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Sunday, December 16th, 2007
11:01 am - A Great Find!

 I share a birthday season (Thanksgiving - New Year's) with a few friends from high school. This year we decided to re-read Daniel Deronda, by George Eliot. All I remembered about the book was romance, romance. But this time around..this mature reader was delighted with the historical elements as well as the Jewish element - very interesting.
In surfing the web with Mr. Deronda, I came across a web site called
www.pointandcircumference.com, where I ordered a lit mag called...The Deronda Review.  How cool was that? They have poems that actually rhyme and make sense, stuff about the environment, relevant themes.
I highly recommend people start re-reading stuff from high school; it's much more that we originally thought.

(Be a book critic!)

Sunday, September 23rd, 2007
4:10 pm - The Company of the Dead - David Kowalski

(Pan MacMillan - 2007 744pg)

The Company of the Dead is David Kowalski's first book and one that has taken him about 7 years to write. We start in 1912 on the Titanic and a mysterious Mr Wells is trying to prevent an accident.

One hundred years later and the replica Titanic is sailing into the harbour of Imperial Japanese occupied New York as part of a deal sponsored by Imperial Germany. The USA has never entered the Great War, the Imperial Empires of Germany and Japan now face off in an uneasy cold war, Hitler is a famous and respected painter and Union and Confederate America sit divided and hostile.

So what we got? I'ld call it Sci Fi - Alternate Earth History? check. Time Travel? check. However the book also dips deeply into spy thriller as Major Kennedy of the Confederate Security Agency ends up on the run from the Union, the Japanese, Germany and his own director as he tries to run the secret Operation Camelot to unite America.

However Kennedy has also found the diary of the time traveler Wells and knows that something isn't completely right with his world and that it all relates back to the Titanic in 1912.

Is it any good? Pretty much. I did find the book started to drag about 4/5ths in as the story became less triple cross back stabbing skullduggery and becomes a large series of set piece battles. While not THAT badly written that do become a bit of an annoyance since deep down all you really want to characters to do is get to the last 1/5 of the book and final start dealing with the time paradoxes.

Overall the book ticks most of the boxes. It is (relatively) fast moving, has good plot twists, has been intelligently researched and manages to neatly tie up all the lose ends.

(2 Bookworms | Be a book critic!)

Wednesday, January 10th, 2007
12:37 pm - When even SparkNotes is too much effort...

Ever wanted to get the gist of a classic novel in, say, less than thirty seconds?

The Book-A-Minute Classics website might be just what you're looking for.

My personal favourite is the condensed version of Hardy's Return of the Native:

Rugged land;
Rustic folks.
Prodigal returns.
Everyone croaks.

x-posted to bookish

current mood: giggly

(2 Bookworms | Be a book critic!)

Friday, January 5th, 2007
8:38 pm

I thought it might be a good idea to list some useful book-related websites on the blotts_attic info page. At the moment that list is very short:

The New York Review of Books

Project Gutenberg

Books @ the BBC

Can anyone add to that? :)

current mood: curious

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Tuesday, January 2nd, 2007
5:17 pm - No Present Like Time - Steph Swainston

Okay what we got here?

Basically we have the second book of a fantasy series set in 'The Fourlands' narrated by our 'hero' Jant, the winged messenger. Jant is immortal, one of The Circle of immortals that serve the Emperior San and protect the Fourlands from the constant threat of the Insects. He can also fly, a lapsing drug addict and just on the good side of being a bit of an arsehole.

With me so far? :) If you like your fantasy straight up and Hobbit Stroking you will probably regard these books as a little 'different'. If not you will probably regard these as a little 'huh?'. Don't worry, once you clear your mind into a clean sheet it does all hold together nicely. The world of the Fourlands is probably described as 20th century if no one discovered gunpowered, electricy, steam power or invented internal combustion. Swords and longbows are carried by people wearing chainmail, jeans and slogan T-shirts. Lots of the population are Awian and have wings growing out of their backs (as you do) but lack the strength and wing size to actually fly. Jant however if half Awian and half Rhydanne and combines the firsts wings with the laters long limbs, light build and muscle strenght.

