Book Review: The Black Magician Trilogy

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This is one of those series that I’ve wanted to read for the last decade and a half and when I finally picked it up after my massive fantasy buying spree early this year, I was a little wary, thinking that this wouldn’t live up to my expectations. To be fair I was doing that cardinal of literary sins and judging the books by their covers. I was so glad that I picked them up.

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They follow the Sonea a slum dweller who discovers that she possesses magical talents. And the trilogy really highlights class systems and how private educational establishments are really just full of snotty little rich brats with massive senses of entitlement. The Story first deals with how Sonea tries to avoid being taken into the Magicians Guild, owing to the slum dwellers regularly being purged by the cities magicians, and then after joining the guild in the struggles of the poor kid being bullied at school. The story then progresses onto the uses of black magic and the avoidance of a war.

Whilst you could draw parallels with the Harry Potter series and even such things as the Worst Witch, the book puts it own unique spin on the “magic school” genre with lots of little side plots and other interesting tit-bits throughout.

Trudi Canavan’s work is both engrossing and easy to follow, I find the main criticism that I have of Ms Canavan’s work is that when you pick up the book the next time you look up it’ll be five or six hours later and you wont have noticed the time go by. I’m thoroughly looking forward to picking up the sequel trilogy over the next few weeks. Its nice to be getting through all the fiction that I wanted to read this year.

Marianna’s 7 Book Cover Challenge

After doing the 7 book cover challenge myself the other day, I decided to nominate my daughter Marianna to give challenge a go. Marianna and I read at least two books a day together, everyday she reads me one, and I read her one. Marianna has been a fan of books since she was a tiny baby, in fact some of my earliest moments with my daughter were of me reading to her whilst she was in hospital for the weeks following her birth.

These are some of Marianna’s favourites:

Where’s My Cow- Terry Pratchett 

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No, No Charlie Rascal- Lorna Kent

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Rabbits Nap- Julia Donaldson

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Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy- Lynley Dodd 

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The Gruffalo- Julia Donaldson 

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Where’s Polar Bear- Nico Hercules

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Everywhere Babies- Susan Meyers 

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Book Review: A Little History Of The World

Books (19).pngMarking off another of the 30 books that I want to read before I turn 30 (this being number 17) I finally got around to reading my copy of A Little History Of The World by E.H Gombrich.

The book was an effort to educate children on the origins of the world from prehistory up until World War One, and offers glimpses at the key moments of key civilisations from around the world from before the rise of Babylon to the unification of Germany and beyond.

The writing comes across as an academic who is trying to explain very detailed and complicated events that span millennia and put them into bite size chunks that a child could understand, so the subjects are detailed very plainly, but without any sort of pith or entertainment value to them, that I would expect from a book that has sold and lasted so well.

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Also looking at it through my eyes as 20 something who still remembers education in school, it feels that everything is skipped over in a way that should tease you into wanting to know more, but like school leaves you thinking that’ll be it, and in fact may alienate you into doing your own extra reading.

Overall for a book that has received such hype over the last century, I thought it was pretty disappointing, both in terms of entertainment, and in terms of actual content as well, although to its plus (unlike a lot of history texts) it wasn’t full of dates, studying history should not be just about memorising dates, it should be about analysing actions and behaviour, and learning from it, not just reciting who, where and when.

Book Review: Who Censored Roger Rabbit?

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Imagine my surprise to find that the classic film of my childhood, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, was actually based on a book. Naturally my interest was piqued, so it was only right and proper that this book made it onto the list of 30 books that I wanted to read before reaching the age of 30, and this book now brings me to the half way point of that  list, having now read 15 out of 30 books on the list.

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The novel is set in the present day in a world where humans and toons co-exist, although to say they co-exist is pushing it, as the book shows a great deal of racial tension between toon’s and humans. The cartoons of the novel are primarily comic strip characters, as opposed to animated cartoon stars, with famous strip characters making cameos, such as Dick Tracy, Snoopy, Dagwood, Beetle Bailey, and Hägar the Horrible. The comic strips in question are produced by taking photo’s of the various cartoon characters. In this version, toon’s speak in word balloons which appear above their heads as they talk. Although some characters suppress this and speak vocally.

The story looks to solve the murder of one Roco Degreassy and also the murder of the eponymous Roger Rabbit himself, both cases being looked into by the hard nosed (slightly stereotypical) private eye Eddie Valiant, who is being aided by none other than Roger Rabbit.

