What I’ve been reading – a catch up…

It’s been quite some time since I last posted a blog, and I have read twelve books since finishing Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer.  In amongst these twelve, I have just finished The Stand (Complete and Uncut Edition) by Stephen King which runs to a huge 1,421 pages.  This blog post will have to be a catch up and then I will make time to start blogging more regularly again and maybe revisit some of these titles.

  1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

HUNGER-GAMES-jacket

I have read The Hunger Games trilogy before, back in the summer of 2012, and very much enjoyed them.  If and when I read a series of books, I will most commonly read one and then take a break before continuing.  This was not the case for The Hunger Games, I found them highly readable and enjoyable; all I wanted after reading the first was to find out what happened to Katniss Everdene and the other characters within the series.I decided to reread the first book after finishing Extremely Loud whilst on a camping trip, with only my kindle to hand, and feeling very undecided in what I should read.  I thought The Hunger Games would be a quick book to get through whilst I thought about what I really wanted to read.  Now this may sound like a backhanded compliment but it really isn’t; I reread The Hunger Games because I wanted to revisit the world that Suzanne Collins had created so brilliantly.  I also wanted to compare the novel to the film.  I wasn’t disappointed the second time round of reading, The Hunger Games is a very good book.  The characters are well drawn and the reader is able to invest a lot of time and emotion with them.  The build up to the Reaping and further to the Games themselves is a careful balance of character development and pace.  Katniss herself is a fantastic character, she is flawed yet inherently good – a hero for readers young, old, male and female.  There are clear comparisons between this novel and Battle Royale or The Running Man – I think that The Long Walk by Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman) seems to be a huge influencing factor on the book – but The Hunger Games is original and innovative, even if it owes a debt to these past stories.  I would highly recommend this book.

  1. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

The-Hunger-Games-Catching-Fire-Book-Cover

Catching Fire is the second book in The Hunger Games series and a worthy sequel.  Although I like Catching Fire a lot, it isn’t quite as good as the first book.  I think that the books set up is great, showing the aftermath to the first novel is well handled and provides the reader with a huge insight to the world and politics these characters live in, coupled with the beginnings of a revolution.  After the announcement of the Games and subsequent Reaping I felt that the book couldn’t wait to finish.  Although I understand why some details of the build up to the Games were skimmed over quickly, I also think that this was to the books detriment.  However, this is a minor criticism to an altogether good read.

  1. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

220px-KazuoIshiguro_TheRemainsOfTheDay

The Remains of the Day is the second Ishiguro novel that I have read this year (the first being Never Let Me Go) – I read this for book group and I thought it was a real treasure of a book.  The story follows Stevens, a butler, as he recalls his working life serving Lord Darlington in the early 20th Century.  At the same time Stevens is taking a trip to see a former housekeeper and colleague Miss Kenton.  I really enjoyed this novel; I found the characters and story completely engrossing.  Stevens is a compelling story teller and as I was reading I warmed towards him, and felt very sympathetic towards the end.  I found that this book was beautifully written and evoked a real sense of the period of time it was set.

  1. Finders Keepers by Stephen King

Finders keepers

Finders Keepers is the sequel and second of a trilogy to last year’s Mr. Mercedes.  This instalment follows a young boy, Peter Saubers, as he finds a metaphoric treasure chest of money just when his family needs it most.  The Peter’s father was injured in the Mr. Mercedes car crash at the beginning of that novel and the family suffering heavily in the economic recession.  Alongside the money are unseen manuscripts of an author murdered decades before.  The murderer is released from prison for another crime and now he is looking for the money, but more importantly the manuscripts.  Bill Hodges and co. the heroes of Mr. Mercedes, are then reintroduced to help the boy.  I enjoyed this book (as I do all of King’s books), and I like that King has continued this series with another story which can be classified as a pure thriller.  I am very much looking forward to the third instalment, End of Watch, out next year.

  1. Echo Burning by Lee Child

Echo Burning

Echo Burning is the fifth Jack Reacher novel and I have been steadily reading this series over the past few years.  Although Echo Burning wasn’t my favourite Reacher novel so far in the series (I think Tripwire may take that accolade), I did really enjoy it.  At the start of the novel Reacher is hitchhiking after getting himself in a bit of a situation with the local police and is picked up by woman who inevitably needs his help.  I won’t digress any further – all the reader needs to know is that it’s a good escapist thriller, fun to read, with a protagonist that is interesting and exciting.

