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I've been trying to read a bit more classic literature lately after tiring of the constant holiday style books I had been reading so I bought For Whom the Bell Tolls but it took nearly a year before I actually started the novel. I had heard of Ernest Hemmingway more for his famous masculine view on life etc.
For whom the bell tolls tells the story of Robert Jordan an American who is fighting for the republicans against the fascists during the Spanish Civil war, he is an academic working in Montana lecturing on Spain and Spanish lifestyle. He is young, idealised and has become through the war an accomplished bridge destroyer and an expert in the use of explosives. The novel stars with Jordan entering the mountains with a mission to destroy a key strategic bridge, to cross the mountains he must rely on the local peasants and gypsy's to guide him over the passes. During the journey he meets a beautiful peasant girl called Maria and a number of the leading anti-fascist fighters, he takes part in an execution of captured fascists and the book concludes with the attack on the bridge.
This book after I'd read engaged from the beginning, it starts with an idealised young man and describes his view of the war, the war appears to be slipping from the republican grasp and of course we know from our history that Franco's fascists will ultimately win. The novel is terrific when scenes of violence are acted out, whether its the killing of captured fascists or the attack on the bridge but is also surprisingly emotive when describing Jordans relationship with Maria and the other peasants. It never slips into parody or comedy and is through a tense and terse novel. I enjoy it, I enjoyed the writing style which isn't too heavy on words and the story does flow along at a reasonable rate. I think I'll be giving Hemmingway another chance but might have a bit of a break as the book took nearly a month to read.
About 2 months ago after a very long day I came back to find that my fridge had given up the ghost,it was a fridge freezer so after rescuing as much as possible we had to buy a new fridge-freezer. However, after living with a fridge-freezer for ten years we decided to take the plunge and buy a fridge and a freezer, yes it costs more but the increase in capacity is very useful. So we went to a well-known electrical shop and bought a proline fridge and a separate freezer, the fridge is a stand-alone five foot white fridge. The fridge when it came was a right opening fridge but the space we put it into really needed a left opening fridge so the first thing was to unhinge the door and put it on so it opened from the left, there were instructions in how to do this in the manual and it took about 30 minutes. The fridge comes as four large shelves and at the bottom a couple of containers for vegetables, fruit etc. These are under a glass sheet which the fourth shelf of the fridge. In the door are compartments for eggs at the top, then four more shelves for bottles, condiments etc before a bit shelf at the bottom which will hold 4 2L milk cartons (trust me I''ve checked, we have 3 kids and go through a lot of milk). The capacity of the fridge is the main selling point, we can comfortably fit a weeks worth of perishable goods for a household of 5 and still have capacity for weekend essentials like white wine, chocolate and beer. The fridge cost around 250, which I think is good value for a large fridge and it certainly reduces the change of both your fridge and freezer going down at the same time if you split them apart. The unit we have is white but they come in grey and I think black. The motor isn''t too large but we did have to make sure the fridge is absolutely level as it makes a constant low level buzzing if slightly at an angle. Overall, we haven''t had a problem with the fridge, it keeps the food fresh and doesn''t over freeze, it has a run-off at the bottom which is supposed to keep the fridge from excessive frosting.
The iphone 5c is my new phone, this is my first iphone and after only a very short period of time I have become a huge iphone fan. My motives for getting a iphone were that my ipod at the time decided to break, I wanted to have access to my email all the time and I wanted a more intuitive phone for use in general. So I chose to obtain the iphone 5c on a 24 month contract for 33 pounds a month, in that I received 1000 free texts, 500 MB internet and unlimited calls. So far only the internet allowance has been anywhere near exhausted. I chose blue as my iphone colour. The phone arrived and I had considerable trouble getting the tiny iphone sim card into the back of the card, I think its actually a lot easier than I made it but was confused about waiting for my existing phone number to transfer over. Anyway once everything was set-up I could use the phone, the phone comes with a swipe across access and a 4 digit pin number. Once entering the phone there is a bottom bar which contains phone, mail, safari and music and is separate from the rest of the functions. The first page of the functions contains weather, clock, messaging, date, camera, photos, game center and App store. Upon uploading an app, you need to set-up a password and the app downloads and is updated automatically. I think the main advantage of the phone is the multiple combinations of use, so music can be playing, google earth directing and you can still text and play a game. Overall, from a standing start of not believing the hype behind Iphone''s I have become an instant lover of the technology, easy to use, easy to install things and an ability to stay in touch wherever you are are essential for modern living.
