TTT: Beach Reads

TTTAs with last week’s “freebie” topic, I may have interpreted “beach reads” a little too literally. I can’t help it if The Beach was the first book that popped into my head. I can’t help it if I then examined my Goodreads bookshelves for other books that were set on or contained beaches. I can’t help it if I then found more than 10 books that fit the criteria. I can’t help it if I then complied this list and thought, “Bugger it, i’ll post it.”

The Beach by Alex Garland. As the title may suggest, this book is largely set on a beach. Or, at least, on a small island. With a beach. I had tried to watch the film before I ever picked up the book, but couldn’t get through it. The book, however, I devoured.

Rough Music by Patrick Gale. Set mostly in Cornwall, the family in this book stay in a holiday cottage with the beach just on their doorstep. It’s a picturesque setting for the drama that unfolds.

Off the Map by Hib & Kika. There are several beaches in this book, which is told in short vignettes of Hib and Kika’s travels around Europe.

The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham. Where there are sea creatures emerging from the depths, there are beaches…

Life of Pi by Yann Martel. While mostly set at sea, there are one or two beaches. And you know, the sea is a vital component of a beach.

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks. Set on a small Scottish island, the beach may not be sunny and idyllic, but there is a beach.

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. Your classic stranded on a desert island pick.

One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night by Christopher Brookmyre. This book is the one anomaly in my list, as I can’t be certain whether it includes a beach or not. But, there is the North Sea coast and an oil rig converted into a holiday haven for people who love sun but hate other cultures.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding. Your second classic (with a twist) stranded on a desert island pick.

Island by Richard Laymon. Shipwrecked, stalked, kidnapped and murdered. All in the sun on a beautiful sandy beach.

TTT: Books with Characters who Read

TTTI kind of disliked the openness of this question. I already have to pick my 10 choices, now you’re making me decide on the subject matter, too? It was too wide open—it could be anything. That felt more than a little daunting, so I pulled it back in to the subject matter at hand: books.

Behold, a list of 10 books with characters who read…

The Book Thief. An obvious choice, perhaps, but an excellent one. Liesel’s passion for reading, for exploring worlds beyond the terrifyingly violent one she’s in, was the entire reason I picked up this book in the first place.

I Capture the Castle. Cassandra is well-versed in poetry and literature, and because of this comes across beautifully in her writing. She even politely reads Stephen’s plagiarised and terrible original poetry, and doesn’t hate a word of it.

The Girl with All the Gifts. Melanie is a very clever 10-year-old girl who enjoys learning. She particularly likes read Greek mythology, drawing parallels and blending them with her imagination and the world around her.

The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop. Technically not a character, as this is Lewis Buzbee’s memoir from a life spent working in bookshops and the publishing industry, but still. His bookish thoughts, observations and tales are wonderful.

The Book of Lost Things. After the death of his mother, 12-year-old David retreats into the world of books and stories, fantasy and imagination. Then his retreat manifests, trapping him in a world of fantasy. But does he want to get out?

Fahrenheit 451. Okay, so technically Guy doesn’t read the books he saves and secrets away, but it’s more the act and meaning behind his actions; the idea that books are powerful, that gets this book on the list.

The Art of Fielding. I guess both Owen and Guert count as characters who love books, but Guert is the only one of the two that I loved. He was perfect in his imperfection, flawless in his flawness. He loved books, his daughter, his lover, his school—all without reservation.

Breakfast of Champions. This is the book I am currently reading, It is witty and insightful and weird and I love it. Kilgore writes bizarre science fiction, the single copies of which he sends out in the hopes of getting published. The only place his stories end up are as filler for porn magazines, which he then buys in order to re-read his own work.

Walking on Glass. This is an odd, but very good, book. It focuses of three story lines, one centring around Steven, who believes he is trapped on Earth following his role in a galactic war. He reads science fiction in the hope of finding clues and messages.

Looking for Alaska. This book was a solid average for me: not bad, but not amazing. Alaska was a fascinating character, though. I can picture her room, piled with books, and it is wonderful. Of course, the fact that she never gets to read them all… less so.

TTT: Female Heroes

TTT I hate the word “heroine” like i hate the words “actress” and “comedienne” and the connotations that they are somehow lesser than heroes, actors or comedians. Why the need to distinguish the sex between two people who are doing the same thing? So yes, this is a list of my favourite female heroes.

One of the obvious choices is Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, and as much as i love her, i figure at least 80% of people writing for this topic will include her in their list. So i picked 10 others. As it is, i had to cut this list down to 10, so. Sorry Katniss!

