Monday, February 11, 2008

The Exiled Times of a Tibetan Jew by Jake Wallis Simpson

The novel centres on a colourful group of refugee Tibetans. One of the group's members, the charismatic (and slightly dubious) Rabbi Chod, recognises himself as the reincarnation of Moses, and various friends as reincarnations of key Biblical figures. Despite condemnation from both the mainstream Jewish and Tibetan communities, he declares his followers the true 'lost tribe of Israel', and defiantly opens up a synagogue in a pet shop. The action is seen through the eyes of the narrator, Monlam, who is born into a family where suppression and dysfunction are common currency. Both of his parents are Tibetan Jews, followers of Rabbi Chod. His father owns a cafe called 'Hush Hush', so called because within the cafe, all forms of noise are forbidden. Any customer who speaks is instantly banned and a Polaroid photo of them is pinned to a cork board in case they should dare to return. Monlam himself lives an extraordinary life; as each day goes by, he makes his way not into the future, but the past. He falls asleep each night only to wake up the day before. In this way, as he grows up his parents get younger. By the end of the book his parents are children - too young to manage by themselves - and the adult Monlam has to look after them. In this way he witnesses his own family history, quite literally living backwards into their lives.

This is a truly bizarre read, but I enjoyed it. Every morning the guy wakes up and it's yesterday (his future is everyone's past). I like it because of the concept although there are definitely some bits where I was sure the author was as confused by his new time-rules as I was. Either way, even with the predictable circular nature of the story being told, I thought it was an interesting read.

Buy this book online at Amazon, Amazon UK, Kalahari or Loot.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Seven Ancient Wonders by Matthew Reilly

It is the biggest treasure hunt in history with contesting nations involved in a headlong race to locate the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. 4500 years ago, a magnificent golden capstone sat at the peak of the Great Pyramid of Giza. It was a source of immense power, reputedly capable of bestowing upon its holder absolute global power. But then it was divided into seven pieces and hidden, each piece separately, within the seven greatest structures of the age. Now it's 2006 and the coming of a rare solar event means it's time to locate the seven pieces and rebuild the capstone. Everyone wants it - from the most powerful countries on Earth to gangs of terrorists ...and one daring coalition of eight small nations. Led by the mysterious Captain Jack West Jr, this determined group enters a global battlefield filled with booby-trapped mines, crocodile-infested swamps, evil forces and an adventure beyond imagining.

I enjoyed this book ... it's again an easy read and a pretty good fun adventure sort. I like (what I call) the "Egypt factor" which generally makes me more likely to read just about any book :) It's an interesting pretty much un-likely concept with some fun characters.

If you're taking a lengthy flight or you need a book that you're only able to read in small portions, this is probably a good recommendation :)

Buy this book online at Amazon, Amazon UK, Kalahari or Loot.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Angels and Demons by Dan Brown

When a world renowned scientist is found brutally murdered, a Harvard professor, Robert Langdon, is summoned to identify the mysterious symbol seared onto the dead man’s chest. His conclusion: it is the work of the Illuminati, a secret brotherhood presumed extinct for nearly four hundred years - now reborn to continue their bitter vendetta against their sworn enemy, the Catholic church.
In Rome, the college of cardinals assembles to elect a new pope. Yet somewhere within the walls of the Vatican, an unstoppable bomb of terrifying power relentlessly counts down to oblivion. While the minutes tick away, Langdon joins forces with Vittoria Vetra, a beautiful and mysterious Italian scientist, to decipher the labyrinthine trail of ancient symbols that snakes across Rome to the long-forgotten Illuminati lair – a secret refuge wherein lies the only hope for the Vatican.

But, with each revelation comes another twist, another turn in the plot, which leaves Langdon and Vetra reeling and at the mercy of a seemingly invincible enemy…

I'd managed to avoid, like the plague, both reading and watching The Da Vinci Code. Firstly because I'm not a fan of mystery/detective novels and secondly, the choice of Tom Hanks as lead in the movie adaptation did nothing to make me rush out and go buy it. But, when you have nothing to read and someone hands you a Dan Brown novel, you do what you have to do. You read it.

