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March 26, 2008

The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom

The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom

Book 17 in my 52 books in 2008

A very popular book, no idea why, it's very dull, predictable stuff in the main.

A man dies and goes to heaven. He is told that he will meet five people from his life who will explain things to him. (five, a stupid arbitrary number, which is never explained. What if you lived on a desert island and only ever met one other person?). Once the explanations are over, you, and they, will all be able to move on to another plane of existence.

He duely meets these five people (they're all dead too, of course, and have just been waiting for him). Luckily he is old, and so has many different periods of his life the author was able to utilise, including a spell in the Vietnam war. After each one, we get a 'lesson learned' lifed straight out of a religious self-help book.

Don't waste your time on this sentimental, poorly written rubbish, unless you're really in need of someone telling you that everything will be alright, that everything bad happens for a reason, and that you'll be happy in heaven when you die.

Posted by se71 at 11:25 AM | Comments (0)

March 22, 2008

Strangers - Taichi Yamada

Strangers - Taichi Yamada

Book 16 of my 52 books in 2008

On the lookout for something new, I was intrigued by a very glowing review of this book by a blogger I read.
I didn't think it was a poor book, but I'm a very long way from being as enamoured by it as that reviewer.

This is a ghost story set in modern day Japan. It is an English translation of the Japanese original, and suffers a bit from that in the cheesy dialog. Harada is a 48 year old TV writer, recently divorced, and living alone in an almost empty apartment block. He forms a relationship with a younger woman who seems to be one of the other few residents. Around the same time, he is wandering the streets of his home district when he catches sight of a man who looks like his father. The two strike up a conversation, and Yamada goes back to the man's home, where he meets his wife, who is also the spitting image of Yamada's mother. Both are young, and his parents are dead anyway, so how could they possibly be real.

Weeks go by, and Yamada visits the couple more, but then his girlfriend and ex-business partner start to notice something strange about him.

It's all very sad, and a bit disturbing. Is it real, or is Yamada falling apart. It's difficult to get into this man's mind to understand his feelings and motivations. I'm not sure it's something a westerner can really understand completely without a more thorough knowledge of the Japanese culture.

It's a short book that only took a few days to finish, and yet it has stayed with me.

Posted by se71 at 10:43 AM | Comments (0)

March 15, 2008

Camouflage - Joe Haldeman

Camouflage - Joe Haldeman

Book 15 of my 52 books in 2008

This is a good solid science fiction story from the old school. What would happen if an alien was living amongst us, and had been here for hundreds or thousands of years? It can change it's form to look human, or to look like a fish and live in the sea. So what would it do?

Trying not to give too much away, the major theme of this book I thought was morality. Can an alien learn to be a moral person? And can it fall in love? Are these human traits universal?

The narrative is always interesting, characters develop nicely over time, and there are a lot of fun situations which get interesting resolutions. The climax is maybe a bit flat, a bit rushed, and I wanted more exposition. Nevertheless I'd recommend the book highly.

Posted by se71 at 10:02 AM | Comments (0)

March 11, 2008

Pig Island - Mo Hayder

Pig Island - Mo Hayder

Book 14 of my 52 books in 2008

An author whose books I've seen on the shelves for a few years now. This one was second hand, in good condition and cheap, so I got it.

Horror is a genre I've neglected in my reading recently. No particular reason. I think I've grown out of it a bit. I should do a little research and see if I'm missing anything good.

There are two types of horror story. One is probably more of a violent thriller - 'Silence Of The Lambs', 'Misery' or "Psycho" are examples. In these the fear is driven by real world people and events. Psychopaths, rapists and serial killers are the kind of people in these. They can be very effective indeed, and in fact, can be much more scary than the second kind.

In the other type of story, supernatural creatures and phenomena create the scares. Fear of the unknown is exploited in stories like 'Dracula' and 'Salems Lot', and in films like 'Alien' and 'A Nightmare on Elm Street'.

Some stories like to play with their audience, alternating between paranormal and real, giving the reader a constant guessing game about whether there really is a realistic explanation for the spooky happenings going on. Pig Island is one of them.

