Review: Mitch Albom – The Five People You Meet in Heaven

mitch-albom-the-five-people-you-meet-in-heavenI’ve just finished this book and it was fantastic! It was quite a sad book, but one that definitely made you think.

The book is about 83 year old Eddie, who works on Ruby Pier, a seaside fairground. One of the rides malfunctions and comes crashing to the ground – he dies when he tries to push a young girl out of the way, and spends the whole book worrying that he hasn’t saved her.

When Eddie gets to Heaven, he realises that it’s not what he thought it would be. Instead, he meets five people who will help to explain his life and things that happened in it, as well as his death and the reason for it.

The first person he meets is someone that he doesn’t think he knows, but he recognises him to be someone from the ‘Freak show’ at the Pier when he was a child. Eddie is shocked when this man tells him that Eddie killed him. He explains that he didn’t kill him directly, but inadvertently when his ball rolls into the road, setting a chain of events going which ends up in the man dying. This man is the source of one of my favourite quotes from the book, :

Strangers, are just family you have yet to come to know

I loved this, and the meaning of the entire first part of the book, it makes you think quite closely about the effect you have on other people, and the consequences that your actions can have.

Throughout the book, Eddie also meets his Captain from when he was at war in the Philippines, a woman called Ruby (after whom the Pier was named), his wife Marguerite, and a young girl called Tala, who was killed in a fire started by Eddie when he was in the Philippines, whose eyes he thought he saw all those years ago and have haunted him since.

Out of all five people, I think the part of the book that was most touching was when he met his wife again – she died of cancer when she was 47, and Eddie lived the rest of his life alone in the house they shared together. My favourite quote from the book though comes from Ruby, when she is talking to him about his Dad:

Learn this from me. Holding anger is a poison. It eats you from inside. We think that hating is a weapon that attacks the person who harmed us. But hatred is a curved blade. And the harm we do, we do to ourselves.

That’s so true, and something that we all get wrong at times – we could all learn from this!

I really loved this book, I thought it was quite an unusual idea to start with, but it was really well written and you really start to feel for Eddie as the book goes on, to the point where you just don’t want it to end.

5-5

Now Reading: Mitch Albom – The Five People You Meet in Heaven

mitch-albom-the-five-people-you-meet-in-heavenThis is the second of the books that my cousin Hannah lent me. After the disappointment of my last book, I’m hoping that I’ll enjoy this one more, and can use it to get back on track on my reading challenge.

It sounds like a very touching book; an 83 year old man dies, and when he gets to heaven he realises that it’s not like the Garden of Eden, but a place where your life is explained to you by five people who were in it.

I can’t wait to start reading this!

Review: Daniel Tammet – Born on a Blue Day

daniel-tammet-born-on-a-blue-day-e1330617744852I want to give a big thank you to Hannah for lending me this book because it was fantastic, one of the most interesting and well written biographies I have read in a long time.

The book is about Daniel Tammet, a man with Savant Syndrome and a condition called synaesthesia, which makes him see numbers as colours, shapes and textures, enabling him to do extraordinary sums in his head.

I’m sure we’ve all heard about people with Savant Syndrome in the past, you’ve probably seen Rain Man with Dustin Hoffman or watched a documentary on TV. But this book was completely different as it was written by Daniel and contained his thoughts and feelings, not someone else speculating what is happening in his head. It’s unusual for someone with this rare form of Aspergers to be able to communicate so effectively for themselves, and you find out through the book just how that came about. For example, he even travelled on his own to Lithuania to live for a year teaching English. While he was there he also learnt to speak Lithuanian, one of ten(!) languages that he can speak. He learnt to speak Icelandic in 7 days, conducting a live interview on Icelandic TV at the end of the week.

As well as finding out about his extraordinary ability for learning languages, you also find out a lot about his love of numbers, and how he experiences them. To him, each number up to 10,000 has it’s own shape, colour and feeling (e.g. the number 9 is large and towering). When he does calculations, he sees the results in his head as a composite of the numbers involved. Throughout the book, Daniel draws out examples of what he means by his descriptions, including a picture of the number on each chapter’s title page.

