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Psutto 1212

This is a continuation of the topic Psutto 1212.

This topic was continued by Psutto 1212 part 3.

The 12 in 12 Category Challenge

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Mar 20, 2012, 5:34am Top

1 - The 12 days of Christmas - books bought for me for Xmas and my birthday (which happens to fall before 12th night) obviously I don't know how many books will be in this category
2 - Life, the Universe and Everything - having reached that age which is the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything I thought I'd read books asking the big questions
3 - It's in the cards - there are 12 face cards in a deck of cards - books about games, chance, fate, prediction
4 -12 Angry Men - courtroom dramas, noir, books of the film, crime
5 - 12 hours on a clock, 12 months in a year - books about time, time travel and the future
6 - 12 stars in the flag of Europe - books by European authors & not from the UK (which likes to pretend it's not part of Europe)
7 - 12 Olympian gods - mythology, mysticism and fantasy
8 - 12 Caesers - ancient world, history, biographies
9 - 12 signs of the zodiac - books about astronomy, space and the solar system
10 - 1912 - 1912 saw the race for the South Pole ( and Scott's death), the end of the Meiji era in Japan, the sinking of the Titanic, the death of Bram Stoker, the birth of A E Van Vogt, Tarzan of the apes, the lost world, the book of wonder and a princess of Mars are all published - books with a 1912 theme
11 - Doomsday clock - the closer the clock is to midnight, the closer the world is to disaster, as of January 2010 the Doomsday clock stands at 6 minutes to midnight - books about global disaster, apocalypse, the atomic age & nuclear war
12 - Baker's dozen - books that really can't be placed in the other 11 categories but I have to read them because they're shiny as well as short stories, novellas articles and essays and graphic novels

Edited: Jul 10, 2012, 6:02am Top

The 12 days of Christmas (unknown number)

of men and monsters William Tenn -READ
we Yevgeny Zamyatin - READ
The city of words Alberto Manguel -READ
Planet word J.P. davidson-READ
Carter beats the devil Glen David Gold-READ
rivers of London Ben Aaronovitch - READ
Farenheit 451 Ray Bradbury - READ
a history of reading Alberto Manguel - READ
big bang Simon Singh - READ
The Psychopath test Jon Ronson-READ
The Devil In The White City Erik Larson - READ
The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories edited by Ann & Jeff Vandermeer-Reading

got a rather fantastic "reading year" present which means I'll get a brand new book chosen by my favourite bookshop every month so this category is expanding...

the Slynx Tatyana Tolstaya - READ
Gould's book of fish Richard Flanagan - READ
The invention of Morel Adolfo Bioy Cesares - READ
Pathfinders: The golden age of Arabic science Jim Al Khalili - READ
the waterproof bible Andrew Kaufman - READ
wait until spring, bandini John Fante - READ

17 books read

Edited: Jul 16, 2012, 8:05am Top

It's in the cards


the new games book by the new games foundation


the coincidence engine Sam Leith
a casual revolution Jasper Juul
the new games book New Games Foundation
Trigger happy Steve Poole
moby dick Herman Melville

5 books read

Edited: Jun 26, 2012, 11:13am Top

12 Angry men


the simple art of murder Raymond Chandler
the high window Raymond Chandler (as well as all his other books!)
the killer inside me Jim Thompson
my dark places James Ellroy
the black dahlia James Ellroy (as well as all his other books!)
the choirboys Jason Wambaugh
if he hollers let him go Chester Himes (plus a few other Himes books)
devil in a blue dress Walter Mosley
the maltese falcon Dashiell Hammett (as well as all his other books!)
the riddle of the sands Erskine Childers
some clouds Paco Ignacio Taibo
inspector imanishi investigates Seicho Matsumoto
quite ugly one morning Christopher Brookmyre
epitaph for a spy Eric Ambler
gun with occasional music Johnathon Lethem
death of a red heroine Qiu Xiaolong
death in midsummer Yukio Mishima
the chinatown death cloud peril Paul Malmont
the woodcutter Reginald Hill (actually this one is one of last years Xmas gifts (from my mum))

so will have to whittle this list down somehow!


The high window Raymond Chandler
the price Joseph Garraty
The Mourner Richard Stark
If he hollers let him go Chester Himes
Refusal shoes Tony Saint
The little sleep Paul Treblay
Rebecca Daphne Du Maurier
Osama Lavie Tidhar
the woodcutter Reginald Hill
rogue male Geoffrey Household
the islands Carlos Gamerro

11 books read

Edited: Apr 13, 2012, 11:14am Top

12 Hours on a clock, 12 months in a year


an experiment with time J. W. Dunne
breaking the time barrier: the race to build the first time machine Jenny Randles
the end of time Damian Thompson (also fits doomsday clock category)
a brief history of time Stephen Hawking


Longitude Dava Sobel
a brief history of time Stephen Hawking
angelmaker Nick Harkaway

3 books read

Edited: Jul 16, 2012, 8:02am Top

12 stars in the flag of Europe


the prince Machiavelli
purge Sofi Oksanen
suite francaise Irene Nemirovsky
harbor John Ajvide Lindqvist
54 Wu Ming
Q Luther Blissett
The baron in the trees & the castle of crossed destinies Italo Calvino


Harbor John Ajvide Lindqvist
Bruges-la-morte Georges Rodenbach
The Rebels Sandor Marai
Bartleby & Co Enrique Vila-Matas
Suite Francais Irene Nemirovsky
the prince Machiavelli
the whispering muse Sjon

7 books read

Edited: Jun 26, 2012, 8:42am Top

12 Olympian gods


the gormenghast trilogy Mervyn Peake
the riddle-master's game patricia a McKillip
in the night garden Catherynne M. Valente
in the cities of coin and spice Catherynne M. Valente
the labyrinth Catherynne M. Valente
dreams of Inan Andy Boot
Legend David Gemmel


In the night garden Catherynne M. Valente
Babylon Steel Gaie Sebold
in the cities of coin and spice Catherynne M. Valente
above the snowline Steph Swainston
to rule this broken earth Joseph Garraty
moxyland Lauren Beukes

6 books read

Edited: Jun 28, 2012, 4:22am Top

12 Caesers


siren rising James R Blandford
cider with rosie Laurie Lee
the surgeon of crowthorne Simon Winchester
Lymond chronicles by Dorothy Dunnet (I've read the first one in 11/11 challenge)
She H. Rider Haggard


The hare with the amber eyes Edmund de Waal
how I escaped my certain fate Stewart Lee
portrait of the gulfstream Erik Orsenna
siren rising James R Blandford
utz Bruce Chatwin
in patagonia Bruce Chatwin
the doors of perception Aldous Huxley
Letters from Skokholm R.M. Lockley

8 books read

Edited: Jul 16, 2012, 10:44am Top

12 signs of the Zodiac


Red moon rising Matthew Brzezinski

1 book read

Red moon rising Matthew Brzezinski

Edited: May 25, 2012, 11:33am Top


Candidates (dont actually have many of these though):

Titanic: A passenger's guide by John Blake
any of Heinrich Harrer's books (born in 1912) - although not 7 years in tibet which I read last year
alexandria quartet Lawrence Durrel (born in 1912)
death in venice Thomas Mann (published in 1912)
the lost world Arthur Conan Doyle (published in 1912)
manalive G.K. Chesterton (published in 1912)
the night land William Hope Hodgson (published in 1912)
Captain Scott's Last Expedition (Oxford World's Classics) Robert Falcon Scott
a princess of mars Edgar Rice Burroughs (published in 1912)
scarlet plague Jack London (published in 1912) - also fits the Doomsday clock category


Titanic: A passenger's guide by John Blake
The Company of the Dead by David Kowalski
Scott's last expedition by Robert Falcom Scott
A tale for our generation by Edward Wilson and Henry Bowers
The longest winter Meredith Jean Hooper
The South Pole: An Account of the Norwegian Antarctic Expedition in the "Fram" 1910-1912 Roald Amundsen
the wreck of the titan Morgan Robertson
the anarchistic colossus A. E. Van Vogt
a tragic night remembered Titanic 100 years Guy Foster
the lost world Arthur Conan Doyle

10 books read

Edited: Jul 16, 2012, 8:03am Top

Doomsday clock


in the country of last things Paul Auster
the last man Mary Shelley
oryx and crake Margaret Atwood
the year of the flood Margaret Atwood
2013 Marie D Jones


Oryx and Crake Margaret Atwood
2013 Marie D Jones
In the country of last things Paul Auster
dark mountain issue 1 Various
the end of time Damian Thompson
a history of bombing Sven Lindqvist
pontypool changes everything Tony Burgess

7 books read

Edited: Jul 16, 2012, 8:03am Top

Baker's dozen


the great god pan Arthur Machen (novella)
Oriental ghost stories - Lafcadio Hearn
my goat ate its own legs - Alex Burrett
Zoo - Otsuichi
Cosmicomics Italo Calvino
January Dancer by Michael Flynn


The Sisters brothers Patrick deWitt (didn't fit another category)
January Dancer by Michael Flynn
Nelson by Rob Davies and Woodrow Phoenix
Walking Dead 15 by Charlie Adlard & Robert Kirkman
Hector Umbra by Uli Oesterle
Cultural Paradox, fun in mathematics Jeffrey Zilahy
Pure Andrew Miller
It rains in February Leila Summers
Alan's war Emmanuel Guibert
Blankets Craig Thompson
Astro city book 1 Kurt Busiek
unwritten volume 1 Mike Carey
unwritten volume 2 Mike Carey
unwritten volume 3 Mike Carey
unwritten volume 4 Mike Carey
unwritten volume 5 Mike Carey
Black Fire Hernan Rodriguez
scars Warren Ellis
monstermen and other scary stories Gary Gianni
aya Marguerite Abouet
Gulliver's travels Rowson Martin Rowson
the great god Pan Arthur Machen
flashman on the march George Macdonald Fraser
heliopolis James Scudamore
baggage Etheridge brothers
choker #1 Ben templesmith & Ben Mccool
Three messages and a warning Various
heliopolis James Scudamore

27 books read

Edited: Mar 22, 2012, 5:45am Top

I was having trouble deciding on numbers of books per category but Claire (clfisha) came up with a great idea - I am going to read up to 12 books in each category and can only stop reading a category when I've reached a number that 12 is divisible by - so if I've read 3 books and can't find any more to fill the category then I can stop but if I've read 5 I can't - if I read 6 and don't stop then I'll have to go to 12 in that category...

I think the only categories I won't do that in is the 12 days of Xmas one as the number of books will be random in that one and the Baker's dozen.

Also in previous years I've not included graphic novels (for no readily apparent reason) so for the 1212 they will go on the Baker's dozen....

Mar 20, 2012, 5:43am Top

I'm going to slightly alter my rating system for the 12/12

Books will be rated:

Unfinished - self explanatory really, it was so bad I couldn't finish it

Poor - I finished it but it wasn't very good

Average - an OK book but one I wouldn't really recommend it

Very good - a good example of the genre, one I'd recommend

Brilliant- books that everyone should read, really outstanding and memorable

Edited: Mar 23, 2012, 6:35pm Top

Continuing my Antarctic reading at the moment with 3 books I bought at the Scott exhibition in the Natural history museum London, which I thoroughly recommend

Mar 20, 2012, 11:22am Top

More mini reviews from The weird a compendium

The shadowy street by Jean Ray appearing streets and disappearing people told in found manuscripts Very Good atmospheric story

Genius Loci by Clark Ashton Smith A haunted pond and descent into madness by an artist are the focus of this creepy story Very Good

The town of cats by Hagiwara Sakutaro a poet who is easily lost experiences hallucinations or discovers the illusory nature of reality (it's ambiguous) Very Good

really enjoying this collection so far!

Mar 20, 2012, 5:41pm Top

Sounds better and better!

Mar 21, 2012, 1:24am Top

Followed the continuation thread and looking forward to your further reading!

Mar 21, 2012, 7:38am Top

The shadowy street sounds like the story by Mieville found in Looking for Jake.

Mar 21, 2012, 12:13pm Top

There is a Mieville story in the collection -it may actually be the one you refer to, would have to check my copy of looking for jake

he may have been inspired by the Ray story

Mar 22, 2012, 7:06am Top

Oops seemed I missed off a category when I made this continuation!

Edited: Jul 4, 2012, 10:37am Top

Life, the Universe and Everything


since its a Douglas Adams themed category I'll re-read dirk gently and the long dark tea time of the soul
mind myths Segio Della Sala
humanity 2.0 Steve fuller
the earth has a soul Carl Jung
the origin of our species Chris Stringer
life: a user's manual Georges Perec
42 the answer to life, the universe and everything Mol Smith
beyond chaos: the underlying theory behing life, the universe and everything Mark Ward
42: Deep thought on life, the universe and everything Mark Vernon
the things that nobody knows: 501 mysteries of life, the universe and everything William Hartston
42: Douglas Adams amazingly accurate answer to life, the universe and everything Peter Gill


The salmon of doubt Douglas Adams
in search of the multiverse John Gribbin
the origin of species Charles Darwin
Almost like a whale Steve Jones
on extinction Melanie Challenger
last chance to see Douglas Adams
survivors The animals and plants that time has left behind Richard Fortey
blind giant Nick Harkaway
incognito David Eagleman
sum David Eagleman
self illusion Bruce Hood
why does e=mc2 and why should we care Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw

12 books read

Mar 22, 2012, 8:26am Top

in search of the multiverse John Gribbin

Very Good

A short overview of the science behind the many worlds idea. Gribbin has been touted as a master populist of science so I looked forward to reading a straight account of the many worlds theory of cosmology and quantum theory. However its obviously not an easy subject and many times in this short book (200 pages) I had to pause for thought or struggle to visualise/conceptualise what Gribbin was talking about. It seems that the borders of physics are extremely esoteric - string theory, branes, complex multi-dimensional mathematics and the like are not easy to grasp. Gribbin does a sterling job though and I feel I now know a little more than I did before attempting the book and its something I’ll re-read at some point.

Overall – mind bending yet very readable popular science

Mar 22, 2012, 2:23pm Top

The Weird: A Compendium is sounding better and better every time you review a few stories!

->19 AHS-Wolfy:
It really does sound like Miéville's feral streets in "Reports of Certain Events In London." :)

Mar 23, 2012, 5:11am Top

yep its very good so far and I'm only up to the 1920's - what I really like is that they've found plenty of foreign stories some with new translations or not appeared in English before

It's quite different to Mieville's story but he may have been inspired by it, he is a weird fan and writes the afterweird for the book as well as a story in it - which I checked and is not in looking for jake

Mar 23, 2012, 6:58am Top

Black fire Hernan Rodriguez


Members of Napolean’s army stumble across a deserted Slavic town whilst running away from Cossacks.

