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".


Mark Buckland said...

Did this myself after I saw yours. Children of Men is decent. Anything by Chris Brookmyre is worth a read. Marian Keyes is punishable by death in many countries and is banned under the UN Human Rights Convention as a method of torture/bioweaponry.


Mark Shields said...

You still quietus these days? I check every few days in case - there have been a few choice Guardian articles that I thought you might have picked up on; Max Gogarty, Woman liking different types of music and... well, most of them really!

Ms Alex (Daemonwolf Books) said...

I read and reviewed On Chesil Beach. :)