Thursday, June 30, 2011

Review: The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks

The Zombie Survival Guide
By Max Brooks

Published: 2003

Synopsis (Goodreads): The Zombie Survival Guide is your key to survival against the hordes of undead who may be stalking you right now. Fully illustrated and exhaustively comprehensive, this book covers everything you need to know, including how to understand zombie physiology and behavior, the most effective defense tactics and weaponry, ways to outfit your home for a long siege, and how to survive and adapt in any territory or terrain.

As some of you may know I'm currently working on a thesis which concentrates on zombies in film, so obviously I'm a bit of a zombie fan! That said I actually picked up this book (out the bookshelf it belongs to Tom) thinking it was Max Brooks' other zombie novel World War Z. Perhaps it was this original confusion which had me ready for an epic zombie narrative that resulted in my, well, boredom when I attempted to read 272 pages of 'non-fiction' zombie survival techniques.

I thought the concept for this book was great, and it was obvious Brooks spent a long time researching and conceptualising the idea, but reading a book about what weapons to take, what buildings will protect you best, and what transport to steer clear of, was fairly dull for me. I was lucky if I could get through more that 15-20 pages at a time, so this book has taken me close to 2 weeks to get through which is longer than I've spent on difficult classics! I did consider just throwing in the towel, several times in fact, but I forced myself to finish it so I could write this review.

It was a similar experience for me as reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the gimmick wore off quickly and I sat there reading it thinking, "why am I wasting my time reading about barricading houses and head shots when I could be reading True Grit or World War Z like I'd intended?" That probably makes it sound worse than it is. Granted, it wasn't my cup of tea, but this sort of dry, educational non-fiction never is. In saying that I do think there would be people who could enjoy this book, you just have to be open to this format of book.

The final chapter somewhat redeemed the experience for me. Quite a bit longer than the others that proceeded it, this chapter was a chronological account of zombie threats and attacks that have happened in the past. Spanning from the earliest account in 60,000 B.C of cave painting depicting a zombie attack (central Africa) to the most recent (at time of publishing) in 2002 of a single zombie in St. Thomas which has spawned a tourist campaign similar to the loch ness monster, the chapter covers attacks from across the globe and is formulated mostly thanks to 'unnamed' informants who were able to take the original files or archived documents from police stations, government agencies and even the Vatican.

I think if these accounts had been dotted through the other chapters more (although there already was the occasional anecdote) I would have found it easier to push through the drier content. The tales in this final chapter were full of conspiracies and government cover-ups and some even wound real historical figures (Alexander the Great makes an appearance) or events into the story, and, while still written in a rather dry manner, were far more interesting and engaging that the rest of the book put together.

While I found it a tough to read through this entire book, I can't actually fault it in terms of writing or ideas. Max Brooks clearly put a lot of time and energy into it and wrote in accordance with the style of book he was trying to create. The only problem is that I would never otherwise think to crack open a survival guide, perhaps even with an actual apocalypse breathing down my neck! I'd only recommend this to people who are interested with the idea of a survival guide, and are happy to read a book devoid of any plot, characters or action sequences.

My rating: 3/5

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Harry Potter Countdown: Conspiracy theories

Each Wednesday until Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows part 2 comes out I'm going to dedicate a post to an aspect of the series. Anyone who wants to join in is welcome, just let me know in the comments!

Today's topic is: Your favourite HP conspiracy theory!

I remember that everytime the latest Harry Potter book came out my friends and I would be quiet and barely talk until we'd all read it (which could be a couple of weeks if someone's brother or sister shotgunned the first reading) and then explode in a gush of  "Oh my God..." "I can't believe (s)he'd" "I totally saw that coming" and then culminate in a deep and detailed discussion about what was coming next. For the most part my friends and I were pretty mild in our predictions, we didn't jump to any wild conclusions for the most part, and instead concentrated on whether Snape was good or bad.

I can't say the same for the people who discuss Harry Potter on the internet, some of them, for want of a better word, are completely wackadoodle. In some cases they're simply not reading the text particularly clearly, for instance on one Harry Potter website someone exclaimed, after reading book 5, that Harry and Draco were related and they'd join forces sometime soon...sorry to disappoint you but they are not related. Draco is related to Sirius, but Sirius is Harry's Godfather, not his actual father so there is no blood or even marital connection. I read an equally silly one where they suggested that in the final book when Snape and Dumbledore were having that awfully emotional discussion about Harry which lead to Snape professing his undying love to Lily (Always...*sob*), Snape had conjured the patronus to send a message to Voldemort as an act of defiance/revenge/whatever and that was why Dumbledore was crying. What the what!!

But my favourite conspiracy theories have nothing to do with misreads and are by people who have come to a conclusion and then read the books with a fine toothed comb to find anything that appears to back up their hypothesis. It's all Rowlings fault, she's admitted that there are hints and secrets dotted all through the books and some people are determined to find every one!

My favourite has to be that Dumbledore isn't actually dead. I was shocked when he died at the end of book 6 just like everyone else, and I'll admit to considering for a fleeting moment that perhaps it was part of some elaborate plan, but it didn't last. Some people have refused point blank to consider he's actually dead and even after Rowling came out and said "yes he's dead, get over it" (my words not hers!)  some refused to budge! There are quite a few 'reasons' given to prove that he's still alive, so I'll post 5 of the most common and link you all to some hilarious, yet detailed essays stating the case.

1. Dumbledore isn't dead because Dumbledore wasn't Dumbledore for most (if not all) of book 6.
Apparently the proof is in Dumbledore's pensieve memories (page 430) and that he has them locked in bottles and doesn't simply remove them from his mind with his wand tip as demonstrated in previous books and chapters. Using this logic, the reason the memories are in bottles is because it is a fake Dumbledore (polyjuice potion) and they obviously couldn't conjure someone elses's memories as their own. Another essay theorises that it was Slughorn disguised as Dumbledore from the cave onwards. The Slughorn essay is quite a delight to read but makes some ridiculous stretches, like when Dumbledore uses a spell to dry Harry, it is reminiscent to Slughorn warming himself by a fire earlier in the book... yeah, sure, conclusive proof that. (read more here - point 5, or for the Slughorn argument here)

2. After Harry kneels by Dumbledore's 'dead' body we never see his body again. Why?!
There are two main theories that fit under this heading. The first suggests that Dumbledore used a potion or magic to fake his death, and the fact that after he's taken from the base of the tower you never see his body again (Hagrid carries him during the funeral under a sheet, he's engulfed in flames immediately etc) is proof that he isn't dead but doing his best to convince others he is. The second is tied to Fawkes. Apparently because of the multiple references to the phoenix around the time of Dumbledore's death and funeral, and the fact that Dumbledore seems to favour fire spells (i.e. when he proves his magical skill to little Tom Riddle) Dumbledore has the power to be reborn from ashes like a phoenix, hence why there are flames at his funeral. (read more here -point 8& 9)

3. His soul is stored in a magic artifact, awaiting reactivation.
I've only seen this one as a throwaway comment on message boards, but I'd say the idea came from Voldemort's horcruxes. Main reason this couldn't be true (other than the fact that we know so) is it would require Dumbledore killing someone to create a horcrux, and we know he wouldn't do that. It's out of his character to do anything like this and it makes no sense. (originally found on this board)

4. The description of the Avada Kedavra curse is wrong. 
In every other instance people who die from this curse simply drop the the ground whereas Dumbledore flies out the window when hit with it. This must mean that it wasn't the killing curse and instead Snape used a non-verbal ExpelliarmusDumbledore. Another 'hint' is when Harry asks Kreacher and Dobby to follow Malfoy Dobby says that if he does it wrong he'll "throw himself off the topmost tower". Apparently this means he has overheard Snape and Dumbledore talking about the faking of Dumbledore's death and therefore this proves this particular theory. (read more here - point 4)

5. It was Dumbledore disguised as Snape who shook hands in the unbreakable oath.
I can't find where I read this one, but basically the idea was that Dumbledore had taken part in the oath, not Snape, so when they were in the tower Snape used a fake Avada Kedavra curse, Dumbledore hopped out the window to his fake death and then...who knows, went on a vacation to Hawii? However I'm fairly sure this would mean Dumbledore had to then kill Dumbledore, which doesn't really eliminate the whole Dumbledore is dead issue after all, it simply removes any fault from Snape.

