Tag Archives: Penguin

A History of the World in 100 Objects, Neil MacGregor

A History of the World in 100 Objects, Neil MacGregorA History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor

Publisher: Penguin
Pages:
614 plus introduction (Paperback)
Form: Non-Fiction, History

Rating: 5/55/55/55/55/5

A golden galleon, a stone-age tool, a credit card … every object tells a story.

This acclaimed history tells the story of the world, and our place in it, in an entirely new way, through 100 things we have either admired and preserved, or used, broken and thrown away. It will take you on a journey back in time and across the globe, to see how we humans have shaped our world, and been shaped by it, over the past two million years.

A History of the World in 100 objects started life as a radio programme by the BBC (podcasts still available to download for free here) in which the director of the British Museum used 100 very varied objects from the museum’s collections to emphasise key points and ideas throughout human history. Although I didn’t listen to it at the time (I have now dowloaded the podcasts), as a history student with an interest in archaeology and museum’s I was aware of it, so a few years later when I saw this beautiful blue copy of the book sitting on the ‘buy one get one half-price’ table in Waterstone’s it was impossible to resist. I had intended, like several people I know through my museum volunteering, to read one entry a day, but instantly found myself enjoying it so much that I was devouring whole blocks of the book at a time and having to force myself to stop and save some for later.

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The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, James Hogg

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg

Publisher: Penguin English Library (Penguin)
Pages: 238 – including Afterword (Paperback)
Form: Novel

Rating: 

A nightmarish tale of religious fanaticism and darkness, this chilling classic of the macabre tells the tale of Robert Wringhim, drawn in his moral confusion into committing the most monstrous acts by an evil doppelgänger.

James Hogg’s masterpiece is as troublingly duplicitous as Wringham himself, and was ignored and bowdlerized before becoming a hugely influential work of Scottish literature.

I really wanted to love this book; the title was intriguing, the cover was stylish, and the blurb sounded like it should be absolutely wonderful. But somehow, despite my interest in the themes explored, I just didn’t enjoy it all that much. It started off absolutely wonderfully, continued very well for a while but somewhere around the midway point when the lead character started to doubt himself and the advice of his obviously sinister doppelgänger I just stopped caring. I don’t doubt that it’s a very good book that totally deserves it’s place in Scottish canon, or that it’s one of those books that will stick around in my head for years to come, I will probably even reread it at some point because it’s the sort of book that demands a second look and a more measured thought – but I didn’t love it.

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War With the Newts, Karel Čapek

War With the Newts  by Karel Čapek

Translators: M. Weatherall, R. Weatherall
Publisher:
Penguin Classics
Pages: 348 (Paperback)
Form: Novel
Series: Standalone

Rating:

War with the Newts (1936) is Karel Čapek’s darkly humorous allegory of early twentieth-century Czech politics. Captain van Toch discovers a colony of newts in Sumatra which can not only be taught to trade and use tools. but also to speak.

As the rest of the world learns of the creatures and their wonderful capabilities, it is clear that this new species is ripe for exploitation – they can be traded in their thousands, will do work no human wants to do, and can fight – but the humans have given no thought to the terrible consequences of their actions.

A very serious contender for my favourite book this year (currently competing against We, The Drowned), I’m having a really hard time thinking what to say about this one. It really is true that positive reviews are harder to write than negative ones, add to this that this is a very complex novel – touching on themes of slavery, fascism, racism, capitalism, exploitation, class conflict, the european arms race, economics, trade unions, human experimentation, the ‘civilising’ mission, the ineffectiveness of the League of Nations, Nazi theories of ‘Lebensraum’ and a hell of a lot more – and the unconventional way it’s written and, well…there’s either too much to say or too little, because there’s simply so much stuff I feel I should be better informed on before I could possibly talk about them. And then the blurb tells me that it’s an allegory for 1930s Czech politics in  and I start feeling even more inadequate in my ability to comment!

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Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters, Rick Riordan

Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan

Publisher: Puffin (Penguin)
Pages: 375 (Paperback)
Form: Novel
Series: Percy Jackson #2

Rating:

The way he said my name sent a chill down my back. Nobody called me ‘Perseus’ except those who knew my true identity. Friends… and enemies.

Percy Jackson has had a quiet year. Not a single monster has set foot in his New York school. But when a game of dodgeball turns into a death match against an ugly gang of cannibal giants, things get… well, ugly. And then Percy’s friend Annabeth brings more bad news: the magical borders that protect Camp Half-Blood have been poisoned, and the only safe haven for young demigods is under threat.

