Thursday, 29 April 2010

Logan's Run

This has been the most enjoyable ‘Read the Book, Watch the Movie’ challenge yet. Both the book and the movie are excellently put together with a gripping, fast paced story and original characters. Another great Science Fiction plot conceived way ahead of its time.

The story is set in the not-too-distant future where, due to overpopulation, no-one lives beyond the age of 21. Each citizen of this new order has a small gem stone embedded, from birth, into the palm of their hand. This gemstone changes colour the older you get. Once the stone turns black your life is over. You are expected to report for execution so that a steady population can be maintained. Of course not everyone is willing to be executed and so attempt to escape by going on the run, searching for a mysterious place called ‘Sanctuary’. These ‘runners’ are hunted by police of the future known as ‘Sandmen’ who exist solely to hunt down and terminate runners. The main protagonist is Logan 5 a Sandman who decides to go on the run himself after his own gem turns black.

The book and the movie are actually quite different in a significant number of ways, too many to list but I will name some. The book is set on a much larger scale; the entire world is under the control of the new totalitarian authority whereas in the movie only a relatively small community are affected. Logan’s reasons for going on the run are different too; in the book he reaches his last day on earth and decides if he can find and destroy Sanctuary then he will be hailed a hero and not executed however in the movie Logan is ordered by the authorities to hunt for Sanctuary when he is nowhere near the age cut off himself. Minor details are different too; for example in the movie the age limit is 30 not 21. I’m sure this was done for practical reasons otherwise the whole cast would have been teenagers! I preferred the ending of the film as opposed to the ending of the book which felt abrupt and a little rushed. The addition of ‘Carousel’ in the movie was a stroke of genius, I’ll say no more!

All I will say is that both the book and the movie are excellent; apart from the ending of the book I have no real complaints at all. I prefer the movie but that was always likely to be the case since the movie is one of my favourites. The only aspect of the movie I never really liked much was the music which is horribly dated (the movie was made in the 70s)
One more point I will raise; the book had some scenes in it which could not possibly have been effectively re-created using 70s special effects. I have heard through the grapevine that a new version of Logan’s Run is currently in the very early stages of production. It is billed for release sometime in 2012. I hope that with the dramatic improvements in special effects over the years it will be able to do the book full justice.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

A visit to Darwin's house

It is a slow long side project of Chris’s but he is working his way through Journey of the Beagle by Charles Darwin. So when we found out we only lived about 40 minutes from where Darwin used to live and where he also wrote the origin of Species we decided to visit a few days ago.

Darwin’s old house is open to the public and it’s a rather grand house, he certainly was born into a privileged background. The downstairs of the house is still kept the same and the upstairs has been converted into a series of exhibitions detailing not only Darwin’s life and works but also those of his family. In fact in the children’s rooms you can still see where the eldest child carved his name into one of the cupboards shelves. The gardens and the original hot house are also there and if you’re ever in the south east of England it’s well worth a visit.
Unfortunately you are not able to take any photos inside the house so we were unable to get a photo of the famous study where he wrote the origin of species but we did get some exterior shots.

The front of the house.

The back, taken from the garden.

Darwin's hothouse where he was able to grow his more exotic plants.

Not a surprise to find the gardens were our sons favorite part of the day - he certainly slept well that night.

If however you find yourself in central London then the natural history museum offers a free guided tour around their Zoology spirit building where they have the largest collection of the original specimens collected by Darwin on his Journey of the Beagle (the second biggest collection of Darwin’s original specimens is in the natural history museum in New York). Me and Chris did this tour a few years ago and its quite spooky. They have thousands of jars full of animals in formaldehyde, from a tiny jar with a mouse to enormous jars filled with sharks and primates. The scientist doing the tour tells you how they preserve all the specimens (a lot of which is over 100 years old) and their ongoing work. I remember the whole centre was very cold as they have to keep the temperature below a certain degree as all the alcohol in the formaldehyde makes the area very flammable! Its not for the really squeamish but very interesting, plus they have a giant squid which sealed the deal for us.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Regeneration by Pat Barker

I found out about this book from C.B.James’s blog after he reviewed the whole trilogy of which this book is the first of (many thanks C.B.James)

Although the front cover of both the American and British edition of the book indicates this is a book about WWI it takes a more different way of looking at that period. Set in Craiglockhart Hospital in Edinburgh, the book mostly follows psychiatrist W.H. Rivers as he treats the soldiers who have been taken out of service for his treatment. These soldiers are not physically injured but mentally and the idea is that Rivers can ‘cure’ them enough so that they can be sent back to the front line to fight.

