re:View – The 2012 bookshelf III

So, here’s the last batch of books I’ve read in the first half of 2012. More to come as soon as I’ve had a payday and can stock up the bookshelf…

The Graveyard Book
by Neil Gaiman | Amazon (UK)

Although Neverwhere had left me pretty disappointed, I decided to try another Gaiman, and I’m glad I did. Written for a young audience, the story of an orphaned toddler being adopted by a bunch of ghosts and raised in a graveyard is as morbid as it is touching. The Graveyard Book reminded me very much of the movie version of Coraline with its wacky characters and magical excursions into fantastically scary worlds. It’s the kind of book that is full of characters you’ll want to pluck off the page and add into your real life. It’s the kind of book I would have read over and over again as a girl, feeling the characters become more real every time, until I’d convinced myself that they actually do exist somewhere in a graveyard just beyond my reach. (I was a bit of a loner, as you’ve probably figured.) The Graveyard Book took me right back to my early reading days and reminded me why I’ve never been able to live without books.
Pens: 5 out of 5


The Eyre Affair
by Jasper Fforde | Amazon (UK)

Oh-kay, weirdness alert. I wasn’t really sure about the whole Thursday Next series, but decided to give it a go after several friends recommended it. And I’m afraid it ends for me with volume one. Although the meta fiction thing grew on me about halfway through the book (when the actual plot finally kicks in after some over-indulgent introductory rambling), the concept behind it seemed just a bit too chaotic. Special detectives protecting our literary heritage? Cool. Real people and fictional characters jumping in and out of books? If we’re going that way, fair enough. A Nineteen Eighty-Four inspired setting? Well, if you must crush us with references, okay. It was when the time travelling came in that I got a bit of overload, and when it moved on to the vampires and werewolves, I finally had enough. It’s a shame that Fforde had to hopelessly over-clutter The Eyre Affair by cramming in every possible aspect of fantasy literature he could think of. Because the bit about moving between the real world and literary world would have been pretty awesome without all the rest annoying the hell out of you.
Pens: 3 out of 5


The Unadulterated Cat
by Terry Pratchett | Amazon (UK)

Aaaah, it’s the Pratchett Guide to Owning a Cat! Or, more like, to Why the Cat, in Fact, Owns You. This book, very obviously the work of a life-long cat friend, made me very happy because a) it is nice to know that one of my favourite authors seems to be about as obsessed with cats as I am, and b) it’s a really entertaining collection of cat-related anecdotes offering a lot of very funny interpretations of what goes on in your cat’s mind. Definitely light reading, with short chapters broken up by many lovely illustrations, but very much recommended if you have any kind of opinion on cats.
Pens: 3 out of 5


Apocalypse Cow

by Michael Logan | Amazon (UK)

Huh. This is the winner of the 2012 Terry Pratchett Novel Award, so dare I say it wasn’t actually that great? I’ll have to say it – sorry! When a book comes with a quote from the master of delightful comedy himself on the cover, saying it had him laughing out loud, you’d kind of expect it to be very funny. To my great disappointment, I found Apocalypse Cow occasionally a little funny, at best. The story itself is entertaining enough – a highly contagious virus escaped from a government lab turns every animal in Great Britain into a blood-thirsty zombie. Expected zombie apocalypse scenario ensues. It’s just not executed in a very funny way. The book also suffers from a very shallow spectrum of good and bad characters. It’s all a bit too black and white, and every last damn character gets exactly what they deserve. Which makes the whole thing completely predictable from around page 50 onwards. It’s a shame, because with a bit more bite (sorry) and a little more effort on the character-building front, this could have been a potential cult classic.
Pens: 2 out of 5


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
by Betty Smith | Amazon (UK)

Oooh, I loved this book. Loved it so much! And I can’t believe I’d never heard about it before, because it fits spot-on into one of my favourite genres. As far as American immigrant literature goes, as I know now, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is considered a bit of a classic. But this coming-of-age story of a second-generation Irish/German girl in early 20th century New York is also the kind of book I wish I’d had as a friend when I was young. The writing gets a bit sentimental at times, but the depth of the story largely justifies it. This is one beautiful family saga that had me crying with joy and sadness throughout, and although it’s filled with grim realities it radiates hope from start to finish. I think it’s the kind of book that will become a lifelong friend.
Pens: 5 out of 5


Civilwarland in Bad Decline
by George Saunders | Amazon (UK)

I’ve written rave reviews of George Saunders before, and here’s another one. Civilwarland may even be my favourite of his short story collections so far. I found it a bit more accessible than his later works, but it still had the same depth and insight I’ve come to love in his writing. These stories are less bizarre and slightly more on the real-world side than Phil, Pastoralia and In Persuasion Nation. But maybe that’s what gives them so much impact – you find yourself thinking, quite a lot, that this stuff could actually happen in your lifetime. In terms of writers I’ve come across in recent years Saunders is definitely a new all-time favourite.
Pens: 5 out of 5


Basket Case
by Carl Hiaasen | Amazon (UK)

A story of an underdog journalist trying to make his big break investigating a series of dodgy deaths among the members of a once-scandalous punk rock band: It could have been awesome. I wanted it to be awesome. And for a while it promised to be awesome. Unfortunately Hiaasen fell into the lazy writer’s trap. The plot had a lot of potential to make a super mean-and-funny crime story, and in the early stages the characters promised to be the perfect ensemble to act out a mean-and-funny crime story. But it would have required some effort and depth of characterisation, and maybe one or two unexpected twists in the story. Neither of which ever happened. Every character gets a “good” or “bad” label early on, with their minimal developments already forecast clearly. And in the end, every character gets exactly what they deserve, and all the strands of the storyline are tucked away in the neatest, cleanest happy ending you can imagine. In fact, the whole ending is so wiped-clean that it virtually leaves a smell of anti-bacterial lemon cleaner lingering in your mind. Why?! It could have been so awesome!
Pens: 2 out of 5


Moving Pictures
by Terry Pratchett | Amazon (UK)

Mr Pratchett goes to Holy Wood, and all the movie fans in the world scream with joy. This is Pratchett at his best – a wonderfully funny and very wise discworldification of the history of the Dream Factory. From the executives and vice presidents that spring up from the ground in their dozens as soon as the first movie rolls to the stardom and fanaticism that instantly sweeps the Disc, everything is cleverly observed and carefully taken the p*ss out of in the usual Pratchett manner. And of course, behind all the glitter, something dark and dangerous is boding… The more of his books I read, the more it amazes me how much insight Pratchett has on every single topic he chooses. The amount of detail and the depth of re-interpretation are simply stunning and make every one of his book one that I know I’ll have to read again, and again.
Pens: 5 out of 5

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