canoeing adventure. 30 miles down the river Wye through the wilds of Wales into the haunted grasslands of Herefordshire. Our thoughts turned to higher things as we moved further from civilisation. We came to various conclusion that I won't bore you with but a few of us had read The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. Now if you don't like anyone messing with the story of Jesus this book isn't for you. Otherwise you'll find an interesting and thought provoking re-imagining (just like Battle Star Galactica) of the life of Jesus*.

but if you can't handle that don't read it.

As for the Canoeing we went from Glasbury to Hereford over two days, camped at Bycross Farm site which was great.

Cheers,

Mark

*I mean that the life of Jesus has been 're-imagined' by Philip Pullman not that Battle Star Galactica was a re-imagining of the life of Jesus.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Lyrics Alley, Leila Aboulela: (Lauren's Review)

Leila Aboulela uses the social and religious customs and day to day living of the wealthy Abuzeid family in Lyrics Alley to provide a privileged glimpse into Sudanese and Egyptian culture in the twentieth century. Sudan, governed by the British is on the brink of change and potential modernity as a union with Egypt looks set to take place. Amidst this political uncertainty Lyrics Alley explores the relationships between the stalwart patriarch Mahmoud, his two wives, their children and his brother and his family. As a foil for the wealthy Abuzeid’s, the novel also focuses on the children’s tutor, Badr, who struggles to make a living, only dreaming of earning enough to own a flat.  Each chapter skilfully describes events from a specific character’s point of view, allowing the reader to experience and empathise with each character in turn.  The main event of the novel sees Mahmoud’s brilliant son, Nur, cruelly crippled in an unfortunate accident and unable to continue his studies or marry his cousin Soraya. Nur and his family have to individually come to terms with Nur’s accident, determining its subsequent impact on their lives.  

Aboulela portrays the strong, patriarchal society of 1950s Sudan through Mahmoud, ‘...head of the family.’ It is he who dictates the destiny of his female relatives, marrying his niece Fatma to his son, moving Nabilah, his second wife, from her hometown of Egypt to Sudan and forcing each of his wives to tolerate the other.  Badr contemplates it is a husband’s duty to ‘discipline’ his wife rather than adhere to her or indeed treat her as an equal. Hence, Aboulela skilfully unites the modern day reader with Soraya who dares to dream of a life outside the traditional confines of patriarchal society.  She is criticised for both wearing spectacles and reading akin to a man.  Each of her subsequent victories in being allowed to wear the said spectacles, in continuing her education and in becoming a doctor are felt keenly by the reader who cheers her on.  It is poignant that Fatma is keen to imagine something different for Soraya as she looks ‘...into the future, a possibility...’ of Soraya breaking with tradition and perhaps having opportunities that she herself never had.

As the ‘backwards’ Sudan teeters on the brink of modernity with the potential of a union with Egypt Aboulela cleverly depicts the tension between the customs and cultures of the two countries through Mahmoud’s Sudanese and Egyptian wife.  The Egyptian Nabilah despairs of Sudan’s ‘dust, squalor, stupidity’ compared to the ‘...metropolitan centre...civilised life...’ of Egypt. Nabilah follows European fashions and has formal manners. She does not conform to the traditional semi outdoors life of the hoash or believe in witchcraft and female circumcision like Hajjah Waheeba who is described as ‘...African in features...’ with ‘...tribal scars.’  Whilst Mahmoud views Hajja Waheeba as ‘crude’ compared to the ‘sophistication’ and ‘glitter’ of Nabilah it is evident to the reader that Nabilah lacks warmth and tolerance.  ‘Too conscious’ of her status to mix with her husband’s other family, she feels her own children are ‘contaminated’ by their Sudanese blood. Nabilah later learns that her ‘prejudice’ prohibited her from any real influence on those around her.  Aboulela suggests that whilst progress and ‘modernity’ can be desirable they become superficial and hence superfluous if there are no values of worth behind them.

