Archive of ‘books’ category

32 Before 32 ~ The Good, The Bad and the Multiplex by Mark Kermode

If I had known that a new obsession would surface this year, I am not sure that I would have made reading ten non-fiction titles a goal. I’m up to five now, and three of them have been written by Mark Kermode. And I still have one of his books to read. I have no problem with having little obsessions, but when they are on display for all to see, it gets a bit embarrassing.

Anyway, so I recently finished The Good, The Bad and the Multiplex, and for the most part, I enjoyed it. There’s no denying that Mark Kermode is a good writer, and he clearly knows his stuff. He’s well versed in the history of cinema, and he’s also knowledgeable about the technical side of things. This is one of the things that I love about him as a critic, I don’t always agree with what he has to say (though I feel the brainwashing is almost complete), but I respect his opinions because I know they come from a place of intelligence and awareness. And that’s not always true of people who review films.

Kermode’s key argument of the book seems to be that blockbuster films are going to make money no matter what; if they have a big name attached, and they spend enough money, people are going to go and see them, that’s a given. You just have to look at films such as Cleopatra, Pearl Harbor and Waterworld (yep, apparently Waterworld finally broke even) to be convinced. The reason John Carter failed was because Taylor Kitsch isn’t a big household name (I’m assuming this would be Kermode’s argument – this book was written before the ill-fated Andrew Stanton film came out), not because it was rubbish. Anyway, so given that blockbusters are going to make money regardless of how good they are, why not make them good? Inception proves that a big summer blockbuster can be intelligent and fun, and make money. Do you see how brainwashed I am?

There are also a good chapter on why Kermode thinks that a film critic’s views on a film will never affect a its performance at the box office – Sex and the City 2 is a good example here. It’s quite the declaration to make, given that he makes his living telling people why he thinks a film is good or bad, believing that it doesn’t matter, because they’ll see it regardless of what he says.

If you know anything about Mark Kermode, you’ll know that he doesn’t like 3D, and he doesn’t believe that it’s the future of cinema (are people still saying that it is?). I’m no fan of the 3D movie either, and that was a view I held independently, before the brainwashing began. But the chapter on stereoscopy in The Good, The Bad and The Multiplex seemed a bit dry to me, and nothing I hadn’t heard before. Maybe being a fan of the author is a problem in this respect; if you’ve listened to him at length, you’ve heard his arguments and anecdotes before.

But all in all, I liked this book. I’m always impressed with the depth of his knowledge, and listening to him so regularly on the radio means that I feel as though I can hear him talking when I read his books. He does tend to go off on tangents quite regularly; sometimes he’ll start on one subject, and a page or two will pass before he returns to it, having managed to invoke three other subjects in the meantime. But I’m generally a fan of his writing, and I’m looking forward to reading his most recent book, Hatchet Job. I’ve just reserved it at the library!

Five down, five to go on number two of 32 Before 32 – read ten non-fiction books.

Library List 001

As I have mentioned many times before, I love the library. I’ve always been a big fan, ever since I was little, and as an adult, I use it very regularly. I make very good use of the reservation service; the library in my village isn’t very big at all, and as such they hardly ever have the books I want to read. So I reserve a lot of books, and try to wait patiently while they make their way to me.

In my on-going quest to make my blog even more bookish, I thought I’d make a regular feature of sharing what’s on my reservation list. At the very least it might provide a book recommendation for you!


The Second Summer of the Sisterhood by Ann Brashares
I read the first book of this Young Adult series last year, having watched and loved the film (in a totally non-ironic way), and I was eager to read the next in the series. The fact that this book has been on the list since December without moving up suggests that both the library copies have been lost, and I’ll probably never get it.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
I have heard nothing but good things about all the books of Patrick Ness, and this one in particular, so I thought it was about time I tried him out. Luckily enough, having been waiting for this one since the start of January, it’s finally arrived so I’ll be going to pick it up tomorrow morning.

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
I recently watched the television adaptation of Case Histories, and enjoyed it so much that I thought I’d read the books. I really like the character of Jackson Brodie (and not just because he’s played by Jason Isaacs), so I hope a lot of his characterisation comes directly from the books. I’m number one on the list, so I shouldn’t have too long to wait for this.


A Death in the Family by Karl Ove Knausgaard
Someone I like tweeted about about this book, saying how wonderful it was. If someone whose opinion I value likes a book, that’s enough for it to go onto my To Read list. This seems to be a memoir written in the form of a novel by a Norwegian writer. I’m looking forward to reading it. I’m number one on the list for this one too.

Itch Rocks by Simon Mayo
I finished the first Itch book last night, and I really enjoyed it, so I’m glad that I had the foresight to reserve the second book, Itch Rocks, a couple of weeks ago. It has already arrived, so I’ll be starting on this as soon as I go and pick it up.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Somehow I’ve still never read any Atwood, despite having borrowed A Handmaid’s Tale from the library some months ago (I had to take it back before I had a chance to read it). I was looking through the long list of the Bailey Prize the other day, and Madd Adam is on it. I want to read that, but it’s part of a trilogy, so I decided to reserve Oryx and Crake, the first in the trilogy. This one has already arrived too.


Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
I heard Hannah Kent talking about Burial Rites on the radio ages ago, and I really fancied reading it. I added it to my Goodreads list, but for some reason didn’t get around to reserving it at the library. Then I read the Bailey Prize long list and saw it on there, which reminded me to reserve it. Set in Iceland, it tells the story of a young woman who is found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. It sounds bleak and stark, and utterly wonderful. I’m number ten on the list, and I can’t wait to read it.

Wool by Hugh Howey
Eagle eyed followers may recall that I have already had this one from the library, but I didn’t get around to reading it and had to return it! So I promptly re-reserved it, and it’s arrived already! Another book that I hear fabulous things about, it’s the first in a science fiction trilogy and I’m going to make sure I read it this time!

Shiverton Hall by Emerald Fennell
I actually added this book while I was writing this post, because I was catching up with Call the Midwife, and I wanted to check the name of the actress playing the new midwife Patsy. Turns out Emerald Fennell is also an author, and she has written Shiverton Hall, a child’s ghost story. I’m not always a fan of a ghost story, but I’m willing to give this one a go. Probably because, as a children’s story, it might not be too scary. I’m number one on the list.

Book Review ~ Zenith Hotel by Oscar Coop-Phane

I didn’t really know what to expect going in to Zenith Hotel. I had seen a lot of people talking about it on Twitter, and I was keen to read it, but I wasn’t really sure what to expect from a book about a prostitute in Paris.

Nanou is the prostitute in question, and Zenith Hotel  is, quite simply, the story of a day in her life. She lives in a grubby hotel, and wakes up each day with nasty taste in her mouth, but she has no desire to change her life. This isn’t a book about redemption, or a fairytale about a sex worker changing her life. It is is simply the story of Nanou’s day.

Interspersed with Nanou’s writing are the stories of her clients. Each client has their own story, and they are connected only by the fact that they pay the same woman for sex. That, and they are all lonely and isolated. Coop-Phane shows that there is a commonality in loneliness; people feel so alone, and don’t realise that in their loneliness, they are connected to others. Each man is given merely a chapter to tell his story, and yet each character feels as fully fleshed out and developed as if they were given an entire book.

The most interesting thing to me was the way Paris was portrayed. This is not the glamorous city that you know from films and photos, and nor is it the bohemian paradise you may think you know. It’s a seedy, dirty and grubby place that is so at odds with the usual portrayal of the city.

Oscar Coop-Phane was just twenty when he wrote Zenith Hotel, and the language is just gorgeous. My favourite passage is this one, on bereavement:

“The main thing was to live with it, like a parasite that you feed with your own blood. It sucks at you, but it’s better to let it drink a few drops of blood than to chase it away and have it harrow you to the bone in retaliation…You won’t get over it, all your life there’ll be this gaping wound deep in your heart. But don’t worry. It won’t stop beating.”

Simply stunning prose, and it felt as though he was speaking directly to me. That’s pretty high praise as far as I’m concerned.

Zenith Hotel  is a very short book, and definitely one that can be read in one sitting. At just shy of 100 pages, it manages to pack an awful lot into a very short book.

* I was provided with a copy of this book for review purposes by Arcadia Books

February 2014 Books

I’m a bit late with my books post for February; my computer woes continue, and I was hoping to have Photoshop back before I did the post, but time marches on, and the computer isn’t fixed. So I have had to resort to an online photo editor to put together this month’s little collage. My skills are already somewhat suspect, so I can only apologise for the unprofessional feel of it this month! Hopefully by December I’ll have got a lot better. On with the books!

Cruel SummerJames Dawson

I had heard such good things about this book, having found out about it on UKYA. I was intrigued by the fact that it seemed different from the Young Adult books that I had read before; it is a murder mystery, so quite far removed from the usual teen romance books that I read. But in the end, I was rather disappointed. I found it rather predictable, having worked out who the killer was fairly quickly. I didn’t find the characters all that believable, and I hated the ending.


The Go-Between – L.P. Hartley

I wrote at length about The Go-Between, because it’s a book I am very fond of. I read it first when I studied it for my English Literature A-Level, and it’s one of very few books that I have studied and gone on to really love. I also realised that it’s the first book of this type that I’ve read in a really long time; I’m not sure that it actually counts as a classic, but it’s definitely in that area, and I haven’t read a classic in ages. I’m going to have to remedy that!


It’s Only a Movie – Mark Kermode

I’ve also written about this book, as it’s one of my ten non-fiction books for the year. I can’t emphasise how much I enjoyed this book, it made me laugh out loud multiple times, and I raced through it, reading it in less than a day. It is full of anecdotes about his life as a movie critic, and some of it is really fascinating. I particularly enjoyed reading the chapter he wrote about Simon Mayo, because, as you may know, I’m rather obsessed with their film podcast. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who is a film fan. I’m currently in the middle of another of his books, which I’m enjoying less, but I’ll let you know how I get on with it.


