Annabel's House of Books

Noli domo egredi, nisi librum habes – Never leave home without a book.

Category: Authors D (page 1 of 11)

Non-fic Shiny Linkiness

Yes, there’s more Shiny Linkiness today. One of the things I do love about reviewing for Shiny New Books is that it introduces me to some great non-fiction which I don’t read enough of, and the latest issue is no exception. Please feel free to comment here, or even better – follow the links to the full reviews and comment there.  Thank you!

Birth of a Theorem by Cédric Villani

birth-of-a-theorem-198x300I realise that a memoir about winning the Fields Medal for mathematics will not be to everyone’s taste – especially as it contains pages of equations… BUT – they are just illustrations, treat them sections from a musical score and pass them by whilst appreciating the complexity you’ve just skimmed over and it does make some kind of sense to see them on the page.

Cédric Villani is a flamboyant Frenchman who likes flashy clothes and music and brings his recent career to life so we can understand a bit about what mathematicians really do!

I was rather excited by this book and you can read my full review here.

The Knowledge by Lewis Dartnell

the-knowledgeI was able to kill two birds with one stone with this book. We discussed it this month at our book group – I didn’t choose it, but was very glad to have read it, and as the new issue of Shiny New Books coincided with its paperback release, I could review it there and then discuss with the group.

This book is a thought experiment about rebooting civilisation’s lost science and technology following a world-disaster like a flu-pandemic. It’s a primer that’ll give you the basics – or point you in the right direction largely through re-examining how we discovered key processes the first time around in history. You’ll really get to appreciate how important being able to make soap and lime are after the end of the ‘grace period.’

Our book group found this fascinating and dry in equal measure. Although it is a science book written by a scientist, the others would have liked some more social science and comment incorporated – but it ‘does what it says on the tin’ and I enjoyed it a lot.

Read my full review here.

The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller

andy miller book Lastly, again, to coincide with publication of the paperback, I revised my review of Andy Miller’s book which I originally posted about here. I may have had problems with one tiny section, but I did really enjoy reading this book.

Read my revised Shiny review here.

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Source: Top – publisher – thank you. Middle and bottom – own copies.
To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below (affiliate links):

Birth of a Theorem: A Mathematical Adventure by Cédric Villani (trans Malcolm De Bevoise), Bodley Head, March 2015, hardback, 260 pages.
The Knowledge: How To Rebuild Our World After An Apocalypse by Lewis Dartnell, Vintage paperback, March 2015, 352 pages.
The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books Saved My Life by Andy Miller, 4th Estate paperback, April 2015, 253 pages.

 

Quick Reads – ideal for the train!

I’ve been terribly naughty and snuck in two novellas that got sent to me a couple of weeks ago, so not from my TBR piles.  But the TBR dare is a do it your own way challenge, and it’ll be back to books I already owned by the end of 2014 from hereon in – promise!

Galaxy Quick Reads is an expanding series of novellas written by best-selling authors and only cost a quid each. They are designed to encourage reluctant readers and so are all easy to read in terms of vocabulary and font-size but, that doesn’t mean that the stories suffer – they will engage any reader. For more information about the Quick Reads charity visit www.quickreads.org.uk.

Six new titles are being added to their list today:

  • Roddy Doyle – Dead Man Talking
  • Jojo Moyes – Paris for One
  • Sophie Hannah – Pictures Or It Didn’t Happen
  • Fanny Blake – Red for Revenge
  • Adèle Geras – Out of the Dark
  • James Bowen – Street Cat Bob

I got sent a couple (along with a welcome bar of chocolate) to try out:
IMG_20150130_154540 (1) (800x586)

I read these on the train last week – one on the way down to London, one on the way home and they fitted perfectly into that 50 minute slot.

Sophie Hannah’s novella Pictures or it Didn’t Happen tells the story of Chloe who is rescued by a complete stranger on a bike when she realises she’s left her daughter’s audition music in the car and they won’t have time to go back and get it. Tom Rigbey cycles into her life and seems to good to be true, but she still falls for him and they have a whirlwind romance – yet is he to be trusted? You expect complex plots and lots of drama from Sophie’s, and we get a good degree of drama built into the 123 pages with a neat twist.

Dead Man Talking by Roddy Doyle has a great pun in its title, and is the story of Pat and Joe, friends from childhood and now middle aged. However, they haven’t spoken for several years after they had a fight. Now Joe is dead. Pat and his wife go the wake held on the eve of the funeral and Joe, in his coffin in the front room, talks to Pat… Funny and a bit creepy, this novella was great fun.

So my first experiences with Good Reads were both good ones.

