30 April, 2008


Torchwood:  Trace Memory
David Llewellyn

Abby borrowed two of these Torchwood books from friends, i suppose because she has seen the television programme and wanted to read the book. Perhaps the programme is necessary, because for me, not having seen it, this was not a good investment of time.

The story was all right, though difficult to follow because it jumps about in time rather disconcertingly; there is a sort of resolution, though not by any means a happy ending, and no real explanation of all the events, including the antagonists, who seem to be some sort of creature from primeval time, yet are nattily dressed in suits and bowler hats from last century (and the reason they are even vaguely humanoid in form is...?). The characters, likewise, are all right, though there is no real definition or development ~ i suppose Llewellyn is depending on the reader already knowing them from the programme, which is pretty sloppy writing, as far as i’m concerned ~ i certainly don’t care about them or their futures any more at the end of the book than i did at the beginning.

Another problem for me, again more than likely a leftover from the appeal of television, is that all of a sudden, out of nowhere, two of the characters are indulging each other in sex which, at the very least, has to be seen as exploitative on the part of the main character, Jack Harkness, who sleeps with the completely lost young time-traveller whose appearance triggers the entire plot.

Overall, it is pretty easy to see that i won’t be reading another of this series, as it’s not done a thing for this television non-watcher.

19 April, 2008


Catherine Forde

I got this through the Librarything Early Reviewer programme, which works with publishers to offer a few copies of a number of books each month to people who will read and (it is hoped) review them. So, here's the review.

I received Sugarcoated on 17 April and started reading it more from a feeling of obligation than anything else ~ i am not in the target audience group (mid- to late-teenaged girls), this was not the book i had been hoping to receive, i already have several other books going ~ so i could still feel a part of the programme. Well! I was wrong in my low expectations, i am happy to report. After a few minutes i took the book to bed and, almost before i knew it, was reluctantly finishing for the night on page ninetyeight. Last night i did the same thing, and completed the book less than two days after i received it; such speed is not really unusual for me, often a book can be done in one sitting, but is so far removed from what i anticipated that it deserves comment.

The narrator of the story, Claudia but called Clod by almost everyone from her parents on, witnesses, and wishes she didn't, a particularly nasty murder in a Glasgow shopping mall. Urged by the police to speak of what she saw, she doesn't and is rapidly met by the most gorgeous guy she's ever seen. Swept off her feet, blinded by this man's beauty of character and body, she is rapidly drawn deeper into a situation she can neither understand nor control ~ though the reader understands all too easily, hence a nice layer of suspense which permeates the books pages. The end of the story is quite unusually done, in that Forde stops before we expect her to (i was flipping pages, not quite understanding), without spelling everything out for us, though leaving us to hope that all has ended well, or satisfactorily at least, for a heroine we've grown accustomed to, if not actually fond of.

All in all, this was an excellent introduction to Early Reviews for me, as it allowed me to meet a novelist i've never run across before, gave me two evenings of pleasure, and added a book to my shelves; three superb results.

18 April, 2008

Horrible History

The Barmy British Empire
Terry Deary

It was quite odd to me, reading this book: I really felt that i had been dumped back into the 1970s, perhaps, and was reading something written in the throes of guilt by a Briton undergoing passionate regret for everything that the British Empire stood for and did. Now, i am not one who will say that it was an unadulterated good thing for civilisation in general, and for the colonies in particular, that the Empire was built. Neither, however, will i permit it to be seen as an unmitigated evil that held the world groaning in slavery until the colonies could be wrenched from greedy Britannia's grasp and given their freedom. The truth of the matter is that immeasurable amounts of evils were done, as well as positive actions; many people suffered because of the Empire, and some still do today, and yet more are probably in a positive position today as a result. For Deary, however, the second part of each phrase just doesn’t seem to exist: Everything he says, with the exception of small mentions of positives at the end of the book, is negative. Even at the moment of mentioning a positive ~ the extinction of the slave trade, for example ~ he cannot but subsume that in a far more powerful negative which essentially devalues completely anything positive said. Certainly Bristol and Liverpool were built by the blood of slaves; certainly the trade was not stopped until two hundred years had passed; certainly hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Africans died in the Middle Passage. On the other hand, the fact was that the trade was stopped; British Christians of different varieties saw and recognised the evil and worked for years to correct it; Sierra Leone was set up with the best of intentions to provide for men and women torn from their homes and families. It is, maybe, fine rhetoric to ignore certain facts in order to improve your case; it is poor writing, however, not to mention intellectually dishonest to pretend that shades of grey are all black ~ especially in a book for children, who are less likely to be able to pick out the illogicality and dishonesty for themselves, and thus will imbibe an incorrect view of the past. Not, i am afraid, one of Terry Deary's better outings.

