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Kaizen

Kaizen
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Member since: 27.04.2010

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      19.03.2011 21:44
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      To be read with an open mind

      The first thing that struck me about 'The End of Mr Y' is quite how gaudy the book and blurb are. My edition has the pages edged in black and some racy blurb that makes it sound like the pretentious crap that it physically resembles.

      However, bear with the rather trite opening few chapters that make this book seem like it is going to be full of intellectual privilege. Name-dropping philosophers and '-isms' is a guaranteed way to cause me to lose all interested in a conversation and/or scream but this is one of the few things I have ever read that actually sold philosophy to me in a way that made it seems interesting and relevant.

      First of all, I think your own background will make a huge difference to how you approach this book. I've personally always been rather damning and close minded about philosophy but am an utter science geek. Therefore, it was refreshing and interesting to see the arts student characters admitting they didn't understand quantum mechanics but how it was still fascinating from a philosophical point of view, rather than proclaiming it was possible to understand the lot without a jot of maths. I think this book finds a very nice middle ground in the traditional science and arts divide, where the longwinded discussions about philosophy counterpoise scientific theory and though experiments that make far more sense to me.

      I think the sheer amount of philosophy and psychology in the book might make it seem a little dense to some but it is worth bearing with it. Concepts are well explained, so the reader doesn't need to suffer not having a background in field and it makes it interesting to learn a little of something new. It also feels very appropriate for the tone as the whole novel of based upon the life of a PhD student.

      Which brings me on to the subject of our heroine, Ariel. Whilst Thomas has done a good job of trying to make her seem human with all her faults and foibles, she doesn't quite seem to have Atwood's gift of breathing life into the people on the page. As a result, she can come across as more than a little melodramatic at times. However, she does grow well with the plot and her supporting cast, whilst they haven't received quite the same attention, also come across as reasonably convincing characters.

      The characterisation overall isn't fantastic. It's good enough to keep some suspension of disbelief but really isn't enough of a pull to keep you reading. The plot and imaginative scenes are where this book's charm lies. The basic premise of the story is Ariel's discovery of a supposedly 'lost' book, that tells the tale of Mr Y, but the secrets within it are of massive importance for the 'real' world.

      It is difficult to make the plot seem as compelling as it is without divulging too much about it. It is worth sticking through Ariel's self-wallowing at the beginning to see it unfold however, as it does go on the most fantastic journey through the concepts of 'many worlds' and the human imagination.

      For some, the plot will just come across as pretentious twaddle and some imaginative ideas justified by name-dropping famous philosophers and science. For others, the internal logic within the book will make it seem less fantasy and more fact, and if you enjoy a bit of the strange, then this is a fantastic page turner.

      I absolutely loved this book once it had picked up a bit of momentum. It has this strange, quirky charm that just appealed to my sense of imagination and it quickly becomes a run-away page turner for this point. I hesitate to give it five stars though because there are numerous flaws. Thomas's prose will not leave you weak at the knees and the characters, whilst likeable and believable enough, will never truly wrench your heart strings. To me the book's strength lies as being a fun flit of the imagination. This is not a classic by any means, and some might argue it's a little trashy, but there is a lot to be enjoyed here.

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      07.03.2011 17:38
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      Something a bit different, but falls flat in most areas

      Quirky, oddball, full of pop culture references and more than a bit geeky is probably the best way to summarise JPod. Unfortunately, that summary might also imply that the book is original and interesting, something it fails at on both accounts. I think this really is the Tate Modern of books.

      JPod follows the story of a young programmer called Ethan, who is tormented by his family and their unusual problems and seem to obsessively need him to solve them all. This does give the book an air of promise and intrigue in the beginning, but this quickly falls flat on introduction to some of the other characters in the book.

      Where the characters should make the absurd plotline hilarious rather than ridiculous, everyone in the book just comes across as having a case of 'Multiple Syndrome Middle Class disorder,' where they are all ever so neurotic without any reason to be. Some of the quirks could have been entertaining on well-rounded characters but every single character, with the possible exception of Kam Fong, just comes across as an irritating collection of issues rather than a person.

      This failing is embodied perfectly in the boss whose heroin addiction 'frees him from being a mundane, boring character' in his own eyes and Coupland's insertion of himself into the novel as this terribly evil, manipulative nemesis for Ethan. The whole venture just feels like a terribly post-modern ego trip, which is supposed to be making some heartfelt artistic statement about some deeply important issue but just comes across as self-indulgent crap.

      The overarching plotline doesn't really stimulate any interest either. I don't know whether the irritating characters had just inspired apathy in me towards any feature of this book, but for such a supposedly 'crazy' tale, the plot is actually very dull and any twists or unusual features of it are very manufactured.

      For those who grew up watching the internet grow and the rise of the spam email, there are some genuinely funny snippets about Nigerian bankers and world play on typical junk mail titles. Some of the mathematical puzzles are also quite entertaining but in a world where deforestation is an issue, I feel it's a little self-indulgent to waste at least 30 pages of a book to just having streams of numbers printed on them. It is an easy to read book, a will raise a titter occasionally but is mostly just mildly irritating.