The author here has mixed fact with fiction; Dr Rivers really did exist as did several of the patients in the book including Owen and Sassoon. There is an author’s note at the back where she explains that the information on patient’s treatment in the book was obtained from papers which Rivers and others had written at the time. Mental illness caused by the experiences of war was not a subject which had previously been extensively studied and this is reflected in the different types of treatment given to patients depending on which doctor is treating them.
An example of this is where a patient has become so traumatised by his experiences he loses the ability to speak. Where Dr River's treats this condition using Freud and waits for the patient to speak in his own time, another doctor will treat the same condition with electric shocks in a technique which would be classed as torture today. However although this was not brought up in the book (maybe it will in the rest of the trilogy) these men were the lucky ones, many men at the front were executed for cowardice when they showed signs of shell shock.

The patients in the book have various issues such as shell shock, persistent vomiting etc One case which I found particularly fascinating; a doctor who could not stand the sight of blood as a result of all the amputations he has had to perform on the front. There is no medical jargon in the book instead it focuses on whether there is any hope for these men in the future, the guilt these men feel about being away from their friends on the front and what exactly is the point in preserving these men’s mental health only to send them back to an almost certain death?

This does not exactly sound like a fast based war book and indeed it is not, it is however an interesting and understated story. If I have one criticism it is that the author does expect the reader to know a little about the real life patients of Owen and Sassoon. These two were famous war poets that met in hospital; something which I was unaware of so did not really understand some parts in the beginning, but that really is a very minor quibble.

This book very much focuses on the aftermath of war and the doctors and the patients convey sadness and disillusionment which gives the book a poignant feel to it, it was refreshing to read about experiences away from the front. I am glad this is part one of a trilogy because the story felt as though there is more to tell.

Verdict 4/5

Posted by Jess

Monday, 26 April 2010

Book Club

Jessica has suggested to me that it might be an interesting ‘experience’ for me to read a book selected by a book club then give my two pennies worth during the following analysis and discussion on the book. I disagree with Jessica wholeheartedly and believe it will be nothing more than an exercise in futility. Does this mean I have escaped this undesirable fate? Of course not.
I detest the idea of book clubs for one simple reason; I don’t like being told what to do.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not some kind of sad ‘rebel without a cause’ type character. I just like making my own choices in life especially with regards to what I read. I don’t like the idea of someone I have never met dictating to me especially when I didn’t get the opportunity to vote on the book choice in question.

Therefore it is with no small feeling of resentment that I will soon be reading a library copy of ‘My Cousin Rachel’ by Daphne Du Maurier from the online Cornflower Book Group.
I will be perfectly honest; I really don’t like the look of this book. I am not expecting to enjoy it and have a rather negative view on the entire impending ‘experience’ it may well leave me traumatised.

As somebody who has never participated in a book club (either online or in real life) I’ll be giving my honest verdict on both the book and the whole ‘experience’ of the book club.
The things we do for love and blogs!

Posted by Chris

Sunday, 25 April 2010

The boys in the trees by Mary Swan

This weeks NTTVBG hosted on dovegreyreader is The boys in the Trees by Mary Swan. This is still being discussed but the general feeling towards this book is not positive.

The book starts in 19th century England where a young boy climbs a tree to crave his name and to also vow that he will leave his terrible home and abusive father as soon as he possibly can.

We then see this boy 'William Heath' as he and his wife flee to Canada after the death of their three children who have died from diphtheria. William and his wife then have two daughters and settle in the fictional town of Emden, Ontario. Here they seem to find real happiness, they have a house and the youngest daughter enjoys her schooling, William teaches Sunday school and has a good job as a book keeper. But when William is accused of dodgy bookkeeping and is arrested, this causes him to commit an unspeakable crime and then the story follows the residents of the town of Emden as they try to come to terms with what as happened and to ask themselves 'did I miss the signs?'

This is a well written book, the narrative is clear and to the point and creates a dark and Gothic atmosphere. My only criticism here would be that it changes from narrator to narrator every single chapter, so I had to start every chapter trying to work out who was narrating which was a little frustrating.

The main reason people commenting on dovegreyreader's blog didn't like this is because so many parts of the story is left unsaid. We do not get an insight into why William committed the crimes he did or why the family tended to keep very much to themselves, we don't know exactly why they left England for Canada or really why they then suddenly left Toronto where they had originally settled. This can make for quite a frustrating read but I personally didn't mind this.

A lot of the chapters were spoken from the view points of various residents from the town who witnessed the aftermath of Williams crimes, for this reason I think the crimes or why they were committed were not as important as the ripples they caused. How did a major crime effect the local residents and should they have seen the signs? The locals did not know very much about William and his family or anything about his background so therefore neither do we. Perhaps we as readers also feel the same frustration that the towns people themselves feel?

On the whole I did like this book, it was a real treat to read through but I was expecting a dramatic ending or at least a revelation which did not come. Although we had limited information on William, we also had limited information on the residents themselves and I got the impression they were also leaving out vital narrative which would have made this a less frustrating read.

