Monday, 28 February 2011

World Book Night Challenge 20/25

The Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood

This book leads me to another confession. I haven't actually re-read this one for World Book Night.

I only read this one last summer and I found it such a struggle then that I just couldn't face reading it again.

I'm not sure why I found it so hard going, usually I find Atwood's historical novels gripping - Alias Grace is a book I have read more than once and Cat's Eye is a book I had to replace as my copy fell apart.

This one was just long and turgid and I didn't like any of the characters particularly. Also I dislike this book because it made me feel bad - it should have been just my sort of book, but it wasn't, thus there was something wrong with me not the book. Irrational I know.

I did think about giving the book another go, just to see if I read it at the wrong time before but as it was less than 8 months since I read it and because the 5th of March is coming every closer I decided to skip it. It would take event me a long time to read 656 pages and there are still 5 books I've not read before to get through.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

World Book Night Challenge 19/25

Northern Lights - Philip Pullman

This was one of the books that I wasn't really looking forward to (re)reading. It is a book that I have read before, and heard as an audio book, but that has always left me a little cold.

I'm not sure why this should be, I like a lot of fantasy and science fiction novels and I like Mr Pullman immensely.

This time around I did enjoy the book more. I remembered the broad plot so I found myself concentrating on the smaller details. Pullman is a very good storyteller as I did lose myself in the book several times, it just doesn't stand out to me as a great book and certainly not one I'd want to take to a desert island.

I'm pleased I read it again but I still have no interest in reading the 2 follow ups.

Mr Norfolkbookworm on the other hand read the trilogy some years ago and did enjoy it.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

World Book Night Enthusiam

World Book Night on a reading level has been great fun so far but from a work point of view a little more stressful.

Organising such a huge project must be a nightmare if just working out how the library is going to celebrate is anything to go by.

However today everything seems to have fallen in to place. People are coming in to collect their books and our big event is organised.

On March 5th Ben MacIntyre, author of one of the 25 books chosen for the World Book Night give away, will be at the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library giving a talk.
Details can be found here.
There will also be live music and best of all a book-swap, this is your chance to give out (and receive) all of the lovely WBN titles.
The library will also be open as normal with lots of other readings suggestions, March is the library service Great Big Read month and there are dozens of shiny new books to chose from.

I also got confirmation today that I will be receiving 48 copies of a book to give out and best of all this will be my first choice of All Quiet on the Western Front. This will be one of the books swapped on the 5th...

Enough excitement for one day - back to the reading!

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

World Book Night Challenge 18/25

Dissolution - C J Sansom

I wasn't sure what to expect with this one at all. I like historical fiction but dislike crime fiction - which stall would this fall in to?

To my great delight I found this brilliant. I've read a lot of fiction set in Elizabethan age but not so much from the time of Henry VIII and this made a great introduction.

Set at the time of the Dissolution Mathew Shardlake, a favourite of Cromwell, is sent to investigate the murderous happenings at one of the Monasteries that is about to be closed down. Sadly he doesn't prevent more deaths from happening but the way the story unfolds is gripping, the twists and turns keep the story moving without creating too much confusion and each time I thought I guessed 'who dunnit' more story unravelled.

I think that what I liked the most is the growth of the main characters, Shardlake and his apprentice. During the course of the story they learn more about the world around them and about themselves and in many ways I found their development just as gripping as the main plot.

This was a really pleasant surprise from the list, one I'd left until late on because I thought I'd find it a struggle but in the end one I raced through. Oh and I've treated myself to the sequel to read very soon.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Theatrical Interlude 2

Wicked (Apollo Victoria, London) February 2011

I read the novel that this musical is based on many years ago and really wasn't impressed, then about 2 years ago I heard the a couple of songs from the musical on some television programme or another and was hooked. Since then I've listened to the full sound track many times and looked forward to seeing the stage version.

It didn't disappoint at all. Even before the curtain rises the theatre feels magical, bathed in green light with a set that creeps out from behind the curtain.