In Pig Island, the main narrator is a reporter who makes his living by investigating weird stories, and debunking the ghosts or goblins he doesn't find as hoaxes. He is covering a story on an island off the west coast of Scotland where a strange creature has been spotted in the woods. Is it some kind of bigfoot, or has the strange cult living there summoned the devil or one of his beasts from hell.

He goes to the island and meets the cult, who seem like a peaceful lot, except for one member who lives alone, estranged from the rest. Something terrible happens, and then the pace hots up a bit.

This is quite an entertaining read. The main plot is a bit far fetched, but I what do you expect? There is a weird sub-plot with the reporters wife, who seems to be completely bonkers, and this never really gets resolved properly. Another negative is that is all gets a bit gynecological, with more medical information than I needed to know - if Hayder is trying to gross out her readers, it's worked.

Very readable, but I'm not convinced by the author, and will probably not be trying any more. There are plenty of other authors to try.

Posted by se71 at 06:41 PM | Comments (0)

March 05, 2008

52 Books in 52 Weeks - February 2008

Progress so far in my quest to read 52 books in 2008

6. The Woods by Harlan Coben
7. The Songs of Distant Earth by Arthur C Clarke
8. Animal Farm by George Orwell
9. No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
10. Diggers by Terry Pratchett
11. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
12. First Blood by David Morrell

Good progress, 7 books, easily beating January even though it was a longer month. This was helped of course by me reading mostly quite short ones.

Oddly enough, three of these were books I've read before. This is partly due to me sifting through my collection and cataloging them online (more about that in another post sometime) and fancying revisiting them. I was not disappointed; 'Diggers', 'Animal Farm' and 'First Blood' were all still really excellent.

Posted by se71 at 11:43 AM | Comments (2)

March 04, 2008

Wings - Terry Pratchett

Wings - Terry Pratchett

Book 13 of my 52 books in 2008

This is the third and final book in the Nome trilogy; I quite recently finished number two, 'Diggers', and some of what I wrote about it unsurprisingly also pertains to this volume.

In a nutshell, Nomes are a race of people, living on Earth for thousands of years, but never seen by humans because they are very small, and move very quickly. In the first book, Truckers, two different tribes meet, and steal a truck. In the second 'Diggers', Some of them steal a digger. In this one, there is quite a lot of flying.

If you thought that the first two books were good, then this one will blow you away. It has a much larger scope, much. Masklin, from book one, and some of the store nomes, take the Thing (a black box, which is an ancient Nome computer) on Concord and go to Florida to try and get on NASA's Space Shuttle.

This is a lot of fun, and the Nomes get into plenty of scrapes. There is a neat conclusion where all the Nomes get back together, and we get to learn more about tree frogs.

Posted by se71 at 09:32 AM | Comments (0)

First Blood - David Morrell

First Blood - David Morrell

Book 12 of my 52 books in 2008

I first read this book in the late 1970s. I loved it then, and eagerly waited for the movie. Stallone did a good job, and made a lot of money from the franchise, but he changed too much to my mind, and lost the subtlety that you get from reading. This is understandable, and I guess excusable. I really recommend that you go back to the original text though if you like action, but also like to think intelligently about why it's happening.

Rambo is a decorated Vietnam veteran, drifting from town to town after the war. Teasle is a town cop, a veteran himself of Korea, but a flawed man going through a divorce. When these two encounter each other, the timing is just right for sparks to fly. Teasle doesn't want his neat town disturbed by vagrant troublemakers. Rambo is tired of being moved on for no reason and decides, when Teasle tries to make him leave, that he's had enough.

We get a really good viewpoint of both people, the focus switches almost eqwually between both men and we see how they think. Even from the start we can find ourselves to rooting for both of them, not sure which should overcome. Even though the body count escalates remarkably quickly, it's believable, and almost inevitable.

The conclusion is the only real way events have shaped it to go, and I'm not going to give it away here, but it's both shocking and satisfying.

A truely excellent book, give it a chance. I don't usually push Amazon reviews, but each reviewer there has given it 5 Stars, even those who hated the films.

Posted by se71 at 09:31 AM | Comments (0)