Friday, 27 February 2015

Review Policy (The Three 'R's)

Requesting reviews:

I am not currently accepting books for review.

Rating system:

5 stars - This book was really enjoyable and it made a lasting impression.
4 stars - This book was really enjoyable.
3 stars - This book was good but had flaws.
2 stars - This book was OK, but had major downfalls (bad plot, poor writing etc.).
1 stars - This book was not for me at all. 

Reading genres:

  • Classics/literary fiction
  • Drama
  • Themes of mental health, LGBT
  • Sci-fi/fantasy
Non fiction: *(depending on length and writing style)
  • Mental health
  • LGBT, sexual revolution
  • History
  • Philosophy
  • Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis 


Saturday, 21 February 2015

Where to find books at a discounted price

Buying books can be an expensive business.  Below is a list of places where paperbacks, audiobooks and eBooks can be found at either a discounted price or for free.  These are places I have personally used in the past but, please be aware that I have no responsibility for these sites and I am not paid for these links.

Update:
To celebrate 80 years of Penguin, Penguin are selling Shorts ('Little Black Classics') for 80p available  at Waterstones Amazon & more.  These are great little gifts and good way of being introduced to an author.


Free eBooks

These ebooks are out of copyright, the only downside is the quality.  The editing, formatting and standard of English may be a bit 'off'.
Project Guttenberg is the original source of free books.
Open Library provided by the Internet Archive, worth a browse for lesser known works.


Free Audio

Internet Archive provides a comprehensive selection of fiction and non-fiction titles.  Internet Archive also contains sub collections, such as Librivox.
Radio 4 have serialised readings available for free, but for a limited time.  Classics include Benedict Cumberbatch reading Kafka and the adaptation of Good Omens.  "Books at Bedtime" and "Book of the Week" are worth a look at, they provide recently published (but abridged) works so consider it a taster session. More from Radio 4 is available here and here.

Sales

Paperback

The Book People is an online company that buys books from publishers on the condition that unsold books not returned.  This means that they buy the books cheaper, and with low overheads, are able to offer bargain prices.  Offers and discounts are available throughout the year.
The Works are a high-street discount book store; they also sell eBooks and audiobooks.  Offers and discounts are available throughout the year.


eBooks

BookBub is an 'alert system' for discounts on mostly self-published books.  Sign up for a daily newsletter and choose your categories.
Kind of Book is like BookBub but it also is very reliable for Bestsellers.
Kindle Daily Deals are discounts organised between Amazon and the publishers.  Sometimes, there are some real bargains to be had e.g. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, so it is worth checking daily.  They also do a books at a discount for that month available here.
The Kindle Store also has hidden discounts: books prices regularly fluctuate and some come down to a 'sale' price without this price being advertised.  It might be worth having a browse through Amazon's store every once in a while for hidden discounts; there may be a week when a book is £5.99 and next week it is £1.99.
HaperCollins have monthly deals and 'Selected eBook offers'.


Audio

Audible Daily Deal have started an equivalent of Kindle Daily Deals and, as far as I know, do not require a membership to be purchased.  Today (21/2/15) William Golding's Lord of the Flies is on offer for £1.99, quite a deal.
Listening Books is a charity-based audiobook service, with Stephen Fry as a patron.  Whilst not free, memberships from £20 a year it is far cheaper than Audible (£7.99 p/m) and may be worth a subscription.


Bookswaps

ReaditSwapit uses a system similar to eBay.  You list your books and can request to swap books with others, all you pay is postage.  However, be careful: make sure you read all the reviews before you request/accept swaps.


Competitions, give-aways

Haper Collins giveaway started after a move to smaller offices left hundreds of books without a home.  Three to five books are up for grabs every week.  It is also worth following publishers on Twitter and Facebook for latest offers.
GoodReads also do giveaways.


Loyalty cards

Many bookstores now have a loyalty card like Boots, where you get points for every £1 spent.  Every point is a penny and you can save several pounds worth.  These stores are Waterstones (they also do a student card where for every £1 you get 10 points) and Foyles (aka 'Foyalty').
Check out your local independent stores too, many do a stamp card (e.g. for £10 you get a stamp, and 10 stamps is a £10 gift voucher).

Any suggestions or feedback, please comment below.


