Tuesday, 8 December 2009

I See Rude People: One woman's battle to beat some manners into impolite society by Amy Alkon - Book 77, 2009

Title: I See Rude People: One woman's battle to beat some manners into impolite society by Amy Alkon
Genre: Etiquette, stress management, modern society
Rating: 7.5/10
Comments: I bought this book on impulse after reading Amy's column The sky's the limit when flying with feral children which perfectly encapsulated my horror at a case where an airline that had booted off a mother and child who had screamed so loudly that safety announcements couldn't be heard ended up capitulating to and compensating the parent who could not control their little darling.

Amy is smart and funny and has some great anecdotes about the lengths she goes to to protect her own personal space from rude, selfish, thoughtless people, indifferent bureaucracy and businesses and criminals unfortunate enough to rob her. The book is extremely easy to read and much of it is laugh out loud.

There is no doubt, however, that she can be a pain in the arse, obsessive to the point of ridiculous and she sometimes ends up venting her frustrations on the under-resourced employee who has little control over their employer's policies, procedures and priorities. In these cases I found myself losing sympathy for her, even though she was right to be angry and upset about a situation. It is very likely, however, that this is a cultural cultural clash - as an Australian I am often astounded by the self-centred perspective of many Americans, even those who are well-aware they are not the centre of everyone else's universe. Just like toddlers they need to be taught to consider how their behaviour impacts on others around them.

The Ganymede Takeover by Philip K Dick and Ray Nelson - Book 76, 2009

Title: The Ganymede Takeover by Philip K Dick and Ray Nelson
Genre: Sci-Fi
Rating: 7.5/10
Comments: An alien race is trying to take over earth but this isn't the human race's biggest problem. The leader of the strongest human dissident group has got his hands on a hell weapon, guaranteed to wipe out all sentient life - alien and human. Meanwhile a small town megalomaniac is attempting to use the conflict to establish himself as supreme ruler on earth, using technology designed by a psychotic psychologist to create nightmare images and phantom fighters who remain even after the machinery is switched off.

Fans of Philip Dick will recognise his familiar themes that question what is reality, the motives of therapists, simulators that are indistinguishable from humans and excessive drug use. While the book gives the impression of being dashed off while Dick was on an LSD trip and published before the editor could do his/her job properly, devotees of Dick's unique perspective will not be disappointed.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger - Book 75, 2009

Title: Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
Genre: Novel/Supernatural
Rating: 9/10
Comments: Following up the runaway success of The Time Traveller's Wife was always going to be difficult as Niffenegger had set a very high bar for herself.  But I predict that Her Fearful Symmetry will in its own right become a favourite of book discussion groups around the world due to its exploration of the complex relationships shared by siblings, parents and children, aunts and nieces and themes of obsession and identity.

All the central characters in the book are women - the men, while interesting in themselves, are subject to the desires and actions of the women in their lives.  The story focuses on 21-year-old identical twins Julia and Valentino who inherit a London flat from their Aunt Elspeth, the estranged identical twin sister of their mother, Edie.  Julia and Valentino, symmetrical identical twins (literally mirror images of one-another)  have always done everything together and even dressed identically.  But in London Valentino develops a growing urge to live a life independent of her sister.

Valentino falls in love with Robert, her Aunt Elspeth's younger lover, who is still devastated by Elspeth's death. Robert lives in the same building as them and is writing a PhD treatise on Highgate Cemetery, located across the road. Robert's loyalties to Elspeth and Valentino are torn, especially when he becomes aware that Elspeth's ghost is still living in the twin's flat.

Julia meanwhile strikes up an odd friendship with an obsessive compulsive neighbour whose obsessions, rituals and inability to leave his flat have driven his wife away.

The book is very well written and there are enough twists and turns to keep the reader interested.  While not a classical "happily ever after" ending, there is a certain justice in each woman's fate.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood - Book 74, 2009

Title: Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood
Short stories
Rating: 9/10
Comments: Both a collection of short stories and a complete novel in itself, Moral Disorder is a collection of vinaigrettes from the life of Nell, a Canadian woman who, like Atwood, was born in the 1930s. The stories are mixed up in time - the first is set when she is an elderly woman,the last when she is the middle-age carer of her own mother suffering dementia, and in between we get a peek into her love life, houses and relationship she has with her much younger sister.

Compelling, funny and poignant, Margaret Atwood's light touch conceals a much deeper commentary on the universal experiences of many women.

Castle Dor by Sir Arthur Qulller-Couch and Daphne du Maurier - Book 73, 2009

Title: Castle Dor by Sir Arthur Qulller-Couch and Daphne du Maurier
Genre: Historical romance
Rating: 7.5/10
Comments: Begun by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch and completed by Daphne du Maurier, Castle Dor is a retelling of the legend of Tristan and Iseult, set in 19th century Cornwell. Linnet, the young wife of a much older wealthy tavern owner has a chance encounter with a mistreated sailor Amyot and the pair throw caution to the wind, drawn together as if by a mystical force from a former time.

While it is impossible to identify the exact point where du Maurier took over the writing, there is no doubt that the second half is far more readable and faster moving than the first and made me wish she had written the entire book. An interesting twist on an old legend.

Monday, 23 November 2009

I'll Never Be Young Again by Daphne du Maurier - Book 72, 2009

Title: I'll Never Be Young Again by Daphne du Maurier
Genre: coming-of-age novel
Rating: 7/10
Comments: Daphne du Maurier's second novel is written in the voice of Dick, the only son of a famous but cold father, who at the age of 21 is determined to kill himself until caught by Jake, a slightly older man who has just come out of prison for killing a former friend. The pair immediately bond and form an unlikely friendship and begin the ultimate road trip, finding passage as sailors on a boat to Scandinavia and travelling across the Swedish mountains on horseback.

While the book is very well-written, Dick is ultimately a self-absorbed and unlikable character with no real redeeming qualities. It is difficult to understand why Jake, who has the maturity and wisdom that come with the passing years, puts up with him. When Dick moves onto Paris and begins a self-absorbed love affair with a talented musical student, he demonstrates all the selfishness and faults of Jake's former friend.

While I'll Never Be Young Again is a fantastic example of the technical skill and quality of Daphne du Maurier's writing even at a very young age (she was only 23 when she penned this book), I found the storyline and main character too unlikable to fully enjoy this book.

The King's General by Daphne du Maurier - Book 71, 2009

Title: The King's General by Daphne du Maurier
Genre: Historical romance
Rating: 8/10
Comments: Passionate, proud, arrogant, selfish and cruel, Richard Greville, a brilliant soldier, is his own worst enemy. His story, narrated by his one-time fiancé Honor Harris - a spirited and intelligent woman who is crippled in a freak accident the day before their planned wedding, takes place during the time of the English Civil War (1642-1646). Honor remains devoted to Richard despite clearly seeing his many faults - but refuses to marry him, while Richard maintains his passion for her mind and body, brushing aside the reality of her damaged legs with all the brusqueness and self-absorption he demonstrates towards anything he doesn't see as relevent. Richard creates havoc with - but also pays a heavy price for - his arrogance and lack of empathy for others. The King's General is not just a a work of historical fiction but brutally and accurately portrays the heavy cost on individuals and families of a senseless war. It was inspired by the history of the house where Daphne du Maurier was living at the time of writing.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Neverland: J.M. Barrie, the du Mauriers, and the Dark Side of Peter Pan by Piers Dudgeon - Book 70, 2009

Title: Neverland: J.M. Barrie, the du Mauriers, and the Dark Side of Peter Pan by Piers Dudgeon
Genre: Biography
Rating: 8/10
Comments: Once you read this book, you will never be able to see Peter Pan in the same way again.  Few people realise that the initial story was much darker and definitely not for children. Subtitled "The Boy Who Hated Mothers", the original demon-child Peter Pan spirited children away in the night and changed sides in the fight with the pirates of Neverland.  But somehow it evolved into a much lighter child-friendly pantomime when staged and this is the story we all know and love today.