Why is the town deserted? Why won’t the Cossacks enter the town. Why is the only body, the priest, a suicide? This is a horror tale with a small cast of refugees taking shelter in awful weather. The art is generally good in a Vampire Hunter D sort of style and the story had promise but I had a few niggles that dropped the rating. Firstly it’s a bit derivative - where could the bodies of the townfolk be? And secondly the characterisation is ultra thin. In addition I sometimes had issues following the story where Rodriguez had failed to get what was happening across clearly.

Overall – so so horror story, not recommended

Mar 23, 2012, 6:58am Top

mesmo delivery Rafael Grampa


Short tale about a delivery of a mysterious package

An ex-boxer and an Elvis impersonator take on a job to deliver a mysterious package, when they stop at a truck stop trouble ensues. That’s about it as far as the plot goes, it being very short and plot-lite and stops suddenly.

Overall – too short

Mar 23, 2012, 6:59am Top

Scars Warren Ellis


A child is found murdered and a detective promises her parents that the murderer would not get away with it.

Pencil drawings ensure that the story is told in shades of grey and it’s a classic trope – how much of a monster must you become to catch a monster. Interspersed with the story are musings from Warren Ellis in text which really add to the story. However a poor ending drops the rating and in the end we see nothing new

Overall – One for Ellis completists

Mar 23, 2012, 6:59am Top

A tale for our generation, an account of the "winter journey" Dr. Edward Wilson & Henry Bowers


The journals of two of the three members of Scott’s Antarctic party who undertook a winter mission to collect Emperor penguin eggs.

This is a beautiful book, hardback with wraparound cover, filled with illustrations and photographs including some of Wilson’s lovely watercolours. It’s a short book and only covers Wilson and Bowers versions of the trip, Cherry Garrard’s version is told in his excellent The worst journey in the world. In order to get eggs and embryos at the right stage of development it was necessary to travel to the penguin rookery in the depths of winter. It’s inconceivable what these three travellers went through in the name of science, enduring -70+ F (-56 C) temperatures, living in a stone hut, dragging a sled hundreds of miles etc. and it’s all told in a matter of fact tone by both Bowers and Wilson.

Overall – very good addition to my growing Polar collection

Mar 23, 2012, 7:17am Top

I managed to miss the link for Richard Fortey (http://thebrowser.com/interviews/richard-fortey-on-palaeontology) on my first thread but have caught up now - thanks to clif_hiker for providing it!

Mar 23, 2012, 1:43pm Top

->25 psutto:
Any odd Scandinavians in the contributors, do you think?

Mar 23, 2012, 6:09pm Top

Wow, you're doing an excellent job with the challenge! Way to go!

Mar 23, 2012, 7:04pm Top

31 I've not checked ahead that much, there's lots of names i don't recognise though. I'll check and let you know- so far there's been Belgians and Poles and Czechs and Japanese, Americans of course and Brits too

@32 - Thanks, I had a good "winter reading season" I must check against my progress last year but I think I'm ahead of that...

Mar 24, 2012, 4:30pm Top

I can't imagine them running around trying to get Emperor Penguin eggs. I wouldn't mess with a penguin dad for sure. It sounds like a fascinating book.

Mar 26, 2012, 7:11am Top

Monstermen and other scary stories Gary Gianni


Excellent graphic novel – can’t do better than the blurb on the back to introduce it

In a world plagued by zombie cowboys, squid pirates, abominable snowmen, moustachioed skulls, movie phantoms, and fat, flying demons, only millionaire film director Lawrence St. George and his associate, Benedict of the venerable guild of Corpus Monstrum, have the capabilities and the wit to bring these horrors down!

These stories first saw light of day as fillers in the Hellboy comics. Beautiful B&W pen and ink drawings tell tall tales with tongue set firmly in check but of the vain of Carnacki the ghost hunter – if Carnacki wore an evening suit and a medieval jousting helmet!. A strong thread of weird runs through these stories and they are very entertaining. As a bonus in this hardback edition there are several illustrated short stories - The gateway of the monster and A Tropical Horror by William Hope Hodgson, Mother of toads by Clark Ashton Smith, Old Garfield’s Heart by Robert E. Howard and Thurnley Abbey by Percival Landon.

Overall – Highly recommended to all lovers of the weird

Mar 26, 2012, 7:12am Top

the longest winter Meredith Jean Hooper

Very good

The story of the Eastern party in Scott’s last Antarctic expedition

Hooper tells the tale of “Scott’s other heroes” of the Eastern party (later called the Northern party back in the UK confusingly) who were to explore King Edward Vii land whilst Scott made for the pole. Because they could not land on King Edward Vii land the party spent a year to the North of Scott’s position and later, after the first winter, were dropped further along the coast by the support ship. When the ship fails to pick them up they have to face winter in an ice cave, with food running out and no hope of rescue they wait desperately until they are able to sledge to Cape Evans, Scott’s winter base. When they finally arrive they find out that Scott had died on his return from the Pole. Hooper cross references the other expeditions happening at the same time putting the Eastern parties experiences into context. The sheer endurance required in the heroic age of polar exploration is humbling and mind boggling. Living for months in below freezing conditions with not enough to eat stagger the imagination. Hooper makes clear that she has relied on prime sources such as the diaries and journals of the men of the Eastern party, which evocatively still smell of the smoke from blubber lamps. This would have got a brilliant except for the fact that it assumes you already know lots about Scott’s expedition (and although I have read Scott’s journals and other books I’m guessing others won’t have so its not really a stand alone book) and has too much of the execrable poetry written by some of the members of the Eastern party – OK so Hooper didn’t write it but its very bad and worth skipping.

Overall – If you’ve read anything about Scott’s last expedition and want to read more then this is for you

Mar 26, 2012, 7:12am Top

The South Pole: An Account of the Norwegian Antarctic Expedition in the "Fram" 1910-1912 Roald Amundsen

Very Good

Amundsen’s account of reaching the South Pole in 1912

Victory awaits him who has everything in order - luck people call it.

OK so the story is well known, in 1912 Scott returned to the Antarctic to go to the pole following Shackleton’s route who got to within a couple of hundred miles from the pole. When Scott reached New Zealand he got a telegram from Amundsen saying that he too was making a dash to the pole which came as a bit of a shock to Scott. Amundsen in this book fills in the gaps explaining the secrecy (I didn’t get it really) where he didn’t even tell his crew until they were under way. Unlike Scott who had a full itinerary of science to perform whilst at the Antarctic Amundsen was just there to reach the pole.

Amundsen approaches the trip with an eye for detail and professionalism that is perhaps a little lacking from the British expedition and took a risky “due South” approach which meant building a base on the Barrier (which was believed to be sea ice at the time with evidence that large pieces had broken off between Scott’s last visit and Shackleton’s visit) and going due South from there to the Pole along an unknown route. Scott preferred to camp on land (further away from the pole) and take a known route across the Beardmore glacier. Amundsen used just dogs, and was nervous about Scott’s mechanical transport but contemptuous of ponies thinking them unsuited for Polar transport. Because Amundsen was able to leave earlier in the season he was blessed with better weather than the British and made it to the pole and back with no major problems and with all lives intact. Amundsen’s book fills in some of the gaps but much is left unsaid, unlike Scott he was able to edit his journals before publication. The attraction of Scott’s journals lie in their raw emotional impact and the men knowing that death approached writing their last. Amundsen manages to make a trip to the pole seem pedestrian by comparison, not to detract from his accomplishment but perhaps this explains why Scott looms large in our historical consciousness and Amundsen does not – or perhaps its just because I’m a Brit? Chapter 8 of the book is written from the point of view of an invisible visitor to Framheim (Amundsen’s winter quarters) which was very entertaining. Included in this book are also the accounts of those who were left at base awaiting Amundsen’s return (who bumped into the Japanese Antarctic expedition which I’ll now be tracking down!) and also those on board the Fram Amundsen’s support ship. In addition there are details of the building of the Fram an account of the meteorological work done by the Norwegian’s and an account of the oceanographic work done by theFram during the Antarctic winter. Amundsen is an engaging writer with a self deprecating humour but I wouldn’t read this if you’re a dog lover, just as I wouldn’t read Scott’s journals if you’re a pony lover…

Overall – well worth reading as an example of a fully successful polar expedition

Mar 28, 2012, 2:39pm Top

Falling behind on reviews again, finished Longitude and Refusal shoes wil do reviews later...

Mar 29, 2012, 8:26am Top

Refusal shoes Tony Saint


Story about UK immigration officers

Henry Brinks is an immigration officer at Heathrow who is disenchanted with the job and suffering from depression. His fellow employees are drunks, thieves, have serial affairs or are otherwise generally maladjusted. After he stumbles upon a scam involving another IO and a Chinese killer he has to protect himself against being framed for providing illegal entry visas. The plot is a bit thin and used merely as a framing device for basically a disgruntled employees diatribe against the immigration service (Saint is an ex-immigration officer). Many of the things that Brinks rails against are easy to envisage – office politics, incomprehensible bureaucracy, silly targets etc which are obviously exaggerated for effect.

Overall – a brief, light and ultimately forgettable book

Mar 29, 2012, 8:27am Top

Longitude Dava Sobel

Very Good

Story of how the puzzle of Longitude was cracked

Precise navigation needs both Longitude and Latitude. Latitude is relatively easy to calculate but there were problems with calculating Longitude with two possible solutions – either clock based or astronomy based. After a terrible accident at sea off the coast of Britain where several ships were wrecked due to longitude being unknown parliament created a Longitude act offering a substantial amount of prize money to the person who could crack the problem. Enter John Harrison a self taught clockmaker who decides to create a “Chronometer” to keep perfect time at sea. Sobel paints a picture with words here without going into too much depth. She ably describes the problem and the possible solutions and gives brief biographies of the main characters. I felt that the book was far too brief and would have benefited from having pictures – I did several web searches to see the clocks and chronometers mentioned in the text. Having visited Greenwich in January it was still fresh in my mind so I enjoyed this book a lot. I’m not sure if it would be so enjoyable if you’ve not visited Greenwich?

Overall – oh so brief but interesting history

Mar 29, 2012, 8:56pm Top

Dava Sobel is on my radar screen as so many of her books are a great fit for my Science category for this year's challenge. Very happy to see the positive review and to take this book bullet from you Pete!

Mar 30, 2012, 4:52am Top

your welcome - I'd say that it was science for the masses & rather lite but still a good short book

Mar 30, 2012, 5:18am Top

yesterday was the 100th anniversary of Scott's death and there has been a bit of commemoration here in the UK

some interesting links on this site - for those interested...


Edited: Mar 30, 2012, 8:14am Top

I read Longitude quite a few years ago and remember enjoying it very much. I have Sobel's Galileo's Daughter queued up on my kindle.

Thanks for the link on the centenary celebration of Scott... will spend time poking around on it.

Mar 31, 2012, 5:40am Top

More mini reviews from the Weird compendium

The tarn by Hugh Walpole -Very Good. Interesting short story about two rival authors and a deep dark pool.

Sanatorium under the sign of the hourglass by Bruno Schultz -Very Good. Dreamlike tale by a Polish writer with surreal and grotesque undercurrents

Far below by Robert Barbour Johnston-Very Good. What horrors lurk in a cities underground train systems?

Smoke Ghost by Fritz Lieber - Very Good. Sideways view of what the ghosts of our time (being the early 20th C in this case) would be like

White rabbits by Leonora Carrington-Very Good. Odd and very short tale of a woman who discovers some strange things when visiting her neighbours

Mimic by Donald A Wollheim -Very Good.Famous SF style short which inspired a film of the same name, got to say the story was better than the film!

The Crowd by Ray Bradbury-Brilliant. Dark and disturbing capturing a real atmosphere of anxiety

The long sheet by William Sansom -Brilliant. Allegorical and very definitely weird tale of a penal experiment

The Aleph by Jorge Luis Borges must confess I skipped this one as I read it very recently, it is good though

A child in the bush of ghosts by Olympe Bhely-Quenum -Average. Fairly standard ghost tale set in the African bush.

And so onto the 100ish pages I need to read in April if I hope to finish this tome by the end of the year! Luckily the next story is by Shirley Jackson which is drawing me on....

Mar 31, 2012, 10:25pm Top

There doesn't seem to be any doubt that the average quality of the stories in this collection is well above average - I'll risk some wrist-damage for that (or maybe just go for the unhefty ebook version...!). :)

Apr 1, 2012, 6:35pm Top

>36 psutto:-37 I think Atlas of remote islands has definietely spurred an interest in reading more about the extreme corners of the world. I'll need to read more about polar expeditions, starting with Scott's, I think!

Apr 2, 2012, 10:20am Top

I listened to an interview with a guy working for ESA who is basically in the South Pole at the moment studying what it would be like to visit Mars - what's so compelling about Polar exploration is how inimical to life it all is and therefore analagous to exploring other worlds

Apr 4, 2012, 5:12am Top

Aya Marguerite Abouet


Aya is a young woman in 1970’s Ivory Coast who wishes to be a doctor and so spends a lot of time studying. She is friends with two other young women who wish nothing more than to party and eventually marry someone rich. In a soap opera plot we get a snapshot of their lives. Although the art was rich and the setting evocative the story didn’t grab me – I had a hard time differentiating between the 3 young women and it was really an old story albeit well told.

Overall – OK story didn’t hate it, didn’t love it probably would read the next one if it was there but wouldn’t track it down

Apr 4, 2012, 5:12am Top

The great god Pan Arthur Machen


3 of Machen’s novellas collected – The great god Pan, The White people and The shining pyramid

Machen inspired Lovecraft among others and his stories are very good at building a creepy atmosphere but are also quite dated now. The great god Pan is the story of a medical experiment gone wrong and has a “sins of the fathers” feel to it. It’s very bitty with different narrators for different sections but is still very good. The shining pyramid is a story of a lost girl and fairies and is good but not especially different from many other stories of the same ilk and the White people is a story told by a child of strange white people which was a little dull. What I didn’t like about Machen’s stories was that generally the narrators or protagonists are all a bit dumb and you as a reader grasp what’s going on far before those telling or living the story.

