Thursday, 20 December 2012

The End of Your Life Book Club

Title: The End of Your Life Book Club

Author: Will Schwalbe

Number of pages: 352

Started: 11 December 2012

Finished: 20 December 2012

Opening words:

We were nuts about the mocha in the waiting room at Memorial Sloan-Kettering's outpatient care center. The coffee isn't so good, and the hot chocolate is worse. But if, as Mom and I discovered, you push the "mocha" button, you see how two not-very-good things can come together to make something quite delicious. The graham crackers aren't bad either.  

Plot summary:

Mary Anne Schwalbe is waiting for her chemotherapy treatments when Will casually asks her what she's reading. The conversation they have grows into tradition: soon they are reading the same books so they can have something to talk about in the hospital waiting room. Their choices range from classic (Howards End) to popular (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), from fantastic (The Hobbit) to spiritual (Jon Kabat-Zinn), with many in between. We hear their passion for reading and their love for each other in their intimate and searching discussions.

What I thought:

This non-fiction book chronicled the relationship between a mother and her son as they attended her hospital appointments following her diagnosis with pancreatic cancer.  They used that time to discuss books and it developed into a book club - consisting of the two of them.

It was a touching read and a tribute of sorts to Mary Anne Schwalbe, although I suspect it is down to the individual reader to decide whether she was a saint, a control freak or something in between.  I enjoyed the book recommendations and the insight into the mother-son relationship.  This could have been somewhat of a depressing book, but actually it was rather heart-warming and provided food for thought and book inspiration.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Rivers of London

Title: Rivers of London

Author: Ben Aaronovitch

Number of pages: 432

Started: 30 November 2012

Finished: 10 December 2012

Opening words:

It started at one thirty on a cold Tuesday morning in January when Martin Turner, street performer and, in his own words, apprentice gigolo, tripped over a body in front of the West Portico of St Paul’s at Covent Garden. Martin, who was none too sober himself, at first thought the body was that of one of the many celebrants who had chosen the Piazza as a convenient outdoor toilet and dormitory. Being a seasoned Londoner, Martin gave the body the ‘London once-over’ – a quick glance to determine whether this was a drunk, a crazy or a human being in distress. The fact that it was entirely possible for someone to be all three simultaneously is why good-Samaritanism in London is considered an extreme sport – like base-jumping or crocodile-wrestling. Martin, noting the good-quality coat and shoes, had just pegged the body as a drunk when he noticed that it was in fact missing its head.

Read a longer extract here

Plot summary:

My name is Peter Grant and until January I was just probationary constable in that mighty army for justice known to all right-thinking people as the Metropolitan Police Service (and as the Filth to everybody else). My only concerns in life were how to avoid a transfer to the Case Progression Unit - we do paperwork so real coppers don't have to - and finding a way to climb into the panties of the outrageously perky WPC Leslie May. Then one night, in pursuance of a murder inquiry, I tried to take a witness statement from someone who was dead but disturbingly voluable, and that brought me to the attention of Inspector Nightingale, the last wizard in England.

Now I'm a Detective Constable and a trainee wizard, the first apprentice in fifty years, and my world has become somewhat more complicated: nests of vampires in Purley, negotiating a truce between the warring god and goddess of the Thames, and digging up graves in Covent Garden . . . and there's something festering at the heart of the city I love, a malicious vengeful spirit that takes ordinary Londoners and twists them into grotesque mannequins to act out its drama of violence and despair.

The spirit of riot and rebellion has awakened in the city, and it's falling to me to bring order out of chaos - or die trying.

What I thought:

This was a decent book, and as a Londoner it was good to read a book set somewhere that I know well.  Except for the magic, of course.  I haven’t seen a lot of that about.  The book started at a decent pace and quickly developed.  It was readable and quite humorous, although by the end I thought it was slightly running out of originality, which was perhaps the result of it being a slightly unusual take on the Metropolitan Police and that it wasn’t delivering the same “new-ness” by the end.  I have the next book in the series and will probably read that at some point soon.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Darkly Dreaming Dexter

Title: Darkly Dreaming Dexter

Author: Jeff Lindsay

Number of pages: 275

Started: 26 November 2012

Finished: 30 November 2012

Opening words:

Moon.  Glorious moon. Full, fat, reddish moon, the night as light as day, the moonlight flooding down across the land and bringing joy, joy, joy. Bringing too the full-throated call of the tropical night, the soft and wild voice of the wind roaring through the hairs on your arm, the hollow wail of starlight, the teeth-grinding bellow of the moonlight off the water.

All calling to the Need. Oh, the symphonic shriek of the thousand hiding voices, the cry of the Need inside, the entity, the silent watcher, the cold quiet thing, the one that laughs, the Moondancer. The me that was not-me, the thing that mocked and laughed and came calling with its hunger. With the Need. And the Need was very strong now, very careful cold coiled creeping crackly cocked and ready, very strong, very much ready now—and still it waited and watched, and it made me wait and watch.

