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'Firmin' is the second fiction book from American author Sam Savage. Firmin is a rat - a highly educated, extremely cultured rat, who recounts his life growing up with his siblings and mother Flo in a run-down old bookshop in Boston, USA.
Being the runt of his litter he's normally trampled on at meal times and so resorts to nibbling on books for sustenance. Strangely, the more books he eats, the more intelligent he becomes, and when his family eventually leaves the bookshop, he begins to read instead of chew. We learn of Firmin's unrequited love for shop owner Norman Shine, his unlikely friendship with struggling author Jerry Magoon, and his fascination with 'adult' movies.
This is a very strange story, but I enjoyed it all the same. Firmin himself is a very comical character, a bit like an eccentric, well-read old man, trapped in a rat's body. A particular highlight for me was his desperate attempt to learn sign language; frustrated at not being able to speak, he rehearses the signs for 'good-bye zipper' and terrifies a woman and her child after a fruitless attempt to communicate with them.
However I found the humour was always tinged with sadness as our peculiar rat so desperately wishes to be human; especially poignant is when he imagines himself in top hat and tails as Fred Astaire or Cole Porter, while playing on a toy piano.
'Firmin' was an enjoyable read, not too taxing, and I easily finished it off in just a few sittings. Despite its cute little illustrations and perhaps child-like idea, it's not suitable for children as it includes quite a bit of strong language. If you enjoy reading books about books, you might enjoy this as the author describes how reading can enrich your life, and cleverly integrates various book titles into the story.
The book is available with a few differently designed covers, and a particularly special version has several chewed up pages (still readable of course) which would look great on anyone's bookshelf.
'Suite Francaise' is a novel by the late Irene Nemirovsky and is set in France during World War 2. The book's background is as interesting as the story itself; Irene (born in Russia and later moving to France) wrote the book while she herself was experiencing the horror of the war. Sadly 'Suite Francaise' was left unfinished as, after being taken away from her family by Nazis, Irene died at the young age of 39.
So the published version is actually just the first 2 volumes of Irene's 'work in progress'. Part 1, entitled 'Storm in June' follows various Parisians as they gather themselves together to leave their city before a Nazi invasion. We meet arrogant writer Gabriel Corte and his mistress Florence, the large Pericand family, and middle-aged couple the Michauds, as well as many others. In fact there are so many characters I found things a little hard to follow and had to skip back to previous chapters to remind myself who was who.
Part 2 'Dolce' is set in a rural French village, occupied by German troops and so here we're introduced to a new set of characters, the most interesting being Lucile Angellier; a young woman living with her mother-in-law while her husband is being held as a prisoner of war. Since her village has been taken over, she is joined in her mansion by a German officer Bruno, and so they begin a very tentative friendship.
'Suite Francaise' is not a book I would usually read (it was chosen by another member of my library's book club) so I was surprised to enjoy it so much. As I mentioned before, the number of characters was a bit off-putting; I thought Gabriel Corte and high-society man Charles Langelet were too similar and the story could have done without one of them.
A few chapters were more tedious than others but generally the book held my attention. Some of Nemirovsky's writing was beautiful and often very emotive. The fact that this was written while she was living through the war makes it all the more poignant and gives an insight that history books just can't provide.
'Suite Francaise' is 344 pages long and at the end there are over 40 pages of the author's notes and letters, as well as a map of France. The RRP is £7.99 but it's currently available on www.amazon.co.uk for £4.90.
I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction. Fans of romance may like it too as, despite there being no full-on love stories, there are definitely some romantic elements throughout. It's a terrible shame Irene Nemirovsky did not live to finish this book; some of her characters are so engaging, and with such an abrupt ending, it left me wondering what became of some of them.
'Q and A' is a fictional novel by Indian author Vikas Swarup; it's probably better known as 'Slumdog Millionaire' the hugely successful, multi award winning movie, based on Swarup's book.
