Sunday, 23 December 2012

An Idiot Abroad, Karl Pilkington

The full title of this book is An Idiot Abroad, The Travel Diaries of Karl Pilkington, with Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, but I think my chosen title is better seeing as the second two people didn't do a whole lot. Plus it's a bit of a mouthful don't you think?
I actually read this before reading A Christmas Carol, but amidst the excitement and flurry of all the Christmas cheer here in Saudi Arabia, I forgot to review it.
I've seen a few episodes from the TV series but Lee downloaded the book onto my kindle so I figured I'd give it a go. I do love Karl Pilkington: his generally unimpressed take on supposedly impressive things, his strange and intricate way of viewing the world and his unapologetic grumpiness. Perhaps I should take a leaf out of his book with regards to this last part, and stop apologising too.
An idiot abroad sees Karl on seven trips to see the wonders (the new ones, except one): the pyramids in Egypt, Christ the Redeemer in Brazil, the Taj Mahal in India, Chichen Itza in Mexico, The Great Wall of China, Petra in Jordan and Machu Picchu in Peru. I love the illustrations and photos-mainly of him looking miserable- but couldn't enjoy them to the full because my kindle is black and white. At the beginning of each chapter there is a famous quote about the wonder, followed by one from Karl. For example, he says of the Great Wall, "It was knackered. So knackered that it wasn't really a wall. I remember hearing that you're supposed to be able to see the great wall of china from the moon, but that has got to be bollocks 'cos even as I stood right next to this bit I had problems seeing it."
In general he hates everywhere he goes, partly because he's not a fan of being out of his comfort zone, but also because Ricky and Stephen go out of their way to make his life difficult. They force him to meet up with random, weird people and eat scary food such as fried insects.
I did find his pessimism and nonchalance a bit irritating at times, especially when he visited Christ the Redeemer, a place I really, really want to go to. I found that the more I read, the more he was actually putting me off going anywhere ever again. Then I realised how unfair it is that he got to do all this stuff for free, in fact he was paid to go to these places and see all these famous sights. How unappreciative! But that's just it, isn't it? Often when things are given to us for free we don't appreciate them.
But then I forgave Karl because he had an epiphany where he acknowledged that he was lucky to get to go to all those places for free.
And he is completely hilarious. He takes bags of monster munch with him on every trip and hates most of the customs and food of the cultures, but still jumps in and does everything he's asked/made to do with plenty of enthusiasm: from dancing on a float at the Rio carnival, to wrestling in Mexico and riding a camel for hours in Jordan. He is also very inquisitive and not afraid to question other people's customs.
The book has left me with images of a far too busy Christ the Redeemer, a dead sea with tons of spit in it, a great wall that's falling down and many more reasons not to go to any of these places. The one  wonder he didn't slag off too much, however, was Machu Picchu, which just sounds great and is still top of my list of places to visit.
I have to say I find Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant pretty annoying. They don't give Karl much credit for the fact that he is the funny one and the one whose words people enjoy reading. Just near the end of the book Ricky calls to tell Karl they've changed the name of the series from 'Karl Pilkington's Seven Wonders' to 'An Idiot Abroad.' Karl's pretty unhappy and definitely doesn't agree to it, but as the title proves he was bullied into it in the end. I suppose the bullying is all part of the act, and you could say that he would be nothing without the other two having made him famous, but still sometimes it's a bit much.
All in all, an entertaining, and surprisingly educational read.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

Marley was dead, to begin with.
Those famous words that say to people around the globe: Christmas is here. I know for me anyway, when I sit to begin my annual reading of A Christmas Carol, the opening line makes me want to curl up in bed with a cup of tea, surrounded by fairy lights  and festive music to read the whole thing from start to finish.
If you haven't ever read the book, then you should. We all know the story inside out and back to front from all the different films that exist, but there's something about hearing it straight from Dickens' mouth that makes it all the more special. His descriptions of the surroundings, sights, sounds and smells are just wonderful, really transporting you into the atmosphere of the place. As a writer I could certainly learn a thing or two from Dickens in terms of description. He sets the scene beautifully, without going on and on like other Victorian authors (cough cough, George Eliot).
It goes without saying that I love watching the films as well, and I'm not ashamed to tell you that my forever favourite is The Muppet Christmas Carol. I was surprised actually in how true some of the speeches in the film are to the original text, to the point where I was visualising various muppets as I read.

For example:
The founder of the feast indeed! I wish I had him here. I'd give him a piece of my mind to feast upon, and I hope he'd have a good appetite for it...It should be Christmas day I'm sure, on which one drinks the health of such an odious, stinky, hard, unfeeling man as Mr. Scrooge.