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A History of Loneliness by John Boyne

Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Having read The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas I've been looking forward to this book for a long time.  I heard about this book through the BBC, and needless to say, I was really excited.  I thought the concept of the book was interesting, relevant and untapped.  The book follows the life of Father Odran Yates, an Irish Priest during the child abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church.  However, having finished the book I am left confused - on it's own, it is an OK novel but as a discussion of the child abuse scandal, it is disappointing.

I will begin with a few general remarks.  The first issue concerns the structure of the book.  Each chapter is set in a specified year and the chapters are not chronological.  This is an interesting idea but I feel it wasn't executed well.  For one, I found it hard to remember what had happened when, and I think the date changes just added confusion than anything positive.  It would be interesting to see if it makes for a better read reading the chapters in chronological order.  I also felt that some chapters were weaker than others.  I felt more interested in the young Odran and his childhood than the older Odran.

My second issue is the writing style.  Firstly, some phrases in the book are cringeworthy.  Having looked at other reviews, I am not alone in feeling this. Secondly, I am not a fan of writing questions in the first few pages that are meant to somehow 'hook' the reader.  For instance, Boyne writes how 'first there was three then there was five then there was three again'.  Personally, this is writing for the blurb only.  I like interesting characters and good writing to do the work; questions strike me as lazy and irritating.  Imagine going on a first date and the other person going "I'm going to be married in five years time, is it you that is going to be my partner?" Or "Something happened to me but I will only tell you on the fifth date?"  I find this extremely irritating.  In the words of Father Ted, 'Down with this sort of thing'.


Shows Father Ted holding a sign saying "Down with this sort of thing" outside a cinema


My main issue is the themes; what message is Boyne trying to make?  For the most part, it is obscure.  Sure, we know the subject matter, loneliness and child abuse but it is unclear what role loneliness is meant to play and what Boyne covers over the child abuse could be equally be read in the newspaper.  

Let's look at the theme of loneliness first.  Boyne provides us with a series of observations that, collectively, are confusing such as:
I was sure that I wanted sex with a girl, any girl, but given the opportunity it had felt somehow alien to my nature. (Ch 5)
I simply wanted to be left alone. To think. To read. (Ch 5)
Celibacy did not feel like such a terrible burden (Ch 9) 
Had I spent as much time with her as I should have done? (Ch 12) 
It is unclear what the reader, should take from this.  It is not clear how Odran is lonely.  Is Odran missing a sexual relationship?  Is he missing his family, friends, a secular life?  What confuses matters further, is that Odran himself doesn't really consider himself lonely, just inexperienced in life - it is the other characters that really view Odran as 'lonely'.

Now for the second subject matter of child abuse within the Catholic Church.  Boyne touches on several different dimensions of this: the effect on the reputation and treatment of priests in public, how the abuse was dealt with by the Church,  what it is like to know the abusers and the effects on the victims.  I think Boyne has tried to cover too much, and in doing so, hasn't covered enough in depth to make it a powerful novel.  Yes, the book deals with the subject in a sensitive matter, but it is also a superficial treatment.  Yes, priests were once seen as rock stars and now they are spat at, verbally abused and untrusted, but nothing deeper is made.  No real questions are asked or answered and the same story could have been told without the main character being a Father.  (I think Colm Tóibín, or even Yate's Revolutionary Road, would make an interesting comparison.)

What is interesting is that the only one who asks the questions that need to be asked, i.e. the complicity and whether people really didn't know what was happening, is the paedophile.  Having witnessed the child abuse scandal through the media, spotting the paedophile was not difficult but, I have to ask myself, before the media made me aware, would I have known?  Could I have thought that about someone?  These are difficult questions to answer and Boyne finishes the novel just as he starts to ask them.  

If I am honest, what is hindering the development of the themes is the main character.  Odran himself is a very passive character; life just happens to him, he rarely questions the behaviour of himself and those around him.  For an introverted character, he doesn't do a lot of self-examination.  The only time I felt that Odran made a serious judgment was his criticism of members of the Catholic Church being sexist and women haters.  Odran condemns that view sex and women should be seen as 'dirty' and to be oppressed.  This condemnation really leaves me confused as to what the message is because Odran doesn't make any obvious condemnations of the people involved in child abuse.  What little there is on the theme is in the last few chapters and I feel it is inadequate.  Odran remains mostly silent on the issue of child abuse. 

