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A collection of short comedy pieces by the US talk show host. I think I'd probably have enjoyed this more if I'd been a particular fan (rather than just knowing the name from afterellen.com, I mean). This was a fun read, but felt very shallow - mostly a series of very obvious jokes.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10440050
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A creepy and depressing novel about childhood trauma and gender roles. While it was cleverly done and kept me reading to the end, and while I didn't get the secret of the First Audrina (feel like I should have done, though...) I feel somehow unsatisfied.

Clever, but not going to stay with me.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/9697475
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I can't believe I'd never read this. I knew the basic gist of the plot, and most people I've spoken to did it at school. I'm rather glad I didn't, for I don't think I'd have enjoyed it nearly as much. I've been putting off reviewing it, because I honestly can't think of what to say. However, it's a book club choice, so I will eventually have to pick a single word to describe it -

which is -

- gripping

Not the first few chapters; it did take me a while to get into it, though I can see that the slow start is essential background-painting - but once the plot really kicked off I was very reluctant to put the book down. Unreliable narrators again: telling an adults' story through a child's eyes is a very effective trick if you can pull it off, and here it really works, trading off the different levels of cynicism. Favourite book of the year so far.
stapsreads: 'The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them' (Default)
An utterly unmemorable book. I didn't exactly dislike it, but it didn't grab me, and it was a bit of a struggle to plough through to the end. The plot was unconvincing, the characters less so, but difficult to relate to, and OK, I admit it, I'm not a dog person.

The author obviously has a very defined sense of place, but, not knowing the Cotswolds, I was unable to plug into this, and it all rather passed me by. Perhaps if I knew the area I'd have enjoyed this more. As it was, it all felt very flat.

I did pick up the next one in the series to try to work out what I felt about this book, and discovered within a few pages that my prevailing emotion was boredom.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/8101473/
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'N' in the Alphabet roundabout. A teen book, and none the worse for it. The plot hangs on the real-life murder of Grace Brown, and incorporates the victim's letters into the text - though in such a sensitive manner that it's only just occurred to me how terribly that might have turned out.

The narrator is a waitress at the Glenmore Hotel, where the tragedy is centred, working to support her father and sisters, and to raise enough money to take up a place at college in New York. I think I have been rather spoiled for stories in which the heroine's vocation is to write (I will wibble more about this on the Other Blog) because here was someone for whom this was more of a challenge than usual, and I was just rolling my eyes. A pity. Also, I saw straight through the love interest, but this may have been the intention.

Nothing particularly special, but a good enough read, with a pleasing resolution.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10491432
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Another one in the BookCrossing Favourites of 2011 ring, and I'm in two minds about it. Set largely in a mission hospital in Ethiopia, the story of conjoined twins raised in an adopted family following their mother's death and their father's disappearance, moving and aggravating by turns. On the one hand, I really didn't need to read fifty pages of birth trauma (not to mention various other gory chapters through the book); on the other, it has left me feeling generally more hopeful about the world and (as often seems to be the case with my reading these days) has demonstrated to me how little history I know outside my own bubble.

It has some interesting things to say about family, race, nation and class, and some horribly unexamined assumptions about gender (I'm not sure how much of this is the narrator and how much... isn't). The more I think about it, I am really quite angry at how the infliction of FGM was gendered female, and the healing of fistulas was gendered male.

On the whole I would recommend it, but (and this is a significant 'but') only if you can stomach the narrative of men knowing better than women what ought to be done with women's bodies, and certainly not if you have a birth trauma or surgery trigger.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/8497585/
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A series of case studies of women facing various challenges, written from a Christian/healing perspective. Not the sort of thing I'd usually read, but I was pleasantly surprised by the general common sense and pro-woman thinking, and impressed by the courageous way that Littauer tackles the abuse faced by women within the Church.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/7087445
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Does what it says on the tin. A ghost story in the classic style - one might be forgiven for thinking one had picked up a book by M. R. James or somebody of that ilk. It's all there: the academic setting, the mysterious object, the backstory that is never fully revealed. And the very nineteenth-century nested narratives - I've not seen so many stories-within-stories since Wuthering Heights.

And then Susan Hill drags you kicking and screaming into the present, and it's as creepy as hell. I don't think I'll be visiting Venice for quite a long time.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10506283/
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What they call a 'slim volume' - a small collection of poems. Most of them felt verbose and contrived, but I did like 'The Green Rain'.