So there are just 5 of the many reasons which supposedly prove that Dumbledore did not die at the end of book 6. Some are a little more out there than others, but I think it's fair to say all read way, way, wayyyyyy too much into the text for supposed clues about this issue! What are you favourite Harry Potter conspiracy theories? Or perhaps you were a conspiracy theorist yourself, what was your interpretation? I'd love to hear from you all!

Next week:  The most shocking or unexpected deaths in Harry Potter.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Review: A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

A Game of Thrones(A Song of Ice and Fire #1)
by George R. R. Martin

Published: 1996

Synopsis (via Goodreads): Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister forces are massing beyond the kingdom's protective wall. To the south, the King's powers are failing, and his enemies are emerging from the shadows of the throne. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the frozen land they were born to. Now Lord Eddard Stark is reluctantly summoned to serve as the King's new Hand, an appointment that threatens to sunder not only his family but also the kingdom itself.

I think you'd have to be living under a pretty big rock to not have heard about the HBO adaptation of George R.R. Martin's fantasy series, because the waves have been felt so hard here in Brisbane, Australia (where it 'legally' isn't available for viewing yet)  that all the bookstores have sold out of the first couple of books in the series, and the libraries have waiting lists that roll out the door. I enjoy fantasy, but I hadn't heard of this series before it began flooding the internet pre-season one and thanks to the absolute awesomeness of the series I couldn't help but read the book that inspired it all.

As with many fantasy books A Game of Thrones is set in a world that is both like ours (historically speaking) and completely unlike ours. While dragons, 'white walkers,' direwolves and spell-forged steel is a natural and accepted aspect of life for those living in the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros (except the dragons are now long extinct) it isn't the focus of the tale. Instead we witness how something as simple as the request by a king (and long time friend) asks a northern lord to be his Hand (an advisor of sorts) can cause not only a family, but an entire kingdom to unravel.

At least that's what King Robert's demands that Lord Eddard (Ned) Stark journey south to King's Landing initiates. Factor into that a queen's secret that she's desperate to remain so, family rivalry, bastards, a drunk for a king, the previously deposed king's heir coming of age and marrying, the threat that 'winter' and the white walkers (wights) are coming, insanity, distrust, watching eyes and the attempted murder (twice) of a boy who knows too much and you can gleam a bit of understanding as to why the story isn't all sunshine and rainbows.

The story is split into chapters that focus on several of the lead characters, Ned, his wife Catelyn, his 9 year old daughter Arya, his 12 year old daughter Sansa, his 7 year old son Bran, his 14 year old bastard son Jon, the queen's dwarf brother Tyrion and the deposed 'Mad King's' daughter, Daenerys. I found this multi-focus narration to ultimately be an interesting and beneficial way of structuring a story that spans hundreds of miles and countless sub-plots. It is rare for all the narrators to be in the one location, so this style allows you to catch glimpses of the different people, places, customs and loyalties found across the land. Unlike some fantasy novels I've read which spend the first 50 or so pages setting the scene and describing the history, in A Game of Thrones you launch straight into it and learn about the fantasy realm as it is necessary.  This quickens the pace without sacrificing character or setting development and also adds an air of mystery which is quite important in this tale of lies, deceits and double-agents.

Another great addition that this multi-focus style adds is that you see a character or event from several angles. Nothing in this book is black and white, noone is truly evil or good, or friend or foe. When you're reading a chapter from the position of Ned or his family his past infidelities or aggressions are ignored or explained away so as to paint his as a wonderful family man who does what he must for the benefit of the greater community. However if you read the chapters from his enemies perspectives, or even in Jon's (his bastard son) chapters where people feel free to speak as they wish, you realise that he isn't quite as free of sin as his family likes to think/pretend. It adds a great deal of depth and realism to the characters, because let's be honest who in the world is actually perfect? Especially a world when bloody take-overs are considered fairly normal?

The multi-focus narration is also great for advancing the intrigue and mystery surrounding the bit-part characters. They don't have their own chapters so you have to piece them together with what you see from chapter to chapter, and they certainly aren't easy to pinpoint. Their loyalties and motivations seem to switch depending on whose chapter they're in and how the latest event played out. Lord Baelish and Varys are two such characters. Baelish has old ties to Ned's wife, and Varys is a eunuch and has 'eyes' all over the kingdom. Both sit on the King's council and both seem to be moving from side to side, gathering information, plotting and other mysterious behaviours. They're quite fantastic characters and are so important in the direction the novel takes. While they may only have small parts to play, you soon realise how much power they hold and how easily they can make the larger characters dance like puppets on strings.

This constant air of suspicion and distrust are important because many of the events take place because a character has heard something, taken offence and decided to act. It's like a very dangerous game of chinese whispers, for all you know the message you've received is only half the original message or could have been completely garbled down the line. We know that some of the characters aren't to be trusted, or at least seem like they shouldn't be trusted, but because this is a world where loyalty to family through age-old truces and marriages is considered sacrosanct no one thinks to question the information or the word of people considered 'friends'. This means people take dangerous and stupid risks and that the outcome they're expected almost never occurs as they intend. It also makes for fantastic reading, because while we have an idea of some plot-lines and of some not-so-friendly friends we're as much in the dark as the characters most of the time, and are equally shocked, outraged and surprised by some of the revelations that come out.

The book is really well-written, the sub-plots flow smoothly and the dialogue is sharp and quick-witted. Characters only have the one name (unlike LOTR where they seemed to have a different name in every town) and are often fairly simple so it isn't hard to link names to characters and keep them straight - a problem I often have with fantasy. Added to this is the fact that each character (regardless of how small) stands out very distinctly as their own person. They're incredibly well-developed and are all extremely emotional characters, acting out in anger, fear or despair, making them very realistic and very unpredicable.

I really enjoyed this book and can't wait for my bookstore to finally get the series back in stock so I can begin book two. I briefly mentioned at the start that the fantasy elements (i.e. magic, spells, dragons) are fairly backgrounded. It is more that these elements are so well written in that they seem completely natural to the story and don't take over from what the story is really about, the warring of families and general human-y things. So if you avoid fantasy because of the magic, dragons, elves etc then perhaps give this book a try and you may find yourself converted into a fantasy fiend soon enough!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

My Favourite covers: Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

Like Rabbit Redux the other week I probably wouldn't have picked up this cover if it wasn't for the positive combo of a low, low price and this wicked cover. While I love the front cover it's really the back cover that appeals the greatest. I'm not sure exactly what it is but I love when text on a cover takes up the entire surface space. Plus the combo of blue and hot pink and that 70s-esque font is simply fantastic! The title/author credit arrangement on the front reminds me of an album cover from the 70s by some famous band that I can't think of right now!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Harry Potter Countdown: Next week's topic

Ooops, I was so wrapped up in Snape this week that I forgot to post the topic for next week! The topic will always be posted under the challenges tab, along with all the links from previous weeks.

Next week's topic: Between the release of the books there was always gossip and theories floating around about what was going to happen next. What was your favourite Harry Potter conspiracy theory?

By that I mean the gossip and theories people made up during the time between book releases, but if you'd like to comment on the conspiracy theories surrounded the series as a whole (i.e. promotes witchcraft) you can do that too! 

If you can't remember any of the theories that floated around when you were first reading the series, hop on google and search 'Harry potter + conspiracy theories' and you should have your memory well jogged!

