Books Read in 2015 52. The Woman in Black – Susan Hill

Genre: Supernatural Thriller, Historical Fiction

Narrative Style: First person, flashback framed by a story telling session on Christmas Eve51cxm9AmChL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Rating: 3/5

Published: 2001

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: It’s Christmas Eve and the Kipps family have settled down for the traditional telling of ghost stories. Arthur Kipps is reminded of his own supernatural experience, something that is has taken him years to recover from. He then tells the tale of Eel Marsh House and the Woman in Black that haunts it. 

I’d been meaning to read this for a long time – from before the release of the film. I love a good ghost story and this had a lot of promise. And indeed, the beginning of the tale sets the scene quite successfully. Kipps is reluctant to tell his story and the descriptions of Eel Marsh House also seem to suggest that there is a terrible tale to be told.

And at first, it is suitably creepy. The locals warn him against staying at the house but everybody clams up when the probed too closely. However, Kipps is young and determined to prove his bravery so he does not take heed. It isn’t long before things start to go bump in the night and Kipps nerves (like those of the reader) are in shreds.

However, this early tension is wasted and the story fizzles out. Although Kipps finds evidence of who the Woman is Black is and why she is haunting the area and even though she exacts a final revenge, I was left oddly untouched. It seemed hurried and so the scares were not as effective as they could have been.

It may be another case of better read before the movie is viewed. Or maybe it is just that film as a medium is so much better able to scare. Whatever the reason, I felt let down by this in a way I didn’t by the film.


Books Read in 2015 51. Looking for Alaska – John Green

Genre: Young Adult, Bildungsroman

Narrative Style: First person

Rating: 4/5Unknown

Published: 2006

Rating: 4/5

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Miles Halter thinks that going away to boarding school is going to be a great adventure but little prepares him for the way his life is going to change when he meets Chip Martin and Alaska Young. 

I had mixed feelings about reading another John Green. While I enjoyed the others that I read, I also found his style a little annoying as everything is overblown with significance. However, I enjoyed this more. Maybe it is because it was his first novel but it isn’t quite so over the top.

The characters were well drawn and I took to Miles straightaway with his obsession with last words and his longing for something more. I have to say that these kids are much more well read and intellectual than most of the teenagers that I come into contact with but that is not to say such kids don’t exist. Both Alaska and Chip were convincing as well, both representing different sorts of teenage angst.

The story counts down – some many days before – to an event and I have to admit, I did not see what this event would be. I assumed that this was the prank they were planning and not the terrible thing that actually happened. As a result, I was completely shocked and upset by it – almost as much as Miles himself.

Ultimately this is a book about grief and about learning to let go, lessons Miles in particular finds it hard to learn. it is about growing up and about not giving up. In the end, I felt hopeful for Miles and for his future.

Books Read in 2015 50. The Invisible Man – H.G. Wells

Genre: Science Fiction, Horror, Madness

Narrative Style: Third person, reported with details from witnesses Unknown

Rating: 5/5

Published: 1897

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: A stranger arrives at a village pub and brings with him all manner of strangeness. At first, the visitor is merely surly and unfriendly but it soon becomes clear that all is not quite right with him and the chaos begins. 

It is one of those things that people are thought to wish for – to be invisible, even for just a day. It is always considered to be a fun concept, one which involves all the mischief you could possibly imagine. It is this idea that Wells explores in The Invisible Man. It quickly becomes apparent that not all of the consequences are pleasant.

The novel begins with the arrival of the Invisible Man at a pub where he means to lodge. He is wrapped up to the eyeballs with scarf, hat and coat hiding the truth of his state. For the reader, there is never any doubt about his identity. The audience is in a position of knowledge compared with the characters and they wonder how the truth will be revealed. Wells slowly peels back the layers from the character until his true state is understood. Chaos ensues and it quickly becomes apparent just how difficult it is to capture what you cannot actually see.

What follows is essentially an extended chase albeit with a pause for the Invisible Man – his name is Griffin, it transpires – to tell his tale. The science of the process is plausible enough and the pause heightens the tension as it begins to seem that being invisible is sending Griffin mad. Wanting to see what the consequences of this madness will be are what keep the reader’s interest.

As with all good horror and science fiction, this is actually a philosophical discussion of what it means to be human. When Griffin becomes invisible he begins to lose what grounds him and attached him to other humans. He descends into megalomania and no rules or laws can hold him. Wells asks the question how far would you go if you had such power and who is to say that we wouldn’t all react in the same way if we had the chance.

There is a moral aspect to this tale as well. Not only is there the idea of absolute power corrupting but also it becomes clear that Griffin was an albino before he became invisible. In becoming invisible, he escapes the unfriendly gaze of those who view him as different and becomes much more powerful than them. A sad story, then of the revenge of one who feels himself bullied.

I really enjoyed this. It is pacy and the narrative voice is like that of a friend passing on the latest urban myth. Did you hear about that invisible man…. This is easily as enjoyable as the excellent 1933 film version if not better.

The End of Eclectic Reader 2015


Well, that is another Eclectic Reader Challenge finished. And as ever, it has led me to some interesting books and into some unusual genres. Some I certainly would not have read otherwise, some I was looking for an excuse to read.

My favourite book of the challenge was Just My Type by Simon Garfield for the genre of Microhistory. This is an interesting and informative look at the history of fonts. It certainly opened my eyes to the amount of fonts around us and made any journey I took straight after, both a joy and a pain as I assessed all the fonts around me.

Most of the books I read, I was happy with. The only real disappointment was Before I Go To Sleep which I expected to love as I had really loved the film. However, I found it a harder concept to deal with in the book and by the end of it I could no longer suspend my disbelief.

