Saturday, 30 May 2009

Arctic Drift

By Clive Cussler, this is actually really good. The latest instalment in the Dirk Pitt series, which I've loved. When I read the blurb though, I thought oooh, dodgy, don't know if I'll like it. Particularly after I found Golden Budha (Oregon Files) to be a little disappointing and lacking in the usual excitement and technology and decent character. Global warming was the topic for this one. A miracle cure. Which instantly made me back off a bit, probably because of the mess James Patterson made of The Final Warning (Maximum Ride series) when he decided to introduce global warming to an otherwise fantastic series. So I felt a bit wary about reading it, but I figured I'd seen it in the library, wasn't going to cost me anything but time to read it, and if it was rubbish, I'd just stop.

It wasn't rubbish. Dirk Pitt (Sr) was on fine form, saving the world etc, and his two kids (still not entirely sure where they came from--I think they showed up randomly in an epilogue with no warning, but still, they're pretty neat) were certainly well written. I particularly like Summer (just to add, these 'kids' are in their twenties, so they're technically not kids I guess). Anyway, there's a nice ecological problem with mysterious stuff killing loads and loads of fish, perhaps linked to a 'green' buisnessman. Who, it turns out, is not so 'green' as he'd like people to think. The miracle cure is actually very believable! That was what stunned me most. And it was written so well, that even if it does seem a little far fetched to think there's a magical catalyst that'lll be randomly discovered that can stop global warming by turning carbon dioxide into oxygen, that didn't really affect the plot. To be fair, accidents are how most scientific discoveries seem to be made, and maybe it isn't far fetched. After all, this is the guy who predicted how the Titanic would be found and explored... before it happened. Let's hope Clive Cussler's right about this one too.

The American Revolution 1774-1783

Going into this book (Osprey Essential Histories again) with almost no idea of what actually happened was quite interesting. About all I knew was that the Americans had kicked us (British) out of their country, following the Boston Tea Party. I had a bit of an idea about the Declaration of Independence getting signed, of the states having to stand united or fall divided, and that there were pretty much guerillas v British red coats. (I lived in America for three years and went to school there, hence the basic understanding).

Reading this, I discovered that actually, I had very little idea whatsoever. And that little bit I did know was somewhat suspect. The Americans had help from the French and the Spanish (never hear them saying anything about that...). For the most part, battles were fought in the standard line formations. The Americans had problems getting men to fight. They had to pretty much force them at times, and they'd walk off as soon as their tour of duty was finished. Which kinda suggests the drive for independence wasn't all that strong. What really forced the British to depart, apparently, was the major supply problems of shipping reinforcements and food etc all the way across the Atlantic in sailing ships, and in the fact that the French and Spanish navies combined were able to pose a significant threat. The fighting occured all over the globe, not just in America. In some sense, this was a world war in its own right. The British had to fight the Spaniards and French in South America, Gibraltar, and various other locations. They feared the joint navy which they couldn't match. I guess the policy that Britain would have as many ships as the next two countries combined came from this.

Very interesting. And for all of you who believe the sort of traditional view (which I would guess is most people), it's well worth reading to get a good idea of what really happened. An excellent brief overview, as per usual. And it's from a reliable name, which is a definite bonus. No ridiculous typos in this book. And pictures--always a nice addition to a history book, so that you get an idea of what things looked like for real.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009


By Ted Bell, this is a really good book. A sequel to Hawke, which I wrote about earlier. Saw this one in the library and went 'yay!'. Not too loud fortunately. The only thing is, I'm not exactly reading them in order. Which made things kinda confusing and gave me all sorts of complicated bits trying to work out what fitted where. Still, it's a fantastically good book. I actually like this one more than Hawke. Involves a conspiracy theory in the jungles of South America to wipe out the USA, sponsored by Muslim extremist groups. Quite exciting, although a tiny bit confusing at the beginning. I think this is a series you should read in order though...

Anyway, I'd certainly recommend this one if you've a bit of time to read it. It's enjoyable and fast paced, with a nice plot that's both believable and carries a realistic and satisfying conclusion (they tend to be either one or the other in thrillers...)

