Saturday, 30 June 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey - E. L. James

Anastasia Steele is about to graduate from University. Her friend runs the student paper and has managed to get the chance to interview young businessman Christian Grey. She's sick though and Anastasia reluctantly steps in. Ana believes it to have gone badly but there is something about Grey that has her intrigued and then he turns up at her work. Grey wants to spend time with her and Ana wants that too. She just might not be prepared for the kind of thing Grey has in mind.

Believe it or not I didn't know what this was when I picked it up. I actually thought it was some kind of crime novel about a stalker. Honestly, I did. That was a good few months ago before the general public started reading this like they read twilight (which is funny since it was originally written as a twilight fan fiction). Had I known I probably wouldn't have bought it. I don't do romance or erotica novels.

Anyway, this is probably the worst book I have ever read. It's just badly written from page one. It's from the point of view of Ana and we are given every unimportant detail of her life. Yep, it's one of those ones that the author finds hard to not share everything because she is using the voice of the main character. The dialogue is even worse and to be honest the characters have no personality at all. The book badly needs an editor.

The fact that it was originally a twilight fan fiction in no way surprises me. She's a poor girl who believes herself to be plain. He's a rich, enigmatic young man (supposedly enigmatic) who is extremely controlling. Then of course there is the literature thrown into the mix. They both have an obsession for Tess of the D'Urbevilles and are continuously quoting from it and placing each other in certain characters. Oh, and there are a few others in there who are clearly in love with Ana too. I could go on about all the similarities.

In the end the story is really about the sex between the two and whether or not she will submit to him as he tries to have a real relationship. Very boring really and the bad writing isn't amusing enough to keep me going. I will not be reading the others in the series.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Flowers For Algernon - Daniel Keyes

 Charlie has the mind of a child but desperately wants to learn. He has felt this desperate need since he was a child. Now a grown man he works in a bakery where he has lots of friends. In the evening he goes to school where he has learned a little writing and reading. As the most eager student his teacher has put him forward for a new trial. This trial could increase his intelligence. To Charlie this is a dream come true and he only hopes he passes all the tests so that he can learn to read and write properly. As the doctors proceed little does Charlie know that intelligence doesn't mean everything. It changes Charlie's life in ways he didn't expect and not necessarily for the better. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

For some strange reason I thought the film, Lawnmower Man, was based on this. Apparently not although it is similar in that a simple man is given intelligence (Lawnmower Man is very loosely based on a short story by Stephen King).

The book is written as a series of reports from Charlie as he begins his quest to be able to learn. From these reports we see his slow progress. Progress that Charlie doesn't even notice at first. It begins with his spelling and grammar which he struggles to correct. Very quickly though he is able to discuss issues with university students and eventually surpasses the university professors. It's easy to become caught up in Charlie's excitement as he realises the treatment has worked and he is able to process so much information.

We also see at the start just how much Charlie loves working in the bakery and loves making his very dear friends laugh. Of course the reader realises that his so called friends are in fact making him the butt of their jokes and taking advantage of the fact that he doesn't understand. It's easy to see from these first few pages that if the treatment works Charlie is going to realise this himself. Which indeed he does and he unfortunately doesn't have the emotional intelligence to deal with it.

In fact emotional intelligence is a big problem for Charlie. He is now conflicted a lot of the time and is unable to empathise with his so called peers. He has a hard time adjusting to discovering women. As his IQ piques his bitterness does also and he is no longer the happy go lucky person we know from the start of the book.

I'm not going to say too much more about the story as it will give away the ending if you haven't guessed yourself. It was very well done though. The changes in Charlie's reports were at first subtle as were the changes in Charlie himself which of course speeds up. Despite the report format I was able to feel for him as he discovers that he was probably happier in his ignorance. I was expecting this to be a rather sad story and it was. A classic sci fi which I would recommend to everyone. It doesn't have any space flight if that's not your cup of tea. And the sciencey gobbledigook is kept to a minimum. In other words I think even the non-sci fi fans would get something out of it.

I read this as part of the Sci Fi challenge hosted by Ellie of Curiosity Killed the Bookworm. This was this months book choice. I decided to go with that since I had been wanting to read the book for a while now. You can see what others read here.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy - John LeCarre

George Smiley was once a spy for a the British. A man who did his job well despite personal problems with his wife and one was trusted by the boss, control. Control became obsessed with flushing out a spy and his obsession ended with a good man being shot. On his downfall George Smiley was taken out with him and now he spends his retired life worrying about his estranged wife and avoiding the people he once worked with. The old life is dragging him back in however. That spy may very well not have been part of Control's imagination after all. Behind the backs of the upper echelons, George is called back to duty to get all the information he can and entrap the traitor once and for all.

