June 24, 2017

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

the wasp factoryIt’s been a while since I’ve read an Iain Banks (The Crow Road in about 1997 I think), so it was great to read another this month.

The Wasp Factory was his first novel, and is about a somewhat fucked up family on a tiny island in Scotland. At first you think some of them might be normal, but then you realise – nope they’re all rather strange.

The story is told in a fascinating way – in real time, but with the reminiscences that explain every dropped in occasionally. So the reader is both uncovering the past and the future as the book progresses.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick

do androids dream of electric sheepI picked up Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep in a great discount bookshop – picking it up because it rang some bells. Having started reading it I realised it’s the same author as THe Man in the High Castle that I read a few years ago.

It’s also the book that became Blade Runner (a film I’ve never seen, but will now be reading). The forward of the version I read said the first thing one needed to do was forget the film – so I’m glad I haven’t yet seen it!

It’s a lovely little book (under 200 pages). Although it is sci-fi it’s increadibly accessible. In it Dick explores what might happen if we developed androids that were almost impossible to tell from humans, and then had to track down and deal with the ones that went a bit crazy. That’s the obvious story, but there’s also a big exploration of empathy and is that the thing that makes us human?

It’s a great read, and subtly leaves you thinking too.

 

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (Hunger Games)

Mockingjaymockingjay is the third of the Hunger Games series (so if you haven’t read the first 2 don’t read this review! Read my review of the first book).

The second book ends very abruptly as the Hunger Games in which Katnis and Peeta are playing suddenly falls to pieces. We learn that the rebellion is in full swing with war in most of the Distsricts. Mockingjay takes us through the rebellion as Gale, Haymitch, Katnis, Peeta, the other Victors and their families battle to find the right solutions.

It is not as fast paced, or as compelling a page turner as the first 2 books (that might be down the size of my hangover when I read most of this). Either way it’s a very different style of book. Here we see the full extent of the corruption that’s crept through Panem since the original rebellions and the setting up of the Hunger Games. We see that no-one is immune from corruption, and how much things need to change.

It’s a scary, reflective book that is true to life in that there are few happy endings. A must read, well the whole series is!

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Hunger Games)

Catching Firecatching fire is the second book in the Hunger Games Trilogy. (Warning – if you’ve not read the first book, don’t read this review – go and read my review of book one).

After the trials of the Hunger Games Katnis and Peeta are back in District 12, trying to live a normal life in the Victors Village. Then it’s time for the victory parade around Panem, and all the chaos kicks off once more. Their performance in the Hunger Games had a bigger impact that anyone realised, and seems to have kicked off a lot of unrest. One thing leads to another (I don’t want to give too much away!) and the whole book ends on a serious cliffhanger.

(so much of a cliffhanger that I’ve gone and started book 3 before writing this review – so apologies if it’s a bit disjointed, I’m trying to keep the 2 stories seperate).

Catching Fire is as thrilling a read as The Hunger Games. I finished it under 24 hours – cue serious loss of sleep – but it was well worth it. It’s pacey, there are lots of twists and turns – if you thought the Games were devious in the first book, you’ve seen nothing yet.

This is a series for anyone who likes pacey, fast books – a great read.

The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin

the stepford wivesI picked The Stepford Wives up in one of Amazon’s Kindle sales. I’m really glad I did.

Like many I’ve always understood the phrase “Stepford Wives”, but never really understood the full concept of the book. (I’ve not seen either film, yet, either).

The edition I read has a great intro by Chuck Palahniuk which I found very useful to understand the full scenario in which the book was written.

I was surprised by how short the book is (I think I’d got it a little confused with the tome-like Valley of the Dolls), and it’s also pretty scary.

It tells the story of Joanna Eberhart and her family as they move out of New York to the small town of Stepford. Where something odd is going on, with all the women these perfect wives.

It really gripped me, and I think it’s one I’ll def be reading again, and wishing for a different outcome.

Orpheus Rising by Bateman

Orpheus RisingThis is the second of Bateman’s books I’ve read (the first was I Predict A Riot) and this one isn’t quite as good.

Orpheus Rising is a much more thoughtful book, and although I did skim a few pages in the middle, it was well worth getting to the end. Simply because the premise of the story is so fascinating.

