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Archive for September, 2014|Monthly archive page

The Drowning Pool

In Book Reviews on September 28, 2014 at 11:07 am
The Drowning Pool

HarperCollins 2011

Nutshell blurb: Sarah Grey and her son, Alfie, have moved to a small coastal town in Essex after she lost her husband in a traffic accident. She starts seeing visions of a ghost who has the same name as her as well as a dark past.

This book was pretty good. I had one of those baffling experiences whilst reading it where I didn’t want to put it down because I wanted to know what was going to happen next, however, I didn’t think that it was an amazing story.

Upon further reflection, I realised that I didn’t really connect with the main character. She is quite the ladette who likes being in a constant state of drunkenness. That’s not really something that I can identify with and it began to annoy me that she was constantly reaching for a drink during the story. No wonder she was seeing ghosts!

To be fair to her, she was still grieving over the loss of her husband and she had a little boy to take care of.

Before you think that I’m being all judgmental towards people who like to get drunk for recreational purposes, I want to say that I love cocktails but I just don’t like being drunk. I don’t enjoy going out and ending up being the only sober person in the room. I think that’s why I didn’t really connect with her. I couldn’t identify with her motivation much of the time.

The things that I liked about her: she’s highly intelligent and seems to always have Latin American music in the background.

The story was pretty interesting. The author seems to be well versed in the witch-hunting history of Essex, which I know pretty much nothing about. If that makes you wonder why I think that she’s well-versed in the history, it’s because I read the first chapter of another book that she’s written which is at the end of this book. It’s a completely different story, but also focuses on witches in Essex, so I’m guessing that this is a passion of hers.

That kind of passion seeps into the story and I really enjoyed that aspect of it.

The other problem that I had with this story is the unbelievable romantic entanglement that happens mid-way through. (Perhaps this part is a bit spoilerific, just in case you planned on reading the book…) I think that my problem from that stemmed from a lack of description of what the male character actually looked like. I remember him being described as being attractive, but maybe my mind tacked on ‘back in his day’ to that descriptor. So I pictured him as a craggy and thoroughly unlikable guy in his mid-sixties and all of a sudden she fancies the pants off of him. My reaction:

Which is not to say that it’s improbable that a 30-something woman would be attracted to a 60-something man. This man in particular was described in a way that I pictured him as a grumpy old git, so it totally threw me off that he turned out to be a few decades younger than I thought and that he was all of a sudden super dreamy and that they became involved with each other.

I feel like I’m really stepping in it here so I’ll just leave it at that.

I’ll just sum up by saying that this book has quite a few good points and that I was really sucked into the story. I thoroughly enjoyed it even though there were a few things that niggled at me.

Zombie Apocalypse! Fight Back

In Book Reviews on September 21, 2014 at 10:39 am
Constable & Robinson Ltd 2012

Constable & Robinson Ltd 2012

Nutshell blurb: The zombie apocalypse is in full swing because of an excavation in an old churchyard in Kent. In this book we learn a bit more about how it started as well as what our plans are for the future.

This is the second instalment of the Zombie Apocalypse series. If you want to read my thoughts on the first book, please feel free to go ahead.

In case you don’t feel like reading it, I’ll let you know that I loved the first one. I thought that the style was fantastic. I loved the minute by minute accounts of what was happening to various people in London.

Zombie Apocalypse! Fight Back has the same sort of format but flashes back from time to time in order to give us an idea of how the whole thing started. We finally get to meet the Thomas Moreby that was talked about so much in the first book.

He’s not a very nice person.

We were told about him in journal format by a young woman who gets to know him quite well. I think that that was my favourite part of this book. There are so many stories that one can’t help but pick favourites.

We also learn more about the quirks of the infection. Some of the zombies are sentient and memories are passed to them from the people that they eat. That actually creeped me out quite a bit. One of zombies ate a man and was able to find out where the man’s wife and children were hiding because he then possessed the man’s memories. The gore factor in this book was definitely cranked up a few levels.

I enjoyed this book a lot but I found that I didn’t devour it as quickly as I did the first one. I’m not really sure why it didn’t grab me as much as the first one did. Perhaps the first one was novel and the second one was more of the same.

I suspect that it’s more likely that I just didn’t really connect with many of the characters in the second one.

I saw another Zombie Apocalypse book in the shop (I think that it has to do with an insane asylum, but I don’t want to look it up for fear of spoilers) but I might leave it alone for now. I’ll probably read it one day in the future, but not today.

Nothing to Envy

In Book Reviews on September 14, 2014 at 6:00 am
Granta Publications 2010

Granta Publications 2010

North Korea invites parody. We laugh at the excesses of the propaganda and the gullibility of the people. But consider that their indoctrination began in infancy, during the fourteen-hour days spent in factory day-care centers; that for the subsequent fifty years, every song, film, newspaper article, and billboard was designed to deify Kim Il-sung; that the country was hermetically sealed to keep out anything that might cast doubt on Kim Il-sung’s divinity. Who could possibly resist?

