Monday, December 1, 2008

Book Review: My Booky Wook by Russell Brand

My Booky Wook is Russell Brand's autobiography, although, as with all autobiographies by young people, it is only the story so far. Written in Brand's characteristic Dickensian style of speech, this book focuses heavily on his teenage years and early twenties; times of personal self-destruction through drug use and "sex-addiction".

My Booky Wook relies largely upon the telling of quite outrageously bawdy anecdotes, outlining Russell Brand's litany of careless and thoughtless escapades as he persued a course of self-destruction. If these anecdotes were not told in such a bizarre and self-deprecating style they would be offensive, indeed to many they will remain so, but I found many of them made me laugh out loud.

Generally, people find Russell Brand either very funny or very offensive, but this funny and frank book helps those belonging to both schools of thought to understand his character and the conclusion can surely only be that he is a man suffering from some form of mild mental illness.

Although this is a very amusing book, like many other humourous publications, the humour wanes as one nears the end and becomes rather more philosophical. Many readers may appreciate this but I was enjoying the ridiculous tales so much that I was disappointed when the humour became watered down.

For fans of Russell Brand this is a must read and will make you laugh out loud, but at the same time those who do not like him will understand a lot more about him after reading this and perhaps come to despise him less. Highly recommended.

Score: 9/10

Friday, November 28, 2008

Books to be Reviewed: Married Lovers by Jackie Collins

Thank you to Hayden Allen-Vercoe for sending me a copy of Married Lovers by Jackie Collins. Married Lovers is Jackie Collins's 25th "raunchy"novel.

"Cameron Paradise, a stunningly beautiful twenty-four-year-old personal trainer, flees her abusive boyfriend in Australia and ends up in L.A. Cameron soon gets a job at a private fitness club where she encounters the city's most important players. She has plans to open her own studio, and while every man she meets comes on to her, she is focused on working hard and saving money to achieve her goal. Until she meets Ryan Richards, that is. An extremely successful independent movie producer, he's married to overly privileged Mandy Richards, the daughter of Hamilton J. Heckerling, a Hollywood power-player son-of-a-bitch mogul. Ryan has never cheated on his demanding Hollywood Princess wife, but when he meets Cameron, all bets are off.

Only internationally bestselling author Jackie Collins knows what happens when lust and desire collide with marriage and power. And the results lead to murder.
"

A review of Married Lovers will appear here soon and in the meantime those who are fans of Jackie Collins can buy Married Lovers from Amazon.com.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Book Review: Tracks by Mike Gordon

Tracks is a techno-thriller focussing on medical implants which allow the monitoring of patients health but also provide the means for a disturbing level of survellance; this is the first novel by Mike Gordon.

Tracks scores very highly from the beginning with an exciting introduction whereby a patient receives a phone call in the early hours informing him that he is about to have a heart attack; this beginning also introduces the reader to the problems surrounding this sort of monitoring. Whilst the plot is by no means easy to predict and contains a number of complexities, it is also laid out in a understandable and readable way. Where many similar novels get tangled up in lots of techno-jargon, the author here very skilfully avoids this and makes the reader concentrate on the plot rather than trying to impress with techno-speak.

The main character, Peter Miller, is an interesting one and a slightly unusual hero, being something of a geek with some problems engaging with other people. This, and other characters are well-formed enough to add another element to Tracks, but character development is not the primary goal of this novel - largely it is plot-driven and in this it succeeds in gripping the reader from page one until the end.

This novel is a fine effort from a first-time author and as a self-published book, it is remarkably good. Possibly the highest compliment I can pay Tracks and Mike Gordon is that the novel was one that I looked forward to picking up and continuing to read rather than one that was a chore to get to the end of.


Tracks is highly recommended to those who enjoy well thought out plots filled with controversial ideas. I would urge book lovers to buy this novel and support a self-publishing, new author in hope that he writes a second novel.

Score: 7.5/10

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Book Review: Iznogoud; The Caliph's Vacation by Godcinny & Tabary

Iznogoud; The Caliph's Vacation is a collection of short, animated stories which follow the attempts of the evil Iznogoud to depose the Caliph of Baghdad by taking him on a series of potentially fatal vacations and days out.

The stories and dialogue are written by Goscinny who is most famous for the Asterix series and the illustrations are excellent, provided by Tabary. Each of the stories revolves around the evil Grand Vizier trying to kill the Caliph in various, typically comic-strip style, vacation strategies, each of which goes totally wrong and end up leaving Iznogoud in various states of disarray including being turned into a louse, turned into a shell and stranded in a desert.