Overall – combined together the 3 stories are average although I would recommend people to read the title story I wouldn’t recommend the other two stories

Apr 4, 2012, 5:14am Top

Gulliver’s travels Martin Rowson


Retelling of Swift’s classic via the medium of a graphic novel

First of all Rowson’s art is amazing and probably the book should be read just for that. However in his retelling of Swift’s famous satire the story just didn’t grab me. The bit in Lilliput was good but the rest of the book went past without leaving much of an impression and a succession of made up words that just got sillier. I think that this is due to being faithful to the original? I’m not sure as embaressingly I’ve not read the original so I’m not sure whats copied and what’s Rowson’s invention. I had thought that it was the original in graphic form but it’s the tale of a descendant of the original Gulliver going to the lands his ancestor visited and seeing how his ancestors visit had changed them.

Overall – Maybe would make more sense if I’d read Swift’s original

Edited: Apr 13, 2012, 10:48am Top

in the country of last things Paul Auster

Very Good

Bleak and Bizarre travelogue from a nameless city of a woman in search of her missing brother

Anna has come to the city to look for her brother who went missing there some time ago. She follows in the footsteps of a journalist who has also gone missing whilst looking for her brother. The first half of the book sees Anna telling us about the city itself, its massive homeless population, random explosions, strange suicide cults and utter poverty. She becomes a scavenger carting around a shopping trolley which she fills with broken down items that are not quite rubbish which can be sold to resurrection men. The second half of the novel via a succession of encounters with other inhabitants of the city tell a spiralling tale of despair and the impossibility of escape. I was reading the book as a “set nowhere” allegory until Anna mentions England and this threw me. Is it a post-apocalyptic book as some have said? We know nothing of anywhere outside the city except that Anna is writing a letter, the book, to some (un-named) acquaintance in her old country, a country that has sent journalists to the city (William and another sent to search for him). By the time she wants to leave the city it has become impossible to do so. In the end the book leaves you with many questions and and I’m not so sure that some aspects of the story work. I am unsure on how to rate this and am hovering between Average (some bits of the book don’t work) and Very Good (really sticks with you with some very interesting ideas and scenes). I’m going to leave the rating for a while and rate it later once its digested…

Overall – grim, depressing book about despair

Apr 4, 2012, 5:16am Top

The little sleep Paul Tremblay


Excellent noir about a private eye suffering from narcolepsy

Mark Genevich is a private eye and after a car crash began to suffer from narcolepsy which means he no longer takes “field missions”. He suffers from hypnagogic hallucinations, little sleeps, sleepwalking/talking and occasionally cataplexy which of course are serious drawbacks in the PI business. He takes a case whilst sleepwalking and isn’t even sure who gave him the case or exactly what the case is. This narrative device, keeping you guessing at what’s real and what’s hallucination, is very effective and as the story is revealed so is more of Genevich’s character. I really enjoyed this tale which successfully blends noir and black comedy.

Overall – recommended to all noir lovers

Apr 4, 2012, 5:17am Top

The invention of Morel Adolfo Bioy Cesares


SF novella exploring the themes of image and immortality

The story is narrated by a desperate fugitive who is hiding from the law on an abandoned island which is avoided due to being the source of a terrible disease. After some time on the island the narrator is shocked to see a number of tourists from whom he flees and hides in the marshes. Gradually he follows the tourists and eventually falls in love with one of them, from afar. The rest of the book is about the narrator finding out about the nature of the “tourists” and the disease. My only complaint about this book is the fact the narrator is a bit slow to grasp what’s happening and this feels a bit clumsy as its so obvious to you as the reader but perhaps it’s a failure to properly portray the extreme paranoia of the narrator as fugitive. Despite that small gripe however the story is very good and I’d recommend it.

Overall – short but deep

Apr 4, 2012, 7:27am Top

>52 psutto: That's the thing that lingers for me with In the country of last things (apart from some interesting post-apocalyptic detail) - the feeling that this extreme disaster is somehow local. Can't imagine it's unintentional, and it puzzles me. In a good way, mostly.

Both 53 and 54 sound like very good reads!

Apr 4, 2012, 7:54am Top

I second the rec for The little sleep by Paul Tremblay and since Pete likes it its an excuse to buy the sequel :)

Apr 4, 2012, 9:24am Top

@55 I fully recommend both

Apr 4, 2012, 12:33pm Top

The Little Sleep is going on the wishlist - can't ever resist the Noir/black humor-combo.

Apr 5, 2012, 3:29am Top

I'll have to keep an eye out for The Little Sleep too.

Apr 5, 2012, 8:15am Top

The Hare with the amber eyes Edmund de Waal


The author is next to inherit a number of Japanese Netsuke (small hand carved toggles http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Netsuke) collected by his family and decides to find out about their history

OK I tried, I really did as this book was given to me to read – I did the 50 page rule and although this was very dull I thought – it’s won an award, it gets lots of 5 star reviews, maybe it's a slow burner – at 100 pages I gave up. I am mystified as to why this is lauded, why some people say it’s the best book they’ve ever read, as to what the point of this book actually is. The first ancestor De Waal follows appears in a Renoit painting, is an important person in the impressionist scene and potentially could have been very interesting but just came across as uber-dull.

Overall – No book should make you wish that Hitler would hurry up and come to power so something interesting may happen!

Apr 5, 2012, 12:39pm Top

Oh noes, The Hare is on my wishlist! I don't remember why I put it on there so it may be coming off now... From the other reviews it does seem to be a slow-burner to the extreme, though. :) I have found that once a book gets awards, it sometimes receives higher ratings than it did before the award....

Apr 6, 2012, 11:49am Top

You're Weird compendium sounds good - if a little bit of a door stopper! I'm looking forward to more of the minireviews. Too bad that The Hare is so dreadful. I've seen some Netsuke - they're beautiful! Perhaps 90% of the text should've been replaced by photos.

Apr 9, 2012, 7:53am Top

Yes photos would have helped but the text will have still been dull ;-)

I've read a few more stories so will have to do some mini reviews but I really do recommend this tome... Although it is going to take me all year to read it!

Apr 9, 2012, 1:37pm Top

Okay, we'll replace 99% of the text. :) I'll stop by to see what you're reading in Weird later.

Apr 10, 2012, 10:31am Top

The origin of species Charles Darwin

Darwin’s most famous book about Natural Selection

I have consulted some sagacious and most experienced observers, and, after deliberation, they concur in this view

Darwin called his book “a long argument” and this is how it reads. He sets out to use as much evidence as possible in support of his theory of natural selection and divides this evidence into several chapters. The man spent 20 years accumulating evidence to back up his theory from animal breeders, in the field observations (his famous voyage on the Beagle), geology, embryology etc. The book was a sensation and it is hard from our viewpoint to see why (although I guess the Scopes trial gives you a glimpse). Naturalists in Darwin’s day thought that the species were immutable and made so by god but the work that James Hutton did on geology opened up the possibility that the history of the world was a lot longer than the several thousand years those who believed in the “truth” of the Bible thought it was. Without geological time natural selection doesn’t work as the tiny incremental changes required for speciation just wouldn’t have time to accumulate. Descent with modification is the central theme and Darwin provides a reason for evolution (although the word evolution is not mentioned in the book – evolution was an existing theory before Darwin). Darwin is a Victorian writer and although his book is meant to inform it is not meant to entertain and he is long winded and very very dry. For this reason I’m finding it hard to give this book a rating – it is incredibly important in the history of science but not something I’d encourage people to read as it is dry and the language is a little strangled for our modern reading tastes. Another problem I had was having done Biology at University it was all very familiar to me and in addition there are a lot of erroneous assumptions; it’s before the discovery of genetics so Darwin has a few issues explaining how natural selection actually works. Fundamentalists have grabbed onto the chapter in the book where Darwin goes through the problems with the theory, including the creationist’s favourite “how did the eye evolve”. Many of the problems with the theory have now been sorted out.

Overall – Glad to have read it but not really recommended as such.

Edited: Apr 10, 2012, 11:31am Top

almost like a whale Steve Jones

Very Good

Jones re-writes and updates the Origin of Species

Having struggled through the Origin of Species this book comes as a breath of fresh air. Jones has taken as his starting point Darwin’s book and he states that he knows that very few people have actually read it so he aims to make the ideas within more accessible to a modern reader as well as update the science. Jones uses the same chapter titles and subject matter, sometimes uses Darwin’s exact words (he uses Darwin’s chapter summaries almost in their entirety) but updates the language and uses modern discoveries in genetics to expand and illuminate parts of the theory of natural selection. Jones does an admirable job and having read both books I would recommend this updated version.

Overall – modern re-telling of a science classic, well worth reading

Apr 10, 2012, 11:06am Top

Haven't gotten around to reading Darwin's Origin of Species and after reading your review I'm still not motivated to do so but will probably get around to it sometime just so I can check that one off the reading list.

Apr 10, 2012, 11:10am Top

read Steve Jones's updated version instead :-)

Apr 10, 2012, 11:29am Top

everybody should try Darwin ... just to say you have. I enjoy reading Alfred Russell Wallace as well. The Malay Archipelago is very readable.

The Jones book looks very good, so I'll add it to my list.

Apr 10, 2012, 11:31am Top

ah yes must get round to Wallace...

Edited: Apr 10, 2012, 4:18pm Top

I read Origin of Species at Uni and remember it as interesting but dry. I did read a graphic novel a couple of years ago that I thought was a very nice version, Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, and which I would recommend for anyone who knows they won't make it through the original.

Apr 10, 2012, 3:18pm Top

I had been wanting to read on the Origin of Species. THanks for the review--I will try reading the Jones' book first.

Apr 11, 2012, 4:24am Top

Interesting reveiw of On The Origin Of Species, it's on my list for this year, but given how slow my reading has been this year I might try the Jones instead.

Apr 11, 2012, 5:03am Top

As Eva says it is good but very very dry - but yes Jones update is much more readable

Apr 11, 2012, 5:03am Top

a brief history of time Stephen Hawking

Very Good

80’s bestseller about big ideas in cosmology

Hawking covers the big questions – where did the universe come from, what is time, what are black holes and what’s going to happen to the universe in the end. He also throws in an introduction to Newton and Einstein as well as short biographies of both. This is an attempt to explain in simple terms the big ideas of cosmology, hence the “brief” in the title. Mostly he succeeds and the ideas, although explained without equations or the underlying maths, are graspable. Sometimes though I just couldn’t get my head around it, many dimensions is very hard to understand and where mathematics works over plain language I guess.

Overall – very good popular science book

Apr 11, 2012, 5:04am Top

How I escaped my certain fate Stewart Lee

Very Good

Semi-biography of an UK alternative comedian

Lee gives a brief overview of what led him to be a stand up comedian and what led him to give up and do opera (he was co-author of Jerry Springer the opera) which eventually led him back to stand up. Included are full texts of a couple of his shows and some other pieces of writing (in an appendix) that he’s done for various newspapers and magazines. Although I thoroughly enjoyed this book which made me laugh out loud occasionally I think its not a very good introduction to Lee. His laconic storytelling style works well on paper but only because my mind’s ear could “hear” him whilst reading this. His scripts are extensively footnoted (sometimes the footnotes are just as amusing as the set he’s describing too) which seek to answer the perennial question “where do your ideas come from”.

Overall – go and watch his DVDs and if you enjoy that then think about reading this

Apr 11, 2012, 5:08am Top

the coincidence engine Sam Leith

Very Good

Mathematics and philosophy wrapped in a thriller wrapped in a road tale wrapped in a romance

Leith writes about coincidence and probability, strange secret government departments, arms manufacturers and fringe mathematicians. I was expecting there to be a good dose of absurdist humour here but the story is told a little straighter than I expected. Alex is a student in the UK, doing a PHD in Maths and in love with an American girl who is in San Francisco. He travels to the States on a super cheap flight which takes him as far as Atlanta and decides to drive the rest of the way rather than get an internal flight. He is pursued by a variety of odd characters on his synchronicity laden road trip. I’ve seen this book rated as “Wacky” or “zany” but it really does not have that sort of tone at all.

Overall – interesting and enjoyable

Edited: Apr 13, 2012, 11:22am Top

monthly round up (going from 12th to 12th) & rolling total

# books read 70

# fiction 47
# non-fiction 23
# male writers 59
# female writers 11
# Unfinished 1
# Poor 0
# Average 15
# Very Good 33
# Brilliant 19

# uncategorized 2

categories so far

12 days of christmas = 14
It's in the cards = 1
12 Angry men = 7
12 Hours on a clock, 12 months in a year = 3
12 stars in the flag of Europe = 4
12 Olympian gods = 3
12 Caesers = 3
Doomsday clock = 3
1912 = 6
Baker's Dozen = 22
Life, the Universe and Everything = 4

I've decided that Baker's dozen can go over 12 but only due to the fact that its where graphic novels will live...

Dec = 14
Jan = 18
Feb = 10
Mar = 28 (although 12 of these were graphic novels)

hmm 1 category (signs of the zodiac) with 0 books - must remedy that soon!

Apr 13, 2012, 9:10pm Top

Doing some MAJOR catching up on threads after a few months in the wilderness. Suffice it to say, fantastic reviews and an incredible range of reading. I'm riddled with book bullets but have managed to dodge a few ("The Hare With The Amber Eyes. Awful."). Thanks!

Apr 15, 2012, 5:50pm Top

I think I'll settle for "I have a pretty good hang of the basics" approach to On the origin of species for now, at least. Some great reviews here as usual.

Apr 15, 2012, 7:45pm Top

Almost Like a Whale was released in the US as Darwin's Ghost. I need to go on a science reading streak some time this year. Hell, I just need to go on a reading streak this year at some point. I'm in a reading at the speed molasses flows below freezing phase this year.

Apr 15, 2012, 9:12pm Top

Catching up on threads. Really enjoyed your reviews of the Antarctic books, it's a topic I find fascinating too.

Edited: Apr 16, 2012, 6:22am Top

thanks guys

>81 VisibleGhost: I think the touchstone for almost like a whale actually points to Darwin's ghost...
Hope your reading year goes better in the second half of the year!

still on an evolution kick having finished on extinction am now reading last chance to see although had a brief break reading a Victorian penny dreadful called wreck of the titan which seems a little prescient of the Titanic disaster so fits my 1912 category (crowbar)

reviews soon... although am off camping tomorrow in a place with no mobile coverage so will try to do them tonight before I go

Apr 22, 2012, 2:06am Top

What an odd group of books! Darwin wrote a book comparing various animal behaviors, and of course included humans as animals. You inspire me to be brave and tackle it... but not today. ;)

Edited: Apr 24, 2012, 10:48am Top

What an odd group of books

thanks! I think ;-)

falling way behind after a week in the wilds of Wales and now in Switzerland with work - lots of reviews to do once I get back....

Apr 24, 2012, 7:19pm Top

I'm catching up with your reviews, and liked seeing your comments on Origin of Species and A Brief History of Time. I'd read Hawking's book earlier this year but Origin of Species has been sitting on my bookshelf forever. From what I've heard about it (reinforced by what you wrote), it's not that worthwhile a read, but at the same time, I keep thinking that it's one of those books I really should read.

Apr 26, 2012, 3:57am Top

yeah it was a book I thought I should read too - I'm glad I read it but am not sure I'd ever encourage anyone else to read it - the Victorians didn't write to entertain!

Edited: Apr 26, 2012, 4:42am Top

more mini reviews from the Weird compendium

The summer people by Shirley Jackson - Brilliant - retirees the Allison's spend the summer in a vacation home and the winter in New York. One year they decide to stay longer than usual in their summer home and see a different side to the year long residents. You cant beat Jackson for a brooding and creeping sense of unease.

The man who sold rope to the gnoles by Margaret St Clair - Very Good - using the Dunsany story (also in the collection) as inspiration St Clair has written a very tight short story

The hungry house by Robert Bloch - Very Good - haunted house tale with a generous dollop of weirdness and possible inspiration for a Mieville short that appears in looking for jake

The complete gentleman by Amos Tutola - Average - African tale about a woman kidnapped by skulls. The writing style let the story down a little here

It's a Good life by Jerome Bixby - Brilliant - Anthony is born special with god-like powers and his family and neighbours must walk on eggshells around him. The story was adapted to be an episode of the twilight zone

Mister Taylor by Augusto Monteroso - Very Good - An American starts feeding a fashion craze for Amazonian shrunken heads

Axolotl by Julio Cortazar - Very Good - A man becomes obsessed with the Axolotl in a Paris aquarium

A woman seldom found by William Sansom - Very Good - A young man visits Rome and chances to meet a beautiful young women with whom he falls in love. He then discovers all is not what it appears to be...

The howling man by Charles Beaumont - Very Good - another story adapted for the Twilight Zone set in a remote monastery where a madman howls the nights away

Same time, same place by Mervyn Peake - Very Good - A man falls in love but is puzzled that the woman he loves will only ever meet him at the same time in the same place...

The colomber by Dino Buzzati - Very Good - tale of a curse of the sea as one man is persued relentlessly by a massive and terrifying fish

Apr 26, 2012, 5:04am Top

The Weird collection just seems to be getting better and better.

Apr 26, 2012, 5:16am Top

Really sounds more and more like a must-have!

Apr 26, 2012, 11:47am Top

yep I'd say its a must have for fans of the weird - not quite half way through but been only a couple of stories I've not liked

and so onto some book reviews

Apr 26, 2012, 11:49am Top

On extinction Melanie Challenger Very Good

Meditative musings on lost worlds

Challenger begins by wanting to explore the extinction of animals but in her quest to understand she ends up exploring lost worlds. The mining of tin in Cornwall, whaling, climate change and the arctic communities in Canada, lost languages and wild flowers are all explored. It is beautifully written and it’s no surprise that Challenger has written a collection of poems. She explores what “gone forever” means through a variety of topics and she evokes equal sadness or nostalgia for extinct animals and ways of life. She travels literally to the ends of the world both to the Antarctic and Arctic as well as musing on lost worlds closer to home such as the whaling communities in Whitby. It’s an eclectic mix of information and Challenger deftly switches between topics e.g. discussing Dracula to discussing the history of scrimshaw. A couple of down points prevented this from being a 5 star read for me. Firstly the photographs are small badly printed black and whites scattered throughout the text. Secondly the text was a little too much musing on a theme without a proper central narrative. However these are minor gripes and I would recommend this book.

Overall – haunting and beautiful nostalgic writing.

Apr 26, 2012, 11:51am Top

Osama Lavie Tidhar


Alternative? History/many worlds noir themed thriller

Joe is a PI in a small Asian town nursing a bottle of whisky that’s either half-full or half-empty, depending on your point of view. He is hired to find pulp author Mike Longshott who has written a series of books about Osama Bin-Laden: Vigilante The search takes him to Paris, London and America. Although there are many nods to Noir books and films littered throughout it is not quite a noir, although there is more than a hint of alternative history its not an alt hist book and although there is a possibility of many worlds but it’s not a Sci Fi book. So what is it? A damn good tale that will stick with you and make you think. It’s a hard book to review as in trying to explain it would by necessity contain spoilers but suffice to say this was so up my street. Highly recommended.

Overall – A great read but one that is possibly being mis-sold

Apr 26, 2012, 11:52am Top

a casual revolution Jasper Juul


How casual games are causing a games industry revolution

Juul is a video games enthusiast and full time academic who has spotted the trend for “casual” games and posits that this heralds a revolution in the games industry. In the introduction he explains that the book has grown out of presentations he’s given at industry events and you can tell. Although the information is of interest the book seems like a print out of a set of powerpoint slides and the pictures just seem to be there to either break up the text or bulk the book out. The main thrust of the book is that hardcore games are now under threat as game companies will soon be seeking to make their games appeal to the “casual” gamer.

Overall – not really recommended as a book, would be interesting to watch the presentation though

Apr 26, 2012, 11:52am Top

the wreck of the Titan Morgan Robertson


Coincidence riven penny dreadful written before the sinking of the Titanic

The book was written 13 years before the sinking of the Titanic and yet it is eerily reminiscent. The world’s largest ship leaves port, sinks another ship (the Titanic didn’t sink another ship but there was an accident as it left port) and striking an iceberg sinks with not enough lifeboats to go around. Being a penny dreadful though there is much adventure as our hero battles a polar bear and rescues a small child. Robertson nerdily concentrates on the ship’s dimensions and obscure maritime law more than character development and the book isn’t brilliantly written but it is short and of historical interest

Overall – if it wasn’t for the Titanic this book would, rightly, be lost in the mists of time

Apr 26, 2012, 11:54am Top

Last chance to see Douglas Adams

The book Adams was most proud of writing. It’s about endangered animals

Douglas Adams was roped into writing an article on the Aye Aye for a newspaper and teamed with Mark Carwardine, a naturalist. Following this they worked together on a BBC radio series and this book of the series. Anyone that followed my thread in 2010 will know that I read the updated Stephen Fry 20 years later last chance to see and listened to the original radio series here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/lastchancetosee/sites/radio/aye_aye.shtml as well as it being one of the influences for me to do environmental science in university. This is a re-re-read and just as good as I remember it being. Adams had a unique voice and this is just as much a brilliant travel book as well as the best appeal on behalf of endangered species.

Overall – A perennial favourite of mine

Apr 26, 2012, 11:56am Top

above the snowline Steph Swainston


Side story set before the events of the brilliant castle series

Jant is the fastest man alive, half-Awian (winged men but are unable to fly)/Half-Rhydanne (humans evolved to live high in the mountains with accelerated metabolisms) and the only man able to fly and so is made immortal and given the name "Comet", messenger for the Emperor. When a Rhydanne comes to see the emperor to beg for help from Awian settlers the emperor chooses Jant to go and sort it out. Typical of settlers versus indigenous culture clashes the “civilised” Awians exploit the savage hunter gatherer Rhydanne because they feel superior. Very much giving the natives grog instead of cash and gaudy yet useless spear points etc. There are also political forces at work here which form a major sub-plot and Jant, established as vain and shallow falls for the Rhydanne Dellin although it is not a typical love story. Each chapter is told from a different character’s perspective which, on the whole, works really well. It makes a late section switching between two of the characters in ever shortening chapters a particularly effective narrative device. However one of the characters, Snipe, seems to change a lot towards the end of the book, although when seen through others eyes he may have been underestimated/misunderstood. The only other thing I’d warn about is that I’m not so sure how well this would work standalone as little detail of the amazing world is given and therefore I would recommend reading the 3 castle books first (although I did want to go and re-read them straight after this one!) Since it is told from many perspectives it doesn’t really hold up any of them to be the “right one” and all is shades of grey where Swainston shows that no-one is wholly right or wrong. Although set in a fantasy world it does not read like a sword and sorcery novel as the fantastical elements take a back seat to the strong political and environmental themes.

Overall – Great plot with some of the fantastic characters from the Castle series

Apr 26, 2012, 1:55pm Top

I had never heard of the Adams-book (I have the Fry-one on the wishlist) - definitely picking that one up!

Apr 26, 2012, 6:06pm Top

Your review of Osama, following on from Claire's, cements a place on the wishlist. Will have to wait for a paperback edition though. Good review of Above the Snowline too!

Apr 27, 2012, 5:01am Top

98 - the Fry one is worth reading too but i'd read the Adams one first as the Fry one is a 20 years later return

99 - yep two good reads

Apr 28, 2012, 8:45pm Top

#88 Intersting how many Twightlight Zone stories are in this book. Was It's a Good Life as scary as the tv episode?

#95 I knew a story had been written before the Titanic disaster that mirrored it. You hear about it on conspiracy tv shows. Thank you for reviewing it.

#96 Still need to read Last Chance To See. It's the only Adams book I haven't read.

You have read a lot of interesting books lately. I will be keeping an eye on your thread. :-)

Apr 29, 2012, 12:23am Top

I remember reading The Good Life when I was a teenager, and I thought it was scarier than the TV episode. Quite well done, and yes, I'm also thinking your weird compendium is starting to sound like a must have. How much does it weigh? Sounds like it must be several thousand pages.

Apr 29, 2012, 8:38am Top

It's a good life was really creepy as a story and having watched the episode after it I think they are comparable, although I think I prefer the story

The weird compendium is a large book, double columned and around 1000 pages long, that's more like 2000 pages in a normal sized book I reckon

I really do recommend last chance to see as Adams is a brilliant travel writer amongst his other talents

Apr 29, 2012, 8:46am Top

Hi Psutto!

I missed all the discussion on The Origin of Species. I read it several years ago and quite enjoyed it - did not find the writing any more difficult or wordy than other Victorians, including Dickens.

Have you seen Blogging the Origin? It's a series of about 15 posts by an evolutionary biologist who reads the Origin for the first time. Quite funny and insightful for non-biologists. For example, in discussing chapter 6:

'Darwin sets up the drama with a touch of intellectual flattery -- "Long before having arrived at this part of my work, a crowd of difficulties will have occurred to the reader." What? Oh, yes, yes, of course. Grave difficulties. Why don't you tell us what they are, to make sure our lists match up?'

The comments are also quite good.

Apr 29, 2012, 8:49am Top

Thanks for the link sounds like something I should read :-)

Apr 30, 2012, 4:30pm Top

Apr 30, 2012, 4:42pm Top

Is it as Alan Moore states "shameless" ?


May 1, 2012, 6:52am Top

The Guerilla Library is fantastic!

May 1, 2012, 10:49am Top

The New games Book New Games Foundation

Very Good

The New Games Book and its companion, More New Games, were resources developed for the "New Games" movement which began in the late 60s to encourage people to play non-competitive or friendlier games. The tagline reads Play hard, Play Fair, Nobody hurt

There are about 60 easy to organise games in this book some well recognised (e.g. Tug of War) but many more that are obscure/unknown for two players to two hundred players. The New Games book came out in 1976 and is full of black and white photos showing “groovy” people having fun playing the games. Also interspersed between sections are a number of essays about gaming and the movement. The games are a reaction against very competitive sports and are very much a product of the hippy movement. The games are non-violent and many are more like activities as they don’t have winners or losers. They also introduce the concept of a player-referee whose job it is to explain how the game works whilst taking part.

Overall – fun book full of fun sounding games

May 1, 2012, 10:50am Top

To rule this broken Earth Joseph Garraty

Very Good

Post-apocalyptic epic fantasy

At some point in the past there was “the Fall” and humanity is much reduced and avoids the old cities. In this new age the land itself is chaotic and shifting and without the well marked roads people are apt to get very lost and the various rulers of this post-apocalyptic world are all wizards. Dave has a talent though that he can navigate off road and always know where he’s going and therefore makes a living as a courier. When he rescues a priest on the run from a warlord wizard he is drawn into a conflict that seems to escalate beyond anyone’s control.

Garraty has created an interesting world albeit one where the characters are called Dave, Jeremy, Patricia etc and the action takes place in Minneapolis (although I guess properly in New Minneapolis as there is an Old Minneapolis) which is a little jarring for such an epic fantasy. However the book grips you from the get go and is a bit of a page turner, I found myself going “just one more chapter” and finding that I read it in very few large bites. The character’s are well drawn and my usual gripe with epic fantasy being a little too black and white was alleviated in that most of the characters were painted in shades of grey (although there is one “pure evil” character whose motivations are not really explored).

Although we are in a world where magic very much exists and there may be strange creatures in the borderlands and the deeplands this is very much fantasy at a human scale which is what I prefer. Having read and loved the price I really do now need to get round to reading his other works as detailed on the author’s website here http://www.josephgarraty.com/. Definitely an author to watch and a surprise that he hasn’t been snapped up by a publisher like Angry Robot.

Overall – swords, sorcery, black humour, interesting characters and a well told tale

May 1, 2012, 4:48pm Top

You and Claire had already put The Price on my wishlist so it sounds like Joseph Garraty is an author to keep an eye out for.

May 1, 2012, 6:12pm Top

Loved the guerilla library! Making note of Joseph Garraty - again.

May 1, 2012, 11:23pm Top

I like when characters in a fantasy novel are named things like Dave and Jeremy! We've all read those fantasy books where the characters have names like G'rsshh-ma'gath, and how do you pronounce that? OK, from now on I'll call that character Bob.

May 2, 2012, 12:27am Top

So many interesting reviews, I've made a note of 5 or 6 books at least. I found The Hare with Amber Eyes rather dull too, I made it to about the 30pg mark before giving up.

May 2, 2012, 2:37am Top

113 yes your right give me pronounceable names any day!

114 I made it a bit further but only because someone gave me the book as they loved it and I kept expecting it to get better...

May 2, 2012, 4:40am Top

> 115 Except for a day when you're reading Lovecraft, yes? ;-P

May 2, 2012, 5:10am Top

you mean you can't pronounce Lovecraftian names? ;-)

May 8, 2012, 9:18am Top

survivors: The animals and plants that time has left behind Richard Fortey

Very Good

Fortey searches out the plants and animals that have survived the great extinction events and continue, mostly unchanged, into the modern world

This book accompanies a TV series where Fortey goes to see the survivors in the flesh. Fortey writes with intelligence and humour on all of the creatures he goes to examine, from algal mats in Australia to Horseshoe crabs in the States. Along the way, although Fortey says he wanted to write a book as a naturalist and not a palaeontologist, you get lots of insight into the fossil record and how the creatures fit into the “tree of life”. It’s all fascinating stuff, with each creature has a short biography and in the end we basically explore the story of life itself. Considering Fortey also wrote a book called life: an unauthorised biography it’s obviously a story he knows a bit about. Of course he can’t resist putting his favourite creatures, the trilobites and ammonites, in the story even if they didn’t survive until today.. Also of some amusement, is Fortey is also keen to chomp down on some of the critters he goes to meet as a way of “tasting the pre-Cambrian” for example.

Overall – Fascinating science/travel writing

May 8, 2012, 9:19am Top

Siren rising James R Blandford


Biography of PJ Harvey

Harvey is a famously reclusive rock star who likes to keep her personal life private so there’s actually slim pickings here for Blandford. He is a music journo though and does examine her musical output in great depth from early days in automatic dlamini to the PJ Harvey band to the solo career. The book was written in the mid-2000’s so obviously is only half the story. Although very readable it’s a bit like reading a series of long album reviews.

Overall – suffers from being unauthorised as a biography, gushing reviews of her music also show that Blandford is less than unbiased as well.

May 8, 2012, 9:19am Top

The Blind Giant Nick Harkaway



Nick Harkaway was asked to write a book about how to be human in the digital age – this is it.

Harkaway’s blog has this to say about the book – which in no way could I give a better précis

It’s a slice through a dozen things I think are going on, currents in the general mishmash of the world. There’s a discussion of the London riots, the revolutions of the Arab Spring, the nature of deindividuation; there’s some brief stuff about the publishing industry and how it’s maybe a microcosm of UK politics. It’s a huge canvass embracing any number of fields and disciplines of which I am not a master. It is speculative rather than safe, and I already know I’ve made mistakes. What I hope, though, is that people will embrace the attempt rather than find reasons to decry the inevitable screw-ups: I hope I’m wrong in interesting ways.

It really is very interesting and what’s obvious is Nick Harkaway is a very intelligent man who has thought a lot about this stuff. Looking at future possibilities, bleeding edge stuff and technology that is available now and asking interesting questions and making incisive comments. Obviously having read and loved angelmaker and the gone away world I knew he could write fiction but he is just one of those people who knows how to put one word after another in such a way that creates hugely readable text.

Overall - This is important stuff, excellently written commentary.

May 8, 2012, 1:41pm Top

Lots of interesting books and great reviews since I've been here last!

I'd heard that there is a book "predicting" the sinking of the Titanic. Very interesting!

May 9, 2012, 2:36am Top

Fortey is definitely on my list of authors to try, thanks!

May 10, 2012, 6:53am Top

pathfinders: The golden age of Arabic science Jim Al Khalili

Very Good

Al Khalili gives short biographies of the many scientists of the Arabic world in the “golden age” (when the Arabic world stretched from Spain to central Asia)

I’ve always heard it said that during the “dark ages” in Europe the Arabic world was where civilisation was really happening and Al Khalili really shows that it wasn’t really a dark age at all. The common thought from a Eurocentric point of view is that there wasn’t much between the Greeks and the Renaissance. This book shows that there was a flowering of Arabic science (and he explains that he uses the word Arabic to denote the fact that the language science was written in was Arabic during this age not that it was all done by “Arabs”) following a translation movement in Bhagdad in the 700’s. This translation movement took in most of the knowledge of the Greeks, Egyptians etc and then built upon it. Al Khalili is engaging but I found his mini biographies of the many great scientists in this story almost too brief. He does do what he sets out to do which is show that a second set of translations (after the re-conquest of Spain) basically meant that European science was built on the Arabic sciences but I really wanted to know more about the lives and works of the scientists he discusses. This is a minor gripe however as this book is a great introduction to the topic and he doesn’t attempt to discuss either the scientists or the science in any great depth. Along the way we see Bhagdad through Al Khalili’s eyes (he grew up there but left due to Saddam) and he spends some time discussing both the rise of Islam in the Arabic world and the state of science in the modern Arabic nations.

Overall – Like The Crusades through Arab eyes an important and fascinating book from a non-western perspective.

May 10, 2012, 6:53am Top

Turing’s cathedral George Dyson


The story about the start of the “digital universe” in the very earliest days of modern computing during and after WW2

Dyson has to hand a vast amount of material and is determined to pass as much as possible to the reader. This should have been a fascinating story with the start of digital computing, the story of the Institute of Advanced Studies, early mathematical modelling of ecosystems, meteorology, nuclear explosions and the life cycle of stars. Involving John Von Neuman, Godel, Einstein, Freeman Dyson (the author’s father), Nils Barricelli, Alan Turing and many other famous pioneers in mathematics, physics, computing etc. However Dyson’s prose is dense and dry and he spends a lot of time concentrating on detail that adds nothing to the “story” he wants to tell. For example did it really need a whole chapter to explain how John Von Neumann met his wife – did this add to the story of how the computer at Princeton was built? Well not hugely except perhaps explain the genesis of “Monte Carlo” statistical techniques. However he could have done this in a paragraph. Similarly he spent a chapter discussing how Princeton evolved going all the way back to where its located which Indian tribes used to live there, William Penn etc etc. In addition Turing is in fact a very minor character in the book which focuses much more on Von Neumann, so a strange title to choose. However its not all bad, there is actually some really interesting stuff in here if your prepared to dig for it. Lots of really interesting characters here and good (but intense!) detail about the early computers & science although Dyson does assume that he need not explain any mathematical, scientific or engineering concepts at all.

Overall - Having been given unprecedented access to original archives you cant help but feel that it would have been better if it had been placed in a better author’s hands.

May 10, 2012, 11:36am Top

I don't touch much non-fiction in my reading usually but might have to make an exception for the Harkaway effort. Shame that the Polly Jean bio wasn't up to scratch though.

May 10, 2012, 5:01pm Top

Pathfinders sounds interesting. It makes sense that the dark ages didn't cover the whole world, and shows how skewed a lot of history-as-taught is. Great review.

May 11, 2012, 3:59am Top

>125 AHS-Wolfy: really recommend it, PJ bio was OK just wasn't a good bio!

>126 cammykitty: he also mentions that interesting stuff was happening in places like India, China etc but they were outside the scope of the book....

May 13, 2012, 2:26pm Top

Catching up...that guerilla library makes me wish I lived in NYC.

May 14, 2012, 8:26am Top

@128 and me or was better with carpentry and so could do it here!

May 14, 2012, 8:26am Top

the anarchistic colossus A.E. Van Vogt


SF from the 70’s set in the 2100’s with the Earth imminent for invasion

Wow where to start on how bad this is – incredibly clunky exposition, poorly developed characters, cringeworthy dialogue, a world that didn’t make much sense, unbelievable aliens etc. Van Vogt starts with the premise that Kirlian computers (remember Kirlian photography in the 70’s – the whole thing about being able to photograph auras? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kirlian_photography ) can control the populace as any aggressive/criminal (heretical) move would be punished immediately by the computers by zapping the offenders. It’s a society operating totally on anarchistic principals but the way the society is explained is from the point of view of an alien spy who doesn’t understand how it works – and therefore I also didn’t understand what the hell Van Vogt was talking about despite his human characters saying things like “An anarchistic society is really the best way to run things kids”. The alien force captures a fleet of Earth spaceships, wipes the memories of everyone involved and implants the memory that they won a war and then prepare to destroy the Earth for pleasure. I did the usual 50 page rule and sighed with relief when abandoning this.

Overall – avoid at all costs

May 14, 2012, 8:27am Top

need to catch up on other people's threads and write my monthly wrap up...

May 14, 2012, 9:35am Top

As previously explained I'm doing 12th to 12th aiming to finish on 12/12/12 so started on 12/12/11

# books read 85

# fiction 54
# non-fiction 31
# male writers 72
# female writers 13
# Unfinished 2
# Poor 0
# Average 19
# Very Good 39
# Brilliant 23

# uncategorized 2

categories so far

12 days of christmas = 15
It's in the cards = 3
12 Angry men = 8
12 Hours on a clock, 12 months in a year = 3
12 stars in the flag of Europe = 4
12 Olympian gods = 5
12 Caesers = 4
Doomsday clock = 3
1912 = 8
Baker's Dozen = 25 (8 novels)
Life, the Universe and Everything = 8
12 signs of the zodiac = 0

I've decided that Baker's dozen can go over 12 but only due to the fact that its where graphic novels will live...

Dec = 14
Jan = 18
Feb = 10
Mar = 28 (although 12 of these were graphic novels)
Apr = 15

hmm 1 category (signs of the zodiac) still with 0 books - must remedy that soon!

I could "stick" on 5 categories, have 3 (4) which I need to go to 12 on and 1 I've not started yet!

May 14, 2012, 6:12pm Top

>130 psutto: Is that a skull and crossbones on Voigt's whole production? Sounds like the style itself is rather horrid - beyond this one book. Have you read anything else by him?

May 14, 2012, 8:29pm Top

Great progress so far! I'm also having trouble keeping my categories balanced.

May 15, 2012, 4:04am Top

@130, thanks for finding a clunker so the rest of us don't have to.

May 15, 2012, 7:25am Top

>133 GingerbreadMan: I'm not sure if its just this one book as Vogt wrote a lot of books and this one was near the end of his career - he wrote over 30 books before this one and only 6 after it. maybe it was a blip? maybe it was an experiment? I'm not keen to try another for a while, although he was supposed to be a big influence on PK Dick

looking at his wikipedia entry I note "Critical opinion about the quality of van Vogt's work has been sharply divided."

and quote from Damon Knight:

In general van Vogt seems to me to fail consistently as a writer in these elementary ways: 1. His plots do not bear examination. 2. His choice of words and his sentence-structure are fumbling and insensitive. 3. He is unable either to visualize a scene or to make a character seem real.

May 15, 2012, 7:26am Top

choker volume 1 Ben Templesmith & Ben McCool

Very Good

John Jackson is an ex-cop P.I. in Shotgun City and when one of his busts breaks out of prison he’s offered a way back into the force: re-capture the escapee.

Templesmith’s art is instantly recognisable and blends brilliantly with McCool’s words. Brilliantly twisted and reminiscent of both Warren Ellis and Templesmith’s previous Gentlemen Corpse series. The pair pull no punches and it is all pretty explicit including drugged up cannibalism, seedy sex scenes (channelling Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror methinks) and an overly corrupt setting. The plot in this first volume is a little derivative but I’ll leave the last words to Templesmith himself "I think people who liked 'Fell' and could put up with my art will probably really dig the book, and fans of 'Wormwood' will also see shades of things in it too, I'm guessing," Templesmith added. "Also, if you don't buy it, I might come around and eat your dog."

Overall – recommended for fans of Templesmith and not those with a nervous disposition…

May 15, 2012, 7:27am Top

three messages and a warning Various

Great collection of Mexican tales. They are all pretty good but a few stand out above the rest especially "Photophobia". I got this via ER and have taken a really long time to read it having just read the stories as and when I could at work lunch times.

May 15, 2012, 9:52am Top

Wow.... 87 books read is fantastic! I have been pretty good lately at dodging book bullets for the last few reviews but I know as some point I will be hit by another one. ;-)

May 15, 2012, 9:54am Top

Survivors: The animals and plants that time has left behind looks fascinating. I'll have to see if my library has a copy of it! Thanks for the reviews!

May 15, 2012, 10:01am Top

>136 psutto: Soo, unable to write story, no style and bad charecterization. Seem three very minor flaws to me. I'll rush out and buy everything the man's ever written.

May 15, 2012, 10:30am Top

@139 - I did start in December and a fair number are graphic novels but I think I'm ahead of what I was last year

I've done a fair bit of non-fiction recently but have some fiction on the shelf I'll get round to soon

@141 - I know thats when I thought that perhaps I'd avoid him altogether - looks like Phillip K Dick took some of his ideas and made them into readable books...

I was thinking of doing a PKD category for next year but reading one for tasters this year - any PKD fans with recommendations?

May 15, 2012, 10:43am Top

Maybe he's awesome at world-building?

May 16, 2012, 10:16am Top

A tragic night remembered Titanic 100 years Guy Foster


100 years on Guy Foster collects the stories of those that lived through the tragedy. Problem is that he has no eye for how to collect these stories together, can't spell and makes the most basic grammatical errors (Effect/Affect being just one of my bugbears that he constantly mixed up). I started off reading it, then I started skipping his bits and just reading the survivors accounts then I put it down meaning to come back to it. Since this was a TIOLI read for April (has April in the subtitle) and I haven't revisited it in over a month and have no interest to I reckon its safe to say I won't be finishing this one.

Overall - Just because its an e-book doesn't mean it shouldn't be proof-read!

May 16, 2012, 10:17am Top

May 16, 2012, 6:45pm Top

> 144 - WOW, I will definitely avoid that one!

May 17, 2012, 5:10am Top

I'm going to be involved in the bristol Literature Festival this year


and have created a venue here -


and will be adding details as I get them - would be great to see some LTers there :-)

May 22, 2012, 4:26am Top

heliopolis James Scudamore

Very Good

Adopted son of a wealthy supermarket owner ponders life in Sao Paulo

We follow Ludo as narrator who was born in Heliopolis a shantytown in Sao Paulo and who was rescued by the wife of rich supermarket owner. We get to see a few days in his life interspersed with his memories of his life leading to this point and ponderings on the nature of the society he lives in and his relationship with his adoptive sister, brother-in-law and both his adoptive parents and his biological mother. The writing thoroughly gives you a sense of place both in the rich (who fly everywhere by helicopter not deigning to come down to street level) and the Favelas here. Although the “plot” is very familiar territory - problems of the past coming home to roost in the narrative of today. There is also some reliance on major coincidences that stretch the suspension of disbelief to breaking point.

Overall – A very enjoyable and quick read but not sure why it was nominated for the Booker

May 23, 2012, 9:33am Top

utz bruce chatwin

Very good

Novella about a Czech porcelain collector

I’ve been wanting to read Chatwin for a while so when I saw this novella in a 2nd hand book shop I had to buy it. I want to read Chatwin even more after this taster as he has woven a story of some depth in a short number of pages. The life of Kaspar Utz, a Czech collector of porcelain, is examined by an un-named narrator (possibly even Chatwin himself?) after a meeting in communist Prague. We find that Utz is given leave to travel across the Iron Curtain but keeps returning to Prague, is it the porcelain that draws him back or love (of his country and of a woman)?

