Recent Reading! (or, very quick book reviews)

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So I’ve been slacking a little on the ‘Quick Book Review’ posts for a while, so I thought I’d put a post together with quick thoughts on the books I have been reading over the past few months (I will shortly post an update to my ‘To Read List’ as well). So here we are with an overview of my recent reading material:

PompeiiHarris

Pompeii (Robert Harris): I’ve always been fascinated and intrigued by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, and the destruction of the titular city resulting from it, so I was instantly drawn to this when I saw it in a charity shop. This book tells of the events leading up to it and the immediate aftermath from the perspective of vastly differing characters, which makes it an interesting read. It perhaps gets too caught up in tangents and minutiae a little too much for its own good at some points, but the focus on how it affects the water systems of Pompeii (and the surrounding towns) is nonetheless an intriguing approach.

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Quick Book Reviews: ‘Alfie the Doorstep Cat’

alfie

Alfie the Doorstep Cat (Rachel Wells)

Not to sound snobby, but I was expecting this book to be one of those light, fluffy reads, the sort designed for you to read while lounging on a beach on holiday, i.e. nothing too heavy or complicated in terms of plot or themes. And yes, it basically is, but I still found myself captivated by this tale of a homeless kitty trying to find a home in a scary and unfamilar street. It probably helps that I’m a bit of a sucker for anything involving cats or dogs in the first place; partly why From Baghdad with Love proved such an emotional read for me as well, and why I was inspired to write a poem about my recently acquired pet cat, who himself was homeless and seemingly looking for a home to call his home just like the titular Alfie of this book. As explained within the book, a ‘doorstep cat’ is one who stops at various different homes in a neighbourhood, for food and/or human affection, not simply choosing one to settle in. Alfie feels compelled to do this after his elderly owner passes away, and does not want to be in a situation where he is left all alone again, so therefore opts to have several homes rather than just one. One of the most interesting things about the book is how it is actually told from the perspective of Alfie – he is the one speaking in the first-person (first-feline?) narration. This in turn provides a lot of the humour in the book, giving a feline perspective to the actions of humans, which of course do not always make sense when viewed through the harsh judging eyes of a cat. While the plot and events end up becoming rather predictible after a certain point, and the dialogue often coming off as unnatural and clunky, I still found myself rooting for Alfie and the various humans he encounters, all with their own problems and issues in life. As I said, the book probably relies on you being an animal lover in order to emotionally manipulate you, but a lot of the sentiment does indeed ring true – Alfie brightens these people’s lives, and call me a foolish romantic if you like, but I am convinced that my own cat, Charlie, is able to tell when I’m upset or I’ve had a monumentally shitty day, and is always able to make me feel better. The book is hardly a literary masterpiece by any means, but there is something about it that is still very compelling. I’m even tempted to check out the sequels that have apparently followed, of the further adventures of Alfie.

While I’ve mentioned the writing and dialogue isn’t always exactly stellar, there is a surprisingly deep message from our feline hero at the end of the book, and I will leave you with his perspective of what it is to be be human:

“…Not that you ever become completely healed, you understand. There will always be a part of you that is still healing, still hurting, but that becomes a part of your character and you learn to live with it. That’s what I think happens, anyway, because that’s how it feels to me”.  — Alfie.

Check out my first poetry collection, ‘The Awakening’, avaliable NOW!

Paperback – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Awakening-Selection-Poems-Stuart-Peacock/dp/1911476335

eBook-: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B017BZBH6M

The ‘To Read’ List (Updated 9th August 2017)

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EDIT: Updated 9th August 2017 – The Handmaid’s Tale and A Clockwork Orange added to list.

…As for the subject of this post; yes, it is the dreaded ‘To Read’ pile that, for those like me who enjoy a good book, seems to grow ever bigger due to the heavy demands and committments of our everyday lives. It became a bit of a problem for me last year, as I was constantly buying books from second-hand bookshops/charity shops, thinking ‘I’ll get to all these someday’, only to find I had so many building up in my room, still unread. It was at that point I literally sorted them into a ‘To Read’ pile, and began, you know, actually reading the blasted things, further vowing to not buy anymore until I had finished them. I’ll admit I make the occassional exception – if there is a new Margaret Atwood coming out I will either buy it or ask for it as a gift, for example – but I’ve generally managed to keep to this pretty well. So, in order to keep an actual list for myself, here are all of the books that have amassed in the pile, with links to their Goodreads pages (I will give my account on there some attention as I work through all of these as well!). Click to read on…

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The ‘To Read’ List (Updated 25th July 2017)

toreadpile

EDIT: Updated 25th July 2017 – Alfie the Doorstep Cat added to list.