I'm going to put in links to some very good articles about this book because it is way too complex to cover in a mere plot summary.

An obsessive stalker, an impotent husband, a lover of young boys... to some, the creator of 'Peter Pan' was an evil genius; to others, a misunderstood ingenue.
  Justine Picardie, The Telegraph, 13 July 2008

Piers Dudgeon definitely falls in the "evil genius" camp, seizing on a poignant phrase by writer DH Lawrence who upon hearing of one of Barrie's charges' deaths: "J. M Barrie has a fatal touch for those he loves. They die."

Warped since childhood following the death of his favoured brother (that he may or may not have been involved in) & rejection by his mother, J.M. Barrie was by all accounts an unusual and lonely hero-worshipper who created a fantasy life for himself and sought the company of children over adults. According to Dudgeon he had a malevolent impact on those he encountered, leaving behind a trail of depression, defeat and death.

Dudgeon holds morally Barrie responsible for the early death and suicides of four of the five "lost boys" he befriended and informally adopted following the deaths of their parents Sylvia (nee du Maurier) & Arthur Llewellyn Davies; the disastrous second expedition of explorer Robert F Scott to the Antarctic and Daphne du Maurier's breakdowns.  His claim is that Barrie used mesmeric techniques to live vicariously through others, dragging them in the process into his shadowy dreamworld.  He suggests that Barrie deliberately wrote a play that led actor Gerald du Maurier to commit incest with his daughter, warping both their lives forevermore. In fact he finds a malevolent Barrie link with nearly everyone Barrie encountered.

It is hard to believe that anyone could be as black as Dudgeon paints Barrie, but his obsessive research does indicate that Barrie's life was far from the innocent charm of a Disneyfied Peter Pan. 

For Starters, a Satanic Svengali

Monday, 19 October 2009

False Prophet by Faye Kellerman - Book 69, 2009

Title: False Prophet by Faye Kellerman
Genre: Detective
Rating: 6.5/10
Plot summery:
Lilah Brecht, the daughter of a famous actress is assaulted and raped while her mother's jewels and some important papers are stolen from her safe. She clings to Decker in a way that makes both Peter and Rina uneasy. As he delves into Lilah's life, Peter discovers a complex and dysfunctional pattern of behaviour between Lilah's mother and her children. Revelation follows revelation until Peter and his partner Marge finally put all of the pieces together.
Comments: A compelling page-turner somewhat ruined by a less-than satisfactory ending.

The Mercedes Coffin by Faye Kellerman - Book 68, 2009

Title: The Mercedes Coffin by Faye Kellerman
Genre: Detective
Rating: 7/10
Plot summary:  Peter Decker is asked to investigate a fifteen year old murder that is now a cold case, that of a very popular guidance counsellor from a Los Angeles school who was found in the trunk of his Mercedes shot in the back of the head execution style. Interest in the case has been raised because someone else has been murdered in the same fashion and found in the trunk of their Mercedes.
Comments: An enjoyable but ultimately forgettable read.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier - Book 67, 2009

Title: The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier
Genre: Science Fiction, historical, literature
Rating: 10/10
Comments: Possibly my favourite Daphne du Marier novel. Dick Young is staying at a holiday home owned by a friend who is also a biochemical researcher. He agrees to take an experimental drug developed by his friend and find it takes his mind - but not his body - 600 years into the past where he witnesses intrigue, adultery and murder. He becomes increasingly obsessed with the characters from the past and resents the time he must spend in the present world. Despite evidence of the dangers to his present day body and relationships, he can't resist taking just one more trip into the past.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier: Book 66. 2009

Title: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Genre: suspense, literature
Rating: 10/10
Comments: Daphne du Maurier's most famous book, Rebecca is told through the eyes of the young second wife of Maxim de Winter. Previously an unworldly companion, she is intimidated by Maxim's house, servants, friends and, most of all, his first wife Rebecca, a beautiful, charming, talented woman who had died, apparently in a boating accident.

Daphne du Maurier by Margaret Forster: book 65, 2009

Title: Daphne du Maurier by Margaret Forster
Genre: Biography
Rating: 8/10
Comments: Margaret Forster's well-researched biography comprehensively and sensitively attempts to portray the enigma of author Daphne du Maurier. The daughter of a renowned actor and theatre-manager and grand-daughter of a famous illustrator and novelist, Daphne inherits her forebears artistic talents but not their sociable nature. From an early age she prefers living on her own in a remote corner of Cornwell rather than partying with the debutantes of her day. Her first novel was inspired as much by finances as artistic talent - although her parents would always provide her with an allowance, her own income allowed her to live how and where she wanted. Yet she never defined herself a feminist. A passionate, prickly and troubled soul, Daphne spent her life confused by her bisexual feelings and need for solitude. Nonetheless she married and had a family but sadly continued her forebears tradition of favouring her son over her two daughters. Her talent and generosity, however, were renowned and she contributed almost as much to the preservation of her corner of Cornwell as to English literature.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Daphne du Maurier: A Daughter's Memoir by Flavia Lang - Book 64, 2009

Title: Daphne du Maurier: A Daughter's Memoir by Flavia Lang
Genre: autobiography
Rating: 7/10
Comments: Not quite a "Mummy Dearest" book, Flavia Lang's recollections of growing up as the child of one of the most famous authors in the world still makes for disturbing reading.  As I read the book, I wondered what her siblings, particularly her older sister, felt about the revelations.  Lang has obviously inherited some of her mother's talent, and it is in some ways an easy and often funny read of a very unusual childhood.  The unwanted second daughter of somewhat remote and aloof parents, she is despised by her pretty sister, who suffered greatly from the isolation of their upbringing, but develops a very close and loving bond with her beloved and clearly favoured younger brother.  Both her parents are extremely successful in their chosen career - her mother is a great novelist, her father one of the youngest and highest ranking military officers, extremely intelligent and charming, but somewhat self-absorbed and withdrawn from family and friends.

Rule Britannia by Daphne du Maurier - Book 63, 2009

Title: Rule Britannia by Daphne du Maurier
Genre: alternative history fiction
Rating: 8/10
Comments: One of Daphne du Maurier's lesser-known books, Rule Britannia envisages an alternate history of England.  In this alternate universe, plunged into economic depression and soaring unemployment, England decides not to join the European Economic Community (forerunner to the European Union).  Its residents wake up one day to find communications cut, an American warship in the harbour, US marines setting up roadblocks and news that Britain was joining forces with the United States to form the USUK.  A group of Cronish villagers becaomes increasingly unhappy with the take-over of their land and start a shadowy rebellion, centreing on an 80-year-old former actress, his brood of adopted troubled boys and her neighbours.  The story is told through the eyes of her 20-year-old grand-daughter.  A fascinating read.