These stories are quite amusing and there are a number of good puns and visual jokes in each one, but it is the characteristics of the Caliph and Iznogoud that amuse me most and after being out of print for many years, I was very pleased to see this book recently republished, having lost my copy at least 20 years ago.

This book is recommended for any fans of Asterix and similar cartoon books, and makes surprisingly amusing reading for children and adults alike.

Score: 8/10

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Books to be Reviewed: Tracks by Mike Gordon

Many thanks to David Gordon for sending me a copy of Tracks by Mike Gordon for reviewing; Tracks is a self-published book and is Mike Gordon's first novel.

"The future of the surveillance society… In Boston, Global HealthCare Corporation is hoping to recover its fortunes with a new micro-chip technology which can eradicate disease - until Peter Miller, the brilliant but troubled architect of the program, quits his job and goes to work at a psychiatric hospital in London, helping develop a system to track dangerous patients. When a deadly threat to the US emerges, a covert Federal agency becomes involved, and Miller is caught up in a web of lies, love, insanity and murder - and finds he's opened the door to a frightening future."

Currently I am about halfway through the book and I have to say that I like it - the story is gripping, there are some interesting characters and it is well-written: a review will appear here when I have finished the book.

Anyone wishing to support a new, self-publishing author can buy Tracks from the book's website: Tracks by Mike Gordon.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Get Your Book Reviewed

Authors, publishers, distributors or anyone else connected to the publishing industry are now welcome to contact me in order to have books reviewed on this website.

Regardless of genre, I am happy to write a constructive and honest review of any book that I am sent.

Those who would like to send me a book to be reviewed should contact me on this e-mail address nickupton@thaibirding.com to let me know which book they would like me to review and to get my mailing address.

Any book I receive will get a blog post about the book when I recieve it and a review after I have read it.

Please specify any links to websites desired in the blog post when contacting me.

Thank you

Nick

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Book Review: The Great Gatzby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby is widely recognised as one the of the finest pieces of American literature. It is a narrative about high-living people in the "Roaring Twenties" and in particular the tale of a rich man obsessed with another man's wife: Jay Gatsby.

The way this novel is written is similar to "Heart of Darkness" by Joseph Conrad in that it is one man's narrative about another man, one who is mysterious and draws others towards him. Gatsby and all the other characters are rather wasteful, idle people who continually gather for meaningless parties and other social meetings, none of whom, it turns out, are real friends.

The author does a good job of portraying this meaningless decadence and one-dimensional personalities of the age but this is perhaps the downfall of the book; creating unlikeable and one-dimensional characters to highlight disapproval for this type of person unltimately creates an unlikeable and one-dimensional story.

Whilst the language used here is of the times and both eloquent and politically incorrect by today's standards, the author matches the attitude of the characters with his writing style - skilfull indeed but when these people are rather languid and uninteresting this is not a great storytelling style to adopt in my opinion.

However, it is true that the messages in this tale are quite clear (money cannot buy everything, substance over appearances, don't live in the past) and as such this is more than just a story of the calamaties resulting from self-centred attitudes and there is an interesting, if rather brief, ending.

The Great Gatsby is a novel which has meaning and nice language but the style is rather dull in my opinion. It is recommended as an example of American literature, but the reader may find, like me, that this genre leaves them distinctly under-impressed. More the Rather-average Gatsby than Great.

Score: 6/10

Friday, September 26, 2008

Book Review: 1000 by Gavin Robertson

1000 is the story of how a couple of corrupt members of a corrupt system find their lives unravelling. Between them Simon Northcott and Buddy Martial have a brilliant scheme which hacks into the Foreign Exchange markets and extracts money in seconds. Unfortunately there scheme does not go undetected and they find themselves in a tough situation.

The premise behind this novel is reasonably interesting but the mechanics of it is so complicated that the author does not even attempt to explain properly what it involves, leaving the reader rather poorly informed as to what is really going on. Likewise, the structure of the novel is such that it takes four or five chapters before one is really aware of what these men do, and the beginning of the book is largely devoted to reconstrucing a rather hackneyed back story for the main characters.

At times the book picks up pace and threatens to be a bona fide thriller, but the writing style is so undeveloped one feels that the book was written by a teenager. The dialogue is utterly unoriginal and quite boring at times and like so many pulp-fiction thrillers, there is a litany of undeveloped, incidental characters that it is difficult to feel anything for.

Worst of all is the name "1000" that is given to one of the characters, Kay Nocta, supposedly a brilliant and beautiful mathematician. An utterly contrived and ridiculous name for a character and book.

