January / February 2013 Book reviews

February 24, 2013

***** 5 Star – Extremely engaging, conceptually fascinating, masterfully written.

  • The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972) by Angela Carter. Disturbing. Creative. Surreal. Like nothing I’ve read before.
  • Primeval and Other Times (1996) by Olga Tokarczuk. Mythical. Unusual. Surreal. Like nothing I’ve read before. Link to review.

**** 4 Star – Very engaging and well-written.

  • Science Fiction, the New Critical Idiom (2000) by Adam Roberts. I only read the chapters on race and gender, but they were ace.
  • My Stroke of Insight (2006) by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D. This book was extremely difficult to rate. The author is a brain-scientist who had a stroke, survived and recovered. There are a few amazing parts to the book, particularly her detailed, step-by-step re-telling of the stroke and what it felt like. Other parts of the story were a bit repetitive, but that didn’t bother too much because of the overall positive message.
  • The Age of Miracle (2012) by Karen Thompson Walker. Speculative fiction.

*** 3 Star – Fine for a holiday 

  • Gone Girl (2008) by Gillian Flynn. Crime. The first half was much better – rating up at 4 stars –  with a particularly smart writing style. The book just got too farfetched after that.
  • Roadside Picnic (1972) by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky. I was expecting a lot more from this novel, but I fear it lost quite a lot in the terrible translation into American-English. I’ll just have to watch the film version (titled “Stalker”) made by Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky in 1979.

** 2 Star – Pages were skipped to get to the end.

  • A Child’s True Book of Crime (2012) by Chloe Hooper. Sorry Chloe.

* 1 Star – Don’t bother.

  • I’m glad there were no books in this section. 

Snippets 100th Post! Review: books I read in 2012

January 10, 2013

***** 5 Star – Extremely engaging, conceptually fascinating, masterfully written.

  • The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) by Margaret Atwood.
  • Concrete Island (1973) by J.G. Ballard.
  • Highrise (1975) by J.G. Ballard. Best opening line for a book, ever.
  • The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (1982) by Philip K. Dick. This was the last book written before his death and addressed the usual themes: madness vs reality, belief systems, life after death.
  • Solaris (1961) by Stanislaw Lem. Polish author. This amazing story was made into an amazing film by Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky in 1972.
  • Londoners: The Days and Nights of London Now… (2012) by Craig Taylor. Non-fiction. Fascinating.
  • Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985) by Jeanette Winterson.

**** 4 Star – Very engaging and well-written.

  • The Steep Approach to Garbadale (2007) by Iain M. Banks
  • The Man in the High Castle (1962) by Philip K. Dick.
  •  Two Steps Forward (2011) by Irma Gold. Australian author. Highly recommended. Hang on, maybe this should have 5 stars?
  • The Sailor who fell from Grace (1963) by Yukio Mishima. Somewhat disturbing.
  • The Prime of Miss Brodie (1961) by Murial Spark. Funny.
  • The Garden of Evening Mists (2012) by Tan Twan Eng. Quite a page turner even though it’s a bit unbelievable in places.
  • EcoHouse 2. A Design Guide (2003) by Sue Roaf. Non- Fiction

*** 3 Star – Fine for a holiday 

  • The Hunger Games (2008) by Suzanne Collins.
  • Blackwater (1993) by Kirsten Ekman. Swedish Crime.
  • Stasiland (2003) by Anna Funder. A great example of how an author can ruin some fascinating subject matter- I didn’t enjoy the author’s somewhat pompous voice.
  • The Dark Wet (2011) by Jess Huon
  • Drink, Smoke, Pass Out (2012) by Judith Lucy. There’s a certain skill required in making a reader laugh out loud on almost every page. This would’ve rated higher if the book wasn’t so closely related in content to the author’s recent TV show. (Spiritual Journey)
  • Thérèse Raquin (1867) by Emile Zola. I learnt that In mid-19th century France the morgue operated an open-house viewing of corpses to aid in identification. It was also a popular kind of entertainment for all walks of life.

** 2 Star – Pages were skipped to get to the end.

  • We All Fall Down (2012) by Peter Barry
  • Frankenstein (1818) by Mary Shelley. Considering how long ago this was written, I know this book deserves more stars- it’s just that I was bored out of my brains whilst reading it. I did, however, learn what a “charnel house” is.

