Let me start by saying that I caved and bought a Kindle this month, because they were on offer, because I’m tired of reading e-books on my laptop, and because I am a weak human being. I can’t be arsed with the whole “oh but paperbacks meeeeehhhhhhhh I love the feel of a book and Kindles are-” shut up, fools. A book is a book is a book – whether you read it on paper, on a eReader, or listen to it on an audiobook, the story matters, not the format. This month’s selection of books was kind of a mixed bunch, so here are my reviews.
Book 43: Private London – James Patterson and Mark Pearson
Yes, this offering from James Patterson’s factory is one of the worst book I’ve read this year. The ‘Private’ series revolves around a private investigation firm with branches around the world, which employs some of the world’s most elite and connected ex-military and police officers, not to mention tech-geeks and intelligence personnel. They’re hired by the rich and famous to take on jobs that require brute force, and in ‘Private London’, Dan Carter is tasked with finding and rescuing a kidnapped girl. Carter is such an insufferable narrator – he describes his own looks, which no-one does in real life and is an incredibly lazy thing to do. He also details his gym routine, which plenty of people do in real life and is an incredibly boring thing to do. The chapters, which average around 3 pages each and mostly end with a cliffhanger or a sentence like “I knew something bad was about to go down”. There are plenty of poorly constructed moments of dialogue, where Carter throws out cringeworthy lines that seem like the kind of thing Alan Partridge would come up with after the moment has passed. And the constant checking in with ‘Jack Morgan’, head of Private, seems to parallel the process (in my eyes) that Mark Pearson must have undergone – London-based writer checking in with the big dog, James Patterson, as he takes the reigns on this branch of his franchise. He didn’t do a very good job, and the book is wholly unsatisfying and pretentious. Made me cringe more than once.
Book 44: Franklin D Roosevelt by Roy Jenkins
Bit of non-fiction now, with a biography of FDR which touches on his early life, career and death. It’s straightforward enough, although at times it jumps back and forth a bit – one moment we’re in 1932, then we’re in 1944, then we’ve jumped back again to the 1930s. There isn’t much for me to say about this book, other than I really enjoyed learning more about FDR’s life and influences; I’d first studied him briefly during an American History elective at university, and I was fascinated by all the New Deal and post-war topics, and reading about it from the perspective of a man rising through the ranks in the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt made for an interesting break, especially after the mind-numbing banality of the previous reading choice. As this book is part of a series on the American presidents, I might be tempted to read some of the other titles if I can find them.
Book 45: On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
Recommended by a friend as it is relatively short and quite funny in places, this is the second book of McEwan’s that I’ve ever read – the first being Enduring Love – and I loved it; I’m so impressed at how well he constructs characters and stories out of minor events and their consequences. Set in the early 1920s, On Chesil Beach focuses on newlyweds Florence and Edward, who are both virgins on their wedding night. The two approach the night with their own fears and apprehensions – Edward worrying that he might not perform and that his dormant angry streak might rear its ugly head, Florence disgusted by the mechanics of intercourse. With their own backgrounds revealed over the course of the book and their different upbringings explored and contrasted in the short space of under 200 pages, there is a lot to take in but it is beautifully rendered by McEwan. There’s a kind of slapstick, dry comedy to the whole thing – the awkward way that Florence tries to be seductive, the inner thoughts of the two characters in contrast to what is actually going on – but there are also a number of hints that Florence’s apprehension might be a result of something sinister happening in her childhood; it’s not explicitly described, but I’m so sure that McEwan didn’t mention those many trips that Florence took with her father as just simple background information. I love how on the surface this book seems like a sort of odd-couple, straight-forward novel about the pressure of ‘the first time’, but there’s that undercurrent of darkness behind both characters, and there are no flashy twists or explosions – just a brilliant story, well told.
Book 46: The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain
I’ve never seen the film but I’ve heard of it, it seems like so many books and films of that time were about wives plotting to kill or dispose of their husbands with a handsome, dangerous newcomer. And that’s more or less the plot of The Postman Always Rings Twice, at least at the start. Frank, a drifter with a dubious past, arrives at a roadside diner and quickly makes friends with the owner Nick, aka ‘The Greek’, who gives him a job. There is an instant attraction between Frank and Cora, Nick’s wife, and the two start seeing one another behind his back. When their first plot to kill Nick in the bathtub and make it look like an accident is thwarted by a power-cut, a passing police officer seems suspicious so the two cool things off for a while. When they make their second attempt on Nick’s life, that’s when things really start to pick up, and we meet more characters who wouldn’t look out of place in a film noir classic. There’s murder, blackmail, back-stabbing – a whole lot packed into a fairly short book. I wouldn’t say it was a particularly challenging read, and it reminded me a lot of Jim Thompson’s ‘The Killer Inside Me’ because of its blunt descriptions of the sex and violence, and the timely sexism towards the women – although with that said, Cora is often depicted as having a strong grasp on her own sexuality, knowing what she wants from Frank and going after it from the start. Plus, it doesn’t end with everybody getting what they want, and I love that in a novel!
Book 47: Ur by Stephen King
Y’all know that I love me some Stephen King, and I always will, but Mr King – FOR SHAME. He said he didn’t write this Kindle-only exclusive novella for the money, but I can’t bring myself to believe that. I mean, if he wrote the book as a way of celebrating and embracing the direction that books are taking by becoming up to date in a digital world, I can’t understand why he would feel the need to litter the text with so many frequent references to how easy the Kindle is to use, and describing the Amazon logo, and referencing ‘Amazon, the website where the Kindle can be bought’. Apparently the book was written after a request from Amazon, and I admire that Stephen King has been able to embrace the changes in publishing but I really felt kind of dirty after reading this. Every few pages there’d be a bit that was obviously written to meet specifications laid out by Amazon, I’d put money on there having been an agreement that the words ‘Kindle’ and ‘Amazon’ needed to occur a certain number of times.
As for the actual story, it’s not half bad. Typical Stephen King fare, dabbling in other worldly supernatural elements, some references to his other works (The Dark Tower), and of course with a writer/booklover for a protagonist. When Wesley Smith orders a Kindle following the break-up of his relationship, a pink one arrives despite them only being available in white (at the time, anyway – since then I think there’s been new gen models in black and grey). On further inspection the device isn’t what he first thought it would be, and after playing around with it a little he discovers that there are alternate ‘urs’, supposedly universes parallel to this one, in which authors have lived longer and written more books. Wesley finds new books by Hemingway and Poe, and realises there are millions of ‘urs’ each with a different collection by these authors. But when he accesses one of the other functions, it throws everything up in the air and Wesley has to decide whether or not to use his new information to interfere with the sequence of events yet to come, without knowing what the penalty for breaking ‘Paradox Laws’ might be.
The idea of alternate universes where beloved authors were alive long enough to complete more books is pretty cool, and I wish I could actually find out what happens in ‘Cortland’s Dogs’, one of the new Hemingway titles that Wesley discovers in an alternate ur. But the product placement that kept popping up was off-putting and marred the whole experience for me.
Just one month left, and 5 books to go! Can I do it? I bloody hope so.