So he can fly.

There are also the Insects. This are basically socially VERY unfriendly giant ants that have been swarming for 1000+ years eating anything they can get their claws on and turning the Fourlands into devistated 'Paperlands' made of dried insect spit. To protect the Fourlands the Emperior San (a wise immortal man left in charge when God left) has collected the 'best' of each skill, stopped them from aging and formed them into The Circle. Hence Jant, as the fastest man on earth, is also Comet the Messenger.

Once you get around those concepts it is all pretty straight forward 'hard' fantasy. There is no magic past the Emperior's gift of immortality, no special powers just incredible levels of skill and no monsters appart from the Insects.

Until you get to the Shift.

Jant, as we mentioned earlier, is a bit of a druggy and occasionally when he OD's the near death of it all propels him into the 'other place' known as the Shift.

Now this place is wonderfully weird. Here is a city full of Fibretooth tigers (who look fierce but can't actually bite you very hand), Tea Dragons (who serve tea from their snouts), Porcupandas and large blue humundoid monsters called Tine who paved their part of the city with gold and liked doing gross things to peoples intestines. After the 'straight' almost familiar world of the Fourlands it is a blissful pleasure to have Jant OD from time to time just to experience some more total weirdness.

Okay - so hows the plot? Relatively straight forward. We don't deal with too many 'earth shattering' throw the ring in volcano type events here. Maybe country trembling. The first novel (The Year of Our War) covered more the fight against the Insects and the political sceeming that an immortal court digs up (you know, illegitmat daughters, adultary, power plays, backstabbing) and this one - set 5 years later - narrows the cast down a bit and sends them all off half way around the world to a recently discovered inhabited island no one knew existed. Also throw in an ex-immortal and now SECOND best swordsman in the world who is now 'slightly' miffed about aging for the first time in 400 years and the fact that Jant's wife Tern seems to be bonking Tornado, the strongest man in the world.

The book has it's annoyances. Jant occasionally comes across as a bit of a prick and each of the immortals annoyingly has three names which Swainston likes to use randomly. Jant (real name) is Comet(title) the Messenger (job description). You also have Lightning the Archer (sometimes also Lord Midwinter or Saker) and Mist the Sailor (Ata) and Serein the Swordsman (Wrenn). Having one of these three names thrown at you randomly can sort of confuse at best when it is not actually pissing you off.

But these are minor. Jant's life IS interesting. The story dips in and out of his personnal backstory enough to keep you wondering, his friends are endearing in their own egotistical ways and the Shift is blissfully weird.

Good character driven plot for people who dislike D&D clones.

Oh, and a reasonable amount of sex if you are into that as well :P

(Be a book critic!)

Thursday, November 9th, 2006
3:39 pm

Borders has arrived in Canberra! I can live again.


Four chapters into The God Delusion and I am completely in love with Richard Dawkins. I especially like his discussion on atheist pride and the onus of proof resting on believers. I was also *outraged* by the fiddling which goes on with John Lennon's lyrics in Imagine - "and no religion too" is sometimes changed to "and one religion too" on some US radio stations! It also amazes me that Americans are LESS likely to vote an atheist into Congress than they are a Mormon. The darling man quotes Douglas Adams incessantly but I think my favourite quote so far has to be from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

The religion of one generation is the literary entertainment of the next.

Bwahaha! After marvelling at the militant Spanish conquistadors in first semester this year, I can't help thinking 'how true'. Hastening the millenium, indeed! But the point is, writers like Richard Dawkins, Jared Diamond, Inga Clendinnen and Maureen Dowd, despite their best intentions, are usually preaching to the converted anyway. For example, one Catholic friend winced after inquiring what book I was reading at the breakfast table this morning. I really, really like the extended quote from Douglas Adams about this:

Religion... has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. What it means is, 'Here is an idea or a notion that you're not allowed to say anything bad about; you're just not. What not? - because you're not!' If somebody votes for a party that you don't agree with, you're free to argue about it as much as you like... But on the other hand, if somebody says 'I mustn't move a light switch on a Saturday', you say, 'I respect that'... Why should it be that it's perfectly legitimate to support the Labour party or the Conservative party... this model of economics versus that, Macintosh instead of Windows - but to have an opinion about how the Universe began, about who created the Universe... no, that's Holy? We are used to not challenging religious ideas but it's very interesting how much of a furore Richard creates when he does it! Everybody gets absolutely frantic about it because you're not allowed to say these things. Yet when you look at it rationally there is no reason why those ideas shouldn't be as open to debate as any other, except that we have agreed somehow between us that they shouldn't be.