Overall – Great writing, interesting setting, intriguing plot

May 23, 2012, 9:34am Top

42 Deep thought on life the universe and everything Mark Vernon


42 philosophical musings

Mark Vernon sets out to have pithy short pieces on Life, the universe and everything. Mixing some short musings on what the classic philosophers thought with some more modern thinking he covers areas of life and death. Each of the 42 pieces is short, perhaps 2-3 pages tops and this is both a strength and the main drawback. A strength in that if you didn’t enjoy a piece it was over quickly, a drawback in that the vast majority of the pieces were too short to explore the theme. Did I learn anything? No, was I entertained? Slightly, would I recommend it? nope

Overall – mostly disappointing and very forgettable

May 23, 2012, 9:34am Top

the woodcutter Reginald Hill

Very good

Mystery/thriller set in Cumbria

Sir Wilfred (Wolf) Hadda is woken up by a police raid on his house for fraud and child pornography. He is sent to prison and develops a relationship with his psychiatrist which eventually leads to his release. Told through a series of journals Hadda writes explaining his life to the psychiatrist, flashbacks and later as a thriller this is a well written book. I did have a couple of problems with it though. The characters are not very real to life, the various twists and turns stretch credulity and its really quite long (over 500 pages) despite that though I found myself enjoying the read.

Overall – enjoyable enough romp

Edited: May 23, 2012, 9:39am Top

dark mountain: issue 1 Various

Collected short stories, essays, poems and pictures from the dark mountain movement http://dark-mountain.net/

Wind farms or no wind farms, the world we have known is coming to an end. To those who accuse us of wanting to overthrow this civilization, we might respond: why would we bother?

The Dark Mountain collection start with the premise that the environmental movement has failed (the reasons why and impacts of the failure are explored in some of the essays within) and the world, as we know it, is coming to an end. However just because the world as we know it is coming to an end it doesn’t mean the world is coming to an end and they explore a concept of “uncivilsation” (as a kind of post-urbanism, post-human future). The stories, poems and essays explore this concept and on the whole the contributions are of high quality. Whether I agree with their analysis, or conclusions is a matter I’m still in two minds about (a post peak oil crash is certainly a possibility but Dark Mountain seems a little too pessimistic, however predicting the future is always difficult). In this age of collapsarianism and eco-doom (both ecomony and ecological) their brand of thinking may perhaps just be part of the zeitgeist or could be truly prescient.

Overall – interesting and thought provoking, will be following with issue 2 soon and see that issue 3 is due out in August…

May 26, 2012, 9:31pm Top

Getting caught up here and notice you have been reading an interesting mix of books. utz looks good and I was surprised to see that my local library has a copy! Yay!

As for heliopolis and its nomination for a Booker, I have learned that the Booker prize tends to add a rather unusual mix of books as long list candidates that to this day continues to baffle me, along with some of their choices for winners. *sighs*

May 28, 2012, 5:07am Top

@153 - hope you enjoy Utz!

May 28, 2012, 5:22am Top

I really enjoyed Utz as well, have also gone on to enjoy The Songlines. Now I have to try something by Nick Harkaway, especially when you say his second book was brilliant.

May 28, 2012, 5:29am Top

both his fiction books are brilliant :-)

May 29, 2012, 12:30am Top

I'm supposed to be doing a panel on Three Messages and a Warning but neither John or I have written up the official panel blurb -oops! It's getting late. Glad you liked it. I haven't read it yet and was worried that it would be of inconsistent quality.

As for Von Vogt, being a big influence on PKD doesn't mean he was good!!! A lot of the Golden Age SF authors were awful! People ate up what they wrote anyway. Some of the more famous ones bragged about never editing their work, and you can tell.

Kirlian photography! I wrote a term paper on that. Believed it too! Now I know how it worked - electricity through various gases or even liquids make colors, and if you don't clean your photographic plate off... oooooo, look at that phantom leaf! ... and I haven't read Vogt. I can't tell you if the other books were better.

May 29, 2012, 9:57am Top

@157 - pretty high quality for three messages :-)

May 29, 2012, 9:57am Top

the lost world Arthur Conan Doyle

Very Good

Classic tale of an expedition to the Amazon where a prehistoric leftover is found

Conan Doyle tells a tale that is a classic of its genre. Explorers find a plateau deep in the Amazon jungle that is cut off from the world around it and where prehistoric creatures like dinosaurs exist. Doyle spends a lot of time setting up the characters in this short book before plunging them into adventure. Doyle knows his craft and the book proceeds at a good pace with humour.

Overall – An entertaining and short book

May 29, 2012, 9:58am Top

rogue male Geoffrey Household

Very Good

Classic adventure tale from the 1930’s

An English “sporting man” (i.e. hunter) takes a holiday to an un-named Eastern European country where he undertakes a sporting exercise to get the leader of the country in his gun sight. He is caught, tortured and disposed of in an accident, although he survives the bodged accident attempt and escapes back to England where he continues to be hunted. This is a man hunt/survivalist tale told in first person including great details on the lengths our protagonist goes to stay in hiding. A tense and suspenseful game of wits forms between our narrator and his hunters making the second half of the book really gripping.

Overall – interesting psychological thriller

May 29, 2012, 9:58am Top

the end of time: Faith and Fear Damian Thompson


Scholarly exploration of millennialism across the ages written during the “pre-millenial tension” of the late 90’s

Thompson spends half of the book exploring the historical and the second half looking at some more recent apocalyptic cults. For example how did Christians approach the year 1000? Thompson avers that the vast majority wouldn’t have known it was the year 1000. Investigating religion, philosophy, our perception of time and the mania for wanting to live in the end times Thompson does an admirable job of thoroughly exploring its theme. The (more interesting) second half deals with South Korea (which having been there seemed very contrary to my experiences so was probably out of date information) Aum Shinrikyo, Waco and my version had a “new appendix” on Heaven’s Gate.

Overall – a bit too dry and scholarly for my tastes but full of fascinating facts

May 29, 2012, 9:59am Top

Baggage Etherington brothers


A whole comic told about a search for the owner of some lost baggage

Not much to say about this one. We are in a world where anthropomorphic animals live in a big city and our “hero” is a lost baggage attendant at a train station. His boss tells him that he needs to find the owner of the oldest piece of baggage or he will lose his job. What follows is a series of absurdist adventures with a cast of odd ball characters following clues conveniently glued onto the suitcase (like membership of an exclusive sporting club label). In the vein of say Asterix & Obelisk perhaps this just didn’t do anything for me & perhaps is aimed at younger readers. The art is very good but plot, characters etc just weren’t for me.

Overall - Best avoided unless you’re a fan of absurdist slapstick

May 30, 2012, 7:00am Top

is it wrong that I'm already putting serious thought into planning my 13/13?

May 30, 2012, 9:06am Top

haha no... I've already got categories planned...

May 30, 2012, 10:10am Top

And I keep coming up with clever category names (which I will have forgotten by the end of the year).

May 30, 2012, 1:11pm Top

I've got a few categories and themes in the works!

May 30, 2012, 5:26pm Top

I've got my 13-13 categories already planned too.

May 30, 2012, 6:11pm Top

I've got most of my categories planned. I guess this just shows what bookaholics we all are!

May 30, 2012, 7:58pm Top

You're doing very well in the challenge - congrats!!!

->100 psutto:
The Adams book is on the wishlist! I did watch the TV-series while I was in Sweden - brilliant!! Fry laughing like a drain at Carwardine getting shagged by a parrot was hilarious. (Yes, I am very childish.)

May 30, 2012, 9:50pm Top

Ok, I just watched that & it's funny. Also, the kakapo is amazingly winsome, if singleminded.

May 31, 2012, 3:45am Top

The Kakapo is my favourite native bird, and that video makes me laugh every time :-)

The only planning I've done for the 13 in 13 is that I'm considering a move to the 75ers - 13 categories is starting to seem a bit of a stretch for me, let alone trying to figure out the number of books/category.

May 31, 2012, 4:24am Top

I was thinking at some point we will just have to be called "The Category Challenge" and let anarchy rain ;-) Maybe that time is next year.. I can probably do up to 15 but then its going to really difficult!

May 31, 2012, 5:11am Top

Reading the book Mark Carwardine was in real pain during the Kakapo incident!

it would be sad to see anyone put off by the number of categories!

May 31, 2012, 11:18am Top

Should we open up a discussion about next year? We should give ourselves plenty of time to come to an agreement. I would be equally fine with 13 categories or a more general category challenge, but some may have strong opinions and we'll want time to listen to everyone. I remember the year it was decided that you didn't have to read a specific number of books in each category -- we lost people who were in it for the competition -- and some were upset. I'd like to have us all decide together and work to not lose participants.

Edited: May 31, 2012, 11:25am Top

sounds like a good idea

I'll start a thread

May 31, 2012, 5:43pm Top

>163 psutto: I have an oh-so-witty theme for my category names. And at least half of them pretty well worked out...
>175 psutto: Off to find that thread!

Jun 1, 2012, 3:36am Top

Also off to find the thread, I do really like the category idea.

>174 RidgewayGirl: Seriously, people left the challenge because of the number of books in a category?!

Jun 1, 2012, 4:57am Top

174&177 - I agree with Kiwi! Why would that matter? Maybe we should start a 1000 books in a year challenge for those people. Count me out of that one!

Baggage ??? What an odd plot.

Jun 1, 2012, 11:42am Top

@178 they were doing a book deal at the comics fair I went to and I sadly bought two of heir books, not sure I'll read the other one... It's an odd book

Jun 1, 2012, 11:52am Top

Advice required - I'm going on a business trip soon (to Tampere Finland) which will involve getting a train followed by a plane followed by another train for a total travel time (including sitting around in airport) of around 8 hours each way- obviously I am planning on making that time go quicker by reading but do I take a doorstop of a book like gormenghast trilogy perhaps or the Alexandria quartet or do I take several smaller books? I'll be there for a few nights which I'll probably read for a bit too.

I'm also debating getting an e book reader which would cut down on lugging lots of books around but still leaves some non-reading time on planes and means I'd probably still take a book...

Edited: Jun 1, 2012, 2:32pm Top

the e-reader is a must IMO (and most have a plane-safe mode that you can turn on while flying). That way you can read whatever you're in the mood for ... I find that when travelling I'm often far too distracted to concentrate on a doorstopper like the Gormenghast trilogy or whatever. I always have good intentions ... you know, what a great opportunity to read something long and/or dense since I have all that uninterrupted time ... but then I find I'm not really into what I've brought, and then where are you?

On the other hand ... memorable travel reads include The Winds of War (way back when I was young and travelling to Europe), The Alienist, and A Soldier of the Great War ... long dense reads all of them. Odd isn't it how we remember books that we read while travelling?


Edited: Jun 1, 2012, 4:36pm Top

For me, the best train/plane/bus/tube reads tend to be fairly light (can be doorstopper thick, but not too complex) - something where the plot drags you in and makes you forget hubbub that goes on around you. Ereader is a great idea, but you do have to have it turned off at take-off and landing, regardless if it has an airplane mode or not (the staff cannot walk around and make sure that all electronic devices are set to airplane mode, so they make you turn off all electronics). Have fun in Finland!!!!!

Jun 1, 2012, 3:41pm Top

Several paperbacks is my recommendation. A variety of titles and genres. Something challenging, something extremely light and a few more in between should do. Imagine caught somewhere with no books to read! An e-reader is a good idea. Don't forget the charger and bring a back up paper book (or two).

Jun 1, 2012, 3:47pm Top

#180 - I don't have much advice, but I got an e-reader for Christmas and I'll be taking my first plane trip (since having an ereader) this month. My first thought was Oh my gosh! If I just bring the e-reader, what do I read at the beginning and end of the flight?! It's good to know others are as neurotic as I am about reading time :)

Edited: Jun 1, 2012, 4:33pm Top

Take a selection of books rather than just a doorstopper.because there's always a chance that a) you'll love the book so much that you race through the 1000 odd pages in less time than you thought, or b) you find you're not in the 'mood' for the book.
E-readers seem to be the way to go for travelling, my daughter picked up a cheap kindle on ebay.uk a couple of months ago before she came out to NZ.

Jun 1, 2012, 5:00pm Top

Hmm in two minds now either kindle (oe similar) or doorstop per plus a slimmer book...

Jun 1, 2012, 10:30pm Top

Joining the traveling reading discussion and while I have an e-reader and have now added audiobooks to my reading/listening, I find that I still read physical books when traveling. I find it is easier to manage a book in hand - and I use the book as the storage place for my boarding pass until I need to present it! - then fiddle with an electronic device. I know, in some ways I am still old school.......;-)

My last trip I traveled with Love in the Time of Cholera and 2666 so I would say travel with what you are pretty confident will keep your interest or else take a mixed selection of slimmer books along.

Jun 5, 2012, 4:56pm Top

Oy. Personally, I would take one larger and two smaller books, but I don't have an e-reader. A friend of mine got one (she travels out of the country for work several times a year) and says she can't imagine travelling without it. She does bring along a few physical books as well, I might add. I'm a big fan of audiobooks (thanks for mentioning, Lori!), and those are always nice.

I started planning my 13/13 categories at the end of last year when I was planning this year's list. Safe to say I'm a book nerd!

Jun 5, 2012, 5:32pm Top

Last trip I did e-reader plus a magazine for ascent and descent. I like serious books for traveling--but it's always good to have a variety.

Jun 6, 2012, 8:29am Top

I'm a bit dubious about getting an e-reader except they make so much sense when travelling...

Almost made up my mind to get one but then next decision is which one? Kindle, Nook or Sony?

Jun 6, 2012, 8:33am Top

I have a Nook and I love it. But I notice that obscure books are more likely to be available in Kindle than in Nook, and Kindle books are sometimes cheaper. I'm happy with my Nook because it supports a physical book store though! :)

Jun 6, 2012, 10:06am Top

I like my kindle fire. It's like a very basic tablet and is great for emergency child entertainment purposes. Although they both have books they are currently reading on my kindle, so we have all decided to stick to paper books for them to avoid conflict. What I like is that it's small and sturdy enough to live in my purse without becoming creased and crumpled.

Jun 6, 2012, 10:31am Top

Unfortunately kindle fire isn't available in UK...