The story centres around teenager Ram Mohammad Thomas; we meet him just as he is being arrested for allegedly cheating on TV quiz show 'Who Will Win a Billion?' Ram has indeed won the prize of one billion rupees, and the television company, who don't actually have the money to pay him, decide to concoct a story proving he is a cheat. A kind lawyer Smita Shah gets wind of the story and decides to get to the bottom of how a young, uneducated 'dumb waiter' answered all 12 general knowledge questions. And so Ram delves into his past and tells of his eventful life, in order to explain how he knew the answers.
The tale is narrated by Ram himself and I found him to be a very likeable character as despite the tricky situations he finds himself in, he almost always emerges as a hero; we follow him as he travels around India (often running away from the police) and he recounts his experiences as a young orphan, talks of the kindness of the priest who took him in, and describes his encounters with a variety of interesting characters, from gangsters and a fraudulent war hero, to a rich Australian family and a veteran Bollywood starlet.
Swarup writes brilliantly and with vivid detail. There are so many twists and turns here, it's the sort of book I could easily read again and pick up on another tiny detail I missed the first time around. Parts of the book are very distressing, with graphic descriptions of violence and cruelty, but a sense of humour is maintained throughout and so I sometimes found myself crying one moment and laughing the next.
It's hard to define which genre 'Q and A' fits into and so if you're a fan of action, mystery, comedy or romance, I'd recommend it to you; it's one of those 'unputdownable' novels that you'll want to read again and again.
'Playing the Moldovans at Tennis' is the second non-fiction book from British comedian Tony Hawks. Similar to his first book 'Round Ireland with a Fridge' the story begins with Hawks making a daft bet with his friend Arthur. After watching England's convincing win against Moldova in the 1998 World Cup qualifiers, Arthur bets Tony that he couldn't beat all 11 members of the losing Moldovan team, at a game of tennis. Naturally Tony (who clearly has a lot of time on his hands) accepts the bet, and with the threat of a public rendition of the Moldovan national anthem (minus clothes) if he loses, he quickly heads for Moldova, with his tennis kit in tow.
The actual tennis doesn't get under way until the last third of the book so first we get to learn a bit about Moldova, an Eastern European country living under communism, where the government tries to save money by not providing street lights and leaving manholes uncovered (causing Tony to brave several hazardous night-time journeys). We meet Tony's cynical translator Iulian and the family he stays with; doctors Grigore and Dina (who despite their good jobs, aren't paid in cash and instead accept gifts such as fish, as a form of payment), their stand-offish son Adrian, and their sweet English speaking daughter Elena.
When Tony finally hits the tennis court, he finds the Moldovan team a little hard to track down and after a few matches, he ends up on a wild goose chase through Northern Ireland, finally ending up in Israel.
'Playing the Moldovans at Tennis' was a very enjoyable read, and I thought it was quite a bit more entertaining than 'Round Ireland with a Fridge'. Hawks provides a great balance between his humour, and information about the country, and even though his quest is completely ridiculous and pointless, I was rooting for him and couldn't wait to read the outcome of his efforts. Highlights of the book for me were Tony's grand presentation of a plastic table to local Gypsies, and his very intimate encounter with a spare tyre.
The book was published in 2000 and is 249 pages long, including 8 pages of black and white photos. It's had several different covers since 2000 and is available to buy for just pennies, on all the usual sites.
I would recommend this to you if you enjoy learning about other countries and cultures; Hawk's relaxed, humourous writing provides the perfect ammount of facts without it seeming like an information overload.
'The TV Book Club' is a half hour show broadcast on Sunday evenings on digital channel More 4. The format is very simple; each week (for 10 weeks) the book group, made up of 5 celebrities, discuss a recently published fiction book. The show is an attempt to follow on from Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan's book club, which was extremely successful on their, now cancelled, Channel 4 chat show.