In a house with heavy kindle use, battery life is an issue so we bought a powercharger and now we can power the kindle from flat to fully charged in about an hour. The charger comes as a large black plug which fits into any standard socket and you attach to the kindle at the base of the plug using a kindle charger connection. The charger cost around 12 pounds from Amazon and should be standard issue on all kindles in my opinion, as the normal charger they send is all but useless except to charge overnight. The only downside to the charger is that it can be used to charge mobile phones and if used will severely damage the life of your mobile battery, not a problem with my last phone which barely survived 4 hours without being recharged but if you''ve got a nice new shiny one keep is well away from the supercharger. I''d recommend buying one if your kindle is in constant use, it prevents children crying because they can''t play there favourite games and with about a meter long extension cord can be used and the kindle played with at the same time. Overall a very nice product, the only slight issue is that the connector to the kindle is in the plug itself which maybe a slight safety issue with children and the problem with mobiles as i mentioned. I''d recommend having the supercharger plugged in well away from any other charger and then just use it on the kindle.
Perdido street station is a fantasy novel written by English author China Mieville, it tells of a city New Crobozon and the struggles of a scientist Isaac,to research flight with dire consequences. New Crobozon is a city of terror, controlled by a military junta and containing multiple races it is a seething gaggle or life. Entering this life is a crazy bird like creature who asks Isaac to find out a way for him to fly, Isaac approaches this by studying every creature which can fly naturally. Isaac is engaged to a beautiful insect like creature Lin, Lin has been commissioned to paint a picture of the cities new mayor. Enter a huge caterpillar, a supply of psychedelic drugs and we have a classic when things go out of control quickly scenario. Perdido street station is the train station at the heart of the city and also the administrative center for the government and a shadowy other tower, Isaac''s soon go very wrong and he unleashes something terrible into the city. Isaac is the main character and we observe the majority of the book through his eyes, he''s intelligent, slightly naive and prone to melancholy. He connects the two sides of the story, the escaped moths from the huge caterpillar, Lin and her painting and the rise of intelligent artificial light. This book is how fantasy should be written, forget knights, wizards, this is fantasy for the steam-punk audience, hard edged, rather socialist and with no time for spells or dragons. There is a fair pinch of horror and a fair dash of gothic terror but the author weaves a magical story of a city on the edge of destruction. Perdido street station comes in at over 800 pages but I read the whole book in just over a weekend, it engages, speeds along when needed and pauses when required, a grand epic which doesn''t disappoint.
Bernard Cornwell has been one of my favourite authors for a long time, I''ve read his Sharpe series of novels set during the Napoleonic wars but haven''t previously read anything else by him.
Harlequin is a novel set during the 100 years way between England and France, more specifically this novel is set in 1347 and covers the famous battle of Crechy. The main character is an English archer called Thomas of Hooton, in which the book begins with a French raid on his coastal village and the death of his father the priest. His father just before he dies tells Thomas that they are related to a French family called the Vexilles and that the family knows the whereabouts of a famous relic.
Thomas doesn''t take much account of this but goes over to France to fight in the army of Edward III and to try and find the people responsible for the attack on his village. He is young, well educated for his time and position in society but also highly skilled with the bow, he is also garrulous, has a bit of a temper and hates all the knights and upper echelons of society. The book is split into separate sections, starting with England, then Normandy, Britanny etc and pretty much ends with the battle of Crechy.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the book, there is plenty of battle descriptions, fighting, and all these Bernard Cornwell does brilliantly. We have seiges, beautiful women, boorish knights and plenty of intrigue. The characters are a bit one-dimensional, all the archers are solid men of oak style Englishman and the knights are well armed upper class idiots with virtually no brain.
This is the first book in a series which up to the minute is 4 books, all set in this period, they are loosely termed the Grail quest but really that is only a small component of the novels and is used more as a narrative thread between battles. I enjoyed the book and so I''m reading the sequel.
