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lady_natalie

lady_natalie
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Member since: 25.08.2009

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      27.08.2010 22:57
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      a much better vampire film than the rubbish coming out lately!

      Cirque du Freak: The Vampires Assistant is based on a series of books, The Saga of Darren Shan which is incredibly popular and is written as though Darren Shan himself has written them and is as such credited as the author. This is quite a long series now, so I assume that the film is based on the first few books in it. I have actually read the first one which I didn't actually like very much. It only covered how the film started off, but I thought it was pretty blandly written and so even though it was quite short found it pretty hard to read. That may have something to do with the series seeming to be aimed at adolescent boys, and myself being a 25 year old girl. However, I really liked the look of the trailer to this film, I have a bit of a thing for old fashioned styled circuses and old freak shows, so this looked like just my kind of thing!

      PLOT

      Darren Shan and his best friend Steve are leaving school one day when they find a leaflet for a travelling freak show, a show they can't miss! So they sneak out at night to go. Steve and Darren watch mesmerized, until Steve, a vampire fanatic recognises one of the performers as a vampire which he has seen in his books. However, all Darren cares about is the amazing spider in his act, madam Octa. After the show Darren finds his way into the dressing areas and steals Madam Octa, but is almost caught by her vampire handler Larten Crepsley. He manages to hide and over sees his friend Steve come in and confess to Crepsley that he knows he's a vampire, and asks if he can make him one too! Crepsley refuses, saying he has evil in his blood. The two boys escape but their lives have already changed drastically. Darren takes Madam Octa to school, where she escapes and bites Steve, sending him into a coma. The only thing that Darren can do is go to see Crepsley and ask him for an antidote, but his condition of giving it to Steve is that Darren becomes his new apprentice, a part vampire. Although Steve's life is saved he is furious when he finds out that Darren has taken his place.

      Darren must leave his friends, family and his entire life, faking his death to rise from his coffin, to go and live with the other freaks from the circus. He makes friends with the other freaks, especially a snake boy and monkey girl, and settles in. But soon an old enemy of Crepsley appears, Mr Tiny, who wants to take Darren away with him, reasoning that by turning him into his assistant Crepsley has broken an old truce that vampires should not harm any of their victims - Crepsley doesn't not kill those who he takes blood from. However, the Vampaneze do, and the vampires have been against this for centuries. Here starts a battle between the two kinds of vampires, and when Darren discovers that Steve is on the opposing side, things become even more complicated!

      OPINION

      There really are a lot of vampire books and films out at the moment and I'm really starting to get bored of them, not that I ever liked them in this first place. Average girl falling in love with a vampire really can't get more boring for me! But this is a completely different take on the average vampire story that seems to be getting churned out by everyone possible. Also, according to wikipedia the first Darren Shan book was released in 2000, so this is obviously not just jumping on the band wagon.

      Characters

      As the books are aimed at adolescent boys, so the film is too. But saying that, I think it is quite watchable for a wider variety of age ranges too (and for girls, obviously!). It is a bit silly at times, but I like that is doesn't take itself too seriously. Madam Octa for example looks like a huge black felt spider covered with huge red dots. The people of the freak show are pretty cheesy too but I love all the different characters that are there, the woman who can bite through anything and the man with two stomachs, it makes the film feel really fun and light-hearted. The vampaneze in contrast are pretty ugly and grotesque looking, which gives a real good versus evil feel. Darren and Steve are a bit annoying in the beginning, and I don't particularly like the character of Steve too much, I think they could have used a better actor, but he's not in it too much so it doesn't make an awful lot of difference. What I do like about the two boys is that they're normal teenagers, they're not overly beautiful American stunners who are perfect in every way, which you often get in films. It's nice to see a bit of normality! However, I must say that the best character in the film is Crepsley, played by John C Reilly who I loves in Step Brothers. He's such a cool vampire, quite a difference from the annoyingly sparkly Edward Cullan, even though his proclaimed age in the film may require a bit too much imagination to believe,

      Story

      The story overall is really funny and good to watch. It's nothing particularly original, there are tons of films and books about opposing factions of vampires and any assortment of mythical creatures/peoples, etc, but I do think this is a good and quite tongue in cheek take on that. Everything is it is quite over the top which makes you see that the film doesn't take itself too seriously. The battle between the two types of vampires could have been more in depth, a lot of the film was taken up by Darren's transition into the assistant and of course there is only so much time to show the story. However, there was definitely space for a second film to be made, which would be great! There are also added dimensions to the story, where Darren has to fit into a new community, there's a little love interest, he must leave his family and must come to grips with what his life will be like as a vampire. The story is quite funny and very watchable, there is never a boring moment, the film is pretty colourful and fast. Obviously this isn't going to be for everyone, it's not for people looking for a 'serious' vampire film, and is also probably more suited to kids around 12, or of course 25 year olds who like silly films about freaks shows! I waited until the DVD went down from around £12 to about £5, which I think was a good idea. It's not the greatest film I've ever seen, but I did think it was really good and I think I would watch it again. Now it's a bit cheaper I'd say it was worth buying, and would certainly make a good stocking filler if anyone has no idea what to buy the kids for Christmas, now that people seem to be buying for it!

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        21.08.2010 21:24
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        a very powerful book by nobel prize winning Japanese author

        The Silent Cry is by Japanese writer Oe Kenzaburo, previous winner of the Nobel Prize for literature. I think that readers of Japanese fiction are probably more used to reading slightly more modern fiction, probably by Haruki Murakami, which focuses on the modern, consumerist society which thrives in Japanese cities and is the Japan that most people will imagine when they think of the country. The Silent Cry, however, is set in a remote village in the middle of winter in the 60s, and so it presents an entirely different picture of Japan than that which is most commonly assumed.

        PLOT

        The story starts and Mitsu is living his regular everyday life in Tokyo when his best friend hangs himself with no explanation, after painting his head bright red. He and his wife Natsu have just had their first baby who due to a brain defect they have left in an institution, presumably for the rest of its life. This has hit the couple hard and Natsu has started doing nothing but drink whiskey all day. Things change dramatically when Mitsus brother Takahashi returns from America to Japan and convinces Mitsu that he should return to the village they came from to sell part of the property their that still belonged to them. And then the snow starts to fall, and with the bridge to the village broken and uncross able they become trapped in the village until the snow thaws. Mitsu and Takahashi start to look into their family history, their grandfathers brother infamously created an uprising in the village in 1860 and Takahashi decides he wants to recreate it. He gathers the young men in the village and gets them to start exerting control over the village and the people living their, starting by getting the villagers to raid the local supermarket, before planning bigger and more dangerous things. Mitsu wants to stay separate from the mindless violence his brother wants to create, but as his wife wants to join in, and he in stuck in the village, it may soon be unavoidable.

        OPINION

        I had mixed feelings about this book whilst reading it, and wasn't too sure how much I liked it, until I finished it and decided I absolutely loved it. The book starts very differently from how it ends up, which I think kind of throws you off to start with, I expected it to be a bit different from what it was going to be, but once they get into the village and the story starts to take shape it really starts to get going.

        The story centres on the uprisings of the youth of the village, both led by young men of the same family, which were very similar even though they were over 100 years apart. Takahashi is obsessed with what his ancestor actually did and finds out as much about the past as possible. As well as the two uprisings, Mitsu and Takahashi also had had a brother than was beaten to death some years ago when the village decided to attack the local Koreans who were living in a separate area of the village. This instance is constantly revisited as both brothers have completely different recollections of what happened. However, what remains similar is the mindless violence, in all three occasions. Although what actually happened in the 1860s isn't ever clear, Takahashi tells stories of it to the other young men to get them riled up about what they are doing at present. He tells them of how the men in the village had once tried to rape girls from another village and how an entire village once smashed the heads in of a group of men for not much reason, which the group of young men find absolutely hilarious. The descriptions are quite strong and uncomfortable, as it quite a lot in this book. Although some parts aren't exactly easy to read they really are effective in making you see how impressionable people can be, and how violence can be taken out of context when someone gives a random reason to it.

