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Review the Last Book You Read

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A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke.

It's about a Brit who gets relocated to France to spear-head a project centred on opening British tea houses in Paris.

Each chapter is dedicated to each month he is there. It's actually quite hilarious, and hard to put down. It's very clever/witty way of examining the French life through the eyes of the British, without being stereotypical.

My personal favourite has to be waking up to an unknown leg, bed, alarm clock, and busting the f*&@ out there.

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Angels and Demons by Dan Brown

Angels and Demons features a Harvard symbologist, named Robert Langdon, as he tries to stop the Illuminati, a legendary secret society, from destroying the Vatican City with the newly-discovered power of antimatter. When CERN researcher Leonardo Vetra is found murdered in his private quarters at the research facility. (On his chest is branded a symbol — the word "Illuminati") Professor Langdon, who is an expert on the Illuminati and has written a book on the subject, is contacted by the director who requests his assistance in uncovering the murderer. The Illuminati have appropriated CERN's supply of antimatter, the ultimate weapon, and have their sights on fulfilling a centuries-old dream: to destroy Vatican City. And the moment could not be more well timed... at the Vatican the election for a new pope is about to start and all cardinals have assembled for this election... With only six hours to go to detonation, Langdon faces impossible odds when an extra task is given to him: not only must he find the bomb but he now also faces the dangling task to save the four front runners in the election which just have been kidnapped by the Illuminati and are to be ritually executed by them in the 4 hours preceeding the explosion...

A great book with a totally unexpected twist at the end. Although Brown makes some factual mistakes about some canonical law and Vatican custom (for instance election by acclamation has been abolished, the camerlengo is always a cardinal never a mere priest) it is a thrilling book. A must read.

Although the book was written before "The Da Vinci Code", which in fact is a sequel to this book, I found this book to be enormously better than TDVC. Ironcially, given the success of TDVC movie, there are currently rumours that A&D will be filmed as well but not as a prequel but as a sequel to TDVC.

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The Search for the Twelve Apostles

by William Stevart McBirnie, Ph.D.

Read as much out of continued interest in the subject (you'd be surprised at what early Catholic youths read) as for a bit of research into a possible project, McBirnie's research into the fate of the first evangelists is a fascinating glimpse into first century history. If the writer has a problem, it's that he takes healthy bits of excerpts too often as an excuse not to write his book himself, which is odd because he's a perfectly capable writer and seems, when he attempts it, a perfectly capable synthesizer of facts and likely theories. Still, a useful fount of information.

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Laughing Gas by P. G. Wodehouse

While simultaneously having teeth removed, Reginald Swithin, third Earl of Havershot, and twelve-year-old child star Joey Cooley, the Idol of American Motherhood, switch bodies (a la Freaky Friday).

The story is told from Lord Havershot's point of view. And a dashed dismal view it is, too. The life of a child star is not all it's cracked up to be. What with the prunes and spinach, Miss Brinkmeyer, and golden curls -- not to mention the lack of funds.... And how is he to woo his beloved, actress April June?

Great fun in typical Wodehouse style. :o

Sample:

You've probably noticed how often the same thing happens in detective stories. There's always a bit, I mean to say, where the villain has got the hero tied up in a chair or lashed to a bed and is about to slip it across him with the blunt instrument. But instead of smacking into it, the poor ass will persist in talking. You feel like saying: "Act, man, act! Don't waste valuable time taunting the chap", because you know that, if he does, somebody is sure to come along and break up the twosome. But he always does it, and it always lays him a stymie.

It was so on the present occasion.

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Red Storm Rising by Tom Clancy

a 1986 techno-thriller about a third world war in Europe and the Atlantic between NATO and Warsaw Pact forces, set around 1987. A very good book which is considered one of the more realistic WWIII novels. Of course, in the end NATO wins :o

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"War Reporting For Cowards" by Chris Ayres

I made the mistake of picking this up during a six hour delay for my flight. The cover claimed "laugh out loud funny!" and "hilarious!", which is technically true, but there's also an extended first hand account of September 11th, which isn't something you really want to read before stepping on a plane. Still, every thought in his head while he's getting ready to go to Iraq (against his will and better judgement), and his experiences there, seem pretty much in line with what I'd be thinking if I ever, inexplicably, wound up having to follow a bunch of Marines around in the desert. :D

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Mr. Arkadin

"by Orson Welles"

I use quotation marks around the author credit because the novelization of Welles' film is probably not actually his, but it'll do without established confirmation, the muddled history of which is just as convoluted as the film's. Regardless, this is a story is considerable intrigue, as we follow the criss-crossing paths of two irreputable figures and the individuals who become tragically caught up in their lives, the first of which being the eponymous Arkadin, eccentric recluse (any such ties to Charles Foster Kane die quickly), and the man who investigates his past, Guy van Stratten. Regardless of who wrote this version, it is a thrilling read, as Guy's dawning realizations are perfectly played, and the hands of the horror he lives never as predictable as they seem. With the three versions of the film that accompanied this book (or rather, the reverse), I'll get to see the drama in action, and I wonder which I will admire more in the end. No doubt, it was strange of me to start with the book that was created from the movie, but no stranger than anything else of it. For the record, I'd recommend reading it whether you intend to delve into the cinematic experience or not.