* 1 Star – Don’t bother.

  • Money (1984) by Martin Amis, I got interested in this author because he had written Invasion of the Space Invaders only two years earlier.  So I was disappointed to read Money – it was billed as a great tongue-in -cheek black comedy, but I just couldn’t see the humour in the main character: an ugly, drunk, misogynist, capitalist, travelling the world to be obnoxious. I didn’t bother finishing it.
  • Hotel Iris (2010) by Yoko Ogawa. There seems to be a certain genre of modern Japanese stories which are selected to be translated into English; often containing sex and violence. This story was about a much older man and a 17 year old school girl involved in a sadomasochistic relationship. Not my cup of tea.

Review: books I read in 2011

January 22, 2012

The Top 3

  • The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) by Ursula K. Leguin. Although this book is set on an imaginary planet of ice (where characters wear great fur outfits), it covers topics of racism, cross-cultural understanding/misunderstanding, fear and acceptance of difference, and political intrigue. The chapters alternate between two culturally different characters’ points of view as well as some historical background to each of them. A beautiful story.
  • A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010) by Jennifer Egan. This book has won some awards- and rightly so. I enjoyed the setting (and critique) of the American music industry. I also found the book quite moving, sad in places and I suppose bittersweet. Each chapter is set in a different time frame and/or location through the eyes of separate, but interrelated characters. I cannot seem to do this book justice so you may wish to read The Guardian review to get a better idea. Not recommended for the Kindle – apparently the powerpoint diary chapter doesn’t display well.
  • The Year of the Hare (1975) by Arto Paasilinna. A hilarious story about a Finnish journalist who isn’t enjoying his boring city life and unexpectedly drops out of conventional society. He rescues an injured hare and takes it with him on his trip into the wilderness- picking up part-time work and saving cows from bush-fires along the way.

The Disappointment

  • IQ84 (Books 1-3, 2009-10) by Haruki Murakami. This book was not the masterpiece it was supposed to be. I felt I could hear (read?) the voice of an author growing into an old conservative Japanese man. The main female character seemed stereotypically oppressed. (Maybe this is just a realistic interpretation of the position of the female in Japanese society.) On one hand, she was sickenly obsessed with her image and clothing and on the other, she was a driven, tough, intelligent vigilante. This book has some stange fantastical moments. It is written well and weaves together seemingly separate characters in an enjoyably slow, yet engaging, pace. Unfortunately, in my opinion, it is just a conventional love-story dressed-up as fantasy. You are much better off skipping the 900-odd pages and going back to the author’s earlier work The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1998).

The Old Favourite

  • The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1998) by Haruki Murakami. I never thought I would read books twice, but I really do love this novel and re-visited it in 2011. It is a very creative, unique and well-told story. There are alternate realities included.

Speculative Fiction with a Drop of Fantasy

  • Parable of the Sower (1993) by Octavia E. Butler. What happens when corporations take control of water supplies; poverty, fear and violence is on the rise; and people live in compounds to protect themselves? In a not so distant future, a teenager leaves her compound, in search of a better life. It’s a believable situation with a fantastically strong, positive female lead-character on a journey.
  • Transition (2009) by Iain Banks – Oh what a fast-paced and thrilling action-novel this is! There is lots of movement and surprise in the story. There is a torture scene I skipped, but apart from that, highly recommended.
  • The City & the City (2009) by China Mieville – This modern author has some very fascinating ideas and a fascinating first name. This book made me think about space in a new way. It also made me think about 3D modelling and computer games. Lastly it made me think of Arthur C. Clarke’s The City and the Stars which is a mind-blowingly futuristic novel for 1961, a classic which I prefer over The City and the City. In Mieville’s book I found the dialogue between characters too artificial. There was also something about the writing style which irked me.
  • The Female Man (1975) by Joanna Russ – I don’t really know what this book is about. I was trying to catch up on female sci-fi authors and discovered this one about several time-travellers of ambiguous genders. It’s a weird book. I heard it was radical for its time. I found it quite radical.
  • Vermilion Sands (Short-story collection, 1971) by J. G. Ballard. Interactive/replicating sound sculptures, flying stingrays, flying machines, plants which respond to music, disturbed women. Nice creative Sunday afternoon stuff.
  • The Drought (1965) by J. G. Ballard. There is a character named “Quilter” in this story who adorns himself with a dead peacock. It is a queer (odd) and compelling read – as most Ballard novels are. Instead of trying to escape the situation which has brought hardship, the central character immerses himself within it. I love reading Ballard and have to make sure I evenly pace myself with his novels- unfortunately no new titles are going to be published posthumously.