Sociology and Critical Thinking

I had two more exams yesterday. Sociology in the morning--two hour exam. Slightly dodgy 12-mark question, but I think I've blagged it okay. It was asking about why there are different pupil subcultures, which we've not really looked at at all, especially not in that sort of context. Anyway, I rabbitted a bit for that. Finished it forty minutes early, so I was sat there being bored for ages. Critical thinking wasn't so bad. Again though, I finished forty minutes early. I've now come to the unfortunate conclusion that examiners work out how much time you need and then add forty minutes. They could at least give us sudoku puzzles to do once we're finished.

Friday, 15 May 2009

English Language exam

Yeh. I had my first exam today. And hey, look, I'm still alive! Despite the fact I finished the darn thing forty minutes early. Yes. Forty. It was a two and a half hour exam that took me less than two. Although one of my friends said she was really rushed and writing all the way up to the end... I got plenty of points down though, and apparantly if you write rubbish it knocks your mark down, even if the rest of it's okay. So I figured that since I couldn't actually spot any more good points, I'd be better off leaving what I'd done. So I sat there. And sat there. And composed a little poem in my head (which I didn't dare write down, for fear of examinery reprisals--apparantly someone once doodled on their paper and they sent it back with a mega complaint).

Exam Room

Crocodile skin floor, tattooed with slashes of colour
Who knows what sports to represent?
The tense rustle of pens
As you sit in boredom
Thinking, when will this torture end?
The unquiet silence that bars all thoughts from coming,
The disturbing rustle as all others work on
Oh look!
The clock just changed its number
Only twenty-seven minutes to go...

(or something roughly along those lines. It's kinda difficult to remember poetry you don't write down). I also figured out another couple of scenes for my story. And watched the clock. One of my friends, who was also bored, worked out what 2 to the power of 27 was... In her head.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009


Well, I learnt how to fix my ipod. I have a second generation nano, so it might be different depending on what you've got. Anyhow, you flick hold on and off, then hold down the centre button and menu. I was almost right. I tried centre and play... Anyway, it worked. Just so you know. And now I'm happy(ish). Although I would still rather have it playing fine on the way to college.

Ipod, you are an ipod, and you do exist.

I am currently trying to persuade my ipod that it does want to work, it does exist, and that it does not need to sit there telling me it's playing a podcast that it quite clearly isn't, and refusing to do anything no matter what button I press. Humph says I. Any guesses as to what I can do?

On another rant. Facebook has changed itself yet again. Why??? What was wrong with how it was when I joined? Which wasn't all that long ago, if you're wondering.

And why does my computer keep losing tab things at the bottom of the screen, only letting them reappear when I use the alt+tab shortcut to change between screens? And why, up until a few moments ago, did it call this hotmail, when I didn't even have hotmail open any more?

Technology is fine, until it breaks. And then it's just annoying. And stupid. And pointless. And very annoying. Because I've gotten used to listening to music on my way to college, and was looking forward to the Daily Audio Bible podcast. But no. It went kaput. And it's determined that it doesn't exist. Meh.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Warwick University

So, I went to Warwick's Open Day on Saturday. Thinking I'll record my impressions up here since I'm then less likely to lose them...

Big. That was my first impression. Big and slightly scary, especially because I was going in to the talks on my own but pretty much everyone else had their parent(s) with them. Lots and lots and lots of people. Nice campus. I've visited there once or twice before for NAGTY events (sadly this wonderful organisation now no longer really exists--except in the rather rubbishy form of YG&T, which has a pretty naff version of the wonderful old forums and doesn't seem to run proper events and also has not clicked that I go to college, not secondary school and so sends me a magazine for secondary school kids that looks more appropriate for 8/9 year olds.) Anyway. Very nice campus, if somewhat confusing. But I thought Newman confusing when I first went there, and now I'm like 'what, I thought this place was confusing?!'. Discovered the range of languages you can study along with history is more limited than I thought. Italian, French, Spanish and German, but you have to really have done French and German at A-level to do them. However, if you do Renaissance and Modern history (this is amazing!), you get to spend a term in Venice, as an actual part of the degree!!! Wow. And I'm thinking that sort of history does have some appeal as I've really never ever done it before. So it'd be nice to do something a bit different.