And perhaps, like me, you'll be severely surprised. The prologue starts out incredibly dramatically with the words 'Physicist Leonardo Vetra smelled burning flesh, and he knew it was his own'. Immediately, as Dan Brown intended, I was hooked. I had to find out why his flesh was burning, who was burning it and why. And more importantly, who Phsyicist Leonardo Vetra was.

I'm not going to give the plot away any more than the blurb does - but the only role Vetra plays is the dead guy that sets the whole chain of events in motion, with his eyeball. [I'll say no more.]

Reasons why I enjoyed this book:

I love Art History. I love conspiracies. Combine the two, and you've got me hooked. The book fictionalizes a story about the Altars of Science in Rome consisting of four locations, each representing the four elements - air, earth, wind and fire—which are believed to be "the Path of Illumination", a trail to the meeting place of the Illuminati in Rome.
According to the book, the "altars" were hidden as religious artwork in order to avoid the wrath of the Vatican and secure the secrecy of the Illuminati. The artworks that make up the Four Altars were all sculpted by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. An artist I well remembered from Art Theory in high school. So the new spin on an old story, for me, was worthwhile.

I've always been fascinated by the Illuminati and the Free Masons. Although there wasn't much detail on them, nothing the reader shouldn't already know about the Illuminati, there was some interesting conjecture about who belonged to the Illuminati, some figures, who in fact, predate the organisation's existence.

It was an exciting, easy read. The age-old story of the war between science and religion, but viewed through the prism of historical art. The plot reminded me very much of something I heard somewhere recently, I think it might have been in the film Ultraviolet (then again, it might not have been. There's every chance I heard it in some documentary, but that's besides the point) that 'science has long looked for ways for man to live better and kill quicker'. In this book it is suggested that scientists, through discovering antimatter, have done both. It's a practically limitless energy source, but also a potentially lethal weapon. In fact the most dangerous of all.

Reasons why I wasn't so thrilled with this book:

Dan Brown uses various fictional experts as tools to expound on the factual issues he creates in the story. This is intended to suggest that what these characters relate to the reader is fact, not fiction. However, he gets a lot of things wrong. I'll leave that to you to discover for yourself when you read this novel. But suffice it to say that he was acknowledged as a poor researcher after a court case relating to The Da Vinci Code. In relation to Vatican procedure, which is of disputed accuracy, he claims "Occasionally, research is simply a matter of finding the proper printed resource." and explains he used a single book as his source.

I found the characters hard to believe, and thus hard to relate to. The main character, Robert Langdon, was too much of a know-it-all. His encyclopediac knowledge of art history and the Illuminati just happens to include the artist Bernini and some of his severely obscure works. And luckily, just luckily, the art works that make up the so-called 'Path of Illumination' are in all existence some couple hundred years later.

Lastly, the ending was a bit too 'romantic drama' for me. The genre is supposed to be 'adventure/thriller' and there's nothing adventurous or thrilling for me having to read about the nerdy Harvard professor and the sexy Italian scientist hooking up and getting it on. If I ruined the story for you, I apologise and agree. This ruined it for me too.

All in all, Dan Brown has some interesting theories and does put a modern spin on the age-old science/religion debate by suggesting that science can prove that God created the Earth from nothing. In terms of judging a book by it's cover - this is one cool cover. One of the central motifs of this book is the use of ambigrams, so making the cover page into an ambigram was pretty inventive. And is definitely a good selling point.

I was forced, by unfortunate circumstances, to read a Dan Brown novel. Although Angels and Demons wasn't a complete waste of my time, I shall, in future, return to avoiding his works like the plague.

