Sunday, 28 December 2008

Last Post of 2008

The Sunday

I hope you all had a good Christmas/winter festival/Cuthbert day this week. Failing that, I hope you had a good week. Alas, I had to work on Christmas Eve which was a weird occurrence. My previous jobs have been connected to retail so Christmas Eve has usually been busyish. In the end we did end up getting away 90 minutes early so all was not lost. Oh and we had cakes at the morning tea break which lasted for an hour. Huzzah!

Due to being ill last week I was rather behind in Christmas preparations so this week was rather quiet on the book reading front. I did continue with Hogfather but it doesn't seem to be doing it for me. Many of my friends adore Terry Prachett but his writing seems to leave me a little cold. I do marvel at the amount of books he can churn out (in my copy of Hogfather his biblography covers two pages - and is presented in small print) but Discworld does not do it for me. However 2008 was the year of tackling books I had previously abandoned so perhaps 2009 will continue in the same vein.

The Boyfriend bought me three books for Christmas this year:
La's Orchestra Saves the World by Alexander McCall Smith
Watchmen by Alan Moore (influenced by Justanothersheeldz)
Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

which I have managed to keep my mucky paws off this week. The Mothership got me a grammar book to help with my Latin which was muchly appreciated.

Since Christmas Day I have existed in a waste-of-space continum and have alternated reading books on the comfy sofa, reading books in the bath and in my bed. Notice a pattern developing here? I picked up a bookring that has been kicking me for the past few weeks (i.e. get a bloody move on!) called Beyond the Narrow Gate by Leslie Chang. Leslie's parents are Chinese but emigrated to America in the 1950s. Leslie appears to have a distant relationship with her mother and explores this relationship by examining the lives of three of her mother's schoolfriends. All four women went to a school in Taiwan after fleeing from Chairman Mao in various capacities. Leslie's mother, who Anglicised her name to Mary, fled because her father was part of the Old Regime's army. I am enjoying this book but it does repeat itself an awful lot. For the third time I am told Mary did not excel at school or that one of her schoolmates was the daughter of a government official. Perhaps this serves to reinforce the links these women have but the repetition is getting on my bloody nerves. It's still a good read though and provides an insight into the Chinese immigrant population in America post-1950s.

My, now rather soggy, bath book is The Sisterhood by Emily Barr. I love Emily Barr for writing such dark chick lit. Her characters always seem to err on the unhinged and rarely are any of them likeable. The Sisterhood follows three women: Liz, Mary and Helen. Liz is a women in her late thirties who discovers her partner of ten years is having an affair. One night stand later Liz is pregnant and facing bringing up a baby on her own. This raises some confusing emotions because Liz was abandoned by her mother as a baby. Helen is a girl in her late teens who lives in France. Snooping through her mother's things one day she discovers her mother, Mary, had been married before. And had a baby called Elizabeth. It wouldn't be dramatic if Helen decided to track Liz down in an attempt to turn her family into a perfect one. You just know this book isn't going to end well. I picked it up a few days ago and have been racing through it. A very good holiday read and with a decent plot that keeps you gripped. Despite the (intentionally) weak and unlikebale characters, I still want to keep reading, find out more and the resulting conclusion when Helen's motives become clear to Liz. If you like your chick lit with a bit of bite then Emily Barr is yer woman. I thoroughly reccomend Baggage and Atlantic Shift as well.

Before I sign off, I must say I've really enjoyed sitting down the past couple of Sundays with a cup of coffee and hammered out my thoughts on books. So part of my New Year's Resolutions is to try and keep this blog more up to date. The Boyfriend's mother gave me some lovely paper notebooks for Christmas and I am determined to record my thoughts about books in a more coherant manner. Better than "This book wuz guid. Read it." Every year I try to keep a list of books I've read but usually I fail. Plus I don't start my new course until September (and possibly have a spell of unemployment between finishing work and starting the course) so that should leave more time for reading. And all other manner of self improvement.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Sunday Salon: The Winter Lurgy Edition

The Sunday

This week was meant to be a time to get geared up for Christmas by reading themed books and watching classic Christmas movies. Alas, the winter lurgy got me on Tuesday and I spent most of the week sleeping and staring at the walls of my bedroom. I did re-read Angela's Ashes on the basis it was familiar and a not very taxing read when ill. However a poor Limerick Christmas wasn't something I was expecting to involve in my Xmas reading plans.

