Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Family History

Yeh, so I've started researching my family history. And would you believe that I've managed to get back to a wedding in 1707!!! I'm really enjoying it, and I'm going to go into the library to do a bit more work soon because apparently they have free access to all these online databases of births, deaths, marriages and census records. And if anyone knows anything about a commercial traveller called Robert Hardacre born in Yorkshire who moved across to Lancashire...

College has finished!

I can scarcely believe I've been at college for a full school year and that I finished on Friday. It feels like I'm just having a week off before it's back to work. But no, it's two whole months! The last day was pretty good fun, it has to be said. Did half an hour of sociology, went and read, watched videos in history, made origami stuff in maths, and then did a quiz in English Language and that was it, finito. So I have a nice long summer break to enjoy. I'm going to read, read, read a bit more, write a lot, build some more models, and research my family history, which I started on Saturday. More on that shortly...

Crimean War

The Channel 4 version. Yeh, I am so behind with this. I have a list in front of me with fifteen books on it, not counting this one. And this was a little while ago--before my history exam. So I'm behind. A lot. Anyway, it was okay, but it didn't really say anything particularly noteworthy and I mostly skimmed it. I suppose it'd make a good introduction, but when you decide to start reading around the subject, you rapidly come to the conclusion that there are loads of books out there which say basically the same thing and use pretty much the same sources. I thought the Crimean War was supposedly the first major war where loads of documentation survives... Maybe it's just that people can't be bothered reading the whole pile.

Dead Man's Journey

Yeh, another Western. Although I don't know that I'd term this one a Western. I suppose, technically, books set shortly after the American Civil War involving the gold rush and all of that are Westerns, but it didn't feel like that. The main character had fought for the South in the Civil War, and lost an arm in the process. Returning home, he discovered his house destroyed, his family killed, and nothing to live for. The only thing he owned was a deed for a mining property in Colarado. So he determines to see what this place is, because it's something for him to do. He falls in with a wagon train and travels there, hating himself all the way for his disibility. And when he gets there, he discovers someone else on his claim. Beaten up and in love with the woman who saved him, he starts to realise that he isn't half a man. A heart-warming feel good story with a nice ending and a pretty good cast of characters. Don't be put off by the fact it's a Western, it's actually pretty good.

Madigan's Sidekick

Since the first Western I read went so well, I figured I'd read this one too. About a US Marshal called Madigan, who finds himself lumbered with a new recruit, who he doesn't want. But Madigan decides to make the most of it and he and Kimble find themselves getting on better than Madigan anticipated. Not that he'd admit that to anyone. It wasn't as good as the other, but the action was pretty good fun. A light read, not particularly literary or sophisticated, but sometimes it's nice to have a book you can actually just read.

The Boer War

This one was by David Smurthwaite, and it was very good--one of the best on the topic that I've found. Comprehensive, and it didn't have any horrible patronising bits where the author explained why all previous historians have got it horribly wrong and their theory is the best. Because it was composed almost exclusively of source material, written by those who were there at the time, in the form of letters and diary entries. Fascinating, and laden with pictures that highlighted various aspects of the struggle. Even better, it didn't just cover the fighting and the military stuff. There was all sorts in there, and it followed the whole course of the war. Where it was narrated, it was more to provide the context of the letters/documents included, and it flowed surprisingly well given that it was made up of dozens and dozens of composite bits.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Shoot out at Corpus Christi

Yes, it's a Western. I decided to read a Western. Well, there was an author at Freckleton (I think it was there anyway...) library the other week, and I went along, and she said there was a real market for Westerns. So I figured well, I'd read one. And, I loved it. I picked it virtually at random, mainly because it said 'Corpus Christi', and that's a college in Cambridge. Yes, that has to be about the randomest reason for choosing one book above another. Anyway, it was very enjoyable. The main character was interesting, well constructed, and fascinating. The plot was great too. A bounty hunter, on the trail of a notorious band of robbers and murderers, who've been painting Texas red. Brilliantly well written, gripping... It really made me want to go grab a few more Westerns and start reading them straight off, although the others I've read since then haven't really been on quite such the same level enjoyment wise. By Tom Calhoun, it's the first book in the Texas Tracker series, and I really wish I could find the rest of them.