The "Rebecca" Notebook and Other Memories by Daphne du Maurier - Book 62, 2009

Title: The "Rebecca" Notebook and Other Memories by Daphne du Maurier
Genre: autobiography/short-stories
Rating: 7/10
Comments: A somewhat scrappy collection of unpublished writings of Daphne du Maurier including her original plot outline for her most famous novel.  One gets the impression it was put together to capitalise on her fans insatiable desire for more writing from a very successful but reclusive author.

Myself When Young by Daphne du Maurier - Book 61, 2009

Title: Myself When Young by Daphne du Maurier
Genre: autobiography
Rating: 8.5/10
Description:  (from Amazon)
Both in her novels and her memoirs, Daphne du Maurier revealed an ardent desire to explore her family's history. In Myself When Young, based on diaries she kept between 1920 and 1932, du Maurier probes her own past, beginning with her earliest memories and encompassing the publication of her first book and her marriage. Often painfully honest, she recounts her difficult relationship with her father, her education in Paris, her early love affairs, her antipathy towards London life, and her desperate ambition to succeed as a writer. The resulting self-portrait is of a complex, utterly captivating young woman.

The du Mauriers by Daphne du Maurier: Book 60, 2009

Title: The du Mauriers by Daphne du Maurie
Genre: Biography
Rating: 8.5/10
Comments: The personal autobiography of her own family, written in the form of a novel, provides a spirited saga of family history. From the histories of relatives she never personally knew to her own life, The Du Mauriers makes for a lively and engaging "first-person" read.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Gerald: A Portrait by Daphne du Maurier - Book 59, 2009

Title: Gerald: A Portrait by Daphne du Maurier
Genre: Biography
Rating: 9.5/10
Comments: Gerald: A Portrait is an amazing biography in its own right, painting a picture of a successful, celebrated and complex actor and theatre manager who rose to the top of his profession in early 20th Century UK. It is hard to believe that such an entertaining and insightful biography, written in the style of a third-person novel, could have been written in four short months after his death - let alone by a 27-year-old and let alone by his own daughter. A charming and entertaining man, Gerald was completely self-obsessed, narcissistic, childlike and in many ways a very difficult man to live with. du Maurier does not shrink from portraying the more difficult aspects of her father's character, but she does so sympathetically and also celebrates his many triumphs.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak - Book 58, 2009

Title: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Genre: Literature
Rating: 9/10
Comments: When collecting the soul of a young boy who has died on a train journey en route to Munich, Death becomes fascinated by his sister Liesel, who he nicknames 'The Book Thief' because she picks up a discarded book left near his grave.  With her father already taken away for being a communist and her mother fearing the worst for herself, Liesel is sent to live with a poor, vulgar yet ultimately kind-hearted foster family in Munich.  Death traces her life in Munich, her love for her foster father, friendship with neighbour Rudy and her opportune thievery set against the deteriorating political landscape of Nazi Germany.  When her foster family hides a Jewish fist fighter in the basement, Liesel discovers the true meaning of friendship and courage.

The Parasites by Daphne du Maurier - Book 57, 2009

Title: The Parasites by Daphne du Maurier
Genre: literature/psychological study
Rating: 8.5/10
Comments: Born into theatre royalty, half-sibling Maria, Niall and Celia have had a far from conventional upbringing, travelling with their singer father and dancer mother from stage to stage around the world. The three - particularly Maria and Niall - have a deep, all consuming relationship with each other. After the death of his wife, their father becomes increasingly dependent upon and demanding of Celia, to the point where her separate identity is almost lost forever. No outsider can ever really penetrate the strange deep closeness and self-absorption of the family, leading to Maria's husband, Charles, calling them in frustration a bunch of parasites. One wet Sunday afternoon they start recalling their past, their influences and relationships that made them who they are today.

Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited by Paula Bernstein and Elyse Stein - Book 56,2009

Title: Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited by Paula Bernstein and Elyse Stein
Genre: autobiography
Rating: 8/10
Comments: In proof that truth can sometimes be stranger than fiction, Paula Bernstein and Elyse Stein both grew up knowing that they were adopted but it was only at the age of 35 they discover that they had an identical twin. They meet, get to know each other, discover many similarities - and significant differences, providing a fascinating insight into the whole issue of nature versus nurture and confronting issues of identity - given their identical initial building blocks of DNA, if they had been allocated as babies to each other's family, would Paula have become Elyse and vice versa? The pair decide to try and trace their birth mother and discover the disturbing reason as to why they were separated as babies. A fascinating real-life detective story.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Midnighters #3: Blue Noon by Scott Westerfeld - Book 55, 2009

Title: Midnighters #3: Blue Noon by Scott Westerfeld
Young adult, sci-fi, action
Rating: 8/10
Plot description:
The darklings have found a way to expand midnight so that all humans will enter the blue time and become prey. Complicating the crisis is Rex's residual darkling characteristics that leave him with the unsettling notion that other humans are food, Jonathan's secret desire that the midnight hour could last forever so that he would always be free of the confining flatland gravity, and the fact that no one has yet figured out why the darklings wish to dispose of Jessica Day.
Comments: I particularly liked the fact that in this book the Midnighters start questioning the morality of how they and previous Midnighters have acted. The book ends with an unexpected twist and while the story is mostly resolved, there is the opportunity for further Midnighters' books.

Midnighters #2: Touching Darkness by Scott Westerfeld - Book 54, 2009

Title: Midnighters #2: Touching Darkness by Scott Westerfeld
Genre: Young adult, sci-fi, action
Rating: 8/10
Comments: The continuation of the 'The Secret Hour'. The midnighters discover that that their secret hour may not be as secret as they thought. Others are showing a special interest in them, particularly Jessica, the flame bringer. This book goes much more into character development and the midnighters discover what happened to the other midnighters 50 years ago. Another unputdownable book by Westerfeld.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Echoes from the Macabre by Daphne du Maurier - Book 53, 2009

Title: Echoes from the Macabre by Daphne du Maurier
Genre: short-stories, suspense
Rating: 8.5/10
Comments: A collection of 9 short-stories including 'The Birds', which Alfred Hitchcock used as the inspiration for the film of the same name. While not every story is a classic, all demonstrate du Maurier's skill in building suspense.

(note numbering change due to having to include a double-counted number earlier this year as 52)

Hand-Me-Down by Lee Nichols - Book 51, 2009

Title: Hand-Me-Down by Lee Nichols
Genre: chick-lit
Rating: 5/10
Plot summary:
After growing up in the shadow of sisters Charlotte, a stunning swimsuit model, and Emily, a brilliant feminist scholar, 29-year-old Anne Olsen has a natural aversion to anything secondhand—and that especially includes her sister Charlotte's ex-boyfriend Ian, who's a cute, available antiques dealer.

Comments: And I bet you can see where this one is going and ends. While this book is very easy to read and has its amusing moments, I was both irritated by the protagonist and her various neuroticisms and bored by the predictable nature of the book. One for the disposal pile.

