Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Man of My Dreams - Curtis Sittenfeld

This is the second time that I have read The Man of My Dreams by Curtis Sittenfeld, and this blog is an adaptation of my original blog post on my earlier blog, Bibliolic. I have read a couple of the author's other books, Prep and American Wife, both of which are so different, they could have been written by different people. This book was written after Prep, and they are quite similar, in that they focus on youth and growing up. Prep is set in a boarding school, while The Man of My Dreams focuses on the life of a girl who together with her Mum and sister has faced domestic abuse, with her father throwing them out of their house after years of bullying. The story describes her relationships as she grows into adulthood, and her visits to a therapist because she believes she has issues. She feels that everyone else is functional and she is the one who is the problem, but that is not always the case, as she eventually discovers. Her relationship with her Dad remains poor throughout, and this has an effect on her relationships with men and her very low self-esteem. She seems to pick totally unsuitable men, perhaps because she is not ready for a relationship.The main character, Hannah, is quite frustrating sometimes, and often you just want to give her a shake and say, "Why are you like this?" but of course she has her reasons, and also she is quite young and naive. The last section brings everything together, and reminded me exactly why I really like this book.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Wonderboys - Michael Chabon - A Review by Caroline

The Sunday Times were offering Waterstones vouchers enabling you to choose from a different title every week and buy it for 99p. I bought Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon. I absolutely love the film, and I am delighted to say that it was pretty true to the book. The story focuses around a published author who has been writing his next best-seller for the past seven years, while spending most of that time stoned, teaching, and getting married or having affairs. It got a little bit lost in the middle, but it was actually really good to read. I have to admit the film version of Grady Tripp was far more tolerable than the book version, but Crabtree remains the same in both. At one point, I really didn't like Grady in the book, and I did wonder why I was reading the book, but I was determined to persevere, and as it came to the end when everything came together, I found that I had discovered a new and interesting author. I also enjoyed the way the author focused so much on the skill of writing. Anyway, I shall be checking out some of his other books in the future.

Wonderboys - Michael Chabon - A Review by Padraig

This book came as a recommendation.  It also sat on our bookshelves for several years, calling out occasionally: 'read me; go on, read me; you'll enjoy it.'  So I did.  And in fairness the opening pages, even the first night's read, filled me with a familiar jealousy - Chabon can describe the minutiae of detail deliciously.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, that experience then ended, and what came next was a determined trawl through a book that had all the dramatic tension of drying paint - drying paint with some self-indulgent self-disgust thrown in for laughs.

Anyway, the blurb and credits told me that Wonderboys is hilarious; so if you like Chabon's humour, go for it.  Personally, I shall leave Chabon on the shelves, occasionally calling to me, for some time to come.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Murder is Easy - Agatha Christie

Please look away now if you are easily offended.  The following sentences make some anachronistic reference to cats.

One of the things that I like about Agatha Christie, a quality that means that I have moved straight on to a new Christie novel, is that she was writing from a different age.  Her social comments then - for example, the tensions between different generations, give us some sense of how things have, and have not changed.

What stood out for me - as a lover of language - is the use of pussy, or 'old pussy' to describe the ageing spinster women in the village of Wychwood.  The phrase is somewhat pejorative; it describes single women who are gossips, inclined to be fanciful and likely to have a cat as their closest companion.  Christie uses the word with a casual affection, however; and her 'old pussies', as Miss Marple, or Miss Pinkerton in this case, ably demonstrate, are generally underestimated - they are the ones who solve the crime.

Which, of course, is what I didn't do.  I knew who the killer was from the first moment I met the character.  Then, having followed a narrative that introduced a range of other plausible suspects, my suspicions were confirmed - my chosen suspect was the one.  Christie, however, simply toys with her readers - me as well.  She allowed me a few pages of I knew I was right smugness before she upended the novel and showed me that I was wrong all along.  Well done you 'old pussy'

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Michael Crichton, writing as John Lange

I am a huge fan of Michael Crichton, although I preferred his older books (Andromeda Strain, Timeline, The First Great Train Robbery, Congo, Jurassic Park, Sphere) to his newer ones (Rising Son, Disclosure). I suppose it was the fantasy and creative elements of the early ones; they really challenged the imagination. I remember the twist in Jurassic Park (the book, not the film), which was so fantastic. I was such a fan, that I even read his autobiography, Travels, which was so brilliant, that bizarrely, I left a few pages unread, because I didn't want it to end. Michael Crichton seems to have been a remarkable man. So, you can imagine my delight, when I discovered that he had also written under a pseudonym! John Lange, recently republished by Hard Case Crime, and written in the late 60s early 70s, when he was a student at Harvard Medical School. He wrote eight books in six years. I have just read two of them, and although slightly raw in places, they were both fantastic, and as exciting and creative as all of his books. They were both proper action adventure stories, with a tiny little bit of romance thrown in.

Easy Go is about an illegal archaeological dig, looking for the last tomb, and it is brilliant, from the fabulous characters to the history and knowledge conveyed about the tombs in Egypt, to the amazing twist at the end.

Grave Descend is set in Jamaica, and focuses on a diver, who is recruited to bring up some treasure from a boat that has recently sunk. It is a complicated story, involving wartime treasure transported by boat to Jamaica, followed by the Sicilian mafia. I can't tell you what happens to the treasure, but it is a very exciting finish. I particularly liked reading about the diving at night experience, and also the walk through the jungle area. Great descriptions in both books, making me gasp when there was a scare! If you are a fan of Samuel Johnson (often referred to as Dr Johnson), there are some nice quotes throughout the book too.

The books are a little bit sexist perhaps, particularly the front covers, but that is understandable, given when they were written. Both of these books are real page turners, easy to read, interesting, and full of adventure, quite in the style of James Bond, but with the heroes a little more rugged, like Indiana Jones. I can't wait to read the rest of them now. Are there any other Michael Crichton fans out there? Which ones are your favourites?

Geek fact of the day: One of my favourite films is Hackers (great film, great soundtrack), and one of the characters is called Zero Cool, which is also the name of one of the books in this series!