Monthly Archives: September 2008

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

The ‘Blurb’
In the trenches, one by one the boys begin to fall…

In 1914 a room full of German schoolboys, fresh-faced and idealistic, are goaded by their chauvinistic schoolmaster to troop off to the ‘glorious war’. With the fire and patriotism of youth they sign up. Their disenchantment begins during the brutal basic training and then, as they board the train to the front, they see the terrible injuries suffered on the front line – their first glimpse of the reality of war


Probably the most famous anti-war novel about the horrors of the Great War, this book tells the story of Paul Bäumer, a young recruit who leaves for the Western Front with a group of school friends.

Not only set at the front, the novel also focuses on the feelings of detachment that soldiers felt when returning home on leave, which was a rare event and left the soldiers feeling unsettled – wanting to return to the familiarity of the trenches, and yet knowing they were returning to certain death.

Although largely about the futility of war, and the horrific suffering of the soldiers, there are also light-hearted moments in this book.

Having read quite a few novels about WW1 for my A level, it was good to read one from the German perspective which shows that the German soldiers were just lads like our own – just ordinary men that became unwitting pawns in a bigger game.

I really enjoyed this – it’s just a pity that my dentist decided to tell me a huge spoiler when I was only on page 42!

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The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

This is a very short book (91 pages) which I read in one sitting, and which is perfect for a lazy afternoon (which was when I read it).

The book tells the story of a man, who is always referred to simply as The Time Traveler, who invents a time machine, which takes him to the year 802,701.  There, he finds that the human race has evolved into two species’ – the Eloi and the Morlocks.  On the face of it, the Eloi seem to live a wonderful existence, filled with pleasure.  However, the time traveler discovers that, as they want for nothing, and therefore have nothing to strive for, the Eloi have also seemingly lost the ability for intelligent thought.  (Without goals, there is no need for strategy and forethought).  However, there is a darker reality lurking underneath the surface (both literally and figuratively), in the Morlocks – a species who only come out in the darkness, and who inspire fear in the Eloi.  To say more would be to give away too much of the plot, although it is at this point that the story really began to take root.  Suffice to say that I ended up feeling more sympathy with the Morlocks than the Eloi; I have no idea if that is what the author originally intended.

It’s hard to describe how I felt about this book.  It is of course a classic, and with good reason.  Yet, I found it very difficult to engage with any of the characters.  However, I did enjoy it and would definitely recommend it to others.  It is one that I have kept, and will almost certainly reread at some point in the future, as I think it could well be a book that becomes more enjoyable with each reading.

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Elephants on Acid and other Bizarre Experiments by Alex Boese

In this book, Alex has collected a strange collection of experiments.. some are from many years ago, others are more recent. They cover all kinds of subjects, but have been collected together under ten themes, with chapters such as ‘Total Recall’ and ‘Making Mr Hyde’. Each experiment is summarised by the author, rather than going into too many details.. but for those interested, there are references given, where one can find those extra details.

There is a lot of variety in the experiments, and looking at other reviews, some people have found some a little distasteful, particularly the experiments on animals. The key here, I believe, is to remember that Alex is simply reporting on these experiments, not carrying them out, or endorsing them.

Here’s a  small selection of questions asked… can wine tasters tell the difference between wines.. and more importantly, can people tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi?! Do babies choose a balanced diet if left to their own devices? Can you learn as you sleep? What happens if you stay awake for eleven days? Can you catch yellow fever by drinking vomit? And finally, if you fell down a mine shaft, would your dog get help?

In summary, it’s a very mixed book.. some of the experiements are disturbing, some are funny. A few of the experiments are quite well know, others rather obscure. It’s a book you can read from beginning to end, or pick and choose. It’s a good ‘coffee table’ book, and would spark some conversations.