I''ve been going through a bit of a Stephen King re-acclimatisation over the last year or so, I like many readers went through a Stephen King phase in my late teenage/early twenties and read some of his most iconic books such as It, tommyknockers etc but then didn''t read anything else of his for 15 years or more. So when the sequel to The Shining came out I bought both the original which I hadn''t read before and the sequel Doctor Sleep and vowed to read them without referring to the movie which Stephen King hated anyway.
Jack, Wendy and their son Dan Torrance are left to look after an old hotel high in the mountains of Colorado where Jack is overcome by the malignant spirit of the hotel and Dan becomes aware of an ability or the shining which allows him to perceive a world beyond the normal. It all ends messy but if you haven''t read it, please do.
Doctor Sleep continues the story of Dan Torrance, the young boy in the original shining and what had happened to him over the last 30 years or so, starting a few years after the events of the shining (which happens in the late 70''s), we first meet Dan as an alcoholic vagrant travelling between towns, earning money as it comes, drinking way too much, taking drugs and having one night stands. One of these encounters profoundly affects Dan and he vows to go dry when he arrives at the next town on his journey. Meanwhile, a group of what looks on the surface as middle aged travellers called the True Knot are moving around America in battered mobile homes, finding and killing children with what they say as the source (or the shining), this they use to mutate away from their human condition into something else. The story skips a decade or so, but introduces a baby Abra who seems to have incredible power and a shining which extends beyond the mental and into the physical moving of objects etc.
Abra and Dan become friends through varied long distant messaging and the True Knot and still travelling the country looking for victims, the stage is set for the two sides to battle it out and for Dan to return to the site of the original novel.
The shining is one of the great supernatural novels of the 20th century, it perfectly en-captures the loneliness and isolation of life and how things can go badly wrong. Doctor Sleep moves away from a very tight setting to describe a world where people have a special ability and a pack of hunters who feed on that ability. This is implied in the original novel, Bill Hallorhan who makes Danny the little boy aware for the first time that the shining exists also hints at others less friendly who also use the powers.
This has a more adventurous edge than the original, there is a sense of good versus evil and it reminded me a lot of American Gods by Neil Gaiman where there is a world separate to the normal where groups play out their power struggles in a seemingly modern setting. Here we have middle-aged mobile home who hide in the main stream whilst taking kids with the talent for their own needs and against them are Dan Torrance who works in a hospice and helps the very old to make the step over when there time has come. We have all of Stephen King''s storytelling skills; his ability to move the story along very slowly at some points but also with lightning movement at other times and not loses the ability to capture the reader. The novel doesn''t have the dread sense of doom which the Shining had with Jack Torrance''s story or the brooding presence of the hotel which was the back-drop for that but it retains the reader though-out and lets us all know what happened to that little boy in the possessed hotel.
World war Z is a film starring Brad Pitt as a UN fixer called Gerry Lane, who whilst with his family in Philadelphia is caught up in the first wave of zombie attacks. From a situation where normal life appears to be ordinary and safe, one journey into Philadelphia changes the families life forever. Suddenly people are attacking other people, who once bitten turn into creatures whose only goal is to bite and kill 'normal' humans.
Gerry, his wife and two young daughters escape this first wave and after contacting a senior politician in the US are offered the chance to be air-lifted onto a aircraft carrier away from the wave of zombie attacks which are affecting the major cities in Europe and the US.
Gerry manages to evade the zombies and is picked up from a skyscraper, his family is offered berths on the airship as long as Gerry goes out into the field to try and work out what is causing this infection.
That's the premise of the movie, obviously I don't want to go into it in too much detail as you don't need to know everything what happens in the film. I missed the film at the cinema but borrowed the DVD from a friend and watched at home. Firstly I'd heard mixed reviews about the film but personally found the film a decent watch. Brad Pitt is a far better actor than he's given credit for and in general hold the film together, his sense of why me but with the combat knowledge to make the mission a success works well in the film.
There are still some parts of the film which were a bit silly, Jerusalem builds a huge wall around itself because it learns of the possibilities of zombie which seems a bit far-fetched and it is brought down because they have the sound system on too loud. The zombies in this film are a very different zombies from those slow moving shambling creatures encountered in the classic Dawn of the Dead or the satirical Shawn of the Dead, these are fast moving, superhuman with capacity for surviving horrendous wounds and having a repulsive twitching movement with their heads and hands.