Verdict 3/5 (would really like to give it 31/2 stars)

Posted by Jess

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Top Ten Picks: Worst books you've ever read

Ah now heres a topic to get peoples opinions, the lastest topic on Random Ramblings is top ten worst books you've ever read. We apologise now if your beloved favourite is here amongst our worst books, its only our opinion you know ;)

Firstly from Chris....

Resident Evil: The Umbrella Conspiracy by S.D Perry

I have read three books in the 'Resident Evil' series, none of which I enjoyed. As far as I am concerned they are all as dreadful as each other but I'm only allowed to name one...

This book is terrible in every conceivable sense of the word; Poorly written, full of crass, foul language and spelling mistakes. The characters are, without exception, two dimensional, unbelievable and boring. The storyline is utterly laughable.

All in all a terrible waste of paper and the most regrettable literary purchases I have ever made.

Falling for Icarus by Rory Maclean

This book is written by a man who suffered a nervous breakdown after the death of his mother. He decides (seemingly out of the blue) to uproot his family, move to Cyprus and build a flying machine.

He is not a mechanic or an engineer, in fact he doesn't seem to have a clue. He drags his poor wife along with him and doesn't care one jot how she feels about the whole thing.

The story bored me stiff. It was written in the sort of roundabout incoherent manner you would expect from a person who has suffered a breakdown. The book didn't inspire me. It annoyed me a great deal. The man didn't need a flying machine. He needed a psychiatrist.

Vampires by Konstantinos

I reviewed this book here on the blog a month ago and you can read the review here. The book tries to convince the reader that Vampires are real. This is not done in any believable sense. The author makes numerous assertions but cannot produce one scrap of solid, reliable evidence. A poor read.

Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut

This book has earned the dubious accolade as the worst book I have ever read (cue the trumpets!)
It makes me hot under the collar just thinking about how much I hate this book. The story is very strange; it begins with a soldier serving as a private in WW2 who is captured and becomes a POW later in the story he is kidnapped by aliens and forced to mate with a stripper. I did say it was strange.

The phrase 'So it goes' is written every time someone or something dies in the book. This phrase appears 116 times in total (bear in mind the book is only 150 pages long) by the end it infuriated me so much I wanted to burn the book.

Vonnegut also writes about the fire bombing of Dresden as if he is an authority on the subject when he is anything but. His figures are completely incorrect and clearly made up on the spot without any kind of research. I nearly burst a blood vessel when I read this line;

“Billy had seen the greatest massacre in European history, which was the fire-bombing of Dresden. So it goes"

No, Mr Vonnegut I am sure the greatest massacre in European history was the Nazis murdering six million Jewish people in extermination camps, not a bombing raid that killed 24,000 people (not 135,000 as you wrote in the book)

A terrible, terrible book not fit to serve as a draft excluder.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

Awful teenage rubbish which bored me to tears. Once again this was reviewed here fairly recently. The main character is a soppy mare who I really had no sympathy with. In fact, I wanted the zombies to make a meal out of her. She obsesses over a boy in her village whilst everyone she knows and loves is eaten alive. Tasteless 'popular' fiction.

And from Jess....

Human Traces by Sebastian Faulks

I really really wanted to like this book. I received this book from Chris one Christmas morning and since I had enjoyed some of his other books like Bird Song Chris had gotten me a signed special edition. But I have never been able to finish Human Traces, it reads very slow and goes on and on about the human condition. I still have it but doubt I'll ever finish it.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

A load of boys stranded on a desert island eventually succumbing to mans more primitive nature. This should have been the best read ever, but why did I feel so bored reading it?

Great Apes by Will Self

Again another great idea, a man wakes after a drug/drink filled night and find he has turned into an ape, as has everyone else in the world. He is shortly moved into an asylum because he 'thinks' he is human. Most of this book is filled with chimps having sex – seriously.

Breaking dawn by Stephanie Meyer

Firstly I'm sorry for jumping on the twilight hating bandwagon. Renesmee, every time I read that name I had to stop and wonder who would name their child that, WHO. That aside we have the big promised battle at the end only to find they can sort it all out with a nice conversation, Bella's father being totally OK with Jacob being a werewolf and her being a vampire, and the love shack of Bella and Edward deep in the forest. I'm sorry if your a fan - please don't hate me.

Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H Lawrence

I don't know why but I can never finish this, its not a terrible book or anything but I just cant seem to get past page 100.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Franny and Zooey by J.D Salinger

I have been meaning to read more of J.D.Salinger’s writing ever since I read Catcher in the Rye which is why I picked up Franny and Zooey in my local library.

Franny and Zooey were originally written as two separate short stories and were part of a series of stories about the Glass family published in the New Yorker magazine. They were published in book form in 1961 and contains the two parts ‘Franny’ and ‘Zooey’.