They have a nice chapel, very active Christian Union etc. Friendly folk in there. It was big though. And very competitive to get in. 16 applicants per place for history! So, hmm... Want to get a look round some other places before I start saying for definite, but this is an option for sure.

Red Roses on the Veldt

Very good book. It makes explicit at the start that it's not intended to be a history of the Boer War and it's not going into all the politics and disputes over it. All it is is a history of what happened, in large part told through eyewitness accounts, from a Lancashire perspective. And it's very interesting. Nice assortment of pictures in there, lots of eyewitness stuff which is always good to read, and the text worked round the sources, gave the extra information needed. In short, it's how I expected the Destination Dardanelles book to be, but done even better. Interesting to read about stuff from a local perspective. It kind of brings things home a bit more. It was still about the soldiers and the fighting, not the home front, but it was about the Lancashire regiments.

I was naughty. I let the rather decrepit cover and rather dry looking nature of the book put me off. Then I started reading it and discovered how wrong I'd been to put it off. Well worth a read if you're interested in local history, or the Boer War.

The Crimean War

This is the one by Clive Ponting (I would guess it's not the only book called The Crimean War...). Well written, surprisingly readable. I was able to read it all in two days, without having to stop and read fiction in between sections like some non-fiction books make you do. Very interesting. There were one or two rather contentious points perhaps, and I would've liked a bit more detail in some sections (things like the hospital problems got a few paragraphs, the Charge of the Light Brigade received a few pages etc). However, that would've made the book considerably longer and I think overall the balance was right. Also liked the fact that a lot of the eyewitness reports he used were included in boxes in the text, making them stand out clearly.

I think though, that if Clive Ponting wanted, he probably has a case for plagiarism against the authors of Edexcel GCE History (my textbook for history). Ok, so they've quoted him as source material quite a few times, fair enough. But when you find passages in the text book which are virtually word for word, with no acknowledgement, just the odd word changed and the odd sentence moved... Well, it does make you wonder about the competency of those in charge of Edexcel. I've already found a couple of inaccurate passages and typos in the books. To find something that comes so close to plagiarism, even if, perhaps, it's not quite, is worrying. Especially when they make such a big thing of plagiarism.

Thursday, 7 May 2009


A singularly appropriate book to read given the stories all over the news at the moment. However, I did get it out the library before swine flu was declared a pandemic.

Although at first I found it a little difficult to get into, as it was laden with rather too many technical details for my liking, I stuck with it long enough to realise that this truly was a fascinating book. And completely and utterly gripping, as evidenced by the fact that I stayed up until quarter to one in the morning on Monday--despite knowing I needed to actually sleep because I had college the following day. Then I lay there awake thinking 'wow, that was really good', and pondering whether the twist at the end was actually feasible. The author made the point pretty clear that it was a work of fiction, but then included some rather disturbing facts that made it seem rather less like a work of fiction and more an exposé of a disturbing conspiracy.

A diver finds a wrecked aircraft, takes away a briefcase. Inside the briefcase are several vials. Thinking they contain some sort of drug, he tastes it. Then he dies a shockingly gruesome death and fear breaks out in the Greek Islands as to what he's taken, how it killed him, and what the virus was. Another man is found dead, a full scale pandemic looks imminent. Paul Richter--a British spy--is sent in to investigate what happened. He uncovers a trail of clues leading to the CIA and a secret America would rather stay buried.

Well worth reading, if only for the astonishingly good twist at the end. But that's not the only reason it was enjoyable. The action was good, the setting and technical detail believable the characters (especially Paul Richter) well developed... In short, it's just the sort of thing any reader of thrillers would enjoy. And if you like conspiracy theories too... Well, this one just takes the prize for the most intriguing and best theory I have yet heard. As well as being terrifyingly believable.