Who said this? We all know the answer is Miss Piggy.
All that was missing from the novel is for her to say 'and badly dressed!' and for Melinda and Belinda to gasp in horror. I think if Dickens could see The Muppet Christmas Carol then he would surely agree to insert this line into the orginial.   
My only disappointment in reading A Christmas Carol this time is that I read it on my Kindle, where there were just explanations of the illustrations rather than the pictures themselves. But then I guess that's what you get for being able to buy the entire works of Dickens for 50p!
Which one should I read next?



Saturday, 8 December 2012

The Name of this Book is Secret- Pseudonymous Bosch

OK, I promise the next book I review will be adult fiction. But for now...

The Name of This Book is Secret is a children's mystery book that starts out by saying it can't possibly let the reader know anything about the mystery or secrets in question, for fear of danger. Names are changed and information blanked out with X's, all quirky but not something that can be kept up if there's to be any storyline. The book soon settled in to being more of a normal story, which I liked on one hand and didn't on the other. I felt that it was a cop out after all the going-on about protecting the secrets and changing information, and meant the style altered significantly a few chapters in. But having said that, it meant we could get on with the story.
The plot involves a girl called Cass, a 'survivalist' who carries around a rucksack of important things in case of emergency. But the thing is that Cass has never yet had to survive anything. She makes a new friend Max-Ernest and together they get themselves involved in solving the mystery left behind by a recently deceased magician. They find a symphony of smells- a scientific instrument that allows you to communicate through smell, which proves to be very useful. The children meet a beautiful couple- Ms. Mauvais and Dr L- who look too perfect to be true. The children soon become suspicious that Ms Mauvais and Dr. L have something to do with the magicians death. After lots of sneaking around and uncovering secrets, Cass and Max-Ernest believe that Ms. Mauvais is much older than she seems, and that she and Dr. L are in the business of kidnapping children. So when a boy from school called Benjamin Blake goes missing, Cass sets out to rescue him. She and Max-Ernest follow him to the Midnight Sun Spa, where he is going to be used horrifically to feed the needs of the youth seekers, of which Ms. Mauvais is the leader.

I found this book interesting enough and I think many children would like it. The problem for me is that the book pretty much copies Lemony Snicket's style (A Series of Unfortunate Events) but it's simply not as good. All the build up doesn't pay off, and I felt at the end that there was too much mystery still uncovered. There are four more in the series, but I don't agree with leaving questions unanswered and plot undeveloped just because there are more books to come. I firmly believe a book should be able to stand alone, as well as be part of a set.  

3 out of five

Friday, 16 November 2012

I Used to Know That: Geography: stuff you forgot from school, Will Williams

I bought this book for an extremely reasonable 99p, with the intent of refreshing my fuzzy and unreliable memory re: GCSE Geography. The author puts a modern and relevant spin on concepts, as well as reminding you of certain ways of teaching long passed that are amusing to look back on. I found the physical Geography section a bit mind boggling, with too many tricky graphs. But it was still fun to re-visit river formation and coastlines. Unlike when I was at school, I really enjoyed the human Geography chapters, probably because I am more interested in the wide world now than I was then and have first hand experience of a few places. There were lots of statistics about consumerism and the effects of natural disasters, as well as a refreshing stance on global warming.
After reading this book I felt inspired to jog my memory on the other subjects, specifically History, Maths (eek) and Science (double eek). But unfortunately, as is a trend with Kindle products, the offer is no longer on and the price has gone up to 4.91, which just seems a bit steep for something I got free when I was sixteen!


