Tag Archives: Summary

A Summary of Recent Books – Keyes, Harris, Plath, Mantel & Mièville

Things this side of the screen have been a little hectic of late. Many things have been occurring including family birthdays and holidays. This has led to me being a rather absent and awful book blogger as the blog sits empty but my read pile increases. The monthly summary for last month was forgotten and I’ve read a good eight books without even mentioning them here. A few of them will be reviewed very soon, but I thought it might be an idea to recap what I’ve read in mini reviews and then start a fresh later this week.

All of these books are well known and well reviewed already, so it seems pointless for me to waffle on about them. Some brief thoughts should suffice. (For some reason the formatting of this piece is messing up my star pictures for rating the books. Apologies for the simple scoring).

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

I’d always wanted to read Algernon and never quite got around to it. I’m so glad I finally did. The story follows Charlie Gordon as he undergoes surgery to raise his IQ. He is the first human subject to receive the procedure after its successful testing in mice – particularly Algernon a small white lab mouse. The book is told in journal style and has perhaps the best use of narrative that I’ve seen in quite some time.

Keyes writes Charlie as a simple soul, he is looked down on by society and labelled as a retard. The first journal entry is misspelt, features terrible grammar and Charlie tells of his workmates with whom he has fun. As Charlie becomes smarter he sees the truth in his world and becomes more confident as his writing becomes more eloquent.

The novel is utterly powerful and explores many aspects of the human condition while holding onto plenty of morals. Charlie is one of the most endearing characters I’ve spent time with and his journey is filled with both hope and pain. The ending is heartbreaking and intelligent and Keyes writes with so much soul that you can’t help but be moved by the story. This is truly the wonderful work I thought and hoped it would be. 5 Stars.

 

Fatherland by Robert Harris

I read this book as a result of a poll on Twitter. Fatherland won by a landslide and I dived right in. It had been a while since I read such a fast paced thriller and Harris doesn’t let up once you’re in his grip. The book explores life in Germany had Hitler won the Second World War and we join Xavier March as he tries to solve a murder case.

The wonderful thing about Harris’ novel is how he plays with the history that we know so well. The ‘What if’ idea works so well but it’s the story that Harris tells within that world that goes the extra mile. March has many suspenseful scenes as the plot twists and turns through events that transpired in our world but have been covered up to the sprawling German empire.

Fatherland does exactly what you want a thriller to do; it pulls you in with a simple premise and takes you through many brilliantly convoluted moments that will keep you guessing and turning the pages. It’s worth reading if you have any interest in WW2 and Hitler. I’m eager to read more of Harris and received The Fear Index for Christmas last year, so may get onto that soon. 4 Stars.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

I’d love to write for pages about the sheer beauty and brilliance of The Bell Jar, but I shan’t. This is mainly because I have a plan to tackle the subject of depression in a later post and incorporate this novel in those thoughts. What I will say is that as someone who was diagnosed with acute depression and anxiety six years ago I could relate to each and every page of this book. Plath writes the illness with such precision that whether you suffer or not you can step into the mind of such a person and feel how they would.

Of course it’s partly auto-biographical as Plath committed suicide (she suffered greatly from depression) after writing The Bell Jar, so we what see within the central character of Esther Greenwood is rather harrowing and ultimately upsetting. I don’t want to dive into the plot, all I want to say is that this book is so worth reading that I’m not sure how I can put into words how much I want people to grab a copy. 

It’s a short read, but it packs such a vast emotional punch that it will leave you thinking for days after. 5 Stars.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

What can I say about the Booker winning novel that depicts Tudor life? Well, in terms of story Mantel has taken some of the more important parts of our history and penned it in such a way as to not just bring it to life but to make it captivate the audience. Sure, some of it is a little dry in places and you would need at least a passing interest in Cromwell, Henry and his wives but what comes through is a passion for the past.

Wolf Hall follows the rise of Thomas Cromwell as he becomes one of Henry VIII’s most trusted courtiers. I love historical novels (not sure why it took so long for me to read this) and Mantel has worked a charm on the cast to make them both larger than life and also reveal unexpected traits that are often overlooked.

I’ll be honest and say that Mantel’s writing style didn’t really impress me until halfway through. Her structure leaves a lot to be desired and her dialogue can often be confusing with how she puts Cromwell as the main focus. Thankfully in Bring Up The Bodies (which I’m now reading) she has made it easier to read without removing the beautiful prose and character that litters Wolf hall. 4 Stars.

