Monday, November 30, 2009

Book Review: Tricks of The Mind by Derren Brown

Tricks of The Mind is an insight into the sleight of hand, distractive, memory and psychological techniques used by the British mentalist showman, Derren Brown. Whilst this book examines the way in which people's perceptions and beliefs can be manipulated for magical effect, it is not a manual on how to perform such tricks as predictions, disappearances and feats of memory.

In Tricks of The Mind, Derren Brown very skillfully and often humourously examines psychology, illusion and how people can be made to believe things that are not real in a way that hints at how these techniques are used in his shows.

As a showman of the highest order, Derren Brown does reveal a trick or two early on to lure in his audience, often leading them on to quite philosophical points, but also sometimes ranting in a manner that makes the reader feel like they are sitting next to the author in a bar, discussing the application of manipulative techniques over a beer. As well as showmanship and illusion, Derren discusses religion and the way in which mediums use similar techniques as his to fool vulnerable people.

This is a truly fantastic book, engaging at every level, discussing complicated philosphies, techniques and beliefs in an amusing, informative and interactive way using a memorable vocabulary. The chapter on memory techniques is particularly enthralling and I was able to achieve remarkable feats of memory soon after reading the book, indeed I can still remember a list of 20 items given in the book, three months after reading it.

I would recommend this book to a wide variety of thoughtful readers, anyone interested in the way the mind works, philosphy, magic, showmanship, religion, indeed anyone who enjoys challenging ideas and, of course, anyone who wants to improve their memory or get a small insight into how Derren performs his remarkable "tricks".

Score: 10/10

Monday, November 2, 2009

Books to be Reviewed: Mercury Falls by Robert Kroese

Thanks to Robert Kroese for sending me a copy of his book, Mercury Falls, for reviewing. This is a comic novel about the adventures of a rogue angel at the brink of the apocalypse.

"Years of covering the antics of End Times cults for The Banner, a religious news magazine, have left Christine Temetri not only jaded but seriously questioning her career choice. That is, until she meets Mercury, an anti-establishment angel who's frittering his time away whipping up batches of Rice Krispy Treats and perfecting his ping-pong backhand instead of doing his job: helping to orchestrate Armageddon. With the end near and angels and demons debating the finer political points of the Apocalypse, Christine and Mercury accidentally foil an attempt to assassinate one Karl Grissom, a thirty-seven-year-old film school dropout about to make his big break as the Antichrist. Now, to save the world, she must negotiate the byzantine bureaucracies of Heaven and Hell and convince the apathetic Mercury to take a stand, all the while putting up with the obnoxious mouth-breathing Antichrist."

A review will soon appear here, until then readers can order a copy here - Mercury Falls.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Book Review: Thoughts, Life of a Suicide by Dillan Kane

This book is a self-published attempt to look at understanding suicide and how those that are left behind deal with the issue. The author is the brother of someone who committed suicide at a young age and someone who has worked in the mental health system with those who have suicidal tendencies.

Whilst this book is written from the heart, I found that the author focusses on his own feelings too much and does not really provide an insight into how suicidal people feel or what makes them feel that way. Disappointingly, the story of the author's brother is not really explored properly and I feel that if it had, a more interesting and meaningful book would have been the result.

However, I found that the first chapter of Thoughts was quite moving when the author reflects on the last days of his father's life. This may have been because it made me think of a similar situation with my own father. With this in mind those who know suicidal people may enjoy this book, they may find a connection.

Unfortunately, though, the book does not grab the reader, jumping between themes and repeating itself again and again. No doubt writing it provided therapy for the author but the reader is left wanting some deeper insight.

Apart from repetitive themes and nonsense about mediums by far the biggest problem this book has is its lack of editing. There is almost not a single page that is not littered with spelling errors and basic grammatical mistakes, on one page I found 12 such errors! Whilst no one is perfect, this level of bad English is inexcusable and I found it really irritating and it made understanding some sections difficult and detracted from what is a heartfelt message.

Although I found this book unappealing it is possible that others, who have experience of knowing people who have attempted suicide or successfully committed suicide, will find something to connect with here and may find it comforting. I would certainly not recommend it to anyone else.

Score: 2/10

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Squidoo Page on Dr Seuss's Top 5 Books

I have loved Dr Seuss's books since I was a kid, my favourites being Green Eggs and Ham and The Sneetches. I still read these books as an adult.

Recently I made a page on about what I think are the best 5 Dr Seuss books out there. There is a bit of information about Dr Seuss himself there too and some links to other Dr Seuss books.