Thursday, 8 November 2012

The Wise Man's Fear, Patrick Rothfuss

The second book in the trilogy The Kingkiller Chronicle (the third yet to be published), I was very excited to read this after loving the first instalment. Set in a fantasy world somewhere between Middle Earth and Hogwarts, the 1000 page story looks back on the early life of the legend Kvothe, a man now in hiding as a pub owner in a small town. The retelling of Kvothe's life picks up where it left off, at the beginning of his second year at university, with all the familiar people in tow: his best friends Sim and Wil, Devi the money lender, Ambrose the arch enemy and Denna the elusive but irresistible girl. After one term of lectures, lute playing, increasingly dangerous fights with Ambrose and continually scraping money together, Kvothe has to go to court for a crime committed in his first year. After this is dealt with, the people closest to him recommend he take a break from university, so he goes in search of Maer Alveron, a rich man who might just become Kvothe's patron if he plays his cards right. With quick wit and a fighting desire to survive, Kvothe soon finds himself living in the Maer's house, comfortable but bored and pretty much a prisoner.
At this point I'm afraid to say that for me the book got a little dull, dragging on for about a hundred pages. It just felt like nothing was really happening. I was extrememly glad therefore when Kvothe was finally sent by the Maer on a mission to kill some bandits. This was the beginning of many adventures, including mass killing, rescuing kidnapped women, losing his virginity to Felurian- a mythical creature so beautiful that men die rather than leave her- and training to be a Adem warrior. When he finally returns to the university Kvothe is a grown up, self assured and rich. I couldn't help mourning the loss of the cute-but-terrible-with-women pauper Kvothe, but alas, we all have to become adults sometime.
The most intriguing parts of the story were when Kvothe was continuing in his quest to track down the evil Chandrian. Especially his conversation with the Cthaeh, the all knowing oracle tree that revels in telling people everything bad about their lives. But I found myself wanting more of this, and willing Kvothe to get a little closer than he did to the truth.
The Wise Man's Fear was all in all an extremely enjoyable epic read (is it me or are books getting longer?), and one I would definitely recommend, although of course The Name of the Wind needs to be first.


Sunday, 9 September 2012

F**k It: The Ultimate Spiritual Way, John C. Parkin

The F word in the title, huh? It must be worth a read!
I decided to look into this book after someone posted it on Facebook. I've always cringed at the phrase 'self help' and would never be seen dead in that section of Waterstones, but the Kindle has allowed me to explore new areas without anyone knowing. Haha! That's right, I can read self help books, erotic chick lit, even the bible and no-one will know.
At the beginning of the year I read The Secret, and enjoyed it in part but found the majority of it incredibly cheesy. Also it focused far too much on money. Of course we all want money, but I think the idea of being able to 'make money come to you' is quite gross. Like saying all poor or starving people just lack The Secret. And money often doesn't equal happiness anyway.
Fuck It, on the other hand, was much more up my street. The way of life involves realising how insignificant we and our problems are in the grand scheme of things and through this developing the ability to say 'Fuck It' and not worry. It talks about ways to relax and how to implement the Fuck It way in different areas of life. I particularly liked the part about not beating yourself up for not reaching certain goals, or for not doing things when you expected to. It's all about just letting things happen whenever, really. John C. Parkin is a bit cynical (maybe cos he's English) which made everything easier to read (for me, an ultimate cynic at heart). He's spent a lot of his life studying Eastern religion, and has taken a lot of it on board but with a very Western twist. He makes things seem achievable, rather than leaving you feeling like the ideas are too spiritual. For example he calls meditating 'sitting and thinking for a while.' And he's very aware of himself, his views and how not everything works for everyone. After explaining something he'll say something like- but not all of this will relate to you, so pick and choose what you think is good, and if you don't like any of it, then, well, fuck it.
I like that a lot.

I do think this book could be taken too literally, and lead to someone saying Fuck It to being pro-active, leading them to just wait for the bad stuff to go away and the good stuff to come. Which I don't believe would end well.
For me that's not what the book was saying though- the Fuck It way is simply about not worrying so much about stuff.  

Have a look at the website if you feel like it. Particularly the video of Parkin's kids talking about the Fuck It way of life. Pretty funny watching children being allowed to swear so much.

5/5 ¶¶

Wednesday, 22 August 2012


I know what you're gonna say- this film's for kids. But I don't care! I love Disney (and Pixar) and I'm not ashamed to say it. I believe the films have a universal audience and therefore deserve to be reviewed like any other film. So there!
I've been awaiting Braves release for a very, very, very long time, which of course paved the way for lots of hopeful expectation. And I'm terribly sorry to announce that, unfortunately, the film didn't live up to it.
I need to get over the fact that we've entered a hateful era of entertainment, where film makers are intent on creating 'epicly' beautiful images, vast scenery and fast moving action, at the expense of storyline, but I can't.
Why can't we have both, I ask you?
The story of Merida, the princess that doesn't want to fill her own shoes, is unoriginal, containing rehashed parts of numerous other adventures such as The Princess and The Frog, Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast. I understand it must be extremely hard to come up with new and interesting plots, but isn't there a whole team of people whose job it is to do just that? I know Pixar can do better (Monster Inc, Toy Story 3, Up) and to me the plot of Brave just feels lazy. Merida as a heroine is far less brave than Mulan, for example, and as a result the climax of the story is far less moving.
There are some nice sub-characters but none developed enough for me. The three brothers are entertaining but need dialogue to give them more backing. And the 'woodcutter'- clearly the best character going, barely has more than a cameo role. What's that about?
I do hate to whine about modern day cinema (or do I? haha), but I just don't see why a children's film can't be amusing and brilliant for adults too.
Having said all that, I'd still recommend it, even if simply for admiring Merida’s wonderful hair. It’s so pretty!

