Monday, 24 November 2014

Links for the next meeting - The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

"[Contains] a number of elements that were to become classic attributes of the twentieth-century detective story:
English country house robbery
An "inside job"
red herrings
A celebrated, skilled, professional investigator
Bungling local constabulary
Detective enquiries
Large number of false suspects
The "least likely suspect"
A rudimentary "locked room" mystery
A reconstruction of the crime
A final twist in the plot"

Spark's Notes has a useful plot synopsis

A four star review from Amazon
"All the loose ends are tied up neatly. The good people do well and the bad people get their comeuppence - very Victorian. It is a sweet read to savour. Set aside time to devote to it and it rewards."

& a two star review
"The plot - a beautiful precious stone, shrouded in mystery and believed to be cursed, goes missing at the house of Lady Verinder shortly after it is given to her daughter Rachel as an 18th birthday present - sounds intriguing and certainly sets things up for what should have been a brilliant detective story. But that's where it falls flat. Instead, pages are given over to the minutiae of people's everyday lives, and character assinations that seem to go on forever. The supposedly great Sergeant Cuff (a fictional character, but one of great literary merit) gets pretty much everything wrong and ends up looking like nothing more than an amateur detective. Instead it is left to Franklin Blake, the protagonist of the story, to discover what really happened and in so doing, clear his name. But Blake is not interesting and doesn't draw you in; he is flat and two-dimensional and it's hard to care what happens to a character if you feel no sympathy or connection with them."

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Links for the next meeting - The Circle by Dave Eggars

Wikipedia - the plot and more

A Q&A with Dave Eggars

"I wanted the Circle technology to seem logical and likely in the not-distant future. More than a few times, though, I had to make adjustments when I thought I’d invented some scary new product or feature, only to find it already existed or was on its way."

A review on the tech site Xeconomy

"At the Circle, one disillusioned character comments, there’s “enough money to make any dumb idea real.” The fictional company’s silly side projects, like counting every grain of sand in the Sahara, come off as valid parodies in a decade when Google has sunk untold sums into moonshot ideas like space elevators, jetpacks, hoverboards, teleportation, wireless Internet access via balloons, power from high-altitude kites, and, of course, Google Glass."

Some reasons why people should have privacy

"People hide many things from even their closest friends and family: the fact that they are gay, the fact that they are sick, the fact that they are pregnant, the fact that they are in love with someone else. Though your private life may be especially straightforward, that should not lead you to support policies that would intrude on the more complicated lives of others. There’s a reason we call it private life."

Want to see something really scary?  This is how Google tracks your movements (if you're logged in to a Google account on your smartphone)

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Links for the next meeting - The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

Book group links - things to think about - for JK Rowling's first Cormoran Strike novel

Wikipedia - Lots on the plot, plus characters and more.  JK's fans are very committed!'s_Calling

A review published in April before the JK was revealed as the author
"The puzzle they had to solve developed in a great way. There are a lot of different characters involved in this suicide/murder mystery they need to solve and all have their own secrets to hide. There was a nice tension surrounding most of them making all of them suspects. Some of the quests Cormoran solved where not that clear for the puzzler though. Indications that he found something where not always clear making it hard in some situation to put the puzzle together. The end was a surprise which I liked a lot. "

& another one
"Just once in a while a new private detective emerges who captures the public imagination in a flash; and here is one who might well do that - Cormoran Strike, a bear-like ex-soldier with a prosthetic lower leg and a gloomy outlook, who also happens to be the son of a Seventies rock star.
The last time I remember one quite as interesting was the wonderful Eddie Ginley, nightclub-comedian and wannabe private eye, in director Stephen Frears’ debut film Gumshoe. Strike has exactly that dark fascination, just as he has debts, a home life so hopeless that he has to sleep in his office, and an unlikely temporary assistant he cannot afford."