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They Do It With Mirrors by Agatha Christie

Again, another very good mystery from Christie, starring Miss Marple.

Pigs Have Wings by P. G. Wodehouse

Another in Wodehouse's Blandings Castle series, featuring Clarence, Ninth Earl of Emsworth; his brother, the Hon. Galahad Threepwood; and that pre-eminent pig, Empress of Blandings. The plot is very similar to the last one I read; though, admittedly somewhat less intricate in its resolution. Still, plot is the reason to read Christie, not Wodehouse. Wodehouse is just delightful writing, as this was.

Sample:

Stress was laid earlier in this narrative on the fact that the conscientious historian, when recording any given series of events, is not at liberty to wander off down byways, however attractive, but is compelled to keep plodding steadily along the dusty high road of his story, and this must now be emphasized again to explain why the chronicler does not at this point diverge from his tale to give a word for word transcript of Lord Emsworth's speech. It would have been a congenial task, calling out all the best in him, but it cannot be done. Fortunately, the loss to Literature is not irreparable. A full report will be found in the Bridgnorth, Shifnal and Albrighton Argus (with which is incorporated the Wheat Growers' Intelligencer and Stock Breeders' Gazetteer), which is in every home.

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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

by R.L. Stevenson

I'm assuming that everyone knows the story. But if you don't, this is the description from the back of the book. (Wadsworth can do it better than me.)

In seeking to discover his inner self, the brilliant Dr. Henry Jekyll discovers a monster. First published in 1866, this mesmerising thriller is a terrifying study of the duality of man's nature, and it is the book which established Stevenson's reputation as a writer.

If it was a bone chiller in the 1860s, I can only imagine how scary this was as I was terrified. Even in the middle of the day time. I sat by the Detroit River to read the majority of the book and it was literally one of the best pieces of classic literature I've read, in terms of scaring me silly. (Portrait of Dorian Gray being the last one) It wasn't gorey, it was a good clean thriller, and I thouroughly enjoyed the goosebumps in 30 degree (72 degree for the americans, right?) weather.

Edited by MittenExpress

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MOON DUST: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth by Andrew Smith.

This is a fascinating piece of work from the British/American journalist. In the wake of Pete Conrad's death, he realised that there were only nine moonwalkers left alive. He decided that he wanted to track them all down and interview them before their deaths (they're all in their sixties and seventies now).

He was particularly interested in how the experience of walking on the moon had affected the astronauts emotionally and spiritually: had they come back as different men? He was fascinated by the high incidence of divorce and marital disruption - a common pattern with the moonwalkers. He wanted to hear the human response to the staggering achievement (increasingly surreal and astonishing as we get further away from the achievement in time).

The book is full of intriguing stories - not the least of which is his cat/mouse manouverings to coax Neil Armstrong into talking to him. Would Armstrong reply to his invitation and speak? Smith does not reveal the answer to this queston till the very last section of the book...

How did the command module pilots feel about not being the ones to tread on the moon's surface? What was it like to be alone in the command module, on the far side of the moon, looking out into the deepest blackness of space? How did the astronauts respond the the terrifyingly claustrophobic and cramped conditions in the space capsule? What was the practical process of going to the loo? How do the astronauts respond today about the Capricorn One - style conspiracy theorists? Why were there no female Apollo astronauts?

This book is deeply absorbing. My one criticism is that Smith feels the need to riff autobiographically from time to time (do we really need all that info, throughout the book, about the contents of his LP collection?) His prose is also often self-consciously... I don't know, hip and colloquial.

But these are quibbles... This book is highly recommended reading, and is more thought-provoking than much science fiction.

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Tricky Business

by Dave Barry

Not outrageously funny, as his columns used to be (not that they aren't anymore, but that he's retired from them), or as fun to read as Big Trouble was, but Barry ends up with another winner in his second prose piece (before he took on a co-writer and Peter Pan) in an ensemble piece about a casino ship where everything that can possibly go wrong does, except when a few things, miraculously, don't. It's all bemusing, really, a little bizarre that Dave Barry would be thinking about some of the things he writes here, but it's a good quick read that satisfies in the arcs the characters go in, the portraits he paints. You almost wish for more, but in the end, are perfectly content with where he goes. You also wonder when he's going to strike on a classic story. He may have to leave Miami to do it. Or not. But it'll be interesting to find out.