I actually had two books to write blog posts on before this one but I finished this book the other day and I decided to bump it up in the queue. I’ve never in my life been so affected by a non-fiction book and I really want to tell you about it.

Nutshell blurb: This book contains the stories of 6 people and how they lived in North Korea until they eventually defected to South Korea.

I feel that I need to tell you that I don’t really read much 20th century history. I love history but for some reason have never been interested by pretty much anything that has happened in that century. I began to think about why as I read this book and here’s what I came up with. The covers always look so drab (I know that we aren’t supposed to judge books by their covers but I can’t help it!!!) and they are usually in various colours of camouflage which puts me right off. Also, they seem to be written about various battles, areas where battles took place, tactics and weapons rather than about the actual people involved. They are also, frankly, intimidating. Just looking at books like these makes me think that they will be talking about things that I know nothing about and therefore won’t be able to absorb half of it and end up feeling really stupid.

Yes, I realise that these are really dumb reasons.

When I boiled away all of the rubbish, what I came up with is that I would prefer to read a book about specific people rather than just a country and it’s economy/politics/etc… I’m really glad that I came to this realisation because I think that it will open up a whole new set of books for me to read. I’ll be more inclined to read biographies and other books such as this that take place during that time period.

This particular book was recommended to me by a friend. She and I have these great conversations where we talk about historical stuff and then realise that we know absolutely nothing about what we’re talking about which then inspires some Googling and a subsequent trip to the library to find more information. One particular day, earlier this year, there was an article on the BBC News website about a new law in North Korea which meant that students had to get the same haircut as Kim Jong-un. My friend and I talked about it, decided that we knew nothing about North Korea and then she found this book.

Seriously, considering my intense love of dystopian regimes in books, how on earth have I not had sense enough to read more about North Korea until now? Shocking, really.

So anyway, this book.

Ms. Demick tells the story in an interesting way. Instead of telling one person’s story and then moving to the next, she intertwines them with what is happening in the country over the space of many years. It’s quite gripping and I found myself getting emotionally attached to the people whose stories they are. Because they are more than just characters in a book. They are actual people and these things actually happened to them.

What blew me away is the amount of mind-control involved in keeping the people so ignorant of what’s happening in the rest of the world and actually vilifying pretty much everyone outside of their country.

To a certain extent, all dictatorships are alike…all these regimes had the same trappings: the statues looming over every town square, the portraits hung in every office, the wristwatches with the dictator’s face on the dial. But Kim Il-sung took the cult of personality to a new level. What distinguished him in the rogues’ gallery of twentieth-century dictators was his ability to harness the power of faith…Once in power, Kim Il-sung closed the churches, banned the Bible, deported believers to the hinterlands, and appropriated Christian imagery and dogma for the purpose of self-promotion.

One of the most difficult parts to read about in this book was the famine that swept through the country. People were still expected to work, but the government could no longer afford to pay them or provide them with food. People had to find other ways to find food and many became reluctant capitalists by providing services or selling things in order to survive. Many people still starved:

Yet another gratuitous cruelty: the killer targets the most innocent, the people who would never steal food, lie, cheat, break the law, or betray a friend.

One of the people interviewed for this book was a teacher and much later, after she defected, she looked back and felt guilty for not being able to help the dying children who surrounded her.

What she didn’t realize is that her indifference was an acquired survival skill. In order to get through the 1990s alive, one had to suppress any impulse to share food. To avoid going insane, one had to learn to stop caring.

Life didn’t suddenly become easy once they defected. It seems as though the South Korean government is quite keen to see them integrate into society but the defectors have trouble getting over the constant shame and guilt that they feel for pretty much everything. I can’t imagine it being that easy to get on with life. Especially if you leave people behind. One woman left her grown daughters behind as they were married with children and fully supported the regime. Those daughters were later taken away to a gulag once it was learned that their mother defected.

As I said earlier, this book had a profound effect on me because of my concern for the people involved. It broke my heart to read what they went through and it breaks my heart further to know that there are many people who are still going through the same things that they did.

Also, I’m not ashamed to tell you that this is the first non-fiction book that actually made me cry. (Ok, I didn’t actually shed tears but I teared up and got all misty.)

It brings to light my ignorance of what is going on in other parts of the world that are outside of my insulated and comfortable life and I want to read more stories about extraordinary people who overcome difficulties to survive. It’s inspiring and humbling.

Bedlam

In Book Reviews on September 10, 2014 at 1:38 pm
Orbit 2013

Orbit 2013

When Ross heard the voice speak softly from only a few feet behind him, he deduced rather depressingly that he must no longer have a digestive system, as this could be the only explanation for why he didn’t shit himself.