So, instead of updating my thoughts on Hogfather by Terry Prachett (which I bought on Monday and has been taunting me from the top of Mount TBR for the past week) and Christmas Books by Charles Dickens this week, I'm afraid I have nowt to offer. Except I hope people have escaped the winter lurgy :)

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Sunday Salon

The Sunday

This week has been rather interesting, as far as reading goes. Earlier this year I joined the Glasgow Women's Library book group which only has one rule - any books read must be written by a woman. Pah! I thought at first. Is this not reverse sexism? Until I realised how little of the books I read were written by women. I don't know how much Marion Keynes counts, my literary equivalent of eating a large box of chocolates in one go.

Anyhoo, the book up for discussion this month was Wise Children by Angela Carter. The basic blurb is that it follows the Chance sisters who are part of a major British theatre family institution. The narrator is Dora, one half of the sisters who are both in their seventies and the story is interworked with current events in their lives and their background. I read it, thought it was an interesting read (you can't imagine a seventy year old woman cackling about blow jobs - can you?) but thought it was all a bit weird.

Until I went to the sodding book group. It turns out this is a set text for most university English/feminist courses and I had missed a lot of symbolism. Of course, how could I forget that? Turns out Ms Carter was dying when she wrote this novel (even my local library cover didn't have that) and this is regarded as her final act. There were a lot of references to Shakespeare that went completely over my head. And, of course, someone who had studied the book was there and was barking on about the symbolism of a burnt swan and twins. Lovely. The redeeming factor of the meeting was the mulled wine and various baked goodies on offer.

Next month's book is The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenberger and one of my top ten books of all time (which is a bloody difficult list to make, may I add). I was acting as cheerleader for this book so I'll need to get my arse in gear. February's book is The Mandarians by Simone de Beaviour and looks a meaty read indeed. I have resisted the temptation to start reading it now, purely because I will have forgotten all about it by the time February rolls around.

Another recent hit for me was Pattern Recognition by William Gibson. I originally bought a copy of this book many years ago but just couldn't get into it. So it was bookcrossed and I didn't give much thought. Then I was browsing the library at lunchtime and saw another copy winking at me. So I decided to give it another go. If I can conquer The Crow Road then I can conquer this.

The plot: Cayce Pollard is a freelance coolhunter based in New York. She has flown to London to give her opinion to Blue Ant, an extremely large and powerful advertising company. One thing about Cayce: she has a strong allergic reaction to brands which she keeps as secret as possible. Another thing to remember, Cayce is obsessed with the footage. For months, pieces of footage have been appearing on the internet with no explanation as to where they came from. Finally, Cayce's father disappeared on 11th September 2001 and was last seen in the vicinity of the Twin Towers.

A lot to take in? Indeedy do. The plot thickens as Cayce is approached to track down where the footage is coming from. And so the mirror world (i.e. the physical world) and the 'real' world become intertwined. I think studying Sociology made me more accepting of this book the second time round. My interest in the media has been built up since I first attempted this novel and has made me more receptive to it. The allergy to advertising seems firmly tongue in cheek to me. How can someone living in a society such as ours (the information age if you don't mind) cope with such a condition? The plot spins into a film noir style as Cayce attempts to locate the footage. And I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. Excellent bus book and it made me want to miss my stop and just sit there reading all day.

The latest book to pack a punch was The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell. Another library lunchtime pick up. Some colleagues had been discussing this book during a teabreak, an occupational hazard when you work in a library. The story interested me. Esme Lennox was shunted off to an aslyum in her teens by her achingly middle class Edinburgh parents and remained there till she was in her seventies. This might be a work of fiction but undoubtedly has its roots in fact. In my line of work we've had to break the news to individuals that the relative they thought had died when they were young was actually locked up in an aslyum for a number of decades. Not years. Decades.