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It may not really count as "reading" but they're fantastic books.

I've been reading these collections of Getty Images divided into volumes by decade. I've just recently finished the 1900's and the 1910's. These books are fantastic collections of images organized into categories within each volume depicting the political, social, economic and entertainment atmospheres of the time period. Not only do they include stunning and interesting images but they are very educational for someone who wants a taste of history (with explanations of each of the photos they wet your appetite for more information.)

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MOON DUST: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth by Andrew Smith.

This book is deeply absorbing. My one criticism is that Smith feels the need to riff autobiographically from time to time (do we really need all that info, throughout the book, about the contents of his LP collection?) His prose is also often self-consciously... I don't know, hip and colloquial.

But these are quibbles... This book is highly recommended reading, and is more thought-provoking than much science fiction.

The book is a monograph which explains the extra personal tid-bits.

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Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror by Steve Alten

The book is a cross between Jaws and Jurassic Parc. It sees the return of a long presumed dead shark. The species carcharodon megalodon - think of it as a 20 meter long Great White - has somehow survived in the fiery volcanic deeps of the Mariana Trench, isolated from the surface by a layer of ice cold water. During a deeop sea diving expedition, a pregnant megalon manages to reach the surface, there causing havoc under the sea population and also taking a fancy for human flesh. One of divers of the deep sea expedition and his team try to capture the megalodon but in the end the mature animal comes to a very unplausible end from the inside :P and one of her young is captured, spawning further sequels...

Edited by fdewaele

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[but in the end the mature animal comes to a very unplausible end from the inside :P

I'll say. The shark ain't that big, for him to be swimming around inside like Pinocchio swallowed by the whale. Of course, there is the whole correlation with Jonah and the whale, since the main character's name was very similar.

and one of her young is captured, spawning further sequels...

Two to date, with at least one more coming. I wonder if the Meg movie will ever get made. I'd like to see the opening fight between the Meg and the T-rex. :P

Edited by Shadowfyre

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I'll say. The shark ain't that big, for him to be swimming around inside like Pinocchio swallowed by the whale. Of course, there is the whole correlation with Jonah and the whale, since the main character's name was very similar.

Indeed, it's stomach ain't a swimming pool. Very very implausible. First the Meg swallows a small submersible, then Jonas leaves the submersible in the stomach and cuts himself a route to the aorta using only a fossilized Meg tooth :) Besides, ain't a stomach not a very acid environment too? :D

I wonder if the Meg movie will ever get made. I'd like to see the opening fight between the Meg and the T-rex. :D

Or the Meg attacking the helicopter :D

According to IMDB, the movie is sheduled for 2008 and will be directed by Jan de Bont.

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Indeed. Well, if they make a Meg movie from Alten's book it'll not be the first big killershark movie... as you already have the B films "Shark Hunter" (2001), "Shark Attack 3: Megalodon" (2002) and "Megalodon" (2004) :)

Alten sure inadvertedly created a franchise of Megalodon movies :D

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It's taken me such a long time to finish the last book, I couldn't remember what I'd read before it. Was it really Dave Barry? Huh!

The Brothers Karamazov

by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

You can practically see the later works inspired by the ideas in this book within its pages. Aside from a rather open-ended conclusion (famously, and typical for Dostoyevsky, though not as pleasing as critics might leave you to believe), a certain masterwork, a study of human motivation and the trouble it causes (rather than averts). Yes, I read this because the author was referenced by Locke on Lost, not even realizing at the time I bought it that it was the very book he throws to "Henry Gale" (who prefers Stephen King). For those wanting a reference of their own, in relation to that show, as to what kind of book it is, imagine, for seven hundred pages, the kind of drama that unfolded for a few episodes because of the captive Other. Four passionate brothers, one illegimate, all rejected by their overbearing father, interlock in what becomes a story of murder, and a trial over that murder which seeks to condense what has been told already so that the reader understands the full impact of decisions they have been watching play out. Perhaps it is better that there is no clear resolution, since it would almost be absurd to believe that any of these characters could have sat comfortably enough to find one. It is the story of good and evil, a contention of both sides and an effort to determine which one ultimately prevails. And yet, it is "an argument that cuts both ways." It really is impossible to choose the victor, and perhaps that's why Dostoyevsky, in his final work, chooses, in the end, neither.

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Winkie

by Clifford Chase

A bit indulgent at times, but more than worth whatever trouble that may cause as the story of the teddy bear accused of terrorism explores the nature of life. Quick read, or maybe I was just able to devote a ton more time to reading thanks to an hour-long break and other recent changes in how my time is divided...

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'Salem's Lot by Stephen King

As King hoovers up the critical acclaim with Lisey's Story - a "romance with hooks", as he put it recently on Good Morning America - I recently revisited his second novel, which I first read in the late 1970s, a few years after it came out.

