Tuesday, January 01, 2013

My review books of 2012

Time for the book review of the year. I rarely read new print books, but this year a few crept in.

Hardcover dust cover
Crooked Talk: Five Hundred Years of the Language of Crime - Jonathon Green (400 pages) Hardcover

Well certainly a different book, basically it is almost a dictionary of crime terms. As someone from the Antipodes it is really interesting to see how English words especially those that would have been brought down with convicts and settlers hundreds of years ago have slotted into the Australian vernacular and many of which remain when they have fallen out of use and knowledge in England. For words that we thought to be purely our own had their origins all over the UK. Interesting, but more of a pick up put down book than a sit still and read sort.



Eucalyptus - Murray Bail  (224 pages) Softcover.

This was a very sweet book, but the ending saddened me a little. The story is of a man who luckily gets money from an insurance claim and then heads out to Western NSW and buys a property where he starts to plant all of the eucalyptus varieties he can find. His only daughter and only living relative is the beauty of the district and wanted by all in sundry when the father announces the only one who can gain her hand in marriage shall be the one who names all the eucalyptus varieties planted on his property. Thus, ensues people trying all sorts to win the competition. A well crafted book and a little surprising in the structure and story direction.

All I have to do now is get Marta to read it so we can watch the movie.


                              London Underground - Peter Ackroyd (208 pages) Hardcover
Hardcover dust cover

I have previously read Peter Ackroyd's book on the Thames and it was really interesting and when I found that there was another book of his on the Underground of London, I thought this should be a great read. It was. I really enjoyed learning the history of the underground from its concept to current form, but the book doesn't just focus on the tube, it also looks at rivers, archaeology and geology so it covers things in a light way not too heavy and too indepth just enough to keep you reading.


Hardcover dust cover
Venetian Navigators: The Voyages of the Zen Brothers to the Far North - Andrea Di Robilant (256 pages) Hardcover

This is the story of the Zen brothers, mostly of one and a great grand son, but still it is a fascinating book and really something I got into and finished quickly as I was wanting to find out more. It was great as I have an interest in Iceland and the Faroes and it made it all the more exciting to read this with so much relation to this. If you like history and the thought of exploring it and being first to see/do something this is a well researched book, not too heavy to put you to sleep but certainly interesting.


Dear Fatty - Dawn French (384 pages) Paperback

Whenever a book has something like "I have never laughed so hard" or "So many laugh out loud moments" I instantly  cringe and feel sad that again another book will not actually make me do that. Fact is most of the time people don't laugh when they are alone, it is a shared emotion, not like crying, or angering or guffawing for that matter. I did at times raise a broad smile when reading this book, and it provided me some really great cheesey jokes for dinner parties should anyone ever invite me, but overall I didn't see this book as funny as suggested. In fact it was mostly sad with strong references to Dawn's father who died when she was the same age as me when my mother died, maybe that is why I felt it to be a sad book as it made me think of my mother. Either way the book was pleasant and a light read. What I feel many books lack is a linking story or believable connecting plot, the style of letters to friends and family of this was nice and allowed jumps in time without a necessary connection of time. It was meant to be an autobiography but ended up being more a catharsis I think which is not always bad.

McCarthy's Bar - Pete McCarthy (374 pages) Paperback

Seriously a very funny book. I really didn't think it would be. After the laugh disappointment of Dawn French I thought that this was going to be another dull, jokeless piece of dross. But, to my pleasant surprise it wasn't. It was truly funny. I actually found myself chuckling in the metro on the way to work. Not, laughing out loud, as no one does that who is sane. But it was a good shoulder movement and a curling of my lips into a smile. Good quality laughs and probably even better if you don't have too much exposure to Ireland, maybe Celtophobes will not like it. But it did make me go and look at the cost of housing. It is the story of a man's self discovery but there are plenty of pints in there to help get to the end.


Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions - Daniel Wallace (192 pages) Paperback

A really lovely easy to read story, about a boy talking of his father, and the things that he did, or at least told them about. It is fabulous for its wry humour and little stories that are nice, light and fanciful, I have not seen the movie funnily enough but think I might have to see if I can find it and check it out. I think this is a great book for a rainy day and in fact it is quite apt given some of the stories in it. Plus the fact you can probably finish it in a day.


                                When You Lunch With The Emperor, The Adventures of - Ludwig Bemelmans (308 pages) Paperback 

An oddly interesting book about an immigrant to the US from Europe. I would like to think that the character reminded me of myself as he was never very good at education but then again he had a talent for story telling and drawing. Where as, I do not. Ludwig is the creator of Madeline which later became a movie, he has however written more adult literature than children's. He tells a good story and in this he even has some "local" reference to me here as he had a friend from Przemyśl which is in southern Poland. I must admit it did take me a few chapters to gel with his writing style and scenes but in the end I did enjoy the book, even if he did repeat himself a little at times. Decent read for people who like to hear about immigrants and some of the tough things they had to deal with early in the 1900's


English Passengers - Matthew Kneale (463 pages) Paperback

This book was winner of the 2000 Whitbread Prize and in the same year was shortlisted for the Booker. This normally scares me off a little, but seriously this was a great book. A story that combines Dickens England and the wilds of Tasmania. It is an adventure story as well as a good dose of comedy. It follows a group that head form England to find the Garden of Eden in Tasmania. I really recommend this as a good read, it is a little longish but good value.


Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis de Bernieres (534pages) Paperback

So this is a book, that is a well known movie. I have to admit that I have not seen the movie before the book, probably because it had Nicolas Cage in it. But, since reading the book I will probably see the movie at some stage. The book, whilst interesting as a start the last 150pages or so really did kind of drag on. It was as if it was 20% too long or 20% too short. The book tells the story of a Greek island during WWII a Greek girl falls in love at first with a fisherman and then with an occupying soldier. It then follows her life during and after the war. Good, bad and indifferent throughout. Kind of inconsistent as a whole.


Paperback but not the one I have.
Archy and Mehitabel - Don Marquis (166 pages) Paperback

A really fun and lively read, written in a very different way for a journalist by a free verse poet cockroach living in New York, certainly something that is different and well worth the read. It was a column in the New York Evening Sun newspaper (the book was first published in 1927). If you want something different then seriously search it down, it won't be everyone's cup of tea but made me smile.


No Country for Old Men - Cormac McCarthy (310 pages) Paperback

This was my second Cormac book after "The Road" and it is a shame this man is so depressed. The book appeared to be written because his publishers needed a book, hence I was able to read it in 2 days and I am a slow reader! Seriously poorly written and difficult to understand, people suggest he is an icon of American literature. But, reading this story about a man who kills for fun, but with morals, and runs a mock around the Texas environs. Funnily enough I had seen the movie prior and it actually makes more sense than the book. Do yourself a favour and ignore this writer. Junk.


Girl with a Pearl Earring - Tracy Chevalier (256 pages) Paperback

A fictional story of how the painting came about. As I saw the painting a couple of years ago in Den Hague I thought it would be a good to read this. The story was really quite light in the sense that I was able to read it relatively quickly. The writing was not too indepth and the story itself was sweet in some ways, I don't know if it truly gives an insight into Dutch culture of the time, but it might. It was fun and made me think of Vermeer one of my favourite painters. for a quick reader, this would be a good rainy weekend book, as you would probably finish it in that time.


Paperback cover
Self portrait with a woman - Andrzej Szczypiorski (252 pages) Paperback

Prior to reading this book Andrzej was my favourite Polish author with his book "The Beautiful Mrs. Seidenman", however this book felt really confusing. Also it felt that maybe he was confused when writing it. There was an idea there to tell historical and life events through the story of lovers in the main characters life. It didn't quite work. I found at the end of it I was forcing myself to read it, just to finish it. Never a good sign.


