Tag Archives: Book reviews

Book club: June

June has been an odd month, I’ve started stockpiling books again and I’m not actually reading them. This is not what my year-long book club is about. I realised in January that I was collecting books and not reading them, the downside of owning a Kindle. I just need to remember that as tempting as new books are, reading them is even better.

One of my favourite books is A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, so I thought I’d try another one of his novels. I wasn’t sure what to expect as A Clockwork Orange is a very violent read filled with a made up language. One Hand Clapping is very gentle in comparison. It follows Janet and Howard who are just a normal working class couple, who enjoy watching television in the evening. They watch a boy win £1000 on a quiz show and Howard decides he will use his photographic memory to win big on the quiz show. Once he has the £1000 it’s not enough and he uses it to win roughly £80,000 by betting on horses. Now with more money than they can imagine Howard and Janet set about having an expensive lifestyle.

Burgess wrote this novel to vent about the slide in Western culture and education, and despite the book being over 50 years old it did feel current. The best bit is the twist ending though when you realise that Janet isn’t as meek as she’s made herself sound.

Dexter’s Final Cut published by Orion Books Limited.

If you thought the Dexter TV series, about a police forensic specialist whose hobby is killing people, could be a bit grim at points, then try the books by Jeff Lindsay. The storylines are different but most of the ‘baddies’ are similar, and it’s much worse reading the chopping and slicing yourself. Having said this I’ve always enjoyed the Dexter books in some way. Dexter’s Final Cut is different, not just because the title isn’t alliterative, as the killer is caught half way through the book by Dexter and not in his police capacity. But the murders continue happening.

I thought the end was a bit predictable and perhaps went a bit too far, not particularly gruesome just a bit too personal. However, it was a really enjoyable read and the ending makes me want to read the next book.

The Midwich Cuckoos is a fantastic read, I read the whole book during one long train journey. Wyndham sci-fi novels are stereotypically British. The village of Midwich experiences a strange ‘Dayout’ event, there’s no consequences until all the women of childbearing age realise they’re pregnant. Nine months later 61 children are born and the village has to deal with raising these extraordinary children and keeping it a secret. Then the villagers realise that the Children are pitting the villagers against one another and something needs to be done.

It was fascinating to follow the children and the impact that it had on the village and the women. The book was written mostly as a factual report with not many mentions of the emotional impact. There were hints to one woman who had moved to Midwich just for work and ended up pregnant as a result of being there on the Dayout and abandoned her baby because she just saw it the same as if she had contracted an illness. That story was just a sentence but I would be interested in finding out more of what the women thought about the invasion. It’s also a very sweet idea from the 1950s that a whole village of women giving birth wouldn’t get in the papers. Nowadays someone would be live tweeting something like that.

July’s reads

When it comes to the summer months people often look for beach reads, romantic novels which can be devoured in a week and left behind in a hotel room for the next person. Instead I’ve picked a few non-fiction books to read. I was enticed by Mary Beard’s Confronting the Classics because I studied Classical Civilisation at A Level so I like to revisit the subject now and again.

Continuing the non-fiction theme I’ve missed Jeremy Paxman since he left Newsnight so this month I’ll be reading his book about the first world war. And for something completely different… I’m hoping to get a copy of Michael Palin’s Monty Python diaries from the library. Monty Python do their final stage show this month and I’m quite interested to see what Python was like at the beginning.

Book club: May

Last month I decided I would pay my respects to Sue Townsend by reading more of her books. I’ve read all the Adrian Mole books but there are plenty of other characters that Sue Townsend wrote about. The woman who went to bed for a year is a sweet and funny portrayal of family life.

Eva’s twins leave home to go to university and Eva decides to take to her bed for a year. She takes stock of her life and realises that her husband who she doesn’t love is having an affair, her brainy children are unable to cope with the real world and she doesn’t know who she is anymore.

From the confines of her bed she manages to bring the family back together, whether they like one another is a different matter, and they create this varied supporting cast. Eva now has the time to just talk to people and ends up hearing people’s problems. Word gets round that she’s lucky and people from around the world end up just sitting outside her house hoping to catch a glimpse of her. I don’t know if Eva learnt a lot from staying in bed for a year but she reset her life, and I was left kind of hopeful.

Who is Tom Ditto? by Danny Wallace, image from Random House.

I’ve been looking forward to the new Danny Wallace book, called Who is Tom Ditto?. This is the second novel from Wallace, it’s a bit more grown up in comparison to his earlier books like Yes Man and Join Me. I thought his novels would be jovial and happy-go-lucky too, instead Wallace seems to deal with men who’ve lost their way.