Published by panmacmillan 01/08/08 £10 trade paperback

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Helpless by Barbara Gowdy

This was an interesting book to read, and as I sit here writing this book I’m still trying to decide what I make of it. Here is the synopsis from Amazon:

Celia is the struggling single mother of an exceptionally, angelically beautiful child: nine-year-old Rachel. All too aware of the precarious balance of the life she has built for the two of them, she worries about her daughter’s longing for the father she has never met. When Rachel disappears one summer night during a blackout, Celia is stricken with guilt and terror about what her choices might now mean for her daughter’s fate. The media coverage of the abduction is tremendous, running nationwide. Closely monitoring events is Ron, an appliance repairman who lives in the neighbourhood. Though Rachel is a stranger to him, he convinces himself that she is his responsibility. His feelings for her are at once tender, misguided and chillingly possessive. Tapping into the fears that lie just beneath the surface of modern urban life, HELPLESS is a haunting and provocative story of heart-stopping suspense.

The beginning of the book had me gripped and I got half way through the book quickly, however my interest started to wain around then and it was a bit of a struggle to finish the book.

Gowdy addresses some difficult issues – single parenting, child abduction and paedophiles. I felt she looked at these issues well, there was nothing offensive or heavy about how she dealt with these. I felt it was good to write a book about these things as they are a real threat in our society.

I have mixed feelings about the characters. I liked how Gowdy looked in depth at the Rachel, who went missing and Ron, the man who felt responsible for Rachel. However, others key characters such as Celia the mother and Mika the landlord and trusted friend lacked a little depth and I felt I did not know them as well.

This isn’t a long book, and was quite a good read. I didn’t like the ending, I do not think it was realistic. There were many other ways Gowdy could have ended the book, I just wasn’t convinced by it.


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The Suicide Shop by Jean Teulé

Despite the title and the subject matter, this is not a dark or depressing book.  It is a very quick read (less than 170 pages), and it’s quirkiness and irony makes for a very entertaining story.

Set at an undefined period of time in the future in France, we learn that Earth has been ravaged by man’s selfishness and greed.  Mankind is a depressed race, which means that business is booming at The Suicide Shop.  This business has been by the Tuvache family for generations – they sell anything and everything that one might need to commit suicide, including some very clever inventions.  The parents, Lucrece and Mishima, are very contented in their misery, and proud of their two eldest children Vincent (named after Van Gogh) and Marilyn (named after Marilyn Monroe).  These two youngsters are both incredibly bored of life, and depressed.  However, Alan (named after Alan Turing), the youngest son, is a worry to the family.  He is full of the joys of life, and has an constant sunny nature.  He refuses to buy into his parents’ misery, and this worries them.  But despite their resistance, Alan is determined to spread the joy…

All the way through this book, I was thinking that it would definitely make a great film, if someone like Tim Burton were to get their hands on it.  It’s an unusual premise, and is actually a lot of fun, but it definitely has a sting in the tail.

Short enough to read in one sitting, I would definitely recommend this for a lazy afternoon!

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Keeping The Dead by Tess Gerritsen

At Pilgrim Hospital, on a Saturday night, the media are gathered to see an CT of a mummy, recently found in the basement of a museum during an inventory. It comes to a sudden end, however, when an image of a bullet is shown.. making this a much more recent corpse.

Maura Isles was present at the scan, and so she promptly calls in Jane Rizzoli to investigate. Following another ghastly discovery, it becomes apparent that they are dealing with a new killer.. one with a fascination of ancient Egyptian rituals.

This is the latest in the series that began with The Surgeon, although it works just as well as a stand alone book. There are glimpses into the worlds of Maura and Jane, but the main focus is on the crimes, and Tess has obviously done her research. It’s a page turning thriller, which will keep you guessing until the end.. and the glimpses into the different types of preservation are rather fascinating!

I loved The Surgeon and The Apprentice, and have enjoyed the rest the series, but I honestly think that this is the best yet!

