Friday, June 15, 2012

A Series of Unfortunate Events #1: The Bad Beginning - A Review

“A Series of Unfortunate Events” is a series of books for children chronicling the lives of the Baudelaire children after their parents are killed in a fire that burnt down their home. The first book in the series, which I’ll be reviewing here, is called the Bad Beginning and it isn’t very long.

The author begins the book by warning us that this is a very sad story about 3 extremely unlucky children and that from the very first page they keep finding themselves in misfortune. He goes on to say that if you don’t like unhappy tales you should put the book down at once and find something more pleasant to read. I liked that a lot because it does get you overly excited to see exactly what he means.

The children: Violet, Klaus and Sunny, are each brilliant in their own ways. Violet, the oldest, is 14 years old and has the gift of inventing and mechanics. Klaus is 12 years old, the only boy, and is an avid reader who remembers a lot off what he read. Sunny’s age isn’t quite revealed in this book but I’d guess she’s just over 1 year old because she’s described as have 4 teeth and a fondness of biting things.

After the children’s parents die, their will is discovered in which their parents, perhaps, in what my own father once told me (a story for another post), what was an attempt to maintain consistency and normalcy in their lives, had decreed that the child would stay with their closet living relative.

Unfortunately for the children, this turns out to be an uncle of theirs called Count Olaf who, from the very second they move into this house, makes it very clear he only wants the children for the fortune their parents left them. However, he can’t touch that money because it has been left on trust until the oldest child Violet turns, 21.
Count Olaf lives in a dilapidated mansion that is dirty, dusty and grimy. He immediately sets the children to cleaning it up and other such nonsense. In one particularly memorable incident, he leaves a note announcing that he’s about to have 10 people coming over from his theatre group for dinner and he wants the children to make dinner; never mind the kids don’t know how to cook or have never bought groceries. They however manage to get around their predicament and make some pasta. Count Olaf on the other hand was expecting beef and shouts at the children for not preparing it, despite have left no such instructions.

Count Olaf, whom we’ve already said is only interested in the children’s money, hatches a scheme in which he will marry Violet and become custodian of her fortune. I won’t tell you how it works, you’ll have to read the book to find out how he plans to pull it off and how the children discover his scheme and how he’s thwarted.
My first encounter with this series of books is actually through the movie based on the books. What I liked about the movie is exactly are same reasons I loved the books. First of all it’s about children, children who are gifted and gutsy and I’ve always loved reading about such children. Second there’s the fact that adults never seem to listen to them though what they’re saying is quite true and would have helped avoid a lot of trouble. Finally, there’s how the children figure their way out of each situation; it shows an initiative few children would have.

For a children’s book, I felt it was quite brilliantly written. Difficult words were explained right within the story meaning that if kids are reading it, their vocabulary improves. It also teaches the importance of reading, critical thinking and taking initiative. While I feel it would be a difficult book for adults to read and take too seriously, I think the way the Baudelaire got out of the marriage plot at the very end was extremely brilliant, whether you’re a kid or adult. In fact, being an adult would be an added benefit because you actually understand just how brilliant it was. It’s a series I’ll definitely be getting for my kids when I finally get them and I think you should too. Peace!!!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

1984: A Review

This review is long overdue, and I’m sorry it took so long coming out. I could give you an excuse but I won’t; now on to the book. 1984 is a book by George Orwell set in a future where the government controls everything, all the time. Apparently, there’s rarely any second the government isn’t monitoring you. There’s no privacy and everything is done by government schedule.

I’ve heard of this book before, though it never occurred to me that I should look for the book and read; perhaps it’s because of how I heard of it. The first time I can remember hearing about the book was on this popular TV show called Big Brother. In it, a bunch of people are put in a house filled with cameras and microphones, and their every move is captured and broadcast to the world. Every time a new season was beginning, they’d mention that the show is kind of based off George Orwell’s book. It made me think that the book was about how people react when forced to live with each other under constant surveillance.

The book is divided into 3 parts. Part 1 deals with how our main character, Winston Smith, begins to question the government. Not in any overt manner, but rather on a personal level. He buys a dairy and begins to pen down some of his thoughts and feelings. Part one also serves to show us exactly just how totalitarian the government is, how they change the truth by rewriting history, which is part of Winston Smith’s job, and how people regularly disappear for seemingly arbitrary reasons.

Winston works in the Ministry of Truth, shortened to Minitrue in Newspeak, which is the official language of the ‘country’ he stays in. The Ministry of Truth’s job paradoxically is to correct any written records to reflect the government’s current word. For example, if today it was announced that the farms produced 10,000 tonnes of cotton, then every record that came before as prediction of output is corrected to show that the government was right. There are 3 other ministries: Ministry of Peace, Minipax in newspeak, which dealt with war; Ministry of Love, Miniluv, which dealt with hate i.e. ensure people are having the right thoughts toward life and the government or what you could call maintenance of law and order and Ministry of Plenty, miniplenty, which handled economic affairs.