The group itself is made up of comedians Jo Brand and Dave Spikey, actors Nat Parker (Bleak House, Inspector Linley Mysteries) and Laila Rouass (Footballer's Wives, Primeval) and stylist Gok Wan; I wonder how More 4 selected this particular panel as it seems a bit random to me; presumably they wanted an eclectic mix of viewpoints. In my opinion the members don't gel together very well and all the camaraderie seems a bit forced and robotic. However maybe after another series and a little more time spent together, this might change.
Each week they are joined by a celebrity guest, often with a book of their own to promote. Again there have been some random choices, from Richard E. Grant to Stephen Tompkinson and it seems that whoever books the guests doesn't put a lot of thought into it and just plumps for whoever is available at the time.
The chosen book (which is announced at the end of the previous week's show so viewers can read along) is first briefly introduced by the author so we learn a little bit of the story's background and inspiration. After that it's up to the group to chat about their views; it's all quite informal and thankfully none of the celebs come across as self-righteous. Before the programme started I thought some of them might just use this as a platform to self-promote and make themselves look intelligent but they do seem to be genuine book lovers. I find Nat Parker and Dave Spikey offer the most insightful comments, although sometimes I'm a bit puzzled by Spikey's broad Bolton accent!
Amongst the discussion there are a few other features which are a bit hit and miss; a segement in which a comedian (and I use that term loosely) takes to the streets to speak to the public about various topics such as local dialects and how to integrate new words into common every day use. This section doesn't add much to the show for me and wastes several minutes that could be used to further discuss the book.
A section that I do usually enjoy features the author of a previous book club choice, speaking about how their inclusion in the club has changed their lives and sparked a sudden interest in their work. It's a fairly short item but it just goes to show that the programme isn't just vacuous nonsense and is actually encouraging more people to pick up a book.
I haven't got round to reading any of this year's choices yet but have seen them on special offer in several shops and I managed to pick up 3 of them in a local charity shop.
So if you're a book lover, 'The TV Book Club' is worth a watch and perhaps if they stop trying to cram so much content into such a short time, the format could greatly improve.
'Neverwhere' is a fantasy fiction book by English author Neil Gaiman. He originally wrote it as a television mini-series broadcast in the mid 1990's, but as he explains in the book's introduction, he wasn't completely satisfied with this, and so adapted it into a novel. Gaiman is also author of 'Stardust' and 'Coraline' both of which have been made into successful movies.
'Neverwhere' centres around Richard Mayhew, a Scot who now lives and works in London. He lives a fairly run-of-the-mill life, lives in a modest flat, works in an office, and is engaged to the highly-strung Jessica. His mundane life takes a peculiar turn when he comes to the rescue of a bloody and bruised young woman called Door. After meeting Door (who has the knack of opening any locked door she wishes), Richard finds himself trapped in the world of London Below; a mysterious city that lies beneath 'London Above', where rats are in positions of power (this explains the huge image of a rat on the book's cover), and all sorts of shady characters dwell.
Door's family have recently been murdered so with her bodyguard Hunter, family acquaintance The Marquis de Carabas, and Richard all tagging along, she sets out to find the angel Islington who can unearth the reason behind their death.
The best aspect of 'Neverwhere' is the fantastic characters; Richard is just an average bloke who deals with his bizarre situation in a way that most of us would; he brings a sense of normality to the otherwise extraordinary circumstances. Door, although meek and dainty is the perfect heroine, and Hunter was the most fascinating character for me; a strong, mysterious, beautiful woman with a secret to hide.
Gaiman writes with great warmth and humour and even the villains are likeable despite their horrid acts of violence, and I especially enjoyed his vivid descriptions which really brought London Below to life. I would recommend 'Neverwhere' to adult Harry Potter fans; the writing reminded me very much of JK Rowling's style (albeit with a little bit more gore and stronger language). Also I think Londoners would enjoy the book as Gaiman very cleverly writes about areas, museums, and tube stations, which all take on slightly alternative appearances in London Below.