I actually read this a good few weeks ago now so I apologise if I am vague on the details. My dad is a huge fan of John Le Carre but I could never quite understand the appeal of spy novels. I can now thankfully. This one was very well done. I got the impression that this isn't the first novel starring George Smiley but I wasn't made to feel that I was missing out on an important tale or details. For me it came across as a stand alone story. Although, we don't get my information on George. He has marital problems which in the end is a big part of the story otherwise I don't think we would have learned about it. George comes across as a man who likes to keep thing close to his chest. Which works since he is investigating on the sly.

The writing is done well too. It draws you into the story and enough is happening to keep you interested. It flashes between present and past scenes in order to give the bigger picture. Nothing to do with the writing but there were times that I found that I wasn't sure what was going on. I don't know if that was deliberate or if it was just me. Despite being lost I was still enjoying it which is new for me. It did all come together at various points and obviously tied up at the end. Glad I picked it up and I am sure I will try more of the authors books another time.

I read this as part of the mixing it up challenge for the crime category. This challenge is organised by Ellie of Musings of a Bookshop Girl. You can see the list of categories here and the list I am doing here. My dad is a huge fan of Le Carre and we have had a few arguments as to whether it should be classed as crime or not. In my bookshop days we shelved them in crime. Plus it has guns, people being shot and countries betrayed. To me that's crime. I will watch the film when I have the chance as it would be interesting to see how it translates onto the big screen.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie - Muriel Spark

Miss Jean Brodie is a teacher at an all girls school in Edinburgh. She believes in teaching her girls about art and culture and literature. The curriculum is an inconvenience to her and she tends to ignore it. Only her style of teaching will make her girls the creme de la creme. As a result she is considered a rogue element in the school and the head mistress would love nothing more than to be rid of her. Her girls however, are fiercely loyal to her even after they move on to the high school. They become known as the Brodie set, each famous for something. Miss Jean Brodie continues to have prominence in their lives as she teaches them her own personal beliefs and involves them in her personal life.

I have been putting off writing this review. Every time I have sat down to do it I have set the computer aside. Basically, I don't think that I could do this book justice. From the first page I was in love with the book. Miss Jean Brodie is seen through the eyes of one of the set years later. This girl is a rather strong character who has quite and impact on Brodie's life. Yet the strength of Jean Brodie's character still shines through.

We also learn about each of the girls as the book continues. In reality none of them are actually that special or outstanding. What really makes them special is their association with Jean Brodie as they move through school. As school nears it's end that association becomes less important to each of them. Sandy is the one girl we learn the most about as she is the one reflecting back on those years. Sandy is the most dedicated to Brodie but the one who is more aware of her flaws. I have to be honest that I'm not sure I liked Sandy but then I don't think I was really meant to.

It is wonderfully written. I have the advantage of living near Edinburgh and have been there many times. So I suppose it is easy for me to get lost in those pages and imagine myself there. However, I do think the writing has a big part to play in it. I believe that I would be able to imagine just as easily had I never visited the city. Jean Brodie comes across as one of those teachers we would all love to have so long as we are one of her chosen girls. In a short space of time the book is able to show how much she is loved by the girls for that reason to showing all her flaws. It was certainly well done.

I haven't seen the film version but after this I do want to. I love Maggie Smith and I would like to see how she portray's Jean Brodie.

I read this book mainly because as a Scot I feel I should have done so already. I always meant to but it was actually a review by Sophia of Page Plucker that got me to finally pick it up. Thank you Sophia, it was a wonderful read. I also read it for the classics challenge which is hosted by Katherine of November's Autumn.  The prompt for this one is a visual tour. As it relies on quotes (and I hate quotes) I am unsure whether I will take part in it or not.

Oh, and you will notice that for once my classic choice does not have a vintage cover. Instead it is by Penguin Essentials and I have to say I quite like it.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Book Purchases

I am now only two reviews behind. Hopefully I will have those up over the weekend if not before. Meanwhile I was bad and bought some books. Two of them are for challenges mind you and I am halfway through one.