Discussion post: Published after death

I'm a little obsessive about people reading (or watching or listening) something I've created before I've deemed it finished. In some cases, I never feel like it's finished and I sit squirming while I watch T read whatever it is and wait for the inevitable 'holy crap that's awful,' which never actually arrives either because T is too nice, or it actually isn't awful. From conversations I've had with people in the past I know that alot of people are like that, whether because of self confidence issues or because they're not finished writing/editing/pouring their heart and soul into it. With this considered, is it OK to publish something after the death of an author? I suppose it's one thing if they died as it sat at the printing press awaiting final instruction, but suppose it was found when a relative was cleaning out their piles and piles of papers? What if it is unfinished, should it be published regardless? What about if he author specifically stated that they did not want people to read it, should we treat their wishes with respect or publish it anyway?

I ask because the other day at the bookstore I came across Vladimir Nabokov's The Original of Laura, a book that has been published posthumously. It is unfinished which leads me to suspect that it is perhaps completely different to what the end result would have been had he had the opportunity to finish it. I know everyone's method is different, but my final copy (be it assignment, article, or blog post) is often completely unrecognisable from the original dot points or words I set on the page. As a New York Magazine article states, Nabokov, though eager and delighted by what he was writing, intended for the manuscript to be burnt when he realised he was too ill to ever complete it. His wife couldn't bring herself to do it and placed it in a bank vault for 30 years. Now published it seems the publishers want to emphasise the unfinished quality of the book and have reproduced the 138 index cards that Nabokov had written the story out on. The NY Mag article states that;
"The cards are even perforated, so you can punch them out and shuffle them, as Nabokov would have done as he revised. Every page contains the author’s surprising handwriting: biggish and slanted and loopy, with generous white space around his words. (I was expecting, for some reason, tiny cramped writing that colonized every available millimeter of space.) Some of the cards are heavily revised, which allows us to see, for the first time, the work of Nabokov’s famous eraser: fuzzy little storm clouds of smudged graphite loom behind neatly rewritten words. "
I'll admit the description of Nabolkov's creative process and handwritten cards makes my heart flip a little in excitement, but does this justify publishing a book the author intended no one ever to read? Sam Anderson, author of the NY Magazine review questioned that himself, and though he seemed to come down in favour of the book being published, there is a thread of justification to the article, an almost silent pleading to Nabokov himself not to judge them too harshly for betraying his wishes. Or perhaps I'm simply reading too much into it.

Nabokov isn't the only author to be published after death, or against his wishes. William S. Burroughs' collaboration with Jack Kerouac (And the hippos were boiled in their tanks) was published in 2008, decades after it was written by the pair in 1945. Telling the story of the death of David Kammerer at the hands of Lucian Carr and Burroughs and Kerouac's involvement in the sad and turbulent affair, the book is something of a mystery story and blends fiction with non-fiction. Kerouac (and others) had desperately wanted the book to be published but Burroughs was against it, deeming it to be well below the standard he wished to link his name to. When Burroughs died his position hadn't changed, but James Grauerholz, his partner and executor of his estate, decided otherwise. As Burroughs' long-time partner had he known something about Burroughs' wishes that he'd never made public? Was Burroughs' just being pedantic over the quality or content or did he truly wish it never to be published?

These are only two of an almost endless list of examples of books, letters, and journals published either against the wishes of the writer or without their knowledge that such an act would ever be considered. Of course there are those that belong on the other side of the coin, books published posthumously by authors who died in the final editing stages (Chris Fuhrman- The dangerous lives of alterboys) but what I'm questioning is the books published either against the author's expressed wishes or in an incomplete format.

What do you think? Should they be published, or should we let sleeping dogs lie?

Fanart Friday: Wuthering Heights

If you've followed this blog for awhile you'll know that this book, along with Jane Austen's work, is not particular high on my list of favourite reads. The characters...actually, I'm not even going to get started on the problems with the characters, I'd rather not sully these amazing art pieces with the inevitable rant that'd follow! In spite of all the things that I hated about this book, I was always drawn to the image of two lovers searching for one another across the wild moors. It's incredibly visual, and romantic (if they weren't the characters they are) and gothic and translates well onto paper, as the artists below clearly show. As before this collection come from a wonderful group of artists I found on DeviantArt and I cannot urge you enough to check out these artist's collections on that website. A perfect way to spend a few hours.

By LeonNack

By Gravestar
By Ulafish

**Are there any books you'd like to see featured on Fanart Friday? Or perhaps an artist you know who draws inspiration from books? Let me know in the comments and I'll dedicate a post to them!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Review: Crooked Little Vein by Warren Ellis

Crooked Little Vein
By Warren Ellis

Published: 2007

Synopsis (via Goodreads): A burned-out private detective is enlisted by an army of presidential goons to retrieve the U.S. Constitution...the real one. Following in the steps of Neil Gaiman, Crooked Little Vein is packed with action, adventure, and a wild cast of characters that are sure to appease not only hardcore comic fans, but a whole new slew of mystery readers waiting for a surprisingly surreal treat that infuses the madness of the graphic-novel world.

My god, I can't express how fantastically messed-up this book is, and how deliriously I devoured it.  I was a little worried before reading this (seems to be a bit of a theme recently) because not all comic writers are up to the challenge of a full-scale book but Warren Ellis did it with sickening style.

The book opens with a rat taking a piss in a coffee cup while the narrator, Mike McGill, Private 'Invest gator', drags himself through the doldrums of a morning routine with very little ease. Mike has an uncanny knack as a P.I and worked his way well up a private film before deciding to go solo. Ever since he's been plagued by the most revolting luck, he's a self-proclaimed shit magnet, finding himself investigating only the most perverse elements of underground America. Soon after waking and stumbling around his dirty and trashed office he's visited by the President's Chief of Staff, who is a smart-talking asshole who shoots heroin. (I think you can guess from just that how insane this book will be.) He gives Mike half a million dollars to track down a book, a book that contains a second constitution, "it details the real intent of their design of American society, and twenty-three invisible amendments to be read and adhered to only by the presidents, vice-presidents and Chiefs of Staff." Bound in the skin of an extra-terrestrial that hounded Ben Franklin, the book vibrates lightly at the same frequency as the human eye thereby forcing you to read it. It was lost when Nixon gave it to a woman living on a houseboat and the trail has been cold for many years. It's Mike's job to rekindle the trail and find the book for the president.

You find all that out within the first five pages, the next 300 follows Mike's descent into the seediest and most bizarre and disgusting of America's underbelly, as he hops across the country looking for the book. His first search point is a cinema for macroherpetophiles, people who get off watching videos of Godzilla spliced with porn scenes of people in Godzilla masks. That sets the tone for the rest of the hunt, some are a little more harmless, homosexual bodybuilders who inject their scrotums with saline and oil tycoons who hoover up cocaine with an altered diving tank and mask, while others are downright disturbing and vomit-inducing. (I'll save you from a description, you can discover for yourself when you read the book.)

During the lizard lovers movie night Mike meets Trix, a heavily-tattooed Polyamorist (read: bit of a slut) writing her thesis on the "extremes of self-inflicted human experience." Five drinks later she's signed up to come along, and the sex-starved Mike (his last girlfriend left him for a transgender with a hair transplant on her nipples) has to work hard to stop staring at her like a perverted freak. Rather obviously they have sex eventually but their relationship is complicated by the fact that Trix has sex with every and anyone and is all for bestiality (as long as it's an appropriate and loving relationship) while Mike apparently is a prude who should have been alive 50 years ago.

