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Archive for the ‘The Pub Challenge’ Category

I received this book as an Early Reviewer on LibraryThing and started it soon after I had come down from the hype of the previous book I had finished. Perhaps it was because of that proximity to my previous read, but what a come down it was. Although I fought my way to the end of this book, it was like trying to swim in treacle for much of it and I found myself wondering whether I could “cheat” and say I finished when I actually put it down halfway. I didn’t cheat – I did finish it, but it was a tough book to get through and I wasn’t sure that I felt it was worth it.

To be fair, The Collector of Worlds is a translation, which can make the writing difficult. The author had chosen the story of the Victorian explorer, Sir Richard Burton, as his subject. Burton had spent his life travelling India, Africa and the Middle East, adopting languages, cultures and religions as he went. He seems to be constantly searching for the new and the different – a trait I admire. However, unfortunately the book turned Burton into a detached character drowning in a sea of extraneous words and excruciating (and not particularly necessary) descriptions and monologues. The book is divided into three parts – the first covers Burton’s early journey to India and his adoption of Islam. It is narrated (in part) by his ex-servant in a manner which I found somewhat contrived. The second describes Burton’s trip to Mecca, explained in part by a number of Turkish officials who were exploring his motives after the fact. The final story finds Burton in Africa, searching for the source of the Nile, and partially narrated by one of his guides.

This tripartite division does little for the coherence of this historical novel. In fact, the switch between each part is jarring. I found the middle part the most difficult to get through – the paragraphs were so dense at times, I found myself skim reading over pages in order to try and pick up the thread of the story again. The disappointing part was that those pages I skimmed were necessary, it seemed, only to demonstrate the author’s erudition. His erudition may be admirable, but as a reader it bored me to tears. This book could have done with a good editor who could have reduced it down significantly from the 450+ pages it currently stands at. Perhaps then the experience of reading it might have been a little more pleasant.

The ending was really odd. I don’t think it is a spoiler to say Burton eventually dies in his old age, but even that was drawn out to an unecessary degree – not Burton’s passing, but the ‘crisis’ of the priest of presided over his death. By that stage, I was desperate to get the book finished and move onto something else. It was the nail in its coffin so to speak.

Were there any redeeming features? I think bringing the story to life in novel form is a good tactic – I know when I first heard the name I could only think of the actor. I also can’t fault the author’s research on the subject and the surrounding context, but rather than telling me everything, tell me enough and keep the story readable.

Rating: 2/10
ISBN:
Year:
2008
Date Finished: 12 June 2008
Pages:
456
Challenges: 4/8 of The Pub Challenge

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Child 44 is Tom Rob Smith’s first novel, and it is an incredible way to launch one’s career as a suspense writer. Set in the Soviet Union in the 1950s and connected with real events, the book is intensely disturbing and totally gripping at the same time. What struck me most was how terrible the life was for every citizen of the Soviet Union under Stalin. It was like a different world and it was a wonder that people survived through it.

The story follows the fall of Leo Demidov, who holds a high ranking position in the MGB but becomes the object of hatred of one of his subordinates. His fall from grace finds him investigating a murder in a country where officially murder did not exist. Crime was an aberration which was generally ignored or brushed aside without even the semblance of justice, for fear that its presence would question the perfection of the Communist ideal, where because everyone was equal, crime was unnecessary and therefore was naturally eliminated. But idealistic Communism is an impossible proposition when faced with the worst aspects of human nature, and the crimes Leo finds himself faced with are callous, horrific and terrifyingly regular.

This book oozes paranoia and suspicion, which is why it is so disturbing. It seems that within Soviet Russia, there was no such thing as trust, friendship or love because a simple word to the authorities spelt doom for anyone, irrespective of innocence or guilt. The state apparatus apportioned guilt to anyone who did anything even slightly suspicious. If you looked the wrong way at the wrong person, it could mean death. If you treated a pet belonging to a foreigner, you were a spy. If you even thought negative thoughts about the regime, or were indiscreet enough to mutter them, your future generally comprised of hard labour in a gulag, or execution.

Irrespective of the bravery of Leo and his wife beneath such a hostile regime, the message that stood out so strongly for me in this book is that without trust, without care of another and for another, without confidence, then human life is simply a shadow. It is almost not worth existing, when your entire life is spent wondering whether a misplaced word would result in your arrest. This story is the tale of the absolute worst of human nature. It is brutishness, selfishness, paranoia, hatred, fear and vindictiveness laid bare. I am only pleased that as the story progressed, some of the better sides of human nature began to show out otherwise it would have made for grim reading indeed.

I had to suspend my disbelief a little for the ending. After the man hunt mounted to catch Leo and Raisa, I felt it ended a little suddenly and a little more tamely than I would have thought. I can see that the author has left a couple of hanging threads for the next novel in the series which is fine, but after the pace and excitement of the whole novel, without giving a spoiler, the final pages fell a little bit flat for me. Also, I found myself a little irritated by the style of the dialogue. Rather than

“putting conversation in inverted commas, as is normal”

the conversation was written

– In italics and not marked in inverted commas

Just like uppercase letters are generally read as shouting, in my mind the dialogue throughout felt like it was being whispered or spoken a long distance away. Although perhaps that was the intention.

This is not to detract from an incredibly exciting book and a fantastic first novel. I’ll be on the lookout for this author in the future.

Rating: 8/10
ISBN: 978-1-84737-127-0
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK
Year: 2008
Date Finished: 23 April 2008 (at 3.00am!)
Pages: 469
Challenges: 4/8 Category 1 of the 888 Challenge: Crime Fiction; S from the A-Z Challenge; 2/8 from The Pub Challenge

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Get Into Bed With Google

This is less a complete book and more a ‘pithy little reader’. It offers no verbosity – just 52 simple rules to remember for optimising websites for the ubiquitous Google. It is a difficult book to ‘review’ so probably just an overview and an impression will do it justice. From a ‘how-to’ point of view (which is essentially the genre it fits within) it does exactly what it says on the tin. The book provides you with practical ways to get on top of search engine optimisation written by an internet project manager who has clearly dealt with these kind of questions many times before.

I am reasonably au fait with SEO so there wasn’t any advice within the book which came as any great surprise. There were a couple of suggestions which I raised my eyebrows at slightly as they seemed a little old school (considering the book was only published this year) but it actually did a great job of demystifying things. After finishing this little tract, the mystery of SEO was uncovered quite nicely. Granted, there is more on the technical side to master before you can truly get it right, but the book is only hailed as allowing you to go to your SEO specialist armed with the right questions.

For depth, this isn’t the right book to read. For an overview, it’s perfect. For accessibility, it wins hands down – you don’t need to be a programmer to understand it. And for speed of reading – well, it doesn’t get much quicker than this. But use it to start out, don’t look at it for all of the answers.

Rating: 5/10
ISBN: 978-1-905940-49-3
Publisher: The Infinite Ideas Company
Year: 2008
Date Finished: 10 March 2008
Pages: 180 (small ones!)
Challenge: 1 of 8 of The Pub Challenge (books published in 2008);  1 from category 7: Business Books from the 888 Challenge.

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