The Chameleon's Shadow by Minette Walters - Book 50, 2009

Title: The Chameleon's Shadow by Minette Walters
Genre: Thriller/mystery
Rating: 9/10
Comments: I found this book impossible to put down; I read it in just one night. Horribly disfigured by a roadside bomb in Iraq and forced to leave the only career he has ever wanted, Lieutenant Charles Acland withdraws and cuts himself off from others, violently responding to even the slightest touch. The police, meanwhile, are hunting a killer who has bashed at least three men to death and Lieutenant Acland has the uncanny knack of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and a clear reluctance to defend himself from accusations. But as the novel unravels, alongside with wondering "is he or isn't he the serial killer?", one slowly discovers that the reasons for Aclands withdrawn and violent nature extend far beyond his traumatic experiences in Iraq.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Midnighters #1: The Secret Hour by Scott Westerfeld - Book 49, 2009

Title: Midnighters #1: The Secret Hour by Scott Westerfeld
Genre: young adult, horror, sci-fi
Rating: 7.5/10
Comments: When 15-year-old Jessica Day moves to Bixby, Oklahoma she discovers a 'secret hour' at the stroke of midnight when time stops for herself and a handful of others born at true midnight.  At first it is exciting exploring the world and discovering the secret powers each 'Midnighter' has.  But there are dangers and dark forces also inhabiting the secret hour - and they seem to be especially interested in Jessica.

Friday, 31 July 2009

The Rendezvous and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier - Book 48, 2009

Title: The Rendezvous and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier
Genre: Short-story
Rating: 8/10
Comments: A collection of short stories, some written before du Maurier published her first novel, reflecting many human emotions: romance, disenchantment, fantasy, nostalgia, ambition, irony, the longing for adventure. While they are of varying quality, her unique writing skill and ability to create suspense are evident in many of the stories.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Morality for Beautiful Girls by Alexander McCall Smith: Book 47, 2009

Title: Morality for Beautiful Girls by Alexander McCall Smith
Genre: novel
Rating: 8.5/10
Comments: The continuing story of Mme Ramotswe, Botswana's sole woman detective. Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni has become depressed and disinterested in his garage.  Mma Makutsi, her secretary turned assistant detective, is harbouring dreams of a promotion.  Money, as always, is tight.  After some difficulty Mme Ramotswe convinces Mr. J.L.B. Matekonito see a doctor and go for a rest cure at the orphan farm where he adopted their children.  She decides to save on expenses by moving her office to the garage and promotes Mma Makutsi to Acting Manager of the garage where she proves to be singularly adept at whipping the lazy girl-chasing apprentices into shape, as she is with the paperwork in the office.  While Mme Ramotswe is off investigating a suspected poisoning case for an obnoxious government official, Mma Makutsi picks up a big-paying client who is deperate to ensure he selects a winner of his beauty pageant that will not bring the competition into disrepute.  As entertaining as ever, McCall Smith ensures the series does not get stale by focussing this time of developing some of the other characters.

Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith: Book 46, 2009

Title: Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith
Genre: novel
Rating: 9/10
Comments: The continuing story of Mme Ramotswe, Botswana's sole woman detective. At the end of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Mme Ramotswe became engaged to her neighbour, mechanic Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni.  While Mme Ramotswe is tracking down the 10-year-old mystery of what happened to an American woman's son, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni's generosity sees him expanding his family in unexpected ways.  He soon realises that his dream of passing on his love cars to a son will never be fulfilled but there is a caring wheelchair-bound girl who shows an unusual aptitude for all things mechanical.
This book is a seemless continuation of the first and a great read.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith: Book 45, 2009

Title: The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
Genre: modern fiction, detective
Rating: 9/10
Comments: Easy to read and deceptively simple, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency presents a different side to Africa than is usually portrayed in news stories and charitable appeals.  After a disastrous marriage, the death of her only child and the passing of her beloved father, Mma Ramotswe uses her inheritance to set up Botswana's one and only female private detective agency.  As she uses her wits and intuition to track down missing husbands and wayward children, and to challenge conmen, Mma Ramotswe shows us the beauty and positives of her homeland - as well as the darkness that still lurks below the surface.

Absent in the Spring by Agatha Christie writing as Mary Westmacott - Book 44, 2009

Title: Absent in the Spring by Agatha Christie writing as Mary Westmacot
Genre: suspense, literature
Rating: 10/10
Plot summary: (From Library Journal)
Joan Scudamore, housewife and mother of three grown children, is happy, remarkably self-satisfied, and not-at-all introspective. Trapped alone in a foreign rest house she has nothing to do but reconsider her life. Self-analysis is at first unpleasant and then terrifying, as Joan probes deeper and deeper into her memories of interpersonal relationships. At last, mentally stripped to the core, she must reconstruct herself to face the future.
Comments: Agatha Christie said she wrote this book over one long weekend in the middle of World War 2, yet it is so perfectly paced and so complete one suspects she must have been mulling over it for years.  One of my favourite books of all time, there is a certain level of schadenfreude in watching a smug person having to face the fact that there is more to life than superficial appearances.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

The Woodbegoods by E Nesbit: Book 43, 2009

Title: The Woodbegoods by E Nesbit
Genre: children's
Rating: 8.5/10
Comments: Once upon a time children were not wrapped in cotton wool or bubble wrap but were left alone by adults to find their own fun and create their own entertainment.  The six Bastable siblings, banished to a country estate for the holidays after creating choas and destruction during their first days at home, lead their 2 cousins into all kinds of mischief despite all their attempts to be good - they are the Wouldbegoods because they would be good if they could, but somehow the best laid plans so often result in chaos and disaster.  As an adult, living with the Bastable children would drive one to insanity but it is impossible not to appreciate their good intentions and fundamental honesty.Another Nesbit nbook which more than stands the test of time.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

The Railway Children by E Nesbit: Book 42, 2009

Title: The Railway Children by E Nesbit
Genre: children's
Rating: 7/10
Plot description: When father is taken away by two men, Bobbie, Peter and Phyllis have to leave their lovely London home and go and live in the country with their mother and 'play' at being poor. They become fascinated with the local railway and friends with the people who work there. They have a series of adventures where they save the day and meet the man who will save their father.
Comments: I didn't enjoy this nearly as much as The Enchanted Castle. There were too many coincidences and things just fitted in a little too neatly. Also, as an adult living in the 21st century, I cringed at some of the dangerous activity around the railway line. Nonetheless, it is very well written and an enjoyable read.

Monday, 6 July 2009

The Enchanted Castle by E Nesbit: Book 41, 2009

Title: The Enchanted Castle by E Nesbit
children's, fantasy
Rating: 9.5/10
Comments: Written in 1907, The Enchanted Castle more than survives the test of time. Siblings Gerald, James and Kathleen wake a princess from an enchanted sleep and enter her world where magic and reality collide and where the phrase "be careful what you wish for" is certainly true. The princess turns out to be the niece of a housekeeper on an impoverished estate filled with secret hiding places and tunnels and where the statues come to life at night. A magic ring that turns her invisible proves very difficult to remove and the children struggle to protect the adults who surround them from the consequences of their magic. An enthralling imaginative read from the first to last page.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson - Book 40, 2009

Title: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson
Genre: Literature, history, young-adult
Rating: 8.5/10
Plot summary: (From School Library Journal)
In this fascinating and eye-opening Revolution-era novel, Octavian, a black youth raised in a Boston household of radical philosophers, is given an excellent classical education. He and his mother, an African princess, are kept isolated on the estate, and only as he grows older does he realise that while he is well dressed and well fed, he is indeed a captive being used by his guardians as part of an experiment to determine the intellectual acuity of Africans. As the fortunes of the Novanglian College of Lucidity change, so do the nature and conduct of their experiments.
Comments: Very readable while being stuffed with historical detail that gives a different perspective than usually portrayed of the time of the American Revolution.  Would be a great text for Year 10-11 English and/or as a springboard for discussion about American history.  Much of the writing is in the storyteller style of Peter Carey.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Back Roads by Tawni O'Dell: Book 39, 2009

Title: Back Roads by Tawni O'Dell
Genre: Modern literature
Rating: 8/10
Comments: Very compelling read about the ultimate dysfunctional family in small-town dead-end America, told through the eyes of 19-year-old Harley who has taken on parenting responsibilities of his 3 sisters while his mum serves time in jail for killing his father. Both shocking and disturbing, yet tender and funny in places.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner: Book 38, 2009

Title: Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner
Genre: Children's
Rating: 8/10
Comments: Written in 1894 and continuously in print until at least 1994, this is considered one of the classics of Australian literature. Although I was always a voracious reader there are some surprising gaps in my literary history.