Flowers For Algernon - Daniel Keyes (half way through and it's for this months sci fi challenge)
Miss Peregrines Home For Peculiar Children - Ransom Riggs (for next months mixing it up challenge)
The Sea, The Sea - Iris Murdoch,
No One Left To Tell - Karen Rose

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Virals - Kathy Reichs

Tory Brennan is the great niece of the famous Tempe Brennan. She's not long in being united with her father, Kit, and finds herself living with him on a deserted research island. She's clever like her aunt and soon has the small group of kids near her age following her lead. Having a soft spot for dogs she frees a wolf being held in the lab and nurses him back to health with some strange side effects for her and her friends. They then discover the remains of a missing girl from the 60's. However, someone is determined that they don't dig any deeper. Even going as far as shooting at them. That doesn't stop Tory though who convinces her friends to continue looking into it. Her aunt wouldn't give up in her shoes.

I like the Tempe Brennan books. They have a lot of things wrong with them in regards to writing but they are entertaining. Even the obvious story lines and coincidences amuse me. This one though managed to irritate me within the first page or so. Almost every thought from Tory's mind is in done in a one word sentence. Probably to highlight the heavy sarcasm but it's still annoyingly frustrating. Plus, while Tory is meant to be an intelligent 14 year old she somehow manages to sound like a genius with great social skills. She has those island boys, who are a few years older, doing exactly what she wants. Yet she can't fit in to her school.

I read in another review before I picked it up that this is really just a set up for a series. It certainly comes across this way. The plot of the cold case is drowned out by the supernatural element which is clearly going to be the theme through the series. Seems a shame that it overshadowed the mystery as I think it would have stood better as a teen crime novel.

The one worded sentences don't go away but eventually I was able to forget about it (or ignore it). I did find myself caught up in the story. A little against my better judgement since I still found the writing style to be annoying. Not the worst book I have ever read but I do think that Reichs would be better sticking to her usual crime books.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

The Sisters Brothers - Patrick DeWitt

Eli and Charlie Sisters are guns for hire. They mainly work for the Commodore who sends them out when he wants rid of someone. Just back from a job they are being sent out on another. This time they are heading out West, to California during it's gold rush. There they are to kill a prospector who has reportedly stole something from the commodore. Eli isn't happy as his brother Charlie has been put in charge of the job which means less money for him. Plus Eli got left with the useless horse that he is determined not to care for. Along the way they come across many strange characters and manage to make themselves some money. When they finally reach San Francisco they discover that the job isn't all that it seems.

This was one of the books shortlisted for last years Man Booker prize. Although it didn't win (Julian Barnes walked away from that one) it has won other awards. These are the only two out of the nominated books that I have read and I very much enjoyed them both. I'm not sure I could have chosen a winner between these two alone.

That's not why I picked it up. It's a little different from my usual reads. Whilst I do like an historical novel I don't think I have ever read a Western based novel. I was intrigued by it. I quite liked that side of it and it certainly gave a good feel for the era. Riding by horse across America to reach the West, sleeping outside when there is no town nearby and not to mention Eli's visit to the dentist. So much more than that gave it the atmosphere it needed but I would be here all day if I was to list them. Needless to say it was well done and it worked.

As for the characters, Eli is the narrator of the tale (or tales) and as the story grows it's hard to picture him as a killer. You can see why his brother is the one calling the shots as much as Eli might not like that. Charlie in the end is the bad brother who has dragged Eli (unwittingly in Eli's case) into this kind of life. We see Eli with a conscience. He doesn't really like the job and he is the first to question the commodore's motives. We also see through the characters he meets that he just wants a normal life really but loves his brother too much.

In the end it's rather a sweet story of brotherly love. It's not so obvious at the start but by the end of the book I found myself feeling rather emotional for these two brothers.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca Skloot

Scientists and biologists all over the world will have heard of HeLa cells and may even have used them. What they might not know is that they were originally the cancerous cells of a woman named Henrietta Lacks. Henrietta Lacks died in 1951 from cervical cancer but her cells still live on today. They have been celebrated for breakthroughs in medical research such as the polio vaccination. However, when Henrietta died she didn't just leave some cells that were taken without permission. She left behind a young family whose lives were turned upside down after her death. They knew nothing about Henrietta's cells until years later and they struggled to get information as to why these cells were taken, what it meant to them and why so many were benefiting whilst they struggled to cover simple medical costs. Rebecca Skloot became intrigued with the person behind the cells and as a result brought recognition to Henrietta's family and a little bit of peace.