The novel flicks between Esme's childhood in colonial India, her estranged sister's (Kitty) senile dementia induced thoughts and Iris, Kitty's grand daughter and who becomes responsible for Esme. The aslyum she has called home for most of her life is being closed down and she needs booted out. Iris's step brother, Alex, was an interesting character. His automatic response when Iris has taken Esme home is one of horror and ignorance. "She's a nutter! She wasn't locked up for most of her life for nothing!" Alas young man, many individuals were. I have seen records of woman who would be diagnosed with post natal depression today, being locked up for most of their life. The brilliant twist at the end of this story is being horrifying and tears at your heart strings. I could not put this book down. End of.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

The Salon

The Sunday

This week has not been good for all manner of things. Him Indoors was laid up with a mysterious stomach complaint for most of the week. Work, for me, was rather stressful and we had lots of readers in. Next week looks a little calmer, thank goodness.

In the grand scheme of things I've been a tad too tired to read. I did plough through a large chunk of Notes from a Big Island by Bill Bryson. Initially I was disappointed when I discovered it was a publication of articles he had written for the Daily Middle Class and not tales of his travels across the country of his birth. Bryson did have me snorting with laughter over dinner (Him Indoors took over the living room so I had to go to my room for dinner unless I wanted to hear him retching into a bucket) and he was a good post-dinner conversationalist. Not finished it yet but it's a good book to pick up and put down. One for those who have short commutes.

And today? Well, today I decided to dive into the Sunday newspapers. Today's reading choice includes: The Independent, The Observer, The Sunday Herald and *ahem* The Sunday Post. On a sidenote The Sunday Post was wonderfully satirised in William McIllvaney's Docherty as the Dundee Weekly (once the home of the Dandy and the Beano, Dundee's only claim to fame now is to print The Sunday Post) - a favourite of grandparents and that perilous Scottish trait of nostalgia. The letters page for this newspaper is a combination of people complaining about the world and utter pishe about people remembering their schooldays. And it's the only thing I can really concentrate on a Sunday before lunchtime.

So I am back to my newspapers and to munch on the first mince pies of the season. Hmmm is it too early to dig out Charles Dickens's Christmas Tales?

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Sunday Salon - a long break?

The Sunday

I was a little horrified to find out my last Sunday Salon post (and last post on here) was in July. July? A lot has happened in that time. One big event was moving flats which caused a bit of a nightmare regarding Mountain Range To Be Read. It's far too big to be just one mountain now, hence Mountain Range. And that just includes the books I have at my flat and not the boxes stored in my old room at my parents's house. After the sixth box of books was transported up four flights of stairs, I think my dad was getting ready to make a massive bonfire in the back garden.

Also, a new toy (for me anyway) on Facebook has made me rather lazy. The Visual Bookshelf is fab and rather easy to manage. Plus I can bore lots of people on my friends list with my thoughts on books. So I better get started here, there's a lot to get through.

In August I decided to re-read the Harry Potter series in preparation for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince coming out at the cinema. Ha bloody har. Due to shorter hours at work (and ignoring any household tasks for a while) I managed to plough my way through them by the end of August. I do know a lot of people who are snobby about the Harry Potter series. "Pah, a children's book? And not even a well written children's book. Chuh!" To them I say "Sod off. The books do not claim to be a piece of wonderful literature. But even if they get one person who would not normally pick up a book reading then is it truly such a negative occurrence?" Ignoring the bad grammar there, that is my defence for reading Harry Potter. As well as being compared to Hermonie by people - a lot *grins*. I did miss the Harry Potter scrum this year. Usually I had the book delivered to my home and last year the poor postman looked like he was about to keel over. It was only 8.30 am which he reached my house and he reckoned he had already delivered almost 100. So, the ordinary postal workers will be relieved The Tales of the Beetle Bard looks a lot lighter.

So, using Visual Bookshelf I shall do a round up of books I have been mostly reading over the past couple of months.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.
A point which shall become relevant later on. If you write a book that is related to the Holocaust or the Second World War, however indirectly, then people will read it. The Book Theif felt like one of those books that relies on a whispering campaign and suddenly it's top of the charts. When a friend who barely has time to read admitted she had read this book, I knew it was time to get my greedy mitts on a copy.