I only ever discuss atheism with fellow non-believers. One of my best friends is a strict Baptist and there is an unspoken rule, following several unsuccessful attempts to invite me to Youth Group and Bible study, that in the interests of continuing our friendship we will not discuss religion.

I haven't finished The God Delusion yet, but it's the funniest, most stylish, book I've read for a long time. Recommended for those who want to be challenged.

[x-posted to princess_vicks]

current mood: amused

(Be a book critic!)

Wednesday, September 27th, 2006
1:59 am - Introduction

Hi! My name is... Christi

And I found blotts_attic through... a search for communties interested Henry Miller, or was it Evelyn Waugh?

My favourite novel of all time is... by... because... Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller because it literally changed my life. Miller inspired me with his words into major decisions - like moving across the country with only two suitcases and $600 in my pocket. When I first discovered Miller I floated around on his lyrical prose and was intrigued by his zany characters. His sheer zest for life and adventure sent a younger me on a few adventures of my own.

The three authors whose works I think everyone should read before they die are... because... F.Scott Fitzgerald for his beautiful, romantic prose and sympathetic but honest, realistic evaluation of young, shallow people who have made poor decisions. Henry Miller for his poetic story telling ability, powerful imagery, romantic philosophy, and exuberance for life. Margaret Atwood for her gritty, profound, sensual, absorbing novels about women that other women can relate to.

I think the most overrated author of all time is... Tom Clancy. You probably get that a lot, but really.

The most appalling novel I was forced to read in high school was... Moby Dick by Herman Melville. I know that isn't a popular opinion among literary types, but I could only take so much of an egocentric man obsessing with his metaphorical penis.

I joined this community because... I'm an English major, I love to read, and I'm always looking for good books.

When I am not reading I am... in class, working, taking walks, watching movies, talking, writing, and hanging out with my cat.

(1 Bookworm | Be a book critic!)

Thursday, August 31st, 2006
3:14 pm - Er... Hello

Hi! My name is... Louisa

And I found blotts_attic through... searching english literature

My favourite novel of all time is... Middlemarch by... George Eliot because... it is such a complex story... and I can identify slightly with Dorothea Brooke (although I'm not married to an old boring person).

The three authors whose works I think everyone should read before they die are... Jane Austen because her books are so enjoyable to read (although a bit girly!), Terry Pratchett because his books are so cynical and funny and I have never yet met a person who didn't enjoy them, and I don't know about the third one, maybe Margaret Atwood, or Philip K Dick, or Murakami, it is hard to choose!

I think the most overrated author of all time is... Dan Brown is the obvious choice here but for the sake of originality i will say Jonathon Safran Foer.

The most appalling novel I was forced to read in high school was... I had to read Equus, although that's not a novel. It is pretty appalling though.

I joined this community because... noone I know will talk to me about books.

When I am not reading I am... out drinking. Or thinking about what to read next.

(7 Bookworms | Be a book critic!)

Monday, August 28th, 2006
10:21 pm

This is a semi random quote taken from the Jasper Fforde FAQ page on his website. I thought it was funny :D

   Is it true you read Tess backwards so it has a happy ending?

Completely true. I always read Thomas Hardy books backwards.

(Be a book critic!)

