Book Reviews





Touching the Void - Review

Non-fiction, and specifically autobiography, is a new genre for me. I've been dabbling in it lately, having read Caitlin Moran's How To Be a Woman, and Marilyn Manson's The Long Hard Road Out of Hell (a teenage nostalgia!) However, Joe Simpson's Touching The Void is the first autobiographical novel I have read without having previous experience of the author. I chose to read Touching The Void based on the story alone.

I first noticed my dad reading the book on our recent trip to America. It's very rare to see my dad with a book, so I asked him about it. He told me it was about a climber who shattered his leg close to the summit of a mountain. He then continued to tell me of how "amazing" he found it (my dad does not use superlatives lightly) and how "unbelievable" it was that a human could undergo so much and survive to tell the tale.
I was intrigued. Mountain climbing is not something I am necessarily interested in, but then it's nothing my dad is interested in either and he was hooked! I asked if I could borrow the book when he was finished. It turned out I had to wait a few months, because my dad was so eager to share it with others, he had forgotten about me! However, I have finally read it, and here is what I thought:

Touching the Void is an inspirational recount of human survival against ridiculous odds.

When Joe and his climbing partner Simon reach the summit of Siula Grande, Peru in the 90's, having climbed the West Face, they achieve something no one has ever done before. When Joe takes a disastrous fall soon after, however, everything changes and they face the possibility that no one may ever know they made it. As their luck turns, both men stare death in the face - both literally and metaphorically - and display human endurance as "unbelievable" as my dad testified.
Joe's leg literally breaks in two on his fall, and though Simon lowers him through the night on 300ft of rope towards base camp, he soon faces a moral dilemma it is hard to imagine: Unable to walk, and half way through a "lower", Joe hangs on the end of a rope attached to Simon above an abyss, as an avalanche pushes Simon closer towards the edge of a ledge. Does Simon save himself, by cutting the rope at his waist to be free of the already-doomed and injured Joe? Or does he stay attached, holding Joe but fated to fall over the edge to join him?

I wont tell you what he chooses, if you don't already know, but the resulting story is gripping.

Image from Wikipedia

Initially, I found reading Touching The Void a bit of a struggle. I found I didn't like Joe, and thought him a little arrogant. That soon changed however, as I realised his head-strong attitude is probably what saved him. It even began to endear him at the hardest parts of his journey.
The second struggle I had was that I wasn't a climber. Joe tells his story in a very uncomrimising slew of mountaineering terms without explaination of what they mean. This is probably what made me think him "arrogant" at the beginning. Once I had taken the time to Google a "belay plate", a "col" and "moraines", however, the story began to flow more for me.
The third struggle was in coming back to the book after a break. Re-establishing myself in the story took longer than any other book, due to the similarity of all the situations the climbers experience. Which crevasse were they on? Where were they during this storm? Was this ice cliff a decent or a traverse?

Once these small obstacles of the book were overcome, Touching The Void became inspiring. Never again will I look at the amount of things I need to achieve in a day and feel it's impossible!!

The most interesting part of Touching The Void, for me, was the retelling of the emotion at certain points in the journey. The way the climbers felt about death, injury and about each other. How Joe welcomed danger amounting to death, but couldn't face suicide. The way achievements were not truly felt until the moment had passed, and they looked back at where they had come.

Touching The Void is an eye-opening insight to the world of mountain climbing, and a book to give anyone the motivation to Keep Going.

There is a film that was made of this book - I now have it on my "to watch" list.


Do you Like Mab is Mab?

I have just finished setting up a Facebook Page for Mab is Mab, so why not go on over, have a read, and give it a big shiny thumbs up if you like it? I plan for it to be a more real-time experience of my reading and blogging, while the blog will continue to hold opinions, reviews, features and musings. So not much will change really - Mab is Mab on Facebook will just give you even more to get involved with :)

I also plan to use the Facebook page in order to hold a virtual Book Club. I've had a few people show interest and thought I would give it a go and see where it all ends up. If you never try you'll never know, right? If it sounds like something you might like to be involved with, "like" the page and send a message expressing your interest. Hopefully it can kick off soon.


