Farmageddon came along at exactly the right time for me, when I was reassessing my diet and exercise habits with the goal of increasing my health and...moreFarmageddon came along at exactly the right time for me, when I was reassessing my diet and exercise habits with the goal of increasing my health and fitness levels. One thing that was frustrating me was how little information there is about the food we buy every day in the supermarkets. Though you sometimes know where it came from, there isn't any detail on how it was made, or explanations about what all those terms and ingredients really mean. Farmageddon confronts this knowledge gap face on, discussing how the intensified farming practises that are behind a significant amount of the food on shop shelves is damaging the environment, animals and us.
I already knew how horrendous the meat industry can be, and thought I was reasonably well informed. Reading Farmageddon revealed details that I wasn't aware of, and covered other areas of the farming process not related to meat. Discovering people have died from falling into vats of pig excrement, that vast amounts of antibiotics are fed to animals packed together for profit margins and that companies own the patent on GM seeds so farmers can't reuse the seeds their crops naturally drop; all of this was logical but things I had never consciously considered before.
It also offered a historical perspective on how all this intensified farming came to be, demonstrating how sensible it seemed at one time. By no means does it make farmers the bad guys, but instead shows they are as much a victim of intensified farming practises as consumers. It also does not claim that just because a farm is small or not intensified that it will treat the animals any better. Lymbery makes no bones about the fact that some of the worst places he's seen are small farms.
Written by the now CEO of the charity Compassion in World Farming, it takes a global view but inevitably focuses more on the USA, where farming practises are particularly intensified compared to Europe. The charity have long campaigned for farm animals to be treated respectfully and for their suffering to be as limited as possible, and I like that at no time in the book did I feel that I was being criticised for choosing to eat meat.
Understandably the work of the charity is also a feature of the book but it doesn't feel like an attempt at self promotion or a self-congratulatory monologue. Instead it's a demonstration that no matter how bad practises may be right now, they can get better. Campaigns, consumer pressure and government action can all prevent the disaster that awaits us if we continue to give animals large doses of antibiotics, if we continue feeding crops suitable for humans to animals instead, if we continue to chop down rainforests to make way for those same crops. It's hard not to be convinced by the end of the book that our current push for intensified farming is not sustainable and ultimately self-destructive.
If you care at all about animal welfare this is a must-read. If you care at all about what the food you eat could be doing to you or your family, this is a must-read. The truth is hard to swallow (sorry, couldn't resist) but this is vital information for everyone to know.(less)
I was reticent to take on Cronin's second part to his vampire-end-of-the-world epic so soon after finishing the first, mainly as I didn't want to have...moreI was reticent to take on Cronin's second part to his vampire-end-of-the-world epic so soon after finishing the first, mainly as I didn't want to have another 800 page saga to work through. Thankfully this book is only 500 odd pages long and feels a lot shorter than it's predecessor thanks to a plot that is a lot faster paced and less time spent describing every single minutiae of proceedings. For some that may be a turn off (it was something that made The Passage unusual) but in the interests of readability I was thankful for the change. I've kept spoilers to a minimum in this review but be warned it may give away minor plot points for this and the first book.
With so many characters in The Passage it could be very easy to forget who's who when starting The Twelve. Cronin neatly assists by using a prologue written in the form of a holy book, reciting the events that have passed in the previous book. The reader is then transported to Day 0, when the virus first hit, and introduced to a collection of characters from across America. Sadly most of these characters are not relevant to the rest of the book in any obvious way, though they are very interesting in their own right. I'll reserve judgement on that until I've read the third and final part, as it's possible they have more of a role to play than just as progenitors for the characters we meet later on. However a few are very important, including Lily, the wife of Agent Wolgast, who was a major player in book one. We also learn more about Grey, the janitor apparently chosen by Zero (the original infected man) for a greater purpose, as well as a character called Guilder, who goes on to become even worse than he was as a government spook.
Once again the plot time-warps from those terrifying days of the outbreak to the post-apocalyptic world humanity is getting used to living in. Unlike last time, we really get a glimpse of how horrendous this world can be, with totalitarianism rearing it's ugly head. At this point The Twelve starts to resemble stories like The Handmaid's Tale and delves into the nature of rebellion. While all this is going on there are narratives taking place with the other main characters we followed in book one, until all of their divergent stories begin to merge at the book's conclusion.