It tells the tale of seven wild siblings living outside Sydney in the 1880s and the various scrapes they get up to, tormenting their army father and young step-mother (who at 20 is only four years older than the eldest sibling). For the most part it avoids the excessive moralising of most children's books of this era and it survives the test of time reasonably well. The writing style is that of a storyteller speaking directly to her audience. While I loved the Australian setting, I don't think it is quite as good (from an adult reader viewpoint) as Anne of Green Gables, which I think is a reasonable comparison.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger: Book 37, 2009

Title: The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Genre: Romance, Sci-fi
Rating: 10/10
Comments: A total mind-f*ck, combining the best of romance and "what if" sci-fi. This is the story of Henry DeTamble, a dashing, adventuresome librarian who travels involuntarily through time, and Clare Abshire, an artist from an affluent family whose life takes a natural sequential course. Henry and Clare meet when she is six and he is 36; marry when she is 22 and he is 30 and do their best to live a 'normal' life despite Henry's genetic predisposition to vanish in time and place, causing havoc and danger to himself and others.

Photo finish by Ngaio Marsh: Book 36, 2009

Title: Photo finish by Ngaio Marsh
Genre: Detective
Rating: 6/10
Plot summary: (from Amazon)
In Ngaio Marsh's "Photo Finish", Inspector Alleyn travels to Marsh's back yard -- New Zealand -- to consult with an Opera diva who is being stalked by a mysterious photographer. Unflattering photos of 'The Sommita', as she is known, have driven her -- as well as her 'patron' and his staff -- to distraction. Alleyn, along with his artist wife, Agatha Troy (who is to paint a portrait of the singer), journey to a remote island hideaway where murder -- no surprise -- quickly occurs.
Comments: Characters are stereotypical and over-the-top, plot is predictable but still an enjoyable read if there is nothing else around.

Friday, 19 June 2009

The Risen Empire by Scott Westerfeld: Book 35, 2009

Title: The Risen Empire by Scott Westerfeld
Genre: sci-fi, epic
Rating: 9.5/10
Plot summary: (from Amazon)
In the far future, human beings have colonized 80 worlds across space, and are ruled over by an immortal. The Emperor of this future realm has ruled for over 1600 years after discovering a way to raise the newly dead so that they may live and serve him forever.
The Empire has been at war for decades with an all-female race of humans called the Rix. These Rix are cyberneticly enhanced cultists who worship planetary A.I's. The Rix have taken it upon themselves to spread these A.I's to the worlds controlled by the Risen Empire, which would in-turn, change the Empires worlds into giant living minds.

Comments: One of the best science fiction books around, combining great ideas, great writing and an epic, twisting plot. It forces the reader to confront the ultimate question - what is life? Can a machine have true sentience? Can death really be overcome? Westerfeld's descriptions of the evolution and use of nanomaterials in this futuristic world is both highly imaginative and highly believable; a fascinating conception of the possibilities and dangers of new technology. Another aspect of this book that was interesting was the emphasis on how strengths could be weaknesses and vice-versa: the soldier hero wears prosthetic legs and a prosthetic arm due to enduring months of torture and imprisonment; the forward-thinking senator had to take regular doses of an 'apathy' drug to avoid descending into madness - yet these are not impediments to their love and ultimate triumph. Compelling reading.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos: Book 34, 2009

Title: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos
Genre: wit and humour
Rating: 10/10
Plot summary: (From Amazon)
Anita Loos's "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" is a comic masterpiece. Loos tells the story of Lorelei Lee, a blond, money-seeker, opportunist girl on a trip through Europe. From Now York to London, to Paris and all the way through Vienna Lorelei meets lots of gentlemen, charms them, gets money and jewels from them and then light-heartedly leaves them with a short note in which she promises she will meet them somewhere else, perhaps. A real strumpet, Lorelei Lee emerges as a delicious creature from Loos genial prose, and by the end of the book, we have learned to love her.
Comments: I loved the movie (starring Marilyn Monroe) but this book, while hysterically funny, has a darker and slightly crueller edge.  Lorelei Lee is completely without conscience and has an entertaining mix of determination, idiocy, and a constant belief in her own towering intellect.  A far more likeable version of Paris Hilton, set during the Jazz Age, without a sex tape in sight.

The Green Mile by Stephen King: Book 33, 2009

Title: The Green Mile by Stephen King
Genre: thriller/supernatural
Rating: 9/10
Comments: Stephen King is a master story teller and this is a fantastic example of his skills.  The story is narrated by an elderly man who worked on death row during the Depression.  He recalls the events of 1932 when they had three prisoners on death row - a large black Negro called John Coffey who can't tie his shoelaces but was convicted of raping and murdering 2 girls, a psychopathic young killer who insists on being called Billy the Kid with a special skill in causing trouble, and a pathetic Frenchman called Delacroix whose only friend is a tiny clever mouse.  His biggest problem, however, is with a bullying subordinate who uses his powerful connections to maintain his position despite his incompetence and unsuitability for the job. King cleverly weaves parallels between the narrator's past and present experiences to create a tale of justice and injustice, miracles and curses, vengeance and redemption.  Originally published as a 6-part serial, it translates well as a novel although there is a little repetition.  A gripping page turner that kept me up all night to the very end.

Monday, 8 June 2009

F is for Fugitive by Sue Grafton: Book 32, 2009

Title: F is for Fugitive by Sue Grafton
Genre: detective/thriller
Rating: 7/10
Comments:An enjoyable and fun read. Private Investigator Kinsey Millhone is hired by the father of a convicted murderer who the law has finally caught up with after her escaped from prison 15 years ago. He now claims he never did the crime - but takes the first opportunity to flee from custody again. Kinsey needs to uncover layers of secrets and intersecting small-town relationships to uncover the truth.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

L is for Lawless by Sue Grafton: Book 31, 2009

Title: L is for Lawless by Sue Grafton
Genre: thriller. adventure
Rating: 6/10
Comments: Not one of Grafton's best. Private Investigator Kinsey Millhone ends up on a road trip with a bunch of criminals after an attempt to help a neighbour track down his grandfather's war records takes a bizarre twist. For reasons that are never really explained, Kinsey hops on a plane to follow thieves who have broken into her neighbour's home even though her neighbour is only seeking $450 in funeral benefits from Veteran's Affairs. Turns out grandpa wasn't ever in the army; rather he spent the war years in jail after pulling off a big bank heist, the proceeds of which have never come to light. Now he's dead, his co-conspirators are looking for the cash, gold and jewels. As one review put it, the plot looked like it was that of a bad made-for-television film.