The book is 372 pages long, and if you purchase the author's preferred text, you can also read an alternative prologue to the story, an interview with the author, and discussion questions for reading groups. The RRP is £7.99 but it's currently available on www.amazon.co.uk for £4.79.
Overall I really enjoyed the book, and even though London Below seems like a grim, dangerous place, I wouldn't mind visiting...just for a little while.
'Gangs' is a non-fiction book by Ross Kemp, written to accompany his television series 'Ross Kemp on Gangs' broadcast on Sky One. Kemp is best known as an actor and played Grant Mitchell on Eastenders for 10 years, however more recently he has ventured into documentary making and as well as his Bafta winning series on gangs, he has followed pirates, and the British Army in Afghanistan.
After a brief introduction in which Kemp explains a little about how he became interested in crime and what inspired his book and TV series, he documents his experiences in 8 locations around the world, where he meets violent gang members, their victims, and the authorities who are trying to put a stop to (but sometimes get involved in) the criminal acts.
His first destination is Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. One of the most shocking stories Kemp heard here, was that of a young boy recruited by the Comando Vermelho (or CV) gang; by the time this boy reached 12 years old, he had already killed 5 men.
This boy's story was a sign of things to come, and with every country Kemp visited, came more horrific tales, in particular a sinister game of 'football' in El Salvador, and a punishing initiation ceremony amongst neo-Nazis in Moscow.
Kemp also visits New Zealand where he mixes with the Mongrel Mobsters; St. Louis where The Bloods and the Crips are at war (and where clothes shops even have separate sections for each of the gang's colours); Pollsmoor jail in Cape Town, where the brutal Number gang operates entirely from inside the prison; and finally Jamaica where the steel drums and sandy beaches mask the illicit undercurrents.
Some of the stories in 'Gangs' are truly appalling, and Kemp writes in a very straightforward way, never sugar coating the facts. His descriptions are very vivid and helped to transport me to the favelas of Rio, and the grim prison cells in Cape Town.
One thing that annoyed me slightly, was Kemp's continual habit of reeling off names of guns; I realize he wanted to convey the danger he was in, but as someone completely unfamiliar with weapons, it was almost like a foreign language to me.
'Gangs' includes some strong language and very graphic depictions of violence, and it's quite a frightening insight into what's going on in the world around us. Nonetheless it's a very interesting read, and those who followed the TV show will undoubtedly enjoy it.
The book is 279 pages long, it's RRP is £6.99, but it's currently available on www.amazon.co.uk for £4.27.
'Lullaby' is a fictional novel by Chuck Palahniuk, who's other books include 'Choke', 'Haunted' and most famously 'Fight Club'. I picked this up at an Oxfam 50p sale and was immediately intrigued by the blurb on the back and the odd cover; rows and rows of little multi-coloured teddy bears. The book is 272 pages long and the RRP is £10.
The story is narrated by Carl Streator, a newspaper reporter doing a write-up on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. After visiting several crime scenes, he notices the same book, falling open at the same page, near the body of the child. What he reads inside appears to be a 'culling song' which kills whoever it is read to. Carl gets the rhyme stuck in his head and so becomes an 'accidental' serial killer; his noisy neighbours, an irritating radio show host, and random people he passes on the street, all become his victims. He meets estate agent Helen Hoover Boyle who, after using the song on her baby and husband several years ago, has also had a hard time forgetting it. They make it their mission to rid all homes, shops and libraries of the book, so set off on a road trip with Helen's Wiccan secretary Mona, and her destructive boyfriend Oyster.
This is one very strange book; I found it very difficult to get into, mostly due to Palahniuk's style of writing. The story isn't always in chronological order which was quite confusing. However the more I read, the more I started to enjoy it, and the ending of the book (although completely ridiculous) tied a few things together.
