book review: World War Z

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie WarWorld War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Pretty good, though the style of the story, told as interviews of survivors of the zombie war meant that there wasn’t a lot of tension. You knew that the war was over, and that these people had survived to tell the tale. That said, it was really interesting to see so many distinct character voices come out, and the stories they told were often fairly gruesome. Not usually a fan of horror stories, or zombie stuff, but quite enjoyed this.

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swiftkey

A while back I installed the Swiftkey keyboard on my phone. It’s briliant, with a pretty intuitive autocorrect. As you’re tapping words in, suggestions ping up above the keyboard allowing you to select words more quickly.

You get some nice stats too. Apparently I’m 32% more efficient at typing due to Swiftkey and saved 144,002 keystrokes in the time I’ve been using it. It’s pretty customisable too, with different themes and functionality. A couple of weeks ago I realised that you could swipe words – rather than tapping away at individual letters, you just swipe around the letters in the word and Swiftkey works out what word you’re looking for and away you go. They call it Swiftkey Flow and I’m a complete convert.

The fun thing is the auto-suggest though. Before you’ve even started typing, Swiftkey presents you with three words – based on stuff you’ve typed previously, or from what its ‘prediction engine’.

I fired it up and started tapping the middle suggested word:

I am a beautiful person who is the best #Bond movie and the bottom of the brass tube had two little spikes the best of luck with the latest version of the most important thing is that the information contained in this email address and password for the first time I’d been and gone to the House of Lords and famous high quality cover at competitive prices.

Brilliant. Sounds just like some of the spam comments I get on here!

Seriously though, Swiftkey is ace, and the autocomplete is really useful when you’re using it properly – it’s pretty good at suggesting stuff based on what you’ve typed before.

When I’m faced with the keyboard on the iPad (when I can wrest it from Kate or the kids) it feels really weird having to type properly! If you’ve got an Android phone, give it a go.

Zoo City

An excellent review of Lauren Beukes‘ excellent novel Zoo City, one of my favourite books of recent years. Highly recommended. Don’t take my word for it, have a read of the review, go pick yourself up a copy and thank us later.
Oh, and while you’re at it, pre-order Lauren’s new book The Shining Girls too. It’s brilliant.

Pechorin's Journal

Zoo City, by Lauren Beukes

The Arthur C. Clarke Award for Science Fiction Literature is one of the very few literary prizes I pay any attention to. In part that’s because I don’t read enough science fiction to otherwise be on top of what’s coming out, but it’s also because it’s a well curated prize that really does tend to catch much of what’s most exciting in the field.

Lauren Beukes’ second novel, Zoo City, won the prize back in 2011. That caused some controversy, with many arguing that it wasn’t science fiction at all but rather a fantasy novel which shouldn’t even have been shortlisted (hardcore genre fans can get very bullish about defending genre boundaries). For me the better view is that the boundaries aren’t the point. The point is that the Clarke Award did its job, by finding a bloody good book and shouting to the world…

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Books: 2013

A record of the books I’ve read in 2013. Read:

  1. The Right Way to Do Wrong: A Unique Selection of Writings by History’s Greatest Escape Artist, by Harry Houdini [nf, pbk]
  2. The Shining Girls, by Lauren Beukes [f, pbk, arc]
  3. The Teleportation Accident, by Ned Beauman [f, pbk, arc]
  4. Racing Through The Dark: The Fall And Rise Of David Millar, by David Millar [nf, pbk]
  5. Railsea, by China Mieville [f, e]
  6. London Falling, by Paul Cornell [f, pbk, arc]
  7. Angelmaker, by Nick Harkaway [f, e]
  8. Fade to Black, by Francis Knight [f, pbk, arc]
  9. From Russia with Love, by Ian Fleming [f, e]
  10. Hokkaido Highway Blues, by Will Ferguson [nf, pbk]
  11. Red Army Faction Blues, by Ada Wilson [f, pbk]
  12. The Girl with the Pearl Earring, by Tracey Chevalier [f, pbk]
  13. Poison, by Sarah Pinborough [f, hbk]
  14. The Fire Witness, by Lars Kepler [f, pbk, arc]
  15. Lexicon, by Max Barry [f, pbk, arc]
  16. World War Z, by Max Brooks[f, e]
  17. Game of Thrones [book 1], by George R.R. Martin [f, e]
  18. My Criminal World, by Henry Sutton [f, pbk]
  19. The Machine, by James Smythe [f, pbk]
  20. City of Blood, by MD Villiers [f, pbk]
  21. Bigger Deal, by Antony Holden [nf, pbk]
  22. The Jennifer Morgue, by Charles Stross [f, pbk]
  23. The Last Banquet, by Jonathan Grimwood [f, hbk]
  24. Solo, by William Boyd [f, hbk]
  25. The Republic of Thieves, by Scott Lynch [f, e]
  26. Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan [f, e]

Currently reading:

  • Moon’s Artifice, by Tom Lloyd [f, pbk]
  • The Palace Job, by Patrick Weekes [f, e]

Didn’t finish:

  • The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson[f, pbk] (Not often I don’t finish a book that I’ve started, but really didn’t get on with this one.)

Key: f – fiction nf – non-fiction hn – hardback pbk – paperback e – ebook (probably read on Kindle) arc – review copy

Best of 2012

Time of one of those ‘Best of the Year’ posts.

Right. Erm… [thinks of things I’ve read/played/watched/listened to this year]

Book of the Year
Catching Bullets: Memoirs of a Bond Fan, by Mark O’Connell. A book about our favourite British superspy, James Bond. Not your traditional ‘here are the films in order and here’s what I think of them’, but instead a tale of a young man’s introduction to Bond via bank holiday tv viewings, trips to the cinema and lovingly re-watched VHS recordings hired from the local garage. Mark is a proper Bond geek, and his love for the films just bursts out of the pages. Part memoir of growing up, part tales of his grandfather as chauffeur to Cubby Broccoli and all Bond. Anyone with even a smattering of interest should read it. Inspired me to do a blog-a-long-a-Bond-a-thon next year. Cracking stuff.

