Books on the Nightstand

All posts tagged Books on the Nightstand

The Martian – Andy Weir

Published November 8, 2014 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Apollo 13 meets Cast Away in this grippingly detailed, brilliantly ingenious man-vs-nature survival thriller, set on the surface of Mars.

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first men to walk on the surface of Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first man to die there.

It started with the dust storm that holed his suit and nearly killed him, and that forced his crew to leave him behind, sure he was already dead. Now he’s stranded millions of miles from the nearest human being, with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive–and even if he could get word out, his food would be gone years before a rescue mission could arrive. Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to get him first.

But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills–and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit–he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. But will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

What did I think?:

I first heard about this book through a podcast I listen to regularly, Books On The Nightstand (which I highly recommend, by the way). So when Richard and Judy picked it as part of their Autumn Book Club 2014, I was pleased to bump the book a little further up my huge TBR list. The premise of the book is nothing short of thrilling – Mark Watney is an astronaut on a mission to Mars with his crew when unfortunately something goes terribly wrong and his crew, believing him dead, return to the ship leaving him stranded. For Mark is very much alive, and now abandoned on Mars with little hope of ever getting home again. The novel is mainly based around journal entries made by Mark as he continues to battle the toxic atmosphere and come to the reality of the hopeless situation he now finds himself in. Luckily, his training and intellect as an astronaut assists him as he calculates what to do with his meagre rations of food and water, contemplates how to get a message to Earth and consider starting Mars’ first potato farm! He deduces that he is unlikely to have enough food or water to survive on until the next mission to Mars comes passing by so has to improvise and do it fast if he wants to survive.

Mark is a fantastic character with a wicked sense of self-deprecating humour that had me chuckling many times as his journal entries continued:

“My asshole is doing as much to keep me alive as my brain.”

Of course there are problems and danger involved, hey it would be a pretty boring and unrealistic account for the readers if there weren’t. However explosions, highly volatile gases and extreme radioactivity never get our protagonist down for a moment. He carries on regardless, toughing it out until a solution can be found to get him home. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that he does manage to make contact with Earth, and becomes somewhat of a celebrity as the entire world becomes involved in his fight to return. The sections of the novel set with the bigwigs at NASA were slightly less compelling but still made for an exciting read. I think the only thing that made me give it a slightly lower star rating than it perhaps deserves was purely my opinion on the scientific elements. I am a scientist in my other life and appreciated the research that must have gone into creating a story like this, but sometimes it was a bit too much and a lot of things went slightly over my head especially when it turned mathematical. I am certain however that this would be a big pull for other readers, who would find this particular element fascinating. In general, it is an exciting, interesting, realistic and beautifully imagined story of one man’s fight to survive in a hostile environment that has everything working against him. I’ll finish with my favourite quote of the book where Mark is communicating with Earth:

NASA: “Also, please watch your language. Everything you type is being broadcast live all over the world.”

WATNEY: Look! A pair of boobs! -> (.Y.)

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

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Kiss Me First – Lottie Moggach

Published November 5, 2013 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

When Leila discovers the Web site Red Pill, she feels she has finally found people who understand her. A sheltered young woman raised by her mother, Leila has often struggled to connect with the girls at school; but on Red Pill, a chat forum for ethical debate, Leila comes into her own, impressing the Web site’s founder, a brilliant and elusive man named Adrian. Leila is thrilled when Adrian asks to meet her, flattered when he invites her to be part of “Project Tess.” Tess is a woman Leila might never have met in real life. She is beautiful, urbane, witty, and damaged. As they e-mail, chat, and Skype, Leila becomes enveloped in the world of Tess, learning every single thing she can about this other woman—because soon, Leila will have to become her. An ingeniously plotted novel of stolen identity, Kiss Me First is brilliantly frightening about the lies we tell—to ourselves, to others, for good, and for ill.

What did I think?:

I first came across this fantastic debut novel through a podcast I listen to every week – Books on the Nightstand where it was one of the recommended reads. One of the presenters and I seem to have similar tastes in books so I was quietly confident that I was going to enjoy this. Lottie Moggach is the daughter of author Deborah Moggach whose books The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Heartbreak Hotel I have reviewed recently. This first novel from the younger Moggach packs a proverbial punch with a killer plot-line and an incredibly contemporary feel looking at the Internet, suicide and a stolen identity. Our main character Leila is a bit of a sad and lonely figure, she has just lost her mother to Multiple Sclerosis after nursing her through her illness since it began, and spends her days quite isolated carrying out a temporary computer job that she does not have to leave the house for and trawling the Internet. One of her searches leads to a Philosophy chat forum the subject in which she has always been interested, run by the dynamic and enigmatic Adrian. After a while, he singles her out for a “job opportunity” based upon her philosophy ideals, supporting “the right to die.”