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      15.01.2011 14:08
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      Not terrible, not great, had much more potential than it ever realised

      First of all, I think this book does deserve a trigger warning for anyone who is uncomfortable with the subject of rape. There is a slightly graphic rape scene in the book and another rather harrowing account of a character's experiences and whilst all of this is three chapters in the book, which as far as I can understand, have absolutely no relevance to the plot so could easily be skipped, may be off-putting for some readers.

      'Transistion' is almost standard Iain Bank's fare. It is his latest modern fiction novel concerning half a million unreliable narrators, a vague and sinister plot by some evil multi-dimensional corporation, more sex than an evening in with Channel 4 and a sprinkling of coke.

      From the blurb, I was expecting something like 'Dead Air,' a tale with at least one foot in the real world and modern politics, with Bank's sharp commentary on society and its ills. However, this is probably far closer to his science fiction works. Very little action takes place in the world we know, and the majority of the story is told from the viewpoint of 'The Transistioner' who can flit between people's bodies and different timeframes at will.

      There are a few other characters who contribute to the narrative but this, combined with the constant jumping of time frame and reference point makes the narrative hideously disjointed. Whilst you can see the tentative links beginning to appear between different plots, a lot of the linking appears too obvious and arbitrary. For such a clever narrative idea, Bank's does a good job of making all the plot 'twists' unnoticeably obvious.

      The constant flitting around also makes it hard to enjoy any of the individual stories. There are one or two characters that appear unexpectedly for a chapter in the middle of the book and then you hear nothing until the finale from them. It does feel sometimes that just as you are beginning to sit down, put your feet up with a particular story, Bank's is immediately skipping off in this chaotic story telling.

      Sometimes this isn't a bad thing because many of the characters, particularly Adrian, are utterly insufferable. Adrian is about as one-dimensionally selfish a character that has ever been written. For Bank's all the characters seem to have their assigned plot role and therefore their assigned personality characteristic and they waddle around in their dull ways, being dull and taking their clothes of every five minutes. It does seem that there really was an attempt in this book to make up for substance and intrigue with sex.

      The ideas and philosophy of the many worlds that the Transistioner's can travel between is actually quite interesting. There is some real imaginative genius behind the idea of the Concern, the big shadowy bad guys and just some of the powers that characters develop are very creative.

      The largest problem with this supposedly plot driven book, is that the plot just fizzles under a mess of confusing narratives and so much of it just feels superfluous. It's probably worth reading just because there are one or two stunning descriptions of landscapes and the 'flitting' of the Transistioner's and the moral complications of being able to do this are quite interesting. Even so, I feel the prose in this book is some of Bank's worst, with dull metaphors, unimaginative description and just generally being as bland and unexciting as the characters describe.

      It's not so dire as to be unreadable, Bank's talent definitely saves it there, it just falls so short of being anything wonderful. You won't care about the characters, you won't care about the plot, but maybe the idea of the 'many worlds' will tickle your imagination enough to make this a good bit of fun.

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        28.12.2010 15:40
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        A fantastic guide to getting you to carefully consider your report writing as well as for a smile

        Chemistry and grammar, sounds like a combination to make even the most dedicated students weep. Before you immediately run away screaming from both this review and book, with the panicked expression of someone stood before the proof for the Born-Oppenheimer equation, I ask only a little patience, you may be pleasantly surprised.

        This isn't a guide on the recipe for the perfect paper or publication or even any guidance on how to stumble through a lab report. What Schoenfield has created is a fantastically entertaining guide on how to avoid the pitfalls of the English language and produce prose that is functional, concise and clear from a purely linguistic viewpoint. If the horrors of ambiguous phrasing such as 'the rabbits were observed with binoculars' has ever crept into your work or you are perplexed by the passive form of 'using' then this is the book for you.

        'The Chemist's English' covers an impressive range of topics, from an extensive guide on the use of the passive form, the best presentation of units in equations and how to avoid giving your tables and data lives of their own. This all sounds very drab and unfortunately for anyone without any interest in chemistry or grammar it might remain so but all of this is explained with expert clarity and the passion and enthusiasm of someone with a genuine love of language. It is very easy to imagine Schoenfield as an over-excited lecturer, pacing around the hall with his arms flailing at his proclamation that he has found the ultimate system of grammar.

        For the chemists, there are a wealth of terribly geeky jokes. I fail to see how the chapter on the 'Siege of Fort Guggenhiem' could fail to make anyone laugh and it certainly helped my understanding of English grammar to see sentences broken down into algebraic symbols. There is also a plethora of interesting snippets on other languages as well, German in particular, to keep all the linguists happy.