        The violence in this novel isn't the only part that is hard to read, there is a feeling of being uncomfortable from beginning to end, with the unusual death of Mitsus friends, his mentally ill baby, and his aunt who he lives with in the village, who is names 'the fattest woman in Japan', as she does nothing but sit and eat all day. However, Mitsu remains detached, and very much the voice of reason throughout. He lets the reader see the madness in his brother and how the villagers were easily taken in by him, as he remains apart from the mob mentality he has almost an outsiders point of view, even though he is very much inside too, being the brother of the mobs ringleader. Although this book isn't an easy read I still think it's fantastic. Although these things don't really happen anymore, especially not in England, them having happened isn't totally unheard of. Groups getting together and reacting violently to something, with them thinking it's an ok way to behave, is unthinkable to most people. However, this books shows how and why such eventualities can happen, and how people can be pursuaded into doing things they would never normally consider acceptable. Although the villagers seem ok with what's happening they are unaware that it is all being inspired by a mentally unstable youth who is just obsessed with creating the uprising created by his grandfathers brother, and specifically wants to create violence with no purpose. The book is actually quite moving and makes you see things in quite a different light.

        The book is, after all, called 'The Silent Cry'. This is shown through the characters, who all have something deeply wrong with them which they feel unable to express to others, starting with Mitsus friend who killed himself to each other major character you come across. Each of them have some problem inside them which should, by rights, be shouted so loud that no one can ignore it. However, the cry remains silent, each character having to deal with their own problems independently, going unnoticed by everyone else. Although they all have this in common the main characters are excellently written and all very different from each other.

        The characters and the book is altogether fantastically written, it shows a much darker psyche of the Japanese and alternative view of Japan to what is commonly perceived. It is very much a story set in Japan, but has so much more too it than that. It is a look at how people behave and interact with each other, and how one person can cause so much harm. The book is quite violent in parts, so I know it wont be for everyone, but if you like the sound of it, and want something a bit different, I would definitely urge you to give it a read as soon as possible.

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          14.08.2010 20:42
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          a great fantasy book

          The Golden Fool is the second book in the Tawny Man trilogy by fantasy writer Robin Hobb. It follows on from Fools Errand, a copy of my review of that can be found by looking on my profile.

          The review also contains some background information to the story as this isn't the first time we've seen the main characters here, the Fool and Fitz, this book is kind of 8th in a series of 9 (3 trilogies) although the three stories don't follow on directly from each other there are some rather big things you would be missing out on if you jumped straight into the Tawny Man trilogy without reading the first two.

          PLOT

          Fitz and the Fool, who are currently known in Buckkeep as Tome Badgerlock and Lord Golden, have just got back from rescuing the young Prince Dutiful from the Piebalds, a group who have the power to communicate and bond with animals, a power which is despised in most of the Six Duchies. Prince Dutiful is still grieving over a cat he had recently bonded too and Fitz is devastated about the death of his wolf Nighteyes. However, life must go on. The Narcheska of the Outislands, who the Six Duchies have just finished being at war with, has arrived at Buckkeep with her father, Akron Bloodblade, her uncle and a number of Lords, to promise herself to Prince Dutiful, under the assumption that this will end all animosity between the two countries and will reopen trade routes. In the meantime Fitz has begun a 'coterie' a group of people who can use the skill to aide the Prince in his need. However, the member are in a sorry state, with just Fitz, the ageing old assassin Chade, Dutiful and a simpleton named Thick, who takes an instant dislike to Fitz. Whilst Queen Ketricken and Prince Dutiful must give all their attention to their guests they have more problems with the Piebalds, and they extend an invitation to any Witted folk who wish to, to come to the caste to discuss who they can be stopped. And a deligation from Bingtown arrives asking the Queen to help them in their war against Chalced so that their dragon can help new hatchlings develop. On hearing of dragons the Narcheska sets Dutiful a condition of their forthcoming marriage, that he travel to the Outislands and cut of the head of the frozen dragon Icefire, or she will not have him. With so much going on at once, and with such a demand made from his potential bride, Prince Dutiful is faced with many problems and decisions. Can the Fool and Fitz help him before it's too late?

          OPINION

          If you've read the plot then you can see that this is a very complicated book, in the middle of a very complicated trilogy! There is so much going on in this book and so many characters and storylines to follow, but not once does it get confusing. This is a long book, and although I read fast it did take me absolutely ages to get through, even though I read it as much as a possibly could. The length is worth it though, it is intriguing throughout, there is an amazing amount of detail and explanation, and the complex storyline is interesting and absorbing. However, at some points it did seem that certain things were concentrated on more than others, which left some things feeling a bit pointless. The delegation from Bingtown, for example, didn't seem to achieve much apart from just be there for a reason for the Narcheska to demand Icefires head. For fans of the Liveship Traders trilogy however, I am sure that the Bingtowns would have been welcome guests here and one or two characters from the trilogy make a brief appearance.

          The two main points of this book are the visit from the Narcheska, which seems suspicious from the start, especially as Fitz starts to use the castles old secret passageways to spy on her, and the Piebalds, who have been causing trouble for the Six Duchies for a while now. The Narcheskas visit has a lot to do with the politics of the two countries, which you may think will be a bit boring, but all books do go into what is happening politically at the time the story is happening, which is always interesting and also affects the storyline greatly. In the first trilogy, Fitz gave his all to stop the Red Ships, ie the Outislanders from attacking and raiding the coasts of the Six Duchies. However, as time has passed the Queen feels that now is the time to form new friendships and re open trade routes, and what better way to do this and bringing in the Outisland equivalent of a Princess in waiting. In this different characters express their thoughts and whether this will or wont work, and whether it's a good idea. In this way the reader and gain an unbiased opinion and make up their own mind about what they think should be done. It also gives greater depth to the characters, as such a major event is happenings you can tell a lot about each person from how they react.

          With both Fitz and the Prince being witted, the Piebalds are also an important factor to this book. You feel that it is a problem that must be solved as soon as possible and is also a part of the book that you wish was delved into deeper, as most people who admit being witted are hung, quartered and burnt. So, with the only character you know with this magic being Fitz, that gives the reader a quite narrow view of what it's all about. In this book, this aspect is explored much more and in this way more characters are introduced as some witted folk come to visit Buckkeep.

          Whilst reading this it did at times seem as though each story line was fighting to be the main one, it does kind of seem as though there are two stories in the book, although there is more than enough space for both of them, with one of them having slightly more room than the other, which role reverses in the next book.

          All in all there is not much bad I can say about these books. The characters are amazing, it's great to see Fitz back at Buckkeep as in the previous book it seemed as though he would never want to go back. And it's great to see more of the Fool, one of the best and most interesting characters that I think has ever been written. Although these are the two main characters here the other characters are not left out, there is more characterisation to a minor character in Hobbs books than I have seen to a main character in others. This leaves the book very rich and un-put-down-able. You just want to know more and more about everyone and everything that is going on.

          I'd recommend these books to anyone who likes fantasy writers, in my opinion they are the best of the best. My only suggestion would be to buy all three books at once, I made the mistake of waiting to buy the next one, and when I realised they didn't have it in town there was a very long a painful wait until it arrived from amazon!

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          08.08.2010 21:02
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          a very average book

          The Angel's Game by Spanish author Carlos Ruiz Zafon is set in the same 20th century Barcelona as The Shadow of the Wind, an earlier book by the same author. I Shadow of the Wind quite a while ago, when it came out in English I think, so although I didn't really remember it I did remember I enjoyed the story and so wanted to read another by the same author. The Angel's Game was only £3.99 on amazon, so with it being so cheap I thought, where can I go wrong?