To save their camp, Percy and his friends must embark on a quest that will take them into the treacherous Sea of Monsters and a desperate fight for their lives.

Graaaar! Where were these books all my childhood? Damn Rick Riordan for not writing these a decade earlier!

Suffice to say, I enjoyed this book. A lot. Continue reading

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Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan

Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Publisher: Puffin (Penguin)
Pages: 375 (Paperback)
Form: Novel
Series: Percy Jackson #1

Rating:

Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood. I never asked to be the son of a Greek God.

I was just a normal kid, going to school, playing basketball, skateboarding. The usual. Until I accidentally vaporized my maths teacher. That’s when things really started going wrong. Now I spend my time fighting with swords, battling monsters with my friends and generally trying to stay alive.

This is the one where Zeus, God of the Sky, thinks I’ve stolen his lightning bolt – and making Zeus angry is a very bad idea.

Can Percy find the lightning bolt before a fully fledged war of the gods erupts?

So continuing on my fantasy and children’s fiction binge – summer is the one season where I use the library regularly for lightweight, fun books I don’t necessarily want to buy. Percy Jackson is one of these very popular series where it’s practically a requirement that everyone under a certain age has to have read it. I’m not under that age. Though I had heard a lot of talk bout these books and, due to the Greek Mythology, had been half-planning to check them out for a while, it took one of my best friend’s practically ordering me to pick up the first book for me to get round to doing anything about it. And boy, am I glad she gave me that much needed boot to the arse. It’s probably a bit premature to judge the whole series but, based on the first book, these would have been five-star instant favourites with little-me.  If only they had been published a decade earlier!

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Cover Issues – Penguin English Library

Another new monthly feature!

Book design is one of these things I’m weirdly passionate about. I’m not an artist, I’m not a designer, I have no natural talent for either, but I am a very shallow creature, easily swayed by a good cover and put off by a bad one. It’s so bad that if I see a book I already own has been reissued with a better cover I get twitchy fingers.

So, partly inspired by this wonderful blog, partly because I think my own blog needs a bit more substance than just reviews, but mostly due to my own desire to show off pretty pretty books and bitch about ugly ones, I decided to start up a monthly cover spotlight. Once a month I’ll be featuring a cover – or cover-line – that I either love, hate, or am conflicted about.

First up: Covers I love – the recently reissued Penguin English Library line

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The Book of Imaginary Beings, Jorge Luis Borges

The Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges

Illustrated by Peter Sís

Publisher: Penguin Classics Deluxe  (Penguin)
Translator:
Andrew Hurley
Pages:
236 including notes  – plus introduction (Paperback)
Form: Non-Fiction, Mythology/Folklore, Bestiary/Encyclopedia

Rating:

“We do not know what the dragon means, just as we do not know the meaning of the universe, but there is something in the image of the dragon that is congenial to man’s imagination. . . . It is, one might say, a necessary monster.”

The Book of Imaginary Beings is Borges’s whimsical compendium of more than a hundred of “the strange creatures conceived down through history by the human imagination.” Imbued with Borges’s characteristic wit and erudition, this unique contribution to fantasy literature ranges widely across the world’s mythologies and literatures to bring together in one delightful encyclopedia the fantastical inventions from the Kabbalah, Homer, Pliny, Confucius, Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll, Kafka, and C.S. Lewis, among others. Here, readers will find the familiar and expected Dragons and Centaurs, Unicorns and Gnomes, as well as the less familiar and altogether unexpected Animals That Live in the Mirror, The Elephant That Prefigured the Birth of Buddha, the Lamed Wufniks, and the Hairy Beast of La Ferte Bernard. Throughout, Borges’s cunning and humorous commentary is sheer delight.

For this new, illustrated edition of The Book of Imaginary Beings, Penguin has paired Andrew Hurley, the acclaimed translator of Borges’s Collected Fictions, with award-winning illustrator Peter Sís, whose original drawings appear throughout the book. The result is a wonderful gift – an Alice through-the-Looking-Glass menagerie, which should appeal to fantasy fans of all stripes and ages.

Phew, and if you’ve got through that massive blurb you’ll see I barely need to write a review for this one! But I will anyway, just a few quick thoughts on my personal opinions because that description basically does my job for me. Continue reading

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