        The text is not aimed at grammar-enthusiasts and avoids falling into a pit of 'intransitive verbs' and 'subjunctive clauses' so is readily accessible for all. When technical vocabulary is required, Schoenfield does an impressive job with his explanations and there are always a multitude of examples to support this. It is because of this that the book is as easy to read as any novel and you will always finish a chapter feeling you have learnt something new.

        Although much of the humour is also accessible to all, I am not sure quite how enthralling explanations of the amount of bits of information in a sentence will be to those with little interest in the subject in hand. However, even if you do not have a background in either chemistry or grammar, there is definitely a great deal to be learned if you are willing to overlook the odd chemical name and many giggles to be had. For anyone writing any kind of scientific literature though, this book is an absolutely essential read and utterly enjoyable from beginning to end.


        Also appears on: http://bookarium.wordpress.com/

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          14.11.2010 12:29
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          Get it from the library because it's not quite worth buying

          Don't be fooled by the glitzy, glittery cover. Whilst 'The Penelopiad' is possibly the closest to chick-lit Atwood has ever come, the light-hearted humour only serves to make the tale grimmer.

          This is a very witty retelling of the famous Greek myth of Penelope and her husband Odysseus. The debauchery and base behaviour in Greek myth is often considered morally justified due to supposedly heroic actions, for the male characters anyway but here Atwood colours the story with the human impact of these actions. We see how hard it is for Penelope to be the 'ugly cousin' and hear the tales of her husband's infidelity when she is uncertain whether he is even alive and become subordinate both to her servants and growing son, who feels entitled to demand what he will of her.

          This isn't such a serious exploration of the oppression of the patriarchy and Penelope isn't portrayed as a strong, balanced character as you may have come to expect from Atwood. In fact, much as I could sympathise with how the social system trapped and abused her, I still found her a bit insufferable and pathetic. However, it serves its purpose well as a far easier, more approachable version of the Iliad.

          The narrative leaps around an awful lot for such a short book. The main plot is narrated from the Styx by Penelope and there are interludes of bizarre, grotesque musicals from the twelve hanged maids. Atwood works in some very clever, amusing scenes in the ghostly realm to break up the grim, historical backdrop which will bring a smile to your face. However, much as I'm sure the idea of twelve dead girls is supposed to shock and chill, these scenes fall very flat. The problem with 'The Penelopiad' is it is too short for any real characterisation and depth, so much of the impact is lost to the amusement with which Penelope tells the tale.

          However, I will applaud Atwood for one chapter, the modern courtroom scene, which is utterly harrowing and will make you feel nothing but utter revulsion for modern society. It is tragic to see the fates of the maids who were abandoned and unprotected by society, mocked for their desire for justice and it is possible to draw many parallels with our modern justice system.

          As a whole, the book falls short in many areas. It's quick, easy and light to read but the prose is bland and uninspiring and apart from one scene and general irritation at the ability of the men folk to get away with whatever they wished, I found no emotional resonance or particular interest to it. This was a little disappointing as I absolutely love Greek myths but does mean it will be accessible to the classics fanatics and the uninitiated alike.

          For something that takes so little time and effort, it's probably worth a read but don't expect anything more than a casual tale.

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          07.11.2010 13:02
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          If you love the classics and have a lot of spare time then worth it

          I read this book unaware of all the hype surrounding it and am rather glad for it. It is difficult to summarise the plot without spoiling the crucial points within the novel but on a very simplistic front, it follows the story of a young man, embarking on his degree in Ancient Greek and his misadventures with his overprivileged friends.

          In reality, 'The Secret History' explores themes far more complex. About every taboo, both common and uncommon to university life, is explored and Tartt's meticulously crafted characters with all their faults and foibles provide perfect ground for doing so. Although the plot is possibly one of the most refreshing and novel I have read, it is the otherworldly quirks and charms of Richard and his Ancient Greek class that keep the book compelling.

          Whilst Richard is perhaps the only character the audience can successfully feel any empathy for, unless you happen to be the product of a multimillionaire family with an overwhelming obsession for the language, philosophy and life of the Greeks, the grotesquely grandiose personalities of those around him generate most of the mystery and intrigue in the book. Tartt creates a fantastic divide between the prosaic world of 'normal' college life and the sublime, alternate reality of Greek literature.

          The prose will both make you smile at its beauty and wit and cry with tedium at the long passages that serve no purpose other than to punish a few trees. Generally, atmosphere is created incredibly well and Tartt's masterful craftsmanship shows with the placement of clues to the final revelations at the end. However, sometimes it does start to feel more of a dirge, with huge breaks in the action making the pace seem dreadfully sluggish. I enjoyed the inclusion of many Ancient Greek and Latin phrases and the allusions to Greek classics. It certainly helped the feel of a pretentious clique of students, so sure of their superiority to the trifles of the world around them.

          I feel the books attempt to be so ambitious and intelligent is where it falls down. It makes the prose sickly, some of the characters bizarre to the point of ridiculousness and makes the whole tale slightly unbelievable. Whilst it is satisfying to understand a phrase or pick up on an obscure literary allusion, it doesn't disguise that the book is ultimately unfulfilling. The ending feels tacked on in an attempt to end the drudgery and perhaps too true to the format of a Greek tragedy to be considered sincere.