In contrast Mahmoud is shown to ‘...glide gracefully between these two worlds’ of Sudanese and Egyptian culture.   The reader warms to this man who encourages Soraya’s father to allow Soraya to wear spectacles, finish school and study to become a doctor. Nabilah acknowledges that her husband is ‘...magnanimous and fair despite the backward pull of tradition and blow of fate’ suggesting that he does his best within the social, political and religious climate he has been shaped by. It is unfair for Nabilah to demand he leaves Sudan when it is a part of him.  Ironically, perhaps Soraya would have found the same shortcomings in Nur who fostered by his traditional upbringing would have subjected Soraya to similarly traditional expectations had they married.

Aboulela portrays the social struggle for upward mobility and wealth through her characters.  Badr leaves Egypt to better himself as he can make significant savings in Sudan.  Similarly, Mahmoud’s family is shown to have risen in society as his grandfather was a merchant, his father the head of an agency and now he is a director of the family firm, Abuzeid Trading.  Aware of the sacrifices his family have made, he does not want their legacy to be diminished.   He urges his sponging son to think of the family’s‘...name and reputation. His voice almost broke...sentiments...from core.’ Mahmoud’s protectiveness of his family and their legacy is touching.  The reader is allowed to feel the sense of responsibility he places on himself and to witness the lengths he will go to act in what he sees as his family’s best interests. It is these reasons that make Mahmoud an extremely sympathetic character. He is the glue that holds the family together.

Aboulela employs beautiful, poetic language and vivid imagery to emphasise the importance of words and their meaning.  For instance, ‘their glittering future was here, here in the southern land where the potential was as huge and mysterious as the darkness of its nights.’  It is no wonder that Soraya finds words on the page ‘seductive’ and recalls the ‘thick enchantment’ of books. Similarly, Nur is obsessed with lyrics and the desire to create beautiful poetry.  It is his inability to hold a pen or turn the pages of a book that hurts him the most after his accident. He is joyful when he realises he can still read and create poetry.    ‘...people didn’t know Nur was an invalid.  For them all that mattered were his words.’  Nur’s hoash down the alley becomes a pulsating centre of literature as Nur creates and expounds his lyrics hence the title Lyrics Alley (Ohhhhhh, right - Mark).

Whilst Nur’s accident reveals the fragility of life, it also charts his journey from hope of a cure, to sadness and rage that this won’t happen, to acceptance and a form of hopefulness within the confines of his new reality.  Perhaps if he had not had his accident he would have currently been working for the family business unable to concentrate on his lyrics.  Instead he is the poet of ‘hope and love.’  This is extremely poignant as despite his lyrics of hope and love he has no hope of experiencing love with Soraya.  I cannot help but feel that the reader is left dissatisfied by this turn of events.  Soraya sacrifices her love of Nur for a husband who can actively provide her with the modernity she seeks.  Hence, whilst both achieve what they sought it is at the price of their love, leading Soraya to acknowledge that it is only within Nur’s lyrics that they can be ‘intimate.’  ‘These songs would be their story and these lyrics their homes.’

Lyrics Alley is out in December and currently available for preorder.

Lauren

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Lyrics Alley, Leila Aboulela: A Bit like Eastenders. But in Sudan

Lyrics Alley follows the tragedies of the Abuzeid family and slightly randomly the tutor of their kids. So now I know that Abuzeid is just a family name and feel a bit daft after my post down there. But on with the review!

It's set in the 1950s offering plenty of background tension with the political situation between Sudan, Egypt and Britain. But these events stays in the background throughout the book, never having an influence on the characters.

The book weaves the stories of four* main characters, Mahmoud Abuzeid the patriarch of the family and business, his middle son Nur, Nur's cousin Soraya and Nur's tutor Ustaz Badr. At the beginning of the story they're all living the dream. Nur and Soraya are in love and destined to get married, Ustaz Badr has lots of private tutorial work as well as his job at the school and Mahmoud Abuzeid has built a tower block. Ok, Mahmoud isn't living the dream but he seems pretty chuffed with himself and the tower block.