Despite its failings I found myself turning the pages towards the end despite having to force myself through large parts of the book. Having reached the ending, it was quite uninspiring and totally predictable.


I picked up this book in the bargain section of a second-hand bookshop; something which says a lot about its quality. Those who feel like a little light reading may find this readable but don't expect much in the way of style or characters.

Score: 3/10

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Book Review: The Story of Zahra by Hanan Al-Shaykh

The Story of Zahra is Hanan Al-Shaykh's novel about the life of a young woman dealing with her madness in war-torn Lebanon. She is sent to visit a relative in Africa as a rest cure but after electro shock therapy she is worse than ever and returns to Beirut in the peak of the fighting.

Some interesting themes are touched upon in this book particularly how people deal with living in a war zone but the central theme of mental illness is rather poorly dealt with in my opinion. The subplot of madness seems to have been created to excuse the writer's inability to write in anything other than a disjointed style and many of the portrayals of madness appeared very cliched to me. In the Story of Zahra, none of the other characters are developed to any degree and this makes it bewildering as to why Zahra reacts to them in the way she does and what exactly fuels her mental state.

Whilst at times Zahra's story begins to become interesting these intervals do not last long before irrelevant flashbacks are recounted in rambling style. Unfortunately, rather than eliciting a sympathy for the plight of a young Arabic woman, the author contrives to create a quite unlikeable character whose hysteria becomes irritating and her demise that finishes the story is as welcome as it is predictable.


Those readers that like plot-driven novels will find nothing here to interest them although those who appreciate a deeper look at characters may find something to interest them - although they may find they dislike the character they discover.

Score: 4/10

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Book Review: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday

Salmon fishing in the Yemen is an original story of the attempt to introduce fly fishing for salmon into the wadis of southern Yemen, which has catastrophic consequences. This story revolves around a British fisheries scientist and his efforts to find a way of succeeding with the visionary project of a Yemeni Sheikh, and also on how members of the British government hijack the scheme for a vote-winning photo opportunity.

This book is written in a very unusual style, being a collection of documents; diaries, police reports, memoirs, letters and e-mails which at first feel rather awkward, but as the book progresses, the reader becomes comfortable with what is a rather original style which makes a fairly average book into something that stands out from others. This construction of the novel means that many of the documents are very personal to the characters, and this means that the characters become quite developed, although the ending perhaps leaves one wanting a little more from some of the main protagonists.

Although this is essentially popular fiction, the author attempts to parody the "spin" culture practiced by government, and achieves some amusing moments in this attempt. The difference in spirituality between Yemeni culture and British culture is also dealt with, and this is highlighted in the changes of personality that the British scientist goes through; this is highlighted in his changing attitude to his loveless marriage.

Overall this is a very readable book, original and with a story that is interesting enough to capture readers and leave them wanting more; in fact it is true that the ending is rather flat after a sensational conclusion to the salmon project.


I would recommend this book to a wide range of readers, particularly those who are disdainful of the culture of "spin" employed by recent governments.

Score: 8/10

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Book Review: Overtaken by Alexei Sayle

Overtaken is a tale of the events that happen to Kelvin immediately before, during and after a road accident that kills his entire group of friends. Fighting with emptiness and depression he decides to create a "memorial" to them in the most unusual fashion - a story that contains a strange twist at the end which although wasn't completely unexpected, was only anticipated in the few pages preceding the end.

With a few moments of humour, this is not the comedy novel one might expect from an author who is a well-known comedian but instead an unusually calculating story of revenge which does not work out quite in the way the reader or the main character expects, and a few things about Kelvin's personality and ways of thinking are fairly thought-provoking.

A number of themes are dealt with in this book, the main one being revenge but also how people grieve differently, how some forms of help are not always appropriate and that it can sometimes be wise to heed warnings about new girlfriends despite how lovely they seem at first.

Overtaken is a very reader-friendly book and one is consumed with an interest to discover exactly how revenge will be obtained, turning this into something of a page-turner.


This is a really engrossing story with some moments to laugh at but a story that is both enthralling and surprising. Recommended for readers who like their characters to develop and to those who like a good story with an unusual twist.

Score: 9/10

Friday, June 13, 2008

Book Review: The Eventful History of the Mutiny and the Piratical Seizure of HMS Bounty by Sir John Barrow

This is probably the most complete and balanced account of the well-known true story of The Bounty. Compiled from accounts from mutineers, William Bligh and transcripts of the Courts Martial this tale is told from a number of viewpoints and as such gives the reader a clear picture of the confusion at the time and the poorly thought out seizure of the ship, as well as telling of the horrors that the seamen loyal to Bligh and those mutineers who were captured had to endure on the voyage home.