Saturday, July 8th, 2006
9:50 pm - Devices and Desires - KJ Parker

(book 1 in The Engineer Trilogy)

This is an interesting little book (okay, a 700 page book but work with me on this one.... ). What we basically have is a fantasy novel without any actual fantasy or magic. We have instead a continent where THE major power in the land is the Perpetial Republic, a city state oh technically advanced people who manpiulate the surrounding dukedoms with a mixture of technical military superiority and total control of manufactured goods. (Globalisation anyone?? :P) Picture if you will a sort of pre-gunpowder civilisation with De Vinci given free range to build toys.

These people are Engineers. They work towards prefection in everything and over the last 200 years have established 'The Specification' for EVERYTHING they make. Since the Specification defines prefection then to devate from this is considered an abomination and punishable by death. The engineer Ziani, in an attempt to make a better toy for his daughter has become such an abomination and because the city will not promise to look after his wife and daughter after his death, violently escapes the city and ends up in the employ of one of the neighbouring dukedoms which has just came second in a short, bloody and one sided war against the Republic. He then sets out on a complex manipulation of everyone around him in order to gain his revenge on the city and to see his wife and daughter again.

I enjoyed this book, probably partly because deep down I have never been a big fan of high fantasy and stories about goat shaggers sons to grow up to discover they have 'THE GIFT(tm)'. Or Dragons. Never got into dragons. Engineering on the other hand I do understand -  I have an Advanced Certificate in Engineering after all and work in the industry - and here we have a book that by and large sticks to real world concepts.

The other reason I like this book is you really develop an attachment for the main characters and all of them go through their lifes with their own motivations and drives. No one is actually evil or a 'bad guy', they just have their own reasons and needs for their actions.

And so the 'annoying' bits.... The book is a little bloke central. Only two female characters really get a speaking role in this novel and neither of them end up getting much screen time. The two characters are relatively important to the plot, they just hover around the background alot. KJ Parker is a pen name of someone it is implied is female (but confusingly she/he is also sometimes refered to as male in the interviews I have managed to track down online and in some reviews.) I would half expect a female author to give their stories more active females but then again you wouldn't normally expect a female to go to lengths to describe the manufacture of massive war machines.

There is also the slightly elastic time frame where sometimes things happen over the course of a few days and then suddenly BANG, it seems a month has passed and also has the common problem of a lot of the action happening 'offscreen'. (as well as the having the cop out of having at least 3 people being knocked out or knocked over early in a battle and hence having most of the action happen while they are down).

I also have a little bit of grief about the effects of some of these war machines. The main ones are Scorpian bolt throwers that seem to fire 12 bolts a minute up to about 350 yards. In the book they lay down massed curtains of fire and kill thousands at a time. Indeed most of the book revolves around the importance of these weapons.

I however are a bit doubtful. Until about the Napoleonic wars period artillery's role in life was either siege or as a means to force a reaction in a field battle. If out gunned in artillery you were forced to either disengage or close with and engage the enemy. Okay muzzle loaded smooth bore guns did not fire 12 shots per minute but they also killed more then one man per bolt. Also the Greeks and Romans had the engineering skill levels to build war engines similar to the scorpions and yet they never featured heavily in their battles. Yet in our book here we have 1000s being killed from scorpion fire alone.

Still, it is an interesting read with nicely balanced characters and a plot that slowly creeps up on until you realise near the end just who is back stabbing who.

(2 Bookworms | Be a book critic!)

Wednesday, June 28th, 2006
4:25 pm - On fickle things...

Snobs by Julian Fellowes

I was curious about this novel because I *adored* Gosford Park, for which Fellowes won a Best Screenplay Oscar. There are certainly similarities between his screenplay and his first novel: the marriage "business", the struggle between middle-class and upper-class, and thoroughly dislikable characters generally. I really hated all the main players here but I think that was kind of the point! The narrative is not dissimilar to Fitzgerald's Gatsby, whereby Daisy and Gatsby's affair is filtered through the narrative of Nick, the dialogue is snappy (but does not deserve the raving comparison to Evelyn Waugh plastered over the front jacket) and Fellowes is an undeniably sharp social observer (but, once again, undeserving of the comparison to Jane Austen... but in the end there was something about this novel that left me cold. The writing is pompous to the point where it becomes tiring and the tone seems to be along the lines of "Now listen here, my dear bourgeois reader..."