Plot summary:

Dexter Morgan isn't exactly the kind of man you'd bring home to your mum. At heart, he's the perfect gentleman: he has a shy girlfriend, and seems to lead a quiet, normal life bordering on the mundane. Despite the fact that he can't stand the sight of blood, he works as a blood-spatter analyst for the Miami police.

But Dexter also has a secret hobby: he is an accomplished serial killer. So far, he's killed 36 people and has never been caught because he knows exactly how to hide the evidence. And while that may lead some people to assume he's not such a nice guy, he tempers his insatiable hunger for brutality by only killing the bad guys.

However, Dexter's well-organised life is suddenly disrupted when a second, much more visible serial killer appears in Miami. Intrigued that the other killer favours a style similar to his own, Dexter soon realises that the mysterious new arrival is not simply invading his turf but offering him a direct invitation to 'come out and play'...

What I thought:

I am still undecided what I thought of this novel.  It is the tale of a serial killer, who uses an “ethical system” to identify his victims.  I found the book somewhat sinister, which is perhaps unsurprising given the subject matter, but there was a part of me that often wondered whether I really wanted to be inside the mind of a serial killer.  I didn’t find it a very pleasant place to be. 

This was actually a fairly light and easy-going read, despite what I had just said.  But I felt that it came from a place that I did not find entirely comfortable.  By the end I found that I liked the book more, but I am yet to decide whether I will read another in the series.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

The Silver Linings Play Book

Title: The Silver Linings Play Book

Author: Matthew Quick

Number of pages: 289

Started: 20 November 2012

Finished: 25 November 2012

Opening words:

I don’t have to look up to know Mom is making another surprise visit. Her toenails are always pink during the summer months, and I recognize the flower design imprinted on her leather sandals; it’s what Mom purchased the last time she signed me out of the bad place and took me to the mall.

Once again, Mother has found me in my bathrobe, exercising unattended in the courtyard, and I smile because I know she will yell at Dr. Timbers, asking him why I need to be locked up if I’m only going to be left alone all day.

“Just how many push-ups are you going to do, Pat?” Mom says when I start a second set of one hundred without speaking to her.

Plot summary:

During the years he spends in a neural health facility, Pat Peoples formulates a theory about silver linings: he believes his life is a movie produced by God, his mission is to become physically fit and emotionally supportive, and his happy ending will be the return of his estranged wife, Nikki. When Pat goes to live with his parents, everything seems changed: no one will talk to him about Nikki; his old friends are saddled with families; the Philadelphia Eagles keep losing, making his father moody; and his new therapist seems to be recommending adultery as a form of therapy.

When Pat meets the tragically widowed and clinically depressed Tiffany, she offers to act as a liaison between him and his wife, if only he will give up watching football, agree to perform in this year’s Dance Away Depression competition, and promise not to tell anyone about their “contract.” All the while, Pat keeps searching for his silver lining.

What I thought:

I liked the idea behind this book – someone who always believed that things would work out with the happy ending, like in a film.  Pat Peoples, the person in question, is resident in a mental health facility, his relationship having ended with his wife.  On the whole, the book worked well and I thought it gave an interesting perspective on mental health (not that the book is a heavy read or meant to be particularly educational).  As a book, it was a decent read.  I felt it could have done with something more to make it a better read, but it was very readable nonetheless.

Monday, 19 November 2012

A Confederacy of Dunces

Title: A Confederacy of Dunces

Author: John Kennedy Toole

Number of pages: 352

Started: 13 November 2012

Finished: 19 November 2012

Opening words:

A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grew in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like turn signals indicating two directions at once. Full, pursed lips protruded beneath the bushy black moustache and, at their corners, sank into little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs. In the shadow under the green visor of the cap Ignatius J. Reilly's supercilious blue and yellow eyes looked down upon the other people waiting under the clock at the D.H. Holmes department store, studying the crowd of people for signs of bad taste in dress. Several of the outfits, Ignatius noticed, were new enough and expensive enough to be properly considered offenses against taste and decency. Possession of anything new or expensive only reflected a person's lack of theology and geometry; it could even cast doubts upon one's soul.  

Plot summary:

A monument to sloth, rant and contempt, a behemoth of fat, flatulence and furious suspicion of anything modern - this is Ignatius J. Reilly of New Orleans, noble crusader against a world of dunces. The ordinary folk of New Orleans seem to think he is unhinged. Ignatius ignores them, heaving his vast bulk through the city's fleshpots in a noble crusade against vice, modernity and ignorance. But his momma has a nasty surprise in store for him: Ignatius must get a job. Undaunted, he uses his new-found employment to further his mission - and now he has a pirate costume and a hot-dog cart to do it with...

What I thought:

Hmm, what to say about this book?  It had some good parts to it.  It had some funny moments.  But overall, it was hard work and rather a chore to read.  This book came with high praise, but I didn’t feel it lived up to it.  It was just rather hard-going in places and was not the novel I hoped it would be.  Not for me.