The Lucy Family Alphabet by Judith Lucy: Book 30, 2009

Title: The Lucy Family Alphabet by Judith Lucy
Genre: autobiography, humour
Rating: 10/10
Comments: If you thought your family was strange and dysfunctional, you haven't yet met the Lucys. One comes away from reading this book thinking"this explains a lot" about one of Australia's funniest yet self-deprecating comedians, Judith Lucy. Brought up in Perth by a mother who was a pathological liar who feared water (Judith didn't shower before the age of 15), a father who wore makeup to enhance his appearance (a metrosexual ahead of his time) and a Grandmother who used the funeral of her own daughter to turn the attention back on herself, it's not surprising Judith has had a long-time relationship with alcohol and a series of bad relationships with men. Then she found out that she was adopted. At the age of 25. From her brother's wife at the Christmas from hell to end all Christmases from hell.

Both side-splittingly humorous and heart-breakingly painful, this book is a tribute to the family who made Judith the woman she is today. It particularly highlights the positive relationship and love she has with her brother Niall, but also the love she has for her parents, notwithstanding their nuttiness. Because a the end of the day she loves her parents. Doesn't everyone love their parents?

C is for Corpse by Sue Grafton: Book 29, 2009

Title: C is for Corpse by Sue Grafton
Genre: crime/detective/thriller
Rating: 7.5/10
Comments: An enjoyable page-turner. Private Investigator Kinsey Millhone is hired by a wealthy young man who was badly injured in a car crash that he insists was an attempt on his life, rather than an accident as others are suggesting. His claims start to have more credence when he dies sometime later in another car crash - supposedly of a brain aneurysm possibly caused by the first crash. Their are motives and red herrings a plenty. One of Grafton's best books in the series.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Attention Deficit Disorder: Only a Mother Could Love Him by Ben Polis - Book 52, 2009

Title: Attention Deficit Disorder: Only a Mother Could Love Him by Ben Polis
Genre: health, real-life experience
Rating: 9/10
Plot summary: Ben Polis was the nightmare kid every parent and teacher dreads - hyperactive, impulsive, unable to check his emotions, disruptive and violent. Childhood highlights include riding his bike over and killing the neighbour's dog, causing a major electrical blackout and being suspended and/or expelled from six separate schools. Yet somehow this powder keg of a boy who could not read a sentence until he was 11 managed to turn around his life sufficiently to pass Year 12 and get into university. Realising that he would never be able to work for anyone else, he took a course in business entrepreneurship and wrote and self-published a book on growing up with ADD, the effect on his family, peers and self and techniques he has learnt to manage his condition. By the end of the book he is tutoring another young boy with ADD and trying to help parents and teachers better understand life from the perspective with someone with ADD.
Comments: This is a fascinating, if harrowing, tale and provides insight for those who have to live with ADD - both the sufferers and their suffering family and neighbourhood. While it is just one person's imperfect view of the condition with little scientific depth or research, it is an easy-to-read and accessible book that provides a real perspective on ADD.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

P is for Peril by Sue Grafton: Book 28, 2009

Title: P is for Peril by Sue Grafton
Genre: crime, thriller
Rating: 7.5/10
Plot summary: (From Publisher's Weekly)
Kinsey looks into the disappearance of Dr. Dowan Purcell, who's been missing for nine weeks. Dr. Purcell is an elderly physician who runs a nursing home that's being investigated for Medicare fraud. His ex-wife, Fiona, hires Kinsey when it seems as though the police have given up on the search. Fiona thinks that he could be simply hiding out somewhere, especially since he's pulled a disappearance stunt twice before. However, Purcell's current wife, Crystal, believes that he may be dead. Kinsey is dubious about finding any new leads after so much time has elapsed. She's also worried about having to move out of the office space she now occupies in the suite owned by her lawyer, and between her interviews with suspects she tries to rent a new office from a pair of brothers whose mysterious background begins to make her suspicious.
Comments: With this book Grafton redeems herself for its very implausible predecessor. Like most of Grafton's books this is an easy and enjoyable read. While it has generally received more lukewarm reviews from others, I found it relaxing and (by modern standards) relatively free of excessive gratuitous descriptions of violence. There are plenty of twists and turns, alternative suspects and red herrings. Perfect public transport reading.

Monday, 11 May 2009

O is for Outlaw by Sue Grafton: Book 27, 2009

Title: O is for Outlaw by Sue Grafton
Genre: crime, thriller
Rating: 5.5/10
Comments: There is no doubt that Grafton can write a compelling page-turner but I found it hard to suspend disbelief during this one. Kinsey's ex-husband, Mickey, is in a coma, shot by a gun registered in her name. When the police trace a 30 minute call from Mickey's apartment to Kinsey's home, they turn up on her doorstep and have trouble believing her denials that she has not spoken to him in more than 12 years. Just a few days previously she had come upon a never delivered letter that indicated that she may have misjudged Mickey (in one sense at least). So partially to clear her name and partially to repay Mickey for her previous hasty judgement, Kinsey sets out to investigate what really happened.

So far, so good. The problem with this book is that Kinsey proceeds to run ridiculous personal and professional risks by breaking and entering to find answers, stealing mail and refraining from passing on crucial evidence to the police investigating the crime. Mickey was clearly in financial difficulties - yet he hadn't tapped into money stashed throughout his apartment as part of his survivalist preparations.

For some reason the detectives investigating the case overlook Kinsey's numerous wrong-doings and recruit her to wear a wire tap while visiting Mickey's assailant. And in the final chapter Kinsey risks her life by leading a gun-toting murderer on a wild car case instead of stopping for assistance from those detectives, driving straight to a police station or doing anything else remotely sensible.

The paper thin plot is a real disappointment because Grafton can write very well. She's not running out of ideas but she is running out of plausible plot lines.

Hamlet - A Novel by John Marsden: Book 26, 2009

Title: Hamlet - A Novel by John Marsden
Genre: Literateure
Rating: 8/10
Comments: Hamlet by John Marsden? I thought Shakespeare wrote Hamlet!
True. And it's a great story but 400 years on many people find the language - beautiful as it is - an impediment to understanding exactly what is going on. So Young Adult Fiction writer and English teacher John Marsden has 'translated' the play into novel form to make it accessible to students and encourage them to tackle the original play. The novel retains all the original names and story lines. Both a great teaching aid and worth reading on its own.

Solaris by Stanislaw Lem: Book 25, 2009

Title: Solaris: Stanislaw Lem
Genre: Science Fiction, Philosophy
Rating: 10/10
Comments: It's hard to believe this was written in 1960. Solaris exemplifies great science fiction with ideas that remain fresh and relevant 50 years on and surprisingly few details that hint at the age of the writing. The book's protagonist, Kelvin, arrives at a space station orbiting the planet Solaris which is dominated by a sentient ocean which has eluded human scientific understanding. The scientists aboard the station are physically and emotionally damaged - one has died - and they are either unable or unwilling to explain what has happened to them. Kelvin is frustrated and angry - and then he receives a visit from what appears to be his wife - who had died by her own hand many years previously.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Fire Sale: Sara Paretsky - Book 24, 2009

Fire Sale: Sara Paretsky
Genre: Crime/detective/thriller
Rating: 5.5/10
Comments: Private Investigator V.I. Warshawski agrees to help out coaching her old school basketball team in a run-down neighbourhood in South Chicago. She quickly gets drawn into her charges' lives and starts investigating sabotage at the local factory. But the factory is burnt down in an arson attack, her contacts are running scared and the big conglomerate Buy-Smart starts muscling in.

The plot is thin, the characters are shallow and one-dimentional stereotypes and it's impossible to suspend belief. Also, I am really, really sick of crime novels where the female protagonist has to get physically assaulted at every turn. Paretsky knows how to write a page turner but I long for the more genteel and cerebal detective novels of old.