The chapters recounting the voyage of the Bounty, its time at Otaheite and the casting adrift of Bligh and his loyal followers is gripping and the privations endured are incredible. The story of how a number of mutineers were captured, their ship wrecked and the consequent voyage to Kupang is equally amazing and rather less well known.

Whilst this is a good start to the book, the telling of the Courts Martial become rather bogged down in letters between one particular mutineer and his sister, which become increasingly irritating due to their lack of conciseness and long drawn out sentences. In fact it would seem that these pages are reproduced to pad out an otherwise fairly short book; their ommission would have improved the overall reading experience considerably.

Despite this intermission, the story gets back on track to tell the fascinating tale of the mutineers who reached Pitcairn Island.


This book is recommended to those who like tales of adventure and adversity and to those interested in stories of the sea. It may be of limited interest to the general reader due to its reportive style and stagnation towards the third quarter of the book.

Score: 6.5/10

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Book Review: Borat - Touristic Guidings to Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan by Sacha Baron Cohen

This is in fact two books in one, with the second part being entitled: Touristic Guidings to Minor Nation of U.S and A. Both are spoof travel guides introduced by the comedy character, Kazakhstani reporter Borat Sagdiyev. For those that know this character the book holds few surprises, playing on the cultural preconceptions of westerners towards Eastern Europe and the perceived cultural naivete of Borat.

Those who are fans of Borat will find a lot of amusement in this book which contains visual and verbal humour, although they may be disappointed to find a number of jokes being recycled. However, those who are easily offended by racial, religious or sexual jokes will despise this publication; one thing that most will probably agree upon is that in this book Baron Cohen has taken this character just about as far as he can.

Despite a few issues though, there are a number of things to make one laugh, particularly the section on Kazakhstani culture which expands on a number of points brushed upon in the Borat movie and the overall amateurish production of the book solidifies the concept of a backward culture.


This is recommended to Borat fans, although they may not find it as funny as they expect, but it is to be well avoided by anyone who is not a fan or is easily offended.

Score: 7/10

Book Review: The End of Nature by Bill McKibben

The End of Nature is a book about environmental issues, largely revolving around global warming and climate change. Here the author tries to explain why man has now changed every corner of the earth through his negligence in altering the climate and in the first few chapters he makes some interesting philosphical points that the reader may agree with or not; the point about how man has created a new type of nature in creating a climate which has been altered is thought provoking.

This new, updated version contains an interesting introduction by the author where he comments on how many of the predictions of climatologists have now come true and how we now live in the age of global warming - it is no longer something that could happen but something that is happening now. However, after the introduction and first few chapters the author rather labours his point, which is actually a fairly simple and easy-to-understand one. As one approaches the middle of this book, the reader begins to wonder if it is going anywhere other than around in circles and constant referalls to American explorers doesn't make it any easier to get into for those outside of North America.

It took me three attempts to get through The End of Nature, and rather surprisingly, the final chapters contain some interesting information on the politics of climate change, but after so much padding and rehashing of the same argument these final chapters come as a relief rather than a strong ending to the point being made.


I would recommend that students of conservation dip into the first 3 or 4 chapters of End of Nature but anybody else should read one of the many other far more interesting books on the subject.

Score: 4/10

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Book Review: Pipits & Wagtails of Europe, Asia & North America by Per Alstrom, Krister Mild & Bill Zetterstrom

"Pipits & Wagtails" is a bird field guide/reference book on this often difficult to identify group of species. Whilst it contains a huge amount of information it is just about small enough to be regularly taken out into the field in a small rucksack. This publication consists of four main sections; a short introduction covering general aspects of identification, sexing and ageing; 30 colour plates; a hugely detailed set of species accounts; a photographic section. All four sections of the book are extremely useful to ornithologists in the identification of these birds and the photographic section certainly illustrates, very well, how similar many of the species and subspecies covered here are.

The species accounts here are intensely detailed, covering taxonomic status, wing formulas, calls, regional plumage variations amongst other details, making this book suitable for the serious ornithologist and not for those with a casual interest in birdwatching.

Although this book is superbly researched and information is dissipated in a very readable style, this is not a book to read cover to cover, but rather one to dip into as a reference book when one has a query about a particular species. Unfortunatley there are a few minor irritations for the user of this book, particularly that one has to constantly flick between the plates, species accounts at photographic section when reading about a species and the fact that the Yellow Wagtail subspecies are not illustrated in winter plumage. These minor problems aside, this is a superb book for ornithologists throughout Europe, North America and Asia.