The finale was for me the best part of the film, a gothic horror plane crash, followed by a creepy trip through a Welsh WHO facility and a solution of sorts. The ending has divided opinion but I loved it as it gave us a bit of slow time with the zombies after the helter-skelter pace through the first 90 minutes of the film, this was slow, deliberately so, and a face to face meeting with a zombie.
After watching the film I was looking forward to the supposed sequel and that's a good thing surely? It also made me write my first review on Dooyoo for 2 months and that's got to be a good thing!
The Dark Tower is the final novel in the Gunslinger series of novels by Stephen King (aside from the recent standalone novel), in this book we accompany Roland Deschain to the Dark Tower. This is the final book in a series of books which began in the 1970's and was finished in 2004.
Stephen king is one of the best known authors currently writing, his novels have been cornerstones of horror and supernatural genre since the early 70's. His books have been turned into films (The Shining, Green Mile, Carries, Misery) or TV productions such as Under the Dome or The Tommyknockers.
The Dark Tower
This is the seventh book in the series which tells of the journey of the last gunslinger Roland Deschain as he journeys to find the Dark Tower, along the way he has gained a posse from different time-points of a modern New York City. At the beginning of this novel, Susanna is pregnant with Roland's/the demon on the train from an earlier novel and Roland is travelling with Eddie a former drug user, Jake a boy he killed in the first novel but then re-found from an earlier period of Jakes life and Oy a kind of odd dog/weasel animal from mid-world. The previous novel ended with the realisation that the way to the Dark Tower is controlled by the growth of a wild rose on a desolate building site in New York, with this realisation and the imminent birth of Susanna's child we begin the long final journey.
I've been reading these novels over the last calendar year so the long-time gap wasn't an issue for me, there is a substantial gap between the fourth and fifth novels and during that period Stephen King suffered a serious car accident and nearly died. However, in this novel Stephen King uses that brush with death to explain the long gap and uses the accident as a prop to explain parts of Roland's journey.
This novel being the last has the awkward task any last book must have of tying up loose ends and bringing the story to a satisfying conclusion, we know at the beginning that Susanna's child is going to be a monster so when it is born and turns into a kind of human/spider combination that its birth will be the start and its presence will give pace and focus for this book. The child is called Mordred and Stephen King tries to link him to the legends of Arthur with Roland the child's aim, as the story unfolds it will be used as a shock element because it kills in both dark and horrifying ways.
This is the end and as the book progresses we finish certain storylines and begin others, Eddie, Jakes, Susanna and Oy's stories all come to a conclusion before the very end. This book is the last and was probably my favourite in the series, there is a pace to the story that doesn't let up, and there are the chapters over saving Stephen king's life, the presence of Mordred and the final walk of Roland to the Dark Tower and his final battle with the Crimson King. The ending well its suitably complex and I thought it was fitting. There are gunfights, love scenes, scenes of supernatural horror, humour and an increasingly complex web of stories but throughout there is the presence of the last gunslinger the hero of the stories Roland, he gives the stories a bleak humour but the reader is always on his side despite being a hard edged complex character.
This was a great finish to one of the best multi book series of sci-fi/fantasy novels and the only reason I didn't start from the beginning again and read them all through again is the sheer weight of pages that would involve but maybe in a year or two I'll re-read them and spot all the complex web of storylines I missed the first time around.
The first apostle is a crime thriller by the author James Becker and it tells the story of a murder of an English woman in an Italian country house, the murder starts an investigation which tells of ancient deception at the heart of the Catholic Church.
The book starts with a hint at something complex and hidden at the centre of the beginnings of the Catholic Church, we have hints at a secret pact between St. Peter and St. Paul but the truth is of course not revealed. When an English woman is murdered during a botched housebreak we known that there is a shadowy intrigue in operation, the woman's husband asks Chris Bronson a policeman to help him unravel his wife's death so they travel to Italy.
Meanwhile, the men who have broken into the woman's house are looking for clues to an ancient document and have a contact in the highest echelons of the Vatican; everything is set up for a classic Dan Brown style adventure with plenty of obscure clues, old documents and the unearthing of an ancient conspiracy.