Mrs Twit from The Twits. She was a nasty piece of work, but what I love about her is that she was just as nasty a piece of work as her husband. They have a hate-hate relationship, but in terms of the tricks they play on each other, Mrs Twit gives as good as she gets.

Liesel Meminger from The Book Thief. She’s an independent, strong-willed and intelligent young girl in a harrowing and terrible situation. But she manages finds friends, love, connection and joy.

Phyllis Watson from The Kraken Wakes. She’s a smart woman who sees the dangers coming years in advance, and plans accordingly without even involving her husband. When shit finally hits the fan, it is her plan that sees them through in the end.

Eleanor Vance from The Haunting of Hill House. Although in many ways Eleanor is timid, easily manipulated and cares far too much what people think of her, she can, when the mood strike her, be hot headed, strong-willed and fiercely independent. In some ways I pity Eleanor, because I don’t at all see things how she does, but in the end she stood by her own (perhaps misguided) opinions and did what she wanted.

Melanie from The Girl with All the Gifts. From the start of the book, where she does not have all the information as to what situation she finds herself in, to the the end of the book, where she is the one who puts all the pieces together. Melanie is a thoughtful 10-year-old girl, who gives this book the kind of hopefully bleak ending I love.

Amy Dunne from Gone Girl. Don’t get me wrong—i don’t like Amy, but I have to admire her. She was smart, she was patient, and she was thorough. She got shit done, and as situations evolved, she rolled with the punches and altered her plans. I hate her, but damn it I respect her.

Jane Fleming from All Fun and Games Until Somebody Loses An Eye. From repressed and tedious wife, mother and grandmother to arse kicking, gun toting, rescuer. This granny certainly kens the score.

Angelique de Xavia from A Big Boy Did It and Ran Away. She’s an innocent looking petite lady who wouldn’t stand out in a crowd. And she can kick your arse from 20 feet away before you blink.

Jasmine Sharp from Where the Bodies Are Buried. Failed actress turned private investigator, she’s willing to work outside the law and dig up long-buried secrets to get the job done.

 

This last one contains SPOILERS for The Wasp Factory. You have been warned…

 

Frank Cauldhame from The Wasp Factory. More of an anti-hero, but the twist that Frank was born a female and pumped full of drugs and lied to for most of his life made so much of his character work for me. The hatred of women he was surrounded by and the macabre nature of his hobbies. It made me like him.

TTT: Difficult Reads

TTTThis was pretty hard, actually. I wanted to choose books that were good books, but hard to read because of the subject matter. Apparently… I haven’t read many of them. I wonder if that’s a reflection on me as a reader, or the books i choose to read.

But 10 books i found, and here they are.

Care of Wooden Floors by Will Wiles
I really enjoyed the writing of this book. It was funny and descriptive, and utterly quoteable. But. The story was almost non-existent. As well-written as the words were, there was nothing pushing them along. I put this book down and didn’t read anything for weeks. That’s how bad it was. In the end I had to give up.

Canal Dreams by Iain Banks
This book just wasn’t that thrilling, really. Especially as the description on the back promised me a kick arse female cello player murder a load of evil men. It was interesting, reading chunks an the history of the Panama canal, but the different parts of the book felt very disconnected. Then there was the rape scene. That’s never going be not difficult to read.

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
This book was just tense from the get go. It was brilliant, but not a good book to read before bed.

The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories by H.P. Lovecraft
Just… bad. Lovecraft is not good. I was rolling my eyes and cringing and just frustrated during this book. (This book I didn’t actually finish.) He can’t describe anything and his plots make little sense.

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
This book really dragged. Things were often repeated to various degrees of detail. Lots of action and time would pass over a few pages, but then nothing would really happen and very little time would pass over entire chapters. It was inconsistent and failed to hold my attention or interest.

Chrome Yellow by Aldous Huxley
I really enjoyed this book, but it was the kind of book that takes a lot of concentration to read. I couldn’t just fall into it and let it pull me along, it made me work for it, made me pay attention. I could only manage one chapter before needing to take a break, and was often left feeling tired. A wonderful, wonderful book, though.

Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters & Seymour: An Introduction by J.D. Salinger
This is two stories in one book, and it is the second story that I had difficulty reading. It is pages and pages describing Seymour. Fifteen of those pages are spent describing Seymour’s face. If Chrome Yellow left me tired, this book left me fast asleep.

Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen
This was hard to read in an eye-roll cringey way. This author (who is basing this story on her own experiences) is waving her arms and crying out desperately for attention. The book and narrative voice are inconsistent. She claims she did not have any mental health problems, but seems to enjoy the allure she believes being labelled with such gives her. Every word just screamed, “Me! Me! Pay attention to me!”

The Inheritors by William Golding
Another booked I loved, that makes the reader work for it. It is told from the point of view of Neanderthals, whose language and connection with the world and each other is vastly different and simple than our own. They used few words, and grasping the larger concepts they were trying to convey with them took some work, but was more than worth it. I saw this picture.

The Knitting Circle’s Rapist Annihilation Squad by Derrick Jensen and Stephanie McMillan
Another cringe-inducing book. Considering the subject matter, this book was verging on slapstick, and it embarrassed itself and the reader.

Canal Dreams

candreTitle: Canal Dreams

Author: Iain Banks

Summary: Hisako Onoda, world famous cellist, refuses to fly. And so she travels to Europe as a passenger on a tanker bound through the Panama Canal. By the end of her journey she had ignited one soldier with an oxy-acetylene torch, stabbed another through the chest with the spike of her cello, clobbered a guard with the butt of a rifle and raked terrorists with machine-gun fire before frazzling the survivors in an oil-covered sea.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 2.5/5

Review: Having really enjoyed other books by Banks, and loving the sound of that summary, i was very surprised by how much i didn’t like this book.

It was slow. The story flits between Hisako’s life; childhood, adolescence and adulthood, and her present day; stuck on a ship in the Panama Canal during a war-like international crisis. My interest in both halves of the book varied wildly, both having some really interesting and really, really dull parts.

The first half of the book felt like a history lesson. Hisako’s history of how she became a cello player, and the history of Panama Canal. These weren’t necessarily uninteresting, but they weren’t exactly the thrilling, entertaining read i was hoping for.

The second half of the book is, to put it plainly, a rape-revenge. And, to put it honestly, not the best one. Was it satisfying to read about Hisako stalking down these men and murdering them without a second thought? Yes. Was it well written? Did it flow well, keep me entertained and want to keep reading? Unfortunately, no.

The synopsis covers the best bits, but i’d love to see the same synopsis on the back of a Christopher Brookmyre book. He’d write the same action, only with less rape and more entertainment.

The third aspect of the book, as the title might suggest, was Hisako’s dreams. And they were the most distracting for me. They could go on for pages, connect to nothing and i just found them boring.

Good elements, unfortunately poorly crafted. I think maybe he was trying too hard to get something more meaningful than there was from this story. The Wasp Factory, this is not.

Espedair Street

Title: Espedair Street.

Author: Iain Banks.

Summary: Daniel Weir used to be a famous – not to say infamous – rock star. Maybe still is. At thirty-one he has been both a brilliant failure and a dull success. He’s made a lot of mistakes that have paid off and a lot of smart moves he’ll regret forever (however long that turns out to be). Daniel Weir has gone from rags to riches and back, and managed to hold onto them both, though not much else. His friends all seem to be dead, fed up with him or just disgusted – and who can blame them? And now Daniel Weir is all alone. As he contemplates his life, Daniel realises he only has two problems: the past and the future. He knows how bad the past has been. But the future – well, the future is something else.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: It took me a while to get into this book, and i don’t know why. Perhaps because it doesn’t start out as outright odd or different like Banks’ previous books have.

The premise is simple: The rise and fall of a rock star, and where he is now. The chapters alternate between then and now, and that helped the book not get too boring. Because honestly, not a lot happens. It’s less a plot-driven book and much more a character exploration. Which is fine, but it still wasn’t the most riveting. I laughed on more than a few occasions, but i didn’t overly care about any of the characters, let alone Daniel Weir, the focus of the story.

The book opens with a big cliffhanger:

“Two days ago i decided to kill myself…

Last night i changed my mind…

Nice hook to get readers interested, but the thrill wore off quickly and i was left wondering what the hell all the back story had to do with anything.

The fact that something happened to at least some of his band matesthat they are deadis alluded to throughout the book, and gradually becomes outright fact, but still the whole story is eked out over several chapters, with the details of what happened slow in coming. Personally, i just found this frustrating. The rest of the story wasn’t enough to keep me entertained, and it felt like the good stuff was being deliberately held back to encourage me to keep reading.

Well, it worked, and i finished the book. And my one-word opinion of it would be: “Okay.” This book is okay. The weakest effort i have read by Banks so far, but still far better than most. I guess the three stars i’m giving it is in comparison to the other Banks books i have read so far. Compared to most popular fiction, it could rate a little higher.