Who is Tom Ditto? starts with Tom’s girlfriend leaving and insisting that he should carry on as normal. Understandably he tries to understand what has happened to her and discovers that she’s a follower. She has no personality of her own and just follows the lead of strong people. But rather than being an annoying person who agrees with everything you say she literally drops people to follow the next person. That can even mean ditching everything to move to Paris. Tom ends up wrapped up in the idea of following too, initially as a distraction, but realises it can help him out.

At points the book started to get a bit unbelievable, and it is a bit bleak to be following a character who doesn’t want to help himself. Luckily the supporting characters are good and they take charge in Tom’s life where he can’t. There are lots of funny stories too, Tom works at a radio station where someone ends up having a sweary meltdown on air about jam.

A good book to dip in and out of is The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth. It’s all about the terms used for interesting English phrases — most of them we use unconciously but didn’t know they had names. Each short chapter deals with a term, explaining it using old and a few modern examples too.

It’s approach to language reminds me of the book For who the bell tolls by David Marsh. They both explain complicated language terms and show how the Beatles manage to use several of them in their songs. It’s enjoyable not to be told off for using language in a poor way but to be shown the interesting and powerful ways that it has been used, and sometimes without even realising how they’ve done it.

What to read in June

I’ve been on a bit of a book splurge, all classics for hardly anything at all, just need to make sure that I actually read them. I’m hoping to sit down and enjoy the sun reading outside over the next few months — but I have to see if the weather agrees with that idea too.

Book club: April

It’s very strange reading a story that you feel you should know more about, yet you don’t. Despite my love of classical literature I’ve hardly read any Charles Dickens novels. I’m trying to change that now starting with Oliver Twist. I know the key parts of the books, if I wanted to I could bluff that I’ve read it already, but I have a weird nagging feeling that I don’t know how the story ends.

One thing I’ve learnt from it is no matter how many times you think of the cheery musical or the comical voices used for, “Please sir, I want some more” is the book is pretty miserable. Oliver seems to sweetly keep going despite all the depressing things happening to him. The writing is fantastic, and brings you into this world, which I think makes it sadder as it feels real.

Kate Mosse’s The Winter Ghosts wasn’t a happy book either, but not as immersive as I found the storyline a little farfetched. The book deals with the idea of loss, the main character Freddie is unable to move on from his brother’s death which leads to him travelling through the French Pyrenees. He finds a small welcoming village and starts talking to a woman who is happy to listen to him talking about the sadness he feels about his brother. Then it turns out that this lady is a ghost and leads Freddie to the undiscovered tomb of her family and friends. I’ve been a bit harsh there but that’s essentially what happened and I thought was a bit odd. It was supposed to be closure but it just seemed a bit unlikely.

Alan Partridge’s autobiography | Photo: Harper

Time for a completely different book now — Alan Partridge’s autobiography I, Partridge we Need To Talk About Alan. It was hilarious, I was sceptical because I was unsure that the ridiculous character of Alan Partridge would work on paper but I was snorting with laughter throughout.

The book stays close to the back story of Partridge from the radio and TV shows, which is funny already, but there’s plenty of new bits written to fill the gaps. A favourite part was Alan’s Toblerone hell, dealing with the pain of losing his television show he turns to the triangular-shaped Swiss chocolate to cope. After reading the book I have now rewatched all the Partridge shows and the recent film. If there was a Partridge pop quiz I would ace it.

Way back in February Suzy recommended Be Awesome by Hadley Freeman which I have now got round to reading. I feel there are a lot of articles and blogs about feminism at the moment that are written purely to get a reaction, not to help, which is frustrating. Whereas Be Awesome is an interesting and measured guide to feminism.

The book is split up into chapters that deal with a different issue, like learning to be fine with being single, how to cope with having friends who have kids and how to read women’s magazines without wanting to grow a penis. Not all the chapters will be relevant to you all the time, but there’s good advice throughout the book. Essentially it all comes down to the idea of be awesome and don’t get hung up on what you should and shouldn’t be doing.

Hadley Freeman predominantly writes for the Guardian and some other magazines, which means there are fun chapters written in different styles to make a point. The chapter about the effect of the Daily Mail is written entirely in the style of their headlines: “Tea for two? No, just one, actually: sad Hadley cuts a lonely figure as she buys just one cup of tea in the office canteen.” It’s a nice and simple way to ridicule that style of writing.

May’s reads

I’m tempted to read some Sue Townsend books this month in memory of the fantastic author who died in April. I’ve read all the Adrian Mole stories but never tried Townsend’s other titles. Apart from that I’m not sure what to read so any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Are there any books you’ve read recently that you loved?

Book club: March

This month my books have mostly been trapped inside boxes as we moved to Sheffield. This means I had to rely upon my Kindle instead. It’s really handy to have a collection of books available at the tap of a finger so even when I finished one book I still had plenty more available to me.