          PLOT

          David Martin is a young aspiring writer living in Barcelona and working without much hopes of ever getting published, for a local newspaper. However, one day his editor calls him to his office to offer him an ongoing section where he can publish something of his own, all being that it's got to be some kind of trashy crime thriller. And so David gets published. He soon gets a new contract writing a series of crime books for a local publishing house and the years pass. Not much changed in his life, he remains friends with only Pedro Vidal, a man who worked with him at the newspaper and the owner of a local bookstore, Sempere and Sons. Things start to change for David when he gets an offer from a man working for a French publishers, Andreas Corelli. He is asks to write a new religion for an incredible sum of money, which he can hardly turn down. He soon finds the men he previously had a contract with have died in a fire, along with his contact, leaving him to be able to write for whomever he wishes. He becomes suspicious of Corelli and starts to investigate him. He can discover no
          Parisian publishing house and finds another man who received a similar commission as David who died years earlier, and who happened to live in the same house as David. More investigating unearths more chilling answers and David begins to suspect that there is something to entirely natural about his boss.

          OPINION

          The book starts of generally interesting and promising. David is an interesting character and is well introduced, you genuinely wonder what the world is going to have in store for him. He is hopelessly in love with the daughter of his decidedly richer friend Vidals driver, a love interest which is set up from the start which you wonder how it will work out. A young apprentice called Isabella soon turns up who goes to live with David, hoping he will teach her how to write. However, the book changes drastically as soon as David meets Andreas Corelli and becomes involved with writing a new religion. I can see that the book is written so that the reader is eased into this new direction slowly, but I didn't actually think this worked too well. The beginning of the book is just too long, so that you get too used to it being a 'normal' story, I felt that the ending was so different from the start of the book that if they were read separately one could easily mistake them from being totally different books. The story also distracts himself from David, his character is built up well but then seems to be forgotten. He is effected to the events which follow, but the book doesn't go very far into how he is, the characterisation just seems rather shallow.

          The book soon becomes a mystery, as David tried to find clues and the people who may something about Andreas Corelli and the book he previously commissioned to be written. This leads him all over Barcelona, a city which I thought was described with a very sparse amount of detail. So ok, this is a book by a Spanish author, one could assume that perhaps Spanish people wouldn't need too much detail, they'd already know what the city was like. But I went to Barcelona for a week just a couple of months ago and even I struggled with the descriptions of the places visited. For a complete stranger to Barcelona I don't think they would get a true feel of what the city was really like, let alone what it would have been like around 100 years ago. Saying that, there is a sense of mystery and some kind of supernatural 'something' that lies underneath the story which doesn't go away. Barcelona feels like a city where anything and everything seems possible.

          As David beings to interview more people about the past and about Andreas Corelli things become more sinister, especially when people start dying left right and centre. The first couple of times it was a shock, and you wonder what was going on and why. But as they get more frequent it seems a bit pointless and silly. Towards the end it kind of felt like it was just easier to kill off as many characters as possible than to actually come up with any solid kind of finish.

          There seem to be a lot of random lose ends in this book which make it quite confusing, for example David tried to find his mother who left his dad when he was young. He does find her, and thinks about her a lot, but he does absolutely nothing about this and it doesn't seem to have anything to do with the story. It does in general feel like an uncomplicated and easy read. You certainly don't have to think too much about it, and overall I thought it was quite a forgettable book that I wont be keeping in case I wanted to read it a second time. By the end of the book I still wasn't too sure what happened, it didn't tie up lose ends or follow through the events it had been leading up to. I've read some quite good reviews of this books, so I suppose to some people it's great, it just can't be for me. I thought it was overall a pretty average book with nothing terribly special about it, with rather shallow descriptions and characterisations.

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            29.07.2010 18:54
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            an amazing book from a fantastic fantasy writer

            BACKGROUND

            Fools Errand is the first in the 'Tawny Man' trilogy by fantasy writer Robin Hobb. Although this book is the first in a trilogy and so can be read by someone who has not read another other books by the author, it does follow on from two previous trilogies by her, The Farseer trilogy and then the Liveship Traders trilogy.

            All of these books are set in a very different world to ours where dragons live and magic is still very real. However, the main countries do bare similarities to what we would assume England to have been like a few hundred years ago, and other places would perhaps resemble other European countries from this time.

            The Farseer trilogy is set in the Six Duchies, in Buckkeep where the king and the court resides. Here Fitz, the royal bastard is brought to be raised as the kings man and royal assassin. The trilogy follow him and the politics of the time until Fitz is a man and must act to save the Six Duchies from ruin. However, Fitz has both the 'skill' and is 'witted'. The skill is a type of mind magic which is passed down through those of royal blood whereas the wit is a type of magic which is though of as evil by most, where a person is able to bond with an animal to the point where they can communicate with each other and share thoughts. The Liveship Traders takes place in a different country to the first trilogy where people use a special kind of wood to make ships which come alive after so many generations of one family die aboard the ship. This trilogy does really follow on from the first although a lot of things do tie in to both.

            All these books are very long and complicated, and like I said, you don't need to read all of them. However, I personally love how the stories tie in with each other as the way it is done is very subtle and the reader has to guess at a lot of it. Particularly now I am reading the third trilogy there are more little bits and pieces that run through all the books that fans of them will really enjoy.

            THE PLOT

            Time has passed since Fitz was young and had to work with his bond animal, a wolf names Nighteyes, to save the kingdom. He now wished to live a simple life, not drawing much attention to himself in the countryside with his wolf and an orphan boy called Hap. The books starts pretty slowly describing how Fitz's life has been led for the past so many years and explains how he is living his life now, and why he is now going by the name Tom Badgerlock. However, his peaceful life is soon interrupted as his old friends Chade and the Fool come to visit him. Although he wants to avoid Buckkeep and any ties to his old life he is soon forced to go back there when the Queens son, Prince Dutiful goes missing. Fitz and the Fool, along with Nighteyes must do their best to find out what happened to the boy, where he has disappeared to and why. Time is short as Dutiful is to be betrothed in just a few weeks and Fitz in unsure he can get the prince back in time for the betrothal ceremony.

            OPINION

            I personally love these books. They really are very long and complicated, with lots of twists and turns, but they are written so well that you get so involved with the characters and the plot so much so that you don't want the story to end.

            This book followed on easily from those that preceded it. The Liveship Traders trilogy did take a break from the life of Fitz and time has passed since the end of the Farseers trilogy, but I think the way the story has been picked up again has been done well. The story starts slowly as there is a lot of explanations to go through, but I think it's a good thing that you're not just plunged into a brand new story. The characters in these books are so deep and complicated that you do feel as though you know them really well. So, knowing Fitz you know that it would take a lot of explanations and reasoning's for him to change his life as it is when the book starts. I think it's amazing how in-depth these books manage to be. There is so much description, the characters are so vivid and the story is so rich. Although this means that things do tend to move slowly it doesn't mean that the story becomes dull and that there is no action. On the contary, there are sword fights and scandals happening all the time, and here the story goes at a slightly faster pace even though the description is as intricate as always.

            Having read about Fitz since he was only about six or seven you really do feel like you want to know more about him and what he will do with his life. As the books with him in are told from a first person perspective it really is like you know absolutely everything about the man. He is a very strong character although kind of 'normal' compared to some of the others. Robin Hobb really does excel at creating humorous and quirky characters, the best of which I think would be the Fool. He started off in the Farseer trilogy as the kings court jester and was a brilliant character although not a very main one. He is one of those characters that you wish had been featured more but wasn't. Now he has grown up a bit he is passing himself off as Lord Golden, a very rich nobleman who is staying at court for a while. In previous books he has told us that he is a prophet and is to use Fitz as his catalyst, which is what I assume the further two stories in this trilogy will be about. He goes with Fitz to find the prince and so there is so much more of him in the book and so you get to know more about him. He is also quite a mysterious character, which gives you the feeling that any little bits of knowledge to be discovered about him could almost be considered as secrets.