On Amazon, the book is described as:
The life of a good priest in Ireland over the past 50 years provokes one of John Boyne's most powerful novels yet
I really disagree with this description.  One - Father Yates is not good at his role as a priest, he just avoids the needs of his flock and is more concerned with the library than helping others in distress.  I feel little sympathy for the older Odran, but quite a bit for the young Odran.  Two -  it isn't a powerful novel; it requires serious editing.  

Overall, this novel has left me confused.  Does the 'history of loneliness' refer to the child abuse victims, who were deliberately ignored?  Odran does not address his loneliness, nor his role in the child abuse other than to beg for his forgiveness, without really asking what he is asking forgiveness for and why he feels the need for forgiveness.  Either way, A History of Silence would be a more fitting title for this confused novel.

Book Facts
Publication Date: 2014
Pages: 386
My Edition: Kindle Edition (Transworld Digitial) 
Cover:
Shows a painted beach scene, with a man holding a boy's hand near the sea shore.


Upcoming reviews: To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. 

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Of Human Bondage - W. Somerset Maugham

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Eddie*: Of Human Bondage. Have you ever read it? 
Buffy: Oh, I'm not really into porn. I mean, I'm just trying to cut way back.
Before I start my review, I'd like to say a little about how I came to this book.  I initially found this book through a list of alumni from my old university.  After searching Somerset Maugham on Google, I was intrigued but, I didn't take it any further.  A few months later (maybe more, time blurred at uni) I found myself watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer (one of the best TV shows) and this book came up in The Freshman (S4).  It kept bugging me and bugging me... was Joss Whedon subconsciously directing us to great books??  So, I took the plunge and bought the book.


Shows Buffy and Eddie looking at a map

* Played by Pedro Pascal, later to be known as Prince Oberyn or the Red Viper

I must confess at the outset, almost halfway through, I put Of Human Bondage back on the bookshelf out of sheer anger.  Hats off to Somerset Maugham, he has created a grade-A bitch in Mildred (I won't say more other) and I was so annoyed at how Philip kept on loving her.  To be fair, the relationship between Mildred and Philip is, arguably, the main plot of the book and explains the title Of Human Bondage - to be so emotionally involved with someone, that you cannot escape even if the object of your love treats you with the upmost disgust.  The relationship was excellently executed; Maugham has created the most parasitic, repellent character I have read.  Having made a second attempt, I think this anger is what Maugham wanted from his readers and I no longer feel anger at Philip's lack of self-respect and dignity.
“He did not care if she was heartless, vicious and vulgar, stupid and grasping, he loved her. He would  rather have misery with one than  happiness with the other.”
The second main plot itself is Philip's life.  Normally, when a story follows a character from birth, there tends to be boring points.  Not so with Maugham.  His childhood was exquisitely written and I enjoyed every journey that Philip took.

I also liked this book because of the themes which act as an undercurrent, these themes include:
Loneliness due to moving to a big city and due to a stigmatised disability;
Money worries and how they affect future plans/desire for life;
The question of talent and whether the talent is sufficient to carry on; and
Philosophical questions, e.g. the meaning of Kant.
Not only did I like the themes, but I liked how Maugham used them.  They are not too long, they are in just the right areas.  Maugham also is not melodramatic, they are a fair, credible and believable discussion.  I think they make genuine insights that are interesting.

Overall, despite the initial lag, I am glad I carried on.  An excellent novel which is still very much relevant today.


Book Facts
Publication Date: 1915
Pages: 720
My Edition: Vintage Classics, 2000.
Cover:


Elegant woman in black dress, white gloves and hat at front. Man in brown suit with hands in pocket in the foreground.


Upcoming reviews: A History of Loneliness by John Boyne.

2015: Challenges and Lists

Last year, I did the GoodReads challenge.  Essentially, you pick an arbitrary number of books to read in a year and any type of book counts towards it.  I chose 20 books and met my target. I found it enjoyable because it encouraged me to read more than what I normally do. Some semi-interesting facts from my challenge last year:

Δ Longest book read: The Luminaries - Eleanor Catton at 848 pages
Δ Total pages read: 7014
Δ Oldest book: The Venetian Years - Giacomo Casanova 1789

Because I enjoyed the challenge, this year I am aiming to read at least 36 books in 2015, which works out at 2 books a month.  This year I will also be keeping an eye on the total pages read.