Perdido Street Station

I didn’t “read” this; I listened to it (that counts though, so there!). Mièville is a bloody genius and I hate him. Well, I don’t hate him; I think he’s probably one of the best writers in the UK and his awards and honours are totally deserved. The novel clocks in at 880 pages or 31 hours and 5 minutes to me, so I’m not going to explore the plot here.

What I want to talk about is the power that Mièville wields in his words. The man’s mind is brilliant. It’s the way in which he uses the mundane and makes it into something magnificent. He captures the imagination with simple premises that reveal complex and sprawling nuances. His characters leap from the words and become fully fleshed. Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin is a wonderful central character and the cast around him is equally astounding from his girlfriend Lin who has a human body but a scarab for a head to Yagharek who is a dominating creature that I pictured as a walking Eagle.

There’s so much contained within those 880 pages that it feels larger. It’s vast and epic and every word holds mystery and intrigue that pushes the reader on. This is a book I could recommened to everyone and talk about for days. I haven’t even mentioned the Moths, the city of New Crobuzon, the species that frequent the paragraphs, the lore that Mièville creates nor the scientific ideas that he proposes.

I almost hate to say it, but this book is a masterpiece and even as I wrote this small piece about it I was grinning at remembered moments and excited by the fact that such a great book exists. But that’s enough lunatic fanboy raving from me. Read it… or listen to it. 5 Stars.

(Also, I want to applaud Jonathan Oliver for amazing narration throughout. The guy deserves a medal as he voiced each character with differing accents and dialects. He also manages to carry a lot of drama and emotion in his tones. Superb!)

April Summary

April has been a funny month for me. I managed to storm through six books despite health issues and real life getting in the way. There were a few times when I found that I just couldn’t decide what to read and I think I picked up about 10 books this month where I read the first 30 pages and put them back down again. Not because they were bad, but they didn’t fit my mood. Also worth noting that the Fitzgerald reading week is going to be pushed back due to time constraints. I’ll update the blog when I can to change the dates.

April’s Best Read

This is a brilliant coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of the Cold War and events leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Clem Ackroyd lives with his parents and grandmother in a claustrophobic home too small to accommodate their larger-than-life characters in the bleak Norlfolk countryside. Clem’s life changes irrevocably when he meets Frankie, the daughter of a wealthy farmer, and experiences first love, in all its pain and glory. The story is told in flashback by Clem when he is living and working in New York City as a designer, and moves from the past of his parents and grandmother to his own teenage years. Not only the threat of explosions, but actual ones as well, feature throughout in this latest novel from one of the finest writers working today.

Hmm, I’m putting Life by Mal Peet as my book of April yet I haven’t actually reviewed it yet. Oops. I will rectify that over the weekend and explain why it is such a brilliant book.

Also Read:

May is promising to be a brilliant month for reading. It seems that many publishers are unleashing their best books this month. Books of note that I will be reading are The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Simon Mawer, Railsea by China Mieville and Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead. I’ve also got a few advanced titles for June and July that I’ll be diving into with gusto. Thanks for reading, as always!

March Summary

Much the same as last month, real life got in the way of reading this month… and in fact delayed this summary as I took a hiatus from blogging. I have a lot of reviews to catch up with so the next few weeks should see a good amount of content appearing on the blog. Eight books read in March, I’m quite pleased with that and as I write this I’m currently 10 books ahead of schedule on my Goodreads challenge.

March’s Best Read

A gripping, compulsive thriller set in a future where the cure for ageing has been discovered! to devastating consequences “You got me. I don’t want to die. I’m terrified of death. I fear there’s nothing beyond it and that this existence is the only one I’ll ever possess. That’s why I’m here.” (An excerpt from the digital journal of John Farrell, cure age 29) 2019. Humanity has witnessed its greatest scientific breakthrough yet: the cure for ageing. Three injections and you’re immortal — not bulletproof or disease-proof but you’ll never have to fear death by old age. For John Farrell, documenting the cataclysmic shifts to life after the cure becomes an obsession. Cure parties, cycle marriages, immortal livestock: the world is revelling in the miracles of eternal youth. But immortality has a sinister side, and when a pro-death terrorist explosion kills his newly-cured best friend, John soon realizes that even in a world without natural death, there is always something to fear. Now, John must make a new choice: run and hide forever, or stay and fight those who try to make immortal life a living hell. The e-book edition contains exclusive extra content – for those who want to find out even more consequences of the cure for ageing.