Yay! Everyone is happy.

But no. I have read the back of the book. I know something bad happens.

Nur takes a dive off a cliff into the sea and ends up breaking his back. This ruins pretty much the lives of everyone. After this it seems to be tragedy after tragedy after tragedy. At the end of each chapter I sang the Eastenders cliffhanger music (DUH! Duh du-du dododo!). Some of the misfortunes seem really random.

For instance Ustaz Badr's cousin turns up. Ustaz doesn't like or trust him. So he gets him a job with his most prized client Mahmoud Abuzied. Ustaz's cousin robs one of Mahmoud's wives of her gold. The cousin disappears, but first he takes the gold back to Ustaz's house which consists of one room and an outside porchy bit. He smuggles the gold past Ustaz's wife and children and hides it in the single room. How does he do this with out getting noticed?! Why does he hide the gold somewhere that will obviously be searched?! All this leads to someone getting arrested, guess who? The whole situation seems to be forced so that Ustaz ends up in a tough spot.

Then things get better for everyone! Ustaz is released (if you didn't guess that he was arrested shame on you!). Mahmoud's tower block is great, Soroya gets to cut her hair! Nur realises that his accident has given him a chance to lead a life he wouldn't have been able to before.

Yay!

Well not really as I just don't feel that the characters drive the events. Things happen and they think and talk about the events and then other things happen which they think and talk about. No one acts! Ustaz's release from prison isn't down to his cousin handing himself in. It isn't down to Nur or Mahmoud  intervening on his behalf. He's just let go and it annoys me that it happens like that.

All this isn't to say the book isn't enjoyable to read. It is. But if someone had stolen it off me halfway through reading it I wouldn't have rushed out to buy another copy. It does offer some interesting insight into the difference between Sudanese and Egyptian life, prejudices of the time and now I have a better idea of what female circumcision is (Bonus!).

The story just seems to be a bit vague. I think this probably means it's a girl's book. Hopefully Lauren will confirm this or point out all the bits I didn't understand.

I've got no idea why it's called Lyrics Alley.

cheers,

Mark

Lyrics Alley is out in December and currently available for preorder.

*All right, there are up to 10 main characters but I can't be bothered to tell you about the rest. Most of them are dull.

Friday, 30 July 2010

The True confessions of Lauren the Bookmonkey

Hi all!


I realise you haven’t been hearing too much from me at the moment so I thought I would put up a post. I would love to say I have been industriously and solely working on my own manuscript this whole summer or curling up with several good novels but this simply isn’t true.


I seem to have been spending a large amount of time indulging in picnics and barbecues, piously saying to Mark ‘The diet begins tomorrow,’ on an almost daily basis! I have also been loving the summer sales as a self-confessed shopper and yes, Monsoon changing rooms seem to have been beckoning! I bought a gorgeous green and turquoise summer dress there the other week. I was going to put up a picture but technology and I have a turbulent relationship and I’ll leave it to your imagination.

Don’t fear though, I have started our next book Lyrics Alley and am really enjoying it thus far. Mark and I should have our reviews up in the near future with a few more reviews from friends who are also avid readers. Hope your reading is going well and you enjoyed our book review on The Weekend.


So with the resolution to shop less and start the diet tomorrow, I’ll sign off for now!

Happy reading!!

Lauren

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Foyles Twitter Comps

Foyles has a run a few competitions on Twitter this week, including #bookband and #bookflower. Simply mash up a book with band name or flower. So as a lazy way to create a new post here are some I like.

#bookband

Girl with the Pearl Jam Earring

Jane Aerosmith

The Curious Incident of the Snoop Dog in the Night-time.

#bookflower

A brief history of Thyme

Carter Beats The Daffodil

The Holly bible

My entry was a bit rubbish, The Rhododendron. Hang my head in shame.