Forgotten Victory

This book, by Gary Sheffield, kept popping up as a source in our text books. I read it half hoping it would show up on the exam. No such luck, but it was an interesting evaluation of the First World War, and included a look at the 'myths' that have sprung up about the conflict, and where they came from. I had expected it to be a little biassed, but at times it was so even-handed as to say almost nothing. The section on the Battle of the Somme was particularly interesting, as it examined the campaign as a whole, rather than just stopping with the disastrous first day. An interesting book, even if it was a little dry. A good introduction to the revisionist perspective on the First World War I guess.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

My Story

It says on the Blogger Buzz thing that Google wants us all to talk about why we blog and how it's affected us, since Blogger is soon to turn 10. Well, I've been blogging for about a year and a half now. It started out as something to replace my diary, which I'd become increasingly bad at writing in. Shortly after, my mum was diagnosed with cancer, my dad had been suffering with stress, and exams were soon to set in. Needless to say, it was a pretty tough time in my life. So it helped sometimes to just be able to sit down at a computer and just write whatever came out, whatever my feelings were at the time. I survived my exams, and then had a long summer holiday stretching away in front of me, and no real prospect of a holiday like I'd been expecting, since my mum was still pretty grim a lot of the time. So I decided to write a review of every single book I read over the summer holiday. I'm not entirely sure that I managed all of them, but it was certainly a large percentage. I've kept on with that now, and I'm getting better at doing it. Although it has to be said that I do make a note of what I read and write the reviews later, not necessarily straight away. My mum's very much on the mend, and I've now done almost a full year at college. Can't believe how fast the time has gone. And I've actually managed to keep my blog (mostly) up to date with what I'm doing, which is more than I ever really managed long term with a diary.

So happy birthday blogger, and that's my story.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Swaledale Marathon!!!

I can't believe I didn't post about this! Last Saturday, I was in the Yorkshire Dales, to do the Swaledale Marathon. Apparently it's one of the hardest walks there is, and I can well believe it. There are three official climbs, but there are more hills than that. I counted an extra two. I didn't manage to finish it, but I did do 17 miles out of 24, which included two of the official climbs. Really enjoyed it, even if it was utterly exhausting. The countryside round there is so beautiful. It was almost like stepping back in time, the only signs of human habitation were often dry stone walls, even when we were way up on a hill. And one of the most incredible bits was right at the beginning. We were about half an hour into the walk, going up this massive hill (which we'd been walking up from the start...), and I turned round to grab a bit of breath back, and I looked down and way way below I could see the car park where we'd left from, and the cars were so small they looked even smaller than my brothers toy cars, like they were about a centimetre long each. It was stunning to see just how small we really are when you put us into context against nature. Absolutely awesome.


I'm pretty sure I've reviewed this before, but it's worth mentioning again, and I did reread it. I love this book! It's the first book I read in what I would call the 'archaeological thriller' genre, and it's probably why I love that genre. Whether or not anyone else agrees that genre exists is another matter, but still. It has a brilliant historical plot underlying the main narrative, an underlying current of discovery just verging on occurring. The underwater scenes inside the citadel of Atlantis are vivid and stunning, as is the description of the mountain top sanctuary. The historical backdrop is believable and interesting, and the technical detail is there without being too obtrusive and all consuming. There are fun gadgets which enable things to work, but they're within the realms of plausibility too. But what makes the quest for the lost city of Atlantis all the more exciting is the fact that modern day artefact thieves are interested in the site too. And as it lies underwater, outside the jurisdiction of any nation in particular, the archaeological team are on their own. David Gibbins creates tension remarkably well. A showdown in a nuclear submarine, explosions, dramatic escapes... They turn Atlantis from a wildly speculative bit of random fiction into a brilliant 'archaeological thriller', laden with excitement both in discovery and in the attempts to protect that discovery and fight against corruption and to save friends. A brilliant book, I'd highly recommend it.

Thursday, 18 June 2009


Having just written about how much I enjoyed Forest Mage, I now have to admit I really don't know why I bothered to finish this book. It merits maybe half a star only by virtue of the fact it was an interesting idea. It looked like the sort of thing that could challenge Tom Clancy as master of the political thriller type things (you know, the ones that deal with the fates of nations, large scale thrillers). Cuba's dictator was dying, did die in fact. There would be a power vacuum. People were vying to fill it. There was gold involved, and a character who should have proved a heck of a lot more interesting than he did. I've complained about the fact that I sometimes feel a bit cheated by the way Tom Clancy has used Mr Clark (as a chauffeur!!!). Well, I felt very cheated by the way this CIA, supposed hero was used. Oh, the biological weapons were interesting, and should have provided a brilliant plot. Unfortunately, there were too many random characters who really served no purpose other than to bulk up the rest of the narrative. That guy's brother, the baseball player? What was all that about? I'm afraid I can't even remember his name. In fact, I can't even remember the CIA guy's name. I was incredibly disappointed in this book, and in the poor characters. I'm afraid I honestly didn't care when the CIA guy got killed (nowhere near the end, I'm not spoiling anything--not that there was anything to spoil in the first place). My only concern was that now my only hope of a nice juicy bit of action to redeem things was gone. Humph. And I found the ending idealistic and unrealistic. So, steer clear. I have to admit, I've seen one of Stephen Coonts other books in the library, and been tempted, but given how disappointed I was with this, I honestly don't think I'll bother. Once bitten twice shy and all that. The overall conclusion? Just don't bother even picking up this book. You'll end up reading it because it has potential, unfortunately the potential never gets realised.