Whilst this is an excellent publication for serious birdwatchers and ornithologists, the material within is far too detailed to be of interest to casual bird enthusiasts.

Score: 9/10

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Book Review: Why Do Moths Drink Elephant Tears? by Matt Walker

This collection of weird, interesting and often disgusting facts about the animal world is well put together and would appeal to wide range of readers. Many other books on the market follow a similar formula, but what makes this rather more interesting is that all the facts are properly referenced and are fairly up-to-date, so whilst it is hardly cutting edge science, there is at least a scientific core to this book.

This is not a novel and so it is particularly suitable for readers looking for something to pick up and put down - ideal for a gift for a wide range of people. Most of the facts in this book are quite amazing and it is easy to learn a lot from it; indeed, with its referenced material this would have made a useful book when I was studying for my degree in consevation.

Obviously with its slightly tired formula this book is not going to win any literary prizes but it is a better publication than most in this genre.


I would recommend this book to those buying gifts for readers and as light reading material in between more challenging books.

Score: 8/10

Book Review: Salt by Jeremy Page

Salt is a rather strange title for a strange novel. Set on the saltmarshes of Norfolk and the fens of Lincolnshire this is a wistful and wandering recollection of a boy's story, starting from the meeting of his grandparents and describing the litany of miseries of his childhood. It is rather difficult to say what this novel is about as it is certainly not plot-driven, but it seems to attempt to deal with the slight madness that living in such isolated places can bring upon people and as such is quite depressing. Quite overdescriptive and reliant on "wordbites" to set the tone of the Norfolk landscape, I would imagine that most of this book would be lost on anyone not familiar with the location.

Through much of the book the author attempts to paint a landscape using words and this is to the detriment of the story. This is a shame as at times the reader suddenly discovers a fairly interesting story, with some unusual characters, but every time it seems like something profound will come, the author gets wrapped up in painting his picture of words -"terns call, wind blows, I see the samphire tremble", which becomes quite boring and repetitive.

Rather than dealing with madness or landscapes this novel, to me, was more about neglect - neglect of children, neglect of women, neglect of oneself and finally, by the author, neglect of any ending worthy of the reader's efforts; throughout the book there was just enough intrigue for it to have been saved by an excellent ending, but once again the author lapses into a dreamlike prose which finishes nowhere.


Salt is a book I acquired from my mother as she lost interest in it, and this tells you a lot about its quality. Readers who are in love with the Norfolk landscape and like wordiness may love this book equally, but for those who don't know the area or like a good story, this is a book to avoid.

Score: 3/10

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Book Review: The Devil Rides Out by Dennis Wheatley

Having seen the rather laughable film version of this classic black magic thriller, I read this book expecting to find a rather dated and unexciting story - I was quite wrong.

The Devil Rides Out is a dark and gripping novel in which The Duke De Richleau and accomplices attempt to rescue their friend who has fallen under the influence of a powerful black magic sect lead by Mocata - a wondefully stereotypical name for a villian. The story takes the reader around England in chase of the practicers of black magic, with a car chase, an encounter with the Angel of Death, summoned in a pentacle and a sacrifice in the presence of Satan himself.

With a superbly rich text, this novel is as gripping as any I have read, which I found all the more surprising and enjoyable for being a sceptic to begin with, and having finished this story I quickly went on to read other novels by the same author.

The only down side this book may have for some readers is a few rather politically incorrect moments, however this reflects the attitude of the times and will hardly be noticed by readers other than those most hard-core of the politically correct following.


I would recommend The Devil Rides Out to any reader who likes well-wriiten stories, those who enjoy fast-paced, gripping thrillers and of course to any reader who is a fan of the black magic genre. Surprisingly good.

Score: 9.5/10

Friday, April 25, 2008

Book Review: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

The Count of Monte Cristo is a classic tale of wrongful imprisonment, escape and retribution. Edmond Dantes is thrown into prison (the notorious Chateaux D'If) on spurious charges of treason and left to rot. After years of solitude he makes contact with another prisoner and eventually escapes and vows to use his freedom for revenge after discovering a hoard of treasure. After restyling himself as the Count of Monte Cristo he sets his plans into action.

The first part of this book is a gripping and harrowing tale of imprisonment in inhuman conditions, coupled with brutal treatment and near starvation and madness. How Edmond makes contact with another prisoner who teaches him in a multitude of disciplines, learns of a hidden treasure and escapes makes for compulsive reading and this ection of the novel on its own would have made a complete book; and perhaps a better one than the result.