From Val McDermid and Ian Rankin to Jojo Moyes and Maeve Binchy, the list of Quick Reads has something for everyone including some non-fiction from John Simpson for example. I won’t hesitate to pick up other titles that interest me if I see them – at £1, they’re a bargain.

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Source: Publisher – Thank you.

Pictures or it Didn’t Happen (Quick Reads 2015)by Sophie Hannah
Dead Man Talking (Quick Reads)by Roddy Doyle

The problems with other peoples' dreams…

Humor by Stanley Donwood

humor

The publisher of this book wishes me to vouch for the writer of this book who is a friend of mine in order to utilise whatever celebrity kudos the writer of this quote, i.e. me, has left in order to advance the sales of this book. This has been duly done now in the form of this quote. I am sure the book is very good though I cannot remember what it is called or whether I have read it. I’ve read lots of his stuff and it’s always good and I am in no way biased.  Thom Yorke, middle-aged father of two.

Having read that quote on the blurb for this book, I was intrigued enough by it and its rather lovely cover featuring giant red spiders in a forest to accept a review copy. Stanley Donwood is an artist, renowned for working with the band Radiohead (he designed their OK Computer sleeve for instance). He also illustrated the book Holloway by Dan Richards and Robert MacFarlane which you may have seen.

Humor is a collection of Donwood’s writings grouped into sections named for the four humors – sanguine, phlegm, choler and melancholy. The pieces that make up this collection vary from a single paragraph to over a dozen pages. In the Introduction, Donwood tells us how he mostly wrote these pieces in a period of his life during which he had bad dreams and used to wake with a scream.

In the first Sanguine group is a half-page piece called Game:

I am disturbed to discover that my colleagues have invented a new game which seems to involve attempting to kill me in every juvenile way that presents itself to them. They delight in surprising me with shoves into the paths of oncoming double-decker buses, constructing ridiculous rope-and-pulley devices with the aim of dropping heavy furniture on my head, placing tripwires at the tops of escalators, and other such inanities.
They persist for some weeks, during which I become increasingly adept at avoiding suddent death by blackly humorous means. I feel that my senses are sharpened day by day, that my sight is keener, my reflexes quicker.
Soon I can detect by the smell of linseed oil alone the presence of a cricket-bat-wielding acquaintance in the bathroom. Everything is enhanced. Colours are richer, noises are louder. I awaken to the pattern of life, the weight of deeds.
Eventually my heightened awareness evolves into a vividly focused paranoia. I can only retreat; I move surreptitiously to a small seaside resort on the east coast and wat, slowly, for a death of my own choosing.

That short one does at least have a beginning, a middle and an end, and is not an entirely unknown scenario (cf: Inspector Clouseau and Cato). But many of the other short pieces in this first section were just downright weird – and reading them was a bit like listening to a friend telling you about the weird dream they had last night. Other peoples’ dreams may be bizarre but, sleep scientists and psychiatrists excepted, the weirdness only has any real significance for the dreamer.

In the Phlegm section, a little tale called Condiment is about collecting his  bodily secretions of urine, ejaculate, blood and tears, harvesting the salts from them after the liquid has been evaporated and using it as a spice in cooking. Very odd indeed.

One I did really like from the Choler section was entitled East Croydon – and just comprised a list of the things seen from a train window approaching the station. More Croydon references – they keep on coming, (see my previous post)!

Nearly all the pieces are written in the first person. Many of these ‘micro-narratives’ have that dreamy, stream of consciousness feel to them – they could almost be flash fiction. Others, as we’ve seen above, are more structured. I enjoyed quite a few of these little stories, but many, although bizarre and born of nightmares, lacked either true horror or enough charm, as in Murakami’s recent novella The Strange library for instance (see here).

As a whole, Humor was more of a miss than a hit for me. I’m not a fan of Radiohead’s albums after The Bends (which I adore) either – OK Computer does nothing for me. I did love the glorious painting by Donwood on the endpapers though … (6/10).

Endpapers to Humor by Stanley Donwood

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Source: Publisher – thank you!

To explore further on Amazon, please click below (affiliate links):
Humor by Stanley Donwood. Pub Nov 2014 by Faber and Faber. Hardback, 192 pages.
Holloway by Robert MacFarlane, Stanley Donwood and Dan Richards. Faber paperback.
OK Computer by Radiohead. CD, 1997.

A French charmer

The List of My Desires by Grégoire Delacourt

Translated by Anthea Bell

As can be seen from my annual stats review (here if you like that kind of thing!), the country I visited the most to read in translation from last year was France. I suspect that’s going to continue this year too, for I have four more Pascal Garniers, several Fred Vargas, Irene, the follow up to Pierre Lemaitre’s Alex and lighter fare in The President’s Hat by Antoine Lemain all waiting on the front row of my shelves. So it’s fitting that my first translated read of the year was also French, and très charmant it was too. Vive la France!