I rated three books at five stars this month but I only reviewed one of them, which was The End Specialist. Although The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan could quite easily have grabbed the honour, I actually read it way back in January. You can find my review of The End Specialist – HERE.

Also Read:

April is looking to be a great month. At this (late) point of writing I have read a few great books, one of which garnered 5 stars. I’ve got plenty more to read as I build up to the mega busy month of May which sees plenty of releases (most of which are already glaring at me from my review shelf!) Another bonus from March was the blog being featured in The Bookseller for ‘Blog Review of the Month’ – see below. Thanks for reading, as always!

 

February Summary

For various personal reasons, February wasn’t as chock full of books as I’d like. I still managed to knock out eight books and I’m happy with that. I started 2012 saying that I wanted to read 75 books and as of today I’m still six books ahead on that target.

February’s Best Read

Along Cornwall’s ancient coast, the flotsam and jetsam of the past becomes caught in the cross-currents of the present and, from time to time, a certain kind of magic can float to the surface…Straying husbands lured into the sea can be fetched back, for a fee. Magpies whisper to lonely drivers late at night. Trees can make wishes come true – provided you know how to wish properly first. Houses creak, fill with water and keep a fretful watch on their inhabitants, straightening shower curtains and worrying about frayed carpets. A teenager’s growing pains are sometimes even bigger than him. And, on a windy beach, a small boy and his grandmother keep despair at bay with an old white door. In these stories, Cornish folklore slips into everyday life. Hopes, regrets and memories are entangled with catfish, wrecker’s lamps, standing stones and baying hounds, and relationships wax and wane in the glow of a moonlit sea. This luminous, startling and utterly spellbinding debut collection introduces in Lucy Wood a spectacular new voice in contemporary British fiction.

It was so easy to choose this as the best book of February, seeing as it has become one of the best books I’ve ever read. It’s a wonderful book of short stories that transports you into a world of mythology and magic. I was also lucky enough to interview the author Lucy Wood. You can find the full review HERE.

Also Read:

I’m still waiting to tell you about The Lifeboat which will come up halfway through March (that’ll teach me for reading ahead!), I’ll also be publishing my review of Sanctus very soon. This month I will be reading (and reviewing) Catcher in the Rye, Shelter, The Return Man and Silver. Those are the planned books but I’m hoping to add from the TBR as it’s a quiet month in regards to new releases.

Thanks for reading, as always!

January Summary

I’ve started 2012 incredibly well in terms of reading. I managed to polish off ten books very swiftly and there wasn’t a dud in sight. Some of them you will have seen reviewed here, others have reviews forthcoming. So, without further ado let’s have a look at January’s books.

January’s Best Read

By John Green

Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 12, Hazel had prepared herself to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumours in her lungs…for now. Two years later, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means) Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumours kept at bay with a constant chemical assault. Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and to Hazel’s surprise interested in her. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind. REVIEW HERE!

Also read:

I can’t wait to tell you about The Lifeboat in March, it’s going to be a book to watch this year and will do very well. The Radleys and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close were both great books and their reviews should be up later this week.

Any regular readers may have noticed that I am no longer rating out of 5 stars on the blog. I don’t like to slap a score on my reviews because that simple five point scale is utterly vague. Even after breaking it down on my about page, there are times when I utterly enjoy a book and would recommend it to everyone, but it won’t score fives stars for a certain reason. Also, I hate to write 500+ words for someone to just look how many stars it got and then close the page.

The stars don’t give the full story, the words do. It’s in what I want to say about the book that matters, not the numerical score that so fixates everyone else. As of now, you won’t see a score based system here as I believe it is pointless. I will still throw a star rating on a book on Goodreads (and I may even stop that soon, too), mainly because I don’t write my reviews there. Therefore that is just a snapshot of my opinion… don’t put too much weight on those stars!

What’s coming up?

I will have an interview with Julianna Baggott, author of Pure, coming up in the next few days. There are plenty of reviews waiting in the wings and I’m very close to finishing The Art of Fielding and The Land of Decoration, so look out for opinions on those, too. I have lots of proofs sitting here, but I’m hoping February will be all about the TBR pils and I’m hoping to get to some DuMaurier and Atwood.