The initial structure of the book frustrated me. Each chapter (or relevant scene) is summed up at the beginning in a few simple words. By the end of the chapter each topic has been covered. The narrator is Death (and he isn't Prachett's Death) and he is telling the story of Elise, a German girl. For some reason (but one suspects her parents are Communists) she is packed off to live with a German couple. When an infant is dead within the first 10 pages, you know the story is not going to be a cheerful one. One important thing to remember about Elise. She is a book thief and these actions have an important impact on her life.

The book did veer towards stereotypes: ordinary family sheltering a Jew, one lone person standing up against Nazi ideals, lives shattered by the Great war. And the ending was a bit weak. After a build up of characters and storylines, the ending did seem a bit flat.

As does this blog entry. My plans to update for almost every book I've read since I trudged off into the sunset are a bit great. So perhaps I shall write a quick list of upcoming attractions here which may force me to update more often.

Books which I have read and mostly enjoyed:
Complicity by Iain Banks
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne
The Reader by Bernard Schlink (see what I mean?)
Miss Garnet's Angel by Salley Vickers
The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

and a few others.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Popping my Salon cherry

The Sunday

Finally, after joining months and months ago, here is my first Sunday Salon post. I was introduced to this by the lovely Ms Damonwolf earlier this year. However this discovery clashed horribly with my final year exams and my life revolved around work, cleaning flat, studying, eating, studying with very little time to read for pleasure.

Reading for pleasure is something I have re-discovered in the past couple of months. I have been in that grey area between graduating and finding a proper job which has left me a lot of time on my hands. Another re-discovery was the wealth of my local libraries. After moving away from the parental home I found out I could have a library card with my new local council as well as keeping my current card for another area. They're both within travelling distance which is awesome news. One library offered Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugh, a worthy novel and took over a month for me to polish off. Phillip, the main character, strikes me as the original rebel teen though no doubt someone will correct me of that assumption. Though at times I did want to shout at him to pull himself together and sodding Mildred was taking him for a complete ride.

Another book which has made an impression on me was The Road by Cormac McCarthy. A well-read friend sang this book's praises so I picked it up in a charity shop a few months ago. This book was extremely well written but hard to read. The topic matter was bleak. We follow a man and his son (their names never revealed) as they travel across a devastated America, caused by some catastrophic event. Obviously it has affected the rest of the world as they have no hope of rescue. McCarthy gives a convincing insight into the "what if" of such an event. The scene that horrified me was the discovery of humans being kept for food by the two protagonists. What was hidden behind the door jumped at me from the pages and truly gave me the fitzwiggens.

Yet, throughout all this despair, the love between this father and his son shines through the book. As they fight each day for survival their care for each other shows an inkling of human hope in this post-apocalypse world. It's a short read but perhaps not one for the holidays. It goes without saying the tone of the book is not exactly Five Go Mad In Dorset a la Comic Strip style. I believe The Road has been made into a film and is being released early next year. This month's Empire magazine had some magnificent photographs of the set and the book is set during the bitter winter. So a January release date seems apt.

The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas was another spiffing read. I wangled it as a freebie from the publisher and was not disappointed. Due to the nature of the book, the pages have a black and burnt effect on them and the front cover is dominated by the colours red and black. A good impression before I start to turn the pages. First, a quick explanation of the plot. Ariel is a post graduate student who is searching for a copy of The End of Mr Y, a very rare book which is rumoured to place a curse on anyone who reads it. Because I am a big wuss I didn't read this book when I was home alone. Sad I know.

At times it's obvious Thomas is a creative writing teacher. Her writing seems a tad too perfect at times, almost as if she's demonstrating to a class how to produce good descriptive writing. Her knowledge does astound me. The book covers topics as diverse as alternative therapies to thought experiments to Darwin. I recently took a class in Victorian England and could see a lot of similarities between the book and topics discussed in class. Thomas certainly knows her stuff.

The book did go a bit ropey in the middle for me. I don't want to reveal too much (because it will spoil it for you) but the sudden presence of KIDs (and I meant to spell it that way) was a tad weird. I feel Thomas could have created the same effect with other characters without resorting to these children dressed up as cowboys. But that is my only criticism. Apart from the ending which seems to suggest post-modernism was right and everything is made up.