Buy this book online at Amazon, Amazon UK, Kalahari or Loot.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

A Widow for One Year by John Irving

John Irving's A Widow For One Year is the epic story of a family, dysfunctional at best, unable to cope with tragedy--or with each other. We first meet Ruth Cole in the summer of 1958 when she walks in on her mother having sex with 16-year-old Eddie O'Hare, the assistant to Ruth's alcoholic father. The death of Ruth's older brothers (years before she was born) turns her mother, Marion, into a zombie who is unable to love her surviving daughter. Ted Cole is a semisuccessful writer and illustrator of disturbingly creepy children's novels. His womanizing habits prove he's "as deceitful as a damaged condom," but he remains the only stable figure in Ruth's life. The tempestuous tale fast-forwards to the year 1990 when Ruth's soaring writing career is faring far better than her lackluster love life. The final segment of the novel ends in 1995 when 41-year-old Ruth is ready to fall in love for the first time.

You have to love John Irving. He has a rare ability to draw you right into a world populated with oddball characters acting in such extreme ways you just know it can't be so. And yet there is something authentic and profoundly moving in the straightforward prose and emotional upheavals.

This book is almost three separate books, in the way perhaps Ian McEwan's
Atonement was. The first third was the basis for the movie The Door in the Floor, and concerns, as the synposis says, the life of Ruth Cole as a child, living in the shadow of her dead brothers. The second and third parts are set thirty years later when Ruth is all grown up and in her 30's.

Irving's sense of time passing and the loss that comes with settles like a fog over the reading experience. It's so strong it hurts. And, as with his other major works like
Garp and Cider House Rules, one is left shaken at the end. That said, it's also very funny and a gripping page-turner.

I have to say that it would be hard to class this as a great literary book, though it certainly lifts itself above the usual popular fiction. In the end, it's entertaining fun with a dash of something more. But it's highly recommended.

As a matter of interest,
The Door in the Floor is also a fine movie with Jeff Bridges. It ably and accurately tells the first part of this story and even reaches emotional depths which the book does not. That's also essential viewing I think.

Buy this book online at Amazon, Amazon UK, Kalahari or Loot

Friday, January 4, 2008

The Magicians Guild by Trudi Canavan

Each year the magicians of Imardin gather together to purge the city streets of vagrants, urchins and miscreants. Masters of the disciplines of magic, they know that no one can oppose them. But their protective shield is not as impenetrable as they believe. Sonea, angry, frustrated and outraged by the treatment of her family and friends, hurls a stone at the shield, putting all her rage behind it. To the amazement of all who bear witness, the stone passes unhindered through the barrier and renders a magician unconscious. The magicians' guild's worst fear has been realised... There is an untrained magician loose on the streets. She must be found before her uncontrolled powers unleash forces that will destroy both her, and the city that is her home.

This was the most fun I've had reading in a long time. I was initially reluctant to read as it seemed like yet another boring sci-fi/fantasy book. I was wrong. The first part of the book is spent trying to evade capture as the list of people you can trust dwindles away slowly. The second part deals with what happens when you're captured and it turns out that it's not that bad. Almost... I can't wait to get my hands on the rest of the trilogy. Read it!

Buy this book online at Amazon, Amazon UK, Kalahari or Loot

Looking for Enid by Duncan McLaren

Enid Blyton gave us the Famous Five and Fatty’s Find-Outers, the Enchanted Wood and the Wishing Chair. Some of us, encouraged by austere critics, have pretended no longer to want what Enid gave. We have pretended that we were not once upon a time enthralled by her stories. We have chosen to forget how much we loved the time we spent in their company. And we have feigned disdain. Now, Duncan McLaren offers lapsed devotees the possibility of honest redemption. If you’re willing to acknowledge that Enid Blyton once mattered to you, you are warmly invited to accompany Duncan on an adventure that will investigate what made Enid Enid and endeavour to reach the source of her torrent of stories, those that came when she was ‘letting her mind go free’.

The Mysterious and Inventive Life of Enid Blyton, indeed. Enid Blyton is one of my favourite authors of all time and extremely prolific, a conservative estimate puts her total works at more than 800. This book is not a conventional biography, though a number of those do exist. This is also not one of those books who presumes that because the books are written for children, they are somehow simplistic, or tried to lever these books into the modern day.