          The exploration of the human condition in the face of severe trauma, the delights and pains of education and friendship and the beautiful prose are all very interesting and will keep you gripped, even if you are praying for the latest drab chapter to be over. However, the book is too intellectually detached to leave any emotional impact on the reader as the characters are like watching exotic animals at the zoo, fascinating, but not very easy to identify with.

          It is worth a read for the patient but the book is not the timeless classic it attempts to be.

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            06.10.2010 19:27
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            Get a textbook instead

            Considering I live with chemists, work with chemists and generally spend a lot of time with chemists, I know that most of them are actually incredibly interesting people, far from the stereotype of the dull geek holed away in a funny-smelling lab for hours.

            However, Emsley seems to assume that obviously anyone with any interest in chemistry, as this book is aimed primarily at those with a non-scientific background, must enjoy having their eyes bleed from sheer boredom. He has tried, bless him, to make a book detailing some information on each element in the Periodic Table but has instead created something more tedious than a tax return.

            Information on each element is split into the following sections:
            Human Element - Details the biological role in the human body of the element (which is unknown for the majority in the book)
            Chemical Element - The chemical reactivity of the element
            Element of History - This is usually a historically important application of the element, some of which are very interesting
            Economic Element - Details things like abundance and the cost of mining certain elements
            Element of Surprise - Interesting snippets about the element which don't fall into the other categories

            The layout is well done and does really help make the book accessible. It does also make it very easy just to read a few pages of the book and put it down, or look up just what you are interested in, a feature you will come to relish. Emsley has done a fantastic job of keeping the language and explanations understandable to anyone which does help with the readability of the book significantly.

            My main gripe with this book is the quality and amount of information in it. Many of the cooler, new elements are practically devoid of any information (some of which is understandable as we still know very little about them) but I don't see how it is necessary to devote so much time to explaining things such as 'nitrogen is in air.' A lot of the facts are more 'common knowledge' even to someone who is not particularly interested in the field of chemistry and it really destroyed the point of the book to me.

            If you have any interest in any of the more toxic elements in the book, try 'The Elements of Murder: A History of Poison' also by Emsley which much of the information in this book was taken from and is actually a far more interesting and informative read for anyone interested either in the chemistry, medicine or history. For anything else, I suggest finding the largest, most drab looking textbook you can, I promise it will be more entertaining and more informative.

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              06.10.2010 18:58
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              Rewarding for the patient and sympathetic

              "I planned my death carefully; unlike my life which meandered along from one thing to another, despite my feeble attempts to control it. My life had a tendency to spread, to get flabby, to scroll and festoon like the frame of a baroque mirror, which came from following the line of least resistance. I wanted my death, by contrast, to be neat and simple, understated, even a little severe, like a Quaker church or the basic black dress with a single strand of pearls much praised by fashion magazines when I was fifteen. No trumpets, no megaphones, no spangles, no loose ends, this time. The trick was to disappear without a trace, leaving behind me the shadow of a corpse, a shadow everyone would mistake for solid reality. At first I thought I'd managed it"

              If that opening paragraph doesn't grab your attention and make you immediately want to rush to read 'Lady Oracle,' I don't know what will. It immediately seems as if this will be a novel drizzled in Atwood's glorious prose and meticulous characterisation, which will have your fingers glued to the page from start to finish.

              Unfortunately, this paragraph also seems to be where 'Lady Oracle' ceases to be an outstanding novel. For all the excitement and intrigue we are promised, very little is actually delivered until the closing hundred pages. The plot begins with a sleepy start; the narrative is split between the main character recounting her childhood and the unfolding tale of her new 'death' in Italy. With the majority of page time being devoted to her back story, this means there is very little fresh development in the plot as until the book nears its end, the scenes in Italy are either of terribly mundane day to day life or the protagonist moping endlessly.

              The protagonist's back story is as dull and drab as her personality. Her one defining trait seems to be that she was a fat child and everything else that occurred obviously happened as a result of her weight. Many of the childhood stories felt like they were recycled from other Atwood novels which didn't help with how tedious many of them seemed. Whilst the descriptive prose is still of Atwood's usual quality, I couldn't bring myself to enjoy the bland tales of a slightly neurotic mother and distant father and the endless petulant whining the main character seems to be able to conjure up.

              The one highlight in these dreary times is the character of Aunt Lou. She is the family wildcard, with her 'inappropriate' ways and modern ideas and is the saviour of the protagonist. She is a genuinely likeable character, with her wise, cryptic ways and her interest in the occult. She helps make these sections more bearable by injecting some fun and humour, helping to keep the pace from grinding to a standstill.

              To anyone who could find the protagonist a sympathetic character, I'm sure these sections would be very enjoyable, as they have obviously been created with Atwood's usual care and attention to detail. However, I felt that it was just too extremely miserable and self-indulgent to be enjoyable and just found myself getting frustrated by the indecisive and passive nature of our heroine.

