If this was a video game, it would be a free-roaming third-person action-adventure with epic storytelling goals that never really resolve, but you don’t mind too much because you’re half-glad it’s finished and you can stop playing.
As far as I’m concerned, this is one of the defining books of the “chick lit” genre; so defining, in fact, and followed by so many pale imitations, that Bridget Jones’s Diary should probably surpass this tired and overstuffed genre into something else with the emphasis on “literarty”. There have been so many awful books that have tried to sneak into a similar category, but they just can’t touch the wit and style and glorious lovability of Bridget Jones’s Diary.
If this was a dessert, it would be your favourite Grandma’s trifle—a lot less majestic than it seemed at age 9 but still bloody tasty once you hit the sherry-soaked cake strata.
Ah, Harry Potter. In this case, I want to state that I read this little number hot off the press before Harry became the blistering sensation that he is today, with his appalling hair and several movies and whatnot. I was right there in the thick of things, and I remember two girls pointing and snickering at my reading a children’s book on the train. I remember reading it and thinking “Well she isn’t Roald Dahl, but she’s pretty close...”. Anyway, when Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone first hit the shelves in 1997, I think everybody was wondering whether Harry was just going to be a flash in the pan or if J.K. Rowling had the makings of a classic on her hands. I think that now, we all know the answer to that. And I don’t think her reputation is undeserved. (I think she produced the fifth book on a bad day, but I’ll save that for another review.)
If this was a song, it would be Greensleeves, played on a humorously cheap synthesizer while you are distracted and hungover and yet find yourself becoming disproportionately emotional in response.
A New York night.
A beautiful woman.
Hmmm. I realise that is a fairly insipid way to begin a book review, but to be honest the book didn’t really inspire me to rave about it. In the beginning, it was barely keeping me turning the pages, and that ain’t no great shakes for a thriller! But it did pick up and become mildly interesting for a moment or two. In a sort of limp, half hearted way. And the writing was slightly above par. In fact, I think that’s why I feel so lack-luster about the whole experience... because Jesse Kellerman appears to be a cut above when it comes to making okay bits of prosy-sounding metaphor, so it just seems wasted that this was what came out. That said, for a while during the reading process, I was vaguely interested, and, in the end, I only felt the need to abandon it for mindless televisual entertainment once or twice.
If this was rated on Birmo’s own cheeseburger scale, I’d give it three and a half fat, freshly-made ones out of five, with a coke on the side for the ones who came before.
Ah, the first novel of Ben Elton... comedian, comic genius behind such hilarities as The Young Ones and Blackadder, and, after this and some of his other gems, man with an environmental conscience. I loved Stark so much that before long my copy had no front cover... and then slowly dissolved from over reading and over lending. Granted, I was an idealistic young thing at the time with an environmental preoccupation... but still, that’s a fairly good sign. Furthermore, proud Fremantle rumour has it that Mr Elton scribed this book while sitting at Gino’s making notes on a paper napkin, and while I’m not overly convinced that this is the absolute truth, there are some characters lurking about the pages of Stark that made me think that maybe Ben was drawing inspiration from some real-life members of the Gino’s community.
If this was a pair of pants, it would be brown leather riding trews, brutally polished but artfully worn, suitably antique in cut yet of no obvious period, comfortable enough in the saddle but far FAR too implicative for casual wear.
If this was a meal, it would be a reheated roast dinner eaten alone in a dirty bedsit as late afternoon sunlight peeks through a slate-grey sky.
A good ol’ Southern real estate tycoon, a black mayor and a black lawyer, who just aren’t black enough for their constituents, a young follower of the Stoics, and a high profile rape case that could turn Atlanta into a racial battleground are the main features of this door stop of a novel. And, while Tom Wolfe seems to bang on a bit, some of the detail is great. The only major complaint I had with this book was the fact that Wolfe obviously decided that “gloaming” was his new favourite word, and used it five times through the story. And it stuck out. Aside from that, good for Tom! Doesn’t he compare favourably to such book exchange annoyances as James Patterson et al? Finding A Man in Full amongst the Jodi Picoults and German copies of Da Vinci Code was a rare stroke of luck, I tell you.
No Trace by Barry Maitland is a just a cut above in the crime fiction genre. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s English. Maybe it’s the fact there are so many substandard, poorly written, just-out-to-snare-a-movie-script competitors to compare him to. Maybe it’s the feeling that you are reading something almost literary. Maybe it’s the smart-looking, glossy cover. Whatever it is, No Trace was a relief to read.