I found the main characters Carl and Helen quite unlikeable at the beginning but by the end I felt some sympathy for them, just because of the desperate situation they found themselves in. Most of the other characters (apart from Mona perhaps) were pretty horrid, particularly Oyster whose rants were quite disturbing and sometimes hard to read. I found myself cringing, and reading very quickly over some paragraphs, in particular Palahniuk's description of Carl's badly infected foot.
I would describe 'Lullaby' as bizarre; it's bewildering, distressing in parts, has many unexpected twists and turns, and very vivid (but sometimes monotonous) imagery. It's completely out of the ordinary and I would love to see Palahniuk team up with director David Lynch as 'Lullaby' could be a brilliantly dark and twisted movie.
'Danny Wallace and the Centre of the Universe' is a short non-fiction book by (obviously) Danny Wallace, writer and occasional television presenter. The book is part of a series of Quick Reads; short books by various popular authors. More information on these can be found at www.quickreads.org.uk.
From his flat in London, Danny has a perfect view of The Royal Observatory in Greenwich; he decides to visit, and after standing on the Meridian Line, he becomes fascinated by all things cosmic and sets about finding the centre of the universe, which after some online research, turns out to be a small town in Idaho... at least that's what they're claiming. When he realizes he shares his surname with this town, he books a flight, jets over to America, and spends a day mingling with the town's residents, visits Wallace's Brothel Museum, is interviewed by the local press, and of course visits the glorified manhole that signifies the centre of the universe.
Just like Wallace's other books (have a look at my review of 'Friends Like These'), he writes like he's your best friend; he keeps things simple so it's very easy to read. Although it's not hilarious, it's mildly amusing in parts, in particular his introduction to a stuffed beaver in drag, and the aftermath of drinking a shot of moonshine. However since it's so short, he doesn't go into too much detail and the book is basically a series of brief diary entries. Plus I can't help but feel slightly jealous that at the drop of a hat, someone can swan off to the other side of the world, just to look at a manhole.
The book is 119 pages long and includes a few black and white photos of Wallace (the town and the man). The RRP is £2.99 but it's currently available on www.amazon.co.uk for £2.32. If you're at all interested in reading it, I'd suggest maybe borrowing it from a library rather than buying it; I enjoyed it but I'm not likely to read it again.
'No Dress Rehearsal' is a short story by Irish author Marian Keyes. The book is part of the 'Open Door' series; short stories by various Irish authors, which attempt to introduce adults who have trouble with, or don't enjoy reading, to short, non-intimidating pieces of literature. Other writers who have contributed to the series are Roddy Doyle, Patricia Scanlan, and Maeve Binchy.
Keyes' story is about Lizzie, a woman in her early 30s who has just been involved in a road traffic accident, and died. However Lizzie isn't aware of her death and thinks she's just had a miraculously lucky escape. The reality of the situation finally hits home when her boyfriend and colleagues are ignoring her, and she receives a visit from the other-worldly Jim and Jan.
We also read about Lizzie's best friend Sinead who works long hours for little reward, with her gregarious (and slightly dodgy) boss Ginger Moran. Sinead is at Ginger's beck and call 24 hours a day and has little time to live her own life, and so after her friend's death, she learns a valuable lesson about making the most of her existence.
At 79 pages long, and quite a large font, this really is a very short story and fans of Marian Keyes might be a little disappointed that by the time they get stuck into the book, it's already over. However I think it's a great idea for adults with literacy problems; the story is simply written and easy to understand; there's a little bit of gentle humour, and despite the subject of death, it manages to avoid being depressing and is instead quite heartening.
The book cover is a bit dull, with large blocks of blacks and brown and a ghostly image of a face. Perhaps something a bit brighter would make the book more appealing. It's currently available to buy on www.amazon.co.uk for £4.26 which I think is a bit expensive for such little material. More information about the 'Open Doors' series can be found at www.literacytrust.org.uk.