Here’s an example of what he sees when he multiplies 53 x 131. The shape on each side is the shape of each number, and the shape in the middle is the shape of the result. All this happens subconsciously, which is why he can do these sums so quickly – how incredible is that?!

daniel-tammet-example

There was a documentary about him on Channel 5 a few years ago, which I think I am going to have to find and watch. You hear about his experience of filming in the book, but I would love to watch it too. He also wrote a second book called Embracing the Wide Sky, which I will have to read. A definite 5 star book, if only because of how incredible this man is!

5-5

Review: Alastair Reynolds – Century Rain

alistair-reynolds-century-rain1When Mike lent me this book, he thought that I might not like it, but it actually turned out to be my favourite of the four books. I have definitely found a whole new genre of books that I will be trying more of this year – I couldn’t put it down!

The first few chapters introduce you to the two main characters, Verity Auger and Wendell Floyd, and the respective worlds that they live in. It didn’t make much sense to me to start with, but I’m glad I stuck with it because after a few chapters you start to see the links between the ‘Paris’ in both worlds.

The Paris in Auger’s world is way in the future after Earth has already been destroyed by a build up of weather control machines designed to reverse global warming, but end up destroying the earth in an event called the Nanocaust. Auger is an archaeologist exploring the ruins of Paris for any remaining artefacts, and when a girl she is working with dies in her care, she is offered the chance to get out of the tribunal and inevitable punishment and carry out a mission. She is initially given no real information about this mission, but doesn’t really have much choice but to accept, knowing the alternative.

The mission is to Floyd’s version of Paris, which is 300 years back in 1959, and turns out to be a copy of Earth made before the Nanocaust wiped out all traces of life on Earth. E2 (as it is known) was frozen in time until 23 years prior, when suddenly it came back to life again.

After Auger has completed the mission she is sent to E2 to complete (with many hiccups and a LOT of help from Floyd), she and Floyd end up on a mission to save E2 from complete destruction by the Slashers. The Slashers believe that they should embrace all new technology, whereas the Threshers (to which Auger belongs) believe that they should never embrace any technology which could lead to a repetition of the Nanocaust. These two sides are now at war with each other in a battle to keep control of the Earth.

There are many nail biting moments along their journey, including many times when I absolutely couldn’t stop reading because I had to know what happened next. I won’t say too much in case you want to read the book, but I will say that I didn’t expect the book to end up quite how it did, although the way that it ended was brilliant.

It’s hard to pick my favourite part of the book, but I do have a favourite quote which jumped out at me as soon as I read it. Auger (a Thresher) is reflecting on the help that she has had from Cassandra (a Slasher), and the feelings that she had towards her from the start of the story.

The simple fact was that she no longer hated them as a matter of principle. It was also a source of shameful amazement that she could ever have wasted so much energy on groundless prejudice, when acceptance and tolerance would have been the easier, even the lazier, course.

Pretty meaningful, it definitely stuck in my head, and I think it’s something that we could all take to heart at times.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in sci-fi novels, but also to anyone who likes a good nail-biter with plenty of action and a bit of romance thrown in. It’s definitely changed my mind about reading sci-fi novels in the future.

5-5

Now Reading: Alastair Reynolds – Century Rain

alistair-reynolds-century-rain1This book is a sci-fi book (borrowed from Mike), which will be another change for me, I’ve not read much sci-fi before. It looks quite interesting though, I always used to be quite interested in sci-fi tv programs, but somehow fell out of watching them. The description on the back of the book says:

“Century Rain is not just a time-travel story, nor a tale of alternate history. Part hard SF thriller, part interstellar adventure, part noir romance, Century Rain is something altogether stranger.”

I hope to finish this book this weekend. The weather is pretty cold and miserable out, so I will probably just be sitting around the house with Vicky, who is home from uni for a few days. I need to catch up a little bit on my 100 books challenge, I think the last few books have put me back a bit, but there’s still over 10 months left yet, so plenty of time!

On a totally unrelated note, only 12 days until the start of Spring Training! I can’t wait for baseball to start up again, it seems a long time since the end of last season. If anyone has any good baseball books to recommend, leave me a comment! I’ve already pre-ordered Dirk Hayhurst’s new book Out of My League, which is out at the end of this month. If it’s half as good as his first book The Bullpen Gospels, it’s gonna be awesome!