The first part follows Franny as she meets up with her boyfriend Lane with whom she is planning on spending the weekend. They have lots of things planned but they don’t get to do any of these things as Franny has a breakdown and faints during their first lunch together. Before fainting, Franny spends the majority of this lunch ranting to Lane about how she finds most people egotistical and phony. She seems to have a real hatred towards most people (so far so Catcher in the Rye) She also mentions that she has been reading and is interested in a Jesus Prayer which needs to be endlessly recited and indeed when she faints on her way to the toilet she is still saying the prayer. This is where the first part ends.

The second part picks up a few days later in the Glass household and follows Zooey as he reads a letter from his older brother Buddy which details why the family has difficulty in coping with other people, talks with his mother and then has a theological and personal conversation with Franny who has taken to lying on the sofa since her breakdown.

So really there is little in the way of plot.

The dialogue is very witty and realistic; honestly I’m not sure I’ve ever read more realistic conversations between characters. Up until the end I did find that however great the writing is, it is essentially a couple of young adults’ discussing/arguing/lecturing on philosophy, feeling and spiritual enlightenment for a couple of hundred pages. It might be because I am more of a ‘plot driven’ person but I began to not get bored exactly but I did began to find it a little tiresome and very slow. I stuck with it though and I’m glad I did because I found the last few paragraphs to be quite beautiful. In the last few paragraphs Franny and Zooey discover something and it is worth discovering it with them.

I have only given this book 3/5 for the moment which I think is a little unfair as this is a book which really needs much more savouring and deserves a second reading. But I'll stick with this rating because although I loved the end and the overall message of the book, I didn't enjoy the whole journey there.

Guilty Pleasure

I like to think I have good taste in books. Of course this could be misguided egotism, but nevertheless I have got one or two celebrated contemporary works on my bookshelf and like to casually drop them into conversation to make myself seem classy and sophisticated, which is not as easy as it sounds.

However I do have a confession to make; I love Warhammer 40,000 novels.

Black Library Publishing first started printing Fantasy and Science Fiction books in 1999 and now has over 200 titles to its name. It is based on the famous ‘Gamesworkshop’ franchise; a board game where you collect and paint miniature models then play turn based battle games with your friends. I never really got into the board game even when I was 12 but I have always found the idea of Warhammer 40,000 really interesting. Therefore when the novels came out I thought I’d give them a try.

The 40k books are set in the ‘Warhammer 40,000’ universe a dark envisioning of a bleak future where Humanity is locked in constant bloody warfare with alien races, heretics and daemons. Protecting this vast empire is an army of genetically modified, heavily armoured, fearless soldiers of the future called ‘Space Marines’.
Most of the novels chronicle the adventures of the Space Marines as they combat their many varied enemies. The novels are diverse with a highly complex and detailed universe as a backdrop allowing the authors lots of ideas to play with but, of course, the main theme of the books is battle. The books are not all written by the same person but many different authors.

Why do I like them? Well, for easy-to-read science fiction fluff it is second to none. I have always found the Warhammer 40k universe exciting and interesting. The Space Marines are fun to read about and the battles they fight are well described and often quite exciting. I love science fiction anyway and although I am undoubtedly geeky I staunchly refuse to collect and paint miniature models at my age so the novels are a handy way to appreciate 40k without seeming sad (well, too sad)
Of course they do have their downsides; some of the books are poorly edited, some contain spelling and punctuation errors but not all of them. Also since the original board game was designed to appeal to young boys bloodshed and battle are very common themes. This is OK but sometimes becomes too repetitive.

I have read three 40k books and intend to read more in the future. Of course I’m not the only one with ‘guilty pleasures’, Jess likes to sometimes read vampire books such as the Sookie Stackhouse novels when she wants something quick, easy to read and not too challenging. Does anyone else have books which they know they can dip into when but wouldn’t exactly shout it from the rooftops?

Monday, 19 April 2010

Article, Challenges and awards

A very interesting article on the BBC website today titled Were the 'mad' heroines of literature really sane? This article is extracted from a radio show to be shown shortly where they ask medical historians, psychiatrists and literary specialists to give their diagnoses on troubled heroines including Mrs Rochester and the women in white.
This sounds quite fascinating to me and I’ll be listening to the full radio show on bbc iplayer.

I have also signed up for a challenge found here at Book-a-Rama and is called the Daphne du Maurier Challenge. Its quite easy, all I have to do is read 3 of her works (2 short stories count as one book) and this runs from May 13, 2010- April 19, 2011. Why those dates? Daphne du Maurier was born May 13, 1907 and died April 19, 1989.

I have wanted to read Rebecca for a long time and this was also my Grandmothers favourite book but I have to admit to being quite ignorant of Daphne du Maurier’s other works. If anyone has any recommendations of her novels or short stories then please let me know.

Finally we have an award from Whitney at She is too fond of books – thankyou Whitney.