Also, Fellowes still has a lot to learn from Evelyn Waugh about plot structure and keeping a rambling narrative under control: both Gosford Park and Snobs are too damn long for what they are trying to say. Or, as Roger De Bris might say keep it light, keep it bright, keep it gay... and keep it short too! And in terms of jolly hockysticks satire, the ending was very unsatisfactory - but I wouldn't dream of wrecking it if you want to pick it up!

I also tried to read Cause Celeb by Helen Fielding. If you think about it, it seems quite relevant... our current obsession with Angelina Jolie, Warren Buffett chucking away 85% of his fortune this week, and Live 8 and Bono. I only read a few chapters and gave up because it was too much like Bridget Jones' diaries - the irritating characters, the 'fuck, shit' dialogue etc. Bridget Jones is better, IMHO... although it doesn't count for much because I have no intention of finishing this book.

current mood: bored

(3 Bookworms | Be a book critic!)

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006
12:18 pm - Me ME Me

Hi! My name is...Kim

And I found blotts_attic through... searching "books" through interests on LJ

My favourite novel of all time is... by... because..."Wuthering Heights" by Emily Bronte... it's by far the most amazing piece of literature I have ever picked up. It's so layered, complex, passionate... it is really indescribable. The character of Heathcliff is simply unforgettable. Before I had read it I thought it was just some sappy love story; but it's way more than that. It has this dark, towering gothic aura about it. It's brilliant.

The three authors whose works I think everyone should read before they die are... because... Well, Wuthering Heights, obviously, and then Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. If you find the subject matter icky (paedophilia), read it for the language. It's gorgeous. I'm not really sure what the third should be, but I think I'll go with The Lord Of The Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.

I think the most overrated author of all time is...Dan Brown, definitely, and then maybe Graham Greene, whose novels just bore me to tears.

The most appalling novel I was forced to read in high school was... 21 stories by Graham Greene. Ugh, forget, forget, forget...

I joined this community because... I like books ^__^

When I am not reading I am... eating, sleeping, writing, watching TV, listening to Depeche Mode (I'm a huge fan) ... at the moment, out enjoying the summer holidays with friends and cheering on the boys in red at the pub ^__^

current mood: accomplished

(4 Bookworms | Be a book critic!)

Friday, June 23rd, 2006
11:09 pm - Another ode to PBS...

This community has been dormant for long enough!

I just watched Bill Moyers interview with Salman Rushdie (author of The Satanic Verses and Midnight's Children) and it was EXCELLENT. It's part of Moyers' new series "Faith and Reason" where he interviews various authors from different cultures about controversial topics. I'm really excited because Jeanette Winterson (she wrote Written on the Body, Sexing the Cherry, Oranges Aren't the Only Fruit to name just a few of her more popular books) is going to be on one of the episodes. Her writing is exquisite and she's one of the most revolutionary feminist authors alive today.

Alright. I've finished raving.

So... what books are on everyone's summer reading lists?

(6 Bookworms | Be a book critic!)

Tuesday, June 13th, 2006
11:58 pm - LibraryThing

Hi everyone, 

Here's something I thought all of you might enjoy.
Through another LJ community on my flist, I've found this lovely site. It's called LibraryThing and its a pace where you can create a catalog of the books you've read, plan to read or posses... anything you like. 

You can also rate the books, add comments and see who else had read the same book. It's fun, it's free and it's handy. 

If you're curious, have a look at my catalog. I'm creating a list of books I've read in 2006 so far. Although I'm not able to add all the books, since a lot of them are Dutch.

current mood: cheerful

(1 Bookworm | Be a book critic!)

Monday, May 15th, 2006
10:19 pm - The Vesuvius Club - Mark Gatiss

Hi Gang,

On the weekend I finished reading 'The Vesuvius Club' by Mark Gatiss after having it recommended to my by one of my mates from Dymocks. Gatiss, as you may already know, is part of tv's The League of Gentlemen and has also done some of the writing for the new Dr Who (ya!!!).