A 4 star review
"For the plot alone I would give three stars. It became rather difficult to follow towards the end, thanks in no small part to the increasing withdrawal of the narrative from Cormoran Strike's deducting mind - something that I suppose was intended to keep the reader in suspense, but still affected my degree of immersion in the story. The big reveal at the end felt, if not contrived, then predictable in its total unpredictability, and relied on the staple monologue from the protagonist to explain how exactly the event that the book revolves around happened.
It's the characters that make The Cuckoo's Calling. Strike himself is sympathetic, but Robin, his secretary temp, is the easiest to warm to. They both feel real, and as a result the world they inhabit feels real (apart from said slightly-contrived thriller elements). It helps that JK Rowling writes about London like a long-time resident. Special mention should go to the prose as well. The balance is just right - not too florid, and vivid enough to elevate it above the usual gently-paced crime story."

A 2 star review
"I was greatly anticipating reading this book and it was given to me as a Christmas present. How disappointing then to discover a long series of suspect interviews and unnecessary descriptive prose.
I can now see why the author's identity was made known because if any other writer had put this together it would never have seen the "light of day".
A major disappointment of a book. J. K. Rowling stick to childrens' fiction!!."

Should be a good discussion!

Links for the meeting - A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

Coming soon

Links for the meeting - Stoner by John Williams

Coming soon

Links for the Meeting - The Red House by Mark Haddon

Coming soon

Monday, 24 February 2014

Links for the next meeting - I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

Wikipedia is good on the themes and influence of the book, including 3 adaptations:

The Last Man on Earth

The Omega Man

I Am Legend

I Am Omega

A 30 minute discussion of the book on the excellent Science Fiction Book Review Podcast

A four star review on Amazon

"The Millenennium SF series is a bit of mixed bag of so called 'classic' and seminal sci-fi of the 20th century. 'I Am Legend' rightly deserves it's place in that list but not necessarily as a sci-fi novel. But it's a bit of a curate's egg. In fact it's not even a horror novel per se. There's a blend of sci-fi, post-apocalyptical musings ( more so in the movie based loosely on the book), some horror of course. But this novella is more a psychological examination of what it's like to be the last man alive. Matheson is an expert at leading us into the mind of a man without the companionship of his fellows. I won't spoil the plot as there are some brilliant and unexpected twists but the chapters concerned with Neville's discovery of a dog, company he has craved for for three years, is stunning and I defy anyone not to be moved to tears. I love the film, which is why I bought the book initially, but after reading it I'm afraid Heston et al missed out on a better adaptation. Near perfect."

 & a two star review

"I Am Legend isn't really all that an impressive horror story nor a good sci-fi. The story-line was okay, the descriptive writing fair but it lacked something which I can't really put my fingers on. I've read a lot of horror and sci-fis (they're the only things I read), but this book is somewhat bland. I've only put the book down last night and already I've forgotten all the stories in it. So I guess it wasn't that worthy of remembering. As for the rest of the short stories.....well, they were also so-so. Maybe it's me, maybe I didn't picture the hard enough as I followed it through, maybe I didn't really understand what Richard Matheson was trying to write about. I don't know. I'm not impressed and a little disappointed that I found this book weary against the others who've reviewed it and have given it 5 stars."

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Links for the Next Meeting - 4 Celebrity Autobiographies

The group meets on the last Wednesday of each month.  Since this isn't convenient in December, we have a double meeting in January, around several books in a theme.  This year the theme was Celebrity Autobiographies, and we read any or all of a list of four books. 

Do the books work as books?  If you knew nothing about the life of the person, did it still stand up?  These are the sorts of things to discuss:

In alphabetical order we have:

Russell Brand - My Booky Wook

Russell & his Dad

Five Stars
"I must say I was really moved by his story. Why? He has told his story beautifully, in a vivid language. In this autobiography Russell is having an ironic distance to really horrible events in his life. This ironic distance is what makes the book so good because it really shows how much it has affected him and that makes it extremely personal. I think his defence mechanism is his humour and using humour describing situations that are anything but humorous really gives you an insight into his bruised past. The pages are filled with humour, but the story is full of sorrow."