A prolific blogger is one who is intellectually productive, keeping up an active blog with enjoyable content. Well there are two of us contributing to this blog so we do have an unfair advantage ;)
After accepting this award recipients are asked to pay it forward to seven other deserving blogs, and here they are...

The Book Mole
Pen & Paper
One persons Journey through books
And the plot thickens.....
All lit up
At home with books

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Stephen King's The Stand

This is a big big book with a huge cast of many different characters, all of whom have their own back-story and their plot within the book. The Stand also has a huge array of different elements; apocalypse, love, violence, good versus evil, supernatural, survival – well you get the idea. I'm sitting here trying to review the book and struggling. As the book is divided into three parts I have decided the best thing to do is to divide the review also into three parts.

Part One: Captain Trips

The Stand certainly starts in an exciting way, a woman in the middle of the night is woken by her manic husband who is insisting that she get her and their daughter quickly dressed as they have to flee NOW. The woman who begins to get scared of course starts asking questions but can feel her husbands urgency enough to comply.
It transpires that they are living on an army base in America and that there has been a security breach of some kind and a biological weapon has 'got out'.
Later during this part of 'The Stand' the car carrying the husband, wife & daughter pulls into a garage in Texas, inside the wife and daughter are dead and the husband soon will be and thus begins the rapid spread of 'Captain Trips' across America.

Biological outbreaks are not exactly original in fiction but the spread of the infection as it travels from city to city while the government desperately tries to first deny this is happening to eventually using violence on the population to try to contain it, is done is quite an exciting and fascinating way. This part of the book is over 400 pages long and could have been a novel in itself and I would say that this was my favourite part of The Stand. I did notice however that although a few major cities around the world are very briefly mentioned we get no indication or idea of what is happening in the rest of the world during this time.

Part Two:On The Border

Around 99.9% of the population has been killed and the few survivors start to come to terms with what has happened and look for other survivors. The story also starts to take on a more supernatural flavour as they start to have similar dreams. The survivors are drawn to the two people they dream about, the 'dark man' in the west or Mother Abigail who eventually settles in Colorado.

This is where a lot more characters start to get introduced as well as still following some of the survivors from the first part of the book. Of course being Stephen King, the author gives us background stories for all these characters and in places I did get a little bit confused. For large parts we follow these characters spend a lot of time just wandering aimlessly around from town to town looking for life while heading towards Colorado and after the fast pace of part one this began to feel very slow in comparison.

Once the characters had begun to reach the city of destination the book picks up again as the arrivals in Colorado begin to get more and more numerous and so the formation of a society begins. The question comes in, how do you start to build a society from scratch? Well according to the people in The Stand, hold a series of meetings, set up committees and then hold some more meetings. Business as usual then?
The rather boring (although I did not find this section boring)subject of polities is also interwoven with fantasy, crazy dreams and the feeling felt that something pure evil will soon descend. People begin to form relationships and choose their side in what promises to an exciting final stand.

Part Three: The Stand

If you look at other reviews you will find that while many people enjoyed the book they did feel very let down by the ending. Unfortunately so did I, especially after the book had done such a great job of building up the situation and tension throughout. I won't give away the ending but I will say there is no 'Stand' at all. very disappointing and underwhelming after what the books title suggested.

This is not a complicated book but does it need to be the size it is? In my opinion yes.
Let us take the Character of Larry for example, at the beginning of the book he is a spoilt, lazy, womanising pop star who is living with his mother for a while and taking full advantage of her hospitality. Then jump forward to the last part of the book and we see Larry in a serious relationship with a authoritative responsible job in the new community and is quite prepared to walk into his possible death in order to save his friends from the evil which threatens them. That's quite a transformation and he is not the only character to undergo such a dramatic change. I think this would have been difficult to make these transformations believable without the character development which gives the book its size.

Is it worth tackling this rather daunting book? Yes because although I haven't named any characters in the above I do remember and have stayed with for quite a journey, Larry, Fran, Stu, Tom, Nick, Abigail, Judge, Trashcan, Dark Man, Lloyd, Nadine, Lucy – so long, I have enjoyed the trip.

Verdict 4/5

Posted by Jess

Saturday, 17 April 2010


I have to be honest; I only picked up this book because Stephen Fry publically announced his fondness of it. Until that point I had never heard of the book nor its author. I had never seen it in any book shop, charity shop, or anywhere else. It just came out of nowhere and drew my attention. I’m so glad it did. I enjoyed it so much I finished it in one sitting which is unusual for me.

This book has been described as a ’modern fable’ and I can see why. It has all the elements of a fable, in the most unlikely of settings; a small American shack in the middle of nowhere set in modern times.