            Although this book stands alone as a very good story I assume that a lot of it has set the scene for what will happen in the two books that follow. I think that this will be the last trilogy to feature Fitz and so I am looking forward to finding out what fate has in store for him and the Six Duchies. The book leaves off with quite a lot of loose ends and you are unsure of what all the characters will be doing with their lives in the near future as it seems as though bit events are looming.

            When I start to read these stories I cannot wait to get hold of the next one as soon as I've put one down. Robin Hobb is an excellent writer and I could only wish that there was more out there by her so I could get my hands on it as soon as possible! She is an excellent fantasy writer, and these books touch a lot on how life was lived in such an historic time too. If you like fantasy books and haven't read anything by Hobb, I would suggest you give her a go. However, if you're looking for a quite and easy read then these certainly wont be for you!

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              18.07.2010 17:13
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              the worst and most confusing book i've ever read

              PLOT

              The book begins with a young girl called Molly, an orphan who's stuck living an unhappy life based in a poorhouse, getting sent off to a number of jobs she hates and can't bring herself to do. One day she is apprenticed out to a whore house to begin her training and when her first would be client tries to kill her she is forced to go on the run and her life changes forever. She looks for the help of a 'steamman' who is to take her to the underworld of Jackals, the city she lives in, thinking it will be the only place she can be safe. At the same time a young boy called Oliver has led a rather uneventful life so far, being confined to a small area for fear he has 'fey' abilities. He lived with his uncle as his parents died when he was young, until one day his uncle and everyone is the household are killed. He has only he visiting uncle Harry to rely on to spirit him away and make him safe.

              Molly and Oliver are the main characters of the book but their stories remain separate until rather later on. Both must solve the mysteries of what happened to their selves and their families whilst there is huge political unrest and their country Jackals faces the biggest war it's ever seen.

              OPINION

              I read a lot of different things, and read a lot. So it takes a lot for me to say that this is possibly the worst book I've ever read. Strong words I know! Regardless of what I think of books I find it very hard not to read them to the end, to not do so seems impossible. But this is one of I think only two or three books that I've not managed to finish. I tried to get through the 20 or so pages I had left just for the purpose of this review but I really could not bring myself to read the last part properly. However, I really don't think that will affect this review.

              I thought this book was going to be just my sort of thing, a lengthy adventure set in a steam-punkish Victorian style city. But I got nothing much from it. It doesn't start too badly, Molly seemed like a good character and I could see her fighting her way out of her position and on to greater things. But that's where the good stuff ends. From the start this book is completely confusing and I found it near impossible to read at times. I do love books set in Victorian England, and although this was set in a fantasy world I thought it would still have that feel. Unfortunately I didn't think there was much description at all of where it was set. I think that when creating another land the author needs to give the reader a clear description of what it is like, what it looks like, what is the same and what is different from what we know, what the people are like...anything we need to know for the scene to be set. And if there is going to be more than one city in the story the lay of the land needs to be described and the relations between the cities. But I didn't get that, which led me to be constantly confused. Even worse, there are other creatures in this book which are very hard to understand without a lot of rich descriptions. Mainly these are the steammen and the fey creatures. The first time a steamman was introduced he was not described at all, I had to re-read the passage a few times to understand what was going on, I wasn't sure if it was just a kind of man who worked with steam, engineering, etc, or another creature. Which it turned out it was. Still, having read the majority of the book I don't really understand them or what they looked like, or what they did.

              Complex books are hard enough to understand without good descriptions, and there is so much going on in this which makes it even worse. There are so many places and so many characters, a lot of which don't seem to have much use in the grand scheme of things at all. There were way too many character names for me, I do like books with a lot of people in and interesting side characters, but these just seemed to be totally useless.

              On top of all this the plot made little sense to me. It started off as some kind of mystery/adventure, and then changed to a weirdly childish fantasy, but also tried to be a political novel, perhaps with some kind of moral at the end. The two main characters seem almost unrecognisable at by the end, their personalities don't follow on so that you become totally uninterested in them. Because there isn't much description, not much about what the characters are thinking, you can't really understand how they feel during what is happening to them and how they get to change to much. Everything just happens too fast. I think this book could have been told well, if perhaps it had been written over 3 or 4 novels the same size, or if the writer had focused on one theme and one story, rather than having dozens of things going on at once. There are ordinary people, fairy type people and people/machines, all in one story. Perhaps it would have been better just to pick one type and stick to it too. There was even another kind of person who I had no idea who or what they was all about from start to finish even though they were mentioned dozens of times! I also don't really understand what the Court of the Air actually was, it seemed to have nothing much to do with the story at all!

              All in all, the only thing I can say about this book is that I can not suggest that anyone read it! I honestly don't have one good thing to say about it. It's not often that happens and I certainly wont be reading anything by this author again.

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                14.07.2010 19:57
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                workbook for the Japanese phonetic script 'hiragana'

                The Japanese Writing System

                Let's Learn Hiragana is the first workbook in a series of three, which will teach you how to read and write basic Japanese. So why three books? Admittedly that does seem like a lot, but Japanese uses three alphabets and each book in this series tackles one of them. This would already be enough to put a lot of people off learning to read and write in Japanese, but it's not as hard as it seems! I think it's easy to forget that actually, we kind of have two alphabets ourselves, lower case and upper case letters can be completely different. For starters, the first two Japanese alphabets are phonetic, which if you are learning Japanese consistently are pretty easy to pick up. One of them, Hiragana, is used for the majority of Japanese words. Secondly, Katakana works in the same way as Hiragana but is used quite infrequently, mostly with words of a foreign origin and for some flowers and animals. Lastly, Japanese uses 'kanji', or Chinese characters, which are not phonetic. Like in Chinese, different 'pictures' have different meanings. For those learning Japanese I think it can be very tempting to think that this is all too complicated and it is enough to get by just learning the words and grammar, but really, why learn a language if you're only going to half learn it? Learning Hiragana is easier than most will think, and in the end it's very rewarding when you see a group of characters and can read them out and know what they mean! Although Katakana looks somewhat simpler than Hiragana, Hiragana is much more important to learn as it is used in every written sentence.

                The Book

                The books comes in a glossy red dust cover and reminds me very much of a school book. It gives a short introduction about the Japanese language and then gets you straight into learning this alphabet. The alphabet is split up into groups of ten and the book firstly shows you how to write them, the stroke order, which lines should be drawn first, and whether you use a straight line, a sweeping line, or one which has a flick at the end. These 10 letters are repeated on the next page with a dotted line version for you to go over and then some blank space for you to carry on writing them. All of these letters are shown as they would be written in handwriting as well, as they would look slightly different typed. You don't get a vast amount of room to practise yourself so it may be a good idea to photocopy the practise pages so you can have quite a few goes, or of course carry on on a blank sheet of paper. After the practise pages are some exercises where you have given some Japanese words in English and have to write in the hiragana, and also some of the hiragana which you have to put into English. These are very good to practise whether you can remember the pronunciations of all the characters, but are also good to expand your vocabulary. The first set of these exercises only use the first ten characters you've learnt, but further exercises use the characters from previous lessons too, which consolidates what you have already learnt.

                The book is very simple and understand whilst working through the basic characters, all of which are either a vowel, or a syllable, such as 'ki', 'ka' or 'ko', with the exception of one character which is pronounces 'n'. So, for example, the word futon would be broken down into three characters, 'fu', 'to' and 'n'. The book explains this very well. Up until the point where you want to break away from this and put two characters together to make a new one. In the book the way to do this is presented like a mathematical equation and is quite confusing and will take more reading and work to understand.

                So, now you have learnt all the characters we have a section called 'How to write words', which goes through any extra writing rules with a lot of practice. It also covers how writing Japanese changes if you are writing it vertically instead of horizontally, which is what the book concentrates on the most.