This book is completely insane and all kinds of crazy, but as Ellis himself states, he began it as revenge to get his literary agent off his back. As crude and as obscene as it is, underneath the wild and crazy bukkake, prostitution and sex-addicts is a rather simple message. Life on the fringe isn't on the fringe anymore and hasn't been since the invention of the internet. The fringe went mainstream. There are actually about three rather annoyingly overt monologues by 'fringe/seedy characters' (one's a serial killer) about how all the 'sickening' depths that Mike thinks he's plunged into aren't depths at all since they can be readily found within a 2 minute google search. America (and I imagine much of the Western world) is driven and governed by sex, and the question that seems to come up again and again, is that if it isn't hurting anyone and they're doing it away from general society, who's it hurting?

This prevalence of sex is combined with an abundance of violence, Mike elbows a small child in the face so Trix can get the window seat on a plane and when the mother makes a scene Mike tells the air-hostess she was speaking Iraqi and the mother and child are escorted off the plane. On another flight Mike meets another P.I who he knocks unconscious after the man went on and on and convinces the air-hostess he was trying to light something (read: a bomb) in his shoe, and by the end of the flight the all the crew and passengers have had a turn hitting him and his face looks like steak. The violence is far less prominent than the sex and it sneaks up on you and is mentioned in such an off-hand way that it strikes you even harder.  I'd like to say events like those would never happen but I watch the news, only a few years ago we (Australia) locked up a middle-eastern doctor for months accused of terrorism purely based on a bit of paranoia and rage and only last week Vancouver was over-run by hooligans after their team lost a hockey game. It may be exaggerated, but the events of this novel are frighteningly real all the same.

Ellis obviously thinks the world has gone a wee bit mad, especially when you consider that much of the content of the book (other than the compelling second constitution) is a barely exaggerated version of what really is readily available on the internet and on the fringes of society. Whether you believe it's as important, prominent or as likely to go mainstream as Ellis shows it in this book is up for debate, but the book reminds us of the dark and disturbing possibilities that linger in our future.

The message of the book does pack quite a wallop by the end of the book but it isn't as dark and as preachy as I maybe have made it sound. It's a hard-boiled detective story for the F'd up 21st century and it is equal parts brilliant, hilarious, and (humorously) disgusting. My only criticism lies with Trix. She's mainly there as a foil to Mike's conservativeness and as a weird and sick tour guide through the depths of America's scum, and I wish she'd have just disappeared instead of sparking the romantic subplot that she does. It actually reminded me alot of Harry and Ginny's relationship in Harry Potter. It had a use-by date and it never truly meshed so it should never last. Plus her brash, modern 'I'll sleep with whoever don't call me a slut' brand of feminism was a little boring (and ridiculous) to me, she was the only predictable part of the novel. That said she serves an important purpose, so in the end I can live with her over-the-top, in-your-face stupidity.

This book isn't for the faint hearted. I've tried to lay some of the more gory/disgusting details right out on the table for you so you have an idea what you're getting yourself into, but I still think this could be a novel enjoyed by most people. (perhaps not my grandparents!) Yes it's outrageous, and full of drugs, sex, violence and swear-words but so are your average action novels. At least this book has out of this world writing and handles the messy topics with a bit of fun and a wickedly dark sense of humour while still knocking your breath out with the message. Plus if you read this you can cross Godzilla Bukkake off your bucket list, don't lie now, I know it's there!

My rating: 4.5/5

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Wild Card Wednesday: All the characters of the rainbow

This is how it works. Every Wednesday I'll put up a prompt, but it won't be like the prompts you've seen before. Wildcard Wednesday requires bloggers to use their imaginations, to take what they read and use it in a new and unique way. {Hosted by GabrielReads}

Prompt:Pick one character for each color of the rainbow and explain why they remind you of that color.

Raoul Duke*: Red for his big, red shark of a car. Red for his passion and fiery nature. Red for his lust for life, spontaneity and never say die attitude. Red for his no limit, no bullshit mentality. Red to grab attention, ignite passion, and live life on the edge.

Mark 'Rents' Renton*: Orange for his hair. Orange for the ease in which he lies and hides the truth. Orange for his humour and his constant mocking of Sickboy. Orange for his addiction and his chance to come clean. Orange for Amsterdam and his future.

Kathy*: Yellow for her hair. Yellow for the sunshine she brought into people's life. Yellow for the happiness, hope and peace she inspired in others. Yellow for her naivety, desperation and her youthful innocence. Yellow for her love.

  Draco Malfoy*: Green for Slytherin, the house he was so proud to be a part of. Green for envy, jealousy, and greed. Green for his slimy, weasel best friends. Green for his youth and inexperience and bravado. Green for his second chance.

Dean Moriarty & Sal Paradise*: Blue for the sky that overhangs their adventure. Blue for their freedom, and the sparkle in their eyes . Blue for the jazz, the drinking and the dancing. Blue for the highs and blue for the lows. Blue for their artistry, madness and energy.

Daenerys Targaryen*: Violet for her eyes. Violet for her youth, innocence and vulnerability. Violet for her passion, love and desire to find her place. Violet for her wildness and ability to adapt. Violet because if you add an N it describes a whole different facet waiting below the surface of her character.

*Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
*Never Let Me Go
*Harry Potter
*On the Road
*Game of Thrones

Harry Potter Countdown: Snape-a-palooza

Each Wednesday until Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows part 2 comes out I'm going to dedicate a post to an aspect of the series. Anyone who wants to join in is welcome, just let me know in the comments!

Today's topic is: dedicated to our favourite Potions master, Severus Snape!

I don't know many people who dislike Snape or think he's anything less than an extraordinary character which is why I've dedicated an entire countdown post to the man. I'm expecting some pretty interesting posts from other Snape enthusiasts so I thought I'd take a different path. Instead of just writing why I love, and love to hate, Snape I'm going to show you. I've accumulated a few of my favourite quotes or passages from the seven books that have always been some of my favourite Snape moments. I only got to this last night so it's in no way every great Snape line or scene but it gives you an idea.If you think of anything I've missed let me know in the comments section and I'll add it in.

1. His classroom interactions
Through all the books (except perhaps #7) Snape delivers dozens of zingers that are droll, sarcastic, often venomous and more often than not right on the money. (I mean seriously, I would have chastised Hermione for being such a painful suck-up myself.) A couple of my favourites...

* "I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death if you aren't as big a bunch of dunderheads as I usually have to teach." (Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone)

*"That is the second time you have spoken out of turn, Miss Granger," said Snape coolly. "Five more points from Gryffindor for being an insufferable know-it-all." (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban)

* "Oh, very good....Yes, it is easy to see that nearly six years of magical education have not been wasted on you, Potter. 'Ghosts are transparent.'" (Harry Potter and the half blood prince)

* "Do you remember me telling you we are practicing nonverbal spells, Potter?"
"Yes," said Harry stiffly.
"Yes, sir."
"There's no need to call me 'sir,' Professor." The words had escaped him before he knew what he was saying. Several people gasped, including Hermione. Behind Snape, however, Ron, Dean, and Seamus grinned appreciatively.
"Detention, Saturday night, my office," said Snape. "I do not take cheek from anyone, Potter . . . not even 'the Chosen One.'" (Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince)

2. His confrontation with the Marauder's Map
Let's be honest, for the first three books Snape was a bit of an ass (though a lovable one) and when he was knocked down a peg or two it was always rather delicious. This scene always cracks me up.

