February 28, 2006

Ought to have been better

Book front cover
Title:
Velocity
Author:
Dean Koontz
ISBN:
0007196970
Rating:
3 out of 5 stars

I found this book a bit weak. I googled Dean Koontz and expected to find that he'd been writing for a couple of years at the most. Instead it turns out that he's been writing for decades. Thus furthering my astonishment at the low quality of the writing.

The premise is hugely exciting: "If tyou don't take this note to the police, I will KILL a lovely, blonde school teacher. – If you do take this note to the police, I will instead KILL an elderly woman."
Now what would you do? You can't not take the note to the police, but then everyone would think that you just wanted to condemn the old woman to die, rather than the pretty woman. Sadly, that's where the exciting plot stops. The rest of the book is strung together strands of story, which seem to have no connection with each other.

The ending, I'll admit is surprising, but only, because it is based on the fact that something entirely unbelievable happened beforehand. I know that I'll be annoying a lot of Dean Koontz fans here, but I'm sorry, I just didn't like it. 3 stars.


May 16, 2005

2001 B.C.: A Time Odyssey

Book front cover
Title:
Time's Eye: A Time Odyssey Book1
Author:
Sir Arthur C. Clarke
ISBN:
0575075309
Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

Time's Eye is the first novel in the Time Odyssey series. According to the authors, this series doesn't run parallel to the Space Odyssey, but rather orthogonal (at right-angles, for all non-mathematicians). Though I have yet to find any reference to HAL and Dave Bowman. However, the classic line "But he would think of something." is back and promises to lead us into a great series.

The book deals with a sudden congregation of earth's history. Mongols, Macedonians, Colonial British and 21st Century UN soldiers, all find themselves thrown together on a world renamed "MIR". if only that were all. Everywhere the book takes us, there are hovering "Eyes" that appear to be watching everything that these (involuntary) timetravellers do.

The book is filled with the latest ideas in science about the nature of the universe. Although it makes for an interesting read, the explanations are far too short to be understood by the casual reader and many will find themselves skipping over them. Not a problem, the book has far more to offer than just maths. It is a very detailed and (from what I've heard, read and seen) a very accurate account of the respective time periods. Much of the book is spent on explaining military routines and rituals and the book seems to focus on war, but then that's hardly surprising, given earth's history.

Though not exactly a compulsory page-turner, this book is very gripping. I'm not sure in what relationship the two authors wrote this book, but this "Odyssey" series will be a much more mainstream read. Where 2001 was very arty and thought-provoking, this book will certainly appeal to a wider range of readers.

The book is well written, with just enough descriptive imagery to bring the ancient worlds to life. The story is paced and gripping. The dialogue is quirky with a mix of modern and 19th century british slang.

All in all this is a very good book and I'm already eagerly anticipating the second book, which I hope will clear up a few of the mysteries with which the book leaves you. Recommended to everyone.


Confusing remake, but powerful performance

DVD front cover
Title:
The Manchurian Candidate [DVD] [2004]
ASIN:
B000767TVA
Rating:
3 out of 5 stars

This film is a remake and not a great one at that. The original was set in the vietnam war, with the chinese as "The Enemy". This modern version is set against the backdrop of the Gulf War and this time "The Enemy" is not communism but rather capitalism. This irony, however, will be lost on anyone who watches the film. The idea of a large multinational company trying to control the government to extend its influence over the world is now quite common-place. As such, once you have figured out the background story, the plot becomes fairly predictable.

The same, however, cannot be said for the acting. Denzel Washington and Liev Schreiber give powerful performances, ranging from anger over fear to sheer hopelessness. Their characters are portrayed with raw emotion giving us an insight into the emotional cocktail brewing inside them throughout the movie.

I must say, I found the film confusing at times unable to follow the reasoning behind certain character decisions. It felt in part as if bits of the film had been left out after editing that were vital to the storyline.

Though this film is powerful and dramatic, it's rather dull in terms of plot and thrill. The only upside is that I now want to watch the original.


