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Sunday, 21 December 2014

Book Reviews and Recommendations: 5 Picks for Fantastic Phil

Tea, cake and a good book- bliss!

I love stories, whether in book or film form and, when one really moves me, I have a hard time keeping quiet about it. I can get positively evangelical at times... (by the way, have I recommended "Confessions" to you yet?)
So, imagine how thrilled I was when Fantastic Phil (you may remember him for his contribution to Rock God) asked my opinion on whether he should read Gone Girl, (yes, obviously) and how chuffed I was that he enjoyed it.

He's asked me again for my recommendations and, after perusing my bookshelves, this is what I've come up with:

Shortly before his sixteenth birthday, Kevin Khatchadourian kills seven of his fellow high-school students, a cafeteria worker and a teacher. He is visited in prison by his mother, Eva, who narrates in a series of letters to her estranged husband, Franklin, her account of Kevin's upbringing.

What the critics say: "Few novels leave you gasping at the final paragraph as if the breath had been knocked from your body. Such is the impact of We Need To Talk About Kevin". (The Bookseller)

What I say: Kevin, in my opinion, is one of the most evil characters ever created and all the more terrifying for the very real possibility that kids like him actually exist. His penultimate act of violence before arrest, when revealed, horrified me more than anything that had come before. The twist of recounting the story from Eva's perspective had me questioning my trust in her as a narrator, even as I was supporting her whole-heartedly. This is a book that will have you thinking for a long time.

Why I think Phil will like it: It'll make him angry. Phil has a strong moral code, and I suspect he will probably agree with me on where the blame for Kevin's killing-spree lies, but I'd be interested in his thoughts on whether Eva (or Franklin) could have prevented it. . He's not afraid of awkward or taboo subjects either, and I think the shocking subject matter will appeal to him simply because it is so extreme. Intelligent chap that he is, I'm anticipating text-message discussions as soon as he finishes it- and I'm looking forward to it!

This is where the dragons went. They lie... not dead, not asleep, but... dormant. And although the space they occupy isn't like normal space, nevertheless they are packed in tightly. They could put you in mind of a can of sardines, if you thought sardines were huge and scaly. And presumably, somewhere, there's a key...

What the critics say: "Pratchett is at the peak of his powers; it's hard to think of any humourist writing in Britain today who can match him... A masterful ear for dialogue, a keen eye for the ridiculous and a real feel for language" (Time Out)

What I say: One of my all-time favourites, and often quoted. Sam Vimes is Harrison Ford, Clint Eastwood and Jack Dee rolled into one messed-up, yet still redeemable, Night Watch guard with a short temper and a dry sense of humour. He and his team, consisting of Colon, Carrot and Nobby (a tall dwarf, a fat bent copper and a creature of dubious origin who has to carry paperwork verifying that he is indeed human) need to track down the Elucidated Brethren of the Ebon Night and stop them summoning a dragon before the entire city of Ankh-Morpork is destroyed. It's a million to one chance but, as we all know, million to one chances crop up nine times out of ten.

Why I think Phil will like it: It'll make him laugh. A lot. This is the kind of absurd humour that'll tickle him and, despite the "fantasy" tag, this is a lot less about dragons and magic than it is about people and power. I think he'll identify with no-nonsense Sam, who is just trying to make the world right and catch the bad guys, and the secret softy in him will delight in Sam's blossoming romance with Sybil (which has no soppy scenes and lots of laughs). I'm hoping he'll love it so much he'll ask me for Men at Arms next...

It begins with a curse, a song and a hanging, and it build into a magnificent adventure no reader will ever forget. At once a sensuous and enduring love story and an epic that shines with the fierce spirit of a passionate age, The Pillars of the Earth is without doubt Ken Follet's masterpiece, and a story for all time...

What the critics say: "Enormous and brilliant... this mammoth tale seems to touch all human emotion- love and hate, loyalty and treachery, hope and despair. See for yourself. This is truly a novel to get lost in" (Cosmopolitan)

What I say: Everything I know about cathedrals, I learned from this book. But that's not a good enough reason to read it: how about witches, betrayal, revenge, sibling rivalry, murder..? All this and characters that get exactly what is coming to them- very satisfying! I wouldn't say I was a fan of historical fiction, but this is more like a soap opera set in the 12th century, with enough cliffhangers to keep me turning the pages late into the night.

Why I think Phil will like it: Three words- Game of Thrones. Although not as full-on as GoT, The Pillars of the Earth has similar elements that I think Phil will enjoy. There are schemers, plotters, good guys, bad guys, feisty heroines and plucky underdogs aplenty, set in a medieval world so richly painted that it becomes a history lesson without the boring bits. Plus, although it's a bit of a kitten-squisher at over 1000 pages, I think he'll get sucked in and stay the course. 

Danger! It lurks at every corner. Volcanoes. Sharks. Quicksand. Terrorists. The pilot of the plane blacks out and it's up to you to land the jet. What do you do? "The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook" is here to help: jam-packed with how-to, hands-on, step-by-step, illustrated instructions on everything you need to know FAST-from defusing a bomb to delivering a baby in the back of a cab. Providing frightening and funny real information in the best-selling tradition of the "Paranoid's Pocket Guide" and "Hypochondriac's Handbook, " this indispensable, indestructible pocket-sized guide is the definitive handbook for those times when life takes a sudden turn for the worse. The essential companion for a perilous age. Because you never know...

What the critics say: "This book is about what you always wanted to know about all kinds of weird life-threatening situations but were either afraid to ask - or just weren't lucky enough to lay your hands on a book like this!" (Anna, Goodreads reviewer)

What I say: I believe in being prepared: even if the situation seems unlikely, I like to know my options. A couple of years ago, on Christmas Eve, my Alfie puppy fell through ice- and knowing how to get him out quickly saved his life. Like the blurb says, you never know, and so I find books like this fascinating. Many of the situations seem absurdly improbable, but that doesn't mean you might not find yourself in them one day. I sleep better at night knowing that, should I ever need to escape a charging bull, I'll be ready...

Why I think Phil would like it: because he's a secret action hero. After an exciting (in a bad way) event at work a couple of weeks ago, he confessed his disappointment that it was all over before he could pitch in and help. I think he'd love to save the day, and learning how to win a sword fight or deliver a baby are skills that may very well come in useful one day. Consider it CPD, Phil- and watch out for sharks!

It is the amusing and enlightening story of four characters who live in a maze and look for cheese to nourish them and make them happy. Cheese is a metaphor for what you want to have in life, for example a good job, a loving relationship, money or possessions, health or spiritual peace of mind. The maze is where you look for what you want, perhaps the organisation you work in, or the family or community you live in. The problem is that the cheese keeps moving...

What the critics say: "Every once in a while a book comes along that opens a door to the future. This book has had that effect on me." (David A. Heenan)

What I say: Less than two weeks after reading this book (in less than an hour: it's fairly short) I handed in my notice. Yes, really. It's that life-changing.

Why I think Phil will like it: On the one hand, I'm a little reluctant to recommend this to Phil, as I don't want it to have the same effect on him as it did on me (selfishly, I enjoy working with him and don't want him to leave) but, on the other hand, I do want him to be happy and have his cheese. Also, I don't think his cheese is as far away as mine was when I read this, so I've decided it's safe to go ahead and recommend it. In fact, I'll go so far as to recommend it to everyone.

What did you think of my recommendations? Have you read these books? Or are you planning on reading one of them now?  Let me know in the comments below!

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