Oh, and as an interesting extra: this is probably the first book I've read which included a glossary that was useful. I know, shocking. The words you wanted to look up were in there, but all the acronyms etc were also explained in the text--the glossary was just a good reminder. Most books don't bother to put the words/abbreviations you actually want to look up in there.

Messenger of death: Captain Nolan and the charge of the light brigade

You've probably heard of the Charge of the Light Brigade, even if you've no idea what war it was in or anything like that. The Crimean War if you're interested. Captain Nolan was the guy who delivered the order from the Commander-in-Chief to the leader of the Light Brigade, and he has been blamed for the fatal charge. It's said that he pointed them in the wrong direction. It's even been alleged that he did it deliberately, to test out his theory on the use of cavalry.

This book is very well written, gives an interesting and detailed account of one man's experience of life during the first half of the 19th century. Even if you don't have a clue about the Crimean War and don't particularly care, I think you could find this interesting. Captain Nolan, it turns out, was a very interesting man, despite the fact that those who do know anything about him tend to associate him with the failed Charge of the Light Brigade. The book gives a very good account of not only his life, but also the context, particularly with regard to the Crimean War and service in India, as well as giving an insight into the life of the officer class at a time when you were promoted not by your ability but by your ability to pay for it.

An interesting read, I'd recommend it to anyone who'd like to know more about the Charge of the Light Brigade.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Bosun's Secret

Yeh, it's one of those quick reads, or maybe a children's book. Whichever way, a short one you can read in half an hour or so. Good book for a dinner break when you're bored, though not hugely amazing. I rarely enjoy short stories that much though, I don't think there's the time to make them really interesting. If you're bored and you happen to see a copy, read it, but I wouldn't go out of your way to find one.

It's set in Victorian England, about a boy caught begging and sent to a nautical school, so that he can make something of himself. Becomes friends with the captain of the 'ship' and his daughter, but there's an evil Bosun. Not quite as good as I'd hoped, but I do like stories about the sea, and it was very realistic in its portrayal of those times.

Last Battle of the Icemark

This is the final instalment in the trilogy which started with The Cry of the Icemark. It's incredible, rounds off the series well, and is well written. I met the author a while ago, very interesting guy. Really enjoyed the book. It brings everything to a neat conclusion, although it's not just finishing off old threads--new ones are started and wrapped up too. One of the best fantasy trilogies I've ever read. Need reading in order for maximum enjoyment, but that's nothing unusual. I think Blade of Fire (second book) is still perhaps my favourite of the trilogy, but they're all very good. I think you should read them if you like fantasy. Very original take on things, nice twists on traditional myths and folk lore, love this book.

The Knife of Never Letting Go

Wow. I read this, and all I could think to say was just wow.

I have to admit, I wasn't looking forward to reading it. It was last month's book for the Teenage Reading Group, so I figured I better had do. Took it to my clarinet lesson, to read before it started, read about thirty pages, was thinking it was pretty rubbish. Nice plot, I said, but not well written. It was mostly the 'yer' and all the bad spelling that annoyed me. But wow. Give the book a chance. Don't write it off until you're half way through, and by that point, I can almost guarantee you'll want to finish it.

An absolutely unbelievably good plot. Very original, very interesting, very well created. The characters were fantastic too. Believable, relate-to-able, and Manchee was such a fun character. He's the dog by the way. The talking dog. But don't let yourself be put off by the talking dog. When a book is as incredible as that, the idea of talking animals actually works.

I guess you'd call it sci-fi/fantasy. Set on an alternate world, which has been settled by a group who left Old Earth to live a simple life. But when they arrive, they discover that things aren't quite so great as they'd hoped. For a start, there's the Noise--a disease that affects every man and means that their thoughts are blurted out for the whole world to hear. And because of the randomness of human thoughts (just think how off topic you can go, how many different levels of thoughts you can have at once), it can be quite infuriating.

