To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

This book was published in 1960 but it set in the mid-30s, in the American South. This is an absolute classic, that every single living American has read, or at least that is how it feels. When I go to book clubs everyone knows it well, and it seems to be universally loved. With all the excitement about a possible sequel I felt that it was high time that I read it.

It is hard to talk about this book without spoilers, but I should probably just assume that everyone has read it. Our narrator is a small girl, named Scout, aged from around 5 to 8 years old as the story progresses. She has an older brother, Jem, and a single father, Atticus, who is just about the most perfect person ever.

It is set in the South, in the 30s, so it is about… yes, you got it; race. I am kind of tired of novels about race, but it is an important part of American history, and this is the definitive novel about race in the South. It is also about the danger of prejudiced and slow-witted humans, which is just about the most terrifying thing that I can think of.

Lee writes a whole novel about the injustices of racism. It is set in the 30s so there is an excellent opportunity to draw a parallel between Hitler’s persecution of the Jews and Scout’s fellow townspeople’s persecution of the “Negroes”. Lee also uses the opportunity to get across a few more wise comments, such as “havin’ a gun around’s an invitation to somebody to shoot you.” But when it comes to women serving on a jury? Atticus is amused at the thought; “I doubt if we’d ever get a complete case tried – the ladies’d be interrupting to ask questions,” and they all have a good chuckle at the very idea. Hm, I went off Atticus a bit when he said that.

Posted in book review, books, classics, fiction | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

still alice

This is the sad story of a woman in her early fifties who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. She is physically fit and healthy, and she is above average intelligence, she works as a professor at Harvard. This is presumably to make us realise that this can happen to anyone.

Genova is a psychologist and neuroscientist, and her grandmother had Alzheimer’s. So, she knows her stuff. She explains it all very clearly. It is a genetic disease, that can move very quickly in some patients, as it does with Alice, or sometimes much more slowly. I think she does a very good job of showing the symptoms, and apparently she spoke to lots of early-onset Alzheimer’s patients as part of her research.

The book is written from the perspective of a person with increasing dementia. I think that is what sets it apart from many other books. It may seem like a difficult task, to show forgetfulness and confusion from a first-person perspective, but that is one of the things that makes the book so good. Alice cannot read a book or watch a film because her brain cannot store information from a story for long enough for her to follow it, but she manages to narrate this book perfectly and illustrate that very well.

It was a sad book that I fully expected to make me cry towards the end, but it has kind of an uplifting ending, which highlights the value of all people in our lives, and why we should care for our elderly. But on the other hand, the ending is kind of a cop-out. Oh, and Alice’s husband is a total asshole at worst, and just a fool at best, but we do not really get to hear very much about how he feels, which might have been interesting, since the book was not that long.

Posted in book review, books, fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

I read this for a book club but so many people had recommended this to me that I probably would have read it anyway. I was told by several people that if I liked Gone Girl then I would like this. I did not love Gone Girl, I would say that I preferred this one. But, really, they are not too similar. They are both about women with mental health problems, and men who maybe should have tried a little harder to be kinder or just faithful to their wives, but that is about all the similarities that I could see.

We have three narrators, but our main one is Rachel, the girl, or to be more exact, woman on the train. She is in her early thirties, girlhood is well behind her. She is an alcoholic, and I found her quite painful to read about. Her addiction has ruined so many aspects of her life, and she does not really know for sure what she is doing and her memory often fails her. She is a very pitiful character. She looks out of the window of the train that she takes every day and one she sees something that makes her have to get involved with one of the other narrators of the story.

It is a whodunnit. I worked out who the killer was on page 110. I bookmarked it so that I could be smug about it at book club. There are just enough clues in there to work out what is going on but it is still a good read. I am not a huge thriller fan but it was well-written for a debut novel and the pace kept me going quickly through it.

Posted in book review, books, fiction | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

This is a predictable story of a grumpy old man who turns out to have a heart of gold. I do not consider this statement to be a spoiler because it is so very clear from the start how this book will go.

Ove is a hard-working, decent, honest man who likes rules and who gets annoyed by incompetence, bureaucracy, disrespectfulness and idiots. Who doesn’t, though?

When a new family moves in to the house next door all sorts of things change for Ove and his life is opened up to new experiences and lots of new(ish) people. Relationships with neighbours he has known for years get re-examined and the reader gets taken on a rollercoaster of emotions.

I can totally get behind Ove in terms of all that goes through his head. People are mostly irritating, except for perhaps your significant other, who is the only person who even vaguely gets you, and even they sometimes wonder what the hell you are on about. But I do not like Ove, and, even as we see his positive side, I cannot like him. Because he is rude. He actually says what he is thinking, which just isn’t on.

Judging by other reviews this is supposed to be a “feel-good” story. It did not really do that for me. I still felt a little bit sorry for him, but I mostly wanted to give him a good shake and a lecture about manners costing nothing. If nothing else, this book should make the reader think a little more about what other people might be going through, and make us all be a little bit nicer to each other.