It all depends how much these type of grand conspiracy novels which have been spawned by the success of the Da Vinci code, if you love them then this is just up your street if you consider them vacuous drivel clogging up good book shops shelves then this isn't for you. Saying that I'm not really a fan of the genre but don't mind occasionally reading something which once started tends to draw the reader along and you can read the book pretty quickly, and once finished tend to be eminently forgettable.
This book is of my admittedly small experiences of this genre one of the better stories and has a decent plot with at least a credible hero figure or figures in this case as Chris' ex-wife Angela becomes heavily involved. Chris Bronson is a bit of a dull and solid character and has a tendency to jump rather spectacularly to conclusions which happen to be correct; he also has a tendency to have the required skills to get out of any scrapes he gets into. This is explained as he has a military background but he seems to have all the skills you would need for counter-espionage, steak outs, and other clandestine activities. His ex-wife Angela is an expert in pottery and works for the British museum but is also an expert in everything else, Latin, Occitan, ancient manuscripts, medieval history etc.
The book does have an understandable narrative though, there are a series of clues all solved in at least reasonable jumps of logic, there are shadowy figures who propel the story along if the action starts to ebb and you suspect that if they'd done the story would have ended as their actions sometimes drives Chris and Angels onwards.
There are however a few issues, Chris is involved in a gun fight at the very start of the book but then decides not to tell the Italian authorities based on no realistic reasons beyond a need to keep him in the storyline and allow for him to become a fugitive at some point later on in the book. I finished the book and enjoyed the story, the conspiracy and conclusion was at least plausible and the writer had clearly done a fair degree of background reading.
The Prague cemetery is the latest novel by Italian novelist Umberto Eco; in it he explores the attitudes and beliefs of 19th century French/Italian societies.
Umberto Eco is best known for the name of the rose, a murder mystery set in the 14th century which was turned into a film starring Sean Connery, it has been described as the best non-English novel of the last 30 years.
The Prague cemetery is one of those rare books which is hard to define, it is first person perspective throughout but the first person shifts as the narrator is suffering from some kind of mental angst and constantly worries over his memory and what happens when he sleeps. The main character Simone Simonini is the only main character which is fictional, all the rest are real historical characters and through Simone's eyes we meet such figures as Freud, Dumas, Garibaldi and others who I've never heard off but are real people. Simone's character is one of a secret policeman working for a shadowy government office, he is convinced that the uproar and state of chaos existing on France, Italy and other European countries at the time is the cause of Jewish influence, the book is rife with Simone's anti-Semitism. Throughout the novel there are numerous black and white drawings of the people Simone meets as he weaves a web of deceit and deception through the upper echelons of mainly French society.
The novel is strange in some ways as it begins in 1897 with Simone writing a diary after some kind of mental problem, and his memory of the past is hazy or selectively forgetful shall we say, he seems to remember everything he did which he thinks is laudable but anything less pleasant is caused by a shadowy alter-ego a priest called Abbe Dalla Piccola. Through Simone's undercover work and the machinations of a Catholic priest we have a story covering free masonry, devil worship, Jewish world domination, and subversive communists and anarchists.
I don't have a lot of prior knowledge over the problems facing France and Italy in the middle of the 19th century, I've heard of Garibaldi but mainly if I was truthful I'd think of the biscuit first and Dreyfuss and Napoleon III but the wars between France and Prussia I've only scant knowledge off and the pogroms meted out to the Jews only vague insights. So this novel at least gives a bit more details off what was happening on the continent whilst Britain was slowly creating a huge empire overseas, the conflicts and fights on the Continent are covered in detail but the British are for once in a novel of that period barely mentioned.
My favourite character though is one I'd never heard of before this novel, the master hoaxer of his day Leo Taxil, he wrote fake books trying to make it appear that the Jews where secretly influencing Western governments and persuaded journalists that there was a underwater city in Lake Geneva. In this novel, he is treated kindly at first by Simone but slowly becomes a hindrance before Simone has a hand in his downfall.