The costumes, sets and choreography are all mind blowing and the voices of the actors equally impressive. Every word of every song or piece of dialogue was audible and at no point did the orchestra drown anyone out.

An understudy, not even credited in the programme, was playing the role of Elpheba when we saw the show but you'd never have known, and in fact I have seen the current lead actress in another musical and found her native accent very off putting so I was pleased in many ways that she wasn't on stage!

There was not a thing to criticise about the performance.

The audience on the other hand drove me to distraction. If you can't sit still and be quiet for just over an hour at a time then don't go to the theatre! Also I know that there were a lack of loos at the theatre but it is just plain rude to leave during the last song of each act just to beat the queues. Grrr.

These were minor distractions and I'd go and see the show again like a shot.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

World Book Night Challenge 17/25

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - Mark

I read this book when it was first published back in 2003 and while I remember it being an okay book I was surprised when it won so many awards.
9 years on that remains my main thought about this book.

I admire the way that Haddon seems to create the world of a young adult male with autism but neither being male nor (fortunately) suffering from autism I just found that the book frustrated me.

Being a literate person the sign posting of important events seemed too obvious to me and I was frustrated that the book really was that simple for me to understand. I think I was reading it expecting another layer to the story that just wasn't there.

In fact the main emotion I feel on finishing this book is anger.
I am about to read The Hound of the Baskervilles - it is top of my to read pile once I finish the WBN challenge - and Haddon gives away the whole plot without warning.

I can see that this is a brave attempt to explain the world of a young adult with autism who doesn't see the world in the same way as I do but my cynical side kept asking me how realistic it was, how can Haddon write this book while not suffering from the condition himself?
Realistically I know that this is the sign of a good author, being able to create a world like this, but knowing some people with autism and how hard they find it to explain the world I wonder if it is how Haddon imagines.

I can't coherently express my thoughts for this book. It isn't a book I enjoyed and to be honest I can't see why it won as many awards as it did, however with my perverse hat on I can see that it is a brave book and why it won as many plaudits as it did.

A book I'm glad I read as a library book, probably not one I will read again but ultimately a thought provoking read. All I have to do now is forget the spoilers for Hound of the Baskervilles...

Thursday, 17 February 2011

World Book Night Challenge 16/25

Case Histories - Kate Atkinson

I wasn't sure if I was going to like this book at all, blind prejudice on my part for this thought - my library book came with the letters CRI on the spine saying that this was a crime fiction novel. One of my least favourite genres.

Happily my first impressions were wrong. Or perhaps the classification is wrong?

The novel opens with three crimes that have taken place in and around Cambridge over the past few decades. Each of the cases is somewhat unresolved and family members have turned to Jackson Brodie, an ex policeman turned Private Investigator, to find out exactly what happened.

The book isn't really about the solving of the crimes, it is a study into people and how crimes have an effect for decades on the people left behind.

It was a great read, but for me not a perfect book.
There were too many strands to the story and either the book wasn't long enough or the resolution to the stories was too abrupt for my liking. There are more books featuring Jackson Brodie but I won't be in a hurry to look them out but on the other hand I won't be avoiding them either.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

World Book Night Challenge 15/25

Beloved - Toni Morrison

I have to admit my first failure in the challenge with this title.
This isn't the first time I've tried and failed with the book. Back last autumn this was one of the 10 books we featured at the library's Banned Book event. I got to about page 60 that time.

I've had a copy out of the library now for the maximum time possible (3 renewals or 9 weeks) and this time I've made it to page 200. I
'm just not enjoying the book at all. I can't follow the plot and what I am following I'm not really understanding or taking in. I've tried reading it during the day and in bed at night but it makes no difference I just can't get on with the book.

As I am on a tight schedule for trying to read all of the books by World Book Night I am going to admit defeat on this one and the moment and return it to the library so someone else can enjoy it. I don't like being defeated by a book so I will go back to it after the challenge and try again, or I might do the unthinkable and just watch the film.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

World Book Night Challenge 14/25

Life of Pi - Yann Martel

This was another eBook read, in fact at Christmas my mobile phone provider gave away lots of free gifts and a copy of this was one of them (in fact it was the only one I took advantage of) but due to format it was a book I read on the iPhone and not the Kindle.

