Combined book review #3

Time for a round up of some books that I’ve been reading this year up to this point. It may not seem like much, but in between I did read the full 6 book Mortal Instruments series, and I left out a few books that I didn’t really have much to say about. So in a way, these are 5 books that I read since January and which I feel compelled to tell you about. For some because I loved them and for some because I absolutely did not.

Bret Easton Ellis – American Psycho

Book number one is a ‘you love it or you hate it’ kind of book. While I was reading it I had plenty of what the PEEP am I reading moments, but once I got through the entire book I thought it was very funny and a great read.

If you don’t know, American Psycho is told from the perspective of Patrick Bateman: a masochistic, OCD suffering, wallstreet yuppie extraordinaire. He tells you the story of his daily life. Tells you about his job (where he does nothing, apparently), his nights out with his buddies (which are drugfilled extravaganzas that would make Paris Hilton jealous) and his dates with several women and other people he meets along the way. Patrick seems sociable and just a tad weird at first. He obsessively notices everything about everyone: from the brand of their watch and what hand lotion they use (or don’t use). He is addicted to porn and spends his nights with hookers.

And then he pokes out the eyes of a random homeless guy… And that’s when the violence starts. And it gets bad and graphic and… very unpleasant. Especially if you’re a woman. It got to a point where I really didn’t enjoy reading this too close to bed time as it left me feeling uncomfortable and utterly disturbed. But then the plot takes a very strange turn and as a reader you’re left to wonder: was this all real? Is everything Patrick tells you not the result of a drug induced trip? And that’s when I thought: this is actually really clever and a great way of exploring and discussing a very extreme lifestyle of the rich and famous and 80s yuppie culture. So if you’re not too squeamish and like dark twisted characters, you might enjoy this book.

Stephen Fry – The Stars’ Tennis Balls

This is one of my favorite books in this post. I pretty much read this in a day or two during my summer break. It’s funny, clever and sad all at the same time.

The premise of the book plays around with ideas, names, people and places as already told in the Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas. It tells the story of Ned, a 17 year old who is madly in love with Portia and about to go to college. One day, his ‘friends’ decide to play a trick on him and by circumstance Ned ends up being interrogated by the British Secret Service. He says the wrong thing at the wrong time and without knowing what happens to him, he gets whisked away to an asylum or the insane off the coast of Sweden.

Years go by before he’s allowed to leave his room, by now brainwashed into believing he is someone different than Ned. In the garden room he meets a fellow Brit who teaches him to free his mind through chess and pretty much everything else he knows. One day the old man, Babe, dies and has devised a plan for Ned to escape the island. The plan works and Ned starts planning his revenge on his friends and seeing whether he can get his Portia back. Unfortunately for Ned, revenge isn’t always as sweet, and the ending is quite sad. Nevertheless this is a speedy, fun read and a real page turner which is cleverly told and you just want to know what Ned will do next.

Carson McCullers – Ballad of the Sad Café

I also got cracking on some literature and read the novella Ballad of the Sad Café. There are some other short stories in here, but I didn’t get round to those yet. I wanted to read this novella because I had heard lots of great things about it and so gave it a shot.

The short story is about Miss Amelia Evans who lives in a small town in the Southern United States. She’s a strong person and runs a shop which later turns into the café of the title. One day a hunchback by the name of Lymon visits her and doesn’t leave. Their relationship is quite vague as the story is told from the perspective of the villagers. No one really knows Miss Amelia and no one really knows Cousin Lymon. All they know is that they live together and do everything together.

One day, Miss Amelia’s ex shows up after being released from jail and Cousin Lymon is quite taken with him. They end up venturing off everywhere together. And Miss Amelia let’s them. It’s as if suddenly she doesn’t know what to do, whereas at the beginning of the story she is described a the woman in town everyone can turn to if they have a problem: Miss Amelia knows how to do anything. But now that Cousin Lymon hangs with her ex, she doesn’t seem to know anymore. The story culminates into a grand fight off between Miss Amelia and her ex, which by a surprise attack by Cousin Lymon ends in favor of the ex. The ex and Cousin Lymon leave with everything and Miss Amelia is left with nothing.

It is definitely a sad story, but since nothing is really explained because of the perspective, you’re always left wondering what actually happened. A lot is suggested, but most of the ‘facts’ are hearsay. It’s like your gossipy neighbor who tells you about the hag next door. Or a tabloid that tells you about celebrities. Nothing is certain and so you’re left in the dark. Once I’d finished it, I was left a tad sad and also confused and full of questions.

Ben Aaronovitch – Whispers Under Ground

After all that seriousness, I decided to pick up something light and airy for my train trip back to Holland when I was doing the Interrail thing over summer. I picked this up in Denmark and I hard already read the first one in this series, Rivers of London. This is book #3 and a great mash up of London facts, fantasy, mystery and detective novel.

Whispers Under Ground’s protagonist is again Peter Grant who started his career at Scotland Yard but quickly was spotted by Detective Chief Inspector Nightingale who goes about police business quite differently from the standard rules. Nightingale uses magic and Peter has been learning how to do it himself. He has a gift to sense and see magic, ghosts and finds out in the first book that each river in London has an ancient god attached to it. These gods still play a role in the third book, but don’t take center stage.

The mystery Peter is trying to solve this time is the murder of a young man at Baker Street subway station. He is found to be killed by a mysterious piece of pottery and together with his partner Lesley May and Nightingale he tries to solve the mystery. It takes him underground into the vast network of the London Tube and finds more than he bargained for. This was a very enjoyable read. Easy, quick and great if you like London and a good deal of mystery, fused with some puzzle solving.

Brené Brown – De moed van de imperfectie (The Gifts of Imperfection)

The last book is my least favorite book I’m reviewing for you today. I’m not really into self help books, but as I was struggling a bit earlier this year I decided to pick it up and give it a go.

This book is quite different from the others featured here. It’s not a novel and is more of a positive affirmation type book. I had heard good things about this from some bloggers, and when I read the blurb I thought I might like it. The general idea of the book is to find out what happy people do differently and the conclusion is that they don’t worry about being perfect. Not worrying about being perfect reduces stress and gives you room to appreciate life as it is. So far so good.

I didn’t like this very much. Why? For one, I think because I read this in Dutch and I usually don’t read in my mother language. Not to come off as a snob, but I just don’t see the point of reading a book in translation when I am perfectly capable of reading the original. I often got annoyed by the faux enthusiasm that was left in the Dutch and thus made it seem very fake and forced. Secondly, the tips given in the book and the way it was written in general was nothing I couldn’t have done or thought of myself. I didn’t come away from this book having learned anything I didn’t know yet.

And that’s a shame, because the book could be great and I’m sure if you’re not me you might get something out of it. I’m sure someone will read this and think: oh wow, I didn’t know that. But for me it was just like kicking in an already open door.

What books have you read lately?

3 responses to “Combined book review #3”

  1. Ik ben nu bezig aan ‘help, mijn kind is onhandig’ en ‘omgaan met hoogbegaafdheid’. Vind ik heel interessant, maar moet je wel je koppie bij houden. Met als gevolg dat ik heel traag lees! x_x
    Ps. Ik geef momenteel een huge pakket weg op mijn site. Care to join? 🙂

  2. Must read the Whispers Under Ground series soon and some Stephen Fry.

    I totally get you on the self help books, they’re not my thing. Proper psychology and treatments is more my thing. CBT – talking you through HOW to change your thought pattern, rather than giving you inspirational quotes that yes you know are true but it’s not going to magically change anything for you.

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