What the books are, however, is a reflection of the mind and the life of the writer. This book seeks to explore the reasons for Enid Blyton's incredible production [she could write an entire book in less than a week] and the impact that the men in her life had on it. The conclusions are both fascinating and, in some cases, rather bizarre. By looking at both what is known about her life [a biography by Stoney, an autobiography, letters, diaries, etc] and the information that snuck out into her writing, the author manages to discover a number of things that might seem obvious and to draw a number of interesting conclusions as to why certain themes recur [tunnels and caves, for example].

He also includes some fictional sections, as the Five Find-Outers attempt to unravel the mystery of Enid Blyton [these are quite amusing]. If you ever enjoyed Enid Blyton, this is a fun and fascinating read.

Buy this book online at Amazon UK or Kalahari

Agatha Christie - An English Mystery by Laura Thompson

A passionate and accomplished writer, Laura Thompson now turns her highly acclaimed biographical skills to Agatha Christie. Arguably the greatest crime writer in the world, thirty years after her death Christie's books still sell over four million copies worldwide a year.Thompson describes the Edwardian world in which she grew up,explores the relationships she had, includingthose with her twohusbands and daughter, andinvestigates the mysteries still surrrounding Christie's life - including her disappearance in 1926. Agatha Christie is a mystery and writing about her is a detection job in itself. But, with access to all of Christie's letters, papers and writing notebooks, as well as interviews with her grandson, daughter, son-in-law and their living relations, Thompson is able to unravel not only the detailed workings of Christie's detective fiction, but the truth behind her private life as well.

This was a most enjoyable read. Unlike many biographies, it does not seek to hide the more unexceptionable sides to the subject. Why did she disappear? A number of theories have been put forward, but I must admit that Laura Thompson's is the most plausible I've heard so far. Why does she write the books she does, the way she does? Answer in here.

All in all, Thompson makes a convincing argument as to Christie's motivations, strengths and weaknesses. She also manages to not dismiss Christie's writing, as a number of other people have. She was one of the most prolific writers ever [though not as prolific as the next biography I read] and remains popular. If you want to know why, read this book.

Buy this book online at Amazon, Amazon UK, Kalahari or Loot

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The White Masai by Corinne Hofmann

The four-million-copy international bestseller of the incredible love story between a European woman and an African warrior.

The White Masai combines adventure and the pursuit of passion in a page-turning story of two star-crossed lovers from vastly different backgrounds. Corinne, a European entrepreneur, meets Lketinga, a Samburu warrior, while on vacation in Mombasa on Kenya's glamorous coast.Despite language and cultural barriers, they embark on an impossible love affair. Corinne uproots her life to move to Africa—not the romantic Africa of popular culture, but the Africa of the Masai, in the middle of the isolated bush, where five-foot-tall huts made from cow dung serve as homes. Undaunted by wild animals, hunger, and bouts with tropical diseases, she tries to forge a life with Lketinga. But slowly the dream starts to crumble when she can no longer ignore the chasm between their two vastly different cultures.

A story that taps into our universal belief in the power of love, The White Masai is at once a hopelessly romantic love story, a gripping adventure yarn, and a compulsively good read.

I bought this book to read after my trip to Kenya and a Masai village in August 2007. It was a truly interesting read but for the life of me I can not understand what happened to this woman to keep her in Kenya with a man who, although she loved and he seemed to love her, treated her the way he did.

She left Switzerland, a First World country, and gave it all up to live in a mud hut with no running water. I also don't understand the emotion she must've felt to give up the life she knew after seeing a man only a few times over the course of a week.

But, that said ... it was an amazing book to read in terms of two vastly different cultures colliding. I lift my hat off to her for how determined she was and how hard she tried to make it work.

I'm curious to read the sequel ... but not enough to buy it, will have to investigate the local libraries.