Posted in book review, books, fiction | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Revolution by Russell Brand

revolution russell brand

I listened to the audio book of this for the Huntington Beach Non Fiction Book Group. When I listen to audio books I am usually a bit distracted, talking to my dog and my child as I take them both for a walk in a morning. This book suited my listening ability, since it does not go in to a great deal of complicated detail, and there is quite a lot of repetition. If I had read the old-fashioned paper book then I may well have scanned through a lot of it, but I liked the audio book. Brand reads it, which added a lot to my enjoyment. He is a lot calmer reading this book than in his usual performances, and I liked the style. He made me laugh a lot and even think a little, too.

Now, on to the content. Brand puts himself and his intelligence down, but I think he must have either had some help with this, or he is actually brighter than he makes out. He references an awful lots of other people’s ideas, and includes far too many pithy quotes for my liking, but he delivers the ideas in a compelling and entertaining way.

In short, he suggests a revolution of our current broken political systems to bring in something truly democratic, and that we should all meditate and reflect on our spirituality a couple of times a day. Oh, if only we all had the spare time of a rich actor/comedian, I am sure that we all would. He does address the hypocrisy of a man in his comfortable financial position, brought about by being famous for nothing particularly useful to the human race, except entertaining us, calling for a revolution to bring about equality.

A how-to book it certainly is not. In fact he gives no suggestions on how we might bring this revolution about, and is also quite vague when discussing how the world might look once we are done. He has understood the basics of what is wrong with the system, and argues his points well (or at least uses other sources to argue his points). But there is really not very much of substance in terms of a way forward.

On the whole, I agree with his point that he could have just written “Booky Wook Three” and collected his cheque, and he chose not to, he chose to bring these ideas a little closer to the minds of the masses, and I think that is a good thing.

Posted in book review, books, non-fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Working Stiff by Judy Melinek and TJ Mitchell

working stiff

Well, I have not enjoyed a book as much as I enjoyed this one in a long time. But then, I have not read any non-fiction for a long time, so there might be a lesson in there. This was incredibly interesting from cover to cover. I read this for the Huntington Beach Non-Fiction Book Group. This woman’s job is completely awesome, absolutely fascinating, and there is not a chance in the world that I could ever do anything like this.

This is the story of Dr Judy Melinek’s two years of working as a forensic pathologist trainee in Manhattan. She cuts up dead people to work out how and why they died. She explains why she went in to this field, rather than any other sort of doctoring, and she gives us a little background on her upbringing and her home life. I would love to have dinner with her, she would have so many stories. Actually, not dinner, I have a weak stomach.

She tells at least one story about pretty much every way you can die, or at least the common ways in Manhattan (where I used to live). She had worked in this field in Los Angeles (close to where I live now) and she said that she had car crash victim after car crash victim, which you do not get much of in Manhattan, because the cars cannot get fast enough to kill people, unless the driver is drunk.

The book has stories of murders, accidents, suicides, medical procedures gone wrong, quite a few falls from high buildings (it is Manhattan, of course there are) and, towards the end, a long chapter on dealing with the bodies from the World Trade Center on September 11th 2001. I have not read anything so though-provoking for a while. I read a large portion of it out to my husband, when he was next to me as I read, and saved most of the rest of it up to tell him about when he was not next to me. I know I will be telling people stories from this one for a long time to come, and that is a sign of a good non-fiction book.

I did a lot of gasping in shock, swearing out loud and some weeping when reading this. She works on the bodies of people of all ages, and that 9/11 chapter is extremely upsetting. But still brilliant. There is a truly incredible bit about the worst way to die (in her opinion). It is astounding, but I think it might be an only-in-Manhattan possibility.

This is my top recommendation for this year; read it, it’s great. Definitely read it if you are thinking of committing suicide or murdering someone, it may make you rethink your methods. Definitely read it if you are eating a lot of fatty foods or drinking a lot of alcohol. But if you are a reader over lunchtimes don’t read it then, there is a lot of blood and gore and brains and odours and maggots and things.

Posted in book review, books, memoir, non-fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

I read this for a book group, otherwise I would not have picked it up. I was not particularly keen to read it, mainly because blockbuster novels are usually quite rubbish, what with the general public having such poor taste in everything, and I am not a huge fan of thrillers, so my hopes were not high. It was OK, though. It was a quick read, and there were bits I skimmed over, so it certainly could have stood being shorter than it’s 450 pages.

This is a story of a pair of quite awful people who are married to each other. Then the wife goes missing. You spend the first half of the book thinking that the husband is more awful than the wife. My main problem with the novel is that I already knew the big reveal halfway through. I am going to have to say what it is so look away now if you are one of the twelve people left in the world who have yet to read it: the wife fakes her own disappearance. So, it turns out that the wife is actually more awful than the husband. In fact, she is a psychotic, socio-pathic nut case, and he is just a cheating, selfish lazybones.

I was a bit bored in the first half, because I knew what game Flynn was playing with me, the reader, but the second half was more exciting and I did want to know how it turned out. The two main characters take turns in narrating each chapter, and Flynn is very skilled at ending them on a cliff hanger that makes you want to keep going. I do not really like or need this as a technique, I will keep reading a book until the end for the majority of the time. I will not be seeking out any more of Flynn’s novels but I would possibly happily read one if I ever fancy something easy and exciting. I will also be watching the movie, since the book was partially ruined for me by picturing Ben Affleck in the lead. So, this, along with my knowing the huge spoiler is the moral of this story; always read the novel before the movie is released.

Posted in book review, books, fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment