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Didier (Ghent, Belgium)

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A Storm of Swords, Part 2: Blood and Gold (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 3)
A Storm of Swords, Part 2: Blood and Gold (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 3)
by George R.R. Martin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.49

5.0 out of 5 stars All aboard for Westeros!, 9 July 2012
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Looking back upon them I wrote rather raving reviews of the previous parts in this series (A Song of Ice and Fire (1) - A Game of Thrones (Reissue), A Song of Ice and Fire (2) - A Clash of Kings (Reissue), and A Song of Ice and Fire (3) - A Storm of Swords: Part 1 Steel and Snow (Reissue)) and now find myself stuck between a rock and a hard place because 'A Storm of Swords 2: Blood and Gold' is actually even better. The plot thickens considerably as House Stark is scattered and their cause seems all but lost, but all is not well in House Lannister either when the leading members of that family start to fall out amongst each other... The pace of the action in this part is simply breathtaking!

When it comes to sword and sorcery fiction, this is most probably as good as it gets.


A Storm of Swords: Part 1 Steel and Snow (Reissue) (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 3)
A Storm of Swords: Part 1 Steel and Snow (Reissue) (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 3)
by George R.R. Martin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another feast, 9 July 2012
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Having just finished part 1 (A Song of Ice and Fire (1) - A Game of Thrones (Reissue)) and 2 (A Song of Ice and Fire (2) - A Clash of Kings (Reissue)) of this series there was nothing for it but I just had to rush at breakneck speed into part 3. If you liked the first two parts, this one will not disappoint. Many of the by now familiar characters are still around (that is, those not yet killed in action or by intrigue), and others come to the forefront of the action. As in the earlier parts Martin uses several narrators, and this works splendidly, giving one insight into their motivations and making one feel you know them from the inside out.

Actually, the more I read of this series the more I'm convinced that herein lies their true strength and unique quality: some of these characters you'll love to hate (in my case: Cersei Lannister, amongst many others), some you may find irritatingly naÔve (Sansa Stark...), and some, though precious few perhaps, are honorable human beings (Davos Seaworth), but none of them will leave you indifferent! You'll root for some, wish others to seven hells, and meanwhile find yourself reading on well past bedtime, oblivious of the real world and engrossed in Westeros and this 'Song of Ice and Fire'.


Clash of Kings, a
Clash of Kings, a

5.0 out of 5 stars Surgeon General's warning, 9 July 2012
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This review is from: Clash of Kings, a
This book, and the rest of the series for that matter, should come with a clear warning: 'opening this book may cause serious damage to your social life and those near to you' or something along those lines... If my own experience is anything to go by: even when I was frightfully busy at work and at home, trying to keep the wife and my 3 kids contended, I was never far from this book, and every minute I could spare dove right into it to find out what happened next.

If you liked the first part in the series (A Song of Ice and Fire (1) - A Game of Thrones (Reissue)), don't hesitate to buy this one: it's as good, but even longer (873 pages in this edition). Robert Baratheon is dead, and the scramble for the Iron Throne is on. Plenty of action, more intrigues than the Borgias and Tudors could have come up with between them, and an easy fluent style, what else could one want to while away time? Most protagonists will have become familiar by now, and Martin's technique of switching between narrators works superbly.

Waiter, bring on A Song of Ice and Fire (3) - A Storm of Swords: Part 1 Steel and Snow (Reissue)!


A Song of Ice and Fire (1) - A Game of Thrones
A Song of Ice and Fire (1) - A Game of Thrones
by George R.R. Martin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.74

5.0 out of 5 stars A feast, 7 July 2012
"We should start back", Gared urged as the woods began to grow dark around them.' is the first sentence of 'A game of thrones', and the book ends with '(...) and for the first time in hundreds of years, the night came alive with the music of dragons.'