This is a hitch-hiking BookCrossing book, which is trying to get to Arbroath. I'm releasing it at Holyhead, which is a bit out of its way, but where it may get picked up by someone who's heading to Scotland one way or another.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10301277
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Letter M in the ABC book roundabout. I think I'm due to get N and then it goes back to A (so I've still got 7 books to come). It's been an interesting experience so far; I've been reading a lot of books I wouldn't normally give the time of day to, and on the whole that experience is to be welcomed.

This, for example, has transformed my position on the Mrs Pargeter series from 'whuh?' to 'might pick up another if found in charity shop' - which is, after all, how I get most of my books. I liked Mrs Pargeter - she is what you might get if you gave Miss Silver Lord Peter Wimsey's money and circle of friends (I'm thinking particularly of Bert. Bill? The ex-burglar.) The plot was take-it-or-leave-it - I wasn't convinced by the final twist - but it was a fun read.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10205854/
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A detective story set in Stalin's Russia, centred on the fate of the Romanovs. I have to admit that this didn't do much for me - it was OK, but I found the actual history in the back far more interesting than the story. The general air of Tsariolatry, while in character for the main character, felt rather dismissive of the valid concerns of the Russian people, and put me off. I also found the extensive flashback sections in italic type difficult to read - physically, I mean, not emotionally.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10482021/
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Loved the style, hated the politics. This, considering that I was rather afraid that I'd hate the first significant female author in modern English, is a better outcome than I'd expected. And really, one doesn't expect the seventeenth century to be hugely enlightened when it comes to race relations. (Nobody, including the black hero, batted an eyelid at the concept of slavery, for example.) Still, it wasn't exactly comfortable reading.

Aphra Behn tells a good yarn. I wasn't entirely sure how much she'd experienced and how much she was making up; her evocative descriptions and her colloquial style were very readable.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10388552/
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I nearly gave up on this half way through the prologue, fearing that I might die of a surfeit of adjectives. Happily, it improved massively once the actual plot started, and ended up very readable. A depressing examination of the tensions between class and gender within and between two Indian households, though ending with its own sort of hope.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10380304
stapsreads: 'The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them' (Default)
Mark Dunn, "Ella Minnow Pea"

Well, my first reaction to this was 'But Thurber did this better in The Wonderful O!' Actually, this is not the case. The Wonderful O is better, but it's not doing what Dunn does here. What both authors do is portray the havoc wreaked in society by the outlawing of a letter or letters. What Dunn does, and Thurber doesn't, is inflict the same privation upon himself. Inevitably, it felt rather contrived.


Various, "Spinechillers: Ghost Stories"

One of those 'get kids reading for a quid' things. Not really very scary, it must be admitted.


Davey Moore, "Dark Planet: Decide Your Destiny No. 7" (Doctor Who tie-in)

I used to love 'Choose Your Own Adventure'. Granted, one usually ended up dying horribly for the simple reason that one opened the wrong door, but it was fun to have a bit of control over a book. This was a bit of a disappointment, in that there were only three possible endings, and the choices that were offered to the reader didn't seem to make much difference to the overall trajectory of the plot - whatever you chose, you ended up in more or less the same place, in more or less the same state. Not so much fun.


Amanda Addison, "Laura's Handmade Life"

This is 'L' in the ABC roundabout, and the first one that I've really been apathetic about. ('J' was really Not My Cup Of Tea, but had a certain trainwreck fascination about it - 'she's not going to go there... she's really not going to go there... she went there'.) This one was just... meh. I really didn't care about anybody in it, nor did I find any of them interesting. Some of it was plain bad writing (important plot points happening offscreen, for example, after there had been a big lead-up); some of it was annoying. (A sewing business that just happens? Dream on. Where on earth does she find the time? And I don't care if Kitkat is fair trade these days; I was very disappointed to see the narrative unquestioningly endorsing Nestlé.)


Sarah Rayner, "One Moment, One Morning"

This one I liked a lot. While the plot is built around the death of a man, it is centred upon three well-drawn women. Well-written, sympathetic but believable characters, a positive portrayal of a lesbian character, and the sort of book that keeps you reading. Recommended.


Cassandra Golds, "Clair-de-Lune"

A rather strange little fable about a mute girl and a dancing mouse. Missing a couple of pages, unfortunately, but happily they're early on in the book so I don't think I missed too much. I will admit to shedding a tear or two.
stapsreads: 'The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them' (Default)
My obsession with The Count of Monte Cristo continues unchecked. First The Stars' Tennis Balls, and now this. The vengeful antihero in this case is Gulliver Foyle, Mechanic's Mate 3rd class. He is taking revenge on the ship that passed him by, leaving him to die in space. If you enjoyed The Count of Monte Cristo, and were able to reach beyond the troubling clichés in that, and/or if you are a devotee of the golden age of sci-fi, you'll like this.