Game of the Year
Skyrim
No contest. Yes, it came out last year, but I was late to the party. You know how I can tell it’s game of the year? Because I’ve played virtually nothing else. ALL YEAR. Minor foray into a replay of Modern Warfare 2, but Skyrim went back in every time. I’ve lost (and thoroughly enjoyed) every minute of the many many hours of gametime I’ve spent in Skyrim. I’ve not even completed the main quest as I got distracted wandering around exploring the incredibly detailed world. Plus my troll skull collection is now second to none. If only Farkas would stop tidying it up. I might have to divorce him if he carries on. The only thing which let it down was that EVERYONE in Skyrim seems to have lost something, and they’re all too lazy to go look for it themselves. It’s only twenty quid now. Go buy it.

Movie of the Year
Skyfall. I have written about this elsewhere, at great length. Buy me a coffee and I’ll go on at great length as to why this is the best Bond movie, with the best Bond, ever. Not just a great Bond movie, but a great movie in and of itself.

Album of the Year
Broadside, by Bellowhead. Glorious, plain and simple. Seen them play live twice this year, and each time was just brilliant. Check out their albums, but go see them live. Sheer infectious energy and joy from start to finish.

 

mince pies – a taste test

We’ve been conducting a mince pie survey over the past couple of weeks. I love mince pies, and someone on twitter (I think) said that their goal was always to try a dozen different mince pies each year.

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.
Let’s get the chaff out of the way first, shall we? Lagging at the back of the pack with a score of 2/5 we have:

  • Sainsbury’s standard mince pie
  • Co-op
  • Morrison’s
  • M&S puff pastry

A motley bunch. Surprised to see Sainsbury’s in there, but their pie filling was fairly bland and dull. Most surprising was the M&S puff pastry one – these looked AMAZING out of the box, big fat pies which looked like scones. Bite in though, and they were all air. The puff pastry was a bit… claggy too. Filling was nice, and when one pie top came off leaving a mince pie tart, they were quite nice. Lost points for being all puff and no pie.

Moving up a level at 3/5, we have this lot:

  • Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference (apparently you can!)
  • Sarah’s mum’s home-made mince pies (icing topped)
  • Waitrose
  • Mister Kipling

First home-made pie on the list there, with an icing topping – a bold move which worked (according to Sarah). I marked the Waitrose ones down as 2/5 as the pastry was really dry and the filling a bit sloppy. I was overruled though. Mister Kipling does exceedingly nice pies, apparently. The one I had was certainly better than most of the supermarket offerings and I’d give it 3.5/5

Now we’re getting serious, and moving into the big league. The four-star pies.

  • M&S cafe (crumble top)
  • Joanna’s homemade pies
  • Sainsbury’s baked in store
  • Cooplands brandy butter

The M&S cafe one was really rather nice. It was a tart-style pie, really thin pastry, a very tasty filling and a great crumble topping. Let down by costing £1.75, though you did get a dollop of cream to go with it. Another home-made pie in the list, great filling, nice pastry. Sainsbury’s baked in-store were very good, apparently, and at only a quid for four, good value. The Cooplands pie was very nice, and had a dollop of brandy cream on top of a tasty filling. Well worth a try, but twice the price of the Sainsbury’s ones.

And, last but by no means least, the only five star pie in the bunch.

Abel & Cole mince pie

I confess that I got this free with our veg box from Abel & Cole. It’s a small pie, but came beautifully boxed and was quite delicious. It had almonds and cognac in, and had by far the best taste of all the pies I’d tried. Great pastry too. They seem a bit expensive, at a fiver for 12, but when you look at something like the M&S puff pastry ones at £2.60 for six (and not very nice), they’re more than worth it.

Next year we’ll be a bit more organised and mark on pastry, filling, cost per pie etc. I can feel a colour co-ordinated spreadsheet coming on! I also planned to try some more indie shop pies, but haven’t managed to get that sorted.

So, have you tried any mince pies this year? Report back!

books – a cunning plan

coffee and a good book

I have a plan when it comes to books.

Stop looking so worried. It’s a good plan. Honest.

I’ve got a ton of unread books at home on my To Read pile[1]. I’ve got a similar number of unread books on my Kindle. I’m a sucker for a 3 for 2 offer, or a ‘buy one get one half price’, or a 99p kindle ebook deal, see?

So, I’m going to make a list. A list of all the unread books in my house.

Then I’m going to read them.

See? I told you it was a good plan.

I’m also going to be a bit ruthless about this – if there’s a book I’ve not read but, on reflection, am unlikely to read given the state of The Great Unread Book Mountain[2], I’m going to get rid of it. Charity shops will do well out of me.

I may pass some books along too. Books which I’ve read and enjoyed, but am unlikely to read again.

The second part of my cunning plan is to start reading more books which other people have recommended, but which I wouldn’t ordinarily have picked up. I’ve started a ‘to read’ list on Goodreads. I’m dakegra over there (surprisingly), feel free to add me to your list, and recommend me a book.

If you’re not on Goodreads, then feel free to recommend a book that you’ve particularly enjoyed recently. I’ll read as many as I can and review them here.

Also, if anyone wants to send me a book to review, just drop me an email. dakegra [at] gmail [dot] com. I like emails.

[1]the word ‘pile’ may be slightly misleading.
[2]ok, ok, it’s not an actual mountain. It is very big though[3]
[3]stop sniggering at the back[4]
[4]yes, you.