If you have seen it and utterly disagree with my miserable viewpoint, please do attempt to change my mind. Because honestly I wish that I'd loved Brave as much as I love so many others timeless classics that came before it.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

The Treasure Seekers, E.Nesbit

Whenever I'm home now I take the opportunity to see what's on the shelves and read a real book. You have to believe me when I say most of them recently have been for adults, it's just that I decided to start writing reviews at a particularly child-literature-heavy stage. The Treasure Seekers (1899) is an old book of my Mum's and I love the Railway Children-also by E Nesbit- so I thought I'd give it a whirl. 
It is such a sweet story of adventure and mischief, quite fitting of an age where to live in Lewisham was not something to be feared.
Dora, Oswald, Dicky, Alice, Noel and Horace Octavius (HO) Bastible have no Mum and think their Dad is on the brink of financial ruin, so set about trying to 'restore the Bastible fortune' through any means possible.
Their schemes include digging holes in the garden, trying to sell home made alcohol and kidnapping their next door neighbour, who they get annoyed with for crying rather than playing along with being chained up in a makeshift prison. Another scheme involves Dicky desperately trying to get ill so they can test a new medicine on him. But all attempts to catch a bug are futile and when Noel gets a bad cold instead and is confined to bed, Dicky feels cheated. 
In the end, despite all the unsuccesful attempts at restoring the Bastible fortunes it all works out thanks to an 'Indian relative,' who mysteriously turns up. And this is where the fun really started for me. Oswald says, 'he didn't look like an Indian but just like a kind of brown, big Englishman.' Brilliant. Then the children proceed to interrogate him about wigwams. The racial icing on the cake, however, comes when the Indian gentleman himself says 'and as to young Oswald, he's a man! If he's not a man, I'm a n*gger!'

All in all a jolly good read for the under-ten child of the early 1900's!


Wednesday, 4 July 2012

The Other Side of Truth, Beverley Naidoo

            'A lie has seven winding paths, the truth one straight road.'
The Other Side of Truth tells the story of Nigerian child Sade and her brother Femi, who witness an appalling murder in their family: a murder that comes as a direct result of  the political opinions their jounalist father has been voicing in his articles. Worried for the safety of his children, he then sends Sade and Femi to England, a place where they will be safe and he can later join them. But after being screwed over by the person accompanying them, a series of bad things happen and Sade and Femi find that England is anything but safe.
The story follows the twists and turns of two terrified children, alone and clueless in a scary new place, as well as the role that social services has to play. I think Naidoo portrays these elements very well, in fact in parts it is so true to life that it brought back some serious memories for me of the African young people I used to key work in London. In the story, Sade refers to the woman that brought them to England as 'the lady,' which is exactly like the Ethiopian girl I worked with who would talk about 'the man,' who accompanied her. I realised in reading The Other side of Truth that it was probably fear preventing her from being more specific or giving more details- something that used to aggravate me during her important meetings with solicitors. The children in the book are too scared to give the woman's real name. 
Sade's feelings and both her old and new relationships are put across very well in the book. The bullying that happens is huge to her and through her eyes I really felt like a twelve year old girl, afraid of those who threaten her. The only thing that let the young people down in the story was some of the British dialogue, which I didn't think was particularly believable, although this could be simply due to it being outdated (the book is set in 1995).
As the children become more and more entangled in trying to help their Dad, the book unfortunately takes a rather farcical turn, proabaly to make it more exciting or hopeful for young readers. I also felt that the story ended abruptly, but if anything the fact that I was left wanting more could be viewed as a good thing.  
This novel is for teenagers, and I think Beverley Naidoo does a great job of trying to open young people's eyes to possible reasons behind immigration, as well as to the fact that England is a safe place, with freedom of speech that doesn't exist in other places in the world.
The Other Side of Truth has brought back a lot of memories for me, unfortunately mainly angry ones relating to the system we have here. The big problem that I have with unaccompanied children gaining asylum in England is that, as I know only too well, at eighteen they are more often than not sent back to their native country, regardless of the massive problems they are going to face.

Puffin Books, 2000


Thursday, 28 June 2012