A fault with Cronin's work it's that it so often resembles other stories. Here we have a wonderfully fast-paced struggle against dictatorship and torture, but it isn't fresh; this has been done before and better. However as long as the story is read for it's own merits it is perfectly enjoyable; just don't think about it all too much. I also have to say I was disappointed that Cronin has fallen for the stale trope of "strong female character is raped and she goes badass as a result". Thankfully he handles the scene relatively tactfully and doesn't dwell on the details, but I don't think it was an entirely necessary scene. The only other issue I have with The Twelve (and with The Passage to a lesser extent) is the amount of coincidence at play. Characters just happen to find each other, despite the fact they are not aware of each others existence moments before. Now this could be explained in book three, as there are hints throughout this tale of a greater power at work. I'm really hoping Cronin has a good reveal there - if it turns out to be one of those "God did it" moments I'm not going to be impressed.
For anyone who read the Passage and enjoyed it then The Twelve is a must; this is more gripping and interesting story, so much so I think people could just jump in and read from this one. But I'd strongly suggest reading The Passage first, despite its bloatiness, as it sets the scene up and will make the character's experiences in The Twelve a lot more meaningful. It is an enjoyable read in a way the first book wasn't, and I'll be awaiting the publication of the final book in the trilogy, if only to see how Cronin is going to tie all of these divergent threads into one satisfying knot.(less)
I wasn't sure what to expect from The Graveyard Book. While I love Gaimen's work the fact this was a children's book (and make no mistake this is very...moreI wasn't sure what to expect from The Graveyard Book. While I love Gaimen's work the fact this was a children's book (and make no mistake this is very much a children's book) had me wondering what this was going to be like. While it seemed odd at first, with a very serial style to it I was not disappointed. This is usual Gaimen dark and twisted, but done with kids in mind. In fact this may be the perfect book to introduce younger readers to Gaimen's works and I know had I read this at 10 - 12 I would have been absolutely in love with it.
Opening with a murder this is not a story for kids with a super sensitive nature. The antagonist, Jack, a scary and menacing man, murders a family in their beds, but with one exception. The toddler somehow escapes the house and makes his way to a nearby graveyard, where the spirits of those interred decide to protect him. With the assistance of Silas, a corporeal but no less supernatural being, Jack is soon on his way and the child made safe. But to ensure he continues to survive they decide to give him the freedom of the graveyard and bring him up themselves. The rest of the book is made up of chapters that act as individual stories in and of themselves, charting the adventures of Nobody "Bod" Owens as he grows up amongst the dead.
The stop start nature of The Graveyard Book can be a bit irritating at times, more so for an older reader, but isn't really that different to other children's fantasy stories, where serialised adventures are the norm. Bod seems a little too smart at times for someone of his age but it's a minor complaint in a book that overall has a lovely feel to it, and is an easy read. The ending may be a bit of a disappointment to some (personally I want to know what happens next) but is the inevitable conclusion to this spooky David Copperfield style tale.
If you liked Coraline, or any story that's a bit odd/weird than I would recommend giving The Graveyard Book a go. It's not very long, well written and is a joy at times, with some marvellous characters you wish you could spend more time with. I also loved that Gaimen didn't just spell out who or what everyone was from the outset; it builds up until the end when you realise that the adventures you've been reading are pieces of a larger picture. What I would have given to have read this when I was a kid. But then I was always a little odd.(less)
Every now and again I buy a book simply because of the description. Something about it makes my eyebrow meet my hairline and I'm intrigued enough to m...moreEvery now and again I buy a book simply because of the description. Something about it makes my eyebrow meet my hairline and I'm intrigued enough to make that knee-jerk purchase. Frozen in Time is one of the few that's done this, and it did not disappoint me.
Very much based on the Enid Blyton mysteries, Frozen in Time is set in modern times, with siblings Ben and Rachel condemned to a dull, wet summer in their countryside house. Their parents are away and all they're left with is a broken TV, no internet and their erratic Uncle, who is more interested in his latest experiment than entertaining two pre-teens. As soon as the weather clears up, they make their escape into the woods. But the storms have revealed something; a hatch leading into an underground vault, where two children have been cryogenically frozen since the 1950s. Suddenly Ben and Rachel's summer isn't so boring.
