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The Rats – James Herbert

397867It was only when the bones of the first devoured victims were discovered that the true nature and power of these swarming black creatures with their razor sharp teeth and the taste for human blood began to be realised by a panic-stricken city. For millions of years man and rats had been natural enemies. But now for the first time – suddenly, shockingly, horribly – the balance of power had shifted . . .

For some reason I’m oddly drawn to animal stories when it comes to the horror genre, I reviewed Guy N. Smith’s Crabs (as big as sheep) series elsewhere on the site and now its vicious rats (as big as dogs).

Whereas Smith’s books have a tongue in cheek feel about them, the same cannot be said for this gruesome which takes itself far too seriously and as such fails as, paradoxically for that reason it can’t be taken seriously at all,

The idea of big rats is horrible, malevolent predators fighting back is an instinctual evolutionary fear, bringers of the appallingly devastating Black Death in a different age and now themselves doing the killing. It does play on that fear fairly effectively up to a certain point but the book is not strong enough to sustain any real horror as the genre has moved on and become more sophisticated.

Being Herbert’s debut novel, it can perhaps be forgiven for lacking in quality and depth somewhat, my overall feeling is that it is a fair effort and one that fans of the genre may appreciate but for the casual reader there isn’t much else here to grab you  If you are looking for a quick gore fest and little depth then this one may be right up your rat infested alley though.

Liberally scattered through the book are plenty of examples of outdated sexism and casual racism, which can be overlooked because of the time it was written in but it does jar these days with its outdated views and poorly phrased language.  It doesn’t help that the characters are cardboard so one can’t even find out their world views  as most are frequently created simply in order to be killed off.  It does make the set pieces very predictable but if you have picked this book up, then it will probably be for the rodent based carnage so this really can’t be seen as a minus. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 09/02/2016 in Horror

 

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The Children’s Book – A. S. Byatt

Children'sBookItAin'tFamous author Olive Wellwood writes a special private book, bound in different colours, for each of her children. In their rambling house near Romney Marsh they play in a story-book world – but their lives, and those of their rich cousins and their friends, the son and daughter of a curator at the new Victoria and Albert Museum, are already inscribed with mystery. Each family carries its own secrets.

They grow up in the golden summers of Edwardian times, but as the sons rebel against their parents and the girls dream of independent futures, they are unaware that in the darkness ahead they will be betrayed unintentionally by the adults who love them. This is the children’s book.

Why it took me three years to get around to reading this Christmas present I do not know, shame on me should be heaped on me but not in public please.  The Children’s Book is a novel of extravagant language and layered descriptions,a visually rich treat with striking backdrops and a wealth of flawed and intriguing characters, of generations that rise and diminish in the natural order of things.

To begin with the balance between plot and description was a little to skewed to the detail side of things, especially with the book opening in a museum.  Not that I didn’t enjoy that sort of thing but it would have been nice to have a little less so early on when establishing the characters and themes but stick with it as the first part especially is a sumptuous reader’s delight.   The book is superbly researched throughout in all manner of subjects from art to politics and the enquiring mind will revel in all the rabbit trails it will lead them on.

Reality and story are intertwined in all these characters’ lives touching them in various ways, the two live side by side as dualities in the memory and become both the reality and also the made up tale.  Real life brings veiled secrets, betrayals, love, hate, new understandings of the world, the battle of the classes, the struggle of feminists, the advent or war, the quest for a better, fairer society, the realisation the of self and also of the cycle of life; in terms both of generations and the paths that people take and the same roles and mistake made over and again.

The made up world lying closely in tandem brings an intrigue into the mechanisms of art,  the recycling of old ideas bringing forth the new and vibrant adventures.  The stories created are symbols to mirror the real world, yet also to aid that need to escape the very same.  As evidenced at the time the book is set with such magical stories coming out such as Peter Pan, Puck of Pook’s Hill, Five Children and It, Wind in the Willows, The Railway Children, The Secret Garden and so on. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 05/02/2016 in Fiction

 

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To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf

WoolfWhistleEvery summer, the Ramsay’s visit their summer home on the beautiful Isle of Skye, surrounded by the excitement and chatter of family and friends, mirroring Virginia Woolf’s own joyful holidays of her youth. But as time passes, and in its wake the First World War, the transience of life becomes ever more apparent through the vignette of the thoughts and observations of the novel’s disparate cast.

Focusing on the idiosyncrasies and insecurities which we all recognise in ourselves, this book by turns witty and dark with an ever-present feeling of familiarity.  Woolf’s layered exploration of the relationships between people and places and the effects time has on both is as deft as it can be frustrating at times.

Played out over a decade in which WWI cruelly intervenes, this poignant depiction of life,  explores themes of loss, class and social structure and the question of perception on the connections we make and what they mean to us.

The language is the key to the readers enjoyment (or otherwise), it is wonderfully written with long, rhythmic sentences, plenty of commas and swirling prose containing tangents that comes back on themselves time and again like the waves breaking below the Ramsay’s holiday home.

On the flip side, I found it easy to get somewhat disoriented if I didn’t concentrate, the lengthy sentences and abrupt change of character can render certain passages confusing if one is not constantly focussed.  Of course if you do choose to lose yourself in the language, your patience will be infinitely rewarded by the richness of the prose.