I'm sure that we have a physical copy of this somewhere around the house and I know that Mr Bookworm read it many years ago, for some reason I'd avoided it until now.

I don't know what I thought the book was about but it certainly wasn't anything like I imagined. I loved the bits about life in India, the comparisons of religion and the epic journey. I felt like I was living life alongside Pi, and later on Richard Parker. The writing was so good and evocative that I felt seasick along with characters- I could smell India and the zoo.

And then it lost me.

A cannibalistic island and the idea that Richard Parker was in fact a human...? The transition jarred me out of the happy reading place I was in. To me it was like Martel had suddenly taken some mind altering substance but not stopped writing.

I might have missed the point, but I could believe the bit about surviving with a tiger on a lifeboat but it was the rest that broke my brain. The notes for reading groups at the end didn't help either.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

World Book Night Challenge 13/25

Killing Floor - Lee Child

Lee Child came to give a talk at the Library last April and he was a very nice guy. He was entertaining and when he read from his books he really sold them to me. In short this was a book that I'd never normally even look at but when I saw it was on the list I was pleased.

Oh dear. I really must stop having these expectations. I came very close to not finishing this one, and to physically throwing it across the room in disgust. Friends said it would be fine to give up - after all I'd read over 200 pages, but Mr Norfolkbookworm pointed out that it would mean I'd fail the whole challenge if I gave up.

The book doesn't have a sentence with more than 15 words in it. The only punctuation appears to be the full stop. It is like being shouted at. Some sentences don't have verbs. The violent scenes (eye gouging, throat slitting...) had the longest sentences and these made my stomach turn. I also spotted the 'twist' as soon as the character appeared. The sex scenes are certainly contenders for the bad sex award.

I'm not normally so negative about books but I can't say I'm glad I read this one, in fact I think that it ranks very close to being one of the worst books I've finished of all time. I'd rather read a Mills and Boon novel than another Lee Child book. Which is a shame as he was a nice guy and when he read from his books they sounded okay.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Theatrical Interlude 1

Hairspray (Theatre Royal, Norwich) February 2011

In addition to my reading challenges for the year I am also making more of an effort to see more films and theatre this year.

I live in a city that was a close runner up for the 2013 City of Culture, and only 2 hours from London, and so this year I plan on deciding what to see at the cinema and theatre and then booking the tickets and going, rather than humming and then missing out on everything.

To this end I've seen, and loved, The King's Speech at the cinema already, plus a local am-dram performance.

Last night I went to see the touring production of Hairspray. It was fabulous. I only knew two of the songs in advance, and didn't have a clue about the plot. I'm probably one of the few people who hasn't seen either film version.

None of that mattered from the moment the curtain went up to the very end I found it brilliant, the story was easy to follow, the songs toe tappingly good and the acting and dancing outstanding.
I have 2 left feet (occasionally it feels like 3 left feet I am so clumsy and accident prone) but after seeing this I want to learn to dance.

All I can say is a big thank you to a colleague who came at the last minute when Mr Norfolkbookworm decided that it wasn't his thing at all, seeing a play/musical/show with someone who is enjoying it is so much more fun!

I walked to work listening to the soundtrack this morning and it was so bouncy and cheerful that it took me 5 minutes less than normal to get there!
Next up is Wicked! with another friend/colleague - I can't wait.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

World Book Night Challenge 12/25

The Reluctant Fundamentalist - Mohsin Hamid

This is a book that I've picked up, looked at and then put down again on many occasions but I wish I had read it a long time ago. It blew me away.

The story telling style is so intimate, two men sitting in a restaurant in Lahore as one tells his life story to the other. One is a native Pakistani who has lived, studied and worked in America. The other is a nervous American who is uneasy in the other's company and country.