List-of-My-desiresI fell in love with the embossed buttons on the front cover of this book being a bit of a haberdashery fan – one of my pleasures as a child was sorting out my mum’s button tin, I could spend hours doing that, but I digress. I did wonder whether this book would be a little fluffy, but I was recommended it by one of our parent helpers in the school library, and she is half French as well as a great reader.

Jocelyne has been running a haberdashery shop in the town of Arras in Northern France for over twenty years now.  She has been married for the same length of time to Jo. By coincidence, or is it fate, she married a Jocelyn – a chance in a million. She tells us about her family:

We have two children. Well, three, in fact. A boy, a girl and a corpse.

Nadège was stillborn and it was the only time she’s ever seen Jo so angry, it scared her and the children. It affected their relationship deeply but they are still together, as happy as they can be, she thinks.

Next door to the shop is a hairdressers, run by a pair of twins. Every Friday they lunch together and the twins fill out their lottery tickets, hoping that one day they’ll be lucky, they won enough one year to open their salon. They tell Jocelyne that she should have a go, but she’s resistant.

It’s only in books that you can change your life. Wipe out everything at a stroke. Do away with the weight of things. Delete the nasty parts, and then at the end of a sentence suddenly find yourself on the far side of the world.

One day she gives in a buys a lucky dip ticket for the Euromillions draw – and she wins €18,000,000.

She tells no-one. She uses the pretext of visiting a supplier in Paris to collect her prize. The advisor tells her that her life will never be the same – she must be prepared for everyone to want a piece of her good fortune, including her family.

Life has been looking up lately, Jo is in line for a promotion at the factory where he works, their relationship is better than it was.  The shop is doing well, and her knitting blog is really taking off allowing her to take orders by mail on the side. Her children are settled out in the world. Sure, they could do with more money – she could buy Jo the Porsche he aspires to, but they don’t need it. However, she is drawn to make a list of her desires, how she would spend the money – well who wouldn’t, but their life is fine as it is. She hides the cheque. Life carries on, everyone’s happy – but things do change …

I can’t take you further than the blurb does without spoiling the story. I can tell you that I loved Jocelyne though – she was such a wonderful and complex character. She realises that money can’t buy you love or happiness – she couldn’t bring herself to rip up her ticket or give all the money away anonymously. The fact that the cheque is sitting there, waiting for her to decide what to do eats away at all her insecurities, but she knows that some small changes would be nice – maybe they’ll come naturally, or will she continue to let her life be stifled by circumstance?

This novel is at once heart-warming and heart-breaking. Written in short chapters, it was an easy read in a single session, I couldn’t put it down once I’d started. I crossed my fingers for a good ending, I wouldn’t have been able to bear it if it had been sentimental or fluffy. Phew! It fitted. I can see why this book has been a huge best-seller – it was not as light as it first appeared, and I loved it. (8.5/10)

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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The List of my Desires by Grégoire Delacourt, trans Anthea Bell. (2014) Phoenix paperback, 224 pages.

'I like a fresh bowl.'

Yes, it’s a quote from that late 1990s TV series Ally McBeal which was set in a Boston legal firm. I watched it religiously for most of its run. Partner John Cage was the chap who said it – he had many quirks including a remote control for his favourite toilet stall, which he’d pre-flush before going… I bring it up because it was the first thing that popped into my mind when I spotted this book at a book sale last year!

 

The Lady Who Liked Clean Rest Rooms by J.P. Donleavy

donleavy lady clean Donleavy is Irish-American; born in New York he moved to Ireland after WWII where, now aged 88, he still lives. The Ginger Man was his first novel, published in 1955, and he continued writing up until the late 1990s. He wrote several plays in his early career in addition to his novels and occasional non-fiction.

I have The Ginger Man and A Fairytale of New York (1973) on my shelves but, despite them being broadly classed as comedies, I worried that they might be slightly challenging to read. This short, late novel from 1995 with its arresting title thus seemed a perfect compromise as a good introduction to the man and his writing.

Meet Jocelyn – a fit, fortyish divorcée living in Scarsdale, a prosperous suburb of New York City. Jocelyn got the big house and a chunk of cash from the settlement but is rattling around in this money pit and slowly going mad.

…she got so drunk she found herself sitting at midnight with a loaded shotgun across her lap, after she thought she heard funny noises outside around the house. Then watching a bunch of glad facing so called celebrities spout their bullshit on a T.V. talk show and remembering that once someone told her how, when having quaffed many a dram, they turned off T.V. sets in the remote highlands of Scotland, she clicked off the safety, aimed the Purdey at mid-screen and let off the no. 4 cartridges in both barrels. And she said to herself over and over again as the sparks and flames erupted from the smoke.
‘Revenge is what I want. Nothing but pure unadulterated revenge. But my mother brought me up to be a lady.’

