Up West: Voices from the Streets of Post-War London by Pip Granger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I picked up this book merely out of curiosity after the words ‘war’ and ‘London’ in the title awakened my sleepy history nerd self. This is an easygoing read that’s ideal to keep on your coffee table and skim over a anecdote or two every now and then but can’t be taken seriously in large doses. While it’s cheery enough, the book relies solely on anecdotes from a range of people we never hear anything else about and they’re largely remembering their childhoods which makes for quite patchy stories.
I imagine this would make a decent little book if you have a particular fondness for Soho and Convent Garden but it still wouldn’t be a great book due to how repetitive it is and how its coverage is all over the place. It would’ve been better if it had an interview-style write up from the contributors along with mini-profiles because the attempt to group the book into themes meant stretching the anecdotes into themes they didn’t quite fit naturally in. It also meant that it became hard to match the anecdotes up to any particular person and mixing them up all the time meant I had to backtrack a few times to figure out if their stories had contradicted or who they vaguely were from previous anecdotes.
It’s a shame this book wasn’t a touch shorter so it could focus on the interesting anecdotes and leave some of the more uneventful ones aside. That, and a change in its format, would make it so much more of a fun read which I think would be more of a credit to the amount of effort this author has clearly put into trying to keep it as upbeat and enjoyable as possible.
The best thing about this book is what kept me stuck to it as I read more about what people’s lives where like during that time – it is charmingly honest. The love spoken from these pages comes across in waves and makes you really admire how much love these people have for their home. This book is advertised as being for people who want to reminisce about post-war London but I’d recommend it as chicken soup for homesickness and as a side to childhood memories.
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Storm Front by Jim Butcher
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I was told the Dresden Files series was brilliant and many readers (and writers!) I admire have listed the series as a firm favourite. It was only when a lecturer of mine insisted I read it that I finally picked up the first book and gave it a go.
Now, it would probably be useful to explain away some of my initial hesitation here. For one thing, I usually get irritated by detective novels, especially with an arrogant protagonist (and boy, it takes some arrogance to beat Harry Dresden the wizard detective!). They simply grate on me. Another irk of mine is when a mystery story can only be resolved when the writer unveils some wild card the character has had/known about all along that the reader has been unaware of.
Unfortunately, both of these things feature very prominently in Storm Front, particularly in the first half. I understand that world-building requires the writer to reveal little bits at a time lest they overwhelm their readers with information but in this case this method was used to hide away the clues that mystery which is plain irritating and in my opinion, a lazy way of writing. It also made Harry Dresden’s pondering over the clues quite painful in retrospect because we’re made to believe he is smart yet him being unable to connect the information together earlier given his knowledge just completely shatters that character trait.
Don’t get me wrong, you can figure out a lot of the plot by yourself. In fact, the clues are all too easy to put together which makes Storm Front more of an action/adventure book than a detective book.
Of course, this wouldn’t be much of a problem if the characters were interesting enough but here lies my biggest problem in the book.
Harry Dresden tries far too hard to be funny and instead, it comes across as cringe-worthy. When you add to this some of his other strong personality traits – he’s misogynistic, he’s rude, he’s undecisive (not a bad trait in itself but in a fictional detective it’s an issue), Dresden is pretty hard to tolerate, let alone like.
You would think there would be more interesting characters to compensate for Dresden’s unlikeable personality but I was left disappointed here too. Many of the characters are quite flat and peppered with sweeping stereotypes.
Fortunately, a lot of these problems are made up for by the action scenes. These are usually full of suspense and accompanied by electrifying imagery that really save the entire book. This piqued my curiousity and ultimately spurred me on to continue with the series. After such a shaky start to the series, I don’t have high hopes for Fool Moon but with this series being the favourite of so many, I plan on reading until I figure out why!
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Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
DNF at 63%
I tried so hard to finish this book but it’s been nearly 6 month now and I just can’t tackle how painstakingly dull I find it. Perhaps I read it at the wrong time but I really don’t see what the fuss is over this book and why it is considered such a classic – I really tried to enjoy it just for that reason alone but it just wasn’t enough to stick with it. For what it’s worth, I watched the film and was bored rigid by that as well so it could just be my dislike for the gothic/poetic genre (partly why I’ve given it two stars).
My main irk with the book is that it relies far too much on the idea of vampires alone to sustain the reader’s interest – I just don’t find that enough. It’s this curiousity that it expects the reader to have which lets it down because without it, there’s little to carry the plot as the entire drawn-out interview style becomes boring very quickly.
On a similar note, though the interview style was an initially interesting approach to writing, it didn’t do any favours to help the pacing of the plot. I found I was increasingly irritated by being thrown back to the interview scenes just when Louis’ past was starting to get my attention again.
Another big problem I had with the book was the characters – I found them all either distinctly dislikeable or I just didn’t care for them whatsoever. It made all of the focus on their pasts and all the implied mysteries about their actions just mind-numbing.
All of the above I probably could have put up with for the sake of not leaving a book (especially one with a reputation as high as this one!) unfinished. However, Louis’ constant whingeing about his feelings and his struggle was plain unbearable. If I wanted to read about a stroppy emotional teenager having an crisis over the human condition then I would’ve hunted out some low-rated YA fiction about first-love breakups or whatever. This was not what I expected from the book at all and I was so disappointed by it that it really ruined any enjoyment I could have otherwise pulled from it. I understand that this is quite a common feature of gothic fiction which gave me a little more patience for it but taking it to this extent just seemed unnecessary and as though the author was desperate to meet her word count.
The sole positive aspect the book had for me was the use of description and imagery; they really helped liven up the otherwise incredibly dull progress I made through the novel and there were some truly great phrases hidden in there. There is no doubt that Anne Rice is very talented with words but my initial impression from what I’ve read of this book alone is that this talent is wasted on awful plots and poor pacing.
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