Overall, this is a complex novel; it moves between 1897 and backwards and has a main character with a split personality. It was at times a challenging read and some of the reading material is unpleasant at best, there are unsettling sections and the main character is one of the least pleasant characters I've encountered. However, it does compel and the author manages to weave an enjoyable and intriguing novel around a series of complex and strange encounters. The ending is suitably odd and gives plenty of food for thought.
After reading the novel, I was still a bit vague on what the Prague cemetery actually is I think it refers to the hoaxing of a meeting in Prague of senior European Jews but I suspect I might have missed something in one of the chapters explaining its context and certainly struggled to understand Simone's interest in it.
This is a review of the ipod nano 8GB, mine is black unlike the one depicted here, it is my third ipod and it would be true to say I love ipods. Anyway enough self-appraisal, what can be said about a gadget which will probably define the 2000's just like a Walkman defined the 80's or the portable CD player the 90's?
Ipods are the market leaders in personal music providers but now offer far more for than just a platform for music, the system requires the user to have their music as mp3 files stored in a file server called itunes. The ipod once attached to the itunes server can be easily modified for the music it can play, alongside any music from albums; the user can download a lot of material from the internet called podcasts. Podcasts are a form of data file which the user can download automatically upon subscribing to a website and the itunes directory downloads the latest file automatically.
Use of the ipod nano
My latest ipod is a nano, it is tall and thin rather than the previous versions which have been squarer shaped, the ipod is characterised by the screen at the top and the ipod wheel at the bottom of the machine. The screen is approximately an inch square, and is in colour with a 3D element for file searches, the scrolling for files or albums means that the album or podcasts art work can be seen which adds a nice colourful touch, especially for this user who can remember vinyl album covers.
As with all ipod's the ease of use is the key selling point, it is easy to use the scroll wheel to look up the file you require, starting with the first page the user can look for music, podcasts, change the time or date, photos or can go straight into shuffling songs rather than scrolling for a particular album or singer. If the user picks music he can choose between types of music, all the music by one artist, specific albums or just one song the choice is theirs. If the user is a podcast fanatic like me, then the podcasts often come with artwork and can be easily selected for. One useful tool is if the user wants to listen to something in chronological or release order, if the user clicks on the artist or podcast and presses the play button on the bottom wheel the ipod wil start from the earliest file in that directory and play on from there, if the user goes into the file directory then the files will start from the first one on the list and go from there (if this is a podcast then it will be the latest edition).
This ipod differs from the previous ipods in that it has an integrated and user friendly radio which can be accessed if the user inserts headphones and selects for a radio station, this feature is new to me and is useful whilst travelling on the train or bus. There are better acoustics and screen resolution so the ability to watch a film or TV programme is much improved compared with earlier models.
Overall, once again happy with my ipod, I think it's the best personal music provider on the market at the moment. I suspect though that its time is starting to come to a natural conclusion and that with the advent of music on mobile phones that a dedicated music device will be a thing of the past inside the next 10 years or so but we will see.
Barnaby Rudge is one of Charles Dickens less well known novels and is set unusually for Dickens in the past as would have been when Dickens wrote the novel. As with all Dickens novel's the book was originally serialised in a magazine before compiling into the accredited version of Barnaby Rudge. This novel covers the Gordon Riots of 1780, and features real historical characters again a rarity in Dickens novels.
Charles Dickens - Charles Dickens was a 19th century English writer who is considered by many as the greatest writer in the English language, his books tend to be criticisms of the times he lived in and drew people attentions to the problems of the poor and oppressed in England at the time.
The Gordon Riots were instigated by Lord George Gordon as a response to government relaxing rules on Catholics in England in 1780; the rioters took to the streets and caused severe damage before being suppressed.
Barnaby Rudge is centred around an inn called the Maypole, where on a cold and blustery night Solomon Daisy a drinker at the inn tells a stranger about the murder of a local man Reuben Haredale 22 years previously. After the murder, Reuben's gardener and steward were missing, the steward was later found murdered but the gardener was never found and assumed to be the guilty man. That same night, a local locksmith Gabriel Varden is accosted on the road near the inn, fending off the attacker he reaches the inn and tells everyone his story.