I really wish I could have read this book when I was ten. Seriously, it would have been one of my favourite books of all time. It has mystery, science fiction, conspiracies and just enough tension to keep you turning the pages. There is also a lot to enjoy as an adult, in particular the references to 1950s mores, especially with the shift in gender-dynamics since then. The language changes are also played with and the teasing of Enid Blyton type exclamations are, well; just super. The story is great, and would be a wonderful way to introduce younger readers to the Cold War in a fictional setting.
Highly recommended for anyone who doesn't mind reading books for younger readers and especially for younger readers themselves. With no swearing or inappropriate violence or sexual imagery it's a safe book to buy for the kid in your life just hungering for some time bending adventure.(less)
First a confession; I was not looking forward to this book. I saw no reason for a follow up to The Shining, a book that left a deep claw mark in my ps...moreFirst a confession; I was not looking forward to this book. I saw no reason for a follow up to The Shining, a book that left a deep claw mark in my psyche. I was concerned that there was no way King could create something that would come close to its impact. I was only partly right; King has weaved a wonderful story here, in the same universe as The Shining, rather than a straight-up sequel. As always his visualisations and characters are engaging throughout. Make no mistake though - this is no where near The Shining in scares, imagery or power. But then again, it isn't meant to be.
I'm going to assume some knowledge of The Shining here, and would seriously dissuade anyone from reading Doctor Sleep if you have no knowledge of that original story. However you can jump into this book if you've never read King's original novel, if you have a vague idea of what happened (or watched Kubrik's movie). You'll lose something from the experience though, as Doctor Sleep plays with concepts and moments from The Shining, which is hugely satisfying when you've read it.
Dan Torrence is an alcoholic, like his father before him. But then it's no wonder when you see dead people, among other things. Always on the run, Dan calls no single place his home, until he stumbles upon a small New Hampshire town and gets his life (and abilities) under control. Not far away is another like him, a young girl called Abra, with even more powerful "shine" abilities; a talent that soon gets her noticed by vampire like beings known as the True Knot, who rely on people like her and Dan for their immortal existence. Now Dan must protect Abra, and in the process come face to face with some of his own demons.
Unlike its predecessor, there aren't that many ghosts in this book, or those dreaded topiary that still freak me out to this day (seriously, I didn't like them before reading King's book and now I absolutely loathe them. If you have no idea what I'm talking about go read The Shining - they didn't include it in the movie. That's how freaky it is). But Doctor Sleep does have a very interesting examination of an alcoholic's life when they've given up the booze. Considering King himself is an alcoholic who has turned away from the drink, it makes the story an uncomfortably close glimpse into the author's world. Writing what you know has never felt so apt. It gives this otherwise supernatural story a realism that lifts it from a standard good versus evil thriller into something a lot more human. Dan is still, in my opinion, a bit of an dull character, acting as a cypher more often than not for King. But the others in the story more than make up for this, especially Abra and the members of the True Knot. Bad guys have rarely been this ordinary, and King expertly ties them into larger world events. As for Abra, she is everything Dan wasn't in The Shining; she plays with her abilities, makes the most of them and insists on using them for a purpose. She is in a way what Dan would have been had he not (a) had an abusive father and (b) been locked up in a haunted hotel where said father tried to kill him and his mother.
The legacy of evil and abuse is very much at the centre of Doctor Sleep, so called because Dan eventually finds a way to use his abilities for good; helping the old people in their final moments pass from this world peacefully. The whole book feels like an examination of legacy, and how it only has power for as long as you let it (a bit like ghosts). The most interesting aspects of the story are to do with the shining ability itself, and how it works.
Doctor Sleep will disappoint anyone expecting more of the same from the original. This is not the same kind of story, not even the same genre in a way, bearing more resemblance to King's other book Firestarter, which also featured a man and a young girl (with mind powers) trying to escape evil. But if taken for what it is, Doctor Sleep is a worthy successor to The Shining and is clearly a much more mature story from a more mature writer. I really enjoyed it, much more so than I expected, so can highly recommend any King fans, or those who like a spooky tale, giving it a go.(less)
I can safely say that "The Passage" was not what I expected it to be. With a literary language throughout, and a long opening (that I thought was the...moreI can safely say that "The Passage" was not what I expected it to be. With a literary language throughout, and a long opening (that I thought was the main story), it consistently turns your assumptions into a pile of dust. Which is appropriate for a book about a plague of "sort-of-vampires-but-we-don't-call-them-that-much".