Friday, 24 April 2009

T is for Trespass: Sue Grafton - Book 23, 2009

T is for Trespass: Sue Grafton
Genre: Crime/detective/mystery
Rating: 7/10
Comments: A fantastic book which unfortunately is let down by an implausible and annoying ending. Private Investigator Kinsey Millhone's elderly neighbour Gus suffers a fall and needs nursing assistance while he recovers at home. Millhone is hired by his niece to do a pre-employment check of Gus' nurse and everything looks fine. Unfortunately for Gus, while his carer has taken on the identity of a real and respectable nurse, she is at heart a predator who only has her own interests at heart. When Millhone becomes concerned at Gus' deterioration, she finds herself in a battle of wits with a cold and manipulative psychopath.

R is for Ricochet: Sue Grafton - Book 22, 2009

R is for Ricochet: Sue Grafton
Genre: Crime/detective/mystery
Rating: 6.5/10
Comments: Private Investigator Kinsey Millhone is hired to pick-up a wealthy businessman's wayward daughter, Reba, who has just been released from jail and deliver her safely home. Reba is beautiful and intelligent but ultimately unstable and self-destructive. Kinsey sees much of herself in this troubled girl and the pair strike up an unlikely friendship. She soon discovers that Reba has taken a fall for her boss and lover. When Reba learns she has been used, she is determined to take revenge, whatever the cost.

Not Grafton's best book, but very readable. I'm fed up though with the fact that Kinsey has to be physically assaulted near the end of every investigation.

Q is for Quarry: Sue Grafton - Book 21, 2009

Q is for Quarry: Sue Grafton
Rating: 8/10
Comments: The is the only book in Sue Grafton's alphabet series that to my knowledge is based on a real case. Kinsey Millhone is employed by two aged law enforcement officers who have been haunted throughout their careers by the unsolved murder of an unidentified girl. Millhone uses all her skills to identify the girl and the reasons for her murder 18 years ago.

The final pages of the book are dedicated to the story of the real "Jane Doe" and include a forensic sculptor's recreation of the unknown girl (paid for by Grafton). While this created a renewed interest in the case and generated several leads, police still have no idea who she is or why she was killed all those years ago.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Not the Costello Memoirs: Walter Slurry - Book 20, 2009

Not the Costello Memoirs: Walter Slurry
Genre: Humour, politics
Rating: 9/10
Comments: Political satire at its best, Crikey's tongue-in-cheek parody provides a much truer (and funnier) portrayal of the life and times of Peter Costello than the original. Reportedly outselling The Costello Memoirs 6:1, it is also considerably cheaper at $10.95 (although possibly not by the time you read this, with the original heading straight for the bargain table and remainder bin in local bookstores).  Read it to recall the 16 glorious years of self-sacrifice and achievement of the Liberals in power.

A is for Alibi: Sue Grafton - Book 19, 2009

A is for Alibi: Sue Grafton
Rating: 7/10
Comments: The very first book in Sue Grafton's alphabet series and a good sign of things to come.  Kinsey Millhone is employed by Nikki Fife who has just served 8 years jail after being convicted of murdering her philandering husband.  While the police are sure the right person was convicted, why would Nikki want to stir up the past if she really was guilty? A really fast and fun read with lots of twists and turns that keeps you guessing to the very end.

From Potter's Field: Patricia Cornwell - Book 18, 2009

From Potter's Field: Patricia Cornwell
Rating: 5/10
Plot summary (from Amazon.com review)
Upon examining a dead woman found in snowbound Central Park, (forensic pathologist) Kay Scarpetta immediately recognizes the grisly work of Temple Gault, a bold and brilliant killer from her past. Now she must hunt down a psychopath whose string of horrible murders is leading inexorably to his ultimate prey: Scarpetta herself.
Comments: If a homicidal psychopathic killer was after you, would you:
(a) move into the FBI's highly protected secure facility for a few weeks;
(b) gratefully accept the offer of a talented police officer and friend, to move into your home and accompany you to work so you could continue to work on your cases despite the threat on your life; or
(c) slip out from the watchful eye of such police officer to go shopping at the local supermarket?
Forensic pathologist) Kay Scarpetta choses (c) and that's basically sums up my major problem with the book.  For someone who is supposed to be so smart she does such stupid foolish things which makes it impossible to continue to suspend disbelief.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

The BBC's top 100 books

The BBC's top 100 books, which have you read?  I consider myself a prolific reader but have only read just over half of these

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien(I tried; I just couldn't get into it.  One of the few cases where I prefer the film to the book)
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien (See 2)
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov (wish I hadn't)
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte's Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Sunday, 22 March 2009

N is for Noose: Sue Grafton - Book 17,2009

N is for Noose: Sue Grafton
Rating: 7/10
Comments: Another solid offering from Sue Grafton in her alphabet series. It starts with the rather weak premises where PI Kinsey Millhone agrees to investigate what was troubling a straight-shooting police officer prior to his (natural) death but unravels with a complex series of twists and turns. I don't like very much the excessive violence Millhone is subjected to but there is no doubt that Grafton can write a compelling page-turner.

S is for Silince: Sue Grafton - Book 16, 2009

S is for Silince: Sue Grafton
Genre: Crime/Mystery/Detective
Rating: 8/10
Comments: Possibly the best of Grafton's alphabet series that I have read. PI Kinsey Millhone agrees to examine the 35-year-old disappearance of Violet Sullivan, a young mother and good-time girl who was also the victim of domestic violence and may - of may not - have been in possession of a significant amount of cash at the time of her disappearance. Originally doubtful of her ability to unravel the mystery, Millhone soon discovers that someone today does not want her disturbing the ghosts of the past.

The Slap: Christos Tsiolkas - Book 15, 2009

The Slap: Christos Tsiolkas
Genre: Australian literature
Rating: 8/10
Comments: Lauded by the Australian (Melbourne) literati, The Slap uses the starting point of a suburban BBQ where a man slaps a bratty and misbehaving kid that is not his own to explore the the varied and multicultural lives and families of all the participants, all of whom live in northern inner city Melbourne. He creates extremely real and believable - but not particularly likeable characters. It's hard to say what the point of the book is all about but I found myself thinking about all the characters as if they were real people for many days afterwards.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Striding Folly: Dorothy L Sayers - Book 14, 2009

Striding Folly: Dorothy L Sayers
Genre: Detective
Rating: 8/10
Comments: The last three cases in Lord Peter Wimsey's career. One of the best parts of this book was the introduction by Janet Hitchman giving an insight into the life and times of his creator, Dorothy Sayers.

The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl: Shauna Reid - Book 13, 2009

The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl: Shauna Reid
Topic: Memoir/diet/chick-lit
Rating: 10/10
Comments: One of the funniest and most heart-wrenching books I've ever read. The true story of how Shauna Reid lost half her body weight and found out what an amazing person she is - warts, depression and all. I started reading and couldn't stop. Shauna Reid is a true super hero and this book should be required reading for all.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

D is for Deadbeat: Sue Grafton - Book 12, 2009

D is for Deadbeat: Sue Grafton
Topic: Crime/mystery
Rating: 7/10
Comment: Good train reading; reasonably written detective mystery with satisfying twist at the end.  Grafton does her stuff well

Friday, 20 February 2009

The Gruffalo: Julia Donaldson - Book 10, 2009

The Gruffalo: Julia Donaldson
Topic: Kids/humour
Rating: 10/10
Comments: I don't normally count picture books on my 'read' list but one that is so funny and well written that I go out and buy it even though I don't have kids is a rare thing.  A wily mouse evades the attention of various predators by telling them he is going to have a meal with the (fictional) gruffalo.  Then he meets the monster of his creation.  Wonderfully written with beautiful metre and rhyme.

