Holiday Book Reviews

I'm a manic book reader. When I'm on holiday, I like to try and read a book a day. So, my recent two weeks off was the perfect time to indulge. Here, for those of you that care, are what I read and what I thought. In no particular order...

Shades of Grey - Jasper Fforde

Jasper Fforde is one of the few truly original writers. The plot is so-so (a mystery, a quest, a conspiracy) but the sci-fi is just the right side of weird. Absolutely no exposition about why the world is the way it is - it's left to the reader to pick up what clues they can. One of the best books I've ever read. Funny, confusing and sweet.

I'd thought that the last Thursday Next book showed how FForde had painted himself into a bit of a corner. This new universe he has created seems endlessly ripe for possibilities.

The Year of the Flood - Margaret Atwood

Dunce that I am, I didn't realise until half-way through the book that this was a sequel to the rather brilliant Oryx and Crake. You don't need to have read Oryx to enjoy this book. Much like Cory Doctorow (see below) Atwood's speculative fiction is a delight. It's certainly refreshing to read a sci-fi work with two strong female leads.

Oryx and Crake - Margaret Atwood

I first read Oryx several years ago - the plot is still blisteringly good. The only downside is some of the references have dated a little (CD-ROMs etc). Re-reading this immediately after "Flood" was a revalation. The characters burn brighter for knowing the complementary story within "Flood".

Neverwhere - Neil Gaiman

I remember a special feature in the Radio Times about the making of the TV series - but I hadn't found time to read the book until now. Much like Shades of Grey, the plot is almost secondary to the world which Gaiman has created. It owes a lot to Hitchikers' Guide - but that's no bad thing.

Black Swan - Taleb

For a much hyped book, this really isn't very good. The basic premise is sound - unexpected things happen; plan for them - but the writing is turgid, self-important and too folksy for my liking. I got halfway through the book before I felt like he was repeating himself endlessly. I don't think I'll return to it.

Starship Troopers - Heinlein

Another one that has languished on my "To Read" pile for far too long. Expertly crafted sci-fi which - as far as I can see - hasn't dated in the slightest.

Unseen Academicals - Pratchett

Terry Pratchett had lost his way on some recent DiscWorld books. Too many plot strands and too many in-jokes. This is a stunning return to form. I'm not in the least bit interest in football - so I no doubt missed many excellent puns - but this was the funniest book I've read in a long while. The plots work well together and there's jsut the right amount of menacing undertone.

The Diving Bell and The Butterfly - Baudry

It's a remarkable book - dictated over months by a man who can only blink to communicate. Essentially it's a love letter to life. That being said, I didn't find it particularly moving or - if I'm honest - interesting. If you're missing your appreciation for life, it's probably a must-read.

The Behaviour of Moths - Poppy Adams

Bit of a random one, this. It's a sweet and engaging story which is high on detail and emotion. AKA chick-lit. But rather than blather on about dieting, this concentrates on family relationships, the nature of love and self identity. There's a beautiful sense of mystery which is expertly left to the reader to resolve. I didn't really enjoy reading this book but - oddly - I find myself enjoying the memory of the book. No doubt it will be made in to a mini-series at some point.

Makers - Cory Doctorow

Once again, Cory Doctorow comes up with a compelling vision of the future. This is a more accessible read than some of his earlier work. The human detail is richly expanded. It seems, though, that it could do with a spot more editing. The odd repeated phrase and convoluted sentence structure are a mite distracting. I am also at a loss to explain his fetishising of Disney. Nevertheless, a hugely enjoyable and mind expanding book.

Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman - Walter M. Miller

This is the sequel to "A Canticle for Liebowitz" - without a doubt one of my favourite books. I'm at a complete loss as to why this book was published (posthumously). All of the majesty from the original book is gone. It takes a small event in the life of the Liebowitz order and relates it with grinding detail. Similar in tone and scope to a novel like Ken Follet's "Pillars of the Earth" but without any of the fire, zeal, excitement or - if I'm frank - plot. This was a slog to read.

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