Hardback dust sleeve
The Prize of All the Oceans - Glynn Williams (352pgs) Hardcover

I am still on the oceans and exploration, this book was a really different one to some of the previous I have read as it told more of the woe of sailing in the Southern Hemisphere and how little people know of medicine. Many people complain now about life and how science is killing us, but when you think that we actually found out what caused and how to stop scurvy I think most sailors would beg to differ. An easy read it tells of Anson's voyage to South America and the Philippines and how it changed lives, and history of England.


Driving Over Lemons: An Optomist in Andalucia - Chris Stewart.  Paperback (304pages)

So Chris heads off to Andalucia to look at some property, kind of panics when he sees something he likes and pays 4 times the value of it. Then gets treated badly by the previous owner, without knowing it, but wins the affection of the neighbours. Overall an interesting book very different to Under a Tuscan Sun, or A Good Year in that it was someone who wanted to blende in more. It is a little difficult to understand, a lot like Under a Tuscan Sun as they mention money troubles but always have money. A nice read, but not all sunshine and swimming pools.


Bertie, May and Mrs Fish: Country Memories of Wartime - Xandrea Bingley.  Paperback (237pages)

A very very light reader, it only took me 3 days to read in the world of Public transport. To be honest, it was the story of a privileged girl growing up without really know any difficult times. She really comes across as being so silverspooned that I wanted to slap her and the family around. I didn't take too much to the style of writing and I was glad it was over like a bandaid nice and fast with just a little pain. If you want to read about ponies, horses and how a woman ran a farm for the man she "loved" while he served in WWII then this is for you. If not, I'd say skip it.

The Good German - Joseph Kanon.  Paperback (518 pages) 

It is a movie with Tom Cruise, I haven't seen it. I don't know if I actually will, it does, after all, have Tom Cruise in it. The book itself, to be perfectly honest, was really an easy simple light read. It wouldn't have been as good to me if I hadn't been to Berlin recently. It was focused on many areas that I had spent time when there. This took the book to a whole new level for me and made me want to know more and learn more. It improved the interest in the writing and also the interest in what really happened in this era in Berlin and greater Germany, in my eyes.


The Xenophobe's Guide to the Poles: The Xenophobe's Guides Series - Ewa Lipniacka (paperback 78 pages) 

The guide was quite good, it was humourous but not to the laugh out loud stage. It made me grimace a little in places as it was very depressing. Maybe sometimes I don't get the dark Polish humour or maybe this just wasn't funny. I really think it felt a little dated too, or maybe I am just sheltered living in the capital, either way it wasn't as good as the Aussie one.


The Xenophobe's Guide to the Aussies: The Xenophobe's Guides Series -Ken Hunt (paperback 81pages) 

This was a hilarious look at Australians it made me actually laugh while on the metro. It actually reminded me of the Australia I grew up in, which unfortunately isn't really the Australia it is today. I would actually like Australian's to read this book so that they can see what we were and what made us such a desirable country to live in, maybe then we will get back on track. Still, a great read.



The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language - Melvyn Bragg (paperback 354pages)

This was a heavy book for morning commuting, but supremely interesting. The history of the English Language is something I really had little knowledge of, but this book opened my eyes quite a great deal. It tells how the language was formed, and why it is becoming the main "global" language even though its native speaker numbers are quite small compared to other languages. Well worth the read.


Dust sleeve cover
Ice Cream: A Global History - Laura B. Weiss (Hardback 176 pages)

Well the title says it all. It is very much focused on the USA history of ice cream. I did enjoy the book though, and it would be interesting to see some updates statistics associated with ice cream consumption as I think the Poles would certainly be up there. I have never seen so many people eating Ice cream in sub zero temperatures as here, as well as so many slim women eating such large ice creams. It was a decent book without being ground breaking, but still the author was better than being a jerk.... you will have to read the book to find out what that really means.