“Professor Severus Snape, master of this school, commands you to yield the information you conceal!” Snape said, hitting the map with his wand. As though an invisible hand were writing upon it, words appeared on the smooth surface of he map. 
"Mr. Moony presents his compliments to Professor Snape, and begs him to keep his abnormally large nose out of other people's business." 
Snape froze. Harry stared, dumbstruck, at the message. But the map didn’t stop there. More writing was appearing beneath the first. 
"Mr. Prongs agrees with Mr. Moony, and would like to add that Professor Snape is an ugly git."
It would have of been very funny if the situation hadn’t been so serious. And there was more… "Mr. Padfoot would like to register his astonishment that an idiot like that ever became a professor." Harry’s eyes closed in horror. When he opened them, the map had ad its last word. "Mr. Wormtail bids professor Snape good day, and advises him to wash his hair, the slimeball.”  (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban)

3. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
This is probably my favourite Snape book from the series. In this book he was no longer the sour Potions master who had a grudge against Harry Potter, but the man who had to sacrifice his life to work as Dumbledore's double agent. (And raise doubts over who he was double crossing for another 3 books.) What I noticed most in this book was how brave he was and determined not to hide from the truth.  Looking back at this book now, knowing everything we now know about his character and all the things he sacrificed and all the risks he took just make the following quotes and passages all the more compelling and him all the more incredible.

* Snape strode forward, past Dumbledore, pulling up the left sleeve of his robes as he went. He stuck out his forearm and showed it to Fudge, who recoiled.
"There," said Snape harshly. "There. The Dark Mark. It is not as clear as it was an hour ago, when it burned black, but you can still see it. Every Death Eater had the sign burned into him by the Dark Lord." (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)

* "Severus," said Dumbledore, turning to Snape, "you know what I must ask you to do. If you are ready ... if you are prepared..."
"I am," said Snape.
He looked slightly paler than usual, and his cold, black eyes glittered strangely. (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)

* "Then flee," said Snape’s voice curtly. "Flee, I will make your excuses. I, however, am remaining at Hogwarts."

4. "Always"
When Dumbledore asks, somewhat shocked, whether Snape still loves Lily, Snapes single word reply speaks volumes. His love, pain, regret, and his desperate attempts to right past wrongs and protect the one he all comes out with that single word, and to me it perhaps demonstrates more than all the rest of Snape's actions, dialogue and interactions combined how haunted a character he is, why he is the way he is, and does the things he does.

"I have spied for you and lied for you, put myself in mortal danger for you. Everything was supposed to be to keep Lily Potter's son safe. Now you tell me you have been raising him like a pig for slaughter--"
"But this is touching, Severus,"said Dumbledore seriously. "Have you grown to care for the boy, after all?"
"For him?" shouted Snape. "Expecto Patronum!"
From the tip of his wand burst the silver doe: She landed on the office floor, bounded across the office and soared out of the window. Dumbledore watched her fly away, and as her silvery glow faded he turned back to Snape, and his eyes were full of tears.
"After all this time?"

"Always." said Snape.
Next week's topic: Between the release of the books there was always gossip and theories floating around about what was going to happen next. What was your favourite Harry Potter conspiracy theory?* 

*If you are having trouble remembering any outrageous theories floating around a couple of years ago while you waiting for a book to be released try googling 'Harry Potter conspiracy theories' and write about the one that makes you laugh or your head spin!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A time for compassion

As many of you may have heard via twitter or the news Ryan Dunn (from Jackass) died Monday morning in a car crash. My heart goes out to his friends and family in what is obviously a difficult time but unfortunately some people aren't able to show a shred of compassion.

I refer to the countless people on facebook, twitter, failbook etc who, when told the news, say 'he deserved it,' that he's a 'jackass' for driving, and some even less savory comments. Don't get me wrong, I am in no way condoning drunk driving, I think it's an appallingly selfish act and no love is lost when I hear a friend has had their license revoked or incurred a major fine for being caught. However, within hours of hearing a person has died is not an appropriate time to start rallying against the stupidity of drink driving, especially if you're a celebrity that people follow on Twitter (Roger Ebert). Two people died. Their family's lives are falling apart around them and you have the gall to say 'oh well, if he didn't drink this never would have happened.' Do you think that'll make it any easier for his mother to stand by his grave, or any less painful for his friends to try and comprehend a life without him in it?

On another note, a single photo on Twitter showing him with a drink in his hand does not mean he was drunk and drunk driving. As far as I'm aware America, like Australia, has a legal blood alcohol limit that people are allowed to drive with. Secondly, police have named speed as the likely culprit, not drinking. Jumping to assumptions based on a single image and using it to attack his character and reduce the goddamn awfulness of his passing is NOT OK. Try having just a semblance of compassion for 5 freaking minutes and let his family, friends and fans mourn in peace without having to counteract your heartless accusations.

Bottom line no one deserves to die, stupid actions do not justify a death at the age of 34. Rightfully Ryan should have lived for another 50 years and the fact he'll never get that chance is heartbreaking. The rampant lack of compassion shown across the Internet in this instance and countless others is despicable, and will be the detriment of the human race. If people can divorce themselves from compassion and recognising the devastation of loss in instances like this, and be so hell-bent on lecturing, seriously, what chance do we have?

Top 10 Tuesday: Why I love being a book blogger/bookish person

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created here at The Broke and the Bookish. This feature was created because we are particularly fond of lists here at The Broke and the Bookish. We'd love to share our lists with other bookish folks and would LOVE to see your top ten lists!

This week is the one year blogoversary for the folks over at the Broke and the Bookish (congrats guys!) so to commemorate the topic for the week is the top ten reasons why being a book blogger or just plain ol' bookish person is the bee's knees, the cat's pajamas and any other superb aspect of animal clothing or body parts!

I've been blogging since last August, but it wasn't until about March this year that I really settled into the groove of things and found my own personal rhythm. I've been a bookish person for far, far longer and even if my blogging slows or stops altogether, I know I'll be reading until the day that I die. With that in mind I'm going to split this top 10 in half, 5 dedicated to the amazing aspects of blogging and 5 to the reasons reading is the shiz-nit.

In no particular order...


1. I get to meet like-minded people... Even though I studied literature at university, I've never had many friends who were quite as bookish as me. Some may read the current best-sellers or even dip their toes into the unknown waters of authors and genres that I try to recommend to them, but for much of my life I've been alone and unable to communicate how much I love books and why I love them. Through reading other blogs, and in the comment section of my own blog I've been able to form friendships with people across the globe who are as bookish and as obsessive and as desperate to discuss as I am. There are archaeologists, authors, historians, teachers, librarians, students, lawyers and on and on, and the one thing that joins all these amazing people is their love of reading and their desire to share their passion. How some of these people manage to keep up such comprehensive and amazing blogs and maintain a full-time job and in some cases a family absolutely astounds me! I could not recommend the people listed in my sidebar enough, they're all amazing people and fabulous bloggers. Do yourself a favour and visit their blogs!

2. I come across books I would never find otherwise... There are genres I always wanted to sample but never had any idea where to start. Thanks to the variety of blogs out there I get to read countless reviews  and hear which titles are to be heralded and which to steer clear of. Not to mention all the books I've heard about thanks to blogging that I am 100% certain I never would have found on my own.

3. I get to write everyday... I might not be heading down the career path of a writer or professional book blogger, but this blog gives me a reason to write down my thoughts on books, films, politics and share my opinions and words with anyone who'll listen. It's a pretty amazing experience and something I love to do.

4. It's a fantastic reason to read as many books as I can... This was one of the reasons I majored in literature, it gave me an excuse to stick my nose in a book and keep it there without feeling guilty. Sure it's more difficult now that these books aren't related to my current study but the fact that I'll be documenting my thoughts on them eventually makes me feel a little less guilty when I spend an entire Sunday in bed reading Game of Thrones instead of studying.

5. I'm learning everyday... When I look back at what I knew before I began blogging, in terms of writing reviews, discussion posts, html etc, I realise how much I've learned in quite a short period of time. I'm still learning,and while I like to think getting better at the tech sides of blogging I know there is so much still to take in and I can't wait! Education minus the 1000s of dollars in school fees? Yes please!