The hero of the book is Michael, a millionaire reclusive (aka lost) author. His book Space Coast was written and launched before his wife was murdered in a bank robbery. After that he spend the next decade roaming the world. In Orpheus Rising we catch up with him just before the 10 year anniversary of the bank robbery, which his old home town of Brevard is chosing to commemorate with a dinner and garden opening. Michael doesn’t want to go, but gets persuaded into it.

Once there all kind of odd things happen, and it gets a bit sci-fi and a bit thriller, and it’s also a love story, and a murder mystery crime thriller.

Yet again a Bateman book that refuses to be pigeon holed!

So, I’m glad I read it, but I’m not convinced I’ll recomend it to anyone else (it’s probably on the way to charity shop). But I would certainly recommend to read something by Bateman.

Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

RelicLast year I read Preston and Child’s The Wheel of Darkness, and really enjoyed it. So I’ve decided to start working through the rest of their books. Relic is the first one to feature Agent Prendergast.

And Relic is not as good as The Wheel of Darkness.

It’s a pretty good read – but lacks the intensity and grip and page-turning-ness of the more recent books.

In Relic there are a series of hideous murders in a New York museum. But these occur at the same time as the museum is about to launch a make or break exhibition. So politics get in the way, all leading to the museum staying open, and lots of fighting about who should and shouldn’t be trying to find the killer.

It is a great story – but the plot lines and characters are not as strong and gripping as in their later books.

So if you like slightly sci-fi / paranormal murder mysteries than Preston and Child are worth looking out – but read something more recent.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

the hunger gamesYesterday I did 2 things I haven’t done in a while. The first was to read a whole book (no skimming) in a day, the second to stay up til gone 2am reading because I just couldn’t put the book down.

The book in question is Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, and I’m so glad I read it before seeing the film.

The Hunger Games is the first of a trilogy of books aimed at the young adult market. It’s set in a post-WW3 world divided into 12 districts all ruled by the Capitol. Each district has a specific job (food, coal etc), and there’s almost no communication between districts. To keep every one in check the Capitol organises a reality TV show each year where 2 teenagers from each district battle to the death in The Hunger Games.

This book takes us through a hunger game, and it’s fascinating – I can’t wait to read the next two. We spend the whole book with Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen from District 12. Through her we see the insanity of the Games, and also learn about the lives of people in the different districts.

I thoroughly enjoyed the story, and the way it was told. It’s a very well-executed piece of writing, all the dots line up and things keep popping back in. A great read.

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

I Am Legend is one of the great science fiction masterpieces.I Am Legend

I wrote the above line before reading the book, and have to say I agree now I have read it.

For such a short book (just 160 pages) it definately packs a punch. You could certainly polish it off in an afternoon.

This book was first published in 1954 and was Richard Matheson’s first sci fi novel. Both of those facts are really quite surprising as it’s a very brilliant piece of writing that asks some big questions.

It’s about Robert Neville the last man living on earth after a plague has turned everyone into vampires. Set in America it’s mostly about his trials living with the vampires, but there are sufficient flash-backs to help you understand the background of what’s happened.

The detail of how he manages to survive and outsmart the vampires is amazingly well thought through. And the story then moves into an exploration of what makes a human human as Robert Neville fights, investigates, discovers, has highs and lows – and somehow continues to live alone, surrounded by vampires for some time.

A really stunning book with a very unexpected ending.

 

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Oryx and CrakeYou enter a very strange, post apocalyptic world when you read Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake.

One that is best explored alongside the Mercury Rev album Deserters Songs – somehow it fits just perfectly. And I can’t hear any of the tracks without thinking of Oryx and Crake too.

The book’s set in a post apocalyptic world, and our main character is Snowman who pre-apocalypse was Jimmy.

The story runs both through Snowman’s present, and Jimmy’s pre-apocalypse life. Through this we learn of a human society obsessed with technical advancement, and genetic manipulations where those who work for the big companies live in sheltered accommodation and the rest fend for themselves.

It’s a very creative book – there’s some great descriptions of the computer games they played, and the weird modified animals that now roam about the place. But it’s also slightly scary – much of what is going on is just things which are happening now taken to a possible extreme.

The more fascinating story is that of Jimmy, we learn of his whole life from boyhood through to adulthood. And slowly meet the book’s 2 namesakes – Crake (his very gifted friend) and later Oryx.

Fascinating book – I really must also get and read The Year of the Flood which is set at the same time, with some of the same characters.

Oh, and it was also nominated for the 2003 Man Booker Prize.