One of those rare books where the author was able to bring together both the science and the family story. The book flashes between the past where Henrietta's story is told from the very beginning to the present day, where Skloot tries to convince the Lacks family that she is only after the real story. As a result you end up with the best of both worlds. It was cleverly done.

Clever in other ways too. The author shows just how much those cells have helped with medical breakthroughs. The big one is the one I already mentions, the Polio vaccination. They also continue to be used and it is hoped still that they will give an insight into cancer. So on that side I found myself intrigued and amazed that this small group of cells could do so much. On the other hand you are made to see what the family went through and you have to wonder was it worth it to them. They certainly didn't benefit. Instead their life has been make more difficult and it's almost as if their mother and wife was taken away from them. At no point did anyone sit down and explain exactly what it meant.

The author pushed it further by talking about the ethics of it. The cells were taken against the wishes of Henrietta and her family. It brought about the fear of being taken away and experimented on which wasn't as far fetched as you would think. It certainly opened my eyes.

A fantastic read, full of information with a human side. It was easier to read than most non-fiction as it was almost told as though it was a story. I would definitely recommend it.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - Robert Louis Stevenson

Two very close friends of Dr Jekyll have begun to notice some odd behaviour from Mr Hyde and have begun discussing it. It mainly concerns his friend Mr Hyde. Mr Hyde is an odious little man who ran over a small child without caring or looking back. Somehow the kindhearted Dr Jekyll has given Mr Hyde the run of his home and sole heir of his money should he go missing for any reason. Both friends are naturally concerned and begin investigating what possible hold Mr Hyde can have over Dr Jekyll and how they can help. Little do they realise that Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde are one and the same person and Dr Jekyll is quickly losing his hold on life.

I loved this book the first time I read it and loved it just as much this time round. It is set up well. It begins slowly with the concern of Jekyll's two close friends which at first seems like mild gossip. It's a short tale which progresses very quickly into horror as these two friends begin to believe that Dr Jekyll is in danger. It then finishes with all the horror out in the open as we hear from Dr Jekyll himself and he reveals that he is losing himself to Mr Hyde. Very well done for such a short story.

It's not just a story of horror but of good versus evil. Here Dr Jekyll is a mild mannered man who is well thought of by friends, colleagues and his servants. He tries to rid himself of his darker half and instead ends up battling his darker side and losing. It symbolises what many people go through internally as we all have our own dark thoughts. You can't help but feel sorry for both. Dr Jekyll for his failures and the horror of his failure and what he has to live with as a result. As for Mr Hyde, as horrible as he is, all he wants is his freedom and he is fighting for it in a big way.

A fantastic book and I do recommend it to everyone. It's nothing like Treasure Island and for that reason I always forget that it is Stevenson who authored the book. For some strange reason I have it stuck in my head that fellow Scot, Arthur Conan Doyle, is the author and have to correct myself.

This was re-read for The League of Extraordinary Gentleman challenge and the main character we are focusing on is of course Jekyll and Hyde. The character has changed somewhat for the film. The film version has Jekyll as a much younger man and Hyde as a larger, hulk, like man. In the book Hyde is much smaller than Jekyll. In both though Jekyll is fighting his darker half and is loath to set him loose whilst Hyde is constantly fighting to be free.

Hanna of Booking In Heels is the organiser of this challenge and you can see what others have been reading for it here. In case you missed it from my previous post this was May's post and June's will be Dorian Gray.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

May Overview/ Month Ahead

June already? Really? This year is going far too fast for my liking. See what happens when you are busy and enjoying it.

Despite essays and placement and uni work I have had an amazing reading month. Without the aid of a readathon I have managed to read the same number of books this month as I did last. I'm actually impressed with myself but to be honest I think it comes down to waiting on the train home. Anyway, it has been a good month although I am so very far behind my reviews. A few of them are for challenges otherwise I would do them all on a mini review post. Here is my list of books.

1. The Sense of An Ending - Julian Barnes
2. Martin Misunderstood - Karin Slaughter
3. Preacher: Gone to Texas - Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon
4. Blindsighted - Karin Slaughter
5. Mrs Dalloway - Virginia Woolf
6. House Rules - Jodi Picoult
7. Cities In Flight - James Blish
8. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - Robert Louis Stevenson
9. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Slacks - Rebecca Skloot
10. The Sisters Brothers - Patrick DeWitt
11. Virals - Kathy Reichs.

