My Goodreads goal is to read 52 books this year, and I’m going to share my reviews as I go.
I’ve always been a voracious reader. I remember being about nine or ten and my mum telling me I could finish a chapter of my book and then I had to go to sleep. So I chose a book with no chapters and read it to the end, keeping within the rule if not quite the spirit of the rule.
This year, I’ve gone back to paper books for reasons I won’t get in to, and it’s unexpectedly rekindled my love for reading. I was an ereader convert but now I’m a retro paperbackphile.
I generally have four books on the go: one audiobook in the car (I commute two hours a day so I get a lot of ‘reading’ done there), one non-fiction book, and at least two fiction. I like having a choice of whether to read something fun and lighthearted or heavy and sombre.
I also keep a book in the bathroom which, for reasons unknown even to myself, is usually a children’s book. I get through these very fast, though not for the reasons you think: I’m vegetarian (think it through) but diabetic, so I pee about 560 times a day. I’m not counting these books for my reading challenge, though FYI Mary Poppins is a 5*.
Now that you know more than you ever wanted to about my toilet habits… the books!
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell – 5/5 great addition to my erotica shelf
This has been on my to-read list forever, like many classics, but I was finally spurred into action by our new book club at work. I was looking forward to the book, although I’m not generally a fan of dystopian (I like a happy ending, except when I try a new massage place and have that anxiety that I’ve missed several clues and it’s a brothel), because so many concepts from 1984 have permeated popular culture and I already miss enough popcul references from not being a fan of Star Wars or Lord of the Rings.
We all know the story, right? Winston is a member of the outer party in a dystopian London where the citizens’ every move is watched over by the sinister figure of Big Brother, the possibly-fictional head of the ruling party, and even one’s innermost thoughts aren’t secret from the Thought Police.
What I wasn’t expecting is for this to be a romance.
It’s essentially a love story between Winston and O’Brien, the overall-clad hunk of the fourth floor. Their eyes meet in Chapter 1, just before the daily Two Minutes Hate, and the sexual tension just sizzles off the page. Whipped up into a sexual frenzy by the hate-filled free for all, Winston and O’Brien retire to the photocopying room and overalls fly.
At least, that’s what SHOULD have happened. I’m sure I can find some fanfic slash somewhere.
Instead, Winston embarks on an unconvincing love affair with a right weirdo who declares she loves him about three days before they actually talk to each other, and then calls him ‘love’ for the rest of the book like she’s some kind of Yorkshire-dwelling housewife constantly wiping her hands on her apron.
Bitter? Me? No, not at all. I’m not angry that she ruined the greatest love affair of Oceania by stealing Winston from O’Brien.
But oh, I spoke too soon! Julia was a mere distraction while Winston worked through that great Egyptian river and accepted his true love. The snivelling Julia, and Winston, are arrested before long and Winston is returned to the embrace of O’Brien in the Ministry of Love. In an unexpected twist, it then turns into a kind of BDSM thing (take THAT, 50 Shades of Domestic Abuse: Winnie and O’Bey were doing it in 1984) with O’Brien very much the dominant partner. In Room 101, equipped with every torture device imaginable, he whips Winnie into a state of ecstatic submission and then, even more surprisingly, it turns into a menage with Big Brother joining the fray in some kind of dom/sub threesome arrangement. The book ends with a beautiful and tearful declaration of Winston’s love for BB and his gratitude to O’Bey, and I sighed with contentment at the happy ending I craved.
When I started the book I was quite tickled by the idea of 1984 being in the unfathomable future (the book being written in 1949) but I can see that it really was ahead of its time in the erotica/BDSM stakes. Bravo.
Congo – Michael Crichton – 3/5 needs more gorillas
Cryptids are in my top three favourite things, along with watching cysts being drained and seeing small children cry. Congo has been on my list forever, but isn’t available as an ebook. Another score for paperbacks!
If you look at that huge book cover up there, you’ll understand I’m not spoiling it for you when I say the book is about a fuck-off massive gorilla in the Congo. The gorilla kills a few scientists who are out in the jungle looking for diamonds – I imagine there’s not much to do besides killing out in the Congo jungle (no offence to the Congo tourist board) so who can blame him? The obvious course of action is for more scientists to go to exactly the same place to try to find out what brutally murdered their colleagues, presumably in the hope that it left behind a note but has seen the error of its ways and won’t do the same to the next batch of field snacks that wanders into its territory? It didn’t seem a great idea to me but, then, that’s why I’m not a scientist.