Arguably the main character is Jake; a spindly, foul-mouthed, cantankerous 99 year old man who believes he will live forever because of a special moonshine whiskey he distils and drinks in copious amounts. He is a character of genius; wonderfully irreverent, gloriously rude and very funny. He had me in stitches on several occasions throughout the book. His grandson ‘Tiny’ is the polar opposite of his grandfather, quiet and thoughtful he enjoys building fences and little else. He keeps Jake on the straight and narrow. Then there’s Fup; a female mallard duck that appears one day in mysterious circumstances, is hand raised by Jake and Tiny and soon becomes one of the family.

The story is short; barely more than 100 pages but despite this Dodge manages to put in more than enough character development and builds the relationship between the three until you couldn’t see them apart from each other.

I can’t say too much about the ending but I will say I didn't like it. I can’t really say more than that without giving the end away but I did feel it was a very disappointing end to such a marvellous book.

The final verdict is 4/5

By Chris

Friday, 16 April 2010

Top Ten Picks; Books that make you cry

This week Random Ramblings are hosting a 'top ten books that make you cry'. Chris this week has only submitted one book to the list, because men don't cry don't you know ;)

Marley & Me by John Grogen

Its about a dog, and the dog eventually gets old and dies. How could you not cry at that unless you have a heart of stone. Its quite a good book about a typical American family trying to live with a mad dog in the household which makes it funny, and then the dog gets old and dies which makes it sad.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

I cried loads after reading this. The whole time reading this book I was terrified something bad was going to happen to the nameless man and boy in the book (but of course something bad had happened) I think it was the right ending for this book but even if the ending had been different by that time I had been on such an emotional journey I would have cried whatever the ending.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

You know when you start reading a book and you know your going to be crying at the end of it? It was like this for me. Just because man can, doesn't mean he should.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

I suspect this will be on many peoples list, even though you know its coming because the narrator has told you (had in fact given you plenty of notice) its still devastating. Chris will completely deny this now but he got a bit wet around the eyes when he read it.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

In Chris's words

The Bell Jar' resonates very deeply with me on a personal level too. I can appreciate (to a lesser degree) what Esther is going through. I find the best kinds of literature most deserving of praise are always those that people can personally relate to.

The Bell Jar made me cry. This has happened to me before with films but never with a book. It's the first time I've fully realised what a profound effect literature can have on a human being. I cannot recommend The Bell Jar highly enough.

There you have it, oh yes and there are only five this week. Well even with putting our heads together this is all we came up with. We did think of adding books which had also 'made us a little sad' but even then the list only came to seven.

We can use the 'oh but we're English we don't cry' excuse but that's not gonna cut it. Maybe we haven't read enough tragic love stories (I do have the time travellers wife on my TBR list) or maybe because we were never subjected to 'Where the Red Fern Grows' as children. I don't know.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

The Time Machine by H.G.Wells

This review is part of the read the book watch the movie challenge.
I should begin by saying that I did not enjoy this book very much. I’m not quite sure what I was expecting but it certainly wasn’t what I got. It is with no small sense of relief that I did not spend £8 on this tiny book but rather borrowed it from my local library.

The story is set in Victorian London with the Time Traveller (we never discover his real name) explaining to a small gathering of close professional friends that he has built a machine that can travel through time. Understandably enough no-one believes a word of it and so the Time Traveller sets off into the distant future where he discovers Humanity has developed into two very distinct sub-species; the surface dwelling, naive and peaceful Eloi and the underground dwelling, ape-like, primitive Morlocks. The Time Traveller struggles to understand how these two distinct groups came into existence and their relationship to each other and faces a life and death struggle of his own when the Morlocks steal his machine leaving him stranded in the future.

Reading books like these serve as a very useful reminder as to why I love more contemporary fiction; no frilly language.

I have no idea why, perhaps value for money, perhaps elitism, perhaps it was just the way it was done but my God books written in 19th century England are needlessly complex and boring!

The motto amongst writers in those days must have been ‘why write something in 20 words when you can use 300?’ I do realise however that this is a personal thing, if you enjoy reading prose from the 19th century then feel free to ignore this part of the review and to not let it put you off the book!

I can’t appreciate or condone the writing style and as such reading the story becomes a chore rather than a pleasure. Even ignoring the way it is written I think the story was improved upon in the film version. The story in the book is dull and brutal, the characters are two dimensional and the violence readily used by the Time Traveller doesn’t seem in keeping with the grand adventure of time travel. The Time Traveller seems to derive extreme pleasure from murdering Morlocks by beating them to death with an iron bar despite the fact they never actually physically harm him, despite having plenty of opportunity to do so. The Eloi are an irritation more than anything else and when a female Eloi named Weena attaches herself to the Time Traveller and is eventually killed in a forest fire that he started he doesn’t appear to care. All in all a detestable man I did not sympathise with.

Despite not enjoying it there were one or two moments in the book which I enjoyed, in some parts it was even exciting and considering Wells wrote the book in 1895 the story is impressively imaginative but i’m afraid any exciting moments were drowned in pages upon pages of self-reflection and prose which sent me to sleep.