13 April, 2008


Revival! A People Saturated with God
Brian H. Edwards

The first thing i want to write is that this is such a challenging book; then, of course, i start to second-guess myself and think that it’s not, because the challenge, if any, is to God: Is he, or is he not, going to bring revival to this town (or any in this country); and obviously we cannot manipulate him into it as it is his decision. Then again, i think, ah, but there is a lot in this book which does challenge us, as we look for revival, because our behaviour can make it less likely, though not impossible, as nothing is for God, that he will grace us with his presence in a particular and especial way.

Edwards does an excellent job of unfolding the revival of Hezekiah’s reign, mostly as given in II Chronicles, and the things that he, the king, did which prepared the nation for a huge and successful revival. These things, prayer, preaching, repentance, worship, &c., he links to other revivals over the past seven hundred years, including the Welsh revivals, Borneo, the Great Awakening, Korea, the Waldensians, and others. And, yes, there is a challenge in it: Are we going to pray and repent, and desire God to visit us, here, today?

I enjoyed Edwards’s writing style; he is didactic without being heavy-handed (something i could aim for!), and easy to pick up and read quickly. I used this book, along with Selwyn Hughes, Why Revival Waits, as support when i preached a few weeks back, and thoroughly enjoyed the process from beginning to almost the end.

11 April, 2008


Byzantium; the Early Centuries
by John Julius Norwich

Well, i certainly don’t feel competent to pronounce on this book, written as it is by perhaps the leading historian of Byzantium, and as well known as it is. But it is not may way to simply roll over and play dead when it comes to these reviews, so i shall give my opinion, though remaining well aware that it may not have a lot of value, in the scheme of things. Having said this, actually i have very little to say against this book. Only the one thing, actually: I could have wished that in the text there were more specific dates to hang some of the events and emperors on, or at least to peg them near. The text flows so beautifully that perhaps no one wanted to interrupt it with anything so prosaic as dates, but i certainly find history easier to pull into a big picture if i have a bit of the context to fix it in, and i’m sure i’m not alone in that. It would have been enough to put a date in the margin every page or two or in a running header, just something to look at. Certainly, there is a dated list of emperors at the end of the book, linking both Eastern and Western Empires; but then the genealogical tables (utterly vital in this book) are at the opposite end of the book, and there are no dates with the emperors in them. Altogether, the dating issue was a bit frustrating to me. Other than that, however, can i say enough about this book and the ease with which it teaches about the lesser known Roman Empire? Probably not. Let this suffice: We went to Hay-on-Wye, where i bought Byzantium, on the first of April; i finished reading it on the ninth, and that’s with still reading the other two or three books i’m involved in at the moment. I really enjoyed this, though not the eye-poking and nose-slitting per se, all the way through; i learned, as i knew i would, a lot of detail about the East; and i truly look forward to the time when i can find, buy, and read the second and third books. Roll on the next trip to Hay!

09 April, 2008

The English Language

This was one of the most satisfying books i have read in a long time. Everything about it was pleasing, from the most basic physical appearance (it's one of the Folio Society books that we bought) to the notes at the end of the volume. It pointed up, once again, for me the irony of a powerful interest in linguistics, which i have, combined with an appalling ability to learn languages, which i also have ~ despite the fact that i am currently struggling to learn two! Burchfield has made a lovely analysis of English, from Anglo-Saxon times to the very recent present, both in England and in other versions spoken. He explains much, in fairly simple terms, of why we speak the way we do, how it developed, touching on basic linguistics as he goes, and with a nice number of illustrations to help make his points. Burchfield speaks with great authority, as he was the editor of the OED for some years, at least during the publication of the latters portions of the Supplement, and possibly during the consolidation of the same. Obviously, he knows of what he writes, but he never ~ literally, not once ~ lost my interest by becoming too technical or resorting to jargon; as far as i am concerned, he is a fluent writer, as well as a knowledgeable one. Thus the time in this book was time very well spent.