Please take a look: The Best 5 Books By Dr Seuss.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Book Review: French Revolutions by Tim Moore

French Revolutions is the true and humourous tale of one man's attempt to cycle around France following the route of the 2000 Tour De France. Whilst this attempt is largely successful, the author does resort to cheating on a number of occasions, something he justifies by outlining the history (tradition?) of cheating in the real Tour. The take is interspersed with such factual anecdotes about the Tour De France which gives it another dimension.

This is a well-written and interesting story which takes the reader through the French countryside and the effort it takes to complete the Tour even at a slow pace, imparting something of the author's emotional journey as he becomes a more accomplished cyclist.

Whilst the details of French Revolutions are interesting the humour falls short of anything but mildly amusing, although it is sufficient to add an element to the book. However, I found myself turning the pages wanting to know the progress of Tim Moore as he, bit by bit, improves as a cyclist and manages ever-increasing feats of bicycling endurance.

This is a very enjoyable book but I didn't really understand why the author resorted to cutting out parts of the route - if he wanted to cycle the route of the Tour De France why didn't he do just that rather than truncate the journey? For me, this slightly detracted from the tale.

For readers who enjoy travel literature this is a good choice with an engaging story, amusing anecdotes and fun facts about the Tour De France. I recommend this book to a wide range of readers.

Score: 9/10

Friday, September 18, 2009

Books to be Reviewed: Thoughts - Life of a Suicide by Dillan Kane

Thanks to Greg Shelangoski for sending me a copy of Thoughts: Life of a Suicide by Dillan Kane for reviewing. This book aims to provoke thoughts on what makes people commit suicide and what happens afterwards in an attempt to prevent further suicides; the book is authored by the brother of a suicide and is self-published through Author House.

"My brother committed suicide in 1999 at the age of 16. Like any suicide it didn't seem to need to have to happen,but it did. This is my attempt to try to understand the impulses of suicide and heal from the aftermath. It is also my attempt to define what death is and what it means to me,interwined with what life means. "

A review will soon appear here but until then readers can order a copy from Amazon: Thoughts: Life of a Suicide.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Book Review: The Case of The Missing Books by Ian Sansom

The Case of the Missing Library Books is the first in a series of comedic novels featuring the librarian Israel Armstrong who becomes an unlikely detective. Israel arrives, from London, in small and obsure Irish town where outsiders are made to feel as such. he quickly finds that he has been downgraded to mobile librarian and that he must locate all 14000 missing books.

This is an interesting yarn which draws heavily on Israel's discomfort and inability to fit in with the locals for sources of humour but there is a lot of situational amusement to be derived from this book too. Cultural stereotypes are used a lot in this story but they are not flogged and largely occur because of Israel's lack of social skills and preconceived ideas.

Israel is an unconventional hero both because of his physical limitations and unwillingness to engage the situation, and this is refreshing in a literary world of so many cliched lead characters. Unfortunately, many of the large number of characters that are introduced are intriguingly interesting but not expanded upon; one gets the impresion that the author is saving many of them for subsequent novels.

This book is also appealing due to the way that Israel gradually becomes part of the community and that turns out to be central to solving the mystery of the missing books.

I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone as its easy-to-read style, amusing style and interesting story will engage almost any level and age of reader.

Score: 8.5/10

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Book Review: The Guv'nor by Lenny Mclean & Peter Gerrard

The Guv'nor is the nickname and biography of Lenny McLean and catalogues his violent progress in the east end of London from abused child to petty thief, hard man, minder, bare-knuckle boxer to actor.

Although this is a biography it has the feel of an autobiography due to its first person narrative and use of colloquial English, giving it a really authentic feel and making it as if The Guv'nor is telling his story directly to the reader and makes for unusual and interesting reading. Indeed the litany of misdeeds and violence which are described in Lenny McLean's life would sound ridiculous if told in any other way.

Whilst this is the story of a man who earned his living through violence or the threats of violence this book in no way glorifies it and the reader very quickly becomes aware of a code of honour which is religiously adhered to among these characters of the underworld; the author does exceedingly well to introduce the reader to other aspects of the Guv'nor's personality.

As well as giving an insight into the lives of such characters, this book gives the reader a glimpse of the British judicial system and reveals that it is far from perfect, indeed the final chapters of this story describe how McLean spends one year in prison before even receiving a trial.

Whilst this is a surprisingly interesting and captivating read much of the book has the same theme and rythym, recalling bare-knuckle boxing matches, fights and other violent interludes and toward the last third of the book this becomes a little repetitive. However, the ending is engaging enough to wrest the book away from becoming dull and I think most readers will be left feeling like the Guv'nor is someone they could have got on with.

I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy biographies and tales of misadventure, particularly those of gandland violence in London in the 60s to the 90s. This is a surprisingly interesting story and I think many readers would enjoy it.