Most of my time was taken up by moving so I took it as a chance to enjoy reading some short stories. I started reading some Blandings tales, after I had initially read about the PG Wodehouse characters at the start of the year. I first discovered Blandings thanks to the BBC television series and the book I have is of the small screen adaptations they have made. The stories are daft, short and sweet and enjoyable reads.

I also started to read Catch 22 and 12 Years a Slave but reading them has rolled across into April now. They are both very important books though and I’m looking forward to reading them properly.

I also found time to finish a book that I started to read several months ago — David Mitchell’s Back Story. This is the comedian’s memoirs starting from when he was a small child growing up in Oxford to his present day life in London.

David Mitchell’s Back Story

I bought this cheap from Amazon thinking I like David Mitchell and I’m a fan of his Observer column so this should be a good read. I was wrong. He starts at the beginning of his life and a good half of the book is about his childhood which, bar going to private school, is largely the same as anyone else’s childhood.

It starts to get interesting when he goes to Cambridge and meets up with people he started working with, such as Robert Webb and Olivia Colman. But I feel the book actually became interesting because it wasn’t about him. The chapter about him falling in love with Victoria Coren and pining for her for three years is actually very sweet, and makes you grateful they did get married eventually. So there are some nice little anecdotes in there but you have to go looking for them.

The book is written in an odd style, which I think largely put me off. Each chapter coincides with a walk round London where you get to hear Mitchell’s opinions on pubs, beer and various other random topics. He’s also very poncy about it. One line that particularly annoyed me was “But, when you don’t really like it, cider is quite difficult to get down in any quantity. Its acrid sugariness precludes quaffing for all but the most alcohol-calloused tramp’s throat.” Yuck!

As he came to London relatively late in life and has only lived in a small part of the city it makes no sense that London takes up such a large part of the narrative of the book, until you get to the end. Mitchell arrives outside BBC Television Centre shortly before it was closed. This serves as a eulogy to television comedy as Mitchell knows and likes it, which sort of makes sense.

Perhaps it was wrong to expect a book from a comedian to be funny, but still the lack of laughs disappointed me. However, the book did remind me of the “I’m a Mac” adverts Mitchell and Webb did.



Before I had even properly moved to Sheffield I had joined Sheffield Central library. It’s a beautiful building and I’ve already had a peek in. It has such a varied collection of books in comparison to other local libraries I’ve been a part of before. It has a really nice atmosphere too. Libraries have a reputation of being silent but when I popped in recently there was a CD player in the film and music section playing Pulp songs. I look forward to using the library properly.

Book club: February

This month’s book that I really should have read by now was To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. The book takes place in 1930s America and follows the court case of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman. Everything the reader sees comes from the perspective of Scout Finch, the young daughter of the lawyer defending Tom Robinson.

Although the topics in the book are hard going and ultimately there’s not a very happy ending there’s a great deal of warmth in the book. A lot of what happens in the book is Atticus’ children learning about the world around them from events happening at school, playing in the town and of course while watching the court case.

They’re also guided as to what’s right and wrong by Atticus who is a strong and silent hero. I also happened to see the film late one evening and Atticus is played perfectly by Gregory Peck. This makes the moment when Atticus makes his speech in the court house defending Tom Robinson so powerful and emotional. It’s also fascinating to see the impact this work of fiction has had on real life and the legal profession.

Other enjoyable reads in February were Hatchet Job by Mark Kermode and The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie. I love the ramblings of film critic Mark Kermode and have learnt many things about the movie industry from his earlier books. The Hatchet Job was about the impact of anyone blogging about films in comparison to proper qualified film critics. It was a bit of a ramble in places but it just made it more like a conversation with Kermode and he has great stories and ways of entertaining the reader.

The Mousetrap is an enjoyable play from Christie, instead of being driven by characters such as Poirot or Miss Marple a lot is left to interpretation. The Mousetrap is a great detective story filled with suspense and plenty of twists. Last month I confessed to just letting detective novels explain what’s happening to me, rather than I try to figure it out. However, The Mousetrap kept making me guess and try to figure out the murderer.

Photo: Hodder & Stoughton

My Madder Fatter Diary by Rae Earl is a book I think everyone should read, especially if you have ever lived in Lincolnshire. It’s Rae Earl’s teenage diaries which accurately document what it is like to be young and dealing with mental health problems. Although it does deal with teen topics it is something all of us can relate to and that helps you to gain a better understanding of mental health. Plus Rae is interesting and funny and came up with this fantastic summary of Lincolnshire: “Shit! Am I a secret racist?! No I live in Lincolnshire which is like living in Britain in 1952.”

March’s reads

I’m in the process of moving so all my books are in boxes, so I’ll be reading on the Kindle for the next few weeks. I have started reading Catch 22 by Joseph Keller and for some light relief, in comparison, the second Sherlock Holmes book The Sign of Four. I’ve also bought 12 Years a Slave and it is on my to read list for this month.