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Piece of my Heart, Peter Robinson

I finished this book a couple of months ago and haven’t written about it. I was given it by a Belgian/French friend of mine in Luxembourg not long before we left for Scotland. He’d read it and thought that I would enjoy it as it’s set around the theme of a murder at a rock festival and mentions such notables as Pink Floyd and Led Zep. It is two murder tales in tandem, one set back in the 60s and one in the present day. Obviously there is a connection, and it is the job of the present-day detective, whose name escapes me for the moment, to figure out the connection in order to solve the crime. Naturally he achieves this, and I don’t see it as a spoiler to say so since it would be rather a different detective novel if the crime were not solved by the end!

I read the bulk of this novel whilst watching Windows XP reinstall twice on the au pair’s computer and failing to rewrite the drive with the Ghost image that I took originally. Those updates are unbelievable now.

Anyway, I did enjoy the book in the sense that I cared enough about its development to read it to the end, but it was in no particular way a memorable read, other than because of the author’s attempt to include rock-n-roll superstars in the plot.

The 39 Steps, by John Buchan

I’m getting behind in my book reviews. Last week a new BBC adaptation of John Buchan’s The 39 Steps was on and I missed it. Thankfully it’s still on the iPlayer, but I fancied reading the book again as it’s been a long time since I read it. A quick shifty on audible and there it was, read by none other than Robert Powell, who played the leading role in a previous TV version.

It’s as gripping a tale as I remember its being, a tale of spies and intrigue and the pluck of a rather dandy character by the name of Richard Hannay. To be fair it is rather unlikely in some parts and Richard Hannay’s opinion of himself is a little high, but I would imagine that the novel is representative of the times in which it was written (1915) and displays the sensibilities of its upper-class author.

But for all that, it’s a gripping yarn. I just sat listening to the last 90 minutes on my iPod shuffle, sat with the lights dimmed beside the coal fire and it was simply a joyous hour-and-a-half. And now I’m off to watch the beeb version on the iPlayer. šŸ™‚

Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson

I finished this audiobook a couple of weeks ago after hearing several tech podcasters recommending it. It’s a cyberpunk novel, whatever that might mean, set in the near future. The main character, Hiro Protagonist, starts out as a pizza delivery guy working for Uncle Enzo, head of the Mafia. The USA is broken up into corporate franchises and the mafia is now one such franchise.

Hiro is a hacker and was involved in programming The Black Sun, the geek hangout in the metaverse. The metaverse is an idea of the future of the internet, more sort of AI where users goggle in and wander round using avatars to represent themselves.

The book gets into religion and linguistics and, as a former linguist and a current geek, I found Stephenson’s ideas intriguing. Some of the best parts of the novel are when Hiro is discussing science and linguistics with the librarian (a piece of software that has access to the digital info archives).

All in all I found it to be an enjoyable, well-written and well-researched novel and I liked it well enough to consider reading more of Stephenson’s novels.

How Late it was, How Late, by James Kelman

I just read this novel for the second time and enjoyed it a lot. The first Kelman book I read was A Dissafection, back when I was on my year abroad in Odessa in 1995. Upon my return I got How Late it Was, How Late and liked it a little better.

The novel is written in the Glasgow dialect, which is very close to the Ayrshire dialect that I grew up with. It’s partly the poetry of that language that really appeals to me. Having studied linguistics and socio-linguistics probably makes the book more appealing to me than it might to others, as well as the fact that I do not have any trouble with comprehension (as when I read A Clockwork Orange because I speak Russian – not sure if that spoiled that for me but that’s another story for another time).

The story is a slice of life, social realism in great form. It doesn’t have a traditional beginning, middle and end, rather it portrays the events that surround the main character, the bold Sammy, over a period of a few days. He gets into a scrape with the sodjers (the police) early on and winds up blind. We then follow his journey through the police cells, the benefits offices, medical assessors and such like.

I would certainly class this novel as literature rather than throwaway. I’m not sure how enjoyable it would be for anyone that struggled with the dialect but I’d be interested to know.

Maggie: Her fatal legacy, by John Sergeant

I was born in 1971 so a lot of my formative years were spent under Maggie Thatcher’s premiership. At the time I cared little about it, other than through the wonderful Spitting Image, which was food for playground banter.

Having recently moved back to the UK after a long spell abroad, I find myself becoming interested to learn about the period that I lived through but knew so little about. Though I cared little about politics until, well, until now really, Maggie stands firm in my mind like an icon.