Score: 7.5/10

Monday, June 8, 2009

Book Review: Hit List by Lawrence Block

Hit List by Lawrence Block is a story of a professional hitman, John Keller, for whom things begin to go wrong. Whereas most of his jobs have run smoothly, a few begin to take a strange twist whereby people loosely connected to Keller die and he begins to get jumpy. After a few close incidents he realises that someone is out to get him and he is eventually forced to take out a hit on the hitman who is trying to hit him.

Whilst the premise of this story is interesting and has the possibility for some rather dark humour, it is woefully padded out with a large amount of barely relevant incidents such as Keller doing jury duty and an unacceptable amount of banal sarcastic dialogue.

Despite the many bad points of this novel, the character of Keller is an interesting one and he is developed quite considerably and the plot, although short, does make the reader want to find out what happens. Unfortunately, the twist is so obvious that I could see it coming way before the end and as such the ending was a complete washout.

This book is okay to pass the time with and with an interesting plot idea and lead character, it isn't a complete waste of time, but don't go out of the way to buy it.

Score: 4.5/10

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Book Review: The Religion by Tim Willocks

The Religion, set on the island of Malta in 1565, follows the exploits of Mathias Tannhauser, an adventurer and mercenary who embarks on a mission to locate a Maltese Noblewoman's estranged son. This quest is set amongst the great seige of Malta, which pitched the Knight's Hospitaller against the Turkish Empire, one of the last great crusader battles.

The Religion is extremely well research and equally well-written and whilst large parts of the book are devoted to battle scenes, the prose does not adopt a descriptive or hackneyed style; in fact the descriptions are brutal, gory, poetic and written in a gripping style.

It should be said that this novel does not beautify or glorify war, it does quite the opposite in fact in a sometimes stomach-turning and balanced fashion.

Equally, the plot of The Religion is enthralling and the author has created some really interesting characters, and pits a flawed hero against an extremely dark and sly foe; Ludovico Ludovici of the Inquisition. Quite frankly, the combination of interesting characters, gripping plot and incredible action made this book hard to put down and is written with such literary mastery that it feels like a future classic.

The Religion is highly recommended to all book lovers and Willocks shows himself to be a very fine author here.

Score: 10/10

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Book Review: The Man eaters of Tsavo by J. M. Patterson

The Man Eaters of Tsavo is the classic, true, story of how an English engineer tracked and killed two man eating lions that had been preying upon the workers attempting to construct a railway in Kenya.

Whilst the story of the man eaters is quite an amazing one, the author does not seem to have the gift of being a storyteller, and the facts, which would have made for a rivetting tale had they been relayed in style, are simply retold in a brief, descriptive fashion.

Indeed, so briefly is the story told that in fact the tale of the man eaters is over before the reader has got halfway through the book. The remainder of this book goes on to recount hunting anecdotes from the author's stay in Africa and simply retells how large numbers of animals were shot. Even taking into consideration the different attitudes of the times, this bloodlust becomes rather hard to take and, quite frankly, rather boring reading.

Unfortunately, although the potential for this to be an exciting tale is high, the delivery of the story is poor and the follow up is quite dull. However, the first part of the book is worth reading for the details of the audacious predators raiding well-protected camps on a nightly basis.

I would only recommend this to those who have an interest in Africa or colonialism.

Score: 6/10

Monday, January 26, 2009

Books to be Reviewed: The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston & Mario Spezi

Thanks again to Julia Pidduck for sending me a copy of The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi for reviewing. This book documents the true story of Italy's very own "Jack The Ripper"; a serial killer who has gone unpunished despite over 20 years of police work.

"Douglas Preston fulfilled a lifelong dream when he moved with his family to a villa in Florence. Upon meeting celebrated journalist Mario Spezi, Preston was stunned to learn that the olive grove next to his home had been the scene of a horrific double murder committed by one of the most infamous figures in Italian history. A serial killer who ritually murdered fourteen young lovers, he has never been caught. He is known as the Monster of Florence.

Fascinated by the tale, Preston began to work with Spezi on the case. Here is the true story of their search to uncover and confront the man they believe is the Monster. In an ironic twist of fate that echoes the dark traditions of the city’s bloody history, Preston and Spezi themselves became targets of a bizarre police investigation."

I have recently finished this excellent book and will review it soon. Those who are interested can purchase a copy from The Monster of Florence.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Book Review: Birdwatchingwatching by Alex Horne

Birdwatchingwatching documents the year-long foray into birdwatching by Alex Horne, an investigation into a hobby that his father has long had and that Alex has never understood. In an attempt to understand his father's passion Alex challenges him to a "Big Year", a year in which the person who sees the most species is declared the winner.