'The To-Do List' is the first non-fiction book from author Mike Gayle, brother of ice-skating newsreader Phil Gayle. According to his website www.mikegayle.co.uk he has written 8 best-selling novels and contributed to magazines as varied as 'Just 17' (remember that?) and 'FHM'. I hadn't heard of him before but saw 'The To-Do List' in a charity shop and thought I might enjoy it.
Mike is just about to turn 36 and, intimidated by his 'grown-up' neighbours Derek and Jessica who throw dinner parties and drive a fancy car, he sets upon completing a 1277 item long to-do list, which he must complete before his 37th birthday. Items on the list range from the mundane and easy to do; 'Drink more hot drinks', to the considerably more difficult to complete; 'Replace wife's Dean and Deluca mug' which involves a trip to New York. So with the backing of his friends and his very patient wife Claire, he embarks on his year long mission.
Several things annoyed me about Gayle's writing; I didn't find the dialogue very believable, and his insistence of using the word 'babe' throughout the book really bugged me. Something about his style just seemed a bit pompous and self-indulgent, and I just don't think the events of the book are as amusing as Gayle himself seems to think they are. I can't help but compare his books to Danny Wallace's (author of 'Yes Man', 'Join Me' and 'Friends Like These') who also writes about bizarre projects he undertakes; unfortunately Gayle's attempt just doesn't measure up to the humour and warmth of Wallace's writing.
Despite the faults, it wasn't an awful read; I got through it quite quickly, and it retained my attention enough that I wanted to know the outcome. I was torn over whether to give this 2 or 3 stars, but given how I wouldn't really recommend it to others, and how it hasn't encouraged me to try any of Gayle's fiction, I'm going for 2 stars.
The book is 343 pages long (51 of these are a copy of the to-do list itself), and is divided into chapters, combined with excerpts of 'Mike's To-Do List Diary'. It's currently available to buy on www.amazon.co.uk for £3.49.
Oxegen is an outdoors music festival held in Punchestown, County Kildare in the Republic of Ireland. It's been on the go since 2004, is usually held over 3 days during the summer, and attracts up to 90,000 music fans. It was previously called 'Witness' and when I was younger I always wanted to attend since they seemed to have so many great acts, and in 2009, I finally got the chance; I went for a single day ticket (costing around £90) and opted not to camp for the whole weekend. When booking tickets (through Ticketmaster), the musical lineup is still under wraps but not to worry, as there is always a fantastic mix of artists, some world famous, and some unknown and upcoming; there is something to suit everyone's tastes.
I was attending with 5 friends, and we made sure to do our research before going; for day ticket holders like ourselves, there are free park-and-ride facilities just outside of Punchestown where the car can be left, before hopping on a free bus to the venue itself. The park-and-rides (which are basically just huge fields) were well sign-posted, and inside there were plenty of people to direct us to a space. The bus journey lasted for about 20 minutes and once we reached the venue we were directed to join a queue for single day ticket holders. Despite having to wait for about 35 - 40 minutes before making it past security (who did a lackluster search of my bag without even opening it) and the main entrance, the atmosphere was great, and as you pass under the huge stone-effect entranceway and see the crowds and massive stages, it's really very exciting.
Before the bands take to the stage, there are plenty of other things to occupy your time; various food stands, fairgrounds, stalls with band merchandise, shops selling all the essential festival gear (which, in our case, was rain macs), and bars. I should also point out there were cash machine facilities and excellent first aid points, scattered throughout the venue which were very easy to locate. The queues for the bars were all huge, but it was easy to get served everywhere else. We avoided drinking, partly so our designated driver wouldn't have to control 5 drunks, and partly to avoid having to use the portable toilets too often, which were grim to say the least; Oxegen Tip No. 1 - bring your own toilet roll/tissues, and some hand cleaning gel.