My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey by Jill Bolte Taylor - Book 11, 2009

My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey by Jill Bolte Taylor
Topic: Science, medical, personal
Rating: 10/10
Commentary: What happens when a brain scientist has a stroke?  She gets a unique perspective into her own brain, has what would normally be described as a mystical experience and then strives to repair her brain motivated by the desire to help others access the usually submissive right hemisphere of their brain to also reach 'nirvana' - without having to have a stroke themselves.  This book is fantastic on many levels.  It gives an intelligent lay person an overview of the wonder and major components of the brain; it provides unique insights on the care and rehabilitation of someone with a stroke, from the perspective of the patient; it highlights the amazing wonder that is our brain; and celebrates life and living it as happily as possible. 

M Is for Malice: Sue Grafton - Book 9, 2009

M Is for Malice: Sue Grafton
Topic: Crime/mystery
Rating: 7/10
Comment: Good train reading; reasonably written detective mystery with satisfying twist at the end.

Monday, 2 February 2009

The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing: Melissa Bank - Book 8, 2009

The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing: Melissa Bank
Topic: Short-stories, chick-lit, relationships, humour
Rating: 10/10
Comments: This is one of the few books where I've found myself emotionally identifying with the protagonist.  Jane is an intelligent, funny, caring, self-aware woman who is completely clueless when it comes to most relationships.  The short stories span her life from the age of 14 to 28 as both a participant and observer of all kinds of relationships - romantic, family and in the workplace.  Both heart rendering and funny, I can't imagine a woman this book wouldn't appeal to.

Friday, 30 January 2009

Cause of Death: Patricia Cornwell - Book 7, 2009

Cause of Death: Patricia Cornwell Type: Crime/Detective
Rating: 6/10
Comments: I generally like murder mysteries of all types and was looking forward to this book but I ended up being more irritated than entertained. I found it really hard to engage with the protagonist, a completely neurotic and emotionally distant perfectionist. And sentences such as: "The lasagne was superb because I had drained fresh mozzarella in dishcloths too much during baking and, of course, the pasta was fresh" reeked of the author's own over-research and obsessive perfection and did nothing to add to the story or character development in any way.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Barry Trotter and the Shameless Parody: Michael Gerber - Book 6, 2009

Barry Trotter and the Shameless Parody
Type: humour
Rating: 6.5/10
Comments: The title really says it all.  It even comes with a "tick the box" letter of complaint you can send to the author.  Every line in the book is a bad pun on something in the original series.  Mildly amusing but gets tedious after a while.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Confessions of a Pretty Lady: Sandra Bernhard - Book 5, 2009

Confessions of a Pretty Lady: Sandra Bernhard
Type: personal/confessional
Rating: 6/10
Comments: To quote Claudius, this book is indescribable. Part memoir, all biting commentary, Bernhard is a highly intelligent, high strung writer with a provocative attitude to match. I found little to relate to in the writings of this obsessive-compulsive and ultimately cold and distant character - despite her sharing of some very intimate details of her life.

I've had this book for over a decade, along with 'Love, Love & Love' which is in almost pristine condition. By page 4 I remember why. The book starts with a conversation between two lesbians in a less than perfect relationship. When I got to the line "You're the one who loves to eat my pussy when I have my period" I shut the book and decide to donate both of Bernhard's works. I am tempted to give them to a fundamentalist church op shop but will probably dispose of them in Brunswick where they will be more appreciate.

Friday, 16 January 2009

The Mortover Grange Mystery: JS Fletcher - abandoned reading, 2009

The Mortover Grange Mystery: Joseph Smith Fletcher
Type: Mystery
Rating: 1/10
Comments: I am a quick and voracious reader and I abandon very few books part way, but in this case I made an exception.  Written in 1926, The Mortover Grange Mystery has not stood the test of time. JS Fletcher is no Christie or Sayers. The writing is dull, the characters one dimensional, the police procedures and actions unbelievable and every step of the plot predictable.  It doesn't even provide any historic interest.  It's just a very boring book.

God's Debris: A Thought Experiment by Scott Adams - Book 4, 2009

God's Debris: A Thought Experiment by Scott Adams
Type: Philosophy
Rating: 8/10
Comments: The fact that I enjoyed this book so much proves that in my heart (or head) I am still a university student.  The book, written by the creator of the cartoon strip Dilbert, apparently appeals most to 23-year-old university students who find it a supreme mind-fuck.  Religious fundamentalists loath the book, partially because it includes the notions that the universe is simply the debris of God, rebuilding itself, after committing suicide to try and better understand itself, and that all religions are simply alternate delusions people use to best get by in the world.  Some philosophers dislike the book because it is an overly-simplistic thought experiment.

I liked the book because it is extremely well-written and provides some interesting ideas in plain English rather than academic pontification.

My main criticism of the book is that it includes some false science and claiming this was planted there is an intellectual cop-out, as one disgruntled reviewer put it.  This would have been a brilliant book if all the "facts" as presented were at least consistent with current scientific understanding.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Six Other Stories: F Scott Fitzgerald - Book 3, 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Six Other Stories: F Scott Fitzgerald
Type: Short stories, literature
Rating: 10/10
Comments: Literature is wasted on school kids - I first read Scott Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby at the age of 15 but didn't appreciate it until much later.  This is a poignant collection of stories that illustrate much of the attractions and illusions and ultimate shallowness of 1920s America.  Many people (myself included) will come to this book through the current film starring Brad Pitt.  The film detours quite significantly from the book, and while Brad Pitt is perfectly cast and does a superb job, the story loses something (especially in the second half) through its Hollywoodisation.  Read the original story for something a little more meaningful - and read the other stories too.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Say When: Catherine Deveney - Book 2, 2009

Say When: Catherine Deveney
Type: Opinion
Rating: 10/10
Comments: As the article linked above (I couldn't find any link to her book) puts it, you either love Catherine Deveney or you loath her.  I clearly am in the former category - I even went to Readings to have my book signed by her.  It's essentially a collection of her columns, most of which were previously published in The Age.  Catherine Deveney is a left-wing comedian with atheist beliefs, a proud product of suburban Melbourne (Reservoir) and LaTrobe Uni (which is not in the Group of 8). She makes no apologies for being who she is and saying what she thinks, albeit in a very funny and smart way.  Apparently she has dyslexia and can't spell, which could be a problem for most writers but she's either mastered modern spell-check technology or has a great proof-reader.

I don't agree with every word she writes but she certainly makes one think.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

2009: New year, new house, new resolutions

I really am going to try and keep a record of everything I read this year - even if I don't write a detailed review.

I now live about 15km from the nearest public library, however we get a library bus visiting once/week.  Not to mention a brilliant second hand bookshop in walking distance.

I also have a massive pile of unread books in my collection.  So part of the challenge will be reading what I have.

Prayers for the Dead: Faye Kellerman - Book 1, 2009

Prayers for the Dead by Faye Kellerman
Although less prolific than her husband, I find Faye Kellerman's books much more satisfying and less formulaic.  Prayers for the Dead is not perfect and there are some annoying coincidences and unbelievable behaviour - but overall it is a well-written and rich text with plenty of twists and turns.