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Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Piper by Danny Weston

Bookcases 13's (Teenage) book The Piper by Danny Weston is a supernatural version of the Pied Piper story set during World War II and involving evacuee children. The story is told mainly from the point of view of the teenage hero of the story in 1939, and there is also a modern day voice of his granddaughter hearing the tale from the boy who is now an old man. It's a fairly simple tale with an historical setting which has the added benefit of being educational to the young reader.




I award it 5/10 but I'm sure had I read this when I was 13 it would have got a better mark.

I return to the Teenage section (F-P) for Bookcase 14. Once again there were authors I had read before (James Patterson, James Frey and Philippa Gregory) which I am not allowed to select under my own rules. In the end I went for a book Shahana by Rosanne Hawke set in Kashmir which is told from the point of view of a teenage orphan who lost her parents in the war.



So far I have read books set in England, USA, Ireland, Sweden and now Kashmir.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Teenager Again!

Bookcase's 12 (Book of the Week) book The Finest Hour by Lissa Evans failed to spark any interest in me and I bailed out after 50 pages. Obviously being longlisted for the Orange Prize was not good enough for me! There is always a chance of course that it might improve over the next 350 pages but I wasn't prepared to take that chance.



I'll have to wait until another Book of the Week that I haven't read turns up before I can say that that (very small) bookcase containing just one book is done. In the meantime I have moved on to Bookcase 13, the first of three Teenage bookcases. I didn't expect to find an author on here than I had read before, but there was: James Patterson who I read a tedious book by on Bookcase 8, it looks like he writes material for young people as well. Fortunately my rules won't allow me to read another book by him again on my tour around the library, I can't say I am disappointed.

I can't recall reading many teenage books 35 years ago when I was a young teenager, or even if an equivalent section existing in the library back then (I have vague recollections of a bookcase for elder children in the Children's Section of my local library, but I don't remember reading much from it). When the time came I moved straight from the children's section to the adult section.

In the end I picked from Bookcase 13 The Piper by Danny Weston, it looks like a thriller/ghost story of sorts.


It's difficult to know what to expect because I have no recent experience of this corner of the literary world (other than one Harry Potter book I have read in the last year). I'm not expecting to enjoy the teenage section, but you never know I might be surprised and I'll enjoy being a teenager again.


Monday, February 23, 2015

Low Life by Ryan David Jahn

Bookcase 11's Low Life by Ryan David Jahn was a strange book. It started out reminding me of Dostoyevsky and finished like Philip K Dick. The basic idea behind the book is that everyone has a secret world or Low Life, a sort of hidden fantasy  world, that normally stays hidden. The main character of the book's Low Life though begins to interact with the real part of his life, and the two worlds begin to combine.



I used to read a lot of Dick in my late teens and early twenties and this book reminded of of books like Time Out of Joint and The Cosmic Puppets two of my student years' favourites which explore the nature of reality. It's certainly not a straightforward crime novel that's for sure and it wouldn't be out of place on the sf shelves.

All that said, although it was original and different, traits I heartily applaud, I didn't particularly enjoy it and it gets 7/10. I think I would have liked it very much though had I read it when I was 20, but my taste in fiction has changed over the years

I now turn my attention to life outside crime. My first port of call is Book of the Week. In Dorking Library there is always a single book which is nominated by the library, usually a work of fiction, and this week it is The Finest Hour by Lissa Evans. I think it is a historical novel set during WW2 and was longlisted for the Orange Prize according to the cover.



If I like it enough to continue with it, then I'll read it, if not I'm sure another Book of the Week will turn up in the next few months!

Friday, February 20, 2015

She's Never Coming Back by Hans Kopel

Bookcase 10's offering She's Never Coming Back was a very average book. The cover quotes some Swedish publication, saying She's Never Coming Back was "The most terrifying book I have ever read". Well whoever says that obviously hasn't been to Dorking library otherwise they'd find several books with a virtually identical story.




The book reading public seem to have an endless desire for tales of attractive women locked away in basements by some madman, while some intrepid hero hunts them down. This is yet another variation on the same theme. The only difference is the "madman" is in fact a couple avenging the suicide of their daughter 20 years ago, and the intrepid hero is someone who happened to go to school with the victim and has never seen her in the intervening time. Based upon the most flimsy of evidence the intrepid hero gradually pieces together the story. The victim is imprisoned in a house opposite where she lives which is at least an original touch and adds to the story a bit.

I can forgive massive coincidences and unlikely events in the plot, if the story is a good one and the characters are believable, but She's Never Coming Back fails on this front too. The story has multiple voices and it's hard to really feel any them are written from the heart, and none of them really act in a credible way. I award this book 4/10.

Bookcase 11 is the final bookcase in the Crime and Thriller section (H-K) until my next circuit of the library when I will complete the section. I had the full selection of books to choose from on case 11 as there were no authors I head read before on it. I really struggled to find anything that looked interesting on this bookcase and in the end I plumped for Low Life by Ryan David Jahn.



