Thursday, 30 June 2011


I realised I'd forgotten to blog the following two Potter books.....

Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix

Harry Potter & the Half blood Prince by JK Rowling

Harry's battle against Voldemort continues throughout years five and six of his education at Hogwarts. Both books are full of familiar characters and themes but the stakes are getting higher and things are definitely getting deeper and darker. Harry and his friends are growing stronger and more confident but unfortunately so are their enemies.

Aside from the main plot the author subtly deals with many other themes such as; Government spin doctoring, lying newspapers, racism, young love and teenage angst. These are definitely not children's books! Events that occurred in previous books, that may have seemed insignificant at the time, are expanded upon. Whether JK Rowling planned all this from the start or cleverly picked themes to enlarge in retrospect, it doesn't matter. It all works brilliantly.

As the action hots up and the stories move on towards their climaxes it is difficult to put these books down. There are surprises and unexpected twists, Rowling really is a master story teller. It's now life or death for the protagonists and not even the best loved characters are safe. Now I understand the hype that used to surround a 'Potter' book launch! When one book finishes I could not wait to pick up the next, so I didn't. When I finished reading the “..Prince” I started another, totally different novel by another author. I found myself missing Hogwarts....

These books just keep getting better!!

Anything ever written by Ben Elton

Over the years I've read lots of books by Ben Elton, from memory; Stark, Gridlock, This Other Eden, Inconceivable, Dead Famous, High Society, Past Mortem, The First Casualty

It would probably be unfair to say that they are all the same but they definitely all have things in common. They are all very easy to read. They have a plot that makes some kind of grand statement about the world we live in. They all are cracking stories that keep the reader interested right till the end. They are forgotten almost instantly.

Ben Elton's 'motor mouth' public persona makes him a very difficult person to like. His books are enjoyable yet ultimately unsatisfying. Like fast food, you feel good for a bit but soon want something more substantial, they are however very moorish. There's always a moral to the stories but I'm not sure the reader can ever take it seriously, which is a bit of a shame.

Guilty pleasure? Don't like Elton, shouldn't like his books but honestly I do!

Thursday, 16 June 2011

All good things...

When God was a Rabbit by Susan Winman

I picked this book off the shelf simply because the title appealed to me. I read the blurb on the cover and thought 'why not?' I wasn't disappointed. I suppose if one has to categorise this novel then it has to be regarded as a comedy with moments of black humour but it could never be called a 'dark' book.

The book's narrator “Elly” was born in 1968, the same year as me. In part one, as she charts her childhood against the backdrop of events of the seventies I found memories stirring within myself. The book charts Elly's childhood, particularly focusing on her relationships with her older brother Joe and her best friend Jenny Penny. We also get to know her parents, wider family and neighbours in what is an authentic portrayal of how it was to grow up in that period. Elly's Childhood is described beautifully. The highs and lows; triumphs, dramas and disasters that seem huge from a child's viewpoint are put into perfect perspective. Winman's ability to write 'through the eyes of a child' reminded me of Maya Angelou, one of my favourite authors.

Part two takes up the story with the main characters in adulthood. All are scarred to some extent by events that occurred during their childhood. Much of part two deals with how Elly, Joe and others deal with their past. Just when you are wondering where the author is taking us the protagonists are ripped into the present by earth shattering events. Where will the characters end up? Will we have a happy ending?

'When God was a rabbit' is thought provoking, irreverent, heartbreaking and at times shocking. Most of all the book is beautifully written and very funny.

Big thumbs up!

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

Two weeks without dipping into the world of Witches, Wizards, Hogwarts, Death eaters and Horcruxes. I was getting withdrawal symptoms, I couldn't resist any longer, I had to have another fix.

The final instalment of the Harry Potter saga leaves no stone unturned and ticks all the boxes. The Deathly Hallows begins exactly where the last book had left off and charts the trials of Harry and friends as they strive to fulfil the expectations of the late Professor Dumbledore. The grim task of these three seventeen year old apprentice sorcerers is to defeat Voldemort and win the war but all seems hopeless.

Like all of the Potter books it begins slowly then builds and builds until the reader is totally paralysed and unable to put the bloody book down. The success of the Potter series means Rowling really did have a mammoth task tying up the loose ends and ending the story in a way that will satisfy the reader. She seems to have achieved this effortlessly. The Deathly Hallows is brilliant, it does everything the reader would ask of it and still has room for shocks and surprises along the way.