              One nice and slightly unusual feature of 'Lady Oracle' which also helps save it from mediocrity is the use of a 'novel within a novel.' The secret identity of the main character is that of a 'Costumed Gothics' writer and we get to see the plots of these develop alongside those in the real world. I found these fantastically trashy excerpts incredibly enjoyable and they provide great escapism from the main character's misery-fuelled life, which is exactly the reason she is writing them.

              For all my complaints about the beginning of this novel, it does undergo somewhat of a transformation when the back story begins to lead up to the event of the main character's disappearance. The plot is wonderfully convoluted and it is enthralling to see all the little bits of detail fall into place and reveal the jigsaw of the plot. The pace suddenly awakes to a ferocious rate, mimicking the sudden ascent to fame of the main character. It is at this point that 'Lady Oracle' becomes solid Atwood gold again.

              The ending chapters are what save this book from simply being a the dull tale of a mildly traumatic childhood, falling into a tepid, drab marriage and a dreary life, brightened only by the highlights of what are essentially Mills and Boon novels, to a genuinely gripping drama. I did feel that this made all the patience required to endure every recounting of the tale of the Fat Lady at the circus worth it.

              'Lady Oracle' does develop to be a lot more than just a tale of a woman's life and it is littered with the usual social commentary and symbolism. Although Atwood has certainly given every character a lot of unusual and quirky traits, they do feel a little soulless and flat and the whole story lacks her usual humane touch. It is still one worth reading, albeit with a bit of patience, it just lacks the usual glimmer.

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                28.08.2010 14:31
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                Not the most emotionally easy of reads but still very gripping and worth persevering with

                'The Year of the Flood' tells of a bleak future in which the majority of humanity has been eradicated by a plague and serves as a warning for what rampant consumption of Earth's resources could lead to. It is filled with Atwood's skill at describing the human condition, painted on a dystopic background and here she has created something terrifyingly realistic and moving.

                Each chapter is prefaced with a sermon and hymn from the God's Gardeners, a hippy-ish cult, determined to restore the Earth by living in the most environmentally friendly manner possible. These toe a fine line between being irritating and patronising or as interesting titbits into the dogma of the Gardener's. The chapters are either then told from a 3rd person perspective surrounding Toby, a former gardener waiting out the apocalypse in a health spa, or the younger Ren, who provides a lighter counter part to Toby's grim practicality.

                The split narrative is incredibly effective at creating the desolate feel to this world as each is unaware of the other's existence. Whilst the women have much shared history, it is interesting to see their very different outlooks on this 'cleansed' world and give the new reality Atwood's characteristic human, believable touch. Unfortunately, this combined with the confusing chronology, can mean it is a hard book to come back to. Thankfully, it is a compelling enough read for this not to be an issue but the book definitely demands the readers care and attention.

                The plot assembles itself in patches, revealed through the histories of Ren and Toby. For some, it will seem that the book lacks drive and the reader is stuck waiting for something, much like Ren and Toby, but the characterisation and back story is so compelling that it never feels that nothing is actually taking place. Whilst this book is hardly a sequel to 'Oryx and Crake' and it is hardly required reading for this book, there are nice little gems as you see the entwining from plots and characters in that with 'The Year of the Flood.' It adds another element of complexity to the book and is a nice treat for readers.

                This book provides a wonderfully human insight into the idea of climate change and global disaster, which is all too often lost sight of in a sea of statistics, and Atwood has created a grotesquely beautiful read. This novel seems much less far-fetched than 'Oryx and Crake,' despite sharing the same world, and as a result is a hugely important read for modern times. Whilst the bleak despair she presents us with is not always enjoyable, this is a very worthwhile book and an effective way of reminding us about the situation of our own planet.

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                • Whit - Iain Banks / Fiction Book / 21 Readings / 21 Ratings
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                  11.07.2010 17:55
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                  Not without its flaws but still a very good book. Just a shame it feels partly recycled.

                  Just when you thought the weird world of a certain Mr Banks could get any stranger, along came The Blessed Very Reverend Gaia-Marie Isis Saraswati Minerva Mirza Whit of Luskentyre, Beloved Elect of God III, a Luskentyrian and Leapyearian, with a quest from God to find her wayward Sister Morag, by getting to London via a rubber tube.

                  Sound odd? Welcome to the world of the Luskentyre, a small cult somewhere in Scotland who shun all modern technology. They are forbidden to enter any retail establishment, watch television, or even use a phone. Despite being monetarily poor, the cult is very much rich in character, with every character being rich in all of Bank's usual quirkiness.

                  Banks' characterisation is the gem in this book. Many of the best characters don't come along until later in the book, and are well worth the wait, but Banks bothers to give even the most seemingly minor character a bit of their own soul and background. The creation of the lively cult 'family' does help to give it a bit of credibility, which is somewhat necessary with the mangled mess of tenants in the faith having no internal logic to them, making the whole thing seem a little silly.