So now I've popped my cherry. Am I late for this week's Sunday Salon or early for this week's?

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Return to Regular Service?

It looks like this blog could be returning to a more regular service. Only one exam stands between me and the rest of my life. Which is liberating and scary at the same time.

One thing I will be joining is the Sunday Salon which the wonderful Ms Wolf introduced me to. I do feel intimidated by the various amount of reading challenges people are on. I am considering starting my own titled 'Reading what I bloody well want after four years of being told what to read'. Not as snappy as some but it could work.

For the moment I am going to discuss something a little morbid. I suffered a family bereavement a couple of weeks ago. Alas this is usually followed by a funeral. Something about religious funerals has always bothered me. This is written from a mainly Christian perspective because I have not been to another faith's funeral ritual. In the past year I have attended two sketchy Church of Scotland funerals. As far as I was aware both individuals being remembered had not displayed any strong religious tendencies and the decision to involve the Kirk came from their families.

Attending both these services convinced me I want a humanist funeral. Neither minister knew the deceased and pieced together tid bits given by the family members. Each sermon ended with the usual advert for the free meal or an extended welcome for those present.

Fuck that.

When I die I want my friends to talk about "Remember the Flaps story?" or "Remember the kick arse nights out we had?" or set off some fireworks or something. Something which celebrates my life and what little achievements I may have made. Funerals are for the living. So why don't they have a bit of life to them?

Oh and funeral directors are robbing bastards. At the last funeral there was an extra charge of £100 because it was held at the weekend. Ignore the fact the family had little choice in the matter and the weekend was the first available time after the death.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Hypocritical Eco-Warriors

The past week or so has been a bit weird. A combination of eating lots of junk food, drink and stress lead to me taking Thursday off university. Unable to sleep I spent most of that day (and the next) watching programs on 40d. On a side note I love how internet based television has taken off. Both the Beeb and Channel 4 have woken up to the fact fewer people have video recorders (and fewer still know how to work them) and have started putting programs on their websites so people can catch up with them. Channel 4 has some subscription based access whilst the Beeb is free. I still maintain the Beeb is one of the best government based media outlets in the world. Even the Chinese government thinks so

Enough rambling. Back to my topic line. I had exhausted more of Channel 4's database and turned to my guilty pleasure of telly: Wife Swap. Yes I know it spouts on about how it's a "sociological" experiment but we all know it's really so people from totally diverse backgrounds can shout at each other. The episode I dipped into had a Spanish theme. Ex-pats had migrated to Spain (I wonder if they bothered to learn Spanish?) and both families lived very different lives. Family no. 1 were rich bastards who owned 3 million cars and a vast arrangement of servants to run after them. They spent money like no tomorrow and were all bleached to perfection. Oh, and this becomes important, Mummy dares to use a vast range of GM foods and nasty cleaning products. Family no 2: read eco warriers who lived on a boat and were as self sufficient as possible - to the extend of recycling their own wee. I settled down for some top telly clashes.

For those who don't know the format, halfway through the swap each wife gets to run the household the way they want to. In the rusty tin of a boat, socialite mummy dared spray some air freshener around their hovel of a living room. Eco Warrior Dad (complete with bandanna) went off on a huge rant about how she was poisoning his baby and how dare she bring chemicals into his home? Meanwhile, at the other home, Eco Warrior Mum is telling one of the younger children how much pus goes into pre-packed supermarket milk. I'm all for making people more environmentally aware but they were doing it in such a self righteous manner I wanted to tie them down and washed them in SLS shampoo and soap.

But what Hypocritical Eco-Warriors I hear you ask? Well, fast forward the program around ten minutes. Eco Warrior Dad is perching aforementioned baby on his hip and is trying to hide smoking a roll up from the camera. So, smoking tobacco around a baby is very healthy? And one skoosh of an air fresher is going to kill him?

Pot, kettle, black?

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Reads of 2007

I have a gut feeling that I am going to get a lot of pelters for this entry. I have the (mis)fortune to have some great readers and writers in my social circle who have attempted works by more stylistic writers than Marian Keyes. But hey, sometimes after you've wormed your way through sixteenth century Scots legislation you want to read some candy floss. Anyone who is familiar with my various Bebo and Bookcrossing identities may have seen this already. Again this is a list of what I've read rather than what has been published this year.