Buy this book online at Amazon, Amazon UK, Kalahari or Loot

Thursday, December 27, 2007

In Death Series by J.D. Robb

Crime and punishment is Lieutenant Eve Dallas's business. Murder her speciality...Named by the social worker who found her when she was a mere child roaming that city's streets, Eve Dallas is a New York police detective who lives for her job. In over ten years on the force, she's seen it all - and knows her survival depends on her instincts.

The perfect holiday read, all six of them. It's not the whole series, there are loads more books ... those are just the first six and more specifically, the ones I managed to get thru while at our holiday house over Christmas.

1. Naked in Death
2. Glory in Death
3. Immortal in Death
4. Rapture in Death
5. Ceremony in Death
6. Vengeance in Death

It took me a little while to get into the first one, purely because they are set in 2058. I thought this was an extra little detail that was really unnecessary and just served to make the writer's life harder. But I got into it and was certainly quite enjoying some of the ideas she had for the future :) And as Peeb's boyf Button said, she's cornering 3 genres at least.

1) She's got the Sci-Fi angle covered by writing 50 years in the future
2) There's the obvious Crime and Mystery angle since her lead character is a homicide detective and well, she solves murders.
3) There's an interesting bodice-ripper angle to it after Eve get's involved with Roarke in the first book ... there are some fairly lengthy and detailed scenes that would be out of place ordinarily.

So yes, as I said, an ideal book for lazing on the beach ... nothing too deep and meaningful and certainly no twists you didn't see coming :)

Oh, and by the way in case you're wondering, J.D. Robb is a pseudonym for Nora Roberts

Memory in Death (the 22nd book in the series) was reviewed on 28 August 2007 by akika. Read her review here.

Buy this book online at Amazon, Amazon UK, Kalahari or Loot

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Eternal by Craig Russell

'We are eternal'. 'The Buddhists believe that each life, each consciousness, is like a single candle flame, but that there is a continuity between each flame. Imagine lighting one candle with the flame of another, then using that flame to light the next, and that to light the next, and on and on forever. A thousand flames, all passed from one to another across the generations. Each is a different light, each burns in a totally different way. But it is, nevertheless, the same flame'. 'Now, I'm afraid, it is time for me to extinguish your flame. But don't worry... the pain I give you will mean you will burn brightest at the end.' An environmental campaigner and former left-wing radical is murdered, his body scalped. When a second scalped murder victim, a geneticist researching the possibility of inherited memory, is found, the media latch on to a new serial killer. Jan Fabel and his murder team have nothing to go on other than a single red hair left as a signature at each scene, each hair cut from the same head, at least twenty years previously.;Connections begin to appear: a long disbanded terrorist group and its infamous leader; a mummified body over 1500 years old; and a killer who believes he has been reincarnated to exact a terrible revenge on those who betrayed him in a previous life.

This was the second of Craig Russell's books I've read and although the storyline is generally good, I just don't find them an easy read. This one was particularly slow and I'm not sure if it's because it's Germany-based as opposed to the usual British or American based novels we all generally read. Either way this one had a fantastic surprise ending that at the very least kept me gripped for the last few pages.

Craig Russell also takes care to make his characters 3 dimensional, they all have little sub-plots going, if not things in their life at least things in their psyche that affect who they are and the decisions they make thruout the story. Not a bad read, I'd read another of his books, but it's not earth shatteringly go-out-and-tell-all-your-friends brilliant either.

Buy this book online at Amazon UK, Kalahari or Loot

Friday, December 14, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling

This book was originally reviewed on 23 August 2007 by Jarred. Read both reviews here.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Knife Man by Wendy Moore

This book was originally reviewed on 12 September 2007 by akika. Read both reviews here.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Spud - The Madness Continues ... by John van de Ruit

But Spud is returning to a boarding school where he is no longer the youngest or the smallest. His dormitory mates, known as the Crazy Eight, have an unusual new member and his house has a new clutch of first years (the Normal Seven). If Spud thinks his second year will be a breeze, however, he is seriously mistaken. He is soon beset with women trouble, coerced into misguided late night adventures, and finds his dreams of a famous career on the stage in tatters after landing the part of the Dove of Peace in a disastrous house play production of Noah’s Ark. Hilarious, bitter-sweet, tragic and real, join Spud as he takes another tentative step forward while all around him the madness continues...