  1. The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

Paying guests

After reading Tipping the Velvet for book group back in 2008, I didn’t hold any high expectations for The Paying Guests (also read for book group).  I found Tipping the Velvet to be very repetitive and a bit boring, the book had been a bit sensationalised by its content and subsequent BBC adaptation.  The Paying Guests was a completely different reading experience.  The critical praise and awards won (and nominated) are well deserved for this novel that seemed to get better and better as I read it.  The novel itself is set in 1920’s England where a mother and daughter are forced to rent out part of their house to a newlywed couple in order to make ends meet.  The story centres round Frances (the daughter) and her emerging relationship with Lil (the newlywed wife).  However, the book is so much more than this, providing a careful insight into what life was like in the years after the First World War.  Years where men had returned from the frontline to discover that, not only had they been changed and affected by the war, but so had their world at home, and most importantly the women.  The Paying Guests is a true delight of a novel – it is complex, excellently written, has very strong female characters, and a great story to tell.  It is long, but I felt every page worthy of inclusion.

  1. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

brave new world

Brave New World was another book group book and I read it whilst on holiday over the summer.  I hadn’t read it before, despite it sitting on my bookshelf for several years, and had no idea what to expect or what it was about.  Suffice to say I can see why it is now labelled as a classic.  Written in the 1930’s and set in a dystopian future there is a lot to this quite slim novel.  The future dystopia is a world where no babies are born but created on a production line whilst being conditioned as to their future social class and way of thinking.  The novel goes to into great detail of the higher social class and the people within that class – who they are and the hedonistic lifestyle they lead, never questioning their own conditioned pathway through life.  I found the novel to be very interesting and I was fascinated by Huxley’s dystopia and the comparisons made to today’s consumerism even though it is close to 100 years old.  It was interesting to see how this book has clearly inspired other books, from the obvious in George Orwell’s 1984 to other dystopias such as Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaids Tale.

The next three books are all related and part of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series.  I will keep this section brief as I plan to write more about the entire series once I have read them all.

  1. The Gunslinger (Dark Tower I) by Stephen King

The_Gunslinger4

The Gunslinger is the first novel in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series; there are seven novels within the series plus an additional novel published a couple of years after the original seven which is set between books four and five.  I have read The Gunslinger before, and have also read the second, third, and half of the fourth Dark Tower novels.  Why I stopped, I cannot remember, but I have decided that I need to read this series of King books in their entirety.  I have been planning to do so for quite some time and this summer I started my own journey to the Dark Tower.  The Gunslinger is an opening story, a novel that allows the reader to enter the world of the Gunslinger, Roland Deschain, and meet the man himself.  I couldn’t remember too much about this first book (in the past I have tried to read it several times), and this time it clicked with me and I really enjoyed it.

  1. The Drawing of the Three (Dark Tower II) by Stephen King

drawing-of-the-three

The Drawing of the Three is the second Dark Tower novel and marked change from the first, of the Dark Tower series I have read this is my favourite and a true gem.  Roland Deschain continues on his quest and finds that he needs to draw other characters from the ‘real world’ into Roland’s ‘Mid-World’.  I love the sections set in New York, especially Eddie Dean’s back story.  The way this novel presents itself, how each part of the novel is interwoven with the rest of the story, and then sets up to continue is really fantastic.

  1. The Wastelands (Dark Tower III) by Stephen King

the-dark-tower-iii-the-waste-lands

Now that Roland Deschain is not alone, he and his ‘ka-tet’ continue on the quest for the Dark Tower.  This chapter in the series opens with a giant mechanical bear and then pushes on at an electrifying pace.  Set mainly in Mid-World the reader really starts to get to know all of the main characters along with the welcome return of one of The Gunslingers main characters to join the group.  Plus there’s Blaine the Monorail…

  1. Ask the Dust by John Fante

ask the dust

Ask the Dust is an American novel set in the Depression era and was first published in 1939.  The story follows Arturo Bandini, an aspiring writer, living in Los Angeles.  Bandini is a semi-biographical character, whose character flaws (of which there are many) are over exaggerated and heightened.  Bandini is altogether not a nice guy; he believes himself to be a genius of sorts and can only ever see the best in himself.  The character has strong moral views which he goes against continually.  Despite Bandini’s nature I still really enjoyed this book; it is very well written and conveys to the reader very well the way Bandini is and how he interacts with the society he lives in.  The book is often funny with a small cast of characters to love and loathe throughout.  Seen as a precursor and huge influence on such writers as Charles Bukowski, I would recommend this book to anyone with a interest in American Literature.

  1. The Stand (Complete and Uncut Edition) by Stephen King

The_Stand_Uncut

Quite simply my favourite Stephen King novel; a full blog for this to follow

That’s what I have been reading, hopefully I will be able to get back in to the swing of writing more regularly and each book I read will get a full blog.

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