After discovering the treasure the Count of Monte Cristo becomes a somewhat sluggish story, dragging on for chapters upon chapters where a dozen or so would have sufficed. This novel was orignially a serialisation and this is evident as the reader slogs through a massive book which introduces so many characters, it at times becomes confusing.

After slowly reading through a huge amount of very slow action and dialogue and meeting new characters all the way through the book, the reader could be forgiven for forgetting which book they had started and the manner in which the revenge is executed is hugely disappointing. Largely, The Count's revenge is in the form of embarrassing his former persecutors and robbing them of their good standing in society, something that in today's society seems quite irrelevant and hardly a proper revenge for the suffering the main character endured.

Despite a superb start, The Count of Monte Cristo becomes a very slow and dull book and I found getting to the final page was similar to seeing the finish line of a marathon. Although many people class this as their favourite novel I would suggest that this is a rare occasion where the movie is better than the book.

Score: 5/10

Monday, April 21, 2008

Book Review: The Sneetches by Dr Suess

The Sneetches is not one of Dr Suess's most well-known books, but deserves to be recognised as one of his best such is the quality of the message, the illustrations and the rhyming text.

There are two kinds of Sneetches - the "Star belly Sneetches" and the Sneetches without "stars upon thars". Sneetch society operates such that those with stars on their bellies are the elite who attend frankfurter roast parties on the beach whilst those without stars are the outcasts - a sort of apartheid system, racism based upon the smallest of differences. This system prevails until a travelling salesman, Sylvester McMonkey McBean arrives on the beach with his star-on machine and convinces the starless Sneetches that for $5 they will get a star and become part of the elite. Later the same salesman convinces the original star-belly Sneetches that stars are out of fashion and for $10 they can take a turn in his star-off machine. So long as the Sneetches have money chaotic scenes of these wierd creatures going in and out of Sylvester McMonkey McBean's machines ensues. It's hilarious.

In such a way warnings about elitism/racism and marketing are delivered and it makes a wonderful story that adults can really enjoy when reading to their children - and this will be a book that the children will enjoy again and again; this 35 year-old child still enjoys it today!


The Sneetches is a wonderful story with amusing rhymes and very funny pictures and will be enjoyed by any reader, particularly those with children. In addition this book contains 3 other amusing stories: "The Zax", "Too Many Daves" and "What was I Scared of?".

Score: 10/10

Friday, April 18, 2008

Book Review: The Three Hostages by John Buchan

The Three Hostages is another instalment in the adventures of Richard Hannay, the hero of Buchan’s most famous novel, "The Thirty-nine Steps" and it employs a similarly fast pace. Sir Richard Hannay reluctantly comes out of retirement to help find three hostages held by a gang of international villains intent on financial and political gain. The story revolves around the mental battle between Hannay and the story’s villain, Dominick Medina – a charismatic and deceiving Member of Parliament.

The Three Hostages is a fast-paced, plot-driven novel of adventure and intrigue, but one with some interesting and mysterious characters. The style of writing and the structure of this story, with cliff-hanger endings to chapters and moving from The Cotswolds to London to the Highlands of Scotland via Norway make it seem at times that it was written in order to make a movie from it, but unlike many similar, modern novels, the author uses a written style that does not patronise the reader nor becomes repetitive.

The Three Hostages was one of those books that made me keep turning the pages, however, similarly to many such books, I found the ending slightly disappointing, but only in how quickly it was dealt with and not in terms of the events. Whilst there is something of a detective novel hidden amongst the adventure and mind games, I found the riddle surrounding the identity of the final hostage rather predictable whilst it seemed to remain a mystery to the main character right until the end. These small issues aside, this is a well-written yarn that quickly enthrals the reader.


Those that enjoyed the "Thirty-nine Steps" and similar fast-paced, plot-driven novels will enjoy this book but some people may find some of the language used rather politically incorrect, although it reflects the attitudes of the time.

Score: 8.5/10

Book Review: Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

Ethan Frome is a novelette about the tragic events that shaped the life of a farmer and miller from Massachusetts – a man trapped in a loveless marriage with a wife who is domineering, scheming and a hypochondriac but in love with his wife’s cousin, Mattie Silver. At first this may seem a less than exciting pretext for a story, but the way in which the author gradually and sparingly fleshes out the characters keeps the reader interested. Additionally the contrast between Ethan’s dour and ugly wife and the tenderness of Mattie makes the reader form a real compassion for poor Ethan and hope for a happy ending.

Whilst the mood of this story is largely one of unrequited love, there is a point at which it seems that there may be a favourable ending, but when Ethan’s wife returns from an overnight visit to a highly-rated doctor she transforms from an inconvenience to a truly despicable villain. Towards the end, the pace of this short story speeds up and one becomes wrapped up in this pace and eager to find out what is to become of Ethan and Mattie – but this becomes one of the most truly tragic of novels.