Three Stars
"Although Russell is always keen to apologise for his past indiscretions, one thing that irritated me slightly is his lack of insight into his actions (or at the very least his unwillingness to share any insight). He will casually mention (for instance) that he started smoking cannabis at the tender age of 16 and continued to do so every single day of his life thereafter until he was almost 30 - but why? Surely not just for simple enjoyment, or am I being naive? Similarly, his attitude towards women is really very odd - but why? He has apparently been diagnosed as bipolar (the posh new name for manic depressive) by more than one medical professional. Yet Russell simply skirts over all this with "and I came out of rehab and lived happily ever after"

Tina Fey - Bossypants

Early Improv Sketch

Five Stars
"It's written absolutely brilliantly, hilariously funny and easy to read, even for a dutch speaker like me. Tina Fey is an inspiration for a lot of people, aspiring screenwriters, actors, and moms-to-be. I really felt like reading a letter from a good friend, describing what a week he/she had, she will reveal things that seem pretty intimate and make you think about things in your own life.

Three Stars
"There were some definite highlights in the book but overall you'd have to be a rabid fan to like everything in the book. For the more casual fan like me, I'd say skip to the 30 Rock/Sarah Palin sections for an interesting read as the rest doesn't hold up to the same interest level."  

Anthony Kiedis - Scar Tissue

The band interviewed in 1988 - Flea, Hillel, Anthony and Jack

Five Stars
"Scar Tissue is a cracking read. How Mr. Kiedis is still alive is a miracle. The huge amount of drugs, the accidents (bad accidents), the women, the band, the highs and lows are all honestly recounted in this oustanding autobiography.
A.K. gives an insight into the mind and behaviour of an addict with refreshing honesty; there's no preaching here. He recounts his childhood and writes much about the Chili Peppers themselves, detailing their ups and downs (there's a lot of both), their creative processes and the meaning behind some of their songs."

Three Stars
"A book of two halves for me.The first half dragged a little bit but was improved by a much better second half.
Basically this is Sex n Drugs n rehab with some rock n'roll thrown in.Kiedis is very candid and never tries to make any excuses for his drug taking or his promiscuity.He just delivers it pretty straight although If you want major insights into what the Chilis are all about you will probably need to go elsewhere."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic - I am Zlatan Ibrahamovic

Top 50 Goals

Five Stars
"As a massive fan of Zlatan i was worried this book might change my opinion of him. However in actual fact it made me even more of a fan. This controversial but truthful insight into his life provides surprise at every turn of a page. Even if your not a fan, this book will hook you in for a rolla coaster ride of admiration and controversy!"

Three Stars
"A football bio that certainly has a certain charm. Not sure how ghostwritten it is, but you do get a feel of the real guy. Occasionally rambling, the books most interesting aspects are about his failed relationships with Pep Guardiola and Rafeal Van De Vaart.
Sadly, whilst he does have an interesting rags to riches tale, it's hard to get too excited about repeated tales of arguments only heard from one side and nights in with his xbox.
It also ends rather abruptly, during his season with AC Milan, so you can't help feeling there's much more to this story."

Links for Use of Weapons by Iain M Banks

 (Rather late on this one, but in the spirit of helping other people who may be reading this book...)

Use of Weapons is part of Banks' The Culture series, a collection of largely unrelated books set in an alternative universe.

There's a good guide to the series on Wikipedia here

The Science Fiction Book Review Podcast also has an episode dedicated to the series.

& a specific episode on 'Use of Weapons'

Wikipedia on Use of Weapons

A 5 Star Review
"I've read enough of Iain Banks' other work to be able to say that Use of Weapons is almost certainly his masterpiece, which is really saying something compared to the high quality of his other novels. In this book everything just works. The characters are sublimely handled, with Banks immersing you in their lives to the point where you stop thinking of them as characters and instead accept them as people. The structure of the story is inventive without over-relishing its own cleverness."

& A 3 Star Review
"Ultimately, Banks uses this inventive structure to create a poignant and shocking climax to the book. However, to me this comes at the expense of an involving story. Essentially, I don't feel that the plot of the forward-time strand is consistently strong enough to generate interest in and sympathy with the protagonist - towards the end of the book, I was only really interested in the resolution of the backwards-in-time strand."