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.