There’s nothing quite so enjoyable as a book that challenges the way we think, in my opinion—as long as that book does it in a particular way. Most readers don’t want to be preached at, or aggressively challenged, or be treated like they’re stupid while reading a novel (there are academic and religious texts for that, thanks). And often, when an author is trying to comment on race, or socio-economic status, or politics, they more often than not come across sounding like self-righteous snobs. However, Zadie Smith manages to tackle all of these topics in On Beauty, and manages to be simply thought provoking, maintaining the integrity of the reader by not assuming the reader is an idiot. It sounds simple, but it’s actually a rare and beautiful thing.
Picture this: women in their thirties who are meant to be classy but like to be called “hot lady” by bikers; ex supermodel being stalked by sexually deviant knighted charity fiend; floppy haired lawyer with a yacht and a hard exterior hiding a broken heart; and some murderous intentions played out in about four seconds to wrap it up when the author got bored. But that’s not all. Ever wondered what kind of undies your heroine wears, and been dissatisfied when other books just don’t provide this vital info? Look no further, and check out just a few of these little gems:
“Removing her gold earrings, she punched the button on the machine to retrieve her phone messages. Then she stripped down to her leopard print uplift bra and matching leopard print thong panties.”
“Her dress was so damp, it clung. Was that a leopard print uplift bra she was wearing underneath it?”
“‘Tuesday’ Hannah whispered, stepping into a pair of bikini, zebra print panties.”
The mistake a lot of writers make is believing that their story has to have lots of big, dramatic occurrences to make it good. Like explosions, young rugged heroes, missing treasure, conspiracy, blood… otherwise, who would be interested? Walter Mosley knows different and proves it to great effect in this glorious collection of short stories about Socrates Fortlow, ex-con, hard worker, honest man, murderer, unofficial foster-father, dog owner, confidant of revolutionaries, defender of his friends, fighter for justice.
This book rated number one on the 2006 Angus and Robinson Top 100 book recommendations... so I’ll clearly state that either: Angus and Robinson have been sorely misled, or the Australian reading public have a lot to answer for. While Dan Brown-bashing is a popular pastime amongst those sneeringly referred to as the “literary elitist snobs”, I’m totally not afraid to side myself whole-heartedly with the snobs. And it’s not that I’m a resentful wanna-be unpublished author, or a jealous contemporary, or that I was someone who had a go before ACTUALLY reading the thing. I just really didn’t like it. The Da Vinci Code was spewed by Dan Brown and then published by Transworld Publishing. It took the world by storm and everybody loved it but me and some other people.
I purchased Something Happened hoping that some of Heller’s Catch 22 glory—cult classic, literary masterpiece, all round stab at war and man and the big stuff—might have rubbed off. It sure did, but in a different way—Something Happened is a desperate, suffocating, sad stab at the middle-class American man—in an internal monologue that is awful and perfect and... nothing I say about it can do it justice. American Beauty eat your heart out! You can only dream about being this real.
I realise that it’s a category that many scoff at, and frankly, I think there are some books that are placed in the category of chick-lit unfairly because they are a bit more than the genre has become. Mrs Murphy Hires a Cleaner is not one of those books; it sits happily and unashamedly in the chick-lit section, although it’s of a slightly more mature character and has some relatively humorous bits. It’s a quick and fairly engaging read—I finished the 489 pages in a day. It wasn’t overly special—I’ll have forgotten it in a week and won’t have the desire to read it again—it was a pleasant and light distraction of a book.
Poor James Rollins. He wanted to be the next Dan Brown with this little historico-conspiracy-theory set in the Vatican and a host of other exotic locations, impossibly laden with handsome brave protagonists. And so many plot twists your head will spin—while the rest of your mind thinks “how do they DO it in just four days?”. I’ve never read Mr Rollins before... he was the least offensive selection in the book exchange at the hostel I was staying in at the time, and while he didn’t inspire feelings of nausea in me the way James Patterson does, I still don’t think I’d leap at the chance to purchase any of his previous six novels for more than a dollar.
This book—or to be more precise, this trilogy—is number two in Angus and Robertson’s top one hundred, having been cheated out of the top spot by that appalling Da Vinci Code business. And, while I wouldn’t say J.R.R Tolkien’s meandering and fairly time-intensive classics are the best books in the world, they sure have stood the test of time. The fact that they are referred to pretty much undisputedly as “classics” gives that away. The publisher on this lot is Harper Collins, and if I’d snapped up this baby as a publisher I’d be laughing all the way to the bank! I don’t think there are many people in the developed world who haven’t heard of The Lord of the Rings, be it movies, books, cartoons, other references... and you have to respect Tolkien for that.