Nutshell blurb: Ross Baker is a scientist who works for a huge corporation called Neurosphere. He volunteers to help test out a new technology only to find that he’s been transported into a videogame.

This was my first ‘trapped in a videogame’ book. I think. Now I’m wracking my brain to remember if I’ve read any others…I actually have a story idea for a novel that takes place in a videogame, which is what drew me to this book. My idea is too nebulous to discuss but I can say that it is nothing at all like this book.

I had so much fun reading this. I’m adding Mr. Brookmyre to my list of authors whose styles I totally dig. As a side note, I would be curious to know how this book would be received by someone who didn’t play videogames.

This book spanned so many games and if you are one who plays or has played videogames in the past, you will recognise many of the ones mentioned. I particularly enjoyed reading about what the character went through when faced with various game mechanics that those of us who play games would recognise.

Respawning, having crappy weapons during the early levels of a game, being dealt damage that is inconsistent with what is dealing the damage…

It was a strange anomaly of certain first-person shooters that you could take a grenade blast and multiple bullet-wounds to the face and yet still limp home for a couple of Paracetamol and a warm bath, but if you stayed under the suds for more than thirty seconds while washing your hair, you would drown.

I was a bit disappointed that no mention was made of how one can kill a mosquito which could then potentially drop a broadsword. But then, the character seemed to spend most of his time in first-person shooters and strategy games. The double jump was mentioned, however:

Back in the day, there had been an odd glitch in the game that meant you could do this double-jump trick on the edge of a rock that would propel you a height disproportionate to your efforts. It was a handy shortcut to higher ledges that the level designers hadn’t intended you to reach without first negotiating other parts of the landscape. Ross tried it when he reached a suitable spot, the impulse coming almost instinctively as soon as he realised he was in a place he recognised. He succeeded only in repeatedly rattling his thankfully metal-clad shins off the edge of a low outcrop and falling on his face a few times. If anybody had been looking, they’d have assumed his internal motivational and guidance circuitry was on the fritz. Or that he was a twat.

As I mentioned, I really like Mr. Brookmyre’s style of writing. It’s quirky (always a plus for me) with a great sense of humour and it’s obvious that he really loves videogames.

My one complaint about this book is the ending. I felt that it was a bit rushed and that it was perhaps a bit too clever for itself. I had a moment of ‘Wha….?’ until I reread it and understanding dawned. Feeling rushed and too clever isn’t the greatest combination but I was able to forgive that because it was a really fun book.

 

On life changes and writing

In My Writing on September 7, 2014 at 11:34 am

So, things are happening in the world of Buffy. I do have two posts to write on books, but I’ll save those for another day. Recently, I’ve had a big success as well as a…ummm…non-success. (The word ‘failure’ makes me cringe. But also, it’s not really that big of a deal.)

We’ll start with the non-success first.

Back in June, I submitted a short story to a competition and I just found out this past week that I didn’t win. I wasn’t as disappointed as I thought I would be though. I’ve never been good at handling rejection and that’s one of the things that, in the past, has put me off about writing. The thought of bleeding my heart and soul onto paper and then having someone say ‘Nope, don’t like it’ has always been a horrifying thing for me. (This is pretty much the reason that I don’t slate books that I don’t like on my blog. I’m hoping that I’m gathering enough karma points so that people are gentle with my work. I know that it doesn’t work that way, but a girl can hope.) The more I’ve been writing, however, the braver I’ve become. I’ve let more and more people actually read my writing and I’ve been less scared of what they think. I think that I’ve now reached the point where I’m not as sensitive. What’s the point of being afraid anyway? Just freaking do it and get on with your life.

And there are other competitions. I think that I’ll revamp my story at some point and resubmit to a different one.

On to my big success. This past Friday was my last day at work. It’s been a long time coming, but I’ve finally found a new job. I’ve been massively unhappy in the role that I’ve been in for the past 3 1/2 years and I finally bit the bullet and looked for something new. I’ve gotta say, my writing suffered massively during this time. I’ve found it impossible to apply for jobs and be creative at the same time. Luckily, I found my new job quite quickly.

I’ve now been writing again. For realsies. I have a feeling that I’ll get a lot further than I have before because I’m much happier at the moment. I’m not the sort of writer who thrives on being miserable. My creativity is stoked when I’m in a happy place.

Also, I bought a new notebook to organise all of my thoughts for my story. It turns out that I’ve been keeping all of my notes in many different places so I’ve been compiling them so that they’re all together. It’s hard to build a world and keep all of your characters straight when everything is on bits of paper or in other notebooks. Although, I will say that this probably shouldn’t be referred to as a ‘notebook’ as it’s more like a journal or record log. It’s far too beautiful to be a notebook.

Behold:

Bought at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. Because I love museum gift shops. And it's awesome.

Bought at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. Because I love museum gift shops. And it’s awesome.

So that’s what’s happening in the world of Buffy these days. I shall see you on Wednesday with a book post!

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