Recent Reading

April 24, 2009

The Diary Of A Wimpy Kid

Having had it recommended in a number of places, I was really looking forward to reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney, and being that it was nice and short and unlikely to make me consider my own mortality, I thought I would give it a go.

I have to confess to being seriously disappointed. I think the main problem is that Greg, the main character is just, well if I am being polite, not a very nice kid. It is meant to be an amusing look at how Gregory misinterprets situations, whilst always believing he is pretty much the centre of the universe. Now this may not be that unusual for a child of his age, but I fail to find any redeeming aspect to his character. He is abusive and bullying to his dim-witted best friend Rowley, he is not nice to his younger brother, he is ungrateful to his parents when they clearly gone beyond what they can afford on his Christmas present. Yet the author seems to want us to side with this spoilt brat and thus allows him to come out on top.

What is worse is that it just was not funny. It was written with no concept of subtlety and generally left me wanting more.

I know that it is a kid’s book, but there are many kids books that do have sub text, that do have subtlety, and characters with far more depth and more importantly (to me at least) seem to adhere to a sense of justice.

But as I say, I have had this book recommended to me by adults that I actually respect, so if you have read this book, and liked it … tell me what I am missing, what are it’s saving graces?

Once

After the banality of the Wimpy Kid, I decided to prove to myself that books aimed at children did not need to be thought free fluff, and instead deciced to move to the other end of the spectrum and grab a copy of Once by Morris Gleitzman.

This story is about a young Jewish boy named Felix. When the story starts off, we find Felix unknowingly taking refuge in a Catholic run orphanage in Poland. The adults around him decided that he is too young to understand the horrors that are happening in the outside world, so they tell him that his parents (who run a book shop) have left him there while they go off to find some rare books. So when the Nazi’s come to the orphanage and Felix witnesses them burning books, his mind goes already highly active imagination goes into overdrive and he concludes that they hate books and he needs to escape the orphanage to return to his parents shop so as to protect the books.

With no real understanding of what is going on Felix tells a story of brutality and persecution through the innocent eyes of a small child.

This is one of those books that, whilst I could have empathised with the story prior to having children, now had me captivated, horrified and sickened, yet totally unable to stop reading.

Whilst being in no way comfortable reading, it is another book that is defiantly makes the reader think.

Liberation Day

Continuing in the vein of reacting to the previous book, I decided to get a book that really was not likely to make me think.

One of my guilty little pleasures is that regardless of just how low brow they may be, I really do enjoy reading the books of Andy McNab. I started with Bravo Two Zero which his non-fiction (although reportedly exaggerated) account of the SAS team of that name and their failed mission in Iraq in the first Gulf War.

He as since that gone on to write a fictional series based on the character Nick Stone, and I am slowly making my way through the this series. Liberation Day is the fifth book in the series and takes place 2002 in a post 9/11 world, where Nick has been charged with thwarting Al-Qaeda’s attempts to move money from Europe to Algeria, and thus preventing a planned attack on US civilians.

As I said, War and Peace it is not. However it is the literary equivalent to watching a Die-Hard film …. Just turn the Brain off and let it happen … A far more enjoyable experience than you may otherwise have credited.


The Time Traveler’s Wife

March 23, 2009

As I may have mentioned ( 😉 ) I recently read The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger and I promised to talk more about it.

The thing that has been putting me off doing this is just how do you do this book justice. If I say that it is a story about a man named Henry who travels in time it sound really sci-fi, but it is far from it. It is a love story. A beautifully written, many faceted, unravelling story that is both heart warming and heart breaking.

Rather than being the traditionally conceived time traveller Henry suffers from a genetic disorder that, when stressed, causes him to loose his grip on time and space, and he finds himself transported to some other when and where. His time travel has certain obvious advantages, but they are significantly outweighed by the disadvantages but there are disadvantages too. I left the crossed out text as it was what came to mind, but the book also talks of the complex relationship between cause and effect. Concepts like destiny and free will. Without his ability to time travel Henry would not have met his wife future wife Clare, or at least their story would have been very different.

One of the most striking things about this book is how beautifully it has been written. Unlike The Kite Runner which, whilst managing to be a good book, was pretty much an unhappy book throughout, The Time Traveller’s Wife has both highs and lows, which due to the nature of Henry’s condition were sometimes closely intermingled. This contrast between light and shade allows us to feel we understand Henry and allow us to empathise with him despite his very peculiar problem. The story is told from the point of view of two narrators, Henry the time traveller and Clare his wife. This has the wonderful effect of causing events to slowly unfold whilst reading, allowing each event to be told more than once from multiple points of view in increasing detail, with many events being foreshadowed by some Henry from the future, giving us yet another account of the situation. What starts out as a strange tangle of events all go on to mesh together into one carefully woven story.

This book is easily the my favourite read in quite some time, and as much as I am once again very late to the party, if in the strange Venn-diagram of the five-six readers of this blog and the five or six people that can read yet have not read this book, there happens to be any overlap, I strongly recommend adding this book to their list of future reads 🙂


For everything there is a season

March 20, 2009

OK It might be unwise for me to claim that I am playing catch-up again as this seems to be becoming my more of the rule than the exception 😦

As I mentioned last time, I had recently read The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger and I promised to talk more about it, well I was writing my thoughts when I found myself going off on a little tangent, which I have decided to separate out from it for you now.