                There is then a very short section on how to write sentences, which generally covers things like punctuation and quotation marks. However, as you will find that some kanji is used in most sentences I don't think that you can use this too much until you learn some. But of course it is good practise to write sentences in Hiragana as much as possible to practise using it.

                Finally there are some extra exercises which are generally very much the same as the exercises you use earlier in the book but which use everything you have learnt throughout.

                MY OPINIONS

                All in all I thought this book was very useful, and by working through it all you will be able to understand hiragana. The way it's presented is very understandable (apart from the one point I mentioned earlier) and I think it is very easy to work through and to build up your knowledge. I think you would need to practice writing and reading these characters more than what you are given in the book until you know them perfectly, but all you need for that is a blank notebook, a pen and a bit of time. It would also help to write flashcards of each character so that you can keep checking you know them.

                As I said, this book is good for learning hiragana, but not for learning Japanese. Whilst it does give you a lot of new words it doesn't teach grammar at all, that's not what this book is for. I think it would be good to have learnt some Japanese before using this so that you already understand the sounds that are used in it and already know some words so it wont be long before you can think to yourself 'oh! I could write that in Japanese!'. It is very easy to move onto the next book, Let's Learn Katakana, straight after this, which is pretty much the same kind of thing but obviously a different alphabet. However, the third book, Let's Learn Kanji is a completely different thing, and I think there are better books for learning it out there.

                All in all this is a very helpful and useful book. It will be essential to learn Hiragana if you want to take your Japanese beyond the very basic, and if you are going to Japan it would be very useful to learn too. I would certainly recommend this book to anyone learning Japanese, but you will need something else to go with it that covers grammar and conversation.

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                  09.07.2010 20:37
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                  collection of short stories by a Japanese SF writer

                  Salmonella Men on Planet Porno is a collection of short stories by Yasutaka Tsutsui, a famous Japanese science fiction writer who also wrote 'Paprika', which has been made into an animated film.

                  The Dabba Dabba Tree
                  A man is given a Dabba Dabba tree to put at the foot of his bad as they are said to induce erotic dreams. When he finds himself in one he decides he doesn't want to waste it on a dream about his wife and tries to find someone else. However, he finds his wife sleeping with someone else in his dream and he soon gets confused with what is dream and what is reality.

                  Rumours about Me
                  An ordinary man finds himself the constant topic of the news and it's not long before he can do nothing without it being featured on the news or in the paper.

                  Don't Laugh
                  A mans friend invents a time machine, which they both find quite hilarious.

                  Farmers Airlines
                  A reporter and photographer are sent to a remote island to report on the uninhabited islands of Japan. However when a storm arrives they are unable to sail back to the main land and have to travel back on an old plane piloted by an inexperienced farmers wife.

                  Bear's Wood Main Line
                  A man in convinced by a fellow train passenger that there is a faster route to his destination by switching to another line at the next station. However, when they realise this would cause the man a 3 hour late he is invited to a wake which the whole village is attending.

                  The Very Edge of Happiness
                  A man is constantly angered by thinking his wife is constantly lying about being happy. He decides to take his wife and son to the coast but too many people have had the same idea.

                  Commuter Army
                  A Japanese man is forced by his company to enlist for a war between two other counties. With no other choice he becomes a front line commuter, planning on travelling from home every day. However the war is more chaotic and more hopeless than he imagined.

                  Hello, Hello, Hello!
                  A couple living in an apartment building starts being pestered by a financial advisor who gives them advice on many different things such as no more over spending on things like salad dressing, and to stop having sex so they can work harder and earn more during the day.

                  The World Is Tilting
                  A floating city built on a foundation of pachinko balls starts to tilt, however the residents refuse to believe it is and find ingenious solutions to cope with their tilting island.

                  Bravo Herr Mozart!
                  A very alternative view on the life of Mozart. 'It is said that, as soon as he was born, Mozart sat at a piano belonging to someone called Klavier and played a three-note chord. As we may judge from this surviving anecdote, Mozart only had three finger.'

                  The Last Smoker
                  Smoking is quickly becoming more frowned upon in the world, and ultimatley in Japan. It soon becomes banned from most places and almost everyone stops. Shop owners stop selling tabaco products for fear of persecution. However, a famous novelist refuses to stop and becomes a chain smoking minority, until he is the last smoker in the world.

                  Bad for the Heart
                  A man is sent to a remote island but to work their for his company but his wife has packed his heart pills in the wrong bag and it doesn't arrive on the island. With stress being the main cause of his heart problem, and the stress of the pills not being their making the problem even more worse his life just keeps getting worse.

                  Salmonella Men on Planet Porno
                  Scientists are living on a newly discovered planet, nicknames planet porno as all the animals, plants and people their seem to only exist to have sex. When some scientists have to walk their way across the planet they come across more of its inhabitants and theorize over why the planet is as it is.

                  OPINION
                  This selection of short stories is what I think people would expect of post modern Japanese fiction. The stories are pretty quirky, over the top, face sex head on and are kind of insane. In this way, the collection goes really well together. To be honest, personally I think these stories go a bit far at times. I've read other post modern fiction that pushes boundaries and does something new, which I think these feel like they want to do as well, but at times these feel like they're trying way too hard. And they're a bit too silly at times. However, that doesn't mean they're not all good and some of them are quite funny. The Mozart story I thought was particularly good, even though it was only a few pages long and totally daft. I also don't think these stories are there just to be extreme, they do go a bit deeper at time (Well, some of them do at least!). The last smoker definitely looks at minorities, victimisation and the persuasion and control of the majority, which was pretty interesting.

                  I don't like to give so little an opinion on a book, but I don't feel like there is too much to say about this. The stories aren't very long so there isn't much that you can read into them. This collection is certainly something a bit different, but not the greatest thing I've ever read. I only read this in the first place because I'm going to do a module on Modern Japanese fiction next year and I want to read as diversely as possible over the summer. Which I feel a have done with this. However, there are, in my opinion, much better Japanese books out there. This writer isn't as well known as other Japanese writers, and if you wanted to read something modern from there I would suggest something by the more widely known Haruki Murakami, Ryu Murakami, Banana Yoshimoto or Natsuno Kirino, they are excellent, I felt this was kind of average.

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                    04.07.2010 10:37
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                    a fantastic read!

                    I first read 'The End of Mr Y' by Scarlett Thomas, which I thought was absolutely marvellous. So, after reading that I decided I'd look at her other things on Amazon where Popco and her newest novel, 'Our Tragic Universe' stood out. Since Popco was in paperback and therefore a bit cheaper I decided to give it a go, and wasn't disappointed at all.

                    PLOT

                    Alice was compiling crosswords when she was headhunted by 'Popco', a massive toy company of the likes of Hasbro and Mattel, for her ability to make puzzles and understand codes. At Popco she sets to work designing code cracking type sets for kids and going to the endless seminars and workshops that they set up for all their various divisions. On one particular weekend workshop Alice, amongst around 50 others, get asked to stay behind to take part in a special project. They are to try to design the toy, or new trend, that will crack the illusive market of the teenage girl. At the same time Alice discovers that someone is sending her secret messages in code, she has no idea who they are from or who would be sending them.

                    Along the main story of Alice's life at Popco, part way through you also get to go back into her past, to see how she came to be an expert in code and code breaking, and how she grew up with her grandparents, maths and code breaking fanatics. Her grandfather is obsessed with cracking uncrackable codes, and he tells Alice that he has cracked a coded treasure map, which is ultimatley the reason her father went missing and she now lives with them. But he wont tell her where the treasure was hidden or how he cracked the code. Will she be able to find out for herself, and does she even want to?

                    OPINION

                    There are many, many reasons why I think that this book is so great. It certainly wont be for everyone, but for me it's absolutely my kind of thing.