It felt like I had spent an age reading through Woolf’s words but it was fitting, as this is one of those books that demands time and expects to be digested slowly for its richly descriptive paragraphs and multifaceted outlook on a number of factors. Life, death, feminism, psychology, place in society and so forth are all spoken about in subtle allusions rooted in literature and the thoughts of the time. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 26/01/2016 in Classics

 

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Thought Waves

Somewhere in the porous matter of the mind, a though endures, an echo through time of a point when everything coalesced to a moment of clarity, of existing and being aware of that existence, rather than taking it for granted.  Carefully probing through the archaeological strata of thought, this remembrance prevails and demands to be retold in the less than perfect medium of language.

Cheers for this Wikipedia!

Cheers for this Wikipedia!

The problem with that is that I don’t have the language, by which I mean I do but I didn’t at the time.  There is a theory I read about in Dr Glenn A. Bassett’s fascinating book WordPlay that states (and I am recalling this from memory as the book is packed away) that we can only recall what we could describe in words known to us at the time, so the younger you are the less chance you have of solid memories as the vocabulary base you had recedes as you go further back.

One particular day I visited Robin Hood’s Bay, which is the classic small village clinging onto the Yorkshire coastline, it has narrow streets, plenty of cobbles and all the usual things you would expect in such a town, cliffs, predatory seagulls, old houses, local craft shops and boats bobbing up and down in the bay.  It sounds idyllic, which is why it’s popular, a boon and a bane for the locals one would expect.  My true memory of that day though was the ocean, something that seems to pull at us all, the yearning to be beside the seaside. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 21/01/2016 in My Writings, Travel

 

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Calling all Book Lovers and Authors to Make a Difference to a Child in Need…

Calling all Book Lovers and Authors to Make a Difference to a Child in Need…

Thanks to Michelle for reblogging another Michelle’s post for a good cause, which I have re-reblogged here. I won’t be changing my name to Michelle though unless supplied with several thousand books, then I may consider it…

Michelle Eastman Books

It’s a little early, but I wanted to reach out to all of the book lovers and authors who’d like to join me during the month of March to get quality books into the hands of deserving kids.

Featured Image -- 1290

Last year, I started the initiative, “MARCHing Books to Kids” to raise awareness and collect books for children of incarcerated parents. I was delighted to have authors and lit lovers from all over the world support this cause. In fact, we collected 348 books from generous people in 11 different states and 4 countries! I hope this year will be just as great! The feedback from the participating families was incredible. They were especially touched that authors signed books for their children. That was a new experience for most of the families.

According to Reading is Fundamental (RIF), Nearly two-thirds of low-income families in the U.S. DO NOT own books. …

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Posted by on 17/01/2016 in Blogging, Children's Literature, Life

 

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Lost Horizon – James Hilton

ShatnerFightFollowing a plane crash, the British consul Conway, his deputy, a missionary and an American financier find themselves in the mysterious snow-capped mountains somewhere in Tibet.  Instructed by the mortally wounded pilot to find the lamasery of Shangri-La, they are both confused and delighted to be greeted with gracious hospitality there, but find themselves virtually imprisoned in the mystical and beautiful place. 

With its luxurious amenities, a vast library and many antique treasures, what is the dark secret at the heart of the apparent utopia of Shangri-La?

You would think I chose to read this book due to the good things people have said about it, you’d be wrong though.   I picked Lost Horizon up for an altogether more tenuous reason, that being that Shangri-La is mentioned in passing Star Trek V, that being the film that William Shatner co-wrote, directed and starred in, in which he has a fight with ‘God’.  I just wanted to mention that in my review and there really is no better excuse to read a book in my opinion.

Very much a book of its time, there is a strong sense of entitlement in the British imperialism and an on the edge of the empire mentality with all its casual racism, not to mention sexism and misogyny.  The group of character also encompasses the usual players of these sorts of books, the brash American, the Unflappable Brit, the prim lady on a mission (being a missionary and all) and the annoying one you just want to slap.

As a group, it is a frictious mix of polar opposites who soon clash over their situation and how best to proceed that gives the book its tension, of which admittedly there isn’t a lot.  There is an uneven amount of character development going on which is a shame but what we do get is enough of a vehicle to help drive the plot along and allows the reader to explore the choices the characters make based on their experiences and outlook on life.  There is plenty of scope also to put ourselves into their situation and muse on what we would do in such a hypothetical situation. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 15/01/2016 in Fiction, Modern Classics

 

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The Social Contract – Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Amazon‘Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains’

These are the famous opening words of a treatise which, from the French Revolutionary Terror of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, has been interpreted as a blueprint for totalitarianism.  But in The Social Contract Rousseau (1712-78) was at pains to stress the connection between liberty and law, freedom and justice.  Arguing that the ruler is the people’s agent, not its master, he claimed that laws derived from the people’s General Will.  Yet in preaching subservience to the impersonal state he came close to defining freedom as the recognition of necessity.

I’m no expert but from previous brief sojourns into the world of social political writing –  in the form of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke – Rousseau diverges from both of his English counterparts on the subject with his own model on the titular social contract.

As a classic work of political philosophy that still has merit for the reader today, I found this treatise to be a fascinating and complex work, both making a lot of sense but also coming across with a lot of naivety as well, perhaps the latter is due to hindsight or just that now we have a better understanding of global history.

Unsurprisingly for a French writer, this is a book based squarely in the corner of Republicanism and what the ideal state would be like with the freedom for all within a social and legislative structure.  The collectivism of the general will above the individual needs and desires would see every person participate in chosen law and civic organisation which would ultimately make them free. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 12/01/2016 in Classics, History, Philosophy, Politics

 

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