So onto the music; we were lucky to get a great lineup, full of bands we were dying to see; we drew up a timetable before we went of all the bands we couldn't miss, and bar 1 or 2 we were successful; we saw Daniel Merriweather and The Saturdays (who were both playing in a tent so we were extra glad to get out of the rain), James Morrisson, The Saw Doctors, Bloc Party, and The Kings of Leon. Without a doubt, the highlight for me was Elbow; they finished their set with their amazing anthem 'One Day Like This' and it's strange how standing in a soaking wet field can feel so exhilarating, but hearing 90,000 people sing the same words, with their hands in the air, while being sprayed with confetti, was an experience I'll never forget.
The Kings of Leon were the last act of the day (finishing around midnight) and the prospect of walking across the huge field and waiting forever for a bus full of drunken revelers, was depressing. However I was so surprised at how well organized everything was. We waited only a few minutes for a bus, and it seemed that everyone inside was as tired as us, because there was barely a noise made, and thankfully no empty bottles of Jack Daniels being hurled around.
So while I would recommend Oxegen to others, and have given it 5 stars, I don't know if I would do it again. It was an extremely long day; we set off from County Armagh at 7.30am on Saturday morning, and arrived home at 5.30am on Sunday morning. The weather was appalling and in places, we were calf-deep in muck; Oxegen Tip No. 2 - wear wellington boots, no matter how good the weather forecast is. As I mentioned before I was with 5 other people, so before we arrived we devised a 'buddy system' so we would always be with our partner and never stranded alone; yes I know this may sound a bit sad but we were glad of it when towards the end of the night me and my buddy (and granted it wasn't my original buddy) got separated from the other 4. It was much less daunting standing in a crowd of thousands with a friend stood next to me, plus telephone reception was dire so we couldn't contact each other despite our best efforts.
The music and atmosphere were fantastic, and the event was generally very well organized, but I think once was enough for me. If you're planning on attending the festival, the website www.oxegen.ie is really great, and provides information on tickets, directions to the venue, some history of the event, and various photos and videos.
'My Booky Wook' is the autobiography by Russell Brand, British comedian, actor and presenter. Unfortunately he's probably best known for his womanizing exploits and a scandalous phone call he made to veteran actor Andrew Sachs; however he's also a stand-up comedian, has presented TV and radio shows, and is now making the transition to Hollywood actor after successfully starring in the film 'Forgetting Sarah Marshall'.
In 'My Booky Wook' Russell remembers his early days growing up in Essex, his misdemeanors at various schools, and most prominently his battle with various addictions. His childhood is the most upbeat section of the book (although it does include its fair share of misery too) as Russell struggles to contain his ever expanding family of gerbils, and decides which member of girlband Eternal he should date.
When he goes on to recount his drug and sex addictions, he continues to write in a very cheery way despite the gloominess of the subject matter. So while I found myself laughing (particularly when he introduced his drug dealer Gritty, to Kylie Minogue), I was also quite sad at some of the situations he got himself into, especially while he was making his obscure satellite TV show 'RE:Brand'.
The best thing about 'My Booky Wook' is how Brand has written it in the same way that he talks; grammar all over the place, flamboyant words, and a very colourful way of describing things; "Andy Dobson was a brilliantly gifted electronic musician - a great big ginger cupboard of a man". He speaks very frankly about all aspects of his life, in particular the drugs, and describes how he felt while taking them, in a way that I've never heard before.
The book is 352 pages long, and includes about 30 colour photographs. His writing is also interspersed with posters for his early performances, drawings, and a very touching poem he wrote about his grandmother.
I very much enjoyed the book but it definitely won't be to everyone's tastes; there is extremely strong language throughout, and graphic descriptions of sex and drug abuse, which will undoubtedly offend a lot of people.
Despite all of Russell's bad traits, I can't help but like him and his daft sense of humour, and I quite admire the way he has managed to turn his life around.
