This past week my book group read The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker. The book is set in New York in 1899. The golem, a woman made of clay, was created by a disgraced rabbi in Europe and woken on a steamship to New York, only for her husband and master to die. This leaves her vulnerable to the desires and influences of everyone she meets, until she is taken into the care of a more benevolent rabbi when she arrives in New York. Meanwhile the djinni is a creature of fire from the Syrian desert who had been trapped in a flask by an evil wizard hundreds of years ago, only to be released accidentally by a Syrian immigrant tinsmith in New York. He is free from the flask but ultimately still a prisoner, forced to take human form. As they each try to find a place for themselves in the world of humans, they meet and strike up an unusual friendship, as two creatures of such different natures.
Overall I really loved the book, which is well written and features marvellous characters. Ultimately it is a brilliant exploration of what it means to be human, and how to find a place amongst strangers. I’d really recommend this one, especially to people who like the particular sort of fantasy books by Neil Gaiman, Susannah Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell or The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I’m not quite sure how to describe it, but if you know what I mean then you should probably read this book!
I have finished reading the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson. I absolutely loved this series, so much so that I am having trouble writing a review of it, because I just want to gush about how good these books were, and as I result I am not really saying anything sensible! I’m realistically not going to be able to write a summary that does this series justice - if you want more details then you can look up the Wikipedia pages - but I will just say that this is a completely brilliant fantasy series. The setting is excellent, with a really original magic system unlike anything I’ve read before, and wonderfully well developed. The plot is really good, and I liked how each book had a slightly different focus whilst all being part of one big story. The characters are brilliant, all of them are wonderfully developed, even relatively minor characters. Overall I was just utterly caught up in the story from beginning to end, and it has been a long time since I was this enthralled by a series of books. So not the most coherent of reviews, but the take home message is that I entirely loved these books and I would heartily recommend them.
Slightly late, but I just wanted to make a post about Ambassadors, the three-part comedy drama series starring Mitchell and Webb which was recently on the BBC. David Mitchell plays the British Ambassador to the fictional Central Asian state of Tazbekistan, while Robert Webb plays his diplomatic advisor. I am a huge fan of Mitchell and Webb, I love their various comedy series, so of course I was interested in watching this. It is however a bit of a departure from their usual material. It’s a 60 minute comedy drama, rather than a 30 minute sitcom, and it is definitely not a laugh-a-minute comedy with an emphasis on the jokes. Instead it relies more on the larger plot and character development, and ultimately it feels like a much more serious and grown up project. Nonetheless, it is still funny, and overall I found it to be very enjoyable viewing.
The Night of the Doctor
The Children in Need special episode of Only Connect this week was brilliant. I’ve said before how much I love this show, and I have very much been enjoying the current series. This is a nice episode to jump in on if you’re not a regular viewer.
After almost a year of not buying any new music, suddenly three albums I really want are released in close succession!
No Blues is the new album from Los Campesinos! which is one of my all time favourite bands. I am very much looking forward to this.
Reflektor is the new Arcade Fire album, so pretty much a must buy, again this is a band I really love.
The Bones of What You Believe is an album by Chvrches, a band I only recently heard of for the first time. Various friends of mine have hyped this up, and it is really good from what I’ve heard so far.
Youth by Wild Cub is not a new release, it came out last year, but I recently got into this band after hearing a few tracks online, so I decided to pick this up as well.
I’m not a big music nerd, and I don’t buy a lot of new music, but I am looking forward to listening through these albums and getting some new sounds in my head.
I went to the cinema to see Gravity this weekend. The film stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as two astronauts on a space walk when disaster strikes. A satellite that was deliberately destroyed by a missile has gone on to create a vast cloud of debris that is orbiting the Earth and crashing into other satellites, creating more debris. This hits the astronauts and their space shuttle, and knocks out communications with Earth. The two surviving astronauts must make their way to the nearby International Space Station to seek refuge and try to find a way back to Earth.
I went to see the film in 3D because a lot of the hype about this film has been over how good the 3D is. I usually avoid 3D as I don’t think it is worth the extra money, and usually the quality is not great. However I made an exception for this film and I am glad I did, because it is the best use of 3D that I have seen. Visually it was amazing, and the use of 3D also did a great job of immersing the viewer into the environment, in a way I haven’t experienced before. This is undoubtedly how 3D movies should be done.
The movie has much to praise beyond the visual effects. Sanda Bullock gives a marvellous performance and really carries the whole movie, as George Clooney is on screen for a much shorter time in comparison, although he is also good. The plot is gripping and I was utterly captivated and caught up in the events, which is saying something as I don’t have a great attention span for movies.
Overall I was really blown away by it, it was much better than I was expecting, and I would wholeheartedly recommend it. Even if you’re a 3D sceptic like me, this is definitely one to watch in 3D.
I went to the cinema earlier in the week to see Thor: The Dark World. I was a bit apprehensive because, apart from Loki who is a brilliant character, I wasn’t a massive fan of the first film. One of my colleagues had already seen this film and hated it, which also lowered my expectations. But I should have known better than to trust her opinion, since we generally have nothing in common. So as it turns out I actually really enjoyed the film. The plot was decent, the action and effects were good, and the cast is impressive. Loki was on particularly good form! I’m not a massive Marvel/Avengers fangirl (sorry Tumblr!) but nonetheless I thought this was a good addition to the Avengers franchise and overall I really enjoyed it.
I recently read One Summer: America 1927 by Bill Bryson. Bryson’s earlier book, A Short History of Nearly Everything is one of my favourite non-fiction books. I really like his style of narrative non-fiction, and I think he manages to write books which are both interesting and entertaining. When I read non-fiction these days I’m not looking for a serious academic text, so this sort of thing is exactly what I want. I picked up this book because I was in the mood to read some non-fiction and I thought that Bryson would be a safe bet, even if the topic was not something I was familiar with. This is a history book, covering various events in American history all around the summer of 1927. The book starts with a focus on Charles Lindbergh and his solo flight across the Atlantic, and brings in other figures from the period such as baseball star Babe Ruth, President Calvin Coolidge, and topics such as Prohibition and the stock market. As I said, it wasn’t really anything that I was familiar with, but it was fascinating reading. It definitely fulfilled my requirement of being both entertaining and interesting, and my only complaint is that it trailed off a bit towards the end, with no real conclusion. But overall I really enjoyed reading it.