I’m pleased to have finished the challenge with plenty time left. I wasn’t sure I was going to manage it as I didn’t pick books that crossed over with other challenges. I’m looking forward to next year already.

Books Read in 2015 – 49. The Fight by Norman Mailer


Genre: Boxing, 

Narrative Style: Third person – Norman features as a character in his own reporting.

Rating: 4/5

Published: 1975Unknown

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: Norman Mailer is one of many journalists invited to Kinshasa to see the Rumble in  the Jungle between Mohammad Ali and George Foreman. He documents the many characters on both sides and in the process takes sports’ writing to a new level. 

Reading Challenges: Eclectic Reader Challenge 2015 – Genre: sport

I’m  not entirely sure how I came to be in possession of this book but as I had been wanting to read some Norman Mailler for a while, it came into my head straightaway for this challenge. And while I don’t really watch boxing, there is no doubt that it has produced some of sports’ biggest personalities, Muhammad Ali being a case in point.

In a lot of ways, this is a psychological study, not only of Ali and Foreman but of Mailer himself. Throughout the text, Mailer refers to himself in the third person as if he is just another character in this narrative. He tries to unpick his own magical thinking and attempts to ensure that Ali will be the winner and his racial attitudes come under scrutiny as well.

The run up to the fight is described first along with the training methods of two very different men and all the attendant hangers on that they both inspired. Neither Foreman or Ali seemed particularly likeable in a straight forward sense. But then that is scarcely the point. It was whoever was braver, stronger, more arrogant that was going to win this contest and these are the traits that they both showcase.

If you didn’t know the outcome, you might not expect the winner to be Ali. This is one reason that “Norman” is so worried early in the text. Ali is curiously disinterested in the beginning while Foreman shows no fear whatsoever. In fact, I found myself questioning my knowledge of the outcome. Had I really got it right? That was until the fight itself started.

I’m not the biggest fan of boxing but Mailer’s praise made it seem a noble pursuit, almost as delicate as a dance rather than a brutal fight. Certainly, he takes sports’ journalism to a new level, to where it is poetic rather than merely descriptive. It was a joy to read the in depth account of each round. I felt like cheering when Ali eventually won whilst also feeling a great deal of sympathy for Foreman who at first seemed under the impression that he had won.

I don’t read a lot of sports’ writing but based on this, I would certainly read more of Mailer’s work.

Books Read in 2015 – 48. burners by Bob Mayer

Genre: dystopia

Narrative style: third person, chronologicalUnknown

Rating: 2 and a half / 5

Published: 2015

Format: Kindle

I received a copy of burners through Librarything’s Early Reviewers program.
burners is a dystopia, set after The Chaos when humans and cyborgs fought to the near destruction of the planet. Now humanity is separated into burners, people, middlemores and evermores, according to how long they live for. The world is run by dealer who decides, according to DNA, who will live in each group.
I was quite interested in this story at first. It begins with Grace and Millay, twin sisters who have managed to swap places between burner and people. The action begins straightaway as they fail to meet up and both are nearly captured. However, the pace was not sustained and the twists and turns started to seem less convincing particularly the sudden appearance of Ruth, the cyborg, just in time to save someone from death.
At first, I was intrigued by the different sections of society, what they meant and how they had come into being. There are a lot of references to poker and to the hand you have been dealt which were interesting but could have been expanded into something more. Again as the novel progresses, I became less convinced. The explanation of how the categories came into being was a bit too simplistic and left me with questions that the novel did not answer.
Each chapter is separated into sections from the various’ characters points of view. This did add to the tension but I also found it a little frustrating as some of the sections were quite short and then you were off again to another character.
The ending was sudden but I guess that is how you make someone read the next book in the series. I would have liked a bit more closure as I had a lot of questions, however, I don’t think I will be reading on. While this is an interesting idea, I felt it could have been better executed.

Books Read in 2015 47. Gorky Park – Martin Cruz Smith

Genre: Spy, thriller, politics

Narrative Style: Third person mostly from Arkady’s point of view762806

Rating: 3/5

Published: 1982

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: When three bodies are found in Gorky Park, minus any identifying features (e.g. fingertips and faces), Arkady Renko is called in to investigate. Renko knows from the very first that there is more to this crime than anyone is letting on and when his investigations lead him to wealthy American John Osbourne, he soon finds his own life is in danger.

I have seen the film of this book and so was quite excited when this appeared in my weekly kindle e-mail. Unfortunately the book didn’t live up to my memories of the film for a number of reasons.

It started well and at first I was gripped by Renko’s investigations and the inevitable clashes with the power structures in Russia. Renko is an outsider who has failed in life due to his inability to play the party game and as such has little to lose. I liked him almost instantly for the same reasons that I love Inspector Rebus in Rankin’s books. No one was above the law for Renko. He was not about to let the KGB get away with murder.

The story is certainly full of twists – at least at first. In fact, I found myself sometimes getting a little lost and having to look back through the book. That is fine, I’d rather that than the stodgy plot towards the end. The ending goes on for far too long and with not really that much happening. I thought the ending was generally disappointing although I was definitely glad to get to it.

I wasn’t particularly convinced by the love story between Renko and Irina Asanova and felt that whenever they were together, the plot slowed right down. There was no real explanation why Asanova suddenly changes her mind about Renko and decides not only to help him but to sleep with him as well.

Finally, the Americans in this book are stereotypical – as, I suppose, is the portrayal of Renko. There is the Irish New York cop who is out to revenge his brother’s death and there is Osbourne himself, the very living embodiment of capitalism, willing to sacrifice anything for his precious furs. Neither of them are really developed beyond the obvious.

So, in the end, the film was better than the book. The plot was interesting at first. By the time it got to the end, I really just wanted it to be over and I had stopped caring about the characters.