Thursday, 23 February 2012

The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown

Publishers: Bantam Press

Pages: 509 (Hardback 2009)

Main Characters:
Robert Langdon, Katherine Solomon

The Lost Symbol, is Dan Brown’s third book to involve and be based around the Harvard Professor Robert Langdon. Although two other books (Angels and Demons and The Di Vinci Code) feature Langdon, I don’t think it is necessary to read either of those two books to get what this one is about.
The novel is based in Washington D.C. where Langdon is invited to give a speech by his old friend Peter Solomon. Nothing seems unusual to Langdon, he is an expert in his field and Peter has asked Langdon to bring him a package which Langdon has been holding for the last few years. Everything seems normal to Langdon. That is until he finds Peter’s severed had on the floor of the Capitol Rotunda. After that Langdon is thrown into an unusual case of trying to find the kidnapped Solomon, where with the help of Peter’s sister Katherine, he has to look into the history of the United States, solve cryptic messages and try to work out the mysteries of Freemasonry.
This was a great book. I remember at the time when the book came out it was surrounded by controversy about the ‘demonic’ rituals of the freemasons. I remember thinking  that the statements would be all blown out of proportion and that people were just retaliating against Dan Brown for his ideas behind the Holy Grail and Christ in The Di Vinci Code, and I was right. This book does so much justice to freemasonry, showing that the men who are part of the order are just normal people, and that of course in D.C. it is likely that some of the Freemason’s there are members of government.
The book was also an excellent read. It defines the genre of a thriller book full of mystery, action, excitement and it has a brilliant twist towards the end. The detail in the book is also amazing. This is in Brown’s ideas behind the art and architecture in Washington, as well as describing what is in the Smithsonian and some of the artefacts and treasures that are hidden away in there.
If you liked the Di Vinci Code (book or film) you’ll love this book and it is definitely worth a read. I would also suggest it to anyone who is a fan of Robert Harris and any of his thrillers such as The Ghost and The Fear Index.
For author’s website click here

Sunday, 19 February 2012

I Love My New Kobo Touch!

My Kobo :)
I wrote a post a few months ago on the matter of Amazon Kindles and other e-readers and whether anyone had any suggestions if I should get one. In the end, after some good advice I did indeed ask for an e-reader for my birthday. However instead of an Amazon Kindle I asked for a Kobo Touch.
I decided to ask for a Kobo because I thought they were so much better than the standard Kindle. After playing on my Grandma’s Kindle which she got for Christmas, I decided they weren’t for me. Firstly I thought it was too hard to use, having to use a D-pad to type in your searches. I also found trying to access the store and downloading a bit of a pain. I decided that the Kindle was not what I wanted, but I knew I wanted an e-reader because I was running out of space for all of my books and wanted to have my library all in one place.
I decided to do some more research into e-readers and came across the Kobo Touch. It has a full 6” touch screen which reads like real paper and has no glare. The Kobo can store up to 1000 books on its hard-drive with the option to hold 3500 more on an SD card. It has the ability to link to Facebook and has an in-built internet explorer. You are even able to subscribe to newspapers and magazines! But the best thing for me is that Kobo’s eBook system has 2.2 million books and over 1 million free eBooks (having a wider selection than Amazon’s 900,000). I also think that it is much better value for money as the standard Kindle cost £89 and the Kobo Touch with all its extras only cost £99. So as you may have guessed, I asked for a Kobo for my birthday.
Other Kobo Touch Colours
And I’m glad I did! It is so light weight making it much easier to read and carry around. The screen is brilliant. You have the ability to customise the text the way you want it, with font size and line spacing. I was always worried that reading from an e-reader would hurt my eyes but the Kobo’s screen is perfect! It is so easy to use. Having a touch screen makes searching and downloading so much simpler, been able to choose what you want at the touch of a button and flicking though a novel just like you would a normal book. There are also little perks such as the Kobo awards where you get an award for completing a book or reading at a certain time of day, which you can then post to Facebook.
(As you can tell) I am extremely pleased with my Kobo Touch and I think anyone considering buying an Amazon Kindle should check out a Kobo first. But tell me what you think, do you have a Kobo or a Kindle? Do you love them or hate them? Or are you just a traditionalist and prefer paper to electronic? Drop me a comment and let me know.
For Link to Kobo's website click here

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Histoy of History: A Novel of Berlin, Ida Hattemer-Higgins

Publishers: Faber and Faber

Pages: 336 (Paperback 2011)