Worth reading not just as a curiosity for devotees of Dumas, but also as a sci-fi classic. A sci-fi classic of the fifties, mind, with all that implies - i.e. lots of bits that make me cringe, and some that are just plain nasty - but also wacky imagination, wackier characters, and a reader who's assumed to be intelligent. An implied rape scene (actually, I was rather more disturbed by Neil Gaiman's foreword, regretting that the reader had to do more work in the fifties) and a society in which women are kept behind closed doors - but several well-drawn female characters and an explicit acknowledgement of how broken that society is. Some terrible racial stereotyping, a disabled antagonist... it's of its time, yes. Problematic. But when it wasn't doing that, I did enjoy it.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/7155977/
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I picked this book up from the OBCZ at the Camel and Artichoke with the express intention of reading it and putting it into the Asia bookbox. So I did just that. It is set largely in Sri Lanka (or Ceylon, as it was at the time this book begins), from the seventies through to 2005, and follows the fortunes of one family, focusing largely on Alice, the granddaughter. While the Fonsekas, Alice's maternal family, are Singhalese, her father is Tamil, and the mixed marriage causes tensions, to say the least. The narrative follows Alice as she moves to London with her parents and grows up to become an artist.

Most memorable about this book is the gorgeously vivid description, particularly of the landscapes of Sri Lanka. Roma Tearne is an artist as well as an author, and it shows not only in the sympathy with which she portrays Alice's experience, but also in the colourful imagery.

I was a little troubled by the way the book is framed (at the beginning and end) in white male experience, and do not feel that it would have lost much without the most part of the prologue and the epilogue. I was much more interested in Alice's career as an artist than I was in what men thought of her, and would have liked to see more of this.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/9772189
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The autobiography of a missionary nun in Thailand. I was expecting this to be terrible in all sorts of ways, based on the cover art and the choice of 'Siam' over 'Thailand' in the title - not to mention the tagline 'She faced the cruelty and squalor of a backward land with courage and devotion torn between obedience to her vows and the convictions of her heart' - but actually found myself drawn in by an honest and sympathetic account of vocation and charity. This makes sense, I suppose: the author had actually been there, and the copywriter hadn't.

In actual fact, Lightwood describes the challenges she faced with humanity and humour, be they poisonous frogs in the bathroom or learning the language. She rarely generalises about the people she works with, and I certainly came away with the impression that the overarching problem is not culture but poverty. She treats other religions with respect.

Teresa Lightwood gives a whistle-stop tour of her life, touching lightly on the parts that are less relevant to the story of her work in the Far East, but giving just enough background context. Particularly in the early chapters, where the realities of convent life were explored, I could not help remembering Karen Armstrong's 'Through The Narrow Gate' - though Lightwood seems to have found the experience less oppressive than Armstrong.

All in all, I'm glad I didn't pass this one on without reading it. It's good to be surprised sometimes.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10065535
stapsreads: 'The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them' (Default)
I'm not sure which is the unforgiveable sin: to be depressing, or to be badly written. This is both. Also condemning this to the Inferno is the typeface, which is the kind of thing I'd more usually associate with local history written on an early eighties word processor by the village obsessive.

I was really hoping that this would be better than everybody else who reviewed it said it was going to be. I am sure there are better books out there by and about Fijians. But really, I could have coped with the relentless parade of sheer misery (drugs, meths drinking, rape, unemployment, mugging) had it not been ghostwritten by Captain Obvious. This passage says it all, really:

'One-eyed Jack' had only one eye. He had lost his other eye in a brawl after a dance. Someone had thrown a broken bottle at him. It had cut his eye.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/4984912
stapsreads: 'The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them' (Default)
A rather pedestrian mystery, notable more for the confidence with which it deals with persons of exalted office than for any particular inspiration when it came to plot. First published 1980, and so I'm probably missing some context, not being very well up in any sort of politics of that era that doesn't involve trade unions. (They do feature in this, admittedly, but only very briefly.)

This rather fell into the trap of misdirecting so hard that none of the really interesting mystery stuff (When you know How, you know Who) got a look-in. The setting and characters seemed plausible, though.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/988847
stapsreads: 'The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them' (Default)
Nancy Mitford on top form. I'm not sure that I have actually read much, if any, Nancy Mitford before, but this was just as much fun as I thought it was going to be - impressive, given how depressing it could have been, what with failed marriages all over the place and then the Second World War. A gorgeous froth of fun with a satisfyingly acid edge to it, and a lovely ambiguous ending. And, my goodness, nobody does class like Nancy Mitford.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10262594

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