This is an American thriller which centres around murder and identify theft, as does The Talented Mr Ripley by one of my favourite authors Patricia Highsmith. Let's hope it's half as good!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Lie of You by Jane Lythell

The Lie of You from Bookcase 9 is an intelligent book and an awful lot of work has gone into the characterisation you can tell. It's a psychological thriller written in two voices: from the perspective of the criminal and the victim.



It is basically about the ex-girlfriend from hell, someone who obsessively stalks her former partner's wife to the extent of getting a job in her office and invading her personal life. The story, a classic love triangle, has a long, slow build-up to the climax and is well paced throughout.

What I liked about it was all of the main characters had good and bad points. Two many crime books that I have read in this section of the library have a good/evil split between the victim and criminal which is just too unrealistic. Everyone has their good and bad points.  In this sort of book as well, the ending could have gone many ways, the inevitable happy ending where the crime is cleared up and the deranged criminal is either killed or imprisoned wasn't guaranteed in the way it has been with more popular works that I have read. I award it 8/10.

The next book is from Bookcase 10 (double figures!): Crime and Thrillers K-L. I was excluded from reading books by John Le Carre and Stephen King on the grounds of having reading books by those authors in the dim and distant past.

In the end I went for a fast-paced Swedish thriller by Hans Koppel called She's Never Coming Back.


This is a return to more explosive thrillers but I am hoping the Swedish setting will give it a unique feel.

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Last Chapter by Edmund Power

I have finished the book I didn't need to read, The Last Chapter by Edmund Power, and I am very pleased I decided to dip into a second unnecessary book on Bookcase 7. As far as I am concerned The Last Chapter is almost the perfect book. Yet amazingly hardly anyone seems to have even read it - there isn't a single review of it on Amazon!

The story is simple. A struggling Irish writer discovers a manuscript in his dead neighbour's flat and decides to pass it off as his own work. Gradually his minor crime of plagiarism escalates and he ends up in all sorts of scrapes. I won't say too much because I don't want to spoil the story for anyone wanting to read The Last Chapter.


After reading several crime books on my tour so far where an "evil" villain is pursued by a "good" hero, it was good to have an account from the criminal's perspective. Edmund Power masterfully gets you, almost without realising it, to side with the villain in the book and see the people trying to uncover his crimes as interfering busybodies. You want him to get away with his plagiarism and turn his life around. Patricia Highsmith, one of my favourite writers, manages the same technique in all her books, to get you into the mind of the criminal - we're all potential criminals after all.

The Last Chapter though is nothing like Highsmith though, and it is very funny in places. I am not the sort of person to laugh out loud at books on trains, but I did so several times with this book. It's a moral tale I suppose as well, the message being that small crimes can soon grow into larger ones, and escalate far beyond the instigator's original intentions. I can't fault the characterisation, plot of style of writing at all, and I award it 9/10.
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Of course, in the book, the novel that the writer tries to publish would inevitably be his last published work,  as he doesn't have the ability to write a second. Amazingly although this book was written a decade ago, it's never been succeeded by another! It's almost a though it foretold its own writer's fate. Please let me know if you know what happened to Edmund Power as it would be a tragedy if he wrote no more books, and even this, his one hit, seems to have been forgotten!

Anyway my readathon must go on and for my next book I had to select something from Bookcase 9, Crime and Thrillers (L-M). I was just excluded from Andy McNab on the grounds of having previously read something by the author (I enjoyed Brave Two Zero and soon got bored by his subsequent output). In the end I selected The Lie of You by Jane Lythell. It's a British "psychological thriller" (whatever that means), I'm not sure what it is about, but the cover and first few paragraphs appealed to me, so it's next on the agenda. Let's hope it is as good as The Last Chapter!


Monday, February 9, 2015

Kiss The Girls by James Patterson

I have finished Kiss The Girls by James Patterson from Bookshelf 8 and I hated it! It's written as an action-packed page turner. No chapter is more than four pages, no paragraph is longer than four sentences, most sentences are just a few words long, and there are endless cliff hangers.


The two main characters of course never die, the villains are totally evil and totally stupid, and the police (other than Alex Cross) are useless. This book doesn't ask an awful lot of the reader and I found myself hating it more and more is it trundled on to the inevitable ending where the killers were first revealed and then killed by Alex Cross. I award it 3/10, and I will definitely not read any more "airport" thrillers like this.

I'll finish my second book that I got distracted with from Bookshelf 7 and then reveal the chosen book from Bookshelf 9.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Ramage by Dudley Pope

I have finished Ramage by Dudley Pope my first book from Shelf 7.  The book was actually written in the 1960s and was published a few years before I was born. Dudley Pope is long dead of course, but it's the first book I have read during this project that was not set or written in modern times.


