Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Seven Houses by Alev Lytle Croutier

Seven Houses
Alev Lytle Croutier
2002, Washington Square Press, New York

Story of a family in Turkey spanning four generations (1918-1997). The book focuses on the women and their lives, culture and history.

The premise of this book - of having the houses tell the stories - is interesting, but not done well. It could have made the book very unique if it had been carried out properly. I did like the writing style however, it's like the reader is viewing things through a veil. And the stories of the family along with the Turkish culture are fascinating.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

From Baghdad, With Love by Lieutenant Colonel Jay Kopelman with Melinda Roth

From Baghdad, With Love
Lieutenant Colonel Jay Kopelman with Melinda Roth
2006, 2007, Macmillan, Sydney

Story of a little puppy found abandoned in a building in Iraq by US Marines. Kopelman decides to save the dog, and attempts to get him out of the war-torn country.

This book is both heart-breaking and heart-warming. It's about the horrors of war, but also about the hope that an innocent creature such as a stray puppy can bring to those in the middle of it.

I may or may not have gotten a little teary ...

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Verdigris by Paul Magrs

Paul Magrs
2000, BBC, London

The third Doctor and Jo Grant are visited by another (maybe)Time Lord, Iris Wildthyme and her assistant Tom in their red double-decker bus TARDIS. They have an adventure involving trains full of literary characters, evil sheep and a strange creature named Verdigris.

The writing style of this book suits the weirdness of Doctor Who, without being too weird as to impede reading. I loved all the self-referring references! Iris Wildthyme is an interesting character, she seems to be a reverso-Doctor.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin

The Dispossessed
Ursula K. LeGuin
1974, 1975, Avon Books, New York

This is a story of two worlds - a capatalist planet with warring nations and natural beauty, and its moon, settled by anarchists in a created socialist utopia. A brilliant physicist from the moon world travels to the planet in an attempt to teach, learn and share.

This is such a beautiful book. The descriptions of the two disparate societies, and some hard-core physics make for an interesting combination. Even though 'the future of Earth' is only mentioned in a passing comment, I think this book is still important to reflect our own society and perils we may face.

The ending is so uplifting, I have to quote this from the second last page: "A night-blooming flower from some unimaginable world had opened among the dark leaves and was sending out its perfume with patient, unavailing sweetness to attract some unimaginable moth trillions of miles away, in a garden on a world circling another star."

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Monday, July 21, 2008

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
Carl Sagan
1996, 1997, Ballantine, New York

Carl Sagan looks at pseudo-sciences such as alien encounters, faith healings and psychic abilities and compares them to the testable hypotheses of traditional science. He argues that the modern world needs to develop a more skeptical view.

Sagan writes with such passion, it's hard to not be affected by it. I particularly enjoyed the section on UFOs. I hadn't read much from the skeptical side about UFOs and abductions before. The comparison to visions of angels, fairies, demons, et al was very interesting. It's an exciting topic which could teach us much about the universe or about human psyche. Why do so many people experience the phenomena? And why do others not?

But the book is about more than debunking UFOs and other pseudo-sciences, it's about clear thought and critical reasoning. Here is a favourite quote of mine from page 429: "(T)he cure for a fallacious argument is a better argument, not the suppression of ideas."

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Dancing Girls and Other Stories by Margaret Atwood

Dancing Girls and Other Stories
Margaret Atwood
1977, 1989, Seal Books, Toronto

A collection of short stories by Canadian author Margaret Atwood.

Most of the stories are excellent, the rest are pretty damn good. And all of them are about us. None of the characters are particularly strong or brave in a traditional sense - they are normal people the reader can identify with. The collection is by turns melancholy and intense, light and amusing. By the end you are left with a feeling of honest optimism.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

When the Wind Blows by James Patterson

When the Wind Blows
James Patterson
1998, 1999, Headline, London

Frannie O'Neill is a veterinarian living in Colorado who makes an amazing discovery in the woods near her home. This novel is about genetic engineering and the pursuit of scientific breakthrough.

Another 'feel good' thriller from James Patterson. I found this one particularly badly written, but that doesn't necessarily get in the road of the story. The constant brand-name dropping gets on my nerves, as does the author's need to describe how the characters are feeling. If you took out a certain scene, and one swear word, I would say this book was written for 14 year old girls.

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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Masks by John Vorholt

John Vornholt
1989, Pocket Books, New York

The Enterprise is sent to a planet called Lorca, which is inhabited by descendants of Earth who travelled there 200 years ago and subsequently forgot their technological advances. The people of Lorca all wear masks to signify their occupation and position in society. When Captain Picard's away team goes missing (when does it not?), Commander Riker heads his own team to retrieve them.

I found the Lorcan culture and history fascinating. This is more of an anthropological Trek story rather than a technological one - they seem to be the two main genres of the Trek books. The plot line was pretty basic with Prime Directive issues, technology issues, and losing all the command staff on a hostile planet issues. And Picard pulls a Kirk with the exotic alien female!

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Monday, July 7, 2008

One Hundred Great Books in Haiku by David Bader

One Hundred Great Books in Haiku
David Bader
2005, Penguin, London

Long books told in short
Haiku approach poetry.
Makes reading them fun.

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The Rising Sun by Douglas Galbraith

The Rising Sun
Douglas Galbraith
2000, 2001, Picador, London

Story of a seventeenth-century Scottish ship The Rising Sun which heads a fleet to Central America in order to set up a trading colony. The narrator is the clerk of the ship, and it follows him from boyhood, to how he came to be aboard the ship, and the aftermath of the voyage.

This is a well researched and vividly detailed account of life in Scotland in the seventeenth-century and on board a fleet ship. It is well constructed, but a little obvious in places. I loved the subtle humour of the narrator and the prose is beautiful. However, I thought it could have done without Part Three altogether, and just left the story at the end of the sea journal.

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