Being Bookish

1. I get to escape into amazing worlds everytime I open a cover... As corny and as cliche as it may be to say, every book is a new adventure. I've just emerged from Westeros (Game of Thrones) and before that I was hopping across the seedy side of America (Crooked Little Vein) and before that I was in London (The Doctor is Sick) with some of the most eccentric characters around. I've journeyed to fantastical lands that can never truly be, I've seen environments that reflect the worst and the best sides of the human condition, I've lived in the past and the future and alternative presents. Book worlds give you a taste of cultures, worlds, times and places you may never get the opportunity to see and I love them for that.

2. I'm a more understanding and compassionate person...  This is much to do with the teachings of my parents but I honestly think that being a well-read person helps you understand and empathise and stops you from jumping to ridiculous and often ignorant assumptions.

3. I've met some of my best friends between the pages...

4. I'm never bored... I know people who are completely despondent when the weather turns poorly or their bus is 20 minutes late. Me? I relish rain and couldn't care less if my bus never arrives (well...kind of) because I always have a book in my bag and am always looking for an excuse to spend a little more time indoors reading!

5. I no how to spel and use grammaer good... har, har, har! I'm a pretty shocking speller, I rely on spell-checker more than I should but compared to some people I see attempting to write emails, resumes (you wouldn't believe some of the shockers that have come into my store) and even uni assignments I'm a veritable English goddess. I remember being forced into a spelling contest in year 9 and managing to win because they used obscure words that I had come across when reading and my competitors hadn't been exposed to the cryptic spelling frequent in older English or hybrid English words.

So they're just 10 reasons why I love reading and blogging but rest assured there are dozens and dozens more! What did you all have on your lists?

Academic mini-reviews - Zombies!

I asked you guys awhile ago whether you'd be interested in me reviewing the many, many books I'm reading at the moment for uni. The feedback was positive so I decided to go ahead with it. One change though was that I decided I'd only pick the ones that would be interesting to read for people outside of my study area (no dull textbooks!) and I'd only supply mini reviews since I don't feel like they actually need a really in-depth review. So here is my first collection of books up for reviewing. Let me know in the comments if you think this is an effective way to review this type of book or if you'd rather I put in a more detailed analysis of them.

Gospel of the Living Dead by Kim Paffenroth

my rating: 4/5

This book was an incredible look into the deconstruction of Romero's zombie 'Dead' series through a religious lens. Paffenroth's use of theological beliefs and theories in conjunction with zombie depiction provided an interesting and informative glimpse into modern America and commented on several aspects of today's society and religion. Bonus points were given for working Dante into the analysis.

The Book of the Dead by Jamie Russel

My rating: 5/5

A fantastically detailed look at the evolution of the zombie from its Haitian origins up to its most recent cinematic features. Jamie Russell distances himself enough to talk about the movies in terms of their technical and critical successes and favours, rather than simply talking about the ones he enjoyed the most, which I've found many other zombie film critics to do. As a student doing my thesis on zombies in film this book will be indispensable, but it's interesting and entertaining enough to be read by a zombie enthusiast also. Chock full of film reviews and colour pictures of their release posters and film stills too.

The Powers of Horror by Julia Kristeva (translated copy)

My rating: 3.5/5

This is not a zombie book, it's a psychology text that concentrates on the theory of abjection by examining our reaction to dead bodies, castration, the oedipal complex (though discussed in a way I hadn't come across before) and a myriad of other things. It uses theories by Lacan and Freud as a base and builds upon them with Kristeva's own detailed and engrossing theories. The language is remarkably easy to read for someone not from a psychology background however the theory is quite dense and complex and it took me quite awhile to fully appreciate the ideas she was putting forward.

The Cinema of George A. Romero: Knight of the Living Dead By Tony Williams
My rating: 3.5/5

This book examined Romero's film cannon (not simply his zombie films) with a concentration on the link between his work and literary naturalism, which was a lens I hadn't seen used in conjunction with zombies before. While the analysis on some of the films felt lacking and seemed more like a regurgitation of the events of the films, overall it was a comprehensive, unique and interesting view on Romero's style of film-making.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Review: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

By Neil Gaiman

Published: 2001

 Synopsis (Goodreads): After three years in prison, Shadow has done his time. But as the days, then the hours, then the minutes, then the seconds until his release tick away, he can feel a storm building. Two days before he gets out, his wife Laura dies in a mysterious car crash, in apparently adulterous circumstances. Dazed, Shadow travels home, only to encounter the bizarre Mr. Wednesday claiming to be a refugee from a distant war, a former god and the king of America. Together they embark on a very strange journey across the States, along the way solving the murders which have occurred every winter in one small American town. But they are being pursued by someone with whom Shadow must make his peace... Disturbing, gripping and profoundly strange, Neil Gaiman's epic new novel sees him on the road to finding the soul of America.

I've been putting off this review for a couple of weeks now for two main reasons. Firstly, I wanted to give it a little distance so I didn't get all fangirly and just shriek about how much loved it without giving you guys a decent review, and two, well I wasn't really sure where to start since it's such a massive book (not purely in physical size) and I didn't want to write a 10,000 word essay trying to cover it all. So now I've given it a bit of space and I'm hoping I can give you all a thoughtful, descriptive and informative review that doesn't go overboard in the fangirl stakes! Before I launch into it I should probably mention that the edition I read and am about to review is the author's preferred text, so it is substantially larger than the original editions which had been cut down by Gaiman per his editor and publisher's advice.

really enjoyed this book and one of the reasons was that it created a culture and mythos for a country that, like Australia, is fairly new and whose mythos/culture is usually determined by national identity and current trends/fads. I've often felt a little sorry for myself because I don't like in a country that has a 2000+ year old history that has lead it to it's current incarnation. Yes we have the Indigenous Australians (as America has the Native Americans) but their culture, though old and beautiful, was never adopted as a national culture. Instead we've accumulated a rather patch-work quilt of varied cultures, gods and myths and thanks to American Gods I'm starting to see the beauty in that.

American Gods depicted the struggle between the gods and myths brought over by immigrants from across the globe, and the gods created by the society (media, techno-kid etc) who now call themselves Americans. This old versus new dichotomy isn't new but Gaiman's approach was by far one of the more interesting and thought-provoking versions I've ever read. Rather than existing in some far off mystical place (Heaven, Hades, Asgard, Mount Olympus etc) the gods of all the different cultures and creeds exist amongst the people that worship and believe in them. As the people travel to new worlds and new places, they bring their gods and myths with them and there they mold them into a new incarnation of the god/mythical creature. An absolutely beautiful example of this happens when Shadow (more on him in a minute) views Mr Nancy on the giant Carousel.

"He was looking at Mr Nancy, an old black man with a pencil moustache, in his check sports jacket and his lemon-yellow gloves, riding a carousel lion as it rose and lowered, high in the air; and, at the same time, in the same place, he saw a jeweled spider as high as a horse, it's eyes an emerald nebula, strutting, staring down at him; and simultaneously he was looking at an extraordinarily tall man with teak-coloured skin and three sets of arms, wearing a flowing ostrich-feather headdress, his face painted with red stripes, riding an irritated golden lion, two of his six hands holding on tightly to the beast's man, and he was also seeing a young black boy, dressed in rags, his left foot all swollen and crawling with black flies; and last of all, and behind all these things, Shadow was looking at a tiny brown spider, hiding under a withered ochre leaf.

Shadow saw all these thing, and he knew they were the same thing."

Shadow sees the many incarnations of Mr Nancy, the various truths, beliefs and stories that people have tied to him over the years. None of them are more right or truthful than the other, instead they depict just how beautifully varied and imaginative people can be. It's quite a beautiful idea and quite a visually extraordinary one. To me it sums up exactly why living in a multicultural society is so interesting, the variations of opinion and belief, none more valid than the other but all so startlingly different and with something new to bring to the table.

I won't burden you with a breakdown of the synopsis since the one above provided on Goodreads is a fairly detailed and accurate representation of the story, so instead I'll touch briefly on the characters who are perhaps the most important and crucial aspect of this book.