So what do you get? A pretty much light spy romp set at the start of the 20th century where our hero (?) Lucifer Box prances around making James Bond look chaise and modest. Box is a secret agent in His Majesty's service and looks extremely fine and dandy as he does so.

The story is told in 1st person by our friendly Mister Box esq and is nothing really all high brow with most of the plot twists reasonably easy to spot and the chapters nice and bite sized small and to the point.

What does make it enjoyable is the guilty pleasure of Box's completely immoral, damm good buggering, dandyness. He is, in the words of one of the other characters, a "philanderer, sodomite and assassin" and as long as it doesn't damage his tailoring, proud of it. It is not high brow or even politically correct but a reasonably fun read as long as you don't mind sexually ill-moral (and open) heros.

(Be a book critic!)

Saturday, May 6th, 2006
9:59 pm - "Prep" by Curtis Sittenfeld

I have spent a lazy Saturday reading Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld from cover to cover.

Musings on middle class aspiration, the college application pressure-cooker and teen insecurities. No direct plot spoilers.Collapse )

Anyway, I'd be interested to know what other people think of this book... I do recommend it.

current mood: curious

(3 Bookworms | Be a book critic!)

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2006
3:50 pm

An introductionCollapse )

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Sunday, April 30th, 2006
8:23 am

Hi! My name is... Natalie and I'm from the UK

And I found blotts_attic through I think I was just searching around for random authors and books.

My favourite novel of all time is... by... because... I have loads and loads of favourites - Pride and Prejudice and Emma by Jane Austen, Possession by A.S Byatt and The Boy Next Door by Meg Cabot. I love reading so many different genres and these books, though very different from each other, have someone which makes me want to sit still for 4 hours to finish them and something which gets me involved every time.

The three authors whose works I think everyone should read before they die are... because... Tricky... probably Jane Austen, Shakespeare and Dickens simply because they are sheer classics. I think they've defined the way fiction is today.

I think the most overrated author of all time is... either Emily Bronte or Tolkien I had to force myself to finish Wuthering Heights and couldn't get past 30 or so pages of The Hobbit.

The most appalling novel I was forced to read in high school was... I'm still in "high school", so haven't finished with the reading but I don't think that there has been one which stands out as really appalling. We haven't read that many.

I joined this community because... because I thought it would be great to finally talk to some people who share my passion for literature.

When I am not reading I am... playing the piano, clarinet, bassoon or singing, chatting online, eating, sleeping, at school, studying and generally having fun.

(1 Bookworm | Be a book critic!)

Saturday, April 29th, 2006
6:37 pm

I am very happy to let you all know that in October 2006, Toby Press will publish FOUND IN TRANSLATION: 20 Hebrew Poets, translated by Robert Friend, with an introduction by Gabriel Levin. This will be a Hebrew-English bilingual edition, part of the Hebrew Classics Series (http://www.tobypress.com/books/foundintranslation.htm)

The Hebrew poets to be translated include Rahel, Leah Goldberg, Gabriel Preil, Yehuda Amichai, Haim Nachman Bialik, and Natan Alterman. Here is one of my favorite translations:

"Summer is dying"
by Haim Nachman Bialik
Translation copyright by Jean Shapiro Cantu

Summer is dying in the purple and gold and russet
of the falling leaves of the wood,
and the sunset clouds are dying
in their own blood.

In the emptying public gardens
the last strollers break their walk
to lift their eyes and follow
the flight of the last stork.

The heart is orphaned. Soon
the cold rains will be drumming.
'Have you patched you coat for winter?
Stocked potatoes against its coming?'

(3 Bookworms | Be a book critic!)

Tuesday, April 25th, 2006
1:36 pm - All the World's Mornings

Has anyone read the book All the World's Mornings (it was originally called Tous les Matins du Monde when it was published in French). I just got the English version out of the library and wondered if there was anyone here who liked it, or even if anyone liked the movie, which I haven't seen yet either. Also, I'm wondering if the English translation is any good or if I should try the French one (I'm pretty good at reading French). Thanks!

(Be a book critic!)

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