It was a nautical adventure story set at the end of the Eighteenth century. There was a lot of naval terminology which took a while getting used to but in the end I just accepted that I couldn't follow all the details of ships and navigation described. That didn't stop me getting the general story-line I hope. I'd describe this book as a good yarn, It seemed to very well researched for an historical novel, with a passable plot and fair, if a little stiff, characterisation. I award it 6/10.

I've just over 100 pages left of Bookcase 8's Kiss the Girls, which I can't wait to finish! Then when that's done I will return to Bookcase 7 for The Last Chapter, which I foolishly started reading and am desperate to continue, even though I have already read a book from that bookcase - and therefore under my own rules don't need to.

Then I will be free to proceed to Bookcase 9.....

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Another Chapter - The Last Chapter

I am a glutton for punishment because I am now reading two books on Bookcase 7. I never envisaged I would want to read more than one book on the same bookcase, when I have the best part of 150 books to work my way through as it is!

I got bored of Ramage, so started on another book from Bookcase 7 which I had lined up as a replacement. But then I carried on reading Ramage as well as the new book and also Bookcase 8's Kiss the Girls. I now have acquired more of an interest in Ramage which improved after a slow start, but the new book The Last Chapter by Edmund Power I simply have to read having started it because it has the makings of the best book yet!


The Last Chapter may have a very boring looking cover but it's definitely got the most original story as it is about plagiarism, a failed writer who steals his dead neighbour's unpublished book. This is definitely my kind of book, it's original, got some proper characterisation, and there's no a hint of a murderer or rapist in it!

For now though I'll finish Ramage, then work through Kiss The Girls (easy to read but essentially pulp fiction) before I can resume the book I really want to read - The Last Chapter.


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Jumping a Bookcase

I have been away for a couple of days and got bored of Ramage so have started on Book 8 before completing Book 7. I've got another book at home from bookcase 7 which I might switch to before deciding whether to continue with Ramage (65 pages read so far). Ramage is an action thriller, but set in the 18th century, a kind of Napoleonic Guns of Navarone. It's got all sorts of nautical terms in it, the characters are very wooden, and it doesn't really do anything for me. It might improve, but I doubt it.

For bookcase eight (Crime and Thrillers M-P) the only author I couldn't consider because I had read her books before was Kate Morton (great books, but they are all very samish). There were two shelves of books by James Patterson, someone I had never heard of until fairly recently. That's the most books by anyone I had seen so far in Dorking library (two shelves!), so I felt obliged to get one out as clearly the people of Dorking must like his books. Kiss the Girls is supposedly one his better works (I did my research for once).




I know I have been moaning about spree murder books, and this is yet another example, but at least it is American! All the books I have completed so far have been British. Some of my favourite writers are American, but I find a lot of the books from the USA are written for the mass market. This appears to be as well: short chapters, short paragraphs, short sentences, short and snappy, but a long book. It's written to grab the attention and keep the reader turning the pages. Let's hope it gets me doing the same!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

My route around the library

I did the library an injustice in an earlier post when I said that the first shelves in the crime section were not alphabetized. In fact all the bookcases in this area are, I just never noticed. I actually started on the cases near the beginning of the alphabet and then flipped to the end as I went round the corner by the door. You see my route round the library is initially books cases with their backs to the wall and I will gradually spiral inwards. I am doing this to try and introduce some variety rather than systematically going through each section. Already I am already beginning to weary of all these crime books about psychopathic spree killers and yearn for something less stereotyped. That said there are over a hundred books on each case, I am not short of choice! I have a few more crime and thrillers to plough through before I venture right round the perimeter of the building and head towards the Teenage section. I will eventually work my way around the wall until I return to the crime section for my second lap.

From Land to Sea

The Whispering Gallery by Mark Sanderson turned out to be a poor book. I had high hopes for it at first, and even after 100 pages I would have said it was quite good. But alas, the plot was terrible, the characters unbelievable and uninteresting and, worst of all, there was no sense of suspense at all, despite the presence of the obligatory psychopathic killer with a succession of victims. I just didn't care what happened. You really got the impression Mark Sanderson himself didn't have a clue what the plot was going to be and he made it up as he went along without then going back and rewriting the early parts of the novel to fit in with what happened later. I award it 3 out of 10 on the basis that the first half gets a 6 and the second half gets a zero.

Bookcase 7 was Crime/Thrillers (P-R), with Ruth Rendell the only writer I was restricted from reading as I had read before. I was looking for a non-serial killer book and in the end I picked Ramage by Dudley Pope. It looks like a historical novel set at the end of the 18th century in the days of Nelson. It's set at sea, and is the first in a long series.


I have read quite a few books so far in Books 1-6 that are sequels to other books I haven't read. Crime and thriller writers seem particularly prone to thrash out a long succession of books with the same characters and similar plots and storylines to an earlier bestselling work. Fine if you have read the original, but if you haven't then sometimes you are reading a book that probably wouldn't have been good enough to get published had it not already acquired a legion of faithful readers waiting to buy it. But Ramage is is the first in the series so I am hoping that it's also a good book otherwise it wouldn't have spawned so many successors.