Over the course of a year Alex's growing enthusiasm for birds is obvious and the way in which he delves into all the mysterious aspects of birdwatching is very amusing indeed. The style of this book is one of a naive newby to the hobby of birdwatching, almost birdwatching through the eyes of a child, making great reading for anyone who loves birds, from those with just a casual interest to the hard core "twitcher". Indeed, in the course of a year Alex participates in all aspects of birdwatching, attempting to literally become a "robin-stroker" in his back yard and twitching (unsuccessfully) the UK's first Long-billed Murrelet as well as using a birdwatching guide in Africa to boost his yearly total.

The style that birdwatchingwatching is written in belies the fact that the author is a comedian and there are a lot of very amusing insights into the psyche of birdwatchers and comparisons with Alex's first love - football.

This is an excellent read for anyone who has even a passing interest in birds or for anyone who knows a birdwatcher. A highly entertaining book that I couldn't put down and it was with great dismay that I finished it so quickly - this has very quickly become one of my favourite books ever and I can't wait to read it again.

Score: 10/10

Monday, January 12, 2009

Book Review: Married Lovers by Jackie Collins

Cameron Paradise escapes a violent marriage, but not a cliched name, and heads to Los Angeles where she finds a job in an exclusive fitness club and rubs shoulders with rich, powerful and attractive people. Falling for a rich, married movie mogul there ensues lust, sex and adultery leading to murder.

As with all of Jackie Collins's books one should not expect the literary style of the classics but she makes up for this with a high level of readability, and Married Lovers turns out to be something of a page-turner, perhaps not of plot-driven enthusiasm but for pages packed with smut. In fact it is well known that this author prides herself in giving her readers huge mounds of sex with knobs on, and whilst the story is rather predictable and not particualrly memorable, she certainly provides well for her fan base.

Whilst the plot and literary style is perhaps the weakness of this book, the characters are more of a strength with sexy, egotistical and powerful characters pouring out of the pages; something one would expect from a sex-driven novel.

Miss Collins latest bonkbuster is most certainly not the usual genre of book that I would read, however, it is fast-paced and readable and fans of this style of book should enjoy this latest offering although they may not remember it for long . It can`t be denied that Jackie Collins's books are always in the bestseller charts, but not really my cup of tea; more of a glass of wine, sat on a sun lounger, on a beach, somewhere hot.

Not exactly Booker Prize material but as "light relief" this novel may tickle the right parts.

Score: 6/10

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Book Review: The Man Who Would be King and Other Stories by Rudyard Kipling

The Man Who Would be King is a short tale of two rogues who decide to head into a legendary country, "Kafiristan" and seduce the indigenous population into accepting them as Kings. The story is very well told and conjures up a vivid picture of the hostility of the lands entered by "Peachy" Carnehan and Daniel Dravot and the characters they meet along the way.

The Man Who Would be King contains some intriguing references to the Masonic order, and indeed it is the local people's familiarity with the rituals of this sect that give the two main characters a foot in their palacial door, but which also ultimately seals their dreadful fate. This is an excellent short story which was made into a superb movie starring Michael Caine and Sean Connery.

Unfortunately, the "other stories" don't really compare very well with the title story of this book, in fact the reader would be excused for wondering why The Man Who Would be King was not developed into a much longer novel, surely it was not to create space for these often banal "other stories"?

Many of these other stories focus upon the lives of British subjects in Victorian India, and particularly upon the abundance of affairs and their sad outcomes. However, the similarity in tone and dullness of their meaning make them rather dreadful reading and one would be recommended to leave this book alone after reading the title story.

I would highly recommend The Man Who Would be King to readers but I would equally recommend not bothering with the boring "other stories".

Score: 8/10 for The Man Who Would be King, 5/10 for the book overall.

Books to be Reviewed: Birdwatchingwatching by Alex Horne

Thank you to Julia Pidduck for sending me a copy of the strangely titled Birdwatchingwatching by Alex Horne for reviewing. This is the story of Alex's year-long foray into birdwatching and "big year" competition with his father; a lifelong birder. As a birdwatcher myself, this book is of great interest and will be reviewed very soon.

"Alex Horne’s dad has always been a birdwatcher. Alex wasn’t so sure. But, determined to get to know his father better, Alex challenged him to a competitive Big Year: from January 1st to December 31st 2006, they would each attempt to see as many species of bird as possible, governed by the basic rules of birdwatching, plus a couple of their own: the birds had to be wild, free and alive; they had to actually see the birds; and they could travel anywhere in the world to do it. The one who saw the most birds over the course of 365 days would be declared the winner."

Currently I am part the way through this book and can't put it down and think it will appeal to birdwatchers, birders, ornithologists and robin-strokers alike.

A review will soon appear here but until then readers can pre-order a copy from Alex's website: Birdwatchingwatching and benefit from a 30% discount.