Some of you may be aware there has been more than one film version of H.G Wells ‘The Time Machine’ made. I have chosen the 1960 version starring Rod Taylor and Yvette Mimieux because I remember seeing it as a child and thinking it was brilliant.
I remember absolutely loving this film as a child. I thought the special effects were brilliant and the Morlocks frightened the life out of me (in a good way) of course now I’m older I’m slightly (ok, alot) more critical but I still enjoyed the trip down memory lane.

Although I appreciate the film was made in 1960 the special effects are really quite laughable (in one scene when the time traveller is grappling with a Morlock you can clearly see the blue paint rub off on his hands) there is some terrible acting in the film. One actress in particular named Yvette Mimieux portrayed an Eloi female, who grows close to the Time Traveller, in a singularly uninspirational and unconvincing manner. I’m sure Mimieux was trying to portray her character as being naive and child-like but due to poor acting she just came across as simple-minded. The lights were on but nobody was home.
The Time Traveller himself has a terribly patronising, misogynistic attitude towards the Eloi and particularly the vague, beautiful Weena however his character is infinitely more likeable in the film than the book.

The film added many plot elements to the story which was predictable considering the book was only 90 pages long but these improve on the story in my opinion although some of them are rather ludicrous. (in one scene the time traveller witnesses a nuclear explosion over London. The whole city is destroyed around him in fire from the bomb but he escapes remarkably unscathed)

The film is most definitely worth a viewing even if it is only to laugh at the special effects but personally I wouldn’t recommend the book.
Final verdict; 2/5 for the book 3/5 for the film

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Jewellery for the book lover

I have been eyeing up some book related jewellery on etsy and thought I would share some of my finds. This found here is beautiful and is made using tiny hand made books; it’s also a little out of my price range.

Or how about your favourite book cover around you neck? This site will do any image.

As if you twilight fans don't have enough things to buy.

Or what about your favourite quote?

Or something different?

I feel I could buy them all.

btw I don't know any of the above sellers and have not purchased or received anything from them, they just caught my eye :)

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

The Men Who Stare At Goats

The subject of this book is undoubtedly one of the most bizarre, disturbing and interesting chapters in American military history. In the 70s an influential Army General, who would later go on to be in charge of US Military Intelligence, became interested in the supernatural and occult. He soon came to the somewhat eccentric conclusion that these strange phenomenons could be incorporated into modern warfare. He wanted to develop an army of psychic soldiers who could be trained to (among other things) read minds, levitate, become invisible, walk through walls, predict the future and kill by just looking at someone. I’m not sure what’s more frightening; the idea itself or the general’s seemingly sincere belief this was actually an achievable goal.

Several ‘psychic’ units were formed to carry out different kinds of military operations. My personal favourites were the ‘First Earth Battalion’ whose job it was to play soothing music to the enemy whilst walking towards them thinking positive thoughts, carrying flowers and baby animals (as opposed to rifles and grenades)
As I turned the pages and read about the exploits of these ‘psychic’ soldiers I was equal parts amused and horrified. Before very long I decided that almost everyone Ronson interviews for the book is one of four things;

A) Very naive
B) Very stupid
C) Crazy as a box of frogs
D) All of the above

The ‘psychics’ Ronson interviewed (and there were quite a few) all seem utterly convinced they possess psychic powers despite a few of them openly expressing doubt about their own abilities. More than a few fabled stories of psychic events are exposed as being untrue. One example being the ‘psychic spy’ who was credited with using his psychic ability to open a locked door; He later admitted that he just picked the lock. Another psychic referred to himself as a “Jedi Warrior” and seemed absolutely convinced he could make himself invisible yet seemed strangely (and let’s face it; conveniently) reluctant to demonstrate this amazing feat in front of Ronson...How Ronson managed to keep a straight face when speaking to these people is beyond me.

Then there is the famous goat-staring which DID take place in real life...I won’t spoil it for you though.

Unfortunately the book did have its downsides. It is not written in an easy-to-read style. It often lacks coherent structure and the jumps about all over the place going backwards and forwards in time, leaping from one location to another. Ronson interviews numerous individuals who appear then disappear only to reappear again later in the book by which point you’ve forgotten who they are and what they had said or done. There is also a good deal of padding in the book with content which I would argue has nothing to do with psychics and more with psychology. I suspect this is yet another book which could have been half as thick as it is.

I did enjoy this book overall, sometimes it made me laugh, other times it took on a more sinister note but for the most part it was entertaining. I recommend it if you find military history or the occult interesting or if you just fancy a laugh at the expense of nutty people.

Verdict: 3\5

By Chris

Monday, 12 April 2010

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Like a lot of people, I read the Kite Runner then immediately went out and brought A Thousand Splendid Suns where for a very long time it sat on my bookshelf. I’m not sure why it took me so long to read this especially after I loved the Kite Runner? Perhaps it was because of the impact that the Kite Runner has which made me reluctant to go on this journey again?