My favourite book of the month is probably the only non-fiction which is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Slacks. I'm not going to say too much about it as I have still to review it. It's closely followed the the Julian Barnes and the Patrick DeWitt. I also loved my only re-read which was the Jekyll and Hyde. Least favourite was Martin Misunderstood which was just a very bad novella. This was closely followed by Virals which I have still to review.

Challenge Overview

 May last year was actually the month I started reading a classic every month. I meant to post about it but haven't quite gotten round to it. Anyway for the challenge I read Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. My first by this author and I loved it. It has so much depth to it than you would think considering the main story is of an upper class lady organising a party. A fantastic read but sadly I didn't do the question post which was about the period of the book. Hopefully I will take part in June's. I actually finished June's book today. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark which was amazing. It's on the back of the review queue though.
 Again still to review it but I read The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevensons. A re-read for me and a good one. I got to fall in love with it all over again. I actually should have read the Picture of Dorian Gray since I have been reading them in the order listed but I accidentally skipped it. Possibly unconsciously since I hated this book the first time I read it. I am planning on reading it this month but we shall see.
 May's category was graphic novel and I read the first in the Preacher series. I have to say that it wasn't my favourite of the few graphic novels I have read so far and won't be reading others in the series. Glad I gave it a go though. This months category is crime and I have picked Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carre. I know not everyone classes this spy classic as crime but that's where we used to shelve it back in the day and so that's what I am classing it as. Have only just started this one.
There was no book choice last month but I was going with my own anyway since I am on a book buying ban. I picked Cities In Flight by James Blish which has a mixed review from me. It had me engrossed in parts and bored in others. This month The Flowers of Algernon by Daniel Keyes. Technically I am still on the book buying ban but I have been wanting to read this one. If I decide not to I will read an Alistair Reynolds instead.

Other than that I haven't anything else planned. I am just going to see what I am in the mood for. That's what I did in May and it worked well. Anyone got anything exciting lined up for this month?

Cities In Flight - James Blish

Exploration has stagnated. In order to overcome this a few things have to happen. Better technology needs to be discovered and the human life needs to be expanded. The problem is that there are politicians who are against seeing this happen as it could also spell the end of Western society. The result is that years down the line whole cities are escaping into space to get away from the grip of Earth leaders. Manhattan is one such city which has left the Earth and now makes it's living from mining for planets that don't have the technology. Unfortunately times aren't always good and New York finds itself in some sticky situations which the Mayor must get them out of in order to protect the city at all costs.

I read this a few weeks ago and this is actually May's Sci Fi book. A wee bit late in the review and to be honest I have a fair few to catch up with.

The novel is split up into several sections and it turns out most of these sections were published individually during the 1950's. I don't think they were published altogether until the 1970's. The first two sections are different from the rest. The first one is set in out present time (which would have been the future to Blish). It's all very sciencey and political as one politition is trying to bring about space flight. I don't actually know why he is doing it. Something to do with the fall of the West which he believes to be inevitable. Possibly he thinks that this will save a small aspect of it but I wasn't to clear on that. As I said it is sciencey and political which do sometimes go hand in hand with sci fi. Especially with classic sci fi. I don't mind that and have in fact been known to very much enjoy it. I do need just a glimmer of human interest though. No matter how much the author tried with the characters in this section it just wasn't there. So it is maybe a good thing that none of these characters made an appearance later on. I am glad that I didn't invest anything in them because I would have been very annoyed by their lack of appearance again even if this section was published earlier than the rest.

The second section had that human interest aspect. I was about to give up with the book so I greatly welcomed it and finally began enjoying it. This one was written from the point of view of a young boy who ends up on one of those flying cities. It's there that we learn about city society and how Earth police hate them. They call themselves hobos who look for work where they can get it then move on again. Hard to imagine Manhattan as a hobo but it was an interesting plot line. Sadly the boy disappears from the story and the remaining sections are from the point of view of Manhattan's mayor. Interesting at first but as the sections became formulaic I became bored and was glad when I had finished.

If you like your sci fi sciencey and don't mind lack of human interest or repetativeness then you will like this. It was a well written book I just found it a little dull. The parts I really liked just weren't long enough for me. I would have happily read that one section on it's own.

As I have said already this was for the sci fi challenge which is hosted by Ellie of Curiosity Killed The Bookworm. You can find what others read here.