Crime / Thriller

  • In the Woods (2007) by Tana French. Irish crime. I got sucked right in to this compelling crime book. Lots of interesting characters, especially the investigating detectives. Very good entertainment.
  • The Broken Shore (2008) by Peter Temple. Australian crime. Short, punchy writing style with great descriptions of regional communities. Very good.
  • Garnethill (2007) by Denise Mina. You can read my polite review of a shit book here. Extremely poorly written.

Book Review: “The Preacher” by Camilla Läckberg

February 2, 2010

It’s not difficult to tell trash from treasure in the sea of Scandinavian crime fiction. The Preacher by Camilla Läckberg falls into into the trashier group, but that doesn’t mean it was a boring book. I was turning pages quickly and was oblivious to how the story would unfold near the end. Slightly gratuitous in descriptions of violence in parts, the writing is sometimes clumsy so I wasn’t surprised to read that the author was once an economist who took a course in creative crime writing. Great inspiration to those who think about totally changing their career though – Lackberg has written four Swedish No.1 bestsellers.

If you are looking for real trash reading, (akin to hundreds of pages of New Weekly magazine neatly printed in a book) then go for Michael Jackson: The Magic & the Madness an unauthorised biography written by J. Randy Taraborrelli in 2004. Or the epic Brando: The Biography by Peter Manso. Totally worth the one thousand pages to read about Marlon’s semi-tamed pet racoon that outgrew the house it was sharing with the actor.

Camilla Läckberg

Book Review: “Roseanna” by Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö

January 10, 2010

First published in 1968, Roseanna is the first in a series of ten books written by this Swedish husband and wife team. The book has a fresh modern style, with clues to its vintage becoming apparent when characters use typewriters, send telegrams and wait days for vital information to arrive in the mail from overseas locations. The storyline revolves around the discovery of a young female body dredged from a Swedish lake and the subsequent investigation into her murder by Detective Inspector Martin Beck.
Much more engaging than old Law and Order SVU episodes (and I am a big fan), the book has a creeping pace with a nail-biter of an ending. Did you enjoy the Danish Police Drama Unit One? I did. And I really enjoyed this book. The landscapes, settings and characters have similarities….Now I am getting rather obsessed with Scandinavian Crime Fiction.

Book Review: “Super-Cannes” by J.G.Ballard

October 12, 2009

It is difficult to write a review of a book that you cannot make total sense of, but I will do my best.

For the first half of this book, I was surprised that the plot almost exactly mirrored Ballard’s earlier novel “Cocaine Nights”: Man arrives in self-isolated enclave and tries to solve a mystery. In doing so he becomes inducted and entangled in a way of life which at first shocked him.

This way of life is set in a gated all-in-one residential/business park. The overworked employee-residents are bored and sick of the long hours and associated lifestyle. Swimming pools and holidays won’t cure their boredom, but participating in super violence and criminal undertakings seem to improve the residents’ health and cure disengagement.

I intermittently questioned the realism of the story– why aren’t the authorities involved? Why won’t anyone tell the police? Yet in the end, this lack of realism is a welcome relief. For if we easily believe that aspects of Super-Cannes too-realistically represent our modern lives and those we see represented in the media, the book would become a horror story.

Super-Cannes made me think about the nature of work, leisure and violence in society. I questioned my role in corporate indoctrination and capitalist culture and I considered society’s desensitisation to violence. If you find any of those topics interesting and enjoy a surreal mystery story, you should read this book.

Book Review: “My Family Alphabet” by Judith Lucy

October 12, 2009

This book is a non-linear autobiography of an Australian comedian, Judith Lucy. Lucy’s relentless snippets of family dysfunction would almost become depressing if it weren’t for her humorous writing style. I laughed out extremely loud whilst reading this book, especially at all the politically incorrect actions and quotes of Lucy’s relatives.
I think these stories are so poignant because I can
see aspects of my family’s (and friends’ families) interactions in Lucy’s stories. This is an appropriate book to get a close friend for Christmas or a birthday.