Barnaby Rudge is a youngman who is either simple or naïve enters the story with his pet raven, his mother is protecting a mysterious man and the pair leaves to go to London. At this point the story moves forward 5 years when Solomon Daisy meets three mysterious men on the road, he soon learns that one of the men is the leader of the anti-Catholic movement Lord Gordon. The story moves to London and depicts the riot which ensues when parliament passes the movement to liberate Catholics in England; this includes the burning of the Newgate prison and the storming of the city treasury.
I've been reading fairly standard thrillers lately, they are fun to a degree and don't require any real emotional attachment so can be read and forgotten in equal measure. After reading yet another grand conspiracy novel I felt the need for something more long lasting and solid for my next novel so after a bit of a debate I decided to read Barnaby Rudge. I've read a couple of Dickens' novels before (Bleak House, Pickwick papers and Oliver Twist) but this novel was unknown to me as I haven't seen an on-screen adaptation and had no idea what the Gordon Riots actually were. Anyway this is one of Dickens early novel and is a difficult one to describe in terms of what it actually is, it's certainly historical but there are elements of love, violence and humour so a romantic historical novel, you can't describe a Dickens novel like that can you?
There is certainly romance and love in the novel, Joe Willett son of the owner of the Maypole loves Daisy Varden daughter of the locksmith but leaves to find his fortune and comes back lacking an arm. Edward Chester (the stranger in the inn at the start of the novel) falls in love with the niece (Emma) of the murdered man; his father is the main parliamentarian opposed to the Catholic bill, Emma's uncle Geoffrey is one of the leading Catholics at that time, Edward quarrels with Geoffrey and leaves for the West Indies.
This is Dickens first historical novel, he knows that he has to get his characters in place by a certain time because the riots happen on a specific set of dates in 1780, he starts the novel in and around 1775 but leaves himself 5 years to allow for off-screen character development but introduces all the main characters in the first 5 chapters. He uses a fictional murder of a local established gentleman to introduce all of the main characters through meetings in and around the local inn to the murders, the inn is then used as an occasional sparring point for the novel but the events move to the capitol along with all of the main characters. There is a special kind of skill in which the author moves the reader with the story, in only one or two chapters the story can change fundamentally from sitting around a fire at the Maypole to breaking down the walls of NewGate prison.
The tone of the book is also open to debate, the events are told in a straightforward manner with little or no bias towards one viewpoint or the other. I read the book and at no point did I spot a bias towards Protestantism or Catholicism, maybe Dickens is just too good an author for the reader to spot it?
Overall, this is a wonderful novel, the movement and pace of the book is perfect from intimate conversations to wide-scale rioting and fighting, the plot is well thought out and the characters superbly described. Barnaby Rudge is sometimes called one of Dickens lesser novels, don't believe it for a second, this is storytelling at its very best, the only stories better are probably other Dickens novels. My favourite section the description of Gabriel Vardens waspish lady in waiting Miggs, described by Dickens as the only thing Gabriel wished had never stepped foot in his house and that included his overbearing wife.
Footnote - Lord George Gordon was arrested after the riots but treated kindly, he was allowed to leave NewGate after a spell of 5 years in comfortable quarters. However, he then underwent a period of soul searching and became a Jew, after rabble rousing again he was attained and thrown back into NewGate prison for refusing to remove his hat in court. Whilst at NewGate in 1793 he contracted typhoid and refusing treatment died in the prison.
Winter of the world is the second part of the century trilogy written by British author Ken Follett, it follows the Fall of Giants and is set from the early 1930's to the end of the Second World War. This book tells the story of the war using the descendants of the characters from the first novel; they are all placed at strategic places during the 13 years or so of the story and give first hand depictions of the war.
Ken Follett is best known for his Pillars of the Earth and World Without End novels, they were set in the 13th-14th century and tell the story of a building of a cathedral and the development of the town. The first novel has been acknowledged as one of the best historical novels of the last 30 years and was made into a successful TV series a couple of years ago. His novels tend to have a strong left leaning bias and his villains tend to be right wing authoritarian figures with little regard for the common man.
Winter of the World
Winter of the World begins in 1933 with the rise of the Nazi's in Germany, in the previous novel we met a series of characters but one of them (Maud) moved to Germany to live with her husband and leave the claustrophobic and high handed behaviour of her brother the Earl of an estate in South Wales. The sections in the book set in Germany are told through the eyes of Maud's daughter Carla and tells of Nazi oppression and the fight for equality within the German nation at that time. The Earl in the previous novel had a son after an affair with a housemaid, this housemaid eventually becomes a sitting MP and her son Lloyd is probably the main character in the novel. Lloyd is Welsh, intelligent, belligerent and a fervent Socialist, through his eyes we see the struggles of the British army as well the struggles of the working class during the war.