To begin with Harry and friends are in hiding, looking for clues that will help them complete the mountainous task that faces them. The tension builds to take its toll on both the characters and the reader. Eventually the heroes are forced into the open and the second half of the book is all action open warfare.

All the adult themes that emerged in the later books continue in this one; racism, political spin, young love, friendship and loyalty. Anyone who cares to read between the lines a little can allow themselves to be educated along the way. There are surprises too with muddled allegiances and secret heroism. Now I have a touch of sadness as I've finished the series I have nothing more to look forward to. I'm going to miss Hogwarts. However there's always the option of re-reading, which I know I will do someday.

I can't praise this book highly enough, brilliant!

So what of the 'Harry Potter' series as a whole? Well I grew up with Tolkein, I've read 'Lord of the Rings' more times than I can honestly remember and I love it. Rowling has obviously borrowed from Tolkein's work right down to the use of initials but who cares? I've also read Phillip Pullman's “His Dark Materials” which I also enjoyed immensely and intend to re-read some day. The Harry Potter books stand comfortably alongside Tolkein and Pullman, fantasy fiction at it's very best. For anyone who has not read J.K. Rowling, don't be put off by the hype, go out & buy 'The Philosophers Stone' tomorrow. These books deserve all the acclaim that has been heaped upon them and then some.

Get to a book shop tomorrow.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Satire & Stuff

Great Apes by Will Self

Will Self, writer & drug user turned TV 'personality'. A controversial figure that I kind of warm to but I'd never got around to reading one of his books until a friend lent me “Great Apes”. This book is a satire in which a drug using artist, 'Simon Dykes' awakes to find that Chimpanzees are the self aware life form at top of the food chain and humans act as Chimps do in the real world. Simon thinks he is a human and he is helped to rediscover his 'chimphood' by an egotistical psychiatrist named 'Zack Busner' .

For me the best theme in this novel is Self's attack on the chic, artistic 'in crowd' that inhabit trendy London. I despise this kind of self obsessed person so enjoyed the authors assault on them. Other than that I found the book repetitive and a little hard to follow at times. For me this book did not suspend my disbelief, the premise was just too fantastic to ever work. It meandered to a conclusion and got there long after I was tired of it.

This one didn't work for me

Solar by Ian McEwan

I was wandering around 'Waterstones' looking for something new to read and found this. I'd previously enjoyed reading 'Atonement' so thought “what the hell?” and stumped up the cash.

Solar is a satirical novel charting of the later life of Nobel prize winning physicist Michael Beard. Since winning his prestigious award in the seventies Beard has used it as a meal ticket ever since. The main protagonist is not a very nice man; a gluttonous, womanising alcoholic who is not adverse to deception on a grand scale. McEwan finds humour in the chaos of Michael Beards life and also sends up “Blair's Britain” as well as the whole global warming debate. The author evidently doesn't like using chapters to punctuate his writing which makes it awkward to read at times. He also occasionally insists on using over long sentences full of commas and “ands” which I find arrogant, as if he is above the conventions of the English language, (Hemmingway was also guilty of the same sin at times).

That aside, 'Solar' is a good read which made me smile and chuckle to myself. Unlike 'Great Apes', McEwan's novel is a satire that works. At the end of the story, Michael Beard's chickens all come home to roost as his life descends into hilarious farce. The end may be slightly predictable but is wholly satisfying.

Thumbs up! Enjoyed this one.

Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling

I didn't mean to read another Potter book quite so soon but a lack of alternatives at the time meant the only other choice book. What can I say...I'm really glad I picked this one up!

The fourth book in the series tears up the formula and throws it up in the air like confetti, year four at Hogwarts sees some big changes. Maybe JK Rowling was financially secure enough at this point that she dared take the risk? No matter, the Goblet of fire is longer, deeper and darker than any of its predecessors. Rowling has acknowledged that her readers are growing up and has delivered a proper adult novel for them. Yes all the favourite characters and things that make a Potter book are still there but so much more besides. As usual the story begins in a light hearted manner but the appearance of 'The Dark mark' brushes all of that aside. From here on in the reader knows he/she will have a different Harry Potter experience than they have become accustomed to. New characters, new competitions, more mysteries and greater suspicions. The stakes are higher now and the risks seem more real. The further one reads, the quicker one wants to read. The climax is gripping, chilling and unexpected. You're left wanting to pick up the next book straight away.

The best of the series so far! This is not a 'childrens' book!