                  The journey of Isis on the trail of Morag is full of the usual trials and tribulations. Most of these feel a little trite and horrendously predictable, but the plotline mostly serves as a vehicle for Isis' character development.

                  Unlike some of Banks' other protagonists which come across as more than a bit self absorbed and whiney, Isis is a refreshing, lively change. Her simplistic lifestyle has left her eternally optimistic and free of many of the trivial worries of the Unsaved, and when she chooses to be a bit rebellious, you really do rejoice in those moments. Much of her dialogue is hilarious, unbeknownst to her and her mannerisms really do endear the reader to her. You find yourself cheering along whenever she discovers any new information to help her on her quest. Her hijinks are what make this book such an entertaining read.

                  As well as the fun of seeing her character develop, the book also raises some very interesting questions about the nature of faith and universal truths, as well as more worldly ones about honesty and family values. It follows the usual Banks' formula of a terrible family secret, which the protagonist will unwittingly discover, be forced to question their entire existence over and then all will be resolved.

                  However, Banks' does manage to build the suspense and mystery well throughout the novel. Initially, the reader is as blind as Isis to any possible evil within the cult, but the accumulation of hints that there is something much greater behind it all is subtly and well done. The actual discovery of the 'truth' is more than a little disappointing, and there are a few plot ends there that are never fully resolved and seem forgotten about. It is very interesting though to discover the history behind the cult, and the stories told about it are always very entertaining, which helps to make the main plot arc a little less disappointing.

                  As much as I am a huge Iain Banks fan, there are a few things I dislike about his writing that are particularly apparent in 'Whit.' First is what seems to be his love of 'shock tactics.' The Festival of Love is, as you probably have guessed, an occasion where people are expected procreate as much as possible in the hope of conceiving on the 29th February. Unsurprisingly, this means the sexual aspect of life in the cult is played up greatly and whilst this is important in creating some of the insidious nature of it that Isis has yet to discover, some scenes do feel like Banks was just hoping for a bit of controversy.

                  Without revealing too much, it also feels like the main plot is being strung out at several points. This is a real shame, as the true fun of this book lies not in the plotline, but the hilarity of watching Isis interact with the world of the Unsaved and her subsequent character developments. This alone would have sufficient momentum to carry the book, rather than all the arbitrary situations that arise simply for the sake of furthering the plot.

                  If you can struggle past the bombardment of Scottish place names, the opening chapter which is only ever referred to vaguely and in passing at that, later on in the book and can cope with a bit of weird, then 'Whit' is a great read.

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                    11.07.2010 16:04
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                    Worth the patience you might need for it.

                    A plot description of 'The Wilderness' really does not do justice to what the book is actually about. On the surface, this is an account of an aging architect, Jake, recalling his life story as it disappears to the clutches of Alzheimer's disease. However, with a very clever narrative style, Harvey has created an emotional and outstanding debut novel.

                    This stems from using Jake and his failing memories as the centre point of the novel. Although not in the first person, the reader is fed the story through his increasingly fragmented memories. As the novel proceeds, we can see the deterioration of his condition, and the frustration and confusion left in its wake, as Jake recalls memories the reader has already seen countless times, but with them changing slightly every time he does. It is also very rewarding to finally see the stories behind some of the themes like the yellow dress, that are continually mentioned and only explained later and see how they have shaped Jake's life.

                    This narrative viewpoint makes for a very intense read, as we get to see Jake as a not entirely sympathetic character. By seeing his resentment towards his wife and callousness towards the woman, who has given up everything to be his carer, Harvey adds an element of humanity to the story. After all, who can't identify with the selfish frustrations of a man discovering he can't have it all in life? Whilst he might not be likeable, it certainly makes the reality of Alzheimer's as something anyone could have, hit home.

                    The main problem with this novel is actually 'getting into it.' Whilst the book is a rewarding read and well worth persisting with for a terrific insight into the terror involved in the progression of this disease, the beginning is best described as a mess. It is really difficult to fathom who characters are and their relation to Jake, with the lack of linearity in the book. Memories appear seemingly at random, which, whilst giving some authenticity to the idea of this as an organic memoir, is a bit of a struggle to keep up with at first.

                    The prose also feels a little stale to begin with at first. Harvey does use some brilliant turns of phrase and descriptions, which remind me very much of Lionel Shriver. However, at the beginning of the book, it feels like much of the description is forced and slows down the already tedious process of trying to understand exactly what is happening. However, it does develop well and helps add to the hazy, dream-like atmosphere, where it is unsure as to exactly what is real and what is just the product of a dying brain.

                    Although hardly enjoyable subject matter and an introduction that is a bit of a slog, 'The Wilderness' definitely feels like a very sympathetic account of an awful experience and a brave attempt at tackling very difficult subject matter.