 There’s a lot wrong with the society described in this book. The bond between husband and wife has been reduced to the point where it seems you’re only together to form a family and little else. There’s no love or devotion. Children are brought up in the party doctrine of Ingsoc, which you could say is an extreme version of socialism, it makes them violent and single minded, their only devotion to the Party.
The Party has 3 slogans:
War is Peace
Freedom is Slavery
Ignorance is Strength
The Party is said to be headed by a mystical figure called Big Brother and all orders from the party are done in his name. Posters of him are everywhere with the words ‘BOG BROTHER IS WATCHING’.
Newspeak is the language, in its forth version in book, that is being developed to replace British English or Oldspeak. The language is mostly a striped down version of English, in which words are removed from the language so as to reduce ambiguity and repetition. For example the words splendid and wonderful don’t exist in Newspeak. It is also so that words that can be used to express political opinion no longer exist. It is another means by which the government hopes to control thought.
The second part of the book is where Winston meets someone a girl called Julia who, like him, questions the party and they start a covert relationship meeting in secret to have sex and talk freely. Most of part 2 is about this relationship and also about how they want the Brotherhood, a group that’s supposed fighting the Party. Towards the end of this part they meet someone who gets them in to the Brotherhood, a Mr Charrington. They also get arrested while at one of their love trysts.
The last part of the book is the saddest and most disturbing, in which we go through Winston’s torture and other things which I won’t mention because I don’t want to ruin the whole book for you.
This is one of the most disturbing and scary books I’ve ever read or will probably ever read. It’s not disturbing in the conventional way that you can say that’s disgusting or scary. It’s just that the world it describes is just disheartening in the extreme. More than that by the time you finish the book you realize that not only is such a world possible, it is happening today to various degrees. In fact, it’s only in now that we actually have the processing power and tech to implement such a world and that is scary.
This is the type of book that makes you feel like building a super-secret underground bunker, filling it with food, books and stuff in preparation for the time when something like this happens. In fact, I could go as far as saying that this book could serve as a guide to any dictator on how to control, manage and maintain his power forever, without any dissidence. And that’s what frightens me; that there could be no dissidence, that there could be even no way to express dissidence.
 All in all it’s a great book that’s worth reading so that the next time the government says something is for your own safety you know what it could lead to. I gave the book 7.5 stars out of 10. Something else I came to conclusion of at the end of this book, George Orwell is a very depressing writer at least from the 2 books I’ve read from him, this one and Animal Farm. He had very harsh view on human nature and power believing, I think, in the saying Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Now let me leave you with two quotes that really stuck with me in reading the book:
A lunatic is a minority of one.
Who controls the past controls the future, who controls the present controls the past.
Think on those a little and tell me what you’re thinking in the comments below. Peace!!!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Are You Afraid of the Dark: A Review

Now that I’m on holiday, I’ve finally gotten time to do some reading (when I’m not doing chores).  So in the last week, I’ve finished reading 4 books; the first of which is reviewed in this post. Hopefully, I’ll get time to do the other reviews soon.

Here is a blurb of the book I’ll be reviewing, ‘Are you Afraid of the Dark?’ by Sidney Sheldon:

In four cities across the world, four people die violently and mysteriously. The dead share a single crucial link: each was connected to an all-powerful environmental think tank. Two of the victims' widows-accomplished artist Diane Stevens and international supermodel Kelly Harris-may hold the key to their husbands' demise. Terrified for their lives, suspicious of each other, and armed only with their own wits and guile, they must join forces in a nightmare cycle of hunt-and-kill. At stake is the shattering truth about the tragedies that robbed them of the men they loved...and about an awesome conspiracy whose ultimate target is as big as the earth and as close as the air we breathe.

I thought I had read everything there was to read from Sidney Sheldon, but this one seems to have escaped me. He was my favourite writer, and I was devastated when he died because I felt the world had lost a literary genius. In addition to that, there were a bunch of books that he had ended in ways that allowed for awesome continuations one day. Fun fact, I get my first name from him.

In most of Sidney Sheldon’s books, he weaves a delicate story that combines characters’ pasts, futures and present. This enables us to see why and how certain characters make the decisions they do, how they came to where they are, and where they might be headed. He makes you empathize with his characters. In this book, however, he failed to fully connect the characters pasts with the storyline. He spent a little too much time with the female leads backgrounds that didn’t do too much to help the over-all story.

Finally, the plot in my opinion was not fully explored; the subject of climate change and human effect on it could have been explored in a much more detailed manner rather than the snippets we get throughout the book. The ending, in my opinion, was a little rushed; it felt to me like there was a deadline he was rushing to beat, or his publishers where breathing down his neck to complete it.  It could have been better.

Anyway, in my opinion, this is probably Sidney Sheldon’s worst work. However, do not misconstrue that to mean that the book isn’t worth reading; it is! It is fun, gripping and explores questions we should all be asking ourselves as human beings. It just doesn’t hold up to the standard I’ve set for Sheldon. Have you read it? Do you plan to read it? Let me know what you think in the comments below. Peace!!

Best Way To Mow Your Lawn

I'm sure there are some of you who are wondering, “Really is he going to write about the best way to mow a lawn?!!” Well yes!! Since I closed school about 3 weeks ago, my dad has been holding me ‘hostage’ at our country home where I’ve had to do chores. Now I don’t mind work, it’s just that this work was mind numbing, and my earphones were short!! So in revenge I’ll be inflicting this post on you guys.*insert evil cackle*

Now there are several ways to mow a lawn, but the one I’m going to describe below is the best I’ve found to be used with our lawn mower.

My Lawnmower
First pick a roughly square piece that you want to be mow. This makes you work easier later. Start on the outer edges of the square you’ve chosen and mow going round in a counter clockwise direction. This ensures that the cut grass always exits on the outer side of the circle. Repeat until all the grass is cut.

Best Way to Cut the Lawn Diagram. Yes I Drew it on My Tablet PC 

Now since you’ve been cutting in a way that was sending the grass to  the outside of the square the raking should be easy because of the clearly left behind lines. Rake into a single line then into one pile.
Some of the grass I had cut; yes, it was very long

The end! Peace!!