A Thousand Splendid Suns is also set in Afghanistan and like the Kite Runner, follows the history of the country from the Soviets leaving to the rise and downfall of the Taliban. There are a lot of similarities to the Kite Runner, they are both largely set in Kabul and landmarks such as the orphanage and the stadium executions are also present in both books. Where A Thousand Splendid Suns differs though is that it is told from the prospective of two women and unlike the Kite Runner these characters are unable to leave Afghanistan so are forced to stay and endure the Taliban’s reign.

Mariam from a young age is forced to marry a man much older than her and then has to endure a loveless and quite often violent marriage, about 20 years later this man takes another much younger wife called Laila and the two women soon form a strong bond. These women are inflected with suffocating horror from both their husband and from the Taliban all the while their friendship develops and brings some small relief.

Hosseini is a great storyteller, the book despite its subject is an easy read and at times I couldn’t put it down as the plot is so fast paced. This is not an ‘embellished’ story; you do not get to read about the smells or atmosphere of the various homes you visit although you do get a sense of claustrophobia and hopelessness. There were also a few plot developments which I did not see coming so for me this was not in anyway a predictable book.

A lot of people have criticised the main female characters calling them two dimensional and although I agree that they are slightly, I think this may be more of a result of the fast pace of the novel. The time frame at one point jumps forward about 15 years and it’s not unusual in this book to jump months or a few years forward and I think the character development in this book has suffered a little as a result.

Overall while I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it, it lacked the same structure and punch that the Kite Runner had.

Verdict 4/5

Posted by Jess

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Top Ten books you must read at least once

Random Ramblings have a new topic of top tens so me and chris put our heads together to come up with this list,

By Jess

1.Lord of the Rings, J.R.Tolkien

If anything just to say you have. I haven't read this and I doubt I ever will but Chris has and he's still proud – he should be.

2. Catcher in the Rye -J.D.Salinger

This is a real hate it or love it book, for example I loved it, Chris hated it. Sometimes books are like this and its good to know what side of the fence you sit on.

3.The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 ¾ - Sue Townsend

This is an hilarious diary of poor Adrian as he struggles through school, friendships, the naughtiness his parents get up to and his love for Pandora. Honestly you wont regret it.

4. Wedlock - Wendy Moore

If you ever need reminding of exactly how far women really have come over the past 200 years then read this.

5. The Road - Cormac McCarthy

This book again seems to be a love it or hate it book but even most people that claim they hate it (Chris again) read it within a couple of days which says something about the power this book has.

and from Chris....

6.To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

The only book written by the reclusive Harper Lee this story chronicles the life of a family living in a small, backwards town in the US. Surrounded on all sides by ignorant, bigoted racism and prejudice two white children try to make sense of the world watched over by their loving father Atticus Finch; the town lawyer, who makes history when he chooses to represent a black man accused of raping and assaulting a local white woman. Atticus’s decision has far-reaching consequences for his family. A thrilling read that can teach genuine lessons. I wasn’t the same person after reading it.

7. Of Mice & Men - John Steinbeck

A famous tale of two ranchers in 30’s America trying to scrape a living in the midst of the depression. I absolutely love this book and was glad I had the opportunity to study it in school when I was a teenager. Put simply it is a tale of friendship and the hardships that we sometimes have to face. It is the only book I have ever read in one sitting. One of those rare books that stays with you after you’ve read it.

8. The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath

I have only just finished reading this book and must say it has jumped straight near the top of my favourite book list (please see my recent review) I won’t repeat myself here but I will say it is a wonderfully sad story about the journey of a young woman suffering from mental illness who eventually attempts suicide.

9.Notes from a Big Country - Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson is my favourite author. I own many of his books and enjoy reading all of them. Asking me to pick out my favourite Bill Bryson book is never easy but, with a loaded gun pressed against my head, I would have to say this book pips the others at the post. It was actually the first Bryson book I ever read, I was introduced to him by my wife and have never looked back. I don’t have room in this brief space to highlight all the reasons why I love this work (I suspect an article on this very subject will appear here soon) but the book is unbearably funny, very true and full of Bryson’s unique brand of dry, sarcastic humour. A must-read for anyone with a sense of humour; I own three copies of this book just to ensure I am never without one!

10. The Illustrated Man - Ray Bradbury

This is a very well put together and imaginative series of science fiction short stories. Another fairly short book I only finished it about a week ago (I’ve been very lucky with books lately) full of original ideas and gripping tales. I often thought it fitted more neatly into the category of science fiction horror (some of the stories are quite frightening and violent) but this doesn’t mean I enjoyed it less. If you love sci-fi give this book a go.

So there you have our top ten.