…As for the subject of this post; yes, it is the dreaded ‘To Read’ pile that, for those like me who enjoy a good book, seems to grow ever bigger due to the heavy demands and committments of our everyday lives. It became a bit of a problem for me last year, as I was constantly buying books from second-hand bookshops/charity shops, thinking ‘I’ll get to all these someday’, only to find I had so many building up in my room, still unread. It was at that point I literally sorted them into a ‘To Read’ pile, and began, you know, actually reading the blasted things, further vowing to not buy anymore until I had finished them. I’ll admit I make the occassional exception – if there is a new Margaret Atwood coming out I will either buy it or ask for it as a gift, for example – but I’ve generally managed to keep to this pretty well. So, in order to keep an actual list for myself, here are all of the books that have amassed in the pile, with links to their Goodreads pages (I will give my account on there some attention as I work through all of these as well!). Click to read on…

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The ‘To Read’ List (Updated 12th July 2017)

toreadpile

EDIT: Updated 12th July 2017 – Link to review for Misery added.

…As for the subject of this post; yes, it is the dreaded ‘To Read’ pile that, for those like me who enjoy a good book, seems to grow ever bigger due to the heavy demands and committments of our everyday lives. It became a bit of a problem for me last year, as I was constantly buying books from second-hand bookshops/charity shops, thinking ‘I’ll get to all these someday’, only to find I had so many building up in my room, still unread. It was at that point I literally sorted them into a ‘To Read’ pile, and began, you know, actually reading the blasted things, further vowing to not buy anymore until I had finished them. I’ll admit I make the occassional exception – if there is a new Margaret Atwood coming out I will either buy it or ask for it as a gift, for example – but I’ve generally managed to keep to this pretty well. So, in order to keep an actual list for myself, here are all of the books that have amassed in the pile, with links to their Goodreads pages (I will give my account on there some attention as I work through all of these as well!). Click to read on…

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Quick Book Reviews: ‘Misery’

misery

Misery (Stephen King)

Misery is one of those well-known books that I somehow didn’t manage to get around to reading until very recently, nor had I seen the 1990 movie. Of course, I was aware of the basic plot, and the infamous ‘hobbling’ scene, but it was, perhaps criminally, not among the King books or movies that I had experienced thus far. I remedied that by finally sitting down to read the book recently (another that had been sitting on my shelf for a while, hence my motivation to start my ‘To Read List‘…) I have to say, I really was gripped by this one, and can see why it is one of King’s most higly regarded novels. The plot was already appealing to me being a writer myself, and King obviously relates the plight of the writer very well (this is why The Dark Half, one I had read a few years prior, is one of my favourites as well). King does a great job emphasising the sheer hopelessness of the author Paul Sheldon’s situation, trapped against his will in the house of his ‘biggest fan’ (who unfortunately for Paul just happens to be an ever-so-slightly unhinged former nurse-turned brutal murderer).

The concept of an obsessed fan forcing the author to undo the death of a character so beloved to them is a great one, and is perhaps even more chilling to read if you are a writer yourself. Notably, I have to say that I actually found the scene where Annie forces Paul to burn his manuscript very hard to read – perhaps more so than any involving physical torture or mutilation – and yes, even the part where she relieves him of a foot! (notably toned down in the film, but still effective). Despite the threat against his life, I found myself willing him to defy her and not to do it – no author should be forced into the situation of burning a finished manuscript to a crisp! He certainly feels the pain of having to do this as well, and it’s quite amusing that I considered this her biggest transgression considering the atrocious acts you discover she has committed over the course of her life. But I feel like this was perhaps King’s intention – while Paul’s situation is dire throughout the book, in his first-person narration he still manages to be flippant and sarcastic about the whole thing (mainly in his head, of course!) The climax of the book, where Paul finally gains the upper hand and escapes, is extremely satisfying (and intense!) to read as well, as he finally gains control of his own life again. I did find it interesting as well that during the point he is mostly resigned to his fate, he is nonetheless extremly productive in his writing. Under duress as he maybe, it still makes the point that a focused creativity is possible when the distraction of that pesky old outside world isn’t there!