A young woman called Tess is desperately unhappy with her life, and has chosen to commit suicide. However, she wants to spare her family and friends the pain and suffering, so the idea is for her to emigrate to distant lands, and have Leila answer emails, post photos, play pre-recorded messages etc, gradually lessening the contact between “Tess” and her loved ones. However, this proves more problematic and dangerous than she anticipated, and Leila finds herself in quite a different situation than she could have ever dreamed of.

This is a fantastic book that I highly recommend, Lottie Moggach has created an innovative and gripping story that I was unable to put down. I love what she has done with the characters, I found myself really caring about what happened to them, and the twists and turns in the plot are beautiful, you just never know what could happen next. Leila is naive and a social misfit, but also has strong principles and morals, and the unfolding of her character through the book is fascinating. Some other reviewers didn’t really get on with her, but I thought she was completely intriguing and quite pitiful, with an all too human need to be loved.  All I want to know now is…. when does Lottie Moggach’s next book come out?!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Books Are My Bag – My Bookish Life So Far…

Published September 14, 2013 by bibliobeth

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Books Are My Bag is a nationwide celebration of bookshops, calling on all bookworms to purchase a book from their local bookshop on Saturday 14th September,especially as so many of our beloved shops are under threat. So now I am the proud owner of a Books Are My Bag tote bag courtesy of Waterstones Wimbledon branch, I thought it would be a good opportunity to reflect on My Bookish Life So Far in order to shout out about all things book-related.

Early childhood – Teddy, Timmy the dog, School stories and A Big, Friendly Giant

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This was my very first book! And as dear to me as when I first read it. My mum taught me to read at a very early age (Thanks Mum!) and she always tells the story of when I was at kindergarten and my teacher pulled my mum into a corner for a quiet word. Apparently, I had got a bunch of kids around me and was reading them a story. The teacher thought I was making the story up for the children as I was so young, yet she was shocked that I was reading the actual words. So she spoke to my mum saying: “Do you know your daughter can read?!” My mum replied: “Er…yes, I taught her!”

The books I loved as a child were mainly Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl based – I adored The Famous Five, The Secret Seven and The Malory Towers series from Blyton and The BFG and Charlie and The Chocolate Factory by Dahl. My all-time favourite book from this time though has to be House at The Corner by Enid Blyton. I read it so many times as a child that it was literally falling apart, but I would refuse to be parted from it.

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The Teenage Years – Horror, and some saucy stuff from Blume

As a teenager, I remember being absolutely obsessed with the Point Horror and Christopher Pike books, which were probably easing me in to my current obsession with my favourite author Stephen King. I had to have them all, and would devour them in a matter of hours.

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Another fond memory from my adolescent reading are novels from Judy Blume, whom I idolised. Other girls of my age must remember passing around “Forever” at school, and being delighted, horrified and curious at the same time?

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The Twenties – Thrills, chills, the King and Historical Fiction

Ah, I discover Stephen KIng! I have a whole shelf devoted to him, and he remains one of my favourite authors today.

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For anyone who has never read him, I highly recommend The Green Mile, The Shining, and It as fantastic reads and a great introduction to his works. During this time I was also reading a lot of thrillers, namely Dean Koontz and James Patterson, and discovered a love of historical fiction a la Philippa Gregory. Her Tudor novels are wonderfully written, and hey… you might even learn a little something?

The Early Thirties – I become a blogger, my reading tastes diversify and my books multiply!

My love for books has only got stronger through the years, and I now read a wide range of material, including non-fiction. I started a blog in January of this year, and I have loved submitting reviews, attending events like The Hay Festival, and “meeting” other bookworms like myself. I listen to a variety of podcasts to keep updated on all literary events, including Books On The Nightstand, A Good Read (Radio 4), Open Book (Radio 4) and Guardian Books. I also love my Kindle, which can store hundreds of books (without the added weight) and find it essential for any sort of commute.

Warning – book buying can turn obsessive and compulsive and you may end up with shelves like these:

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So, how do I see my bookish future? I hope to be still reading a range of material, and enjoying the printed word as much as I do at the moment. Even with the advances in technology, I strongly feel that there is nothing like going into a bookshop, enjoying the sight and smells, purchasing something that catches your eye, and enjoying the journey that it takes you on.

Support your local bookshop! Make books YOUR bag!

Short Stories Challenge – The Infamous Bengal Ming, from the collection I Am An Executioner by Rajesh Parameswaran

Published August 11, 2013 by bibliobeth

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What’s The Infamous Bengal Ming all about?:

An explosive, funny, wildly original fiction debut: nine stories about the power of love and the love of power, two urgent human desires that inevitably, and sometimes calamitously, intertwine. In I Am an Executioner, Rajesh Parameswaran introduces us to a cast of heroes—and antiheroes—who spring from his riotous, singular imagination. The first story involves a lovesick tiger, who ends up mauling his beloved zoo keeper (out of affection of course!)