May 09, 2005

"I want to go back to the blue room

DVD front cover
Title:
Cube Zero [DVD]
ASIN:
B0006HIPSG
Rating:
3 out of 5 stars

If you haven't seen the original Cube yet, I suggest you go now and watch it! If you like it, you should skip Cube 2: Hypercube and go straight to this prequel.

I won't pretend that this film comes close to Cube, but at least it's far better than Cube 2. It has a plot and a sense. It's not quite as dark, angst-ridden and thought-provoking as the original, but then no pre-/sequel could be.

Cube Zero is set partially inside and partially outside the cube, a machine, where people move from cuboid room to cuboid room in order to find a way out, whilst trying to avoid those rooms which have deadly traps in them. The traps in this film are ace and I'd thought I'd seen the best ones in Cube.

Something that this film has to get credit for is the fact that whilst it is a prequel and expands the storyline of the original, it does not take away anything. The story of Cube and it's mystery are preserved. In effect Cube Zero does not explain why, but rather enlarges on the how.

The biggest challenge for this film was to create an early version of the cube structure (because it's a prequel) and suppress the need to make it more spectacular than the the original. Something that is very difficult for producers, but Cube Zero manages to pull it off.

All in all, a good B-movie with interesting plotlines and ideas, which present an acceptable follow-up to the classic Cube. Three stars.


January 06, 2005

The Mayor of Casterbridge

Book front cover
Title:
The Mayor of Casterbridge (The Penguin English Library)
Author:
Thomas Hardy
ISBN:
014062029X
Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

I saw this book in the bookshop and thought that it looked quite interesting. The premise was somewhat unusual. Michael Henchard sells his wife and daughter to someone else whilst heavily inebriated. A few years later, he is the Mayor of Casterbridge (hence the title) when his wife and daughter return to him.

The book is wonderfully written, with lots of descriptive imagery, which, even towards the end of the book, does not get repetitive or boring. Many details are left for the reader to imagine for himself, whilst others are explained intricately.

The plot is extraordinary. Beginning with the premise described above, the book manages to convey the account of a man, who made a fatal mistake in his youth and how that mistake comes to haunt him later in life. One thing I found myself asking throughout Henchard's ordeal was, how life would have been different for him, had he not sold his wife and child.
The story manages to twist and turn again and again, throwing ever more problems at Henchard and every single one breaks him a little bit more. He's a man of conviction and emotion, which makes him unpredictable in the least.

Though the book focusses on Henchard's plight, it's not simply a narrative of his life, but rather manages to incorporate the story into a fascinating description of life in Casterbridge at the time of Thomas Hardy.

An excellent book that manages to surprise, delivered in a superb narrative.


November 30, 2004

Unlike anything you have read before!

Book front cover
Title:
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
Author:
Mark Haddon
ISBN:
0099450259
Rating:
5 out of 5 stars

Have you ever read a book written by an autistic boy? Me neither, so this book is probably the closest we will ever come. Someone once described this book as being new-age childrens' literature, because it contains a lot of swearing and has no happy end. I would agree with that and hope that we will see a lot more of this genre and definitly by Haddon.

We follow the life of Christopher, an autistic child and see the world through his eyes. It's a marvellous story and one which makes you want to stand up and applaud Mark Haddon for his inspiring and deeply insightful book, which has the power to teach all of us a little about how society behaves towards those who are different. Seeing the world through Christopher's eyes also gives us an insight into how strange and surreal human behaviour is to anyone who is not accustomed to it. Don't expect this book to be happy and cutesy, it isn't; it's downright tearjerking at times.

This book successfully manages to combine a look at autism with the story of a little boy and his quest to solve the murder of his neighbour's dog. In a word: Brilliant.


Tight rope walking the Second Amendment

Book front cover
Title:
Balance of Power
Author:
Richard North Patterson
ISBN:
0330490834
Rating:
5 out of 5 stars

Watched Bowling for Columbine? Interested in the gun control debate? This book will answer all your questions and more. Richard North Patterson presents the second amendment to the american constitution from both sides in this action packed, political thriller.