In the village where Todd Hewitt is growing up, all the women are dead, killed by the same germ that created the Noise. But then Todd stumbles upon a spot of silence. And discovers a girl. All of a sudden, everything he's been taught his whole life is revealed to be lies, and he has to flee the village. And warn the people in the non-existent other villages, which he discovers are all too real. An army is on the march. The army made up of all the people from his town. And they're determined to kill both him and the girl he discovered.

Strongly recommend this book to anyone at all. An absolute must read, and I can totally understand why it's got nominated for various different awards. Wow.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

A Brief History of Mutiny

Now this one was pretty interesting. Took a couple of mutinies and explained what was likely to have caused them, what happened etc. Did make me wonder how on earth they found out some of the stuff, given that the mutinies being described happened ages ago, but I guess ships logs etc would give that sort of info. Gave me a random story idea too, which I might try and use and see what happens, although as yet I have like three characters to populate the plot. This is the sort of book you can read without a real interest in the topic, as it's not too long or long-winded, told like a set of stories linked with the theme of involving mutiny. And because they were kinda separate stories, you could put it down at the end of one mutiny and you wouldn't lose track of where you were up to/where it was going. Good book. Interesting.

Destination Dardanelles: The Story of HMS E7

Well. It was interesting. Non-fiction. But the title is somewhat misleading. It doesn't talk about HMS E7 (a submarine), half as much as I expected. It gives random details and bits of info about other submarines. The subject itself is interesting--submarines in the First World War. Don't often hear about them, but they did exist and they were used. The blurb said it was giving a 'binocular' view, putting the experiences of the one crew of HMS E7 in context with what was happening throughout the campaign. Not really I'm afraid. It was too general to be called specifically on HMS E7, but didn't really give enough detail to be called a general book on submarine warfare, or even submarines in the Dardanelles (involved with the Gallipoli campaign it seems). Also, it had clearly not been proofread, or proofread by someone with a very poor grasp of the English language, as it was liberally littered with grammatical errors and typos in general. Now, when you start to see a non-fiction book with that sort of problem, it makes you wonder just how accurate the information itself is. If they haven't checked the writing, have they checked the facts? It would've been much better if the author had limited themselves to reproducing the diary that was supposedly being used to give the story of HMS E7, with a few explanatory bits to explain references that wouldn't make sense without a bit of extra knowledge. So yeh, while the subject was interesting, I wouldn't recommend this book as a good starting point, or even as a continuing point, for reading about it.

Biggles in Borneo

I seem to go through phases of reading Biggles. This is the last one I've read recently though. Quite similar in plot etc to Biggles Delivers the Goods and Biggles in the Baltic. A nice little story, about setting up an airbase right under the enemy's nose. People get captured, rescued, all the usual drama that accompanies Biggles wherever W.E. Johns sends him to be honest. Nice to read, not particularly long so you can enjoy it in a fairly short space of time. Yeh, I recommend the series in general. This wasn't one of my absolute favourites, but it's still pretty good.

Biggles Defends the Desert

Quite a fun Biggles book, one of the better ones. And one of the few in which Biggles actually gets injured. Giving what he gets up to, you'd expect him to be dead, but still. Rather exciting, well written. I like Biggles. Nice old-fashioned chivalry, but with the bonus of modern aircraft (well, WWII ones) making it all more exciting. As usual, I recommend these books, and this one is a good one to start with. Especially because it's one of the ones recently reprinted, so it's not even that hard to get hold of! Unlike most of them...

Yay! Red's Story is finished!

I've just finished another story. My fourteenth novel-length story to be finished. Really enjoyed writing it. I did it in first person, which is unusual for me. I've done it once before, but that was first person present tense, which was just weird to write. I'm very happy with how it turned out. Not at all how I initially expected it to go, but a very enjoyable one to write, and I really got under Red's skin, felt almost like I was him at times. And managed to make myself cry writing one scene, and then again when I was typing it up.

So, what do I work on now? Well, I've got about a billion half finished stories floating around. I also have an idea which I might prod at and see what happens. For now, I'll finish typing this up, and then I'll see what takes my fancy. Might try and finish When All Was Fair, which is reaching ridiculously long lengths...