Forest Mage

This is the second book in the Soldier Son trilogy by Robin Hobb, and wow is it good. I was up late reading this, despite the fact I had an exam the following day. So if I fail, I'm blaming this book. It really is fantastic. It takes the story onto a whole knew level as Nevare finds himself disgraced and forced to flee from everything he thought would be his, attempting to live out the life the Good God ordained for him, whilst fighting against the unwanted magic which is trying to claim him for its own. Alone, with nobody he can rely on, and the magic working against him to force him into its will, Nevare is desperate to escape its clutches and return to what he thought his life would be, before being forced to come to the conclusion that it is too late. Stunningly well written, vividly portrayed, I thought the Farseer trilogy was good. This just proves that Robin Hobb is perfectly capable of writing another trilogy of similar epic proportions. I think that's the only warning I'm forced to give about this book. It is long. Weighing in at nearly seven hundred pages, it is a big book (even by my standards). It is very descriptive. If you're not prepared to be totally immersed in a world, in a book filled with fantastic description of nature and you can't stand a main character who is afflicted with disease and does get depressed, steer clear. But this is a fantastic book for anyone who enjoys discovering a new world that is so well created it seems almost more real than this one, someone who wants to see nature's beauty, and who is ready for another look at magic. A magic the like of which I've never before encountered, it has to be said. So I found this book fantastic. Looking at reviews on Amazon while trying to find the page count (I borrowed it from a friend), they were mixed. It has been criticised for being too descriptive. Personally, I think that's rot. Action driven it isn't; at the heart of this piece is the character, and that is what makes it so utterly gripping. I have to be honest. Looking at the blurb made me feel slightly dubious about whether I'd enjoy it, but the book had me hooked from the start, and the ending's left me desperate for the next book. So I'll just have to hope Hil hurries up and reads it fast!

Nick Stone series

I am so far behind it's ridiculous. I'm afraid I can scarcely remember what happened in the individual books, which is why I'm going to lump Dark Winter, Brute Force and Deep Black all together. It seems a shame, because I did really enjoy them. If you want evidence of that, how about the fact that I read them all within a few days of each other, which takes serious dedication to a series. And also a succession of libraries which have those books in. They kept me up late a couple of times, and the description and action really is thrilling. For me, these are just about the best spy books you're likely to find. They're gritty, down to earth, and have such a realistic feel that it's hard to stop reading, and you sometimes have to remind yourself it's FICTION. So I would highly recommend this series. At times terrifying, others heart-wrenching, but mostly just utterly thrilling, they really are fantastic books, and if I hadn't got a list in front of me of eighteen other books I have read in the past few weeks that I need to get on with reviewing, I would certainly devote more space to them.

Last Exam!!!!

So, I had my last exam yesterday. Maths decision. Yay! There was a monster of a last question though, involving a simplex algorithm where you had to repeat the same row twice. (For those of you who don't have a clue what a simplex algorithm is, you basically use it to work out how to maximise profit from a given set of variables. This question involved a badge factory; one of the other really nasty bits was that it asked you to work out what the question was...). I was a little annoyed to get to maths today and discover we were starting a whole new topic. Simpson's Rule. Thankfully we had a nice, rather amusing powerpoint to explain it, which involved multiple pictures of various Simpsons, and some music from the shows.

Form is so annoying though. Argh! Turned up today, to try and discover exactly what we have to do for this stupid cope thing, only to find out that not only is that due in in less than two weeks, we also have to write our personal statement for UCAS by next week! Why they couldn't have given us a little more warning, I don't know. Still, I suppose it could be worse. I could be doing general studies.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Newman University College

It was the open day on Saturday, so I went down with my ad. We'd already managed to have a bit of a look when we were down for Warwick's open day, but it was pretty deserted then so I didn't really get much of an idea of what it'd be like. It was tiny! Even smaller than I thought originally. They have about 2000 students, 200 or so of which live on campus. That's like smaller than the college I'm at at the moment! Wow.

