Books read August 2008 to May 2009

This is part of a series of wrap-up posts to cover books for which I noted down a rating, and the day I finished them, but before I started writing reviews for them.

This post covers the relatively few books I read during my first year at university.

The Bad BeginningThe Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket
Series: A Series of Unfortunate Events #1
Publisher: Scholastic
Released: September 30, 1999
Pages: 176
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Dear Reader,

I'm sorry to say that the book you are holding in your hands is extremely unpleasant. It tells an unhappy tale about three very unlucky children. Even though they are charming and clever, the Baudelaire siblings lead lives filled with misery and woe. From the very first page of this book when the children are at the beach and receive terrible news, continuing on through the entire story, disaster lurks at their heels. One might say they are magnets for misfortune.

In this short book alone, the three youngsters encounter a greedy and repulsive villain, itchy clothing, a disastrous fire, a plot to steal their fortune, and cold porridge for breakfast.

It is my sad duty to write down these unpleasant tales, but there is nothing stopping you from putting this book down at once and reading something happy, if you prefer that sort of thing.

With all due respect,
Lemony Snicket

The Reptile RoomThe Reptile Room by Lemony Snicket
Series: A Series of Unfortunate Events #2
Publisher: HarperCollins
Released: September 30, 1999
Pages: 192
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The Reptile Room begins where Lemony Snicket's The Bad Beginning ends... on the road with the three orphaned Baudelaire children as they are whisked away from the evil Count Olaf to face "an unknown fate with some unknown relative." But who is this Dr. Montgomery, their late father's cousin's wife's brother? "Would Dr. Montgomery be a kind person? they wondered. Would he at least be better than Count Olaf? Could he possibly be worse?" He certainly is not worse, and in fact when the Baudelaire children discover that he makes coconut cream cakes, circles the globe looking for snakes to study, and even plans to take them with him on his scientific expedition to Peru, the kids can't believe their luck. And, if you have read the first book in this Series of Unfortunate Events, you won't believe their luck either. Despite the misadventures that befall these interesting, intelligent, resourceful orphans, you can trust that the engaging narrator will make their story--suspenseful and alarming as it is--a true delight. The Wide Window is next, and more are on their way.

The two first Series of Unfortunate Events books had been on my shelf for almost as long as I could remember, so I figured I’d finally read them. Who knows? Maybe they’d be good. After all, they made a film out of it!

It wasn’t good. I actively disliked these books. I didn’t really find them funny, and I found pretty everything about them to be annoying. I’m sure these books have a target audience, but that audience isn’t me – and I don’t think I would have enjoyed them when I was younger either.

The Valley of FearThe Valley of Fear by Arthur Conan Doyle
Series: Sherlock Holmes #7
Publisher: George H. Doran Company
Released: February 27, 1915
Pages: 193
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Doyle's final novel featuring the beloved sleuth, Sherlock Holmes, brings the detective and his friend to a country manor where they are preceded by either a murder or a suicide. A secretive organization lies culprit and an infiltration of it is in order.

Another standard Holmes book. Another good read. Delivers exactly what one would expect from it. Safe, reliably entertaining.

Exit GhostExit Ghost by Philip Roth
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Released: October 1, 2007
Pages: 292
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Like Rip Van Winkle returning to his hometown to find that all has changed, Nathan Zuckerman comes back to New York, the city he left eleven years before. Walking the streets like a revenant, he quickly makes three connections that explode his carefully protected solitude. One is with a young couple with whom, in a rash moment, he offers to swap homes. From the moment he meets them, Zuckerman also wants to swap his solitude for the erotic challenge of the young woman, Jaime, whose allure draws him back to all that he thought he had left behind: intimacy, the vibrant play of heart and body.

The second connection is with a figure from Zuckerman's youth, Amy Bellette, companion and muse to Zuckerman's first literary hero, E.I. Lonoff. The once irresistible Amy is now an old woman depleted by illness, guarding the memory of that grandly austere American writer who showed Nathan the solitary path to a writing vocation. The third connection is with Lonoff's would-be biographer, a young literary hound who will do and say nearly anything to get to Lonoff's "great secret". Suddenly involved, as he never wanted or intended to be involved again, with love, mourning, desire, and animosity, Zuckerman plays out an interior drama of vivid and poignant possibilities.

I picked this up randomly at an airport, not really knowing how significant Philip Roth is in American literature, or that this was the conclusion to a long-running series of books. This book was one of those annoying cases where I appreciated the book more than I liked it. I’m usually a fan of the depressing, dark, lonely, in-your-head kind of style of writing, but this book never gripped me in the way those stories often do. Not a waste of time, by any means, but far from one of my faourites.