In between: 780 pages of exquisite reading pleasure, set in an imaginary but entirely credible world, peopled with a host of unforgettable characters: some you'll love and others you'll love to hate, and - who knows? - some you may even find a bit boring after a while (I know I did) but nonetheless I felt constantly compelled to read on and on. I'm not an expert in the genre of sword & sorcery, but it's hard to imagine how the narrative skill of Martin could be bettered, cuddling up with this book in bed feels like gathering around a camp fire at night with a master storyteller settling down to regale you with his best stories. Enjoy!
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 14, 2012 10:06 AM BST


The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein
The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein
by Peter Ackroyd
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars In two minds, 3 Jun. 2012
I'm not really sure what to think of this book. There used to be a time that I would buy any book, both fiction and non-fiction, by Peter Ackroyd and be sure I would not be disappointed. But this 'Casebook of Victor Frankenstein' is truly an odd mix, which failed to satisfy me as his other books did. True enough, there's plenty of suspense, though I hardly found it 'so creepy I kept the bedroom light on all night' (as the Daily Express reviewer apparently did), on the contrary: at certain times I found it rather sleep-inducing I'm afraid to say. Somehow, the writing is not as crisp and powerful as I have come to expect from Ackroyd, and the end is indeed - as other reviewers have written - a letdown. On the other hand: even a middling Ackroyd is still a very good book compared to many, if not most, other historical novels. If you haven't read anything by Ackroyd, I would definitely advise to start with some of his other books ( in fiction for instance Hawksmoor (Penguin Decades), Dan Leno And The Limehouse Golem, or one of his superb biographies such as Dickens: Abridged or Blake.


Jane Eyre (Penguin Classics)
Jane Eyre (Penguin Classics)
by Charlotte BrontŽ
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.32

5.0 out of 5 stars A 165, and still going strong, 3 Jun. 2012
When you think of it, it's somehow incredible that a book first published in 1847 could still be relevant in 2012. What changes has humankind not gone through in those 165 years? But set aside the language and vocabulary, and what's left is a truly timeless (and universal) tale, that deservedly continues and will continue to appeal. I need not summarize the plot here as many other reviewers have done so before me, but will only say (though many before me have done that as well) that this is a very gripping, powerful book with a language to match. In Thackeray's words, 'the masterwork of a great genius', and who am I doubt his judgement? This is most deservedly a classic, and the introduction by Steve Davies is excellent as well.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 7, 2014 11:01 AM GMT


The Discovery of France
The Discovery of France
by Graham Robb
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Is there any need of further praise?, 3 Jun. 2012
Probably not, but nonetheless I will gladly add to the large number of enthusiastic reviews for the pure and simple reason that it's been ages since I derived such a huge amount of pleasure from a book. Robb pedals through his subject matter in such a delightful way that I'd wish he found the time to do the same for the whole of Europe. The writing is effortless (or so it seems at least, I'm sure huge amounts of work, not least research, went into this book), and page after page one is regaled with the most fascinating information on local lore, long-forgotten civil servants (including cartographers being bludgeoned to death by local villagers), expeditions, natural phenomena, ... demonstrating that France was (is?) indeed 'undiscovered' even to its own inhabitants.

Unearthing all this information must have been in itself a staggering enterprise, but what makes this such a fascinating book to read is the superb humour with which Robb writes it all down, and the hilarious original sources he quotes. My personal favorite is surely the bits he quotes from a French-German phrasebook for travellers published in 1799 by Mme de Genlis:

'Postillion, stop. The brakes must be attached.'
'I believe that the wheels are on fire. Look and see.'
'The kingpin has fallen out. The suspension has snapped. The coach has overturned.'

Glorious stuff! I'm sure my fellow-commuters on the train I take each day to work and back often must have wandered what book I was reading each time I couldn't help laughing out loud.


A Brief History of the Hundred Years War: The English in France, 1337-1453 (Brief Histories)
A Brief History of the Hundred Years War: The English in France, 1337-1453 (Brief Histories)
by Mr Desmond Seward
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.83

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very compelling, 22 April 2012
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Like many (maybe most?) of us I had only vague notions about the Hundred Years' War. Perhaps it's different if you're born in England or France, I can well imagine that both for the English and the French it's one of those defining moments in their national history, but if you're born - as I was - in a small provincial town in Flanders, well... it's different let's just say. Anyway, as I have a keen interest in history I felt this just wouldn't do, so I decided to try and remedy my lack of knowledge. Desmond Seward's book is excellent for this purpose: it's short (just 265 pages, not including the chronology, index and select bibliography), and in 11 short chapters plus an epilogue gives you a very broad but lively overview of this seminal conflict in Western European history. The major battles such as Crécy and Agincourt are there of course, but there's a lot more (happily): all major characters (and quite a few perhaps less important but all the more colourful too) and the reasons behind their politics and decisions are succinctly described, in a clear and fluent style. For a short introduction this book can hardly be bettered!