1) The Crow Road - Iain Banks

This is special because it has taken me almost 6 years to read this book. First attempt was in sixth year of high school, second attempt was a few years later and this year was the third, and final attempt. Once I accepted the book is about nothing in particular, it made it a lot easier to read.

The plot follows the family McHoan and the trials and tribulations it brings. Prepare for numerous flashbacks (and flashbacks within flashbacks, a factor which brought the end of attempt one) as well as unearthing family secrets. You know the book is going to be good when it opens with the line 'It was the day my grandmother exploded.'

2) The Boy I Love - Marion Husband
Originally I picked this book up because it was only 99p and it was set in the post-WWI era. It tackles the topic of homosexuality and follows the life of Paul Harris, a closet homosexual. After the war he returns home and to his lover, Adam. However the plot twists when Paul discovers his dead brother's girlfriend is pregnant. He decides to do 'the right thing' and marries her despite not being the biological father.

This is a touching book and looks at relationships between human beings. I feel people seem to regard homosexuality and gay culture as a 'new' occurrence but there have been examples of this throughout history. I wouldn't say this is a wonderfully written book but the twists the plot take keep you interested.

3) The Girls - Lori Lansen
I know, I know, it's a Richard and Judy book. It's still worth a read and will probably appeal more to the ladies on here. The story follows Ruby and Rose, twins joined together physically and mentally. They are abandoned by their mother and are adopted by the attending midwife and her husband.

The books begins when the twins are looking back on their life. They are almost 30 and have been told by doctors not to expect living beyond that age. Rose decides she wants to start writing an account of their lives and so the book begins.

Again, you can tell I like these books, it's interesting hearing the different views each sister posses despite sharing their lives to such a great extent. The writing is painfully realistic and it makes you heart thump with empathy towards the girls.

4) Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil & The City of Falling Angels - John Berendt
The only non-fiction books to make it onto my list. The former deals with a sensational murder case in Savannah. It was made into a film, only after the leading character passed away. An interesting look at one of America's hidden cities.

The City of Falling Angels is similar to Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Berendt travels to Venice and uncovers the wacky characters living in the area as well as links to the local Mafia. This book makes me want to up sticks, learn Italian and go to Venice.

5) World War Z - Max Brooks
Max, son of Mel, has become famous for writing the The Zombie Survival Guide. This book is meant to be a UN investigation in the period when the human race was under attack from zombies. Instead of taking a straight forward narrative each section is presented as a verbal account from various survivors of these events. The book travels across the world though it is mainly based in America.

I defy anyone to read the story of the female air force officer and her radio friend and not be thoroughly creeped out. The first time I read this book I was up until 4am, I could not put it down. At least I'll be prepared for when the zombies come back

6) The Children of Men - P.D. James
Another apocalypse style book. Another book I couldn't put down. P.D. James describes a futuristic world in which the human race has become infertile (sounds like my idea of heaven). The book opens with the death of the youngest person in the world at the age of 22. The strain of an elderly population shows. People are encouraged to take part in mass suicides called a Quietus and their remaining families are heavily rewarded financially.

Our hero is Theo (ba boom!), a middle aged lecturer of history at Oxford. He enjoys a solitary life and wrestles with his guilt of accidentally killing his only child. Somehow he stumbles into an underground movement who has discovered a woman is pregnant....

The book follows a slow pace as this new world is revealed to us. Kittens are treated as babies and christened by the clergy. An animal birth replaces the joy felt by the birth of a new born baby. The elderly end their days, at a seaside town, filled with drugs and dressed as pagan sacrifices.

I have to say, the film adaptation of this book is a lot different but just as brilliant.

7) Anybody Out There? - Marian Keyes
Marian Keyes is like my dirty little secret. I got one of her books free with a magazine a few years ago and became hooked. Normally chick lit makes me want to gouge my eyes out with needles. It's sickly sweet, it's badly written and predictable. Keyes's books deal with drug addiction, affairs and mass intakes of alcohol. Amazing.