Dust sleeve
Diary of a Dog-Walker: Time Spent Following a Lead - Edward Stourton (Hardback 191 pages)

This was another of the style of books I really think is lazy book writing. It is from a man who wrote articles for a newspaper column and then proceeded to simply publish those articles in a book compilation along with a small amount of new added material. I was really hoping for some more stories about how walking a dog is fun, can lead you to things you wouldn't expect as well as to allow you the chance to meet some random people. But as a journalist he tends to keep the names of people out of the book and articles which kind of leaves it all a little faceless. I'd say not bother with this one, even though I love dogs.


The Office: A Hardworking History - Gideon Haigh (Semi-Hardback 607 pages)

Wow, this one was a marathon. It is basically a phone book in size and shape. But, that said, it was a really great read. The book goes through this history of the office and where it came from, has been and is now. Also looking at the future a little as well. GH looks at many different cultural influences across the area of literature, film, television and politics. It is really a fabulous read and I would recommend getting this, but probably not carrying it in a backpack to and from work. It does weigh nearly 1.5kg but is a worth it. It was great to read now that I am not actually in an office any more. It let me think about how to make life better for workers in offices, and realistically it is actually a difficult thing which comes to so many variables.

Dust Cover.
Corvus: A Life With Birds - Esther Woolfson (Hardback 352 pages)

A book about a lady who adopts injured or lost birds. Mostly of the Corvus (Crow) family. It is a really interesting and humours read. I think if you have ever owned birds and see that they can really have true personalities like you see in many animals you will love this book. It also means that when you walk the streets you will watch birds a lot more and try to interpret what they are thinking, saying and doing. A great read even if only for the subject matter and not so much the style.


The God of Small Things - Arundhati Roy (Paperback 368pages)

Well it is a booker prize winner from 1997... let's just say 1997 must have been a slow book year. This is one of the polarising books. I think you either love it or hate it. It made me think of someone who had an idea for a book but the editor said "you need to pad this out and add another 150 pages". So, the author did, with simile on top of simile, adjective on top of adjective. It was just painful. I had to finish it because I was wondering why it was a Booker winner.... I still am. Then again I haven't had much luck with Booker Prize winners. If you like verbose nature, this is for you. If not, skip it.


Cold Mountain - Charles Frazier (Paperback 448 pages)

When my wife recommended this book as a story of the American Civil War I have to admit I was not overly excited by it. I started it and realised it wasn't so much a war novel as a story about how people survived and the hardships of people who questioned authority. It was fascinating and I wonder now if the movie, even if it has Nicole Kidman in it, would be any good. A really good read this one.

The best book therefore was therefore McCarthy's Bar. I mean any book that can actually make me laugh out loud on public transport really is a good thing. Please feel free to recommend me any of your favourites too.
Most of them.


Erin said...

Ah it seems it takes a nice bookish post to elicit a comment from me, but I still read and enjoy your posts. I have read a few of these...I read Cold Mountain this year and enjoyed it, and I read The God of Small Things about 10 years ago. The only thing I really remember from it is something about breasts and toothbrushes, seven silver stretch marks, and the sex scene at the end haha.
I have started reading Captain Corelli's Mandolin twice and found it tedious and never got into it. I should try again since it's sitting on my shelf.
There are a pile of books I would like to read that I found on this list: http://www.abc.net.au/arts/aussiebooks/vote.htm one of them being Eucalyptus so it was good to read your thoughts. You might find some ideas there too.

I've had a fairly average book year...the best was East of Eden - John Steinbeck. Have you read Life of Pi by Yann Martel? You might like it. I want to read the Xenophobes guide to the Aussies. Thanks for the suggestion.

Gee Em said...

Thanks Erin. I haven't got to Life of Pi, as I have heard rather mixed reviews, and in general I have stayed away from buying these "best seller" books as I think they have enough money ;) I shall check your link too, see what they come up with. Happy NY to you and the family!

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