                    When the book begins it is entirely set around Popco and Alice's job there. As you get to know more about her and her work for the company, how she loves codes, problems solving etc, you get to discover where her love for this comes from. The flashbacks to the past come quite slowly and gradually, by the end of the book, the book goes between the present and the past constantly. I don't think that this affected how the story moved along too much, the past had to be explained in detail is it did happen to affect the present so much. However, it is a bit weird that by the end of the book what's going on at Popco hardly seems to matter anymore. Still, everything does come together very well.

                    A huge part of this book is about how to crack codes and how they are written. And it does get VERY technical at times, going into the maths of how codes are made and used. I am absolutely horrendous at maths. Absolutely. It just doesn't sit well in my brain, so I did kind of struggle with some parts of this. However, I think that everything is explained very well here, there are some parts that you will need to know a bit about maths to understand, but to be honest, I kind of skimmed these parts. And by some parts I mean about 5 pages, not too much for it to affect the book on a whole. I actually thought all that stuff was very interesting, learning about all the different ways to crack codes, etc. There was certainly a lot in there that I'd never even thought about before, like that from a lot of codes you can figure out the letters by the frequency the letters are used, there is even a list in the back at the book of how often each letter of the alphabet is used, and which letters have the most words that start with them. This does play a huge part of the story, but I don't think it's too heavy, the story fits well along side this.

                    As well as learning about codes, there is a lot in this about the toy industry and about how corrupt it is. I wouldn't have realised that half the things go on which do, and this book points them out well in a way which is interesting and easy to understand. For instance, toy companies are aware that 'indie' brands of toys sell, people like to buy toys from smaller companies with no ties to large companies, thinking that they'll be getting something special. Because of this toy companies set up these companies, not telling the consumer they are part of the larger company, but still manufacturing the toys in third world countries as they do the rest of their stuff. It's all well worth reading about.

                    As for the actual main story, it's pretty good. You really do wonder how things will work out, what's really going on and why. This is one of those books that I really couldn't put down. I started reading it and then stayed up until about 2am trying my hardest to get to the end. But because of the somewhat complex parts, you really do have to be awake, so I gave up. Alice is a great main character and I think she is easy to identify with. She doesn't fit in with the 'cool' crowd and has always been a bit odd. She likes her job and designing things she's interested in but doesn't like how her company is run and how there's a constant battle to be cool, you hope that this kind of thing stays behind when you finish school, but not when your job is to figure out what's cool and then convince kids of it. I like the other characters too, they're all a bit edgy, different from the main stream 20 somethings. I think that this could have come across as trying too hard, but it really doesn't. I found all the characters quirky and interesting, it certainly makes it so the book is never boring!

                    I think that in reading this book you certainly feel as though you've learnt something. The maths and code solving stuff can be a bit much for someone with no idea, but it is explained really well and in a way which makes is very interesting. You not only learn a bit about this, but also the ethics of huge toy companies and how they work and also there's a bit in there about the ethics of the farming industry. As well as this there's a great story, an absolute page turner. This book is a bit different from the norm, but I'm glad I gave it a go. Really glad in fact. I can see Scarlett Thomas becoming a firm favourite of mine and I can't wait to read her newest book. This book is interesting throughout, and although there's a lot going on it's not something to give yourself a headache over, I manages to read it in about 3 days, along with having to go to work etc. So if you want something a bit different, don't hesitate to give this a go. As I said already, 'The End Of Mr Y' is also particularly good and works in the same kind of way as this one book is about thought experiments and reality instead. You can clearly see that Scarlett Thomas has spent an incredible amount of time doing research for both.

                    Although I have clearly raved about this book I think I'm going to have to give it 4 stars instead of the full 5, which might seem a bit odd. But this is simply because of how complicated some of the maths in it can get at times. I can grasp most of it but then there are parts which I cannot even attempt to get my head around, which is a bit of a shame.
                    *
                    I think i should just add that the cover for the book that dooyoo has up is an old one, it has since been reprinted in a blue and silver design to match the other books by Scarlett Thomas, which looks much nicer.

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                      03.07.2010 00:11
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                      japanese coming of age novel from 1908

                      Sanshiro is a coming of age novel by Japanese writer Natsume Soseki, and was written in 1908, so is bound to be somewhat different to the coming of age novels we may be used to today, not only by the time it was written in, but also as it is set in a country which was vastly different from anything we were used to, certainly the modern society we know today.

                      PLOT
                      Sanshiro is excitedly leaving his countryside home of Muromoto to travel to Tokyo to start university and hopefully his life as an academic. However, from the train ride onwards life as an academic isn't what he expected. He has high expectations and things somewhat scathingly of 'ordinary' people, such as average school teachers or manual workers. And then he starts university and finds out that university life, and living in Tokyo is totally different from what he expected. Although he starts to go to lectures for 40 hours a week they are not as intellectually stimulating as he imagined they would be, one of them is on how Italians eat pasta. At the same time as attending university he makes friends with a few people, including a man he assumes is very intelligent although he only teaches languages. Another of his friends has made it his personal mission to get this man a professors position at the university by campaigning alone amongst the students. He also starts to fall in love with a woman his age calls Mineko. Never having been in love before he doesn't know how to react to this, how to act, or how to find out if she also has feelings for him.

                      OPINION

                      Like I said, this isn't quite a normal coming of age novels. As with a lot of Japanese novels, and films for that matter, rather than a massive story line with action after action, there are small things happening, things of everyday life, and life (And thus storyline) moves slowly. However, with the absence of all this action a feeling is slowly but surely created and you really get to understand the feelings and tone of Sanshiro's life, it's a feeling that calmly settles on the reader, which I like. I don't think that many western books create a feeling or tone like this in quite this way, rather than understand the events in someone's life you manage to understand one mans emotions and why they think and do certain things. I, personally, really like this. But if you like a lot of action and a fast moving plot line, this obviously wont be the one for you.

                      This book is certainly tainted with some 'Japaneseness' and also shows its age at times, but still works well today. There's a couple of things, like characters being expected to have arranged marriages to women they have never met back in their home towns, which I think is hard to understand for someone like me, never having experienced anything like that. But it was a very big part of Japanese culture at that time. However, there is still a 'normal' love story here, like most people falling in love for the first time, and here with someone quite out of his league, Sanshiro just doesn't know how to act, what he can and cannot say. Mineko is also a woman who a lot of people seem to have a thing for, he doesn't know how to manoeuvre around all these new social rules, let alone the rules of starting a relationship, having grown up in the countryside which didn't have such a society. The other main part of the book is about whether Sanshiro and his friend can manage to get their friend a position at the university. Although these two stories don't seem very action filled, or maybe very interesting at all, I really felt myself wanting to find out what would happen, it's the kind of book that you want to keep reading, and it does come to an end nicely.

                      There are not too many characters here, but the characterisation is wonderful, Sanshiro is a great protagonist, you can really feel his disappointment and fight to fit in with this brand new world, and you can sympathise with him, even though he and his life would have been so much different from anything I could ever know. The other characters, although quite not huge characters, are pretty quirky and fun, very interesting and pretty funny at times.

                      I know that not everyone like to read books in translation, I understand that reading from the point of view of a different culture can be quite hard to get into, but I don't think this has that, it's probably a lot more accessible than you may think. It's not a huge book, and is a very easy read. I wanted to carry on reading it and it was quite hard to put down in places, it's certainly didn't take long to get through! There are also two books that follow this, sore kara (and then), then mon (the gate), which I haven't yet read but I'm really looking forward to getting a hold of.

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                        27.06.2010 22:43
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                        a fantastic book in the form of a memoir

                        The sea, the sea is the 19th novel by acclaimed writer Iris Murdoch and won the Booker Prize in 1978.