Coffee table books

The coffee table book is an odd realm between art and function. No-one reads a coffee table book, they "peruse" it. Most of the time it's too big to hold, too heavy to sit comfortably with. Beautiful, bold, bulky things. Books to wear down, wear out as you fumble through the pages roughly. Books to inspire, uplift and - consiously or not - say something about who you are.

Since I have moved house, I have been thinking about the kind of coffee table book I would like in my living room. I would want it to inspire me on every page - in case I only perused to view one of them. It would probably be a photography book. I would want it to have words too, though. Little snippets. I wouldn't want it to be a cliche... I'd maybe like to learn something on the off-chance too!

I have a few books already that I would consider to be of the "coffee table" genre, but not ones I would put out. Kurt Cobain's Journals, Cosmos, Dita Von Teese's The Art of Burlesque, "The Art Of" Batman, 300 and Sweeny Todd. All of them great pick-a-page time fillers but all of them speaking to a part of me that I probably don't advertise - or expect guests to deal with, at any rate!


So I have been browsing Amazon for some new things and have drawn up a number of potential table residents.

Here is the shortlist:


But I wonder if there are any suggestions out there? What coffee table books do you own and display? What do you look for in a coffee table book?


Good mood reads

I read a lot of deep, dark, heavy stuff by choice, but I dont always take things so seriously. I like to shake things up a bit now and then with a silly, humourous or girly book to regain a balance! Finding the sort of thing I'd like in genres I'm unfamiliar with, however, is not such a fun task. So I thought I would list some of my favourite feel good books for if you are ever on the lookout for "cheery" inspiration!

Starter for Ten by David Nicholls

The story of a bumbling small-town guy as he moves to University and enters University Challenge.
If you were born in a certain era, this book will be hilarious. If you were born out of a certain era, this book is still very funny. If you've seen the film "coz it had the hot fawn from Narnia in it"... just.... get the book. It's incomparible. I read and re-read this book. The characters and the story are brilliant - and it's all spiffingly British!

Harry Potter by J K Rowling

The story of The Chosen One and He Who Shall Not Be Named: for the memories.
Harry Potter is my go-to "relax" choice because I grew up reading it and I associate the pages with carefree, stressless, irresponsible times. It also brings back memories of the sheer suspense, excitement and "guessing what will happen" with my brother while waiting for the next installment to come out!

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

The antichrist raised by "a nice family".
This book bridges the gaps between my favourite (dark) genres and comedy like you would not believe. Every time I read it, I find something new to grin at. Of course, it's an unwritten truth universally acknowledged that the Pratchett/Gaiman partnership is an unholy match of brilliance that should never have really been allowed to exist before mortal beings.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Darcy without the misfortune of having to see him as Colin Firth. (Sorry Colin)
Who can deny anyone the enjoyment of this story? Elizabeth is, so far, the only "chick-lit heroine" I have ever been able to abide! It's all whimsical, it's "I do very much endeavor to believe", it's lush and it's beautiful. And it ends just as it should!

Which actually leads me nicely to...

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen / Seth Grahame-Smith

Silly, silly fun.
The only reasons I can give are all of the above PLUS ZOMBIES!

"Witty" journalist books. ie: How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran and the Jeremy Clarkson books

Agree or disagree, love or hate. It's fun for everyone.
I like these kind of books because you can open them at any page and spend five minutes maximum getting some kind of emotional reaction. Like a literary shot! A lot of people hate journalists who throw their opinions down to the wind and shout about them in a non scientific way - but I think it takes guts and I respect them for it. And who says any of us have to agree with them?! It's even better if they're actually funny with it.

So thats my top picks - what are yours?