Other challenges I am doing:
The Classics Club
Mental Illness Advocacy Reading Challenge
LGBT Reading Challenge

The List:


January (4)

1. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley 17/1/15
2. Heart of a Dog - Mikhail Bulgakov 18/1/15
3. Slaughterhouse Five - Kurt Vonnegut 20/1/15
4. Kant's Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals - John J. Callanan 27/1/15

February (4)

5. 10% Happier - Dan Harris 1/2/15
6. The Easter Parade - Richard Yates 8/2/15
7. Of Human Bondage - W. Somerset Maugham 18/2/15 (Review)
8. A History of Loneliness - John Boyne 21/2/15 (Review)

March (3)

9. Tipping the Velvet - Sarah Waters 4/3/15 (Review)
10. To The Lighthouse - Virginia Woolf 16/3/15 (Review)
11. Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro 21/3/15 (Review)

April (6)

12. Reasons to Stay Alive - Matt Haig 2/4/15 (Review)
13. Sons and Lovers - D.H. Lawrence 5/4/15 (Review)
14. The Sign of Four - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 6/4/15 (Review)
15. Maurice - E.M. Forster 14/4/15 (Review)
16. The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood 21/4/15 (Review)
17. Mort - Terry Pratchett 27/4/15

May (8)

18. The Good Luck of Right Now - Matthew Quick 4/5/15 (Review)
19. Mercury and Me - Jim Hutton 8/5/15 (Review)
20. Freelance Proofreading and Copy Editing: A Guide - Trevor Horwood 09/5/15
21. It's Kind of a Funny Story - Ned Vizzini 12/5/15 (Review)
22. Man and Superman - George Bernard Shaw 16/5/15
23. Mañana - William Hjortsberg 23/5/15 (Review)
24. To Rise Again at a Decent Hour - Joshua Ferris 25/5/15
25. Man's Search for Meaning - Viktor E. Frankl 29/5/15

June (4)

26. The Screwtape Letters - C. S. Lewis 4/6/15
27. On Writing: A Memoir - Stephen King 19/6/15
28. The Buried Giant - Kazuo Ishiguro 21/6/15 (Review)
29. The Bell - Iris Murdoch 25/6/15

July (4)

30. Between Gods - Alison Pick 2/7/15
31. Nora Webster - Colm Tóibín 6/7/15
32. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit - Jeanette Winterson 17/7/15
33. Gut, the inside story of our body's most underrated organ - Giulia Enders 29/7/15

August (6)

34. Brooklyn - Colm Tóibín 6/8/15
35. The Novel Cure -  Berthoud & Elderkin 13/8/15 (Review)
36. The Joy Luck Club - Amy Tan 16/8/15
37. An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth - Chris Hadfield 20/8/15
38. A Beautfiul Mind (John Nash) - Sylvia Nasar 29/8/15
39. The Art of War - Sun Tzu 30/8/15

September (4)

40.  De Profundis - Oscar Wilde 4/9/15
41. Studying Fiction - Roy Johnson 14/9/15
42. Casino Royale - Ian Fleming 21/9/15
43. Revolutionary Road - Richard Yates 24/9/15 (Review)


October (6)

44. The Drinker - Hans Fallada 3/10/15
45. Antigone - Sophocles 4/10/15
46. The Loney - Andrew Mitchel Hurley 19/10/15
47. Greek Tragedy - Elizabeth Vandiver 21/10/15
48. How to Write Better Essays - Bryan Greetham 21/10/15
49. Antigone - Jean Anouilh 28/10/15

November (4)

50. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage - Haruki Murakami 6/11/15
51. The Handbook to Literary Research - Delia da Sousa Correa 8/11/15
52. American Pastoral - Philip Roth 20/11/15
53. Guards! Guards! - Terry Pratchett 24/11/15

December (8)

54. Wide Sargasso Sea - Jean Rhys 3/12/15
55. The Theatre of Jean Anouilh - H.G. McIntyre 7/12/15
56. The Hound of the Baskervilles - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 8/12/15
57. Writing Essays - Richard Marggraf Turley 9/12/15
58. How to Read a Book - Adler & Van Doren 19/12/15
59. Waiting for Godot - Samuel Beckett 20/12/15
60. Sapiens - Yuval Noah Harari 20/12/15
61. Life & Fate - Vasily Grossman 25/12/15