Shadow is thecentral character in this story. He's large, domineering (at least in appearance) and has only just been released from jail. While he has obviously taken some bad paths in life you never get a sense that he's a bad person, more that he was shuffled onto those paths by the people he loved and trusted. To me he always seemed like a large chunk of granite waiting to be sculpted, plain, bare and without personality. This lead me to see him as a bit of the straight guy that is used in comedy, he was left simple and plain so that the large and colourful characters around him would pop even more. As the book continued though it was as though someone was chipping away at that granite, shaping it into something more interesting and real. It took awhile but I began to see the complexities and shades of his character, and once they appeared I found it much easier to enjoy him as the protagonist and how the story unfolded around him. As it were he's actually a rather crucial player to the story's climax and I think perhaps the dull and shapeless beginnings of his character is a bit of a red herring to throw you off the scent.

His wife is Laura and her death is the reason Shadow gained an early release from prison. Returning home for her funeral Shadow is met with the unpleasant news that she’d been having an affair with his best friend and it was their last sexual tryst while driving which ended both their lives. As he stands over her grave Shadow throws in a magical gold coin obtained from a leprechaun into the dirt as a final gift and departs. Being magical though this coin brings Laura back to life, well, back as much to life as a zombie is. I found Gaiman’s depiction of her as quite hauntingly beautiful, this decaying memory forever hanging around Shadow and connecting him to his past. However as much as I enjoyed her depiction, I hated her character. I found her ungrateful, annoying, rude, controlling, and selfish and couldn’t reconcile the beloved image Shadow had of her with the one I was shown through the book. I’m not sure if Gaiman intended for her to appear that way, and she certainly did work at redeeming herself by the end, but I couldn’t stand her. (first impressions are hard to break for me.)

Mr. Wednesday was one of my favourite characters. He was complex and interesting and never to fully be trusted. In my mind he seemed to swing between Santa Claus and Colonel Sanders (from KFC) in appearance, perhaps because of the repeated descriptions of his white facial hair and a pale suit. Mr. Wednesday is the American incarnation of Odin and his depiction was so different to any way I’ve ever seen his depicted before. I loved him, he seemed to fit right in with current American trends,fads and characteristics. He was a womaniser, a gambler, a trickster, smart, independent, vocal and a little obnoxious. He may have been a god, but his swings from confident to vulnerable to madhatter level crazy to deceitful and hard made him so human. He was flawed, as were all the other gods, and I loved that Gaiman did that, that he removed them from their pedestal and brought them down to the level of humans.

There are so many characters in this book so I couldn’t even attempt to cover them all, just about every major god or myth has a role in this story, Jesus and his water into wine trick gets a glimpse, Horus, Loki, Eostre, Anubis, Bast, leprechauns, kobolds, amongst others, all play a role. Most of the gods appear in their human forms and have taken a human name, for instance Mr Nancy is Anansi, and so unless you know your mythology it can sometimes be hard to recognise exactly which god they’re meant to be. Gaiman isn’t cruel though, he gives you the tools to find out for yourself. Their names will give you an idea of their god-like form, so Mr Jacquel is the human incarnation of Anubis who was the jackal headed Egyptian god. Anubis was associated with burial and mummification which again is depicted in another clue as Mr Jacquel works as an undertaker. Some, like Mr Jacquel were easy for me to recognise, others were more difficult, but all sent me on a wonderful rediscovery of mythic characters both during and after I completed the book.

I think it’s pretty obvious that I loved this book. It was engrossing and engaging and filled with characters who were so layered and complex that they almost jumped off the page and walked out my front door. It’s a long read (my edition is 635 pages long) but the style of writing and the content makes it almost impossible to put down. I finished it within two days but had I not had an assignment to work on I probably would have devoured it in a single night. This would be one of the tops reads of this year for me, and I couldn’t recommend it enough.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Desperately Seeking E-Reader Advice!

Hello blog readers, I need your advice!

I've decided to jump on the bandwagon and buy myself an e-reader, mainly because I'll be travelling a lot next year and let's be honest, I always pack way too many bags and regret it when I my only pair of shoes or jacket fall apart! So the reason I need your advice is that I have no idea where to start. Obviously I want to go as cheap as I can but I don't want to forgo quality for price. I've been having a look around the interwebs and I've got a basic idea of who the front runners are but I thought I'd ask the critics who'll really know what they're talking about, because who's going to use an e-reader more than a book blogger? So I have a few questions and I'd appreciate any answers or advice you can give me!

What e-readers have you heard positive things about, or negative?

What formats do I want my e-reader to be able to read to get the best value for money?

Which are the best readers to read outside with all that glarey sunlight?

How important is a wireless connection for an e-reader?

What sort of indevice functions should I be looking for?

Would it be worth investing in a tablet (like the iPad) which has other functions beside the e-reader?

Thanks for your help guys!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Follow Friday: Genre Wars

Follow Friday is a weekly meme hosted by the one and only Parajunkie!

Each week a myriad of bloggers answer a question that helps their readers know a little bit more about themselves. This week the question is:

Genre Wars! What's your favorite genre and which book in that genre made it your favorite?

I don't really conform to a specific genre, but there definitely is a style of book I love to read. Generally it's contemporary fiction with a dark edge to it. This might mean it's dystopian, horror, paranormal, fringe realism (i.e. about drug addicts, murderers etc) or a myriad of other things. I suppose it has a real psychological element to it and the story or characters (or both) absolutely must get beneath my skin.

Some examples would be Never Let Me Go by Ishiguro, I am Legend by Matheson, Trainspotting by Welsh, Candy by Davies, The Stand by King.

Final Harry Potter trailer

 Well I couldn't let the final trailer for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows part 2 come out and not show it on the ol' blog, so here it is, in all it's glory! Looks pretty epic, I'm excited to see the film guys! Less than a month to go!

Fanart Friday: Lord of the Rings

Lord of the Rings is one of my favourite series, second only to Harry Potter and perhaps on par with the His Dark Materials trilogy. It is so full of life and incredible possibilities and the characters are simply extraordinary. I've selected a couple of pictures that I think best represent some of the many different ways people interpret and enjoy the series and the kick-ass/poetic characters that grace the many, many pages of Tolkein's masterpiece. These are just the LOTR related pictures that these artist's have created, but I highly recommend checking out their deviant pages (follow the link below the pic) and take a look at the other amazing creative pieces they've me, they'll blow your mind.




Thursday, June 16, 2011

Wildcard Wednesday: A new companion?

This is how it works. Every Wednesday I'll put up a prompt, but it won't be like the prompts you've seen before. Wildcard Wednesday requires bloggers to use their imaginations, to take what they read and use it in a new and unique way. {Hosted by GabrielReads}

 Prompt: Insert yourself into a crucial scene from one of your favorite books. Make sure that whatever you do in that scene ruins the intended outcome.

"Draco, do it or stand aside so one of us -" screeched the woman, but at that recise moment the door to the ramparts burst open once more and there stood Snape, his wand clutched in his hand as his black eyes swept the scene, from Dumbledore slumped against the wall, to the four Death Eaters, including the enraged werewold, and Malfoy.

"We've got a problem, Snape,"said the lumpy Amycus, whose eyes and wand were fixed alike upon Dumbledore, 'the boy doesn't seem able -"

But somebody else had spoken Snape's name quite softly.


The sound frightened Harry beyond anything he had experienced all evening. For the first time, Dumbledore was pleading.

Snape said nothing, but walked forwards and pushed Malfoy roughly out of the way. The three Death Eaters fell back without a word. Even the werewolf seemed cowed.
Snape gazed for a moment at Dumbledore, and there was revulsion and hatred etched in the harsh lines of his face.


"Snape raised his wand and pointed it directly at Dumbledore.