It seemed very friendly, and had a clear Catholic ethos. Nice chapel. The courses are very much vocational things, even history. You do stuff like archeology, learning to interview people, archive work, etc. And work experience is a part of it. However, there is a module which teaches you to write essays, and if I went there I'd have to do this essential skills type thing which could be quite rubbish. Hmm... I'm still thinking maybe Cambridge, but Newman would be a good backup option. I think I'd be happy there, it's just whether or not the course would actually be hard, because I'd get annoyed if it wasn't.

Drink with the Devil

This is a book in the Sean Dillon series, and it's very good. Initially appears to have nothing to do with the rest of the series, with a bullion heist that ends up turning bad. Lots of action and excitement, as well as a nice twist. I love the character of Sean Dillon, have to admit that one of mine is partially based off him. I've read this book before (can't remember if I've reviewed it, so I'll just do it again), but it doesn't lose anything by being reread. Good thrillers rarely do. I have to say, I'd read the series in order as much as possible though, as there are sometimes references to previous books, and it's nice to see how Dillon's relationship with Fergurson and Hannah develops over the series.


Wow, this book was really good. Another one in the Paul Richter series, it has some fantastic flight scenes in, along with a decent conspiracy theory. Someone has been stealing Foxbat aircraft, and Richter is sent to find out who. And why. Nobody quite realises why the Foxbat was created, as it has no computer images. Until the stunning realisation that this is an aircraft that can survive the electro-magnetic pulse that accompanies a nuclear explosion. So what are the Koreans going to do with it?

Full of brilliant technical detail that doesn't disturb the flow of the story, this is a fantastic thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Rhea's Party

Yay, what fun! Even though I showed up at Alghero's restaurant to find the maths department from my old high school sat waiting to be seated... Which was a little startling to say the least.

Anyway, we had a really good time, catching up, chatting, laughing. The food was great too, which is always a plus. Stuffed myself with prawn cocktail and pizza with ham and mushroom on and ice cream. Too full to move afterwards (not helped by the fact that my skirt didn't really fit...).

So yeh, it was good. I hope Rhea likes her earrings, and can't wait to all get together again. Twas fun.

Last Light

Yeh, I really should've read this one before Liberation Day, because it kinda spoilt the ending a bit, but still. A brilliant book. Nick Stone is ordered to set up a kill in the middle of London, to encourage people to set things moving. The problem? The person he's been ordered to eliminate is a young boy. And when he has the opportunity to press the trigger, he can't. So begins a desperate race to complete the mission, because the life of a child he loves is at risk should he fail. And so he heads out to Panama, where he uncovers a chilling conspiracy which he must thwart... The action, again, is brilliant. Highly recommended.

Liberation Day

By Andy McNab, this is a fantastic book. It reads so realistically, and just has a completely genuine feel to the action. Absolutely captivating from the first moment to the last, and I'd highly recommend it (like I would with any of his books). Really really enjoyed it, and couldn't put it down.

I don't know what else to say about it. The narration is brilliant, the main character one of the best action heroes I've ever met, even though he isn't a hero in the conventional sense of the word. Wish there were more of these books that I've not read yet...

Monday, 8 June 2009

Through German Eyes: The British and the Somme

Yeh, this is kinda weird to read. It's about the British during the Battle of the Somme, from the German perspective. You do start to think a bit 'oh, just tell me what the Germans were doing'. But quite interesting to see a bit of the other side of the story at any rate. Oh boy have I got rotten hayfever at the moment. I think my head's gonna fall off if I sneeze again. Anyway.... It was pretty interesting, but it's worth having a bit of knowledge RE: the battle of the Somme before you start. Incidentally, we had a question on it during our history exam today, which was kinda neat. I was hoping for one. But I was also hoping it would be the one you could use own knowledge for. Apologies for the ramblingness of this review, but it's a while since I actually read this book and I didn't sleep well at all last night and my hayfever's really bad at the moment. Meh.

Anyway, I think I'd recommend this one if you've the time for it, it was pretty big. But it does help to know a bit about what it's talking about before you start reading it.

Friday, 5 June 2009

The British Museum

When we were in London for the day, I persuaded my mum that while my dad and brother roamed the tube (I think they did something like seven different lines...), we should go to the British Museum. After working out that it's not at South Kensington, it's actually from a small random tube stop elsewhere, we finally managed to find the place. And wow was it an impressive museum. The building itself was awesome enough, to say nothing of the stuff in it.