Jun 6, 2012, 12:05pm Top

I got a Nook because you could borrow books from the library on it. The Kindle now has that feature here in the US as well, but not in Sweden and I can still borrow books from my Swedish library on the Nook. That and wanting to support a physical store were the things that tipped the scale - they're very similar otherwise as far as I can tell. But Amazon is taking over the world, so maybe they're a better bet in the long run. :)

Jun 6, 2012, 9:52pm Top

Pete - The only word of caution I can add to this discussion is take the time to analyze your reading needs and see which e-reader device meets that need best. What device lets you download library books from your library system, which one seems to offer more selection of books for download for you - this can be important as I remember following various discussions in Canada about the difference in book selections available for download for kindle (via the amazon.ca site) and the kobo (Chapters/indigo's own kindle - an Canadian bookstore chain). Canadians cannot download from the Amazon.com website and I am guessing the same probably holds true for UK residents.

Jun 7, 2012, 5:08am Top

Can you buy an ereader when a worried girlfriend can impose a book buying limit in case someone gets carried away and bankrupts us :)

Jun 7, 2012, 5:58am Top

When it comes to e-readers, I've always had the inclination to wait and see which format prevails. So that I don't end up with the e-reader equivalent of Betamax or minidisc....Or does anyone see a merge of formats happening in the near future? So that any download could be read on any reader? (As with PC and Mac for instance).

Jun 7, 2012, 1:36pm Top

->196 clfisha:
Change the password and don't tell him what it is.... :)

Jun 8, 2012, 11:25am Top

@196 & 198 I am shocked!

@197 - pretty much what I've decided is to wait and see, I may buy an ipad or other tablet and just use an app! however for the trip next week I'm going to listen to an audiobook why does E=MC2 and why should we care which I have a little trepidation on as I'll no doubt have problems if I want to skip back for understanding...

I'm falling way behind on reviews so will try to catch up soon!!

Edited: Jun 26, 2012, 10:16am Top

been able to finally catch up on the threads on 12/12 on LT today which is good

Edited: Jun 26, 2012, 10:15am Top

having been away for two weeks I am now catching up - some reviews to follow

Edited: Jun 26, 2012, 11:53am Top

incognito David Eagleman

Very Good

Popular neuroscience

Eagleman writes an always interesting overview of the latest thinking in, well, thinking. Eagleman covers a host of examples to underline his main points that the brain is a team of rivals (instincts/subconscious and the “me” acting like CEO). It seems our intuition about how our brains work is just wrong and how it all works is plain weirder. He covers what some cases of brain damage tell us as well as the concept of neuroplasticity, free will and how neuroscience could be used to revolutionise the criminal justice system.

Overall – thought provoking and entertaining

Jun 26, 2012, 11:54am Top

the self illusion Bruce Hood

Very Good

Popular neuroscience

Would it be unfair to call Hood the English Eagleman? His book does have a nod to Eagleman in it and explores some of the same territory as incognito. Who or what is the “I” in “I think therefore I am” the surprising conclusion is that it seems like its an illusion. We are our memories and experiences which is semi-obvious I guess but what exactly is memory? Hood is a developmental neuroscientist and covers how our brains “grow up” brilliantly explaining studies of how babies think and how our sense of self develops.

Overall – Always interesting look at some of the big questions in neuroscience

Jun 26, 2012, 11:55am Top

the waterproof bible Andrew Kaufman

Very Good

Quirky relationships story

"The only difference between a happy ending and a sad ending is where you decide the story ends."

Rebecca cant help but transmit her feelings but learns how to trap them in objects which she puts into storage. Aberystwyth is an aquatic (green, gills etc.) who is travelling across the land to seek her mother for religious reasons. Lewis is married to Lisa, Rebecca’s sister who has recently died and meets a woman who professes to be god. Stewart is Rebecca’s husband who left her three years ago and has been building a boat whilst waiting for his wife to call. The book explores each of their emotional/spiritual journeys and relationships. It can come across as just a shade too twee and quirky (magical realism just because) for quirkiness sake however the writing just about saves it from itself.

Overall – A short and enjoyable read

Jun 26, 2012, 11:55am Top

letters from Skokholm R.M. Lockley

Lockley, his wife and daughter live on a remote island off the Pembrokeshire coast of Wales living a dream of being close to nature and making a living from sheep. When war breaks out in 1939 it is a matter of time before the island is needed for other purposes and the dream life has to come to an end. Lockley writes a series of letters to his brother-in-law who has been captured by the Germans and is languishing in a prisoner of war camp. The letters are a little artificial and are really a literary device by the author. However it is Lockley’s love of nature that comes across so clearly in his descriptions of the plants and animals on his island. Another book that you should read the introduction at the end though! Lots of bird details (I’m not a twitcher but can appreciate that Lockley had a passion for them) and some repetition mean that this is better as a book to dip into than read all in one go I think.

Overall – engaging nature writing

Edited: Jun 26, 2012, 11:57am Top

the islands Carlos Gamerro


A vet from the Falklands war turned hacker/detective is hired by a rich entrepreneur

"Argentina is an erect prick ready to breed, and the Malvinas, its balls. When we recover them, fertility shall return to our lands."

Felipe Felix is our protagonist who is trying very hard to forget the war but finds that the war is very much a part of his next case. He is hired to track down members of a pyramid scheme who were witnesses to the son of entrepreneur Tamerlán murdering someone by throwing them off the top of a office block. In turns scatologically surreal, a harrowing depiction of a senseless war and a missing person style investigation of a strange Buenos Aires peopled by broken characters all of whom are in some way connected with the war. Where Gamerro succeeds is in the “real”, where he fails is in the humour (although perhaps its just because its not to my taste – over the top absurdist and slapstick) and the surreal “naked lunch” style moments. Gamerro uses the book to muse upon the Argentine’s obsession with the war, the absurdity of the war and upon the Junta and its torturers.

Overall – There is a lot to like about this book but some elements for me just didn’t work which dropped it to an average rating.

9 reviews to go to catch up….!

Edited: Jun 27, 2012, 6:33am Top

As well as being totally behind on book reviews I'm also remiss on the mini-reviews for the weird compendium so here goes:

The Other Side of the Mountain - Michael Bernanos - Very Good - surreal and weird journey as shipwrecked travellers get very very lost

The Salamander - Merce Rodoreda - Average - forgettable transformation story

The Ghoulbird - Claude Seignolle - Very Good - the bird of the title is like the Banshee of Scottish legend, those who hear its cry receive an omen of doom

The sea was as wet as wet could be - Gahan Wilson - Average - using the Walrus and the carpenter from Lewis Carroll as partial inspiration a group of friends have a party on the beach and weirdness ensues

Don't look now - Daphne Du Maurier - Brilliant - novella length story later made into a film with Donald Sutherland with a couple on vacation in Venice after their daughter's death. They meet a couple of sisters one of whom is supposedly psychic their holiday then takes a strange turn (further convinces me to read more Du Maurier!)

The Hospice - Robert Aickman - Very good - A traveller lost, running out of petrol takes shelter at the hospice of the title, needless to say its not a standard accommodation he finds

It only comes out at night - Dennis Etchison - Very Good - weird horror as a couple on a road trip make a stop in a rest area which leads to unexpected consequences

The psychologist who wouldn't do awful things to rats - James Tiptree Jr - Brilliant - An animal researcher with a conscience conducts experiments with rats

The Beak Doctor - Eric Basso - Very Good - A nameless city is plagued by a strange sleeping sickness and stalked by the beak doctor of the title, creepy and atmospheric tale

My mother - Jamaica Kincaid - Average - transformation story told in simplistic faux mythology style

Sandkings - George R.R. Martin - Brilliant - SF weirdness as a collector of rare animals purchases very odd creatures from a new purveyor of the weird

Window - Bob Leman - Very good - scientists conducting an experiement in telekinesis accidently open a "window" to what they believe is the past when they can view a small house inhabited by a wholesome family

still a very good selection so far - I'm about half way through now and need to read another few stories in June to keep up with my target of 100 pages a month...

Jun 27, 2012, 6:34am Top

and some book reviews

the doors of perception, heaven and hell Aldous Huxley


Huxley writes of his experiences of taking Mescalin

Under controlled conditions Huxley took some Mescalin and then recorded his experiences in this classic of the flower power generation. The band “The Doors” were named after this book. It’s a very short essay with a follow up called Heaven and Hell discussing what Huxley called “Otherness”. Huxley alters his perception so that he gets obsessed with e.g. the creases in his trousers ,i> “Those folds – what a labyrinth of endlessly significant complexity! I was seeing what Adam had seen on the morning of his own creation – the miracle, moment by moment, of naked existence.” but even couched in his excellent prose it still sounded like stoner false enlightenment – “like wow man that’s so deep”.

Overall - Interesting early altered perception writing

Jun 27, 2012, 6:34am Top

in Patagonia Bruce Chatwin

Very Good

Account of Chatwin’s travels in Patagonia in search of a strange beast

Chatwin’s grandmother had a scrap of skin of a strange beast that was brought back from Patagonia by an adventurer. Inspired by his childhood fascination with this scrap of skin Chatwin follows in the steps of the adventurer Charley Milward and travels to Patagonia in search of the truth about the strange beast. Lots of sparse yet enchanting prose later you have learned so much about the history and geography of this region of Arentina and Chile at the bottom of America that you are amazed that it has all happened in less than 200 pages. And yet although framed by Chatwin’s quest it just felt a little bitty and flitted from subject to subject like Darwin, Butch Cassidy, the Yamana language and much more. Luckily he has a list of further reading at the end of the book if his oh so brief introductions to some of the subjects within inspire you to find out more, I know I’ll be tracking some of those books down.

Overall – Highly recommended travel writing if your ever thinking of going to Patagonia

Jun 27, 2012, 6:34am Top

A History of bombing Sven Lindqvist


Unconventional history of aerial bombing

Lindqvist has written a very fascinating book for two reasons. Firstly it is a well researched history of bombing from the first hand grenades thrown from planes to the orgy of bombing undertook in WW2 which culminated in the atomic bombs dropped in Japan and some discussion of the MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) during the cold war. Secondly it is unconventionally structured there are 399 short sections which can either be read chronologically from 1-399 (invention of gunpowder to 1999 – the Swedish publication date) or via 12 themed “entrances”. I chose to read the thematically linked sections as I would chapters in a book but I’m guessing you would have a slightly different experience reading it chronologically – you could also mix and match approaches. I found myself in disagreement sometimes with the ultra pacisifistic approach and some of the analysis seemed overly simplistic (e.g. could the Bristish bomber command really have negotiated with the Nazi’s to stop bombing if the Nazi’s stopped killing Jews? As Lindqvist suggests) but the book is excellently written and should be required reading for both hawks and doves.

Overall – Very recommended excellently put together history

Jun 27, 2012, 6:35am Top

Suite Francais Irene Nemirovsky


Unfinished book about WW2

Nemirovsky planned a 5 part novel about the war and specifically about the invasion and occupation of France. Sadly she only completed 2 of the parts before she was arrested by the French police and sent first to a concentration camp in France and then to Auschwitz where she died. This background makes the posthumously published part particularly poignant especially as the book has several appendices. These include correspondence from Nemirovsky to her publishers as the war progressed as well as the increasingly frantic letters of her husband when she disappears after being transported away from France (her husband was also eventually killed by the Nazis) and the story of how the book was eventually published. The first book was about the fall of France and follows several characters as they flee Paris ahead of the invading German’s approach. The second book is set in small village which shows in microcosm the occupation of France. Both are very good, although the second is better in my opinion, and really explore what real people went through in the war and the every day events and how life goes on even though everything is FUBAR. Obviously it is an unfinished novel although the two books seem very polished and you cant help but wonder what she would have accomplished if things had been different. Since they were not finished and judging purely on how the two books read I gave this 4 stars although taking the whole experience including the appendices pushes it to 5 stars. So on the whole 4 and half.

Overall – poignant and emotionally compelling part finished novel highly recommended

Jun 27, 2012, 6:35am Top

why does E=MC2 (and why should we care) Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw

Very good

I bought this as an audiobook to listen to on flights to and from Finland. Its narrated by Jeff Forshaw who has a strong Mancunian accent (which could be off-putting for non-Brits). The first half of the book explains how Einstein derived this most famous of equations using mathematics no more complicated than Pythagoras’s theorem and the second half deals with why it’s so important. On the whole Cox and Forshaw do a good job of explaining this is terms that an intelligent layman can understand although it was even harder to visualise the maths listening to it. I would like to re-read sections to get some of the more difficult concepts straight but its difficult to skip back audio wise hence why this dropped to Very Good from Brilliant but I would thoroughly recommend the print edition to anyone who is interested in Einstein’s world changing work.

Overall – excellent popularisation of Einstein’s work better as text than audio I suspect

Jun 27, 2012, 6:36am Top

the prince Machiavelli

Very Good

What more can be said about this classic book on statecraft? Not so much by me it seems I found it interesting if a little unengaging but still relevant (and compared quite often with the art of war in that respect). Reading it in the Tuscan countryside gave it a little extra significance.

Overall – rightly held to be a classic

Jun 27, 2012, 9:47pm Top

Can I just say.... WOW.... , you have been busy reading! I need so me time to digest this overload of reading before I will admit to any book bullets. ;-)

Jun 28, 2012, 4:21am Top

That is about a months worth, still behind on 3 reviews too!

Jun 28, 2012, 1:35pm Top

Nice progress! If that's what Finland does to you, I'm booking a ticket right now! :) That The Weird books is racing faster and faster to the top of my wishlist!

Jun 28, 2012, 4:25pm Top

It wasn't all in Finland I was behind on my reviews anyway...

Jun 29, 2012, 7:34pm Top

I read The Prince decades ago in a college course and I was very interested in how he was portrayed in the Showtime series about the Borgias. It's worth a re-read.

Jun 30, 2012, 9:31am Top

You got me with Incognito. Thanks for the review!

Jun 30, 2012, 10:41am Top

I was into Cesare Borgia when I was a kid - What a geek! So I read The Prince when I was a teen. It all made sense, in a brutal sort of way. It was mentioned a lot in Wolf Hall, almost like the background structure.

Jun 30, 2012, 2:46pm Top

Suite Française has been on my list for a while... great list of reading you've reviewed!

Edited: Jul 1, 2012, 4:54pm Top

218 &220 I don't know that much about the Borgias perhaps I should remedy that, keep hearing good things about wolf hall too

@219 your very welcome, I'm just reading his short story collection sum Which I'd also highly recommend

221 it's well worth checking out

Jul 1, 2012, 5:52pm Top

Some great reading, I agree with your comments on Suite Francaise, a wonderful read. I'm putting A history of bombing on my tbr list and pushing In Patagonia up a bit higher in the pile, I've just been there with Gerald Durrell.

Jul 3, 2012, 5:32pm Top

Some great reading as usual, pete! The Weird compendium is so smack right at the top of the wish list it isn't even funny. I held it in my hands a month ago, but it was a soft cover edition that felt very catalogue-y, and it was somewhat battered. So I let it be that time.