"Avada Kedavra"  

"whoop whoop whoop"

Harry struggled against his invisible binds as a large blue box appeared in the narrow space between the slumped Dumbledore and Snape, whose wand was still raised in Dumbledore's direction. Harry strained to see if Snape's curse hit Dumbledore but the box is in his way, blocking Dumbledore and several of the Death Eaters from his view.

The arrival of this odd, blue box seemed to have stunned all present into silence but as Snape lowered his wand the Death Eaters seemed to wake from their stupor.

"W-what is it?" Stammered Malfoy, a deathly shade of white.

"Another one of Dumbledore's tricks, I'm sure of it," snarled the werewolf.

"I can quite assure you that this isn't any of my magic Greyback," came Dumbledore's weak voice from somewhere behind the big blue thing.

Harry sighed in relief, Dumbledore was alive, Snape's curse had missed and now Dumbledore knew that Snape was every bit as evil as Harry had always told him he was.

"Dumbledore will sort this out," thought Harry gazing intently at the blue box, trying to see through it to the old wizard he knew was behind it.

"Everything will -"

Harry's thought was interrupted by a noise coming from the inside of the blue box, an explosion of some sorts.

"I don't like this, I don't think we should be here," cowered Amycus, "let's go, leave it to the boy to sort out. The dark lord had wanted him to do it anyway."

"Silence!" Commanded Snape, as he stepped closer to the box peering intensely at the blue wood. He ran a hand over the side of it, formed a fist and knocked sharply.

Everyone jumped when Snape's knock was returned with a quiet shadowy knock. It proved too much for the shaky Amycus and his sister. They backed off away from the box before turning and running out the door.

Snape shot a look of disgust in their direction and turned his head back to the box, leaned his ear against the wood and knocked again, five light taps this time.

Two quick knocks and a weird buzzing sound responded, "tap, tap."

Greybeard began circling around away from Snape, and slowly eased his way towards the door. Malfoy stood rooted to the spot, his face a mix of terror and curiosity and Dumbledore remained hidden away from Harry's heavily straining eyes.

Snape's wand lay forgotten in his other hand, his concentration was now completely fixed on the blue box he was pressed up against. Harry watched as he raised his hand again, ready for another tap when Snape seemed to tumble into the blue box and out of sight. From inside a loud "Allons-y" was bellowed and the sound of a door slammed shut.

"whoop, whoop, whoop"

So there you go, my (piss-poor) interpretation of this week's prompt. The first half (up till the Avada Kedavra curse) was directly taken from HP and the Half Blood Prince. In case anyone reading this doesn't watch Doctor Who (and you should) The big blue box is the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space), the buzzing sound was the Doctor's sonic screwdriver and "Allons-y" (let's go in French*) was the catchphrase of the David Tennant incarnation of the Doctor.

*A rather bastardised version of French I'm sure!

Review: The Doctor is Sick by Anthony Burgess

The Doctor is Sick 
By: Anthony Burgess

Published: 1960

Synopsis (Goodreads): Dr. Edwin Spindrift has been sent home from Burma with a brain tumor. Closer to words than to people, his sense of reality is further altered by his condition. When he escapes from the hospital the night before his surgery, things and people he hardly knew existed swoop down on him as he careens through an adventurous night in London

I often list Anthony Burgess as a favourite author of mine, even though before I finished The Doctor is Sick I'd only read one of the many books he'd had published. I'm not ashamed at or embarrased by that, but since he credits A Clockwork Orange as one of his worst books, I thought I really had to give some others a go. I'll admit that I was a little hesitant in reading this book, not because I doubted the quality of the story and writing, but because I enjoyed A Clockwork Orange so much, I was worried everything else by Burgess would pale in comparison.

At first I thought I may be right, I had a tough time getting into this book although I could appreciate Burgess's dry sense of humour and unique use of words. It wasn't until about page 50 (of a 240 page book) that I really began to get into the rhythm of it and from them on I devoured it as quickly as I could. The plot of the story is really pretty simple. Dr Edwin Spindrift is a linguistics professor at a university in Burma and is thoroughly wrapped up in his work. His wife has multiple affairs (due to an agreement met between the two of them since he's having problems revving his engine so to speak) and leads quite a separate life from her studious husband. After collapsing in a lecture Edwin is shipped back to England where multiple tests are done that suggest a brain tumour. Nervous of people meddling with his grey matter, and distressed that his wife hasn't visited in days (she merely sends in people she meets in pubs to be his visitors) Edwin sneaks out of the hospital desperate to find his wife. What eventuates is a disasterous and absurd hunt through London with a handful of coins and the help of a series of increasingly odd characters.

Though this book is a work of fiction, it takes several cues from Burgess's own life. Around the time he chose to write this book, Burgess had suffered a bit of a meltdown and ended his military career, returning to England from Malaya. Like Edwin, Burgess collapsed while teaching and was diagnosed with (unlike Edwin) an inoperable brain tumour. For this reason the descriptions of all of the invasive and painful medical tests and machines are incredibly realistic and detailed from a very personal perspective. Also like Edwin, Burgess was interested in Philology, the study of linguistics, especially historical and comparative linguistics. (thanks!) This twin love between the fictional character and the real man results in a book where language is used in quite a unique and interesting and personal way.

Each of the characters have marvellously varied accents, from the Stone twins with their combination of Yiddish and cockney, to 'Ippo with his lower class London twang, to the German, Italian, Greek and Northern characters who grace the story with their presence, if only for a short time. Like in Trainspotting and A Clockwork Orange this phonetic use of accent and dialect adds a great deal to the character without having to actually describe them, we get an idea of their class, birthplace, age (through the slang) and their emotions. It's an incredibly vivid way of describing them, and very effective. The characters are all absurd, unique and absolutely mad (so many of them felt like they'd be right at home in Lewis Carroll's Wonderland) but it is the use of their accent which really endeared many of them to me.

Another interesting use of language in this book is the actual description of the origin and etymology of words and phrases in the book. The book isn't in the first person, but it does use an omipresent narrator who can get inside Edwin's mind and we can see the marvellous way he absorbs and deciphers conversation with people. It's almost mechanical, and provides much of the answer to why Edwin seems to have so much trouble connecting to other people. Every now and then he'll notice something, say a little chalk board outside a cafe he's passing and he'll think "Chalk, chalk, calx," sometimes expanding on the thought and origins of the current word of interest, and at other times simply leaving it at that. But what is interesting (and important to the novel) is how he concentrates on and invests in the history/origin/meaning of the word and seems to completely ignore or pay little attention to the original word and what it stands for.

A little internal monologue that really sparked my interest and further established this problem was when Edwin was ruminating his relationship with his wife and delivered this little gem;
"Love, for instance. Interesting, that collocation of sounds: the clear allophone of the voiced divided phoneme gliding to that newest of all English vowels which Shakespeare, for instance, did not know, ending with the soft bite of the voiced labiodental. And its origin? Edwin saw the word tumble back to Anglo-Saxon and beyond, and its cognate Teutonic forms tumbling back too, so that all forms ultimately melted in the prehistoric primitive Germanic mother. Fascinating. But there was something about the word that should be even more fascinating, to the man if not to the philiologist: its real significance when used in such a locution as 'Edwin loves Sheila'. And Edwin realised that he didn't find it fascinating." 

It took awhile to get into but this book really delivered and met the high standards set by A Clockwork Orange. The star of the story is the language and comedic absurdity that Burgess uses to tell his story, both of which make up for the fact that the story itself is perhaps a little lacking. I'm not sure this book is for everyone, but if you enjoy the construction and etymology of language, British comic surrealism/absurdity, and Burgess's unique writing style then I'd recommend giving this book a look over. It certainly succeeded in eliminating my hesitation over reading any of Burgess's books, now I can't wait to get my hands on another of his books.

My rating: 4/5


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