This book concerns the second youngest member of the Walsh family, Anna. Half of the Walsh clan have moved to New York and Anna has the Best Job In The World - she is a PR agent for a range of skin care companies. Alas she is not in New York when the book opens. She has gone back to Ireland, back to the bosom of Mammy Walsh, battered and bruised with her husband nowhere to be seen. Keyes is excellent at making events seem very normal (Aidan may have stayed in New York whilst Anna has returned home) and they slowly unfold to show everything is not all right. We find out Aidan has died in a car crash that Anna was involved in and explains her injuries. We follow her grief and her desperate attempts to get in contact with Adian. I'm a sucker for these books and I am not ashamed to admit I burst into tears on a few occasions.

8) Buddha Da - Anne Donovan
I'm a sucker for books set in my native town of Glasgow and this is no different. Each chapter is from the viewpoint of Anne Marie and her dad, Jimmy, and mum, Liz,. Jimmy decides to embark on an exploration of Buddhism but this exploration starts to alienate his wife and daughter. It's written in a Glaswegian dialect which did take me a while to get into - it's been a while since I've read a book like that.

Buddhism isn't a topic I've really looked into but this was, despite being a fiction book, a realistic presentation. In our Western culture it can sometimes be difficult fitting a new 'idea' into our society.

9) A Big Boy Did It and Ran Away - Christopher Brookmyre
An excellent read, again partly set in Glasgow. Brookmyre's humour borders on the black and blue side which appeals to me. The book is split between two characters, Martin and Simon. Martin is stuck in a shitty job as an English teacher and has become a father for the first time. His one form of escapism is going to Glasgow Airport to buy magazines and pretend he is going somewhere. Until one day he spots an old acquaintance at the airport, Simon. But Simon's been dead for a few years - in fact he died in a plane crash with no survivors. However, Simon is not dead. He has a reinvented identity as a terrorist for hire. He has no set ideologies, he carries out deeds for the highest bidder. Considering this book was written in 2000 it has a louder voice in today's 'war on terror' arena.

The book is rather long, comes in around 500 pages I think, but I sped through it. It's a gripping read and the back story is interesting. Perhaps I am a bit of a dunce when it comes to thrillers but with each twist I did do a little gasp of horror. It does also deserve the award of the most cringy worthy sex moment I've read in a book.

10) Tokyo - Mo Hayder
Another thick book, another book I raced to finish because the plot was so gripping. What is the connection between a young English woman in her 20s and a mysterious piece of film recording events of the Nanking massacre? Gray is a young girl who sells all her possessions to travel to Tokyo to track down a Chinese professor. No-one believes she has a read a book revealing the whereabouts of a rare film conveying some of the horrors of Nanking. In order to make money, she takes a job in a hostess club where she meets a member of one of the local Yakuza organisations. I don't want to reveal too much about this book but it is a compelling read. It switches from 1937 Nanking to modern day Japan but the writing does not suffer.

Also, this book is not for the faint hearted. There are some rather gory sections and I will never think of the smell of cooking meat in the same way.

To prove the hypothesis women cannot think for themselves, I'll copy Mr Buckland's structure and add some books that are worth a mention:

* Cafe Europa: Life After Communism - Slavenka Drakulic
- Topical because I visited Bulgaria this summer. The East European philosophy of "You have, I need" and their illusion that the West is a Utopia is firmly represented in this book. One account in Prague tells of a young Western European film produce being horrendously overcharged for translator services. When he tries to explain he has no money, his Eastern colleagues refuse to believe him as everyone in Western Europe is rich. Wish someone told me that.

*Lady Chatterley's Lover - D.H. Lawrence
- Yes, there are going to be some people who criticise me for not listing this in the top ten. It's well written, presents some ideas floating around the swinging twenties but I can understand why some feminists hate Lawrence. Emma is a rather frustrating character. Having said that, I did enjoy the style of Lawrence and am looking forward to reading some more of his books this year.

*Uncle Tom's Cabin - Harriet Beecher Stowe
Truly a product of its time and this is not a criticism. A book with a clear agenda with a dash of Christianity thrown in for good measure. And perhaps one of the few books today that can be published with frequent use of the word "Nigger".