Main Characters:
Margaret Taub

History of History follows the life of Margaret Taub, an American student living in Berlin. The novel starts with Margaret waking up in a forest on the outskirts of Berlin, with no recollection of how she got there and with no memory of the last six months. After making her way home, Margaret finds a letter addressed to Margaret Taubner which asks her to attend a doctor’s appointment. Intrigued by the misspelling of her name and having no memory of booking an appointment with a doctor, Margaret decides to go along to the appointment. There the doctor shows Margaret a video that the doctor states, ‘in the Western world’s entire history, nothing produced has ever been more meaningful’. After this video, Margaret’s world is turned upside down as she starts to see things ‘more clearly’. She sees buildings not as bricks and mortar but as human flesh and believes she is been stalked by a hawk-like woman.
After watching the video Margaret becomes obsessed with two families which were killed during the war. One family is Jewish-German (Strauss family) and the other is one of the most powerful families in the Third Reich, the Goebbels. Even though these families seem worlds apart, Margaret finds they are linked in the method they were killed, they both committed suicide.  Margaret believes she is visited by the mothers of both families, as she becomes obsessed with the idea that there is innocence behind the deaths of the children in each family. In the case of the Goebbels’, Margaret tries to reason that Magda Goebbels killed her children to stop them growing up as Nazi’s. Margaret believes the Strauss children were killed to protect them from the imminent deportation to Poland. But to Margaret’s grief she finds that the suicides are much more sinister than she first believed (and desperately wanted them to be).
I first decided to read this book as a suggestion from another blog. The blogger there quoted it in their top five books for 2011 and suggested that if you were to read one book from their list History of History should be it.  The full title of this book is History of History: A Novel of Berlin, this title appealed to me because I have read other books that are set in Berlin and are based on historical events (e.g. Fatherland). However this book is something totally different. This book is all about psychology and is based around Margaret losing her mind. Don’t get me wrong, there is history in there and Hattemer-Higgins does an excellent job of painting a picture of the dying days of the Third Reich in 1945. But it was not what I was expecting.However, I still really enjoyed this book. The way Hattemer-Higgins portrays Margaret losing her mind is brilliant and is really creepy in some places as Margaret’s mind becomes more obsessed with the war. I also think Hattemer-Higgins makes some good points about how we look back at history.
As Margaret explains in the book, the history of the Holocaust is always looked on in the same light. An example would be that all people in the German army were evil. Margaret also explains that some parts of the Holocaust are overlooked as they tarnish what people want to believe. The example Hattemer-Higgins uses in the book is that in the Jewish work camps, men were paid with tokens they could swap to use in brothels which were made up of Jewish women who had been forced into them.  In the book Margaret states (to tourists she is showing Hitler’s bunker) that this is not what the people ‘want to hear’.
Another point I think Hattemer-Higgins makes is about the strength women have in times of crisis. All three of the main female characters take the lives of themselves and their families into their own hands at their time of peril. The mothers of the two families take the lives of their families into their hands to stop them becoming victims to the Nazis and the Russians. Margaret takes her life into her own hands when she needs to (won’t say too much, don’t want to spoil the ending).
All in all this was an excellent book. Although it wasn’t what I expected it was still brilliant. Hattemer-Higgins does an amazing job portraying the deterioration of Margaret’s mind and as I said above, the parts about the history of Berlin are brilliant. I’m not sure who I would suggest this book to but I think if you have an interest in psychology and mental illness it may appeal to you.
For author’s official website click here

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Animal Farm, George Orwell

Publishers: Penguin Classics

Pages: 144

Main Characters:
Napoleon, Snowflake

Animal Farm is the cult classic from George Orwell. Set at Manor Farm, the story tells of a community of farm animals that throw off the shackles of oppression from the farmer (Mr Jones) and form their own utopian society where all animals are equal, sharing the work and the food the farm produces. The new society is led by two pigs Napoleon and Snowflake, who at first try to keep to the rules of the utopia and administer the farm freely.  However after a disagreement between the two pigs, Snowflake is chased from the farm and Napoleon becomes dictator of the farm, raising the pigs above all other animals. With power comes corruption and the pigs start to see themselves as superiors, making the other animals work whilst they live in the farmer's house and drink alcohol (which was banded when all animals were free).
Like 1984, Animal Farm is a statement about our society. That there will always be a ruling class and that the rest are forced to live underneath them, using fear and oppression to keep control. It also shows how an ideal can so easily be corrupted by power. I like how Orwell calls this book his ‘fairy-tale’ showing that such a utopia could never ever exist.
This was a good book and very easy to read (but the pragmatics are a little harder to work out). I would suggest this book to anyone who has read 1984 by Orwell or anyone who is into sociology and how societies work.
Official author’s website click here

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Star Wars, 1,000 Collectibles, Memorabilia and Stories From a Galaxy Far, Far Way, Stephen J. Sansweet with Anne Neumann