Keeping The Dead is published in the UK January 2009, by Bantam Press
Available now in Europe and the rest of the world

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The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs

I picked this book to read as a quick, chick-lit book. However, it is too well written to be classed as that. There is a strong story, great characters and a bit of knitting that made this a lovely, exciting read.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book: The Friday Night Knitting Club. Jacobs turned out to be a great writer, and I will definitely be looking out for her work. Here is the synopsis:

Casting on! It starts almost by accident: the women who buy their knitting needles and wool from Georgia’s store linger for advice, for a coffee, for a chat and before they know it, every Friday night is knitting night. Finding a pattern! And as the needles clack, and the garments grow, the conversation moves on from patterns and yarn to life, love and everything. These women are of different ages, from different backgrounds and facing different problems, but they are drawn together by threads of affection that prove as durable as the sweaters they knit. The Friday Night Knitting Club – don’t you want to join?

My favourite character was Georgia’s daughter Dakota I think. I loved watching her grow up, search for her roots and I loved her passion for baking, one of my passions too! However, I did love all the characters. Georgia was a beautiful character; strong, independent, reliable and a real role model, showing that women, especially single-mothers can make it big in life, can achieve what they want.

I adored the Club and the people who came along. The attempts at knitting made me laugh, and made me realise how bad I would be if I tried, however, because of this book I do want to give knitting a go. The friendships formed and the way they stuck together through everything was beautiful. This showed how friends can be formed in crazy places, but they are friendships that will last.

Jacobs searched all kinds of issues, from knitting, to love, to race, to cancer. All were written about in a sensitive, commendable way and the issues are dealt with wonderfully.

My only complaints are that not all the characters were explored as much as I would have liked. Both K.C. and Marty I felt I didn’t know enough about and there was one story line involving Anita that I didn’t feel was finished.

Even though this is a book based around knitting, there was not an overload of knitting in the book, and actually, it shows how people of any age can enjoy sitting down and following a pattern.

9/10 – a lovely book, highly recommend it!

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Little People in the City

Little People in the City brings together the collected photographs of Slinkachu, a street-artist who for several years has been leaving little hand-painted people in the bustling city to fend for themselves, waiting to be discovered. . .

This was something I had heard of, via a TV report.. it caught my interest then, so I was keen to take a look at the book. It certainly doesn’t disappoint, offering a varied selection of his little people. Each one is shown close up, then in it’s surroundings, so you get an idea of both.

I think finding one of these little creations ‘in the flesh’ would be would be fascinating, but this book is certainly the next best thing. It should appeal to many people – those interested in the art form will enjoy studying this selection in detail, and it’s also a good ‘coffee table book’, which people will want to pick up and discuss. It’s hardback format also makes it a good gift idea.

Little People in the City is published by panmacmillan
05/09/08 £10 hardback

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Therapy by Sebastian Fitzek

Josy is a twelve year old girl, who develops a mysterious illness, then one day disappears. There is absolutely no trace of her, and her body is never found.

Her father, well-known psychiatrist Viktor Larenz, is unable to cope with the loss, and after splitting up with his wife, he retreats to an isolated island, in an attempt to heal.

His time there is shattered by the arrival of Anna Glass, a schizophrenic who claims that characters she writes about come to life; and she has a story to tell about a young girl with an unknown illness, who has disappeared. Is there a connection? Can Anna’s delusions explain what happened to Josy?

For anyone who enjoys thrillers, this is an absolute must read. It’s fast paced, with plenty of twists and turns, and I found it almost impossible to put down. Is Anna the one with the mental illness, or is it Viktor?I felt completely absorbed in this story, and it’s characters, and they have stayed with me ever since I put it down.

I would be very surprised if this doesn’t become a hit film, and I’m going to recommend it to everyone! 🙂

Therapy is published by panmacmillan 01/08/08 £6.99 paperback

Buy at

To find out more about Sebastian’s work, read the article here.

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Ten by J. John

This book, Ten by J. John looks at the Ten Commandments in a modern way and makes them relevant to us today. It is 300 pages of God, love, common sense and the Bible. The book explains the Ten Commandments, why they were made and how we can keep them in this day and age. A lot of it very helpful and practical. For non-Christians, this religion is not stuffed down the throat; the book gives sensible and practical ways of living a good moral life. There are also some very funny parts, to lighten the load.

There is a lot of information in these pages however, and I don’t think I took all of it on board. It was a bit of a slow read too.

Overall, this is a great way of looking at the Ten Commandments and a new way of living.


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