Jocelyn’s family harks back to the Mayflower, she went to Bryn Mawr – but since the divorce, her friends have melted away and her children don’t talk to her, she has no help any more. She cashes in the big house, but bad financial advice loses her her capital. She moves again into a tiny apartment in Yonkers (not Scarsdale – eek!), tries waitressing and finds that her fine palate is not suited to serving uneducated ones. She can’t find another job, so she wonders if she can get a man – maybe one of her old flames would pay her for it!

The one thing that keeps Jocelyn sane are her regular forays to the big art galleries in Manhattan. The only problem with being out though is the need to pee – and Jocelyn, like her South Carolina grandmother taught her, “My dear, if you really have to, only clean, very clean rest rooms will do”, and there aren’t many around in the businesses and big hotels that will tolerate regular non-resident visitors. But one day she finds the perfect rest room in a funeral home and has to pretend to be at a viewing …

I won’t deny that this text was an easy read – I so nearly let it bog me down, but persevered as it was only 100 pages or so! Donleavy’s sentence structure can be very convoluted in its clauses, and he ignores grammatical convention a lot of the time. His almost stream of consciousness style of writing, all in the present tense, felt more like the story had been written in the 1960s than the 90s, and it frequently obscured the laughs at first which did become apparent on closer reading – for underneath it all was a funny little plot, although it is a rather sad book.

It was surprisingly vulgar in places and at first I wondered how Jocelyn could stoop so low, but as we all know – social standing is no measure of bad behaviour, and what those Bryn Mawr girls got up to!… Despite her demotion from socialite to lonely mad cat-lady-type, I didn’t like Jocelyn at all and I wasn’t entirely convinced by her characterisation either.

This book is a definite Marmite one – some readers will love it and others will hate it. The experience reminded me of reading Woodcutters by Thomas Bernhard as similarly challenging stylistically; I appreciated both, but didn’t like either particularly. (6/10)

Are all Donleavy’s books like this?
Should I go on to try one of his full length novels?

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Source: Own Copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Lady Who Liked Clean Restrooms: The Chronicle of One of the Strangest Stories Ever to Be Rumoured about Around New York by J P Donleavy. Paperback.

… and those that disappointed

All in all, I’ve had a marvellous reading year, but there were a few disappointments along the way. Of course a book that was meh or a DNF for me, may be just the ticket for another reader, but I hope I’ve explained in the full posts on these titles what I didn’t like about the books. You are very welcome to disagree!

ferrisI’m finally starting to overcome my compulsion to finish every book I read, posting about three DNF titles which I abandoned a way in but merited a mention here.  They were:

I found it quite liberating to abandon these books – especially the Ferris which had all the Booker interest…  I won’t be revisiting any of them in the future.

But there are another couple of novels that I read all the way through and posted about which were just about okay…

frog musichow-to-build-a-girlThe main character in Frog Music by Emma Donoghue just wore me out with her fussing and cussing.

Similarly, Johanna in Caitlin Moran’s first novel How to Build a Girl, despite Moran’s insistence that Johanna is not based on her own life, appears too close to be not her. Apparently aimed at older teens, this novel is full of swearing, wanking, sex and drugs and rock’n’roll. You have been warned.

The Mindless Thriller Award

nemesis… goes to The Nemesis Program by Scott Mariani.

I was lured into reading this book by the mention of the genius Szerbian scientist Nikola Tesla, who in his later years developed an oscillator that he reckoned could be scaled up to knock buildings down etc.

The sub-Bondian baddie in this thriller has developed such a weapon and ex-SAS soldier turned vicar(!) Ben Hope, in his tenth outing, is the man to stop him.

Just too absurd and too long, and the sense of humour bypass made this a bit of a slog.

 

Reading Flop of the Year

seth macf
The biggest disappointment in my reading year however was Seth MacFarlane’s comedy Western A Million Ways to Die in the West – which with passing time I recall as ever more puerile and just full of toilet jokes.

Originally, I had thought to go and see the film – but it absolutely tanked! I’m glad I didn’t get to waste my money. I even managed to resell my copy of the book too, so only ended up a couple of quid out of pocket.

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I was in two minds whether to write this post or not, but given that I have written a post about each of the books mentioned, saying what I thought about them thought it fair enough.

Am I being too snarky?
What do you think?
Have you read any of these books?

Tomorrow I’ll be back with some of the best
new to me authors I’ve discovered this year.

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