Feel free to skip this post if you find it a bit too depressing, but this post is about death (It also contains spoilers for The Time Traveller’s Wife). I think this is the first time I have come off the fence on my blog and declared the fact that I am not a particularly religious person.

I will take a minute as an aside to point out (as I know this is a hot button topic) that I am not particularly anti-religion and I bring up my children to be Catholics as that is Mrs Geek’s faith. I simply have no faith. This is not designed as a post about religion, other than relating to death it self, but it is hard to discuss one without the other. (I actually find theology an incredibly interesting topic, but one I would find very difficult to condense not to mention trivialise into a blog post.)

So anything post-death to me is a big unknown.

This being said I have never been particularly afraid of death, mainly because … well I just assumed it would happen when it happens. But now, since having children, things have changed. I don’t fear it as such, but thinking about it now holds an element of discomfort that never used to be there. It’s not because of some fear of the afterlife or even of death it self, but it’s more like the reason a tired 5 year old will protest about going to bed, even hours after bed time. It is the fear of missing something. I feel like it would be cheating me out of seeing my children’s future. It is the fear that my absence will cause them pain.

I have a friend whose Mum did not make it to her wedding day and whose Dad died just a few months before she gave birth to his grandson. Thankfully I can only imagine the pain of not having been able to share these moments with my parents.

In the story, I suppose this pain was partially mitigated by the fact that he had travelled to the future before he died so got to see some of the things he would have otherwise missed, but would that be enough?

Alas, I don’t have the ability to pop forward in time to see how things turned out so I guess for now I’ll just have to look both ways when I cross the road and try to get back into the habit of taking better care of myself (I have been running twice this week … it’s a start 🙂 )


The Kite Runner

February 18, 2009

A number of weeks back now, I listed my favourite books and I realised that I had not actually read any fiction since LAST APRIL! So I decided that I would force myself to read something.

The Kite RunnerI was keen however that I was not to end my “book fast” with another disapointment, so I took comfort in numbers. I think I am probably the last remotely literate person on the planet to have read it, as I think everyone has recommended it to me at one time or another, but I finally decided to read The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.

I will start by saying that it was an incredibly powerful and compelling book, but not one to read if you want cheering up. Set against a potted version of the sad history of Afghanistan, the book tells the story of a Pashtun boy named Amir and his attempts to gain the affections of his father and his relationship with his Hazara servant/childhood friend Hassan.

Amir starts as a difficult character to like as we repeatedly see him make decisions that, be it through spite or through cowardice, would directly or indirectly cause harm to Hassan despite Hassan’s relentless unwavering loyalty. However over time I found that his circumstances and the heavy burden of guilt that he carried caused me to soften my dislike for him. It is hard for me to condemn someone for their poor decisions during childhood. (Not that I did anything all that bad, but we all do things we may grow up not be very proud of … )

There are however times when the story line seems to creak a little. For example there are numerous occasions where the story gives away Chekhov’s gun way too easily, and when the story’s true villain, “Brass Knuckles Assef” tells Amir that “This is not over” and “I’m a very patient person” the author seems to go beyond the realms of coincidence to make this seem like cunning foreshadowing.

Other than that… I hesitate to take my history from fiction, but as someone that had heard of Afghanistan but prior to 9/11 could not have even placed it on a map, I found the abridged history contained within the story to be fascinating. A story of a people oppressed by regime after regime in a horrifying downwards spiral reminiscent of an Orwell novel.

So despite the odd minor criticisms, this book is a real page turner. I will however point out that to say that this is not exactly an uplifting book would be like saying that the Mamiya DL28 is a bit pricey … a serious understatement, make sure you are in an emotionally stable enough place before starting out on this book 🙂


Some Of My Favourite Books

January 15, 2009

OK, so BookMama asked "What is your Favorite" But picking one book is hard. You wouldn’t ask me which was my favourite child, right? So I started writing a short list of some of my favourite books, and decided to turn it into a post.


Catch 22: This was one of those books that I could not get past chapter 1 … numerous times I started it … Finally I decided I would set aside some time to read it and press on … It does not actually take long before you see the logic in the crazyness and you really get into the book. It is one of those books that no matter how crazy he makes it, you find yourself saying “I know someone just like that!”. The book amazingly manages to be both very funny and a cold reflection of the futility of war.

A Tale Of Two Cities: This was another book that is difficult to get into. A gripping account of Paris, before and during the French revolution. Engaging in terms of both the big picture of the crazy goings on in Paris and the little picture of the story of some of the people caught up in it all. I love Paris, and to think of such horrendous goings on in the very same streets is mind-blowing.

Charlotte Gray: Although not perfect, this is Sebastian Faulks at is very best. Interesting, engaging and in places heart breaking, the followup to Birdsong took it to another level.