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                  • More +
                    03.05.2010 20:02
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                    Never fails to lose its charm, no matter how often you listen to it

                    The black cover of 'Slow Riot to New Zero Kanda' with its stark Hebrew lettering gives somewhat of an insight into the bleak musical journey inside. Here, GB!YE have crafted half an hour of bittersweet despair, which is both mesmerising and memorable.

                    The first track, Moya, is best described as impossibly beautiful. It is an eleven minute instrumental blending a range of classical and modern instruments to create a mix of motifs which give the piece its driving movement. It is the clever use of repeating themes and the addition of removal of these layers which characterise GB!YE's music and make it so powerfully moving and Moya is the perfect showcase of this. There is never a dull lapse for a second; the more restrained sections build the emotional tension in the piece, paving the way for the busier crescendos.

                    The transition between the two pieces is a seamless blend of the same musical sounds which definitely holds it together as an EP, rather than being a collection of pieces. BBF3 (Blaise Bailey Finnegan III) begins with a spoken word intro telling the tale of one man railing against his speeding ticket. This is accompanied by the gentle whine of violins and a short motif on guitar which is repeated throughout his tale. This stops this section of the song feeling thin and gives it an ethereal quality, which helps convey the 'doom and gloom' of social decay.

                    There is an abrupt pause at the end of this section, before the song begins to build again. There is a lovely swell of distorted guitar and violin before we hear the man's panicking ramblings again before he recites his poem, which is actually the lyrics to Iron Maiden's Virus. The rendition is poor and sounds stilted, which is quite disappointing considering the power of his speaking in earlier sections. Whilst this song lacks a lot of Moya's poignancy, and is probably one of GB!YE's weaker efforts, it is still incredibly captivating and the final section is a great summary of what makes Godspeed's music so wonderful.

                    If you don't mind a little of the weird and wonderful in your music and have the patience to sit through long tracks, then this is a superb EP, even just for Moya alone. Either way, it is worth at least one listen. The desolate atmosphere from start to end makes this album hauntingly memorable.

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                  • Yanagisawa T-992 / Wind Instrument / 12 Readings / 11 Ratings
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                    02.05.2010 18:12
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                    People are saying that Yanagisawa are the Selmer for very good reason and this saxophone shows why

                    As you might have guessed from my review of the A991 I am a huge fan of Yanagisawa saxophones and the T992 is no exception to this. It is with good reason that most people who buy one Yanagisawa sax tend to end up buying the 'family' of them.

                    As with the A991, the T992 comes with the standard Yanagisawa case which is absolutely fantastic. It's nice to see that they have put an extra clip on it as well from the alto version, to ensure it stays firmly shut at all times. The case itself is also fairly light, which is a boon considering the weight of this tenor. The standard mouthpiece is again, nothing fancy, but plays really well and is very versatile.

                    I don't know how they managed to do it, but the action on this sax is phenomenal, making my alto feel sticky and slow in comparison. The keys have such minimal resistance to them that is ridiculously easy to play quick, flowing passages and even the side keys, which can be awkward on many saxophones, are quick and responsive. Apart from the wonderful sound, this is definitely a good reason to buy this saxophone, as even with hours of careful adjustment, I doubt other saxes could manage quite what Yani have here.

                    There is some debate within the saxophone community as to how much difference the material of the saxophone really makes asides from the obvious aesthetic differences. The T992 is solid phosphor bronze, as opposed to the T991 which is brass. Having played both, the differences are possibly too minor to justify the extra few hundred pounds for the bronze finish. I found the bottom register far more powerful on the 992 and the sax has a darker, richer sound all over. The keywork also felt a little better but that is most likely down to the set up of the saxes that I tried. It was subtle, but the richer, warmer sound of the 992 was what sold it over the 991 in the end. However, I really would recommend trying the two side by side (and if you're feeling flashy, the silver and pink gold models as well) to see which one suits your personal playing style.

                    There are a few minor improvements on the 992 as well, such as double arm keys on the low B and C for a bit of added strength. This probably won't make a huge difference to you, unless you're in the habit of bending your keys. I also think the bronze finish makes the saxophone look absolutely magnificent and definitely helps make it stand out from rows of boring, brass saxes.

                    Another highlight of this sax is how free blowing it is. This makes it absolutely effortless to play and means you can play for hours and your jaw will survive. It did take a little bit of time to adjust to this and stop overblowing all the time, in particular I had a little trouble getting used to the top F and F sharp, but your patience will be well rewarded as the sax is wonderfully in tune throughout the register and sounds great at all points. Even the top notes, which I often find found too piercing and cutting on many saxophones, have a smooth, mellow quality to them.

                    My one minor gripe with the saxophone is the weight. Yanagisawas seem to always be a little on the heavy side compared to their counterparts, which isn't such an issue for the smaller saxes in the family but the tenor does start to make my neck ache. Using a harness would probably be a good solution or a better sling. You do get used to it though and I'd imagine for most players it really won't be an issue.
                    Whether this is really worth the extra bit of money to the T991 is entirely up for debate but the sax really does ooze Yanagisawa quality all over. Another nice thing about this range of saxes, is that all the crooks are entirely interchangeable so if it isn't quite the sound you want, you can try it with another crook. I've heard a lot of good things about the solid silver ones in particular on these saxes. It really is entirely worth its price.