Oops, I am about a week late in getting this review up. Guess that's a fairly good reflection of the impact this book had on my life.

This was a decidedly average read in my opinion, but as I said before when I read the first one it's probably better if you're a boy and went to boarding school. But I do enjoy knowing it's a South African book and it does reference a few things I remember from my youth.

It's an easy read and if you enjoyed the first then this is probably right up your alley :)

Buy this book online at Amazon UK, Kalahari or Loot

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult

When Daniel Stone was a child, he was the only white boy in a native Eskimo village where his mother taught, and he was teased mercilessly because he was different. He fought back, the baddest of the bad kids: stealing, drinking, robbing and cheating his way out of the Alaskan bush - where he honed his artistic talent, fell in love with a girl and got her pregnant. To become part of a family, he reinvented himself - jettisoning all that anger to become a docile, devoted husband and father. Fifteen years later, when we meet Daniel again, he is a comic book artist. His wife teaches Dante's Inferno at a local college; his daughter, Trixie, is the light of his life - and a girl who only knows her father as the even-tempered, mild-mannered man he has been her whole life. Until, that is, she is date raped and Daniel finds himself struggling, again, with a powerlessness and a rage that may not just swallow him whole, but destroy his family and his future.

I adore Jodi Picoult, she is one of my all-time favourite authors. Each new book of hers that I read becomes my favourite, and The Tenth Circle is no exception. It is a masterpiece in characterisation and slowly building tension to what is a very realistic yet shocking conclusion. Picoult's strength lies in her ability to get inside the minds of her characters, whether it be a 40 year old single father or a 5 year old girl. She writes from each character's perspective in turn, giving the reader a thorough understanding of the complexities of human relationships. Her courage in tackling really difficult and controversial issues, where there is rarely a clear line between black and white, makes for compelling reading. In this book she tackles the issue of date rape and isolation - both teenage and adult - and forces you to consider the situation from every angle. I found it to be gripping to the point where I was trying to read it while cooking supper and walking to the station,... it's that good!

Buy this book at Amazon UK, Loot or Kalahari

Daddy's Girls by Tasmina Perry

The Balcon sisters are London's paparazzi darlings. Serena, the country's most beautiful actress, Venetia the glamorous designer, Camilla the rising political star and Cate the feisty magazine editor. They have wealth, privilege and sizzling sex lives. But money doesn't buy you love. When their aristocratic and tyrannical father Oswald Balcon is found dead, the finger of suspicion points towards his glamorous daughters and their dazzling lives. Suddenly we find that beneath the ritzy fa├žade of the Balcon family lies a web of deceit and betrayal that hides a thirty-year-old secret that threatens to destroy them all. From the sun drenched beaches of Mustique to Manhattan's elite society circuit. From the exclusive fashion houses of Milan to the star-studded streets of Cannes, the Balcon Sisters play out their lives in a whirl of glitz and the ultra chic. But as tragedy and danger stalks each one of them, the scene is set for a stunning climax.

Move over Jackie Collins, there's a new girl in town! Tasmina Perry's debut novel is what the British like to call a 'bonkbuster', the modern-day alternative to the genre formerly known as 'bodice-rippers.' Basically, you take the pages of Heat magazine, pick out a couple of beautiful A-list celebrities, give them pseudonyms, write an imaginary tale of how fabulous their lives are and throw in bit of mystery and a lot of sex. There you have the bonkbuster. A perfect, escapist beach read, which I have to read in the comfort of my lounge considering there are no beaches for miles. Good fun if you're a tabloid junkie and thrive on soap operas!

Buy this book from Amazon UK, Loot or Kalahari