                        PLOT

                        Famous Shakespearian director, Charles Arrowby has decided to retire and has moved to a small house on the coast in a small English village to write his memoirs. Whilst Charles writes about his day to day life he also reflects on his childhood and general past and his many love affairs. One of these was his first love, a girl called Mary, or 'Hartley' as he called her. Although he felt he'd one day marry her she suddenly left him and he feels that this has tainted all relationships following this, as he remained being in love with her he was always unable to marry anyone else. Charles soon discovers that Hartley is actually living in the very same village as him with her husband of around 40 years. He in convinced that she must still love him too and should leave her husband for him. As she remains reluctant to do this Charles manages to enlist the help of Hartley's estranged adopted son and many of his friends from the theatre (who just happen to drop by) to ultimately kidnap her and keep her locked up in his small house whilst they all stay over. However, she continues saying that she has no wish to leave her husband and that she wants to go home, whilst Charles remained convinced that she will soon 'crack', and acknowledge her love for him. What will Charles and his friends do to convince Hartley to leave her husband and to love Charles?

                        OPINION

                        I do very much like Iris Murdoch and this book especially I thought was a great read. However, I did find it hard to get into as there really isn't much story at all for a good 30 odd pages, there's nothing much more than descriptions of what the sea was like on a daily basis (this book really must have used every single sea description possible) and what Charles ate, how he cooked it and what wine he drank with it, until small stories of his childhood gradually creep in. These kind of descriptions do carry on throughout the book but things get a lot ore lively when people start to visit Charles and he discovers Hartley in the village.

                        This is quite a large book and having read it I have no idea how the story manages to stretch across so many pages. There really isn't too much of a story to be quite honest, it's quite basic, the book is more descriptive and focuses on the relationships between the characters, how they interact with each other and discusses a lot what love is and what it means to different people, and whether it really exist at all. And of course it is very descriptive.

                        If you're looking for a page turner with many twists and turns and a fast flowing story, then this isn't the book for you. It's pretty slow, but I had no problem reading it pretty fast, I didn't feel it got boring apart from slightly at the end where it kind of just trails off rather than having a strong definitive ending. Although Charles does mention that the book would do that, so I assume that this kind of ending was deliberate, although I could not guess what the purpose was.

                        Charles is the narrator in this book as it is written as a kind of diary, so everything is from his point of view. I think that Iris Murdoch has a knack of writing protagonists' with which it is very easy to get terribly annoyed with. Charles is very annoying at times, kind of infuriating, you wish he was real so you could just shake him. Although he's not a very likeable character I still didn't find it hard to read a book full of him. A lot of the other characters, mainly girls who are pathetically in love with Charles (or perhaps not, in the case of Hartley) are indeed annoyingly pathetic. It's frustrating having who you assume to be perfectly ok women run after such an annoying character who you find a bit ridiculous. Even though the book doesn't have a strong, very likeable main character I think there is much more to it than that, it kind of doesn't need that. I think it's a book where you can read between the lines a lot, you can certainly get a lot out of it. This is certainly the best book by Iris Murdoch that I've read so far, so for any fans I would certainly suggest it.

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                          23.06.2010 23:57
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                          an alternative take on well known bible stories

                          The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is quite a controversial novel and alternative telling of the story of Jesus by Phillip Pullman, writer of the award winning 'His Dark Materials' trilogy.

                          PLOT
                          The book is based on the story of Jesus as it was written in the bible, but with a huge twist. Jesus Christ wasn't one man, but twins, Jesus and Christ, both with very different personalities and disposition which were apparent from birth. Jesus is quite a trouble maker growing up, but luckily he always has his brother Christ who has a gift with words to get him out of any sticky situations. However, he is a very well liked young boy by everyone that knows him. Although Christ is more religious out of the two, constantly quoting the word of God, it is Jesus that begins to preach the word of God and his intent as he understands it himself. After he has created quite a following a stranger approaches Christ and asks him to start to record his brothers word. Christ wants to be accurate but thinks that something's Jesus says may be misinterpreted if quoted exactly, so he alters the story a little at times. The story ends as it does in the bible, with a crucifixion, but how did this come about, and what really happened?

                          OPINION

                          Do you believe?

                          Firstly I think I should say that I am not in the slightest bit religious, and am in fact quite the athiest, so I was already of the opinion that the story of Jesus in the bible was just a story and that this is a just a story in the same way. So I didn't find this an insult at all, however I can very much see how strong believers of the bible would be very offended by parts of this. I think for one thing this book is a very good kind of non biased explanation of how the writings in the bible may have come about. Obviously jesus spoke and someone took account of his words. However, more than being just a story, this also retells many bible stories, such as how King Herod tried to kill Jesus as a baby, how Jesus manages to feed thousands with bread and fishes, and what stood out most to me, how Mary conceived Jesus. This, for example, is one that really stood out to me, as I think it was kind of suggested that some random guy took advantage of Mary by climbing into her window and trying to make her believe he was an angel. Obviously, I see how this would be insulting to people believing that Jesus was the son of God, but to me it offers a much more believable version of events.

                          The Book

                          I was quite looking forward to reading this as a quite like Phillip Pullman, and I manages to read it in less than an evening. It is MUCH shorter than I was expecting, with not much writing per page and a large type. The hard back addition is quite nice however, covered in black, white and gold ink, good quality paper and a red cloth book mark attached. This hard back addition was quite expensive, and I think I paid a little too much for what I got. If written in average sized type this book wouldn't have been long enough to warrant a full book, in my opinion. Saying this, I did like the story. It was well written and quite ingenious at times. I think that we are so used to the story of Jesus, acting it out for Christmas plays at school, seeing variations of it on TV every Christmas, that it is hard to think of other ways it may have happened. The explanations that Phillip Pullman gives do make sense, I was quite surprised by how much I liked them. I would never have thought that Jesus and Christ could have been two different people, and I do like this take on the story, although with the two characters it does get confusing at times. Some explanations seem like common sense, but not all of the are turning the 'fiction' of the bible into 'fact', there is still something mysterious and magical involved.

                          To buy or not to buy

                          Like I said, I think this was slightly too expensive. You know when you buy a book and then just don't think it was worth the money? Well, that's what I felt with this. And it's not just the size, some quite short books are amazing, but I felt like this was over presented to make of for the lack of content. I'm glad I own it, but I would have waited for the paper back. It also isn't the kind of thing I'm usually into, I'm not interested in Christianity, religion or bible stories. But as a story I do like this, it was interesting and very clever in parts. So, I would suggest reading this book, but maybe not buying it. Do give it a go though if you can, it certainly makes you reconsider the 'truths' written in the bible.

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                            22.06.2010 00:40
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                            generic teens love story, but a good one at that

                            PLOT

                            Remy Starr doesn't believe in love. Her mother has been married numerous times to a bunch of very different men, none of the marriages lasting long at all. On top of that, all she has known of her father is a song he dedicated to her called This Lullaby, in which he states 'I will let you down', something she comes to expect of everyone. She doesn't date boys expecting the relationship to last and finishes things with her current boyfriend so that she can go to university in autumn after a fun filled summer with no strings attached. And then she meets Dexter and everything changes. Dexter is in a band (a huge no no), is unable to ever tie his shoe laces and even dares to eat in Remys car. But she can't help herself, she has a thing for him, whether she's like to admit it or not. Her relationship with Dexter starts to change her opinions on love, is it real? Was she wrong? At the same time her mum has remarried again, to someone truly awful, and her brother seems to have fallen in love, something Remy would have thought impossible. Her full of fun summer of freedom changes dramatically and fast, but how will it end?