Review: Gabriel García Márquez – One Hundred Years of Solitude

20120129-113323Well, this is probably going to be a shorter review than usual. It’s not often that a book takes me this long to read, and it’s been quite a while since I found it so hard to get involved in a book. It took me a long time to just get through the first few chapters, I was enjoying it, but I just couldn’t  find any motivation to actually read it. Even though I liked the book, it just didn’t grab me enough to want to read it non-stop like my favourite books usually do.

The last time I had a book like this, it was an F. Scott Fitzgerald book and I ended up leaving it to come back to later. I persevered through this book when maybe I shouldn’t have done. I think because I wasn’t 100% involved in it, I didn’t get as much out of it as I could have done, so I would like to read it again in the future.

I found the actual book quite strange, and wayyyy outside my comfort zone. All the reviews of the book and the comments that I had read said that this was a great book, so I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t get into it as much as I would have liked. I’ll definitely be reading this again, hopefully I’ll be in a different mindset when I do and I’ll enjoy it more.

I think my next couple of books will be easier going. I’ve not decided which one will be next yet, but I think it will either be War Horse, or a ‘quick read’ that I picked up at Morrisons by one of my favourite authors; Tony Parsons. I’ll decide which one tomorrow…

2-5

Now Reading: Gabriel García Márquez – One Hundred Years of Solitude

20120129-113323Now onto the third of the books that Mike leant me. I have high hopes for this one, it looks really interesting, and I’ve heard good things about it. There’s a quote on the front from Salman Rushdie which says:

“The greatest novel in any language of the last fifty years”

That’s pretty high praise, so I’m sure I will enjoy it. It is 400+ pages long though, so could take me a while to finish.

Review: John Fowles – The Collector

20120124-191933I wasn’t sure I was going to like this book after I read the description, but I was pleasantly surprised. Even though it was kind of creepy, and definitely not a book I would have bought for myself in a bookshop, I found it very enjoyable.

A couple of people have said how this sounds like the kind of book they would want to read, so I’ll try not going to spoil the storyline too much.

The first half of the book is written from the point of view of the kidnapper ‘Ferdinand’. The way he speaks is so matter of fact, it’s like he believes that everything he is doing is perfectly normal, of course we can all see that it’s not, and he comes across as very unbalanced. He’s constantly making excuses for himself, like this one after he uses Chloroform to knock her out (and not for the first time):

“I am not really that sort and I was only like it that night because of all that happened and the strain I was under. Also the champagne had a bad effect on me. And everything she said. It was what they call a culmination of circumstances.”

The end of the first half is left on a cliffhanger, and then we are being narrated by Miranda, the girl he has kidnapped. The book goes back in time, and we relive pretty much the whole thing again, but from the opposite viewpoint. I liked that the book did this, the books that I’ve read in the past that have multiple narrators have switched back and forth throughout the book, but this flowed a lot better. We also find out a lot about Miranda and her life, the people she knows and her passion for art.

Like I said, I’m not going to spoil the ending, but all I can say is that after 270ish pages, it didn’t really surprise me, although the last few pages were possibly the creepiest part of the entire book.

I definitely enjoyed this book, I don’t think it will be one of my favourites from this year’s reading challenge, but I’m glad I read it.

4-5

Now Reading: John Fowles – The Collector

20120124-191933I’m now starting the second of my borrowed books (thanks Mike!). It sounds a bit weirder than the last one, the description on the back of the book says:

… a nutty clerk captures and holds the art student he has become fixated upon, and there follows a fiendish interplay of sanity and insanity…

Sounds like it will be another book that’s out of my ‘comfort zone’, but that’s what I’m hoping for from this reading challenge. I want to broaden my horizons and find out what other genres I like but have never tried.

This book is only 280 pages long, but the writing is really tiny, so it could take me a while to read. I think I’m still on track though, I just need to read this book and one more before the end of the month.

Now Reading: Sam Savage – Firmin (Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife)

photo-21-e1327183641300Now that I’ve finished the Lily Bard series that my parents got me for Christmas, it’s time to change it up a little bit. Mike has lent me a few books to read, so that has me sorted for the next week or two. Definitely good to not have to spend ages choosing which book to read, and I always like reading books that other people have suggested, it’s a great way to discover new authors, or different genres that I wouldn’t usually choose.

The first one I’m reading is Firmin, which is about a rat that lives in a bookshop. Sounds a bit unusual, but I’ve read the first couple of chapters already and it’s looking pretty good. Can’t really judge it until I’ve read some more though!