Ethan Frome is a well-written story which uses a nice blend of narrative and colloquial speech with interesting characters and a suitable pace. Many authors would have been tempted to stretch this novelette into a longer book, but that would have spoiled a tale which is well-suited to the shorter format and provides a surprisingly enjoyable read.

Unfortunately, there is not much joy in Ethan Frome, which is a shame as Ethan and Mattie are such likeable characters, but the manner of the ending is what shapes the tale and the telling of this story is very well contrived.


Ethan Frome is a very good short read and whilst it is not a joyous tale it is surprisingly gripping. Readers who have enjoyed novels such as Adam Bede and Silas Marner should take a look at this similar but much more accessible book.

Score: 9/10

Friday, April 11, 2008

Book Review: The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

The Jungle is the story of Jurgis and his family who are attempting to make their fortune in the stockyards of early 20th century Chicago. Jurgis is a Lithuanian immigrant who quickly learns that although wages are "high" in America, so are the expenses and is if this were not enough to contend with there is an army of conmen, corrupt officials and greedy employers ready to cheat the family out of their hard-earned wages.

The early parts of this book describe the deplorable conditions in which food is manufactured and workers are worn down and eventually cast aside and the story quickly becomes one of hardship and misery with very few moments of happiness. However, I found that the characters, particularly Jurgis, are ones that I could care about and each downturn of fortune that they suffer made me feel for them and people like them around the world who still work in such conditions.

One fault of the book is that everything that could go wrong for the family does go wrong; family members gradually die off, Jurgis ends up in prison, homeless, injured, adopts the life of a tramp etc. and this stretches the credibility of the plot. Towards the end The Jungle becomes something of a propoganda piece for socialism and loses its way - finishing with a disappointing and idealistic rant. Whilst the story does an excellent job of highlighting the follies of ultra-capitalism the author seems to portray socialism in a rather niaive way.

These faults aside, The Jungle is a great story of woe about a character that most working men can relate to and I found myself turning the pages hoping to find that poor Jurgis would finally get a break.

The Jungle is a thought-provoking story about interesting characters but is not likely to make the reader feel good about the world; possibly the most depressing novel I have ever read but compelling all the same.

Score: 8.5/10

Monday, March 17, 2008

Book Review: Five Weeks in a Balloon by Jules Verne

Five Weeks in a Balloon was Jules Verne's first novel, yet not one of his most famous. The story follows two friends and their man servant as they attempt to cross Africa, from east to west, in a hydrogen balloon. The structure of the story is somewhat formulaic and the characters quite recogniseable from other Verne novels (many see this as a prototype for "Around the World in 80 days"), but it is a successful and exciting formula which is employed, meaning that the adventurers move from crisis to crisis as they traverse the dark continent.

Dr Fergusson, the leader of the expedition, is a rather unflappable character who maintains that nothing can go wrong, although of course the novel consists of a string of events that are a consequence of things going wrong, and all three friends behave in that unimpressed, "stiff upper lip" attitude that was typical of English gentlemen of the period. Much of the text deals with scientific references and intricate description of scientific instruments and geographic features so typical of Jules Verne, who successfully turns fiction into something that could pass for fact.

Similarly to other Verne novels, events are dealt with in the briefest of fashions, so that those who like in-depth insights into the plot and characters would be disappointed, but those who like a good old-fashioned adventure story will be quite happy.

It is also interesting to note that although "Five Weeks in a Balloon" is not one of Verne's most famous stories, it has a fame of sorts as it seems to have crept into many film adaptations of "Around the World in 80 Days" which include a balloon trip, which of course does not exist in the novel.


I found this a more enjoyable story, with more likeable characters than "Around the World in 80 Days" and many other of Verne's novels, and although it is just a page turner with very little depth, it is a nice light read.

Score: 7.5/10

Friday, March 14, 2008

Book Review: How to Fossilise Your Hamster by Mick O'Hare

Although this may sound like a handbook for scientific young men of limited social skills, "How to Fossilise Your Hamster" is in fact one of those books that is full of unusual facts that are put together to amaze and disgust the reader.

Although this book follows the typical formula of this stocking-filler genre, it is in fact a rather good example of this type of book, following the theme of unusual and tangible scientific facts. Many of the scientific explanations related in this book are designed to accompany phenomena that can be initiated and observed in the home, and as such it does a good job of bringing science to non-scientists. Interesting points in this book include why bubbles form in beer as it is poured, why one shouldn't eat Mentos and drink Coke together and, of course, how to fossilise a hamster.