                            OPINION

                            This is a pretty generic teen book, kind of a 'girl has grown up a bit wrong but finds true meaning' etc etc, but regardless, it's a good one. The story moves pretty fast and is never boring. You do get what you'd expect you would, the ending is totally predictable, but then I'd think it would be a disappointment if it wasn't, this book isn't trying to be quirky or unusual, I think it's just trying to talk to teenage girls about what love is and what it's meant to be, and it does manage that. Remy is a great character to work this story around. She is so strong and confident at the start, kind of an unbreakable character, she doesn't want to let anyone in, but all it takes is one person to start to break this well built defence down. I definitely think that this is a person and a scenario that is easy for almost everyone to relate to.
                            *
                            This isn't a book for adults, more like mid/late teens, and as an adult I thought that the writing style was a bit too simple for me, and sometimes it tried too hard to be young or 'cool'. Saying that, it is pretty easy to read, probably easier for someone a bit younger than myself. I liked the theme of the story, most of the characters (a couple of Remys friends are quite annoying), I liked how it moved along and the development of the plot and the characters. This is a good book, I'd definitely recommend it to someone in their teens to read it, and of course for adults who like children's/teen fiction. It's a nice love story, but don't expect anything out of the ordinary or completely astounding.

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                              20.06.2010 21:32
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                              a look back at theatres golden age with an amazing read

                              STORY
                              Wise Children, the final book written by Angela Carter tells the story of Dora and Nora Chance, identical twins and illegitimate and unrecognised daughters of theatre legend Melchior Hazard. On the twins 75th birthday they receive an invitation to Mechiors 100th birthday party and after 75 years of being ignored they don't hesitate to get dressed up and go. Dora then starts to look back at her and her sisters long and eventful life in the theatre and around the world.

                              As their mother, chambermaid Pritti Kitty dies giving birth, the two twins are adopted by 'grandma', although not related by blood a grandma to the two in every other sense of the world. They grow up in a house in London which is constantly taking on a wide variety of random women and have quite a liberated youth as inspired by the naturism of their grandma. Also from birth, twin brother of Melchior, Peregrine Hazard, takes on the role of father to the two, in the eyes of the law so as to help the small family out with a bit of extra money. As he also works in the theatre industry, Dora and Nora start their acting careers from a very young age. From small parts in London theatre to being cast as extras in America in a movie of A Midsummer Nights Dream starring father Mechior and one of his many hearts desires Daisy Duck. The story goes through the lives of the girls and their theatre careers, focusing on their (mostly non-existent) relationship with their fathers, his many wives and children, until the night of the aforementioned party.

                              OPINION

                              I am sure that any fans of Angela Carter will recognise this if one of, if not the best, of her novels. Her writing style is like no others, rich in description, double entendre, and fantastical characters. This book is full of very strong and extravagant personalities, there is hardly anyone in there who isn't a big personality, you may wonder how, by the size of the book, so many big characters manage to fit in. But the do! This book is over the top in everyway that the theatre is meant to be. There was a couple of times when I did wonder who was actually related to who, but luckily there's a list of characters in the back of the book stating as much. Everyone seems to be related to each other in Wise Children, legitimately, illegitimately, by blood or not. Although the story does have a beginning middle and end it doesn't follow the usual plot form as most books, you never really know where it's going, although a lot seems to be happening at all times. However, I found this very readable and read it pretty fast, it's one of those kind of books that you can't put down, even though it has no real cliff hangers, you still want to know what's going to happen. This is a really excellent read, I love the writings of Angela Carter and if you haven't read anything of hers already I would urge you to give her a try!

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                                09.06.2010 21:20
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                                another wonderful book from Mr Mitchell

                                PLOT

                                Jacob De Zoet has just landed in Dejima, Japan, in 1799. Dejima, a port of Nagasaki, was at this time the only place you would find a foreigner in Japan, with the rest of the country fenced off and impossible to get to alive. But Dejima housed a company of Dutch traders, isolated from the rest of Japan and under constant scrutiny. Although this book is fiction this was an actual place in Japan, which was a very closed country for a very long time and Dejima was a place were the Dutch lived for years at a time and was therefore, I assume, quite a strange mixed Japanese/Dutch community where people had little freedom, if any, to do what they wanted.

                                Jacobs arrival in Dejima shows his amazement with this country, language and people which few people had any dealings with at this time. He also has to confront the control the Japanese had on the Dutch at this time, as they were not expected to try and learn the language and any Christian artefact was banned from the island as the Japanese worried that the Dutch may try to 'corrupt' their people. There are few Dutch on the island and with these few men, all working for the same trading company and a few Japanese interpreters and slaves. Confronted with the politics of these few men and the bizarreness of Japan in this time proves troublesome for Jacob until he befriends the Dutch doctor who has been granted a rare opportunity to teach a select few Japanese medicine. In this way he meets Miss Aibagawa, who although at first he mistakes her for a prostitute or geisha from nearby Nagasaki, is in fact a fellow medicine student. Although he is already promised to a girl back home in Holland Jacob immediately becomes enraptured by Miss Aibagawa and it soon gets to the point when he can do nothing but think of her. This leads for his life to take a very interesting turn, especially as the company he works for has gone bankrupt and he is stuck in Japan for the unforeseeable future.

                                CHARACTERS

                                This is David Mitchells' fifth book and really quite different from his others. For a start it follows an actually story, although not written following one event after another it does have the conventional beginning, middle and end which some of his others don't have. However, although starting with the story of Jacob de Zoet it does break off from him about a third of the way through, and then follows an interpreter for about another third, before going off to follow a few different characters towards the end. As Dejima, although not populated by many people, had a diverse population, I think that this gives the reader a taste of how life was for all these different people whilst holding the story together around Jacob. However, it is a bit of a shock when it breaks off from a character, I'd really gotten used to Jacob and really wanted to know what would happen to him in the end when the book started to be about someone else, so it was kind of hard to re-get-into.

                                Jacob is quite an odd character, he's pretty likeable but to be honest, a bit bland. I read the book a few weeks ago when it first came out and thinking back, I can't remember too much about him. Saying that, as I said, I did really want to find out what would happen with him in the end. I think it's nice that he's an ordinary man thrown into extreme circumstances, it certainly makes the unusualness of Japan more apparent and brings out the personalities of the lesser characters.

                                Miss Aibagawa is an unusual love interest for Jacob and a very strong female character, which certainly would have been unusual for women in Japan at this time. Again, I think this helps to bring out how suppressed the Japanese were at this time, as the other women in the book are rather meek, or prostitutes. The rest of the characters are generally other workers with the trading company, interpreters, the doctor and a couple of men who run Nagasaki. There are a couple of interesting characters there, I especially like the doctor, but not many people appear a terribly large amount. All in all I think the characters all work well with each other, although none of them really stand out as being especially rememberable or special.

                                OPINION

                                Although this book differs from David Mitchells other book it does still have a lot of 'Mitchellness' to it. It doesn't run smoothly from beginning to end and has some quite unusual characters. It kind of reminds me of The Journal of Adam Ewing from Cloud Atlas, although of course this isn't just a short story, it has much more to it. David Mitchell has clearly done a lot of research for this book, although he has lived in Japan so would of course have some pre-existing knowledge of the country and its people, he obviously didn't live there in the early 1800s. The book is very accurate, and although a work of fiction you do learn a lot about what Japan was like as a closed country at this time and how hard it was for other countries to work with them. It also pays attention to specific customs and is quite detailed about the hierarchy of the classes in Japan and the customs pertaining to this. I do find this period in Japanese history interesting, although if you're not particularly interested in it I don't think that would matter, this is a great story regardless. One thing that did annoy me was any Japanese words used were always in italics, like the honorific 'san', used the same as we would use Mr and Mrs, this is used often and so when I read it, it seems like it ought to be emphasised, which it shouldn't.

                                David Mitchells books are overly easy to read, but even if you've read one of his others and disliked it, you may still like this as it is quite different to the others. It's a great story set in a very unusual place at an unusual time in its history. I got very wrapped up in the story and couldn't put it down even though I probably should have when it got to 3am. I would recommend this if you want an interesting and quite different read, any fans of David Mitchell will be happy with this, I can't wait until I'm able to pre-order his next book.

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