Of course, the scientists need a gorilla expert, so they invite along some bloke whose name I’ve forgotten because I read this at least a week ago. Let’s call him Mr Gorilla Scientist Man. Mr Gorilla Scientist Man has a gorilla called Amy, who is loosely based on Koko the talking gorilla (spoiler alert: Koko’s dead and couldn’t actually talk anyway) but, pushing the realms of sci-fi firmly into the fi, actually carries on full conversations with better syntax and grammar than the average human child. I’m reliably informed that children can hold an intelligent conversation by the time they hit 15, and Amy is only seven. Or something. I said it was a week ago.
I should clarify that Amy talks via sign language. I imagine if I had to spend time with the dickhead characters she does, I’d also be using quite a lot of sign language. Focused on one finger in particular.
Amy is pretty much the only sympathetic character in the book. The main scientist is a woman with a soul as black as ice and a colon so tightly clenched she could snap off a cock before you could say “Anal tonight, darling?” Mr Gorilla Scientist Man has the personality of an eggshell wallpaper sample and constantly loses Amy like some feckless parody of a “Men are useless at domesticity!” farce where the child he’s supposed to be looking after weights 300lbs and is covered in thick black hair. I honestly wished Amy would crack him on the skull and shit in his neck.
It was pretty obvious to me how the book would end. The new gang would encounter the Killer Gorilla, Amy and Mr Gorilla Scientist Man would talk to it, and it would learn that humans are nice and they would make it the foreman of their diamond-mining operation. In the sequel, Killer Gorilla would form a union and demand more bananas and free refreshments at break time. It could be called Um Bongo in the Congo. I want 5% royalties if anyone uses that idea.
Anyway, that’s not what happens. Amy tries and fails to talk to the Killer Gorillas (turns out there are fucking thousands of the cunts). Mr Gorilla Scientist Man utterly fails at being a gorilla scientist (you had ONE JOB) and also can’t speak to them. So a volcano explodes and everybody goes home?
As Amy would say: Amy good gorilla, humans bad book end. Banana.
Parasitology – Mira Grant – 2/5 the tapeworms were the best characters
Sheesh kebab, this was a disappointment. The “New York Times Bestselling Author” on the front may have raised my expectations, and then I absolutely fell in love with the blurb:
A decade in the future, humanity thrives in the absence of sickness and disease.
We owe our good health to a humble parasite – a genetically engineered tapeworm developed by the pioneering SymboGen Corporation. When implanted, the tapeworm protects us from illness, boosts our immune system – even secretes designer drugs. It’s been successful beyond the scientists’ wildest dreams. Now, years on, almost every human being has a SymboGen tapeworm living within them.
But these parasites are getting restless. They want their own lives . . . and will do anything to get them.
I love a medical sci-fi (Tess Gerritsen’s are excellent, if anybody wants recommendations) and I have a weird fascination with parasites. I also like watching botfly and mango worm extractions on YouTube. Hint: Don’t.
This is one of those unfortunate cases where the blurb gives away the twist about 300 pages before the book does. In this case, that might be because the first 200 pages of the book were a waste of paper and could have been dealt with in a footnote.
The main character, Sal, woke up six years ago from a car accident with complete amnesia – she had to learn to walk and talk again. She gets idioms wrong and drops weird words into conversation (I think this is supposed to be cute) but her first-person narration is perfect, and she interrupts several heartfelt moments to deliver snappy dialogue like some sassy YA heroine proving she don’t need no man to rescue her. We have to follow her around for 200 pages while she engages in trying-too-hard spunky dialogue with a host of forgettable characters, including her simpering boyfriend Nathan, who has the personality of a sink plug. I only remember his name because I finished the book last night, and then was so annoyed I couldn’t sleep.
Anyway HUGE TWIST OMG DID NOT SEE THIS COMING, EVERYBODY IS A TAPEWORM! Including Sal. And even that fact doesn’t make her an interesting character.
That’s not even the most ridiculous thing in the book. That might be when Nathan comes face-to-face with the mother he thought was dead for a decade, says, “Hi, Mom. I thought you were meant to be dead!” and then talks to her calmly about science for three hours before giving her a hug and wandering off again.
Or it might be that the aforementioned Jesus Mother refers to the tapeworms as “my children” and cries when one of her parasitic offspring has to be removed from her body cavity, having chewed through her intestines and most of her spinal cord. “BUT HE’S SUCH A GOOD BOY!” she may as well have screamed as they unwrapped his writhing wormy self from her broken vertebra.
I like the cover, though?
What have you been reading?