Fleshmarket CloseFleshmarket Close by Ian Rankin
Series: Inspector Rebus #15
Publisher: Orion Books
Released: January 1, 2004
Pages: 482
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An illegal immigrant is found murdered in an Edinburgh housing scheme: a racist attack, or something else entirely? Rebus is drawn into the case, but has other problems: his old police station has closed for business, and his masters would rather he retire than stick around.
Siobhan meanwhile has problems of her own. A teenager has disappeared from home and Siobhan is drawn into helping the family, which will mean travelling closer than is healthy towards the web of a convicted rapist. Then there's the small matter of the two skeletons - a woman and an infant - found buried beneath a concrete cellar floor in Fleshmarket Close. The scene begins to look like an elaborate stunt – but whose, and for what purpose?

I believe this book was on some shelf somewhere, and having lived in Edinburgh for a while, and having walked through Fleshmarket Close several times during my time there, I picked the book up thanks to the title. My expectations were low, and the book exceeded them. It’s a better-than-average detective story, and it being set in what was my home back then made it all the better. I’m definitely going to make my way through the Rebus series one day.

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of EverythingFreakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Stephen J. Dubner, Steven D. Levitt
Publisher: William Morrow & Company
Released: April 12, 2005
Pages: 320
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Cult bestseller, new buzz word..."Freakonomics" is at the heart of everything we see and do and the subjects that bedevil us daily: from parenting to crime, sport to politics, fat to cheating, fear to traffic jams. Asking provocative and profound questions about human motivation and contemporary living and reaching some astonishing conclusions, "Freakonomics" will make you see the familiar world through a completely original lens.

A random airport-buy, this book was really interesting for about 100 pages or so, but then the style of it almost became a little repetitive. It’s a bit of a victim of it’s own intentions I think, as, by the time the book has brought you over to the way of thinking it encourages from the start, the rest of the book becomes less impactful. I would have liked to see the book go deeper into some of the subjects it covers, but, that said, as far as quick, easy-to-digest, travel-reads goes, this book fits the bill very nicely.

Heart-Shaped BoxHeart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
Publisher: William Morrow & Company
Released: February 13, 2007
Pages: 406
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Sooner or later the dead catch up.

When Judas Coyne heard someone was selling a ghost on the internet, there was no question. It was perfect for his collection of the macabre: the cannibal's cookbook, the witch's confession, the authentic snuff movie. As an ageing death-metal rock-god, buying a poltergeist almost qualifies as a business expense.

Besides, Jude thinks he knows all about ghosts. Jude has been haunted for years... by the spirits of bandmates dead and gone, the spectre of the abusive father he fled as a child, and the memory of the suicidal girl he abandoned. But this ghost, delivered to his doorstep in a black heart-shaped box, is different. It makes the house feel cold. It makes the dogs bark. And it means to chase Jude from his home and make him run for his life.

I can’t remember why I only gave this book three stars, as my recollection of it has me liking it a little more than that. Horror in written form rarely manages to make me feel a proper sense of unease, but this book got quite close. It was a clever story, and it was appropriately easy to digest, easy to read, and enjoyable. Also, at the time I had no idea this was written by the son of Stephen King, and, in fact, I read this book before reading any Stephen King books.

Alice's Adventures in WonderlandAlice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Series: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland #1
Publisher: Macmillan
Released: November 26, 1865
Pages: 96
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After a tumble down the rabbit hole, Alice finds herself far away from home in the absurd world of Wonderland. As mind-bending as it is delightful, Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel is pure magic for young and old alike.

I think Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was the first book I read on an e-reader, a Sony Reader. It was better than I expected it to be. A quick, fun, read which has aged very, very well.

Hotel Babylon: Inside the Extravagance and Mayhem of a Luxury Five-Star HotelHotel Babylon: Inside the Extravagance and Mayhem of a Luxury Five-Star Hotel by Imogen Edwards-Jones
Publisher: Bantam Press
Released: July 5, 2004
Pages: 308
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The manager of an exclusive boutique hotel (who shall remain nameless) exposes the low-life styles of the rich and famous in this titillating expose.

The anonymous author has encountered lavish drug parties, gorgeous call girls, naked guests falling out of windows, $9,000 bottles of wine, astronomical telephone porn bills, bathtubs of Evian, and on more than one occasion, dead sheep. And every dirty word of it is true.

This is a trawl through the decadence and debauchery of the ultimate service industry--where money not only talks, but gets guests the best room, the best service, and also entitles them to behave in any way they please.

I picked this book up because of the TV-series, which I quite liked. I have my doubts of how true-to-reality this “based on real life events” story is, but it’s very entertaining regardless. It’s quick, light, and entertaining.

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