>209 psutto: Really liked that book! Chatwin's writing actually reminds me a bit of Judith Schalansky's.
>210 psutto: I've only read one book by Lindqvist - the brilliant Utrota varenda jävel about the history of colonial racism. I think I have A history of bombing somewhere. Can't make sure now though - all the books are in bags, waiting for new shelves...
>211 psutto: Heard all sorts of great things about this one. Will have to read it sometime, no doubt!
>212 psutto: What is it you do, when you're skyrocketing back and forth to Finland of all places?

Edited: Jul 4, 2012, 3:53am Top

I've acquired another Chatwin book since reading in Patagonia 2nd hand bookshops being quite dangerous? I put exterminate all the brutes On my wishlist which I think is the English title of Urota varenda Javel after reading History of bombing.

I work for France Telecom on the mobile side which is why I'm often in Paris, I also work on Nokia equipment hence the trips to Finland and I work with several European operators as well as some North African ones and sometimes visit them hence my trip to Switzerland earlier this year. A few years ago I also did a lot of work with Ericsson which took me to Sweden and Denmark a few times....

Jul 4, 2012, 6:33am Top

moxyland Lauren Beukes

Very Good

Near future gritty urban sci-fi

Beukes zoo city was one of my best reads last year so I had high hopes for this, her debut. I was not disappointed, Beukes has written a very good near future SF. Each capter is told from the point of view of a different character and we have a human advert, an anti-capitalist, a blogger and a corporate employee. Beukes takes a few real world technologies and extrapolates and exaggerates them to create her dystopian vision of South Africa. Everything is paid for with phones, being disconnected is a dreaded punishment, people are sprayed with pheromones that attract genetically altered police dogs etc. Being several different narratives there is a slight disconnect in the story as it evolves but each narrative thread is woven into a multilayered whole. Fizzing with cool ideas this is a slightly less accomplished book than zoo city (better story I feel) but well worth reading. Really looking forward to what she’s going to do next.

Overall – intelligent science fiction dystopia

Jul 4, 2012, 6:33am Top

Pontypool changes everything Tony Burgess

Very Good

Word is virus, semiotics attacks, people eat zombies, categorization is futile

Last night I had terrible dreams I was killing people. When I awoke it took some serious self-examination to convince myself I was not repressing real acts of murder

After watching one of the most intelligent zombie films I’ve seen (Pontypool) I had to read the book. Burgess says that people complained that the film was nothing to do with the book and countered with “the book is nothing to do with the book”. The film does share the central premise and a few character names but isn’t the book put to film although the two are complimentary. Burgess has written a dark metaphorical, symbological, unusual, hard to digest, weird, nasty, intense reading experience. It won’t be to everyone’s tastes as there are some horrific scenes as well as being sometimes a bit obtuse but the effort is worth it. Its split into two parts with the first half being the most experimental and difficult to read and the second being closer to a standard narrative.

Overall - Intense and strange reading experience but worth the effort

Edited: Jul 4, 2012, 6:34am Top

all the king’s men Robert Penn Warren


Pulitzer prize winning fictionalisation of the life of Louisiana’s legendary governor Huey Long

Our narrator is Jack Burden who works for governor Willie Stark and we see the Governor’s career through his eyes in a non-linear narrative. It’s a deeply brooding book with lots to say and Warren says it slowly. The prose is chewy although not through poor word choice. Long descriptions and digressions expand the central story and it took me several days of intense pleasurable reading to break the back of this one. It was so worth it, this is literature with a capital L and yet hugely accessible despite that. Set mostly in the 30’s in the South with “cousin” Willie’s career being mainly a backdrop against which we see our narrator’s character develop. It’s a tale of political idealism and corruption, full of complex and very human characters. This is like slow food, you could get your literary calories in a much faster book but there’s something more deeply satisfying about the slow delivery.

Overall – An American classic, definitely worth that label

Many thanks to Visibleghost for putting this on my radar!

Jul 4, 2012, 6:35am Top

sum David Eagleman

40 very short stories about the afterlives

Eagleman is a neuroscientist (see my review above of incognito) who is also a possibilian. He says he got fed up with the current atheist versus theist debate and felt that someone should bring something new to the mutually exclusive world views. You can see him discuss this in detail in his TED address here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LENqnjZGX0A This book is more about possibilianism than his non-fiction work. There are 40 very short stories here exploring the concept of the afterlife. Massively imaginative, thought provoking and successful, as its held up by both atheists and theists (although I suspect not fundamentalists!). Each story explores an idea which if I described would be too much of a spoiler I feel.

Overall – Full of very cool ideas intelligently and well written.

Jul 4, 2012, 6:35am Top

and now am finally caught up on reviews :-D

Jul 4, 2012, 7:36am Top

A hail of bullets hitting me there. Definitely noting both all the king's men, Pontypool changes everything and sum. Damn you.

Jul 4, 2012, 7:54am Top

@224/225 Anders I as far as I can tell Pete's trips abroad always involve meetings and vodka.. lots of vodka.

Jul 4, 2012, 8:13am Top

@231 - your welcome ;-)

@231 - thats a little unfair sometimes there is beer and/or wine :-)

Jul 4, 2012, 8:48am Top

Yours and Claire's review makes me glad that Moxyland is already on the tbr shelves.

Jul 4, 2012, 9:01am Top

Very enjoyable reviews! Moxyland is on my wishlist as are many others.

I just looked up "My Mother" by Jamaica Kincaid, because I thought it might have something to do with An Autobiography of My Mother, but I don't think so. I've read An Autobiography of My Mother and while the entire novel didn't live up to the first chapter, that first chapter is some of the most stunning writing I've read in recent years.

Jul 4, 2012, 9:52am Top

@235 I think I'm missing something or should the two touchstones be different?

Jul 4, 2012, 9:25pm Top

Pontypool Changes Everything caught my eye until I found out it involves zombies.... I am not a fan of zombie books/movies, so I will pass on that one unless the zombies are only peripheral to the story or it isn't super creepy.

Very happy with your review of All the King's Men! That one is on my TBR bookcase. I am really looking forward to reading it now!

Jul 4, 2012, 9:42pm Top

Yes, very interesting review of All the King's Men. I've heard that the book is well respected several times, but never much about what it is actually like.

Jul 5, 2012, 4:27am Top

Got me with All The King's Men too.

Edited: Jul 6, 2012, 2:08pm Top

@237 oh it's super creepy alright

all the kings men was a really satisfying read for me, may not be to everyone's tastes though but I do recommend it

Jul 7, 2012, 8:22pm Top

Good to know... Thanks!

Jul 10, 2012, 5:49am Top

trigger happy Steve Poole


History and exploration of the culture of videogames

This was published in 2000 and having got it from a 2nd hand shop I don’t know if there is an updated version. Its obviously very dated, the games industry being very fast moving e.g. Poole mentions being excited about the Playstation 2 being almost available & the playstation being able to play the “new” DVD format. He covers the history of videogames (do we even call them that any more?) from Pong to Tomb Raider and this is the best part of the book. The rest of the book covers a number of chapters on “what are videogames” which I think are aimed at people who have never played an electronic game, a smaller number each year I feel. I found myself skipping through this part as I already know the difference between e.g. RPG, RTS & FPS. Poole also explores the theory that games are a new art form but I feel this has been done better by other authors

Overall – dated & not aimed at gamers so a bit meh

Edited: Jul 10, 2012, 10:59am Top

as I'm really not going to finish moby dick tonight (although I am enjoying it I do have about 400 pages to go) I thought I'd do my monthly round up (although this appears to be for both May 12-June 12 and June 12 to July 12)

As previously explained I'm doing 12th to 12th aiming to finish on 12/12/12 so started on 12/12/11

# books read 103

# fiction 62
# non-fiction 41
# male writers 88
# female writers 15
# Unfinished 3
# Poor 0
# Average 22
# Very Good 49
# Brilliant 27

# uncategorized 2

categories so far

12 days of christmas = 17
It's in the cards = 4
12 Angry men = 11
12 Hours on a clock, 12 months in a year = 3
12 stars in the flag of Europe = 6
12 Olympian gods = 6
12 Caesers = 8
Doomsday clock = 6
1912 = 10
Baker's Dozen = 28 (10 novels)
Life, the Universe and Everything = 12 (category finished!)
12 signs of the zodiac = 1

I've decided that Baker's dozen can go over 12 but only due to the fact that its where graphic novels will live...

Dec = 13
Jan = 18
Feb = 10
Mar = 28 (although 12 of these were graphic novels)
Apr = 15
May+June = 18

I'm thinking of dropping the Poor rating since I dont tend to use it - will see for rest of the challenge I think

Jul 10, 2012, 12:46pm Top

Great progress!!

I'm really looking forward to see what you have to say about Railsea when you get to it, since I "cheated" and only watched the Moby Dick movie before reading the Miéville. It didn't feel like I was at a disadvantage, but I'm still wondering if I missed some layer.

Jul 10, 2012, 8:37pm Top

Looks like you should have no problem finishing your challenge on time!

Jul 11, 2012, 3:45am Top

Fingers crossed!

Jul 12, 2012, 7:35am Top

You've made great progress so far! Interesting that you never use the "poor" classification. I find that, similarly, I rarely give any book anything lower than 3 stars. That's because I usually read books that come recommended, so there's a good chance I'll like them.

Jul 16, 2012, 5:58am Top

finally finished moby dick and not sure what to read next...

Jul 16, 2012, 10:43am Top

red moon rising Matthew Brzezinski


The tale of how the Russians launched Sputnik

Brzezinski obviously has done lots of research. He’s spoken to surviving members of the Russian space programme and the families of former Politburo members involved. He starts with the end of WW2 and the looting of the German rocket scientists and their bases by both the Americans and the Russians. It should be an enthralling story but it all becomes a bit muddled. Brzezinski goes on interminable digressions, he spends a long time building up minor characters, he details a lot of the politics of the time of both the US and Russia. What he doesn’t do is tell a story, it is bitty, it doesn’t flow, he lavishes detail on boring minutiae or rather he makes what could be fascinating boring. I put this down meaning to go back to it as the overall details are interesting but am now admitting defeat.

Overall – Can Brzezinski give his obviously extensive notes to someone to make a popular historical science book please, as he has obviously failed.

Jul 16, 2012, 10:44am Top

death in Venice Thomas Mann


Classic novella

This book is only 70 odd pages long. A thoroughly unlikeable character decides to go on holiday, once on holiday he decides he’d much rather be in Venice. I lost interest and wandered off with no desire to return to see what happens.

Overall - yawn

Jul 16, 2012, 10:47am Top

moby dick Herman Melville

Very Good

Thar she blows!

"All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick"

Despite all expectations I really enjoyed this classic. OK Melville seems to want to write two books, the first a non-fiction account of the whaling industry and the second a bit of an adventure story. Both are interesting in their own way although the non-fiction part can drag and get lost in detail, as many people have noticed previously. It also took me the best part of a week to read 600 pages, which is slow going for me. However it’s full of interest from sailing practises of the late 19th century to what differentiates different species of Whale & how to hunt, kill, dismember etc those whales. In addition it’s a brilliant depiction of monomania in Ahab and a big inspiration on many different stories since, I did notice a lot of similarities to Jaws for example. Obviously a product of its time it assumes a familiarity with the Bible that I just didn’t have as well as having a rather parochial view of non-white races. Its wordy, sometimes purple prose, its experimental drifting from first to third person, it has a section written like a bad Shakespearian play, there is little characterisation and yet despite all it’s flaws it was worth reading and I enjoyed it.

Overall – a difficult book, a dated book, the white whale doesn’t actually appear for 95% of the book, yet compelling and interesting reading nonetheless

Jul 16, 2012, 2:48pm Top

Sorry to hear about Red Moon Rising. Thanks for the warning!

Jul 16, 2012, 3:05pm Top

Interesting review of Moby Dick.

Edited: Jul 16, 2012, 5:26pm Top

You're making Moby Dick sound almost readable. :) It's all the details about the whaling industry that's keeping me away - the story as such is fascinating.

ETA: Obviously, huge congrats on finishing!!

Jul 17, 2012, 5:33am Top

you can skip the info dump chapters and this would have no impact on the plot at all - as someone else reviewed here there are about 4 "boring" (info dump chapters) per "interesting" chapter (the story) and the chapter headings give you a good indication of which ones are plot and which ones are lectures

Jul 17, 2012, 10:16am Top

the whispering muse Sjon

Very good

Fishy tale from post war Norway blended with Jason and the Argonauts

Valdimar Haraldson is an Icelander living in Denmark who has an obsession that the fishy diet of the “Nordic races” makes them superior (he also thinks that man is descended not from primates but from some piscine ancestor). He is invited on a sea voyage by an acquaintance sympathetic to his thesis. On board the first mate is revealed to be Caeneus a sailor on the Argo when Jason was looking for the Golden Fleece. Every evening Caeneus regales the passengers with tales of the Argonauts getting some direction from a fragment of the Argo itself which he holds to his ear like a telephone. It’s a short book read easily in an evening and entertaining enough but wouldn’t, I feel, have been sustained for any length. Haraldson is a bit of an ass and most of the other characters are very lightly drawn and the main Argonauts tale wasn’t brilliant (the Argonauts land on an isolated island inhabited only by women and have to “service” them for many months) but because the book was so short I could forgive these flaws.

Overall - Surreal and often absurd but entertaining

Jul 17, 2012, 10:44am Top

I don't know, the "info dump" chapters are among the strongest of the book. Yes, they break the narrative flow, but I really enjoyed the cetology chapter and how he wrote about whaling. It's like any Victorian novelist; you just have to settle in and enjoy the journey and not worry about how long it's taking.

That said, there were times when there was effort involved in reading Moby Dick.

Jul 17, 2012, 11:21am Top

Oh yeah I agree but if thats whats putting you off you can just skip those chapters

Jul 17, 2012, 11:43am Top

I reread Moby Dick cover-to-cover a few summers ago ... and was very well pleased. I know that the extraordinarily tedious descriptions really make the book tough to read and enjoy ... but I think you lose something if you skip them.

Jul 17, 2012, 1:23pm Top

To be perfectly honest, I am strongly doubting I'll ever get through it. It beckons me from the bookshelf, but I'll inevitably veer off towards something more shiny. :)

Jul 18, 2012, 10:02am Top

time for a new thread

This topic was continued by Psutto 1212 part 3.

Group: The 12 in 12 Category Challenge

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