Paul’s inner monologue is obviously lost in the movie, but I still found it an enjoyable watch. It takes some artistic liberties – fleshing out the local sherrif as a character when the book is more or less completely confined to Paul and Annie in the house – but it still works well, and I enjoyed the good natured marital ribbing between himself and his wife (making his brutal end at the hands of Annie all the more tragic). James Caan does a good job as Paul, but I do feel like it’s a role that could have been done by just about anyone. Kathy Bates truly makes the role of Annie her own, though, and she was certainly well deserving of the Oscar she won for this film. I was familar with some of her work previously, mainly in her roles in various seasons of American Horror Story, where she is always fantastic (bar the odd dodgy accent here and there), and knew before even watching the film that she’d be a good fit for the character. I was not disappointed with how the film handled the exhilirating climax either.

Overall, both the book and the movie were worthwhile to experience for me, and I salute Mr. King for creating such a claustrophobic and hopeless atmosphere, that keeps you rooting for the protagonist and yet still find the antagonist delightful in her quirkiness and derangement. King somehow manages this effortlessly.

So now I am reading The Green Mile, having already seen the film (but I expect I will rewatch it again after completing the book), so I’m on a bit of a King-fix at the moment, you might say. Stay tuned for the review on that very soon 🙂

Check out my first poetry collection, ‘The Awakening’, avaliable NOW!

Paperback – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Awakening-Selection-Poems-Stuart-Peacock/dp/1911476335

eBook-: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B017BZBH6M

Quick Book Reviews: ‘Switch Bitch’

switch-bitch

Switch Bitch (Roald Dahl)

Simply put, this is a collection of short stories about sex. But this isn’t as cheap and tawdry as you might imagine; the stories are all wonderfully inventive and each with delightful twists at the end. Indeed, you’d expect nothing less from Mr. Dahl. This was something of a bizarre read for me as well, as I’d only ever read his works intended for children (although they could get dark and twisted in places as well), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory being a particular favourite of mine growing up. So reading one of his more adult-oriented works was certainly an experience for sure. What he does especially well in this collection is effortlessly make parts of the stories emotionally crushing yet hilarious at the same time, which is no mean feat.

Two of the stories, ‘The Visitor’ and ‘Bitch’ are told from the perspective of ‘Uncle Oswald’, presented as a notorious womaniser whose memoirs have been discovered by his family. ‘Visitor’ is particularly brilliant as, not to give anything away, a dream-come-true (for him) scenario of sleeping with another man’s wife and daughter becomes a nightmare, when he is cruelly, yet justly punished for his intended transgression at the end. My first reaction was ‘Oh….shit’ but quickly turned to hysterical laughter. ‘Bitch’ meanwhile is perhaps a little silliler and ‘out there’, the ending in particular, but it captures the sheer primality of our carnal desires very well. The character in general, despite his attitude towards women (he has a strict ‘one time only’ policy’, which he repeatedly stresses), and complete lack of morals, is one you just can’t truly hate, and his (mis)adventures are truly a joy to read.

‘The Great Switcheroo’ meanwhile, involves two husbands crafting a master plan to sleep with each other’s wives, without the wives actually knowing that it isn’t their husband in the act with them. If this sounds completely implausible, suspend your disbelief – the plan and how it is carried out is actually quite ingenious, and fully explained step-by-step, again emphasising the lengths we will go to for sex. Again, not to spoil things too much, but while the plan technically does work, it has devastating consequences for one of the husbands in question, but again, this is written in such a way that is darkly humorous.

‘The Last Act’, meanwhile, is probably the most brutal of the four – there is little comedy in this one, given that it deals with a woman contemplating suicide following the tragic passing of her husband. While this ends up being delayed when she lands herself a job, an encounter with an old flame quickly sends her falling into the abyss again, and I personally had to put the book down and process what I had just read after the ending, which really does show how cruel and callous humanity can be, at its worst. It pulls no punches, this one, and is a very raw and emotional read. Probably just as well, then, that the more light-hearted ‘Bitch’ is the story to close the collection.

Overall, I really enjoyed this collection, and read it all more or less in one sitting – I was certainly hooked in. Would highly recommend it, and therefore will award it a 5/5!

Check out my first poetry collection, ‘The Awakening’, avaliable NOW!

Paperback – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Awakening-Selection-Poems-Stuart-Peacock/dp/1911476335

eBook-: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B017BZBH6M