About Me

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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Friday, 31 December 2010

"The Ask and the Answer" by Patrick Ness

Book 2 of the 'Chaos Walking' trilogy

And, as is often the way with sequels eagerly awaited, this was a disappointment.

The first book, 'The Knife of Never Letting Go', dealt with hero Todd and heroine Viola as they raced across New World away from the chasing army of Mayor Prentiss and towards the town of New Haven. As they ran they tried to understand why they had to run and the reader was encouraged onwards with the dribble of information leaking from sparse clues (it was a brilliant move that Todd, carrying a map and a book, could not read and was too ashamed of this fact to let Viola read for him). A wonderful twist was the fact that hero and heroine both succumb to temptation, both are flawed. And of course one never but never knows whom to trust.

Book 2 begins exactly at the cliff hanger where Book 1 finished. Todd is is prison, later being made to work at a Spackle farm, being corrupted by the everyday presence of evil around him. Viola works as a healer. But Viola's friends become freedom fighter, terrorists, bombers, as a resistance movement grows against the army into which Todd is being inducted. Throughout, President Prentiss manipulates Todd and Viola, tricking them into betrayals of themselves and one another.

Perhaps I was unhappy that Todd has sunk so low. Perhaps I have become bored by the minimalist prose, otherwise so fresh and exciting. But I think the reason why this was a good read rather than a great read is that it has become more predictable. I know a lot more of what is going on in New World so this is now a fight between Good and Evil (and, yes, it is still true that I am not always certain who is good and who is evil) and thus less interesting.

Still a good read though and I have already started book 3, 'Monsters of Men'.

Monday, 27 December 2010

"The Knife of Never Letting Go" by Patrick Ness

"Without a filter, a man is just chaos walking." (Chapter 4)

"A knife ain't just a thing, is it? It's a choice, it's something you do." (Chapter 8)

"Too much informayshun can drive a man mad. Too much informayshun just becomes Noise." (Chapter 36)

Wow! What a book. Read at a gallop.

Prentisstown is a settlement in a New World, a world in which all men can hear each other's thoughts and all women can hear the thoughts of every man (but female thoughts are hidden). A world where all these thoughts have turned into a never-ending Noise. A world in which animals can talk (though the stupider ones have most limited vocabularies; the sheep just say 'Sheep').

Todd Hewitt, the last boy in Prentisstown is told to run from the town a month before he becomes a man. He runs with the first girl he has ever met, because all the females in Prentisstown are dead, killed by a germ from the Spackles. They flee mad preacher Aaron, Mayor Prentiss and his army and his sadistic son Davy.

This 'children's' book is all about loss. Todd has already lost mother and father, Ben and Cillian who bring him up soon disappear, and it seems that everyone Todd meets will die. He loses his innocence too.

It moves at an incredible pace (as Todd and Viola run towards the town of New Haven, where there is Hope). You can never relax because if you do you will be caught by Aaron, or Davy, or the army of Mayor Prentiss. Everyone is suspect and your Noise always give you away. The prose is sparse, and tight, and key words are repeated with surprise, and Todd is a brilliant hero because he is a boy who feels things but has certain handicaps (he can't read so the map he has is almost useless; although Viola can read he is ashamed to let her and by the time he does she hasn;t the time to read much so all the dreadful, secrets of the New World are let out little by little).

A wonderful book which ends on a complete cliff hanger so I just have to read the next one NOW...

December 2010; 479 pages

Saturday, 25 December 2010

"A Simples Life" by Aleksandr Orlov

This is the autobiography of the Meerkat entrepreneur who brought to the world the Compare the Meerkat website, as typed by his faithful sidekick (and oft-kicked) Sergei. We learn how the Orlov family left the Sahara and sailed to Russia, of how they fought Mongis Khan and his Mongoose hordes from Mongolia, how they survived pogroms and poverty, and how they finally triumphed in the Meerkat Comparison business.

Very witty with one or two laugh out loud lines. Lots of pictures. Simples.

December 2010; 123 pages

Friday, 24 December 2010

"The Survivor" by Thomas Keneally

This strange book is about an ageing Australian academic, Alec Ramsey, who is neurotically obsessed with his role in a tragic Antarctic expedition whose leader, Leeming, died. Since Leeming's body may be about to be discovered we explore the basis for the neurosis: did Ramsey and his other companion, a doctor called Lloyd, eat Leeming or abandon him before he was dead?

But on the other hand this is a story about a close-knit academic community: Kable who wants Ramsey's job and his nymphomaniac wife, the drunken 'poet', and seducer Saunders, the Professor of Physics who has just refused a doctorate to hysterical 'young' Leeming, nephew of the great explorer. These people and assorted other members of the cast bitch and philosophise with all the stagey dialogue of a drawing room comedy. Their manoeuvrings and hissy fits pad out this relatively short and simple 'did he do it' thriller into a slightly pointless tragedy of manners.

Don't bother.

December 2010; 282 pages.

"Cutting for Stone" by Abraham Verghese

Abraham Verghese was born and brought up by Indian parents in Ethiopia; he qualified as a doctor and became a professor of medicine. This book recounts the saga of identical twins, born of an English surgeon who flees the scene of their birth and a nun who dies as they are born, conjoined but separated at birth, who grow up two Indian step-parents in Missing (a mispronunciation of Mission) Hospital in Addis Ababa. They both become doctors. Shiva is the 'evil' twin who shags everything in sight including his brother (the narrator) Marion's girlfriend. Forced to flee Ethiopia shortly afterwards because of (mistaken) involvement in Tigrean separatist plot, Marion becomes a doctor in the US and belatedly has sex.

This should have been a riveting read. It was very interesting about Ethiopia under Haile Selassie and later the mad Mengistu. It showed the author's intimate understanding of surgery. There was a lot of action and there were sections in which I was engrossed. And then I stopped reading and never started again for ages. Twice. Which suggests it wasn't a massively exciting read.

December 2010; 541 pages