Monthly Archives: December 2013

Read This If You Liked…

So a new thread, a new category for my blog to inaugurate the new year: Read This If You Liked…

I have been marking students fiction writing this past term and, you know how it is, good Assessment For Learning practice dictates that your comments should focus on small improvements like “use a greater range of vocabulary” or “control sentence endings”. Well, my comments tend to be along the lines of “This reminds me of book X. Have you read it?” and “If you write in this style, try reading book Y”. I do the other useful stuff too, I hasten to add! But I do think broadening horizons is important! And showing that even our teenage writings for part of a continuum!

Blog posts in this category will look at linking books together: books of a similar theme, a similar style, a similar narrative voice. And just books that, I think, wholly subjectively, match each other!

Ghul and Ghoul

I had started reading The Golem and the Djinni as an end of year treat to myself and so far absolutely loving it! Only two chapters in but loving both the Golem and the Djinni! A few rather Frankensteinesque moments I. The creation of the female golem. Brilliant!

But the Djinni reminds us that he is only one of many djinn creatures including the ifrit (familiar to any player of Final Fantasy and star of a rather tender body-exchange gay sexual encounter in Gaiman’s American Gods)

20131231-104057.jpg and the ghul.

I was intrigued. I had never heard if a ghul save for Batman’s Ra’s al-Ghul. The book describes the ghul as

loathsome and flesh-eating

which did wonder whether there was a connection between the ghul and ghouls beyond mere phonological similarity.

And there is: ghouls which have somehow always struck me as a particularly British and somewhat archaic synonym for ghost is actually a bastardised image of an Arabian shape-shifting desert demon.

Who knew?

Well, the writers at DCC Comics presumably!

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Worst Reads of 2013

So this is the corollary of the post 2013 in books. Not the best books I’ve read this year but the worst.

Those books you read and think

Well, that’s a week I’ll never get back again.

Or those books you finish with a “meh” sound as you reach for the next.

Or those you finish, look at and and file next to Twilight on the “Too Embarrassing Even To Give Away” shelf.

These books don’t need promoting, just a health warning! Click on the book names to read my reviews of them. If you think they deserve it. Or you have too much time on your hands.

So first and definitely least enjoyable book of the year: The Shakespeare Curse by J. L. Carrell. Do you like Shakespeare? Or thrillers? Or characters? Or a plot? If you answered yes to any of these, this is not the book for you.

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The most disappointing book? Particularly disappointing conclusion? Dan Brown’s Inferno.

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And for the slowest, dullest, most glacial plot, George R. R. Martin’s A Feast For Crows.

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2013 in Books

2013 drags itself damply and limply to an end this week. Unlike Dr Who, whose Matt Smith incarnation went out on Christmas Day with a bang, the final days of 2013 remind me of the lines from Eliot

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

Anyway, I thought that I would bring the year to a close with a review of 2013 in books. And, to preface, this is books read by me in 2013 rather than written in 2013. There are still some 2013 books I’ve not got round to reading yet: The Luminaries and Jim Crace’s Harvest among them.

So. Here goes.

Top of my list is the Man Booker shortlisted A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki.

20131228-074227.jpg Utterly compelling and intriguing narrative voices, engaging characters, thoughtful, thought provoking and haunting. It is a book about reading and the relationship between reader and writer and genuinely made me think. And as my family and students will tell you, I try to avoid that if necessary! My somewhat gushing review is here as is a link to what happens when you gush too much about your book, here.

Second place on this wholly subjective list would go to Neil Gaiman whose beautiful Ocean At The End Of The Lane was powerful, touching, mythic and domestic all at the same time.

20131228-074349.jpg And a rollicking good read! Again, my review of it is here.

And at number three, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.

20131228-075235.jpg Unexpected, tender, utterly humane. Simply a genuinely lovely book about an ordinary man and his ability to simple journey to say goodbye to an old friend who is dying. There were so many ways this could have become cloying or sentimental or just go wrong… but Rachel Joyce judged everything perfectly! Another link to my review.

Ali Shaw’s The Girl With Glass Feet certainly needs a mention. As I do this I question whether ranking them has value… Maybe just my top ten. I also realised that February was a great month for my reading!

20131228-080537.jpg I loved this book: again it was remarkably tender and quiet and personal and with a remarkable sensitivity to light. The descriptions were gorgeous – especially of the glass feet themselves. Yes it is that literal a title! My review of this modern fairy tale is here.

I think The Woman in Black by Susan Hill needs a mention too. A great book with a cracking plot and so consciously crafted by Hill’s own apparent delight in the gothic. It has been an ideal book to teach simply because of that conscious crafting of language. And also genuinely chilling and creepy. Some notes on it can be found here and here.

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The film adaptation of The Woman In Black was, however, a massive disappointment… which leads me onto another of my books of 2013 which also had a really bad film: World War Z by Max Brooks.

20131228-085920.jpg The book is your standard zombie-fare: for unknown reasons, the dead rise and kill and convert much of humanity before the human race makes a stand. What I enjoyed about it – and what was taken out of the film – was the multitude of voices and stories which took an unmanageably large global narrative and reduced it down to domestic individual stories. My original blog, follow the link.

And 2013 was a good year for the undead for me: Justin Cronin’s first two books of The Passage trilogy were a powerfully and occasionally lyrical post-apocalyptic vampiric vision with one massively evocative protagonist, Amy Harper Bellafonte. The US military discover a virus capable of imbuing great strength and healing and predictably attempt to create a super soldier serum which in fact creates vampires who – somewhat inevitably – take over the world. My review of The Passage is here and the slightly less satisfying The Twelve is here.

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To continue I do want to include the Man Booker shortlisted Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín.

20131228-093945.jpg. This is a hauntingly sad novel of the gospel story of Christ from the point of view of his mother trying to deal with the crushing fact of his death. I just wish I’d read this without having seen Monty Python’s Life of Brian! My review is here.

Finally, I’ll mention Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett just because it is by Terry Pratchett and therefore a ways going to be a great big fun read! My review of this is here.

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And what will be my first books of 2014?

Well, I’ve just bought The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

20131228-100005.jpg The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker

20131228-100058.jpg and The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison

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