The plot is well conceived and the twists and turns aren't always predictable, giving us an ever changing perspective on gun crime and American's freedom to carry guns. Balance of Power marries political intrigue in the American Senate with personal tragedy arising from gun violence.

If you find this book in Waterstone's, don't be put off by the 800 pages! It's a quick read and guaranteed to hook you right from the start. You find yourself drawn into the process of eradicating gun violence with all the characters, whether they are goodies or baddies.

The only negative comment I would make is that the gun debate, though presented from both sides, is not argued as strongly from the gun enthusiasts point. It may just be that they generally have weak arguments, but I think that Patterson was biased, which he admits in the post scriptum.

If you are at all interested in the Second Amendment debate, or in American politics or indeed in a good thriller then buy this book.


Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Book front cover
Title:
Per Anhalter Durch Die Galaxis
Author:
Douglas Adams
ISBN:
3453146972
Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

I know the book is the german version, but that does not mean it's less funny!

Ok, so I'll admit, it's probably less funny than in the original, but that's because of translation difficulties, not because germans don't have a sense of humour.

I have to say that I found the Guide quite funny. However, that's where it stops for me. It's hilarious at the beginning and then manages to loose pace towards the end, when it just becomes strange. I found myself wondering more than once, where the hell the story was going. That's not necessarily always a bad thing, but in this case, I thought the humour didn't quite cover for the deteriorating story line.

I would rate it as funny, but certainly not funnier than Pratchett! I will, however, read the otherones in the series, hoping that Adams was just finding his feet on this one.


A good sequel

Book front cover
Title:
Good Wives (Puffin Classics)
Author:
Louisa May Alcott
ISBN:
0140621903
Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

Well, what can I say about "Good Wives" that hasn't been said about "Little Women"? The two books are pretty much the same style and are, of course, about pretty much the same characters.

Good Wives is a good (pardon the pun) sequel to Little Women and that's about it. If you enjoyed the first one, you should read this one. If you didn't, spend the £1.50 elsewhere!

On the good side, however, the character development in Good Wives is excellent. While reading, you can literally see all of them evolving into more mature "ladies" rather than staying "girls". I won't summarise the plot (because I never do!) but I can say that the title suggests what will happen in the end.

A word of warning though! If you're a fan of "Friends", do not, I repeat, do not watch the episode where Joey and Rachel swap books. Rachel will spoil the end for you as well!

That said, the book deserves a shiny four stars, for not slacking off but not being better either! A good read.


October 28, 2004

Vivid, imaginative, thought–provoking

Book front cover
Title:
Life Of Pi
Author:
Yann Martel
ISBN:
184195392X
Rating:
5 out of 5 stars

I doubt that I would ever have picked up this book in a shop. The premise of a young boy in a lifeboat with a zebra, a hyena, an orang-utan and a royal bengal tiger sounds interesting, but I just couldn't imagine it being any good.

Though I don't agree with the assertion at the beginning that "this story will make you believe in god by the end", I still found it to be such a good book that I could hardly put it down.

At first, I could hardly conceive reading a book about a castaway in a lifeboat (at least Robinson Crusoe had an island to live on!) but I discovered that being shipwrecked in a lifeboat with a tiger is not necesseraily over after a couple of hours. Indeed the whole story of how Pi survives his time on the lifeboat is both tragic and breathtaking.

The themes and ideas discussed in this book are engaging and thought-provoking. Especially when you reach the end of the book you understand that the story is not all it seems. Furthermore, I have never pondered the end of a book more than this one.

The book is imaginativly written, filled with vivid descriptions which bring everything to life and immerse you in the fate of young Pi. You could never otherwise imagine just how much there is to discover when you are alone in the Pacific with a tiger.

I look forward to the next book that Yann Martel writes, since I thoroughly enjoyed this one. If you're looking for an up and coming author, Yann Martel would be an excellent choice.


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