Other characters are an American physicist, a Russian secret policeman, an American heiress all marry or are descended from characters in the previous novel. Through their eyes we see the major events of the war, Pearl Harbour, Invasion of Russia, the conferences between Churchill, Stalin, Roosevelt, the holocaust, Japanese brutality, the Manhattan project etc.
Ken Follett books are heavy on the inequalities of Western societies and have a tendency to demonise the wealthy landowners and decision makers against those who have few rights and no voice of their own. This book is no different, all of the characters are firmly left leaning and have a more temperate view on the nature of their less tolerant right wing foes. This is ok in parts but the joy of the first novel was the inclusion of the Earl as a main character, he was bigoted, unpleasant but gave an edge to the story that this novel doesn't have. We have his other son (always called Boy in this book) as a character but his behaviour is viewed through the eyes of his wife, or his half-brother, it would have been fun to have included him and given the book an additional dimension. There is an American physicist/politician whose storyline could easily have been reduced as most of the time his story is a bit boring but he's kept in just so the book has an eye witness to the bombing of Pearl Harbour and the Manhattan project.
There isn't anything particularly alarming or insightful about how Ken Follett tells the tale of the Second World War, its all very linear in its telling and there aren't any deviations from the now standard telling of the war. We have a story which features the main events of the war, in a way the scale of the story doesn't give space for a more intimate dramatic version of events, we are given a bit on the fate of the Germans in Berlin but no real cohesion as the number of characters used does require that the story jumps forward quite quickly between sections with the same character.
I enjoyed the novel, Ken Follett has a light and engaging writing style which keeps the reader interested without overdoing the prose, the book comes in at over 900 pages but it bounds along and you can read it in a week or so without too many problems. I suspect the third novel will be about the Cold war and will feature the children of the characters in this novel but we will wait and see.
Pampered chef is an American cooking implements company whose remit is for consultants to go to people's homes and present the range of cooking products and the guests buy whatever they feel like (my wife is a consultant).
Anyway last month Pampered Chef sent my wife the above Sandwich sealer and we have given the product a decent test.
How to use the sealer
Make a sandwich as normal, the bread has of course to be bigger than the sandwich sealer. Then with your fingers press down in the centre roughly where the sealer is going to sit. Apply pressure on the sealer and twist very slightly, this will squeeze the bread together and give the edges a crimpled effect and seal inside the contents of the sandwich. Once happy, press the central plunger and the sealer pushes the sandwich out of the mold giving a circular sandwich. The sandwich looks a little like a large mince pie in some aspects, it is slightly flatter than a normal sandwich and has a crimped finish around the edge. The sandwich can then be eaten or can be toasted and made into a toasted sandwich.
The sealer costs £10. It is made of high quality stainless steel and can be operated by children as young as 4 (with supervision obviously, we can testify to the 4 year old).
The sealer makes making and eating sandwiches fun, it certainly gave our two young boys lots of laughs when we first tried the gadget. The sandwiches do fit rather nicely into your hand, and the process of making the sandwich, made the boys more interested in eating the sandwiches and being in the kitchen in general. The toasting was a bit of a disaster first time around because you have to ensure that the sandwich is totally sealed before putting it into a standard toaster, it just about works but the edges do tend to lift if toasted for too long. This is a bit of problem as the butter inside will then run out!
The main negative is the waste of bread, it you are using a square piece of bread then you probably only use about 60-70% of the bread leaving lots of off-cuts and crusts. You could use a round loaf which would reduce this waste. The other is the toasting element which didn't really work and the mess making the sandwiches create, I couldn't imagine making hundreds of little sandwiches as small canapes which the products suggests as a use of the gadget.
Overall a fun if a little limited product, at £10 a rather expensive gadget at best, if you are going to a pampered chef party and feel the need to buy something just to be polite I'd recommend the potato masher (absolutely fantastic) or the magic whisk.