The Statistical Probability of Love at First SightJennifer E. Smith

I’ve also written a review of this book (remember I said that I wanted my blog to focus more on books and reading!). I got it as a review copy from Netgalley, and I downloaded it on a bit of a whim, because I am a fan of Young Adult romance novels (probably more so than adult romance, to be honest). But all in all, it wasn’t all that good. It was short enough not to be offensive, but it didn’t really feel as though it went anywhere. The characters weren’t given any time to develop at all, so I never felt as though I was rooting for them enough.


From Invisible to IrresistiblePeter Jones

The full title of this book is From Invisible to Irresistible: Your Twelve Step Plan to Attracting the Man or Woman of Your Dreams! which is quite a mouthful! It’s not a book that I would ever choose to read, because I don’t really do self-help books. But sometimes, as a book reviewer, you have to read books that you wouldn’t always choose yourself. And I was actually pleasantly surprised, because it was really well-written and rather sensible. There was no navel-gazing, just practical suggestions about how to improve your life. And the author, Peter Jones, seems to be a very nice chap.


The House on Poultney RoadStephanie Boddy

This is another book I had to read because of my Essex Life column, and it took me a while to get through. It’s a ghost story, and the author purports that it is all true. It’s a hard one to review, because as someone who can be a wee bit cynical about this kind of thing, it’s hard to read a book that claims to be based on a true story. But the good thing about this book is that the author has written it as though it is a story; she hasn’t presented the events as facts, merely as a story to be told.


I’ve worked out that if I continue to read six books a month, with three seven-book months somewhere in there, I’ll reach my goal exactly. I feel as though I’m lagging behind slightly for March already, but I’ll get there.

Twelve books down, 63 to go in my aim to read 75 books by the end of 2014.

Book Review ~ The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley

I first read The Go-Between when I was studying for my English Literature A-Level (a massive fourteen or so years ago). I remember enjoying it, which to be perfectly honest is not always the case when I study a book. I often find, as I’m sure many others do, that studying a book at school or university can take an awful lot of enjoyment out of it, but this wasn’t true of The Go-Between. So when my friend Jen mentioned that she was planning on reading it again, I thought I’d follow suit, and I dug out my old, battered copy, and got reading.

The Go-Between tells the story of Leo, a young boy who, in the first summer of the 20th Century, is invited to stay with a school friend at his home, the grand Brandham Hall, in Norfolk. The story actually begins with the adult Leo finding an old diary that he kept during that time, and reminiscing on his time with the Maudsley family, and thinking about the events of the summer changed his life forever.

Developing a crush on his friend’s grown up sister, Marian, Leo finds himself engaged as a go-between, a postman between Marian and Ted, a local farmer. At first Leo doesn’t understand the nature of the letters passing between the two of them, though the reader is quickly clued in as to what is going on. Despite being promised to the local Viscount, the man from whom the Maudsleys are actually renting Brandham Hall, Marian is engaging in a passionate affair with Ted.

The most famous quote of the book is the opening line: “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” This is said from the perspective of the older Leo, a man who is looking back, and this sets the tone for the rest of the novel. Although it is the younger Leo’s story, we are regularly reminded that the story is from the memories of the older man, and it provides us with a perspective on a series of events that a twelve-year-old couldn’t have been expected to understand at the time.

Hartley uses the figures of the zodiac and various gods throughout the whole novel, with Leo likening Marian to Virgo (ironically, as it turns out), Ted to the water carrier, and himself to Mercury, the messenger of the gods. Viscount Trimingham, with the disfigured face he obtained during the Boer War (happening in the background of the novel), is compared to Janus, with his two faces.

As it has been so long since I first read this book, I can’t remember all of my feelings on the book. I can’t remember if I felt as sad for Leo then as I did this time around. The story of the summer of 1900 is bookended by the older Leo, now in his fifties, reminiscing about that summer, and at the end of the book, he actually returns to the village to try to put some of his demons to rest. The whole thing left me feeling sad for this character whose life is essentially wasted because of the actions of adults who manipulated and used a child for their own means. Hartley himself was said to have been surprised when people sympathised with the relationship between Marian and Ted, as he himself had intended for them to be seen to be in the wrong. From a 21st Century perspective, it’s even easier to empathise with Marian; a young woman who is essentially being sold to the local landowner, when she is clearly in love with Ted. But her actions (and Ted’s too, he is not blameless in the slightest) regarding Leo, and her attitude at the end of the novel, mean that for me, she is not a particularly sympathetic character.

I would have to say that I enjoyed The Go-Between even more this time round. Reading it as a seventeen-year-old was fine, and I’m glad I did, but I think as an adult, I was able to enjoy it on another level. I feel as though it’s going to be one of those books that I am going to read every couple of years.

The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley
First Published: 1953
ISBN: 978-0141187785

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