Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Review: Death of a Perfect Wife by M.C. Beaton

I loved Hamish Macbeth. What with the show's general quirkiness and Robert Carlyle's smouldering smoulderingness, what was there not to love??

So perhaps it was not much a surprise that, when entering the ABC shop with a $25 in gift vouchers and finding the whole series reduced to $2 each, I bought the set of books upon which the TV series was based (well at least 8 of them). Unfortunately, the books did not grab me. At all. Apart from Hamish, many of the other characters are not there, or are greatly altered. Alex exists as the rather proper Priscilla Halburton-Smythe and there's no Isobel to speak of. Priscilla's father is a very one dimensional foe who disapproves of Priscilla's friendship with Hamish. Hamish's superior Blair is much the same - blustering and stupid and boring. Hamish is a ginger!!!

(Actually I don't care about that, I'm upset because he's so wet when it comes to Priscilla! And he's not Robert Carlyle...)

Worst of all, the books are so very very twee.

I read them all, but then they languished on my shelf for the better part of 10 years. I was unwilling to read them, but also unwilling to break up the set by bookcrossing them. However, I realised on the weekend that they're all in excellent condition and therefore very moochable. I put em all up and 'Death of a Perfect Wife' was mooched yesterday. I reread it that evening just to check.

Unfortunately it hadn't improved with age, but at least it was a quick read.

Friday, 24 August 2007

Review: Seven Ancient Wonders by Matthew Reilly

I've been interested in reading a Matthew Reilly ever since he came to fame as a self publisher made good. I'd probably preferred to read 'Ice Station' or 'Contest' - one of his first works, rather than 'Seven Ancient Wonders', which is rather a later book. However, someone lent me SAW and there you are.

I wasn't expecting much from the book - I though it would be something on par with 'The DaVinci Code' by Dan Brown (which, by the way, is referenced a couple of times in the book). But!! zOMG! It's MUCH MUCH WORSE than the DaVinci Code. IT's AWFUL. So awful, in fact, that even after a couple of pages I was seriously contemplating whether to continue or not. (In the end I did - partly cos I didn't think reading the book would take that long and the novelty value of the awfulness was... novel).

If it was just a very Hollywood storyline, I probably wouldn't be so scandalised by the awfulness. What really got me was the writing. The sentences. Are not complete.

In fact. Often the end of the sentence.
Is on a completely new line.
There are italics. And diagrams! Many diagrams.
Presumably because written description would have been incomprehensible....

The few redeeming features were that the token female commando girl did not turn into a love interest for Captain Jack West (uber hero with high tech mechanical arm and amazing ability to Not Die, when he really should have). And Reilly's conception of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon was very cool.

But other than that... zOMG!!

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Review: Black Sheep by Ben Peek

This is not a happy book, but I think it is realistic - not because of the events it portrays but the way it portrays them. For most of the part we see only what Isaao Dazai sees and he creeps to understanding very slowly; the ending is largely unresolved. But - Yo! Dystopian! When was it ever gonna be happy? On the surface 'Black Sheep' is a story about racial segregation, with each city split into three - asian (where most of the action happens), african and caucasian. However in Asian Sydney, caucasians and africans are so remote that they might as well be aliens. Thus segregation occurs on a much finer scale - Asian Tokyo versus Asian Sydney[1]. I think this probably illustrates that people will always look to find differences between each other, no matter how alike they apparently are. In 'Black Sheep' the only people who are truly the same are the 'Assimilated', bleached of all colour and self will.

The government's (and UN's) role in controlling the cities and enforcing the 'No Multiculturalism' rules remains shadowy, but is very reminiscent of George Orwells '1984'. The faceless 'Segregators'[2] are not quite as omniscient the Thought Police, but they are in pursuit of thoughtcrime. It is not apparent if those in real control believe their own propaganda, or if they are using it to forward their own interests. One of the things I noted was that, even in this extreme society, the passage of time showed it becoming even more extreme. Things can always get worse...

Isaao Desai, a history teacher, is ambivilent about his home city, Asian Tokyo, and even more so about his adopted city Asian Sydney. He's a pawn in lots of games. The government uses him to test out new entrapment laws, his wife uses him to assuage her own guilt, while Peek uses him to explore the rights of the individual versus the benefit to society. Initially I found Issao a bit whiny and lacking in charm (possibly a little unsympathetic of me). However, ultimately I did care what happened to him and I am left worried that he'll get home ok.

In summary: well written and prose flows nicely[3]. It's not as accomplished as 26 Lies/One Truth but, given 26 Lies is the more recent book, that's probably a good thing.

[1]It's not clear if Australia as a nation or nationalism still exists. While there's mention of Australian languages, there's no mention of any of the other Australian capitals, suggesting that each city has become it's own separate enclave. Or perhaps Peek is Sydney-centric...

[2] I don't know that Peek would be very happy if he knew that every time I read 'Segregators', I thought 'Dementors'. The urge did lessen as I got further into the book :-)

[3]I have one of the special not-formatted-quite-ezactly-right versions of the book. Knowing this, I found no difficulties in reading the text or following the story. If I didn't I might have been a bit more 'wtf??', but I'd have probably just attributed it to Art.