The Whole Harry Potter Series: OK, so I get no prizes for originality, but I really did love these books.

To Kill A Mockingbird: Thankfully we have come a long way since this book.

Pride And Prejudice: On a slightly different note, this is one of the most amusing books I have ever read. It also has my favourite opening line of all time

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.


Nineteen Eighty-Four: Chillingly close to reality. As much as I like to tell myself that Orwell was a overly dramatic pessimist, I frequently end up equating much of what goes on in modern society to sections of this book. So many of the concepts of this book have gone on to become part of the modern English language.

So what else is there … what are your favourites?
Warning: Anyone recommending “Catcher In The Rye” will be shot on sight …


Witches Abroad

April 18, 2008

A while back the geek in felt ashamed that I had never read any of the Terry Pratchett, Discworld books. I remember mocking one of my close friends at school for reading them as I saw them as an extension of the whole Dungeons and Dragons thing … which was seriously uncool … and these things matter to a teenager.

I was wrong, and although I don’t expect that he reads my blog, I would like to go on the record and say “Sorry David”.

The OCD in me insisted that I start with the first and go through them in order. I have not come across one that has disappointed me yet.

Witches AbroadMy latest adventure through the Discworld was Witches Abroad .

For the unindoctrinated although the Discworld books are all based around the goings on on the Discworld, the books are based on a number of themes. The themes I have encountered so far seem to have been Rincewind and The Wizards, The Witches, The Guards and Death. Unsurprisingly Witches Abroad is all about the witches (with brief appearances from Death).

Many of the books have specific themes, and Witches Abroad’s theme is Fairy Tales. The basic plot is that people do not influence stories, stories happen to people. The story starts when the Desiderata, the Fairy Godmother, dies and in a characteristic twist on the old story, passes the responsibility to Magrat, a “wet hen” of a witch, to stop the Beautiful “Ember-ella” from marrying the prince. so accompanied by Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, she travels to Genua to right the wrongs that have occurred due to stories.

The book twists and retells many children’s favourites including Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, The Frog Prince, Hansel and Gretel … in fresh and incredibly amusing ways. The trick Pratchett pulls off is that it never seems to feel forced, it is as if these stories that have been around for years were specifically written to be used later in this book.

After the Drivel of Ian Sansom’s The Case of the Missing Books it is such a relief to be able to whole heartedly recommend this book, but to be honest it is a bit of an all or nothing type of arrangement… if you are going to read them start with The Colour of Magic and make your way through in sequence.


The Case of the Missing Books

April 14, 2008

(Oops … I wrote this last week before going away (more later) and forgot to press Publish)

The Case of the Missing Books by Ian SansomGaaarrhhh!!!

I have just finished this book, and all I have to say is Gaaarrhhh!!!

As a rule I always try to finish any book that I start, but this one would have defeated me if it were not for the fact that it was the designated book for the month in the reading group I am in. It was frustrating from beginning to end. To begin with the whole story is set up on a rather far fetched scenario in that the Protagonist, Israel Armstrong, turns up outside a library in Tumdrum, a fictional small town in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, only to find it closed down. He is then cajoled into taking on a role as the Librarian of the Mobile Library that the council has set up to replace it. This for me was a push in terms of believability, but he then stumbles from one implausible mishap to another, meeting a series of Irish people that are so cringingly and almost offensively stereo-typically Irish they appear to have been dragged from an episode of Father Ted.

Israel, is a guardian reading Jewish librarian who was undoubtedly set up to be the bumbling but well meaning type that stumbles onto the answer through his own amusing ineptitude. He actually comes across as an almost unlikeable character with very little in the way of redeeming features. He is a self absorbed, self pitying and quite frankly pathetic individual who is apparently well read but without any outward sign of intelligence.

The story is basically a series of anecdotes and stereo types cobbled together by a weak and unconvincing plot. In what I can only assume is an attempt by the author to convince us that he is as well read as his fictional librarian, we get many references to and derogatory remarks about other books, in what feels like a bout of Literary name dropping. Books that quite frankly are far superior to this one.

To top it off, it would appear that the author finally got bored with the story too, as he could not bring himself to write an ending. If this is meant as a detective story Sansom really should try taking note a little better of the likes of Hercule Poirot, to whom Israel likens himself. The detective story should slowly unravel itself giving subtle clues to the reader which, whilst not being enough to give the game away, on reflection do indicate the eventual perpetrator. In this case however the mystery is solved out of the blue, not by our would-be sleuth, or even by his trusty sidekick, but by a confession by up until then a bit part character. This is all squeezed into the last few pages with very little in the way of explanation.

To top it off with no real explanation for his monumental change of mind, in the last part we are led to believe that Israel decided to stay on in Tumdrum to run the mobile library leaving troubling possibility of another instalment.

The one redeeming feature of this book is that it is short. It is however a few hours of my life that I will regretfully not be getting back. Really, if you are looking for a book to read, skip this one and buy any of the books that it mocks, from memory (I would look but I can’t bring myself to reopen the book) are

Brick Lane – Monica Ali

The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – J.K. Rowling

Bravo Two Zero – Andy McNab