Saturday, 31 May 2014

Hotel Babylon, by Imogen Edwards-Jones

2 stars

I've already read one of this series of books and so knew the format going in - unnamed source(s) in the industry tell tales from behind the scenes, which are then written into a day in the life of - although I didn't enjoy this as much as Hospital Babylon. This is partly due to the format which means it seems less like reporting and more like bad fiction, and is also partly due to my never having worked in a hotel. But mostly it's due to the fact that in the hotel trade there don't seem to be any moments of quiet sweetness in amongst all the bad behaviour; the people that can afford to stay in top hotels seem to just behave badly knowing that, whatever their transgression, flashing a few notes will see you not only let off the hook but fawned over like you shit sunbeams.

There are enough scandalous tidbits to keep most gossips satisfied - whether it be the fools paying £800 a shot for whiskey (I don't care how rich you are, you're a twat if you think any drink is worth that), the proper-looking ladies leaving shits in their beds, the businessmen asking reception to nosh them off, the requirement that you tip anyone who so much as makes eye-contact with you in order to be treated well, or the celebrities allowed to dangle people out of windows as their security is bigger than yours - but, along with all the confessions of just how much hotels fleece anyone who walks through their doors (especially if you're one of the back-of-house staff), if you're anything like me most of them will just leave you feeling annoyed and more certain than ever that you'd rather doss down in the back of your Transporter than give any of these wankers your money.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Pavement, by Richard Butchins

4 stars

Usually, when picking up a book with murder on its mind it tends to be of the maverick-cop-with-problematic-personal-life-hunts-demented-but-brilliant-psychopath-in-a-deadly-game-of-cat-and-mouse variety. This isn’t that kind of book. Instead, we’re trying for something altogether more interesting. 

Set in a dystopian world that’s almost exactly our own, just with society given an extra nudge in the direction it’s already travelling, our nameless protagonist pounds the pavements of London, rendered invisible and embittered by poverty and disability. With everything and everyone around him only serving to fuel his hatred, along with vivid dreams dripping with blood, he soon seeks to separate himself from society entirely and puts into play his plans of murder. 

Not feeling like a voice I’ve heard before, Mr Butchins captured that of an obsessive misanthrope extremely well (I wonder if he actually went out and counted all those paving slabs?), complete with some fantastically black stabs of comedy. He also has a wonderful way with words when it comes to description with the passages on Charing Cross, Blackfriars and HMS Belfast being my favourites, and I’d have liked to have seen even more of these flourishes. 

As the book progresses and our protagonist murders without consequence (unless you count visions of dead prostitutes as consequences) some of the dream sequences started to feel ever so slightly repetitive, though this may be as I was more interested in what was happening outside of those dreams (I also hesitate to call them this, as it’s hard to say for sure whether those waking moments weren’t also fantasy). I also picked up a few misprints and small mistakes in my copy – but these are small errors easily fixed with another pass by a beady-eyed editor. 

In all, this was an interesting book that held my attention even when my kittens were running all over me – no mean feat! – and Richard Butchins is the owner of a voice that doesn’t sound like anyone else's, and one which I look forward to seeing him develop.

* I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

4 stars

Since finishing this book last Saturday, I've been struggling to find what I'd like to say about it. 

This is at least partly due to the vivid characterisation and intimate detail that was also on display in The Secret History, meaning I feel less like I've just read a book and more like I've stumbled across a set of secret journals kept by someone during some of the more stressful times in their life.

Following the life of Theo Decker from early bereavement in New York to virtual abandonment in Vegas, and then back to New York as he navigates early adulthood, the characters were given such life that I wouldn't have been surprised had I heard a knock at the door only to find Boris (in particular) on my doorstep.

Filled with anxiety and tension, this worked both for and against the book at times with me being either so enthralled I didn't want to put it down or so worried about what cruel blow circumstance would deliver next (or anticipating the disappointment that would be felt by other characters at discovering what was going on) that I didn't want to pick it back up to find out.

If anything, my only real complaints about The Goldfinch and the things keeping me from awarding that fifth star were the ending, which kind of petered out for me after all that anxious nail-chewing, and the fact that while excellent this wasn't quite as excellent as The Secret History. But if you've got some time on your hands and fancy getting lost in a world that seems almost as real as your own, you could do a lot worse than picking up The Goldfinch. Just make sure you've remembered to take your anxiety medicine when reading (oops!)

Monday, 19 May 2014

The Good Body, by Eve Ensler

2.5 stars

Most women have something they hate about their bodies. For Eve Ensler it's her stomach, but for me it's less one part and more a laundry list of complaints: the hair on my head (too fine), the hair on my body (too thick), my cheeks (too hamster-licious), my eyes (too wonky), my teeth (too mangled), my stomach (too wobbly), my thighs (too thick), my legs (too short) and my feet (too wide). I've spent a fortune over the years buying products to firm, tone, support, remove and disguise the many areas of my shame, all trying to replicate the photoshopped and virtually unattainable look that is now the western female body ideal, and yet still on my best day I imagine anyone looking at me is secretly doing this:

The Good Body intends to free us from this endless, demoralising war against our own flesh - sadly such a skinny book was never going to undo 35 years of conditioning, although it did provide some food for thought. It's a sad thing to contemplate how few women are accepting of their bodies and I appreciate Ensler shining a little light on the subject, although I also felt that light was mostly directed at herself even when giving other women a voice - whether it be the model married to her surgeon (who desperately needs for me to rip him a new asshole), the teenager at fat camp or the ladies in Afghanistan risking their lives for a taste of ice-cream, everything was viewed through whether Eve's stomach was flat enough. But this is coming from a woman who spent the first paragraph of this review rambling on about herself, so can probably be taken with a pinch of salt.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Say hello to my leetle friends

Everybody, meet Creedence...

...and Crosby...

Creedence and Crosby are 8 week old brothers who came to live with us on Saturday. So far they're settling in brilliantly, spending most of their time either asleep, eating, or running around like mini-maniacs and trying to wrestle one another into submission.

Crosby so far seems to be the daring one, trying new jumps and climbs wherever he can find them while Creedence follows behind, trying to bite his tail.

Then it's time for yet another nap, while I try not to squeal at their cuteness: 

Especially when they fall asleep mid-fight.

I've no idea how I'm going to drag myself away from them in order to go to work!

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Moving Pictures, by Terry Pratchett

2 stars

Considering the subject matter – Hollywood (or ‘Holy Wood’) comes to the Discworld - I thought I was going to love Moving Pictures. However, it seems that reading two Discworld books back-to-back was a mistake, as I found myself soon swinging from being amused and a wee bit delighted with Eric to barely smirking and rather tired of this.

The colourful cast that supports the two bland leads are fairly amusing although some soon started to grate, and while there were tons of nods to classic movies, everything felt a little too broadly sketched for me to really appreciate it.