Publishers: Abrams

Pages: 561

Main Characters:
Luke, Han, Chewie, R2, C-3PO, Leia

I have always been a massive fan of the Star Wars saga. They are easily my favourite films ever because they are so unique, the entire Galaxy coming from the mind of George Lucas. For a number of years I have also been a keen collector of Star Wars memorabilia, from action figures to Lego, I love Star Wars. I love the detail in the figurines and in some of the older actions figures that the toys are older than me and have been loved and played with by generations of children. This book was perfect for me, it is the bible of Star Wars memorabilia written by the biggest Star Wars collector in the world Stephen Sansweet.
The book consist of 1000 thousand of the more interesting pieces from Steve’s collection including the twelve original 3 ¾ inch action figures, a homemade AT-AT (All Terrain Armoured Transport) toy, a Bantha piƱata and an Ewok costume made from rabbit skin. The collection is amazing! Steve also tells the history of each piece from where and when it was manufactured, how he came to own it and in some cases how much it is worth.
Prototypes for first Star Wars figures.
The book is in some way a history of the toy industry and how the emergence of Star Wars helped the industry evolve. One example of this is that Star Wars toys were the first to be produced at 3 ¾ instead of at the 8 or 12 inch produced previously. This was so children could put the toys in their pockets and take them wherever they went. For Keener (the people who produced the toys) it meant that accessories and vehicles could be produced at a price parents were willing to pay because they were smaller. This technique was the foundation for the modern toy market as every toy now is available to buy with an extra vehicle or accessory.  
Steve’s collection also shows the creativity of Star Wars fans and how they created their own memorabilia. For example a sculpture of Yoda in a piece of drift wood, a Millennium Falcon tattoo machine and a ceramic C-3PO lamp show how Star Wars influence popular culture and had fans making their own versions of items in a Star Wars theme.
This was a truly interesting book. If you are a fan of Star Wars you should read it, I think some items in Steve’s collection would amaze even the biggest fan and the amount of memorabilia produced over the last three decades is staggering. For me though, it is nice to see that you can still walk into a shop today and buy Star Wars memorabilia and that the series is as strong now as it was in the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s.

Official author’s website click here

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Emperor the Gates of Rome, Conn Iggulden

Publishes: HarperCollins

Pages: 591 (Paperback 2003)

Main Characters:
Gaius, Marcus,

The Gates of Rome is the first book in Conn Iggulden’s epic Emperor Series. Set in the dying days of the Roman Republic, Gates of Rome follows the childhood and early political life of Gaius (Julius Caesar) and Marcus (Brutus). After the death of Gaius’ father, it follows the boys from their childhood farm to the dangers of Rome and the dangers of Roman Politians, where they come under the protection of Marius, Gaius’ uncle.
From here the boys take two different paths. Gaius follows his uncle into politics as they set themselves up to be the rulers of Rome, defending the city from the imminent attack of Marius’ greatest rival Cornelius Sulla. Meanwhile, Marcus seeks his own fortunes in the Roman Army. Been a son of a prostitute, Marcus’ prospects are very limited. He joins the Fourth Macedonian regiment in Greece and finds he has a natural ability to lead men. Along with this, he is also a great swordsman and these two factors help for his quick advancement in the Roman Army.
This was a great book. I think it is the first time I have ever read a book without knowing who or what the story was about. I obviously knew it was set in Rome, but I had no idea the story was about Julius Caesar! This is because the character of Caesar is known by his childhood name of Gaius until near the very end of the book, and the same is said for the character Marcus, as you don’t find out he is Brutus until the last page! All in all this made the book very interesting to read as I didn’t know what was going to happen.
The book is really well written. To write about a time period where not many sources still exist is hard for any historian. But to bring it to life like Iggulden does is unbelievable, using his discretion in places such as Gaius’ childhood where no information remains to paint a picture of an average child’s life in a minor aristocratic family in Rome.
This was a very good book filled with action, murder, conspiracy and betrayal (just the average day for a Roman politician!). I would suggest this book to anyone who has read the Marco and Cato series by Simon Scarrow or for anyone who is into Roman imperial history or Julius Caesar.

For author's offical website click here

Emperor the Death of Kings, Conn Iggulden

Publishers: HarperCollins

Pages: 658 (Paperback 2004)