Whilst those who are looking forward to settling down in bed, or in front of a fire with an enthralling story won't wish to choose this book, it is certainly a useful gift for many types of people and an excellent book for those who only want to read short snippets in between doing other things: this would be an excellent choice of book for travellers, with many interesting conversation points within its pages.


I enjoyed reading the scientific strangeness in this book and would recommend it as a good example of this genre. However, those looking for a serious scientific text or a ripping yarn should stay away.

Score: 7/10

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Book Review: Around The World in 80 Days by Jules Verne

The story of Phileas Fogg and Passepartout can hardly be new to anybody these days, so often has it been turned into movies, television series and cartoons, however, I thought it worth reading the original just to see how accurate all the movies are.

This is a surprisingly short book which reflects the attitude of Mr Fogg in traveling around the world; he is more interested in the feat than the places he visits, and it also reflects the tone of the book which is very descriptive in its style. The constant chronology of travel connections is broken up by a series of problems, all of which are brushed aside remarkably easily and with a minimum of words on the author's part.

The saving grace of this story is Passepartout, who is an emotional and reactive individual and his interactions with Mr Fix, a detective who is stalking the travelers, make for some interesting reading. However, at times it feels like reading a travel schedule less than a novel with this book.



The way in which the characters behave reflects the society of the time and it was irritating to me that even though Passepartout effected the Indian Princess's rescue, it is Phileas Fogg as the gentle man who she becomes infatuated with.

Probably the best thing about Around the World in 80 days is the beautiful vocabulary and grammar used by the author and the sense of adventure it projects although the author never really injects much passion into this adventure.

I would recommend this book to readers who have enjoyed other Jules Verne novels and those who liked King Solomon's Mines by H.Rider Haggard.

Score: 7/10

Book Review: The Book of Dave by Will Self

The book of Dave is based around the premise that the written ramblings of a London taxi driver have been misinterpreted by a future, antediluvian English society, creating a culture of racism, sexism and of split families. This parody of religious beliefs interested me immensely but I found upon reading it, that this novel did not live up to my expectations.

Written with two parallel storylines, following both the London cabbie (Dave) and the future society, I found that it took a very long time for them to come anywhere near together. Perhaps this writer was too clever for me but I found that having to wait until very close to the end to understand every triviality was annoying.

Much of the storyline following the characters in the future (characters that I found indistinuishable from one another) is written in an irritating dialect which is in fact a form of cockney written phonetically and this just smacked of unoriginality - just a copy of Anthony Burgess's jargon in "A Clockwork Orange" although it was much easier to understand than that.

The Book of Dave is not all bad though, at its best it satirises the blind faith of religious groups and the breakdown of the family unit in many parts of the UK, but for me it took too long to make any of these points.

This book is certainly not for a mass audience and the more subversive reader will appreciate it more than others, although I feel it fails to live up to its full potential.

Score: 6/10

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Book Review: Saving Fish From Drowning by Amy Tan

A novel based upon a story received from the spirits by a medium is an unusual book indeed, but Amy Tan has done an excellent job in turning this into an enjoyable, amusing and thought-provoking story. In Saving Fish From Drowning the reader follows a group of 12 American tourists on their cultural tour of China and Burma, a tour which is doomed to disaster before it has even begun.

The story is narrated by the group's recently deceased tour organiser, who watches over the tour as a spirit and along the way makes amusing observations, gossipy asides and irritated remarks about her friends' constant ability to say the wrong thing, make impetuous decisions and generally approach the foreign cultures they encounter with an ignorant and patronising attitude.

What makes this book so enjoyable is that there are so many aspects to it - the author herself describes her work as a mixture of genres: murder mystery, romance, picaresque, comic novel, magical realsim, fable, myth, police detective and political farce. It is perhaps the ironic, comic and farcical aspects of the book that I most enjoyed and the way that the media and the Burmmese government react to and manipulate events was particularly amusing.

Some may say that this book takes a simplistic and ill-informed view of Asian cultures, but that would be missing the point that this was the effect the author was attempting to create. However, one criticism that I would make is that there are too many characters, some of which were quite indistinguishable from each other - on the other hand some of the characters were very enjoyable and with a little more time devoted to them, they could have been even more memorable.


This is an enjoyable, amusing and engrossing story which satirises tourism, cultural expectations and the regime in Burma - an easy and frivolous read. Those expecting deep insight into the situation in Burma will be highly disappointed but those looking for a well-written novel with an interesting story will be delighted.

Score: 8.5/10