What did I think?:

I first heard about this book through the podcast I listen to regularly – Books on the Nightstand, and thought it was a perfect addition for my Short Story Challenge.  Our narrator for the Bengal Ming story is a large Bengal tiger living in a zoo. He has been rejected by his former tiger girl friend, preferring a male tiger called Maharaj. He notes:

 “I’d had to listen to their cooing and screeching sex noises all night, but it didn’t bother me. I didn’t know why yet, but I realized: I was over it. Saskia could sleep with every tiger in the world but me, and I wouldn’t mind.”

It is then that our narrator figures out that he has been in love for a while anyway (so never mind that Saskia!), with his keeper Kitch, who he describes passionately, almost in an adolescence lusty manner. But something is wrong today. Kitch does not appear with his huge lumps of meat for Ming’s feeding and he is starting to feel rather hungry. To add to his troubles, his love rival Maharaj keeps wanting to mark his territory, and claim Saskia indefinitely. Kitch finally appears but something is different… he is holding a large stick, and uses it to wallop our tiger when he does not obey an order. This is where the story takes a turn, and had me surprised and shocked in equal measures as Ming learns about a little thing called instinct.

I can’t sing the praises of this author highly enough, and to think that this is his fiction debut is mind-blowing. I loved that the story was narrated by a tiger possessing human qualities (see above quote), and I collapsed into chuckles at other points at the hilarity of the words that he is given. An old homeless woman who is often seen singing outside his cage at the zoo, quite happy in her own little world, christens him “Ming the Merciless,” and when the story takes a turn, make no mistake, he lives up to that nickname. I’m not often shocked by what I read in fiction, but at some points in this story, particularly at the end, I felt slightly uncomfortable. However, I knew this was down to the fact that the author had me hooked from the very first word, and had my emotions at his every whim.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: I’m Starved For You, Margaret Atwood Istand-alone) from the Positron series

Challenge: Short Stories June to July

Published June 4, 2013 by bibliobeth

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The Challenge:

A podcast that I love and listen to regularly is Books on The Nightstand and it is they who are responsible for sparking my interest in the short story. They have dubbed 2013 the “year of the short story,” and to celebrate, one of their pod-casters is reading one short story a day. I cannot promise that dedication so have decided to read one story a week, after realising this is the perfect opportunity to start reading all those short story collections on my Kindle or in “tree-book” version that seem to be accumulating.

Until?…..

I’ve finished them all, of course!

A Two Month Plan – June to July

Week beginning 3rd June

The Mist – Stephen King from Skeleton Crew

Week beginning 10th June

What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank – Nathan Englander from What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

Week beginning 17th June

Diving Belles – Lucy Wood from Diving Belles

Week beginning 24th June

The Blue Summit – Randy Taguchi from Fujisan

Week beginning 1st July

Vampires in the Lemon Grove – Karen Russell from Vampires in the Lemon Grove

Week beginning 8th July

A Scandal in Bohemia – Arthur Conan Doyle from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Week beginning 15th July

Butcher’s Perfume – Sarah Hall from The Beautiful Indifference

Week beginning 22nd July

The Infamous Bengal Ming – Rajesh Parameswaran from I Am An Executioner

Week beginning 29th July

I’m Starved For You – Margaret Atwood (stand-alone)

As always, if anyone would like to join me in a read-along, you are more than welcome. Happy Reading Everyone!

Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013 Shortlist Announced

Published April 16, 2013 by bibliobeth

The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013 shortlist was announced today (formerly the Orange Prize), looks like a tough group – do you think Hilary Mantel can take them? And win yet another literary prize (and £30,000) for Bring Up The Bodies? Place your bets! The Chair of Judges, Miranda Richardson said “The shortlist for 2013 represents six tremendous writers at the top of their game.” 

I can’t wait to read them. I’ve only read On Beauty by Zadie Smith and wasn’t that impressed but it was a long time ago and here’s hoping my tastes have matured. The A.M. Homes book is on the Waterstones Book Club list at the moment and definitely on my TBR radar, and I have been meaning to read Kate Atkinson for a while, but not sure whether I should start with her older works? I have read The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver and have The Lacuna to read pretty soon so looking forward to dipping into Flight Behaviour. As for the giantess that is Hilary Mantel, I will soon be attempting to read Wolf Hall again, was I the only person in the world that didn’t get it? I am a big fan of the Tudor period so am very disappointed in myself…. (slaps wrist). Finally, Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple  was also mentioned and recommended in a podcast that I listen to on a regular basis – Books on the Nightstand, so will be checking that out.

Please feel free to share your thoughts and comments on the shortlist!

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