Beginning in Bristol

Life in Bristol so far has been good. We've found some lovely places to eat and drink, the weather has been great (not a spot of rain, despite the warnings from ex-bristolians!) and when I ordered takeaway for collection, the guys from the restaurant came and delivered it anyway! Gotta love that. Extra new house bonuses include our shiny new Tivo box (never missing an episode of Supernatural, Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars again - ha!) and an attic room with a skylight and dress-making bench. Yep, you heard me right, a dress making bench! Watch out Project Runway ;)

As expected, it's tonnes different to Cambridge. I still cycle to work but do so with my heart in my mouth most of the time! It's a "cycling city" but not in the same way as Cambridge, where car drivers pretty much expect you to do something stupid in front of them and give you a wide berth! Here, the sheer amount of cyclists is scary enough in itself, and I definitely don't bike fast enough for them... they whizz past at such speed (and often with an audible tut) that I wonder how they brake in time for lights. Top this with the geographical obstacles so alien to Cambridge - such as hills, bridges, dual carraigeways and shared pedestrian/bicycle paths - and you pretty much have an urban cycling frenzy that my brain is only just coping with! Needless to say, I have invested in a good helmet. I only hope I never have to put it to the test!

We have taken some pretty lengthy walks to discover our new home. I would like to say now that any Cambridge people looking to move west should not underestimate the physical demands of hills! I think we walked 16 miles the other day... We saw the Clifton suspension bridge which was cool, but probably not worth the aching I suffered the next day. (Only to have to get on my bike and cycle to work for 25 minutes - owww)

So, slowly, I am settling in. I'm not sure it feels like home yet but then I have only been here a week. I have a feeling that somewhere in my brain I think I'm on an extended holiday... which I could carry on believing I guess, as the years pass, extending my "holiday" further... ;)

Will post another update soon, but until then - take care!

The Moth Diaries by Rachel Klein - Review

The Moth Diaries by Rachel Klein is one of the most beautiful, haunting things I have ever read, which is surprising considering it feels like recounting a bad dream...

The book takes the form of a journal written by an un-named teenager, about her time at an all girls boarding school in America. It is the early Seventies, and her dad, a poet, has recently killed himself. She has an extremely close (almost dependant) relationship with one of the girls at the school, Lucy, and when new girl Ernessa joins the boarders and befriends Lucy, jealously and madness begin to raise their heads. Our narrator begins to assume all bad occurances are in some way related to Ernessa, culminating in her belief that she is a vampire responsible for a number of deaths, Lucy's severe illness and the disintegration of the boarding girls' community.

The Moth Diaries is an extremely gothic, dark read. Amidst the writing you will find: literature extracts romanticising death; themes of suicide and starvation/obsession; the setting of an old hotel converted into a boarding school; an insular, desolate environment; basements, secret passageways and libraries; lesson reading materials of greek tragedy, classics and ancient macabre; slowly mounting suspense through a series of small events; and a sense of creeping suspicion that permeates the chapters like the lingering odour from behind Ernessa's door.
Put frankly: it's no easy read.
There are parallels that can easily be drawn to The Turn of the Screw and even Dracula, story-wise, and I feel that is a compliment to the author as the book is in no way a direct copy of either. Similarities to these novels include the way all "untowards" events are only ever *implied*, events are often indirect accounts, horror is present but never explicit, and most significantly, the question of whether you can trust the narrator is always at the forefront of your mind.

When it comes to the writing itself, the language is simple and to the point, but at the same time it's literary, poetic, subtle, haunting, moody, suspenseful, meandering... It is exactly the kind of book I love to read. The author builds atmosphere and raises the tension cleverly and slowly - perhaps not in the same class as Henry James and Bram Stoker, but we have to remember that The Moth Diaries is a Young Adult novel, and therefore certain things such as pace have to be considered, and a lot more themes are packed in!

The Young Adult classification is probably the only element of the book that I would raise issue with. I have wondered a few times while reading it whether it would have been better as an adult book. There are some truely well written, freakish and disturbing scenes the author creates that made me think she would have written an amazing gothic horror novel without censorship restrictions. I dont think I will be able to erase the images of Ernessa and Lucy on the nights when our narrator encounters them... However, for whatever reasons, The Moth Diaries is YA orientated, and as such I feel the writing is somewhat short of what it could have been! 

Anyway, that's all pretty much my own personal opinion, and probably only goes to show how good this book actually is! I would certainly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a darkly gothic tale of madness and suspicion. And, as I bought this on Kindle for 99p - it is officially the 2nd best book I ever bought at that price: behind Florence and Giles and just before 99 Reasons Why.
It's worth that price and much more.