Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

11 02 2011

This was another pick from the Book Circle and one I was looking forward to. I have always loved the Jane Austen classic and I love fantasy and SF as well (although not horror) so I thought this one might be a bit of fun. I have to admit, it took little getting into. Although the zombie side of the story fitted in surprisingly well, I still found it somewhat jarring at first. I found myself more absorbed as I got further into the book though (the attractions of the lovely Mr Darcy are irresistible). I especially enjoyed the various euphemisms that the characters used for the zombies and the necessity for the Bennett girls to maintain their modesty while they fought off undead hordes. Lizzy Bennett was very convincing as a deadly zombie destroyer. Some interesting twists on the minor storylines too. Not my favourite read but I ended up enjoying it.


Two Book Circle Books

26 01 2011

I finally got back to the book circle list. I just finished September’s selection, Novel About my Wife by Emily Perkins and prior to that read Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie, Ina Rilke (trans.)

Novel About my Wife was an interesting read. The narrator, Tom, is a screenwriter who is struggling to deal with the loss of his wife, Ann. The novel describes the last few months of her life from Tom’s point of view. Tom’s career has foundered and he becomes increasingly desperate to get work, eventually making a decision that has tragic repercussions. I have to admit I found the protagonist irritating and rather shallow but I suspect this was the point. He loves his wife but never really knows her and he pays a huge price for his failure. The ending was somewhat ambiguous and a bit frustrating, leaving the reader to fill in gaps that Tom only sees when it is too late. Well written and a good read.

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress also deals with a man who ultimately fails to know the woman that he loves. Set in communist China at the time of the Cultural Revolution, it tells the story of two young men who are sent to a remote rural village to be “re-educated”. The education that they receive is quite different from what was intended when they find a collection of Western books and one shares them with his girlfriend, the Little Seamstress of the title. The harshness of life in the village is well described but I found the characters a bit one dimensional. I found myself wishing it had been written from the point of view of the Little Seamstress, since she is the character who changes the most in the course of the novel. But it was an interesting look at a time and place I don’t know much about and a pleasant change to read something that wasn’t 700 pages long.

Reading Frenzy

30 12 2010

After a year of reading little but study related books and articles, I have had a little “reading for pleasure” frenzy over the last few days.

First up was Wolf Hall, my book circle book that has only taken me six months to read. Really enjoyed it. I didn’t know a lot about Thomas Cromwell and I found it incredibly interesting that someone from such a humble background could rise to such great heights. I found it a little hard to follow at times (Cromwell is only ever referred to as “he”) and the list of characters at the front came in handy more than once. There were some gorgeous descriptions. One I particularly liked was:

“There is a tentative, icy sun; loops of vapour coil across the river, a scribble of mist.”

I am looking forward to the sequel.

Next, for a complete change of pace, I read Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief (pinched from my son’s Christmas presents). A nice, light read, I found I didn’t get into the characters as much as the Harry Potter series. Having said that, I will probably read the other ones (if the boy lets me). More importantly, he seems to be enjoying them!

Continuing on the young adult fiction theme, Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld was next on my list. This is a sequel to Leviathan which I read some time ago.  It is a rollicing adventure set in an alternative 1914 with two spunky heroes (one boy, one girl) and lots of weird and wonderful technology of the mechanical and biological kind. I like how the author has used the real events of the time as a springboard for his fantastic story. I am eagerly awaiting book number 3.

Finally, on a more serious note, there was Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. It is a moving story about loss, love and women’s lives. Sounds heavy but isn’t. I loved it. It is another young adult novel but there is plenty in there for older readers. Bring a hanky for the ending.


11 12 2010

Finished a busy year of study. Finished reinstalling everything on my laptop (after a hard disk crash). Not yet finished Wolf Hall (but will – eventually). Book Circle fail…..

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

20 06 2010

Mel hated it with a passion. I enjoyed it (but then SF and fantasy books are my genres of choice).

