Review catch-up:

Playing review catch-up, I have three rather different books for you today…

Don’t Skip Out on Me by Willy Vlautin

It’s ages since I read this book which I got from the Faber spring party where Vlautin, who is in a band too, sang and played his guitar for the audience. Since then, the film of his previous novel Lean on Pete has come out to universal acclaim – I missed it in the cinema, but having read this book, I want to read the former one soon before the DVD comes out.

Don’t Skip Out on Me is the story of Horace Hopper, a twenty-one-year-old farm hand. He works on a ranch in Nevada for Mr Reese and his wife, who are like surrogate parents to him, having lost his own. Horace, who is half-white, half-Paiute Indian, has dreams of becoming a boxer, like his Mexican heroes of the ring. The Reeses are ageing, and leaving the farm will be hard for them all, they’ve come to rely on each other so much, but a young man needs to follow his dreams, despite Mr Reese’s offer for him to take over the ranch. Horace, having won a small regional competition heads off for Salt Lake City and the next level of boxing, to begin the process of reinvention as Hector Hidalgo. But does he have the right stuff to make it in this cut-throat world, where one injury could end your career for ever?

Vlautin captures the characters of Horace and Mr Reese so perfectly.  Horace is a good young man, a hard worker, shy and not a little lonely, but driven by his desire to be someone. Mr and Mrs Reese’s parently concern for their surrogate son, their daughters having left, is touching.   You can’t help but love Horace and Mr Reese. The opening chapters where Horace makes his regular trip up into the mountains to take supplies to their shepherd up there who lives all alone with the flock, reminds you of Brokeback Mountain, but the reality of being alone with the sheep is clearly not a romantic life.  Vlautin doesn’t romanticize boxing either, we can feel all the knocks handed out to Horace as he struggles to make it in the ring.

This novel had me in tears, Vlautin knows how to tweak the heartstrings, although perhaps he is a tad oversentimental. However, I loved this book, and now want to read everything Vlautin has written and listen to his alt-country music too. (9/10)

Source: Review copy.   Willy Vlautin, Don’t Skip Out on Me (Faber, Jan 2018) flapped paperback, 284 pages.  BUY at Amazon UK (affiliate link).

Pavlov’s Dog by Adam Hart-Davis

There is a real vogue for books that list 100 this, 50 that, and of course, the ‘1001 … before you die’ series. Subtitled ‘and 49 other experiments that revolutionised psychology,’ this one is no exception.

Starting in the mid 1800s with Darwin’s experiments on the intelligence of earthworms, Hart-Davis outlines fifty others that represent the big break-throughs in this field. For those who enjoy reading about popular science, some will be familiar – from the titular Pavlov’s dog in 1901 to Milgram in 1963, and Zimbardo’s infamous Stanford Prison Experiment in 1971.  We’re brought up to date with topics including autism (Baron-Cohen) and synaesthesia.

Each of the experiments follows a set format – with the date, names, key area and conclusion at the top left of each one, then three pages of text and illustrations outlining the premise of the experiment, its findings and more conclusions.  There is minimal cross-referencing within each text – the experiments largely stand on their own. They are, however, divided into historical time periods, from Beginnings 1848-1919 up to Into Consciousness from 1981 onwards, via Behaviourism in the 1960s and the Cognitive Revolution in the 1970s. The sections have a brief intro each to their overlying themes.

This format makes the book ideal for dipping into, but not one to sit down and read for more than a few experiments at a time. Personally, I would prefer to read a broader history of the subject with more context and discussion, but for those who like their subjects bite-sized, or want a themed primer, this book is nicely produced and well-written as far as its brevity will allow. (7.5/10)

Source: Review copy.  Adam Hart-Davis, Pavlov’s Dog… (Modern books, March 2018) softback, 176 pages.  BUY at Amazon UK (affiliate link).

Bad by Chloe Esposito

Bad is the sequel to Mad, which I reviewed last summer (here); the middle part of a trilogy which, yes, will be followed by Dangerous to Know!

Bad was a raunchy, murderous tale set in London and Sicily, narrated by a potty-mouthed, femme fatale in the making.  In it, Alvina Knightly, broke, jobless, heads off to Sicily to see her identical twin sister and ends up accidentally killing her after Beth had asked her to swap places for an evening.  Alvie’s holiday turns into a nightmare, with fast cars, guns for hire, and more murders, as she finds out what her sister had married into. It ended with Alvie, having adopted Beth’s identity after pretending her sister’s body was her, on the run in Beth’s (also murdered) husband, Ambrogio’s Lamborghini, with hitman Nino and a suitcase full of Euros.

This is briefly summarised in the first chapter, so if you did leap into the trilogy here, you wouldn’t be completely lost.  The story follows the next week of Alvie’s life as Nino tricks her, taking the money, leaving Alvie to fend for herself. She had been duped by Nino because of the (frequent) sex, and is now out for revenge, and to get the €2M back.

Sadly, whereas the first volume was raunchy and fun as Alvie tries to understand what was happening, the second volume was boring in comparison. There was far too much gratuitous sex described in too much detail for me. The chase after Nino was no substitute for the action in Mad, before Alvie takes on her femme fatale character and discovers her desire to be a hitwoman. The main setting of Rome made up for things a little, and her sassiness did raise the occasional giggle. For those who enjoy a racy read, this series is ideal, non-demanding holiday fare.  I probably will read the third volume when published to see how the story ends, but this middle volume was a disappointment after the first. (6.5/10)

Source: Review copy.  Chloe Esposito, Bad, (Michael Joseph, Jul 2018), hardback, 384 pages. BUY at Amazon UK (affiliate link)

9 thoughts on “Review catch-up:

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Too much sex compensating for not enough plot – however I’ll cross fingers for the third volume!

  1. Rebecca Foster says:

    I keep meaning to read the copy of Vlautin I picked up at the Faber party. I watched Lean on Pete on the plane to the States. It, too, was awfully sad in places. You really believed in and felt for the characters.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I loved Vlautin’s writing in this, so am looking forward to reading more by him, and seeing the film later. I hope you do read it sometime, I’d love to know how you get on.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Lean on Pete which is out in paperback is said to be less sentimental than this one, but I loved it.

  2. JacquiWine says:

    The Vlautin sounds excellent, very involving and humane. I was lucky enough to see a preview screening of Lean on Pete at last year’s London Film Festival, with the director, Andrew Haigh, and lead actor, Charlie Plummer, in attendance. They’d clearly taken a lot care with the adaptation to preserve the feeling and humanity of the book – not always easy to do when a story moves from page to screen.

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