Main Characters:
Julius, Brutus

Death of Kings is the second book in Conn Iggulden’s Emperor Series. It follow Julius and Brutus after the fall of Rome to Sulla, as Julius is forced into exile after been banish from the city and Brutus is fighting an uprising in Greece. Julius’ fate sees him join a naval legion as he scours the Mediterranean looking for Pirates. After fighting, been caught and escaping the pirates, Julius finds himself in Greece fighting an uprising by King Mithridates, eventually beating the King and finally returning to Rome in a hail of glory.
Meanwhile after his two year term has ended in the legions, Brutus returns to Rome with the ambition of finally finding out who his mother is and why she abandoned him as a child. The meeting with his mother shocks Brutus as he finds how much power she has over the Senators of Rome. With his mother’s help, Brutus convinces the Senate to reform the Primigenia legion, disgraced after Sulla attacked the city of Rome, but a source of power to help Julius when he finally returns.
This was another great book, like the first it was full of action, battles, murder and conspiracy. It is also very exciting because during this book Spartacus’ rebellion happens and Iggulden portrays it brilliantly, describing the feelings of the slaves and the events of the battle with so much detail and feeling. The ending is also brilliant as it sees Julius and Brutus shipped off to Spain and Gaul by the jealous and slightly scared Pompey. This gives a great ending to the book because history tells us the Caesar really made his name as a general in his conquest of Gaul, so I can’t wait to read the next book!
Another great book, I would again suggest it to anyone who has read the Marco and Cato books by Simon Scarrow, or to anyone who has an interest in Caesar or Ancient Rome.
For author's offical websire click here

Emperor the Field of Swords, Conn Iggulden

Publishers: HarperCollins

Pages: 632 (Paperback 2005)

Main Characters:

Julius Caesar, Marcus Brutus 

Field of Swords is the third book in Conn Iggulden’s amazing Emperor Series. Field of Swords follows Julius and Marcus to Spain where Julius takes up his position of governor in the Roman province. Julius finds himself lacking in Spain, feeling that his talent and ability is been wasted in the back water of the Empire. After uncovering gold in the Spanish mountains, Julius decides to return to Rome to further his ambitions and run for Consulship. After a successful campaign and support from two of Rome’s most influential Senators, Julius reaches the post of Consul. After cleaning up the gangs in Rome’s alleys, Julius turns his attention to finding military glory for himself by invading Gaul and carving a new province for Rome.
Meanwhile Brutus is still Julius’ loyal sword. After winning a sword tournament in Rome, Brutus starts to see the corruption behind the Senators in the capital. With Julius turning a blind eye to the corruption of the politicians and the romance between Julius and Servilia (Brutus’ mother!) Brutus becomes more resentful towards his friend.  This is not helped with the apparent war mongering Caesar has in Gaul and Britain, when his legionaries and his friend are at the ends of their endurance.
This was great book, it was jam packed full of events, from Julius’ time in Spain, his campaign to become Consul and his military exploits in Gaul. There is also Brutus’ story line that develops in this book as he starts to see Julius as not the friend he remembers from childhood but the cold General he has become. Iggulden also covers other minor stories such as the leader of the Gaelic resistance Vercingetorix. I really enjoyed Iggulden’s style of writing in this book. I really like how in different paragraphs he is able to switch between characters so easily making the book so much more detailed and exciting to read, as you know how all the characters are reacting to the same event.
Like I said this was a really good book and so far has possibly been my favourite of the series. Like I said in my other reviews I would suggest this book to anyone who has read any of Simon Scarrow’s Marco and Cato books or anyone who is just into Caesar and Ancient Rome.
For author's offical website click here

Emperor the Gods of War, Conn Iggulden

Publishers: HarperCollins

Pages: 507 (Paperback 2006)

Main Characters:

Julius Caesar, Marcus Brutus

This is the final book in Conn Iggulden’s epic Emperor Series, and what a finale. The novel sees Julius and Marcus return to Italy to take on the Dictator Pompey. After a return to Rome, Caesar sets himself up as the freely elected Consul of Rome and follows his chase of Pompey to Greece. The rift between Marcus and Julius is torn apart with Julius’ grasp on power. After Caesar makes Mark Antony his fellow Consul the friendship is ended and Brutus takes up arms against Caesar as he rides to Greece to fight alongside Pompey.
After the defeat of Pompey at the Battle of Pharsalus, Caesar forgives the betrayal of Brutus and accepts him back as one of his generals to chase the fleeing Pompey to Alexandria. Arriving on the shores of Egypt, Caesar finds that Pompey has been killed by the Egyptian King. Staying in Alexandria, Julius seeks to gain revenge for the death of Pompey and for the insults the Egyptians give to the Romans, this is where Julius is introduced to Cleopatra.
This was another brilliant book and it completes a brilliant series. The whole series is full of action, conspiracies, love and betrayal and the ending to this book is so sad as we see the end of a friendship that has lasted throughout the life of both Julius and Marcus. Some of the events seem so amazing and it is unbelievable that they actually happened! An example would be that Cleopatra was snuck into Caesar’s room in a rolled up carpet! It just makes the story so brilliant.
What a series, I have read Iggulden’s Genghis Khan Series and that was as good as this series. I would suggest this book to anyone who is a fan of Roman history or Julius Caesar, such a brilliant series give it a read.
For author’s official website click here
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