I'm sure they'll be doing some more. Possibly. So best get on to twitter and follow @foyles, you can see all the other entries as well. Or pop down to the South Bank and visit the shop. I was there a few weeks ago and fell asleep on the fake grassy bit outside. They probably thought I was a tramp.

Cheers,

Mark

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Lyrics Alley, Leila Aboulela: Philosophical Look at our Next Book Review

So, one book down and an endless stream of new ones to go. The next book we'll be reviewing in "Lyrics Alley". Lauren chose it from the two options I gave her and to be honest it does look to be a bit of a girls book. I am indeed judging it by its cover.

The Book is set in 1950s Sudan and about a powerful Abuzeid Dynasty. I'll let you know what one of those is once I've read it. It's by Leila Aboulela who also wrote The Translator and Minaret.

It's nearly 300 pages long so it'll take about 3 weeks to read so come back then. Might take a bit longer due to BBQs and I'm reading "How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer" which is frankly cracking.

"Lyrics Alley" will be out in December but is available to preorder. You might want to wait for our fantastic reviews first.

Cheers,

Mark



Sunday, 11 July 2010

The Weekend, Bernhard Schlink - Lauren's Review

I really enjoyed The Weekend. Schlink carefully crafts minor and major mysteries, building suspense, through sentences that hint at a larger reality. The reader is left guessing at the relationship between characters and what has come before.

The Weekend opens with Jorg, a former Red Army Faction terrorist being released from jail having committed four murders over twenty years ago. His sister, Christiane, anxious to reintegrate him back into society invites a group of his former friends together for the weekend of his release. Old times are relived, emotions bubble to the surface and grievances are addressed as the characters congregate.

Jorg is the fulcrum from which all the characters pivot as they come together collectively, yet individually examine the ideals and expectations of their own lives. Schlink seems particularly concerned with the passing of time, poignantly contrasting his character’s youthful appearance and aspirations with the reality of their mature present. Ilse is now ‘nondescript’ having lost the promise of beauty she held her youth whereas Jorg has lost his ‘cheerfulness’ he held as a student. Gone are the days where everything lay ahead of them and they would ‘plan’ and ‘enjoy their own strength.’ The reader cannot help but feel that Ulrich’s sentiments that his youthful self feels ‘alien’ to him is perhaps a sentiment that all the characters share.

Schlink suggests that his characters have to come to terms with what they have actually achieved. Margarete chides Marko for setting Jorg the same expectations he held for himself as a young man. She is adamant that hardly anyone’s life turns out the way they dreamt it would but this doesn’t relegate that life to the scrap heap. Schlink tellingly allows Margarete to muse that perhaps what makes a terrorist is someone that cannot reconcile themselves to the reality of their life but instead ‘wants to bomb his way to his dream of home.’

It is clear that all the characters were searching for something in their youth. Ilse remembers feeling as if ‘…she was on the trail of something big…where was it?’ Being former Baader Meinhof sympathisers the group sought the answers to their search in the cause. Schlink hints that this search is linked to that of establishing an identity. However, unlike Jorg, the group of friends have moved on with their search. The identities they have now constructed for themselves within society provide them with a place in the world and a much needed ontological security. Henner is a journalist, Karin a Bishop, Ulrich a business man, Ilse a teacher, Andreas a lawyer and Christiane a doctor. They judge each other’s identities acknowledging that Andreas ‘twists’ words and Karin says ‘pious’ things.

Schlink clearly portrays this reunion and its reminiscing as another way of the characters to cement their collective as well as individual sense of identity and their place in the world.