The story unfolds beautifully, it is wonderfully understated and totally enthralling. The protagonist doesn't hide his less savoury activities but they aren't extraneous to the tale, they are just what makes him the character that he is.

I'm being deliberately vague here because it is the gentle unfolding of this tale that spoke to me the most and I want everyone to have the chance to discover it for themselves. I realise that calling about a book about a religious fundamentalist 'gentle' sounds odd but it really is the best way I can think of to describe the book.

I've not been chosen as a Book Giver on World Book Night but if I had to apply again now this would be one of the books I want to share with everyone.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

World Book Night Challenge 11/25

Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell

I feel that my challenge reading may now slow down as the books left are either ones that I've avoided for years or ones that I've started in the past and not enjoyed. I know for certain that without this one being a World Book Night title there is no chance that I would have persevered with it.

I'm not sure if I found the book clever or pretentious. It is comprised of six short stories that are all interlinked. Story one is a diary that stops mid sentence but is then 'found' in story two. One of the characters from story two reappears in three and so on. All of strand 6 is told in one go and then we count down again and end up finding out the end of story one at the very end.

I read this in eBook form on the Kindle (the first modern novel I'd read on the device) and I do wonder that if I'd had this in paper form I would have read it in a different way.

That is would I have read all of story one, then two etc rather than in the way it was written? I quite like short stories and so I would have just read the strands that appealed to me rather than slogging through some tales which really didn't appeal just to make sure I didn't miss a connecting strand.

Another book I'm pleased I've read but I'm not in a hurry to look out for any more novels by Mitchell.

Friday, 4 February 2011

World Book Night Challenge 10/25

All Quiet on the Western Front - Erich Maria Remarque.

This was another re-read for me but it has been a very long time since I last picked a copy of this up and apart from the bare bones of the story I had forgotten what an incredible piece of literature that it is.

I have read many novels set in the First World War, some for adults and some for children but it is this one that really emphasises for me just how bloody and pointless the conflict was.

Written by a German and focusing on the German experience of the trenches the book really brings home that the PBI really were the same on both sides, that neither side wanted to be there and that very few fighting in the trenches really knew exactly what the war was about and why they were there.

All Quiet follows one class of students who have been encouraged to join up by their class teacher. We learn about their training and the battles they have fought as slowly, one by one, they fall.

Remarque pulls no punches when he is describing both the day to day and combat experience, and it may not be for the faint hearted because of this. For me if I could only keep one novel about the First World War it would have to be this one. There is no glamourising of the conflict, it is brutal, stark and uncompromising. So honest in fact that it was banned in the 1930s in Nazi Germany for being defeatist and anti-German.

Of the 25 on the World Book Night list it was this one that I knew I had to apply for to be my give away. Even now having stretched myself and having tried lots of new styles and authors I don't regret this choice. It is a book that I feel everyone should read as a teenager, and then again as an adult.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

World Book Night Challenge 9/25

Rachel's Holiday - Marian Keyes

This is pure chick-lit indulgence and for me was another re-read. I haven't read any Marian Keyes for a while as I found her books started to become very samey but it was a pleasure to go back to this one.

Rachel is Irish but living in New York when she accidentally takes a drug overdose. Concerned friends and family think that she has an addiction problem and she comes home to Ireland and is checked into a rehab clinic. Rachel denies that she has a problem and the rest of the book is her coming to terms with her life, her family and her future.

It all sounds a little bleak but there is a lot of humour in the novel and it becomes more poignant when you read more of Keyes' non-fiction and realise that many of the things Rachel experiences Keyes' went through too as she is a recovering alcoholic.

I think that this is quite a brave book to put on the World Book Night list, it is unashamedly aimed at women, is quite dark and is hugely long at 640 pages.
However the story is good and while all the characters have problems you really do want them to win through, even if you don't always like them. I'm glad I reread the book and I might look out for more books by Keyes next time I am going on a beach holiday, I had forgotten how good she was.