Pure
Pure
by Andrew Miller
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.83

5.0 out of 5 stars A gem, 22 April 2012
This review is from: Pure (Paperback)
I had only read two of Miller's other novels before this one (those set in a more distant past: Casanova and Ingenious Pain and remember being completely bowled over by those so as soon as I noticed 'Pure' in my favorite bookstore in Brussels I just had to have it, and began reading it the same evening. What a feast! There's very few other authors around that give me quite the same satisfaction of reading at one and the same time novels set in the past and bringing that period (in this case: Paris shortly before the French Revolution) alive as if one were there, and simultaneously peopling these novels with fascinating characters. Many of them could very well be termed grotesques, and yet they are one and all entirely credible. No other author gives me the same disturbing sense of how extraordinary most ordinary people are, and what gripping, untold thoughts may lie hidden behind a 'normal' appearance. As doctor Guillotin says on p. 275: 'a man may be one thing and then another'...


The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories
The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories
by Christopher Booker
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.19

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Promising start, disappointing finish, 24 Feb. 2012
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I started this book with high hopes, and had it been only half as long I would happily have given it a five star rating. That in the end I only gave two is not so much due to the fact that it's overly long, but entirely due to the point Booker tries to make in the second half of the book.

In the first half of the book Booker very convincingly argues that there are 7 basic types of plot that constantly reoccur in stories throughout the ages and throughout the world. All of them in their own way, Booker argues, in fact reflect upon a basic human (unconscious) yearning for 'resolution': the proverbial happy ending in which the masculine values of the hero are joined with the feminine values of the heroine, and they live 'happily ever after'. He draws heavily on Jung's theories here, but there's no denying that his argument makes sense, and he provides plenty of examples (not just from novels but from films, plays, opera, etc.) for each of these seven basic plots in all their possible nuances and versions.

So why only two stars? Well, to my mind it's one thing to 'discover' that there are 7 basic types of plot, but it's quite another to argue that only the stories that conform to these types are 'worthwhile'. And that is what Booker (to my mind erroneously, and certainly subjectively) does in the second half of the book. In that part he analyzes what - to his mind - went wrong with the stories being written in the last 200 years. True enough (again, he provides plenty of examples), there have been plenty of stories written in the last 200 years that do not end in 'resolution': the forces of 'light' do not win, the hero does not 'get the girl' in the end (or if he does she turns out to be not much of a catch), ...

Time and again Booker argues that the fault (although he doesn't use the word) lies with the individual authors of these stories: the protagonist of Stendhal's 'The Scarlet and the Black' is 'a fantasy projection of the emotionally immature author himself' (p. 369), George Lucas 'had not got the pattern right' in his script for Star Wars (p. 382), William Burroughs is catalogued as 'an American homosexual and heroin addict' (p.481), Goethe invites us (in 'The Sorrows of Young Werther') 'to identify with the foolish young central figure in his infatuation with the cardboard heroine' (p. 650), Proust's 'Remembrance of Time Past' is an 'immense essay in self-absorbed futility' (p. 660) because Proust had an unresolved tie to the Mother-figure, etc. etc. etc.

The real issue here I think is that Booker is convinced that 'The underlying purpose of all art is to create patterns of imagery which somehow convey a sense of life set in a framework of order' (p. 552). I don't know about your life of course, but mine certainly isn't always 'set in a framework of order', and however gratifying it may be from time to time to read stories about people whose lives are, it is to my mind as necessary and equally enriching (and/or challenging) to read stories that do not end with a 'happily ever after', that (dare to) show that in real life there isn't always a happy resolution.

In this second half of the book the whole theory comes across as very conservative. What would Booker have authors do? Submit their manuscripts to a 'Basic Plot Conformity Board' before publishing and re-write according to their remarks? I think the world would be much the poorer for it if only stories that come to a full resolution had survived.


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