I had to see the Rosetta Stone of course. For those of you who don't know, the Rosetta Stone is the reason we can now understand hieroglyphs. Up till the point they found and decoded it, it was assumed that hieroglyphs were some kind of picture language, and impossible to decode as all knowledge of it had been lost. But the Rosetta Stone changed all that. It was found by Napoleon on his expedition to Egypt (when he took along a bunch of Egyptologists to study the place), and he decided that it was worth carting back to France for further study. But then the British intervened by defeating him, and in the settlement they gave the British the stone amongst other artefacts. The British were quick to recognise its importance and sent out images of it to scholars all over the world to see what they could make of it. They figured out that the three different languaged inscriptions all said the same thing--a royal decree. The languages were Greek, demotic (a kind of simple form of hieroglyphs that was actually practical), and hieroglyphs. Since they knew Greek, it was possible to figure out what the other two said. It's a pretty massive lump of rock, carved with lots of teeny tiny figures, and there was a bit of a crowd around it.

Along with the Rosetta Stone, there were a bunch of other statues from Egypt (and other places too). And they were massive! I mean, the story of how they got to the museum, bearing in mind they were probably transported on sailing ships, must be quite a thing in itself. There was a head from a statue that was taller than me, lion things, all sorts.

Then there were all sorts of Minoan and Mycenean (think that's how you spell it) stuff, which I had a bit of a look at. One of the two (sorry, I can't quite recall which), is thought to be the basis for the legend of Atlantis, and Minoan Crete is the basis for the story of the Minotaur (the legend with the man with the bull's body which lives in a labyrinth, and the ball of string). Very interesting stuff. They hung about on Crete a long time ago.

Had a bit of a look at the European history too, but I was a bit miffed we didn't have, oh, say a couple of days to look around. Pretty neat. They have the stuff from the Sutton Hoo burial there (I'd never heard of it before either--it's a load of burial mounds in this country with all sorts of funky artefacts from our ancient ancestors and bits of ship which were buried there too). Anyhow, that was pretty interesting. And a bit more moral perhaps. I mean, we have kinda nabbed a large part of the ancient culture of various different places, although I suppose folks like the Minoans and Myceneans don't really mind so much since they're wiped out (if I'm wrong here, please correct me...). But it's maybe not so nice to Egypt to have nabbed the Rosetta Stone. Although I am grateful for the fact I've been able to see it.

Anyway, it's well worth visiting this place if you ever happen to be in London. Absolutely incredible, especially if you're a bit of a history lover :D.


I was on holiday in Cambridge for a week (well, couple of days there, couple of days in this other little place on the way there, and a day in London via the train). Really enjoyed it. That's why this blog is so hopelessly behind me... I have a list of books that I've not yet written about, which is nineteen books long, and I haven't said anything about what we did in Cambridge etc. Never mind. I shall catch up, eventually.

Cambridge was pretty awesome. It's an amazing city, and some of the colleges of the university--incredible! King's College is probably the most famous of the lot, and the architecture is mega impressive, but there are a lot of other really old buildings. Went into the Cambridge University Press bookshop, it's the oldest site in Britain which has continuously had a bookshop on it. Something like 400 odd years, which is pretty impressive, you have to admit. Looking round the colleges, I think I'm going to apply to Jesus College. It's a tiny bit out the city centre, maybe five minutes from the middle (Cambridge is a pretty small city, and no cathedral either just like Preston), got really big grounds, and a very impressive looking array of old buildings. Plus dinosaur statues outside...

The university library apparently has to add two miles of shelves every year to keep up with the influx of new books. That makes my ever expanding selection of books sound pretty modest. It's a copyright library, so they get a copy of everything published in the UK.

Anyway, that was Cambridge. Good fun visiting, and I really enjoyed the open top bus tour. And there are bicycles everywhere, and I mean everywhere. Probably because a) it's mega flat, and b) if you're an undergraduate at Cambridge University you're not allowed to have a car.

Whoo, party tonight!

I'm going to Rhea's birthday party tonight, yay! And it's the first time I've worn a skirt since the end of last year... Yeh, that just goes to show how often I wear skirts/dresses. Anyway, I'm now looking at the history of Sardinia, which is, vaguely, related. We're going to a place called Alghero's. Alghero is in Sardinia. And I'm sure I remember reading/hearing about Sardinia somewhere in an interesting history related context. Hmm....