Reviews of books what I've read and enjoyed...
CAT'S CRADLE by KURT VONNEGUT
One of my favourite authors of all time. Full of dark humour and devastating poignancy. Although this book was first published in 1963, it's relevance is just as important today. It deals with human relationships with technology and, ultimately (as with a lot of his novels), the ridiculousness of the arms race and mutually-assured destruction that comes from modern warfare. This is an excellent introduction to Mr Vonnegut's work. And if you like this, you'll love pretty much everything else he wrote!
DEATH AT INTERVALS by JOSE SARAMAGO
Jose Saramago, Nobel laureate and one of Portugal's most celebrated writers, is not known enough in Britain. If you want a place to start discovering his work, 'Death At Intervals' is a good place to start. Most of his novels are really questions that he tries to answer. In this one: what would happen if Death decided to withhold her services from a human race that increasingly didn't appreciate her? At first, people are delighted that nobody is dying. But then, the undertakers are furious. And what about the people who are terminally ill and in pain who want to die but can't? It's a brilliant idea, beautifully executed (if you'll pardon the pun!). For readers new to Saramago, be aware that the only punctuation he uses in his novels are full-stops and commas. No speech marks, question marks, nothing. This can take a few pages to get used to. Some hate this and can't get to the end of the first chapter. Stop being so pedantic and persevere (that's my advice) because Saramago was a genius, in my humble opinion.
ORYX & CRAKE by MARGARET ATWOOD
What if the price of living forever; never getting old meant everything else becoming extinct? Perhaps we'e already heading that way. A devastatingly brilliant and timely novel from one of my most favourite living writers. The first book of a trilogy, but great enough to stand alone too. Thought provoking, challenging and simply a great read. If you only read one book by Margaret Atwood, read this one....and then read The Handmaid's Tale!
CATCH-22 by JOSEPH HELLER
Still probably the best novel about war ever written! Set during the last throes of the Second World War, Yossarian is not happy because thousands of people he has never met are trying to kill him! We follow his attempt to survive a crazy war without becoming crazy himself. As poignant now as the day it was written, Catch-22 is a hugely funny but gut-wrenchingly tragic classic. The title is now part of our everyday language. The use of it, as decription of the madness of the twentieth-century, has never been out of date. One of my favourite books of all time.
BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE by DEE BROWN
I defy anyone who reads this book not to be deeply moved. The brutal story of the white man's colonisation of the American West between 1860 and 1890 is told engrossingly by Dee Brown, but more poignantly in the voices of the Native Americans themselves, through written accounts and interviews of the time. The reader is taken on a journey through the book, tribe by tribe and chief by chief. There are some characters that are now legendary, such as Geronimo, Chief Joseph and Sitting Bull, and some whose names will remain unknown but, thanks to this book, will forever stand as a lesson and an inspiration to all. The history itself is gripping, but it's the human story that is unforgettable.
GOOD OMENS by NEIL GAIMAN & TERRY PRATCHETT
Good guys, bad guys, aliens, Tibetans, Americans, Atlanteans and the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse...everyone has turned up for the end of the World, and Gaiman and Pratchett make it so much fun, you just want to be there! According to the 'Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter', the world is due to end next Saturday. Just after tea time. What follows is a race between the forces of good and evil to save anything that's worth salvaging from the human race. Inventive, sinister, hilarious, this is a tale that will have you laughing out loud. The Omen meets the Marx Brothers with a Motorhead soundtrack!
THE SUMMER BOOK by TOVE JANSSON
Tove Jansson is best known as the author and illustrator of the Moomin books for children, but her grown-up books are a pure delight. A beautifully told and wonderfully atmospheric story about a summer. A woman and her granddaughter share a summer on a wild Scandinavian island and learn about life and humanity from each other. Magical, simple and profound.
THE MAN WHO PLANTED TREES by JEAN GIONO
A simple yet beautiful story about a small man who did a big thing. A fable for anytime and a wonderful gift for somebody you care about. Exquisitely illustrated throughout with engravings by Harry Brockway. This book goes in and out of print all the time. It should never, ever go out of print because it's meaning is timeless. Deserves to be a modern classic.
I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS by MAYA ANGELOU
The first - and arguably the best - in Maya Angelous' series of autobiographies. Her story is heartbreaking and uplifting all at once. From her childhood as an awkward, and often abused, black child in the American South to her early flowerings as a woman, this book will make you cry then cheer. The extraordinary early life of an extraordinary woman. A huge inspiration to me as both a writer and a woman.
FAHRENHEIT 451 by RAY BRADBURY
Another of my favourite books of all time. What must have seemed like pure science fiction when it was written is not so far from the truth today. A classic of dystopian fiction, and a warning, way ahead of its time, about the way the human race is heading. Instead of firemen burning books, we're downloading them into obvlivion! One of those books you simply must read at least once.
HOUSE OF THE SPIRITS by ISABELLE ALLENDE
A totally absorbing, beautifully written story full of unusual characters and plenty of Latin atmosphere. Spanning four generations, Allende has created a family saga of exquisite depth and humanity. One of those books that I didn't want to end.
SHIKASTA by DORIS LESSING
Nobel laureate, and another of my favourite writers of all time. Doris Lessing wrote in a wide range of genres and styles, and this is the first book in her science fiction series, but really it's about the human condition and how easy it is to forget what human purpose might be, if we even remember that there is one at all. Thought-provoking, ambitious and far-reaching, this is certainly in my Top 10 best books of all time. For some bizarre reason, it goes out of print regularly, so grab one when you see it.
FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON by DANIEL KEYES
Thought-provoking, cleverly written and ultimately heartbreaking. Been meaning to read this book for a long time. Very glad I did. It goes straight in to my Top 20 favourite books of all time.