Schlink sets up the dilemma that our very identity that we seek for security also constrains us and takes away our freedom. For instance Ilse employs her writing as an escapism from her identity as a teacher whilst Jorg ‘carried his cell with him,’ constantly hampered by the cause and an inability to find a lasting peace away from its ideals. It becomes apparent that there is a paradoxical struggle to forge an identity yet to lose oneself or rid oneself of this identity and merge or unite with the whole in order to gain a form of freedom. Henner wishes to lose himself in Margarete who represents a freedom to him and a reconciliation with his demanding mother. Ilse loses herself in her writing. Margarete loses herself in the ‘compelling’ landscape, the ‘high sky, wide empty land.’

However, Schlink tenderly reveals that ultimately we are individuals and we make our journey alone to find our freedom. As the characters converge at the end of the book to help bail out the cellar, they lose themselves in a mutual task. However, it is only a ‘spectacle of collaboration’ and not long before they ‘…would also fall apart again.’ Perhaps it is symbolic at the end that Karin does not impart a travel blessing, they do not swap email addresses or say elaborate goodbyes.

As Jan faces death Ilse contemplates that he always wanted to be free. Schlink hints that perhaps it is only in death we can be free. Ilse ponders whether we can bring the same ‘delight we are capable of bringing to the enjoyment of life,’ to death.

However, the continual delicate dance between the fight for life and death is depicted through Ferdinand’s desire to reconcile with his father despite the suffering he has experienced. The human spirit continues to strive against adversity and reach out despite the fact it is only in its ultimate demise and death that we can find the freedom we seek. Although many of the characters may not be immediately likable or induce empathy, they are well constructed presenting both the vulnerabilities and flaws we all share as they partake in what is both our common yet very individual plight.

Lauren

Monday, 5 July 2010

The Weekend, Bernhard Schlink – A Text Based Adventure?



The weekend - cover
The Weekend is based upon a group of old friends who were mostly casual terrorists in the RAF meeting up for a weekend in the country. It revolves around Jörg who has just been released from prison after being pardoned for the murders he had committed twenty odd years before.

Through the first few chapters The Weekend felt a bit like a text based adventure. You’d meet a character and they dump a massive part of their life story onto you. You’d walk down a path in a wood, wondering which way you should wander(go South; go North; go North; go West). You enter a room and the barest description is given followed by a list of items in it (take all). I felt a bit overwhelmed by the eleven characters that present themselves one after the other. Some are just described as wife or husband to begin with but get named later on, which usually ends up confusing me so I have to skip back and read earlier parts again.

The book is split into three parts, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. By the end of Friday I didn’t really care for any of the characters and was hoping someone would turn up and shoot most of them. But over the Saturday Schlinky drew me into the story. The characters had time to develop, become more interesting and engender my sympathy (I’m not a complete bastard).
In the end everyone talks a lot, a few people possibly fall in love and everyone works together to bail out a flooded cellar. And maybe this was the message of the book; Buckets bring people together.

Not really. But the book is good if you can get through the slightly bizarre first part. Maybe the ending doesn’t live up to what it could have been or what the blurb on the back suggests but I didn’t feel disappointed. Though if you are after something with even the slightest bit of action in it you’d be better off with a text based adventure like this: http://www.textbasedadventure.com

Also if you are going to read it but don’t know much about German Terrorism it might be worth reading up on Red Army Faction/Baader-Meinhof Group as it will probably help understand what the book is about.

You can preorder The Weekend now. It's out in October.

Mark

P.S. Lauren's review is coming soon. Honest. She does exist.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

First Book - The Weekend

Welcome to our book review blog. The first book we'll be reviewing is The Weekend by Bernhard Schlink. It'll be out in October 2010 so we'll have the review on-line some time before then. Probably. (Ok, it'll be about a fortnight.)

If you didn't know, Berhard Schlink (or Schlinky as I'd call him if I ever got to meet him and we became friends) wrote The Reader which was massive and strode the world like a book colossus. So Schlinky has a lot to live up to.

Though I've never actually read The Reader. Lauren probably has, so you might want to pay more attention to her review.

Hope you come back for the actual reviews!

Mark

*Lauren gets six favourite books as she's 'special'.