Saturday, 14 February 2015

Current Top Ten

1. The Well of Loneliness - Radclyffe Hall
2. Slaughterhouse Five - Kurt Vonnegut
3. If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things - Jon McGregor
4. Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
5. The Master and Margarita - Mikhail Bulgakov
6. Life and Fate - Vasily Grossman
7. A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving
8. Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
9. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky

Honourable mentions:
The Late Hector Kipling - David Thewlis
The Reader - Bernhard Schlink
The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
Beware of Pity - Stefan Zweig
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time - Mark Haddon
Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro

The Classics Club - 50 Classics in 5 years

The Challenge
To read and blog about (at least) 50 books within five years. Visit the Classics Club

I started this challenge February 2015.  So far I have completed: 8/50.

Status:
(IP) in progress
(F) finished
Format of books owned:
(Ab) Audiobook
(K) Kindle
(Hb) Hardback
(Pb) Paperback

My List:
1. Angelou, Maya: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
2. Atwood, Margaret: A Handmaid’s Tale (F)(Pb)
3. Austen, Jane: Emma (Pb)(K)
4. Borges, Jorge Luis: Labyrinths: Selected Stories (Pb)
5. Chekhov, Anton: The Major Plays
6. Chopin, Kate: The Awakening (K)
7. Conrad, Joseph: Lord Jim (Pb)
8. Dickens, Charles: Great Expectations (IP)(Pb)
9. Dostoevesky, Fyodor: The Idiot (Pb)(K)
10. Dostoevsky, Fyodor: Crime and Punishment (Pb)(K)
11. Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan: The Complete Sherlock Holmes (Pb)(K)
                  The Scarlet LetterThe Sign of Four, The Hound of the Baskervilles 
12. Du Maurier, Daphne: Rebecca (Pb)
13. Eliot, George: Middlemarch (Pb)(IP)
14. Eliot, George: Silas Marner (K)
15. Faulkner, William: The Sound and The Fury (Ab)
16. Forster, E.M.: Howard’s End
17. Ford Maddox Ford: Parade's End (Pb)(IP)
18. Frank, Anne: The Diary of Anne Frank (Pb)
19. Gaskell, Elizabeth: North and South
20. Gogol, Nikolay: Dead Souls
21. Golding, William: Lord of the Flies (Pb)
22. Hardy, Thomas: Far From the Madding Crowd (Pb)
23. Hardy, Thomas: Mayor of Casterbridge (Pb)
24. Hardy, Thomas: Return of the Native (Ab)(Pb)
25. Heller, Joseph: Catch-22 (Pb)
26. Hesse, Hermann: Siddhartha (Ab)
27. Irving, John: The Cider House Rules
28. Ishiguro, Kazuo: Never Let Me Go (F)(Ab) 
29. James, Henry: Turn of the Screw (K)
30. Joyce, James: Dubliners (K)
31. Kerouac, Jack: On the Road (Pb)
32. Kesey, Ken: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Pb)
33. le Carre, John: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Pb)
34. Lee, Laurie: Cider With Rosie (Pb)
35. Lewis, Sinclair: Arrowsmith (Pb)
36. Lawrence, D.H.: Sons and Lovers
37. Murdoch, Irish: The Bell (F)(Ab)
38. Nabokov, Vladimir: Pale Fire
39. Pasternak, Boris: Doctor Zhivago (Ab)
40. Proust, Marcel: Swann’s Way (K)
41. Salinger, J.D.: The Catcher in the Rye (Pb)
42. Somerset Maugham, W.: Of Human Bondage (F)(Pb)
43. Steinbeck, John: Grapes of Wrath 
44. Tolkien, J.R.R.: The Lord of the Rings (IP)(K)
45. Updike, John: Rabbit, Run (Pb)
46. Vonnegut, Kurt: Breakfast of Champions (K)
47. Waugh, Evelyn: Brideshead Revisited (Pb)
48. Wharton, Edith: The House of Mirth (Pb)
49. Woolf, Virginia: To the Lighthouse (F)(Pb)
50. Yates, Richard: Revolutionary Road (F)Pb)