It stands up remarkably! I began it on a Friday night and finished it the following Sunday lunchtime. It's an old fashioned page-turner, revisiting Bram Stoker territory in a small New England town.

This is old news to the good people of this forum, of course, but I wanted to convey how much fun it was to go back into early King once again and re-experience a great storyteller at work. The art of narrative - of spinning a good yarn that captivates the reader - is perhaps underrated these days. I hadn't read King in ages, and it was strangely reassuring to slide back into that comfy, familiar prose style - "the literary equivalent of a Big Mac".

Tobe Hooper's 1979 TV movie was recently released on DVD here in the UK, and it pales in comparison to King's opus. Characters have been combined, Mr Barlow is completely different on the screen, and the whole enterprise looks rickety and dated. I saw it in 1979 and loved every minute of it. The novel is definitely best, though. :wha:

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Protect and Defend by Eric L. Harry

A book about Russia thrown in the abyss of a complete anarchist dictatorship in which all fabric of society falls apart. The anarchist leaders want to export this all around the globe and start creating anarchy everywhere by murdering all figures of authority. In this a United Nations force is sent to Siberia to create a semblance of authority and to protect a no longer defensive Russia from an aggressive Chinese annexation politic of Siberia. In this they fail as the Chinese invade by the hundred thousands and start overwhelming the vastly outnumbered UNRUSFOR troops. The war itself is fought more like the Korean War of the fifties than as a modern war. In all rather unbelievable. This makes it to be a rather mediocre book. Of course in the end the good guys win but who would have thought otherwise?

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The War at Troy

by Quintas of Smyrna *translated via Frederick M. Combellack

The rest of The Illiad, as it were, with the downfall of the city and the whole Trojan horse thing, plus tons and tons more fighting. Combellack isn't very insightful either in his preface or his numerous notes (he's downright unimaginative and not very creative, which is a pity for a "lost" work like this, with which the reader is just becoming familiar, all the way through), but the story, when not bogged down by an overreliance on cumbersome metaphors (for which the translator is right about), is a worthy and rousing sequel. Several more memorable characters from the war can be found here, including the son of Achilles.

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The Hippopotamus Marsh by Pauline Gedge

Volume One of her trilogy "Lords of the Lands" about ancient Egypt.

The book is set at the end of the 17th Dynasty when Egypt is rule by foreign invaders, the Hyksos. It chronicles the fate of a family descended from the last true Egyptian king before the Hyksos took over. After many humiliations and veiled threats, the patriarch of the family is forced to rebel and declares himself pharaoh. After being killed and defeated, the Hyksos king punishes and humiliates the family to a level that they rise up again, this time with the support of various other neighboring princes... the book ends with Kamose, eldes surviving son of the slain pretender marching north.

Not a bad book. I am definately looking forward to read the sequels... It chronicles a period of Egyptian history in which there has been little interest... most novels centre around the great kings and queens like Echnaton, Toetanchamon, Ramses and Cleopatra...

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Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ

by Lew Wallace

"The Jebel es Zubleh is a mountain fifty miles and more in length, and so narrow that its tracery on the map gives it a likeness to a caterpillar crawling from the south to the north." ~ Memory fails me. I don't know how many times over the past decade I have read that first line, but it was many. Almost every Christmas season I have started to read this book and been put off by something else. This year I finally finished.

:angry::D:yeah::no::D:yeah:

Firstly, it is much more "A Tale of the Christ" than the movie. It begins with the meeting of Balthasar, Melchior and Gaspar in the East, following the Star. Their meeting with Herod, and his inquisition of the Sanhedrin; Joseph and Mary's journey to Bethlehem; and the angelic announcement of the Lord's birth are all detailed.

Those events are all separate from Ben-Hur's story, but later his life is interwoven with events in the life of Jesus, from his identification as Christ by John the Baptist to his Crucifiction. In fact, Ben-Hur's involvement with "the Nazarene" is his major motivating factor in the last third of the book — an aspect wholly missing from the movie, which would have been better left in.

Other differences between the book and the movie: Balthasar's daughter, Iras, provides a romantic rival for Esther. Simonides has a much more important role. Messala is a civilian, not a Tribune, and much more evil. And the healing of Ben-Hur's mother and sister is far, far more thrilling (I would say it is the high point of the book).

All in all, the book is better than the movie; which is hardly surprising, since, as a book, it can provide deeper and more complex motivations for the characters. Movies are better at action, though, so there is one scene where the movie is better: the chariot race. There is much build-up to the race in the book, but hearing it described is a let-down to anyone who has actually seen it.

Highly recommended for anyone who liked the movie. I would not recommend it for anyone who has not seen the movie, however. The movie is a classic, but it leaves so much out that anyone who has read the book first would be disappointed, I think. After my experience with The Lord of the Rings, my new rule is to always, always watch the movie first. :D

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