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                    • More +
                      01.05.2010 14:29
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                      A fairly good textbook but needs the support of specialised texts and a lot of patience

                      Chemistry3 is designed to be a comprehensive textbook for first year chemistry undergraduates, encompassing the three main areas of study, organic, inorganic and physical. It also includes a 'Maths Toolkit' designed for those either unfamiliar with the A level mathematics required or in need of a refresher.

                      Initially, this sounds ideal, less than forty pounds for the only textbook you will ever need for your first year. Chemistry3 falls quite a long way short of this but still remains a textbook worth buying if you can only afford the one.

                      A lot of thought and effort has gone into the presentation of this book and the authors have definitely kept the target market of the A level to degree transition in mind. The use of colour on the organic mechanisms makes them superbly easy to understand and they are well annotated. Important information is often highlighted down the sides of the page and for those who enjoy seeing the applications of the theory, there are many really interesting boxes which show the very latest in modern applied chemistry.

                      The writing style avoids falling into the trap that many textbooks do of being bland and dense. Wherever possible, the authors have avoiding using 'specialist' terms without a clear definition and explanation of what they mean. This is perfect for the leap from A level books, which are often overly simplistic, to degree level books which are sometimes nigh on incomprehensible without a chemistry dictionary at hand. The style is also very readable which definitely helps if you are just trying to read around a topic.

                      The most frustrating thing about this book, which has led to me wanting to throw it out the window many a time, is the absolutely appalling index. It is so utterly useless that they may as well have saved the three pages and not bothered printing it seeing as it contains nothing more specific than the topic title. It doesn't help that the contents isn't much better. Information can be so hard to find (you will find yourself memorising where sections are for ease of use) that it may as well not be there and if you a looking for a definition or explanation of anything remotely obscure, just give up with Chemistry3. The combined time of going to the library and finding it in another book will still be less than having to trawl through trying to find it here.

                      The book is also short on detail everywhere, which isn't helped by how impossible everything is to find. The spectroscopy section is disappointingly short and apart from the thermodynamics section, most of the physical chemistry is very weak. The inorganic, particularly if you are studying something like main group chemistry, is littered all over the place in no sort of coherent order.

                      The main use I find for Chemistry3 is for a brief overview of a topic, supported by a more specialised text, like Atkin's Physical Chemistry. The explanations are always clear enough to give you a general understanding of a topic and it acts as a good translator for more complicated textbooks. It is also very convenient having at least a small aspect on all topics in one place.

                      Degree level textbooks that try to tackle every aspect of chemistry are unusual and for good reason. Whilst Chemistry3 has an admirable attempt at doing so, and is far from a terrible textbook, it might be worth considering Housecroft and Constable's: An Introduction to Organic, Inorganic and Physical Chemistry, which despite being far inferior for the organic topics, is definitely much better for the inorganic and physical and has an index that might actually help you.

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                        30.04.2010 19:39
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                        Great value buy as it covers a wide range of topics in depth but would be nicer with solutions

                        Certain texts are considered staple parts of certain topics and Atkin's Physical Chemistry is without a doubt one of these. It is with good reason that it is on most lecturers' recommended reading lists and it is well worth a purchase as it is a text that will be your physical chemistry bible not only throughout your undergrad but later on as well.

                        The 8th edition (and presumably any later ones as well) also comes with the bonus of an online activation code which gives you access to an e-book version of the textbook as well as additional resources. This is invaluable as a university student who studies and lives in very different parts of the country as it saves the hassle of lugging what is a very heavy textbook about. There are a lot of additional features on the e-book designed to make note-taking easier though I haven't used these extensively.

                        One of the big highlights in this book, which a surprising number of texts lack, is a comprehensive index and contents. No matter how specific what you are looking for is, it can usually easily be found. This is a great time saver when trying to do research.

                        Explanations of concepts are generally of very high quality and wherever possible, practical, real world examples are also employed. This makes the thermodynamics sections very enjoyable. The derivations are also clearly presented though sometimes they can make too many assumptions in one step making them a little hard to follow. The depth and detail of the explanations are very enjoyable for students looking for a challenge or with a real interest in the topic at hand. For physical chemistry enthusiasts, who are confident and comfortable with mathematics, it is a rewarding read but may be too detailed for those who just want a quick, simple answer to a query.

                        The book is littered with example problems which are beneficial for exam practice. Frustratingly, instead of including full worked answers for every problem, there are only a smattering of numerical solutions. There is a 'solutions manual' available but at additional cost. I can understand the need to keep what already is a very weighty textbook lighter, but the price of the solutions manual feels more like it is just an attempt to leech extra money from the student's pocket.

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