'Mister Pip' is a fiction book by New Zealand author Lloyd Jones, published in 2006 and shortlisted for the 2007 Man Booker Prize. The book has garnered a lot of praise from various critics, but it was the book cover which attracted me to it; lots of bright, vivid images of birds, flowers and a little girl, really make it stand out on the book shelf.
The story is narrated by Matilda as she looks back at her youth, growing up on a tropical island called Bougainville (part of Papua New Guinea in the Pacific Ocean). The island is in the throws of a civil war and all of Matilda's school teachers have fled to safety. So Mr. Watts, the only white person on the island, takes on the teaching role and reads Charles Dickens' 'Great Expectations' to his class, and Matilda is immediately swept away by the imaginary world she enters each time Mr. Watts begins to read. However her religious mother Dolores is less than impressesed by Matilda's new favourite teacher, and when warring tribes invade their small village, catastrophe ensues.
My favourite aspect of 'Mister Pip' is the notion of how you can become totally enthralled by a book; as Mr. Watts tells Matilda "A person entranced by a book simply forgets to breathe. The house can catch on fire and a reader deep in a book will not look up until the wallpaper is in flames."
I think it would a good idea to read, or at least have some knowledge of Dickens' 'Great Expectations' before reading this, as the story and characters are referred to throughout the book. Also, after reading a few chapters, I thought this would be a lovely book for parents to read to their children, but towards the end there is some strong language, and some quite disturbing events which would not be suitable for young readers.
Overall I would describe 'Mister Pip' as 'charming'; despite the conflict on the island and the contempt Dolores has for Mr. Watts, the character of Matilda is very endearing, and the language and beautiful descriptions of Bougainville had me engrossed, just as the events of 'Great Expectations' occupied the mind of young Matilda.
'The Private Lives of Pippa Lee' is a fictional novel by American author (and wife of actor Daniel Day Lewis) Rebecca Miller, and was published in 2008.
The book begins with 50-something Pippa moving into a retirement community Marigold Village with her husband Herb, a successful publisher and a man over 20 years Pippa's senior. Pippa seems to live the perfect life and is decribed by her friends as 'the most spectacular woman' but soon after landing in Marigold Village, she becomes bored and unsettled, finds her herself sleepwalking and 'on the brink of a very quiet nervous breakdown'.
We go back in time as Pippa recounts her turbulent youth and her very complicated relationship with her mother Suky. For me, this was the most interesting part of the book; after discovering Suky's addiction to pills, Pippa's life goes off the rails, as she has an illicit affair with a teacher, moves to New York City to live with her Aunt Trish and her 'dangerous' lover Kat, becomes involved in drugs herself, and eventually is witness to a violent suicide shortly after meeting Herb.
Despite her capacity to ruin the lives of those around her, I liked Pippa and had great sympathy for her, in seeing how her unusual relationship with Suky, translated to her poor relationship with her own daughter Grace.
I really enjoyed Miller's style of writing, her very vivid descriptions, and her dark humour. Especially clever is how she divided the book into 4 parts; Part 1 follows Pippa's move to Marigold Village, Part 2 describes her young life up until starting a family with Herb, Part 3 is back in the present day with Herb, and finally Part 4 shows Pippa moving, with some uncertainty, into an unknown future. Parts 2 and 4 are narrated by Pippa herself whereas Parts 1 and 3 are narrated in the third person; almost as if Pippa wasn't really herself during these times of her life.
Although necessary to the story, I wasn't keen on the character of Chris (another younger resident of Marigold Village). I understand he was meant to be a bit mysterious but I found his moments with Pippa quite dull.
'The Private Lives of Pippa Lee' was overall an enjoyable read and the not the average 'chick-lit' story that the uninspiring book cover suggests. It has recently been made into a movie with a superb cast; Robin Wright Penn and Blake Lively share the role of Pippa, while Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves, Alan Arkin and Julianne Moore play some of the characters she meets during her chaotic life.