Its a typical noirish detective story involving double murder, sex, pornography, blackmail, theft, booze and oddly a teakettle, but the Maltese Falcon it aint. The writing is quite good, Gary Woolfe actually manages to build a world in few words, the length of book isn’t off putting, but it is pretty silly in places, but sometimes you need that sort of thing, I should warn you though that if you are expecting a straight up novel of the film you will be disappointed the book bares very little resemblance to the film and is certainly its own beast. It was a nice distraction for a few hours and if you’re that way inclined and in need of something to do, you should give it a go.

Book Review: The Children Of Húrin

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I got to cross another of the 30 books that I want to read by the time I turn 30 off my list, which puts me within spitting distance of the half way mark. This time it was with J.R.R and Christopher Tolkien’s Children of Húrin. Originally forming part of Tolkien’s Silmarillion and deals with some of the events of the first age of Middle Earth.

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From the get go I must point out that this book is really only for the Tolkien completists out there, as it adds absolutely nothing to the stories of Bilbo and Frodo and their quests for dragon gold and property destruction respectively. It shows the rise of the world of men and how they are shaped by dealings with elves and dwarves as well as the malignant influence of the evil being Morgoth and the constant fear of his servants burrows into the hearts of men, shaping their actions and deeds.

If you were expecting a novel, this book is recounted more as an oral history of the Children of Húrin rather than a first person narrative. Most notably it focuses on Húrin’s son Túrin, and the story follows the boy from late childhood spent in the care of the elves to manhood in the company of outlaws (paralleling the life of Aragorn in the lord of the rings trilogy) right throughout the the course of his life. As a story set during the early days of Middle earth it is ok, however it really is reliant on a lot of knowledge of what has gone before and after, so if you haven’t read the Hobbit, The Lord of The Rings, Unfinished Tales, The Silmarillion, Beren and Luthien, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, and the 12 volume History of Middle Earth series, you may find yourself a little confused at times.

That being said the illustrations by Alan Lee were superb and really added something special to the feel of the work. But I don’t think it was enough to save it from itself.

 

Book Review: Adrian Mole The Prostrate Years.

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I’d read most of the Adrian Mole books already, so I knew I would get around to this one at some point, so when I made the list of books I wanted to read before I was 30 this one seemed like an ideal candidate for the list, as I had enjoyed its predecessors, and it was actually a book that I wanted to read.

If you’ve never read any of The Adrian Mole Diaries, I suggest you do, as they’re all brilliant, and this final volume of the series is no different. This book follows the deterioration of Adrian’s marriage, career, health, and family life, all as Adrian creeps ever closer to middle age, and the dreaded 40.

Sue Townsend has managed to paint an all too real look at life through the eyes, thoughts and ascribances of her protagonist. Just the way that Adrian goes through life is so real, and so tragic in its mundaneness that is just British and also massively terrifying. At the age of 39 and a quarter, Adrian is saddled with 3 children from 3 different women, a series of crippling debts, the wife who both resents and pities him simultaneously and a strong willed 5 year old with some bizarre fixations, all whilst dealing with the hell that must be living next door to his parents, not to mention a good whack of prostate cancer just for good measure. We see how Adrian deals with all this with the help of his friends.

One of the things I love about this series is that Sue Townsend sets the books in the real world. For example, Adrian’s financier half brother Brett, works in the City at the time of the 2008 financial crash, and lines that might under other circumstances be throw away text, are really cringe worthy, a good example being that Brett convinced Adrian to cash out his insurance policy and invest it in an Icelandic bank.

This is one of the high points of the whole series and for me highlights a great sadness at the fact that no more Mole will be forthcoming, owing to the writes untimely passing. But this was such a fun read, even if it did start to worry me, that I’m seeing one or two similarities  between myself and the erstwhile Mr Mole.

Book Review: The Mysterious Affair At Styles

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I’m not really one for murder mysteries, so the inclusion of the first Hercule Poirot novel on the list of thirty novels to read before I reach the ripe old age of 30 must seem like a bizarre choice of reading material. That being said, I did like the Poirot series that ITV played for the majority of my life.

The novel sees Poirot’s sidekick Arthur Hastings visiting the home of an old school friend whilst on leave from the first world war, this coincides with Hercule Poirot and a contingent of Belgian’s taking refuge within the locality. And as always happens whenever a great detective is in residence…somebody dies.

The book is pretty fast moving, and gives you a real in depth look at the characters of Poirot and Hastings and sets out of Poirot’s little idiosyncrasies. For a detective story, it wasn’t full of the usual cliche’s, although there were a few, like a clue hidden in a vase etc, and some pretty corny disguises, but I suppose Agatha Christie’s bibliography is one of the things that gave birth to what would become detective story cliche’s a century later.

Coming in at less than 300 pages, it was a fairly quick read and one that would be perfect for a long train ride or as a light read on holiday. And overall it was a pleasure to be able to tick it off my list.