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