Opening with glimpses into apparently unconnected people's lives, Cronin's literary fiction history comes through in his colourful and at times extensive descriptions and vignettes about these people's lives. From a man on death-row, to a woman's life and struggles to be a good mother to her daughter, it was really hard to work out where this was all going. I wasn't sure about the extensive forays into these lives but the language and intriguing nature of the characters kept me going. We meet Amy, a young girl who is far more than she seems. Wolgast, a secret service agent tasked with picking up men condemned to death and convincing them to take part in experiments, with the reward of their sentence being suspended. Carter, one of those men on death-row, and his reminiscing over his life and how he ended up where he is. Lacey, a nun who doesn't fit in with her fellow sisters who by pure chance finds Amy in her care. Except it isn't chance; nothing in The Passage is chance. Fate and belief play a huge role in this tale. And that's even more the case when over a quarter of the way into the story everything changes entirely and moves over 100 years into the future...
To say too much about The Passage would be to destroy some of its strongest appeal. The shift in narrative took me by complete surprise and in fact elevated a book from a (as I thought at the time) a poor man's version of The Stand, to a unique and highly enjoyable epic thriller that plays with your expectations at every turn. The characters are well developed and very greatly form one person to another. There were stereotypes throughout (the wise old lady, the warrior young woman, the callous secret service) but at no time did it make the story less enjoyable. These characters have histories, motivations and fears, all of which makes them fascinating to read about. Amy especially is an intriguing character, mainly down to how little is revealed about her from her perspective. Instead it's every one elses impressions and thoughts about her that colour her in and make her a strong lynchpin of the whole saga.
Throughout this tale the reader's attention is demanded - if you let it slip for even a moment you will be lost. With a huge scale and a large cast it's easy to lose the thread of the story. The literary style adds to this, as it lengthens an already pretty lengthy adventure. Though I don't read literary fiction much I have to say it didn't bother me, and in fact brought a lot of the scenes to life in a way that a trimmed down version likely wouldn't have. It also seemed appropriate, for a book that breaks in the middle to make up two disparate but linked stories, to have that as a constant.
If you haven't caught The Passage yet I highly recommend it. It's a long book, it has more than a passing similarity to The Stand (including the length) and it is the first in a trilogy, so those put off by those things will likely find little to inspire them. But if none of that daunts you then The Passage is a great read - I can't wait to start the second book as soon as possible.(less)
I wanted to like this book, I really did. I loved the premise, of a re-imagined Elizabethan England where not only did the Virgin Queen get wedded and...moreI wanted to like this book, I really did. I loved the premise, of a re-imagined Elizabethan England where not only did the Virgin Queen get wedded and bedded, but where strange magical creatures from America called Skraylings upset all the secret plotting in Europe. The cover's lovely too. Alas the actual experience wasn't as good as I'd hoped, though the story did keep me reading to the end.
The hero of the piece is one Mal Catlyn, a sword for hire roped into protecting a Skrayling ambassador, and in the process uncovering a plot that could threaten the crown. Then there's Coby, a young man who is actually a woman in disguise working in one of the theatres where the ambassador will watch one of the plays being put on in his honour. Then there's Ned, Catlyn's best friend and an actor for a rival theatre house.
I found the opening chapters a bit confusing, with schemes aplenty from a multitude of characters. However most of these proved to be red herrings, which left me a little cold. I liked the Skraylings, who reminded me of the big hairy dude Kimhari from Final Fantasy X, but felt that their motivations were vague or simplistic. In fact the motivations of most of the characters are best not delved into, as they quickly begin to feel a bit thin. Even Catlyn was somewhat of a blank entity despite being the main character. His emotions are muted most of the time and even though he has a lot at stake I didn't feel concerned for his safety at any point.
Don't get me wrong; Alchemist is an enjoyable adventure tale with some nice additions of magic and spirituality. I found it a slow in places and hard to connect with any of the characters so overall wasn't drawn in as much as I would have liked. I might have a go with the following book because I liked the magic in the story but my expectations will be a lot lower.(less)