The Graveyard Book covers the early years of Nobody Owens (Bod), a young boy whose family is murdered in the opening chapter. As a result, he who ends up growing up in a graveyard, protected by its ghostly (and undead) inhabitants. I found the opening quite riveting but it got a little slow for while after that (I was deep into assignments so my reading time was somewhat disjointed). The structure of the book is more like a series of connected short stories than a regular novel and I found this a little hard to warm to but I found it a satisfying and moving read in the end. Bod grows and changes in a way that those he lives with (being dead) cannot. He literally outgrows childhood friends. I found this an interesting way of depicting how we all change as we grow until we, like Bod, have to make our way in the world. This being essentially a fairy tale, Bod learns some valuable lessons as he grows and eventually comes face to face with his family’s killer. Along the way, he learns a few important life lessons. Being the sentimental type, my eyes my have got a bit watery towards the end.

I suppose if you don’t like fantasy, it won’t be your sort of book but I liked it and will probably read it again at some stage.

Bad Science by Ben Goldacre

10 05 2010

Bad Science is one our book circle picks for 2010. I must confess that I read it last year and so my memory of it is a bit hazy but I do recall enjoying it very much. As Mel noted, the author does get a little emotional at times but I don’t regard him as a conspiracy theorist. He is more someone increasingly cross with the utter drivel pumped out by journalists (and others) these days and some of the serious real life effects this has.  I largely agree with him (I regularly rant at the “news”) although I think he is a little harsh on arts graduates. He clearly doesn’t realise that a liberal arts major is the only one who can save the earth from impending doom. 🙂

Personally, I found this book a useful reminder that just because someone says something works and uses “sciencey” language, does not mean it really does. In fact, I questioned a practice I came across this year, based on the approach this book encouraged. A little research of my own led to the discovery that there were no scientific studies to back up the claims of the company involved. This does not mean that they are aren’t right of course, just that there is no proper evidence to back their claims. To be sceptical is not to see evil under every bush.

Anyway, I am rambling (for which I apologise – up late finishing an essay last night/this morning). I am a regular reader of Ben Goldacre’s blog and my personal favourite story there was about the cockroaches and other nasties that were reported to be infesting trains in London. The article said that:

“Research by pest controllers Rentokil shows that, on average, a single train compartment houses a staggering 1,000 cockroaches, 200 bed bugs, 200 fleas, 500 dust mites and 100 carpet beetles.”

The numbers sounded high so Mr Goldacre did some digging and found out that no actual buses or trains were studied. Instead the figures were based on a theoretical model that was based on the following assumptions:

They assumed, for example, that the railway carriage or bus was left alone, by itself, in isolation. They assumed this isolated carriage was helpfully furnished with a plentiful food supply. They assumed that the ratio of male and female bugs was perfectly optimal for breeding.

They assumed – surprisingly for anyone involved in modelling populations, surprisingly for anyone, really – that the population of bugs would be left entirely unchecked, with no external factors to control the mortality rate. They assumed that the siding or garage was controlled at a constant temperature all day and night, with no extremes, they assumed there were no trampling commuters, no cruel vaccum cleaners, no anything. In fact they assumed there was no cleaning, ever, and no passengers, ever. (from

Now I am no scientist, but aren’t those strange assumptions to use for a model trying to work out an average population? Unsurprisingly a PR company was involved. Equally unsurprisingly, Rentokil had just been awarded a huge contract with the London Underground. So I guess we no longer need to worry about nasty bugs then 🙂

Access Road by Maurice Gee

13 04 2010

I must admit I have been a bit of a Gee fan since I started reading him last year (why it took me so long I have no idea). My favourite novel of his remains Blindsight, but I enjoyed Access Road. It is a typical Gee tale of family intrigue and again set in the (fictional) West Auckland township of Loomis. I enjoyed the characters immensely (especially the unworldly Roly) and the climax was really quite exciting considering the people involved were all drawing a pension. Recommended.