John Sergeant’s book is engaging and entertaining. It is interesting to hear the point of view of one who was so close to the action with the luxury of hindsight. For the layman (and I consider myself such), the book is easy to follow, although I did benefit from a few visits to Wikipedia and YouTube to learn more about the workings of British politics and see news reel footage from the time.

I have no other benchmarks against which to gauge John Sergeant’s opinion of the events, but when he does give his opinion, it is always well backed up well. He does a great job of relating the key events, not only of Maggie’s time as PM, but of her rise to become leader of the Conservative Party and her influence on her successors and her party; in a word, her legacy.

For those who do have a strong opinion of Margaret Thatcher, and I know that there are a lot of you out there, I think that this book will help to show the other side of the story, whatever side you happen to be on. But for those such as I without much of an opinion, you’ll find this a highly informative book that gives a broad overview of Margaret Thatcher but it may leave you still wondering what to think. That’s where I am anyway. I’m contemplating reading her memoirs, although I do like John Sergeant’s book for its apparent lack of idealogical bias and I could really use some more books like this one.

In short, I enjoyed this a lot and could listen to it again quite easily.

Titus Groan, by Mervyn Peake

I just completed this for the second time and enjoyed it more than I did the first time around. This is the first of a trilogy, although it was never meant to be a trilogy, just that Mervyn Peake died too soon.

The imagery that this novel conjures up is simply wonderful. The descriptive writing is some of the best I have read and Peake’s use of the English language is a joy to behold.

The story is about the 77th Earl of Groan, Lord Titus. He is born in Gormenghast, a place of strange rituals whose origins seem to have been forgotten, but which are rigorously adhered to nonetheless.

The calculating and devious Steerpike manages to escape from the kitchens and the abhorrent chef, Swelter and beings manipulating the characters of Gormenghast for his own personal gain. He throws the castle into turmoil with his antics and therein lies the tale.

I listened the audiobook, downloaded from Audible, and it was very well read indeed. I highly recommend this book.

The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger

I read this after it was recommended to me. I have always enjoyed anything that involves the concept of time travel, especially where there are complex time lines. This book delivers a love story based around that very concept. I found it a little slow to begin with, and to be honest, I almost quit about a third of the way through. I’m not really sure why that was. The characters were well developed and there was quite a lot of detail about them. I think it was just the plot that I found moving a bit too slowly. 

Once I got into the second half of the book, it was riveting. And the ending was superb. Four stars. 

Word of the day: propinquital

I read the first of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy back in 2000 and have been meaning to reread it for some time. I took advantage of the free credit on audible.com through its sponsorship of the TWiT podcasts and downloaded the unabridged version of the book. I remember it for Peake’s use of language and being utterly enthralled by it.

Just five minutes in, he uses the word propinquital and I just had to look it up [dictionary.com] A google search for the word came up with, yep, a review of Titus Groan.

As objects of beauty, these works held little interest to him and yet in spite of himself he had become attached in a propinquital way to a few of the carvings.

I’m hoping that I will enjoy the audio book as much as I did the dead-tree version.

Back to your regular programming…

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

I just finished the audio book of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. It was rather long and could have done with being edited down a bit in my opinion. That said, it was utterly gripping, especially into the second half. The whole series has now been raised in my esteem (for whatever that is worth) to the level of the Narnia and Tolkien books. Perhaps that will change as I continue and hear them again (as, having two children, I have no doubt that I will) but there is just so much in these books: morality, fear, ego, jealousy, fame, the media, etc.) I also see some parallels with the Star Wars trilogy (i.e. New Hope, Empire and Jedi) but without the apparent religious aspect.

It’s actually doing me some good as I learn about how an apparent ordinary boy deals with overwhelming odds one day at a time and I think that children in particular will learn a lot about values from these books.

Oh, and the quality of the writing is really rather good too. It seems to have improved since the first book and is rather more literary.

And naturally I’m into the sixth book and will not stop until I reach the end. It’s really a gripping tale and I have no inkling as to how it will turn out.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J. K. Rowling

Been neglecting the blog of late. Too busy with stuff. So some quickfire diary style entries, starting with finishing Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire. Bloody brilliant. Seriously. I can see now why people get hooked. The first was meh, the second, a bit better, the third, yeah, not too bad but the fourth! That fight scene had me riveted to the steering wheel (I was in the car listening to Stephen Fry doing a bloody marvellous job I must say).

I’m into the fifth now and enjoying it too. Bring it on! Wheeee!