BOOK REVIEW: The Wandering Falcon – by Jamil Ahmad

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Title: The Wandering Falcon
Author: Jamil Ahmad
Genre: Historical Fiction, Contemporary, Middle-East
First published: 2011
Finished reading: December 30th 2013
Pages: 243

Rating 3,5

“…One lives and survives only if one has the ability to swallow and digest bitter and unpalatable things. We, you and I, and our people shall live because there are only a few among us who do not love raw onions.”

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In his book, Jamil Ahmad was able to write down various stories and traditions of the different tribes living in the area close to the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. The chapters are just loosely connected, but with this variety in personalities and locations he is able to give us a more complete view of the different tribes and its customs, laws and lifestyles. The daily life of the nomads and communities are in general completely foreign for those who life in the Western world but reading this book we are able to understand the life in this area better. Which is a relief, since normally the border area is known better for the terrorists who are supposedly hiding there than for their original inhabitants.

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The wandering falcon is the character who holds the book together. The falcon, also known as Tor Baz, appears and disappears in most parts of the book. And although it’s not the main character, it’s the one that keeps with you… Tor Baz is the son of a young couple who fled their tribe to escape punishments for breaking the tribal law. They managed to survive a few years with the help of some soldiers, but the tribe found them in the end and sentenced them to death. Tor Baz survives though. He becomes a character who wanders around in the border area with different tribes, travels over mountains and the plains, and lives both in towns and tents of the tribal people. He appears to belong nowhere and everywhere, and with his help we get a broader perspective of the situation on different levels of the society. The Afghanistan/Pakistan border: a place where traditions have lasted for centuries; a world full of extremes (both in culture and geography).

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Although the writing style is simple and the chapters don’t really connect, I believe that Ahmad was able to let us into a world foreign to most of us in the Western world. He was able to give us a beautiful portrait of the life as it was in those remote lands. Must read if you are interested in the area and want an idea of who are the tribes and how they really live.

BOOK REVIEW: Digital Fortress – by Dan Brown

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Title: Digital Fortress
Author: Dan Brown
Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Crime
First published: 1998
Finished reading: December 27th 2013
Pages: 510
Rating 2

“Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will guard the guards ? If we’re the guards of society, then who will watch us and make sure that we’re not dangerous?”

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I think I just un-became a Dan Brown fan. I know Digital Fortress is his first book, but it made me wonder how on earth he was able to get his second one published. The only reason I read Digital Fortress to the end was because I kept believing that it must get better eventually. It didn’t. To be honest, I’m surprised it was that bad, especially when you keep in mind Brown is so highly praised by millions. Even though I’m not a specialist in cryptology and computers (I’m just a simple philologist), I noticed a lot of errors, and the plot and characters were not believable. Take the end as an example: a bunch of the brightest people in the US cannot see straight away the puzzle Tankado left them was about chemical elements and afterwards take 20 minutes to figure out what’s the prime difference between Uranium-235 and Uranium-238? Yeah, right. Be wise and keep away from this one.

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The National Security Agency NSA has a new computer, the TRANSLTR, which can decipher any code and unlock its secret message. A lot of people would see it as a breach of privacy, but it also helps prevent terrorist attacks. And more importantly, nobody outside NSA knows the computer exists.. Yet. A former NSA employee Tankado treathens to publish a new programm (Digital Fortress) which code is unbreakable. It’s up to Commander Strathmore to stop him. With the help of the ´perfect´ couple Susan Fletcher – the head Cryptographer at the NSA – and David Becker – a foreign-language specialist- Strathmore tries to get the special password to stop Digital Fortress from ruining the future of NSA.

David is send to Seville to find the ring Tankado was wearing, supposedly with the code ingraved. While he tries to get it, he is chased by a hitman, and is forced to do some heroic acts to survive. Susan meanwhile is trying to find out the identity of the only other person that has code, North Dakota. They both find out that things are not as they seem, and certain persons can’t be trusted… And the TRANSLTR is in bigger trouble than most are willing to see.

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While his later work still might be worth the read, I suggest staying away from Digital Fortress. Both the plot and characters are barely believable, and I just couldn’t enjoy this one. Luckily I read other books like The Da Vinci Code first before reading this one, or else I would have never continued reading Dan Brown‘s work…

BOOK REVIEW: Brave New World – by Aldous Huxley

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Title: Brave New World
Author: Aldous Huxley
Genre: Classics, Dystopia, Fantasy
First published: 1932
Finished reading: December 22nd 2013
Pages: 268

Rating 4,5

“Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the overcompensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn’t nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand.”

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This classic written by Aldous Huxley is actually a reread, since the first time I read this novel it was part of an English assignment back when I was about fourteen. Brave New World in a way is a shocker. Aldous Huxley´s new world is a complete opposite of the world we know now, a strange new synthetic world where science in our eyes went too far… Cloning babies and conditioning them to make large groups of identical twins, condemning some to an infavorable treatment with big consequences. No such thing as marriage, family life, personal identity, freedom to do as one pleases. But you cannot deny that this new world was geniously created, and in its own way works perfectly. Some may think the ideas expressed in this book are too inorthodox, but still I recommend reading it.

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This book describes a fantasy of a future in which they can control every part of society; babies that are cloned according to their role in that society. Everybody is happy with their own role. It doesn’t matter if you’re an Alpha or Epsilon, through the bottlement process and conditioning they are made to love what they do and they don’t desire anything else than their pre-destined role. Bernard Marx isn’t happy though with his place in this New World where nobody is ever alone, and has a dangerous fondness for solitude. With the girl he is in love with, Lenina, (there is no such thing as love though in the life after Ford, the new ´God´; everybody belongs to each other) he escapes the big city by visiting one of the Savage Reservations where people still live according to the old way. They find Linda and her son John, Linda once being a girl from the new world who got lost in the reservation… And Bernard decides to bring them back to modern society as an experiment. There, John (Mr. Savage) encounters a whole new world which he truly cannot understand to be an improvement of the world he had known until then…

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Brave New World is not your typical read and very well written. Aldous Huxley shows us a dystopian world that will make you think about how things work in our society. It’s an interesting read and I would definitely recommend reading this novel. It’s one of my favorite dystopian classics!

A Storm Of Swords – by George R.R. Martin

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Title: A Storm Of Swords
(A Song Of Ice And Fire Series #3)
Author: George R.R. Martin
First published: 2000
Finished reading: December 17th 2013
Pages: 1128

The Seven Kingdoms are still in war, and the five pretending to be kings are dropping dead one by one. Meanwhile, a different war is about to start beyond the Wall… Joffrey still sits on the Iron Throne for most of the book, but he gets what he deserves in the end. His most dangerous rival is Lord Stannis, with Melisandre at his side. Using black magic in name of the Lord of Light, they try to win the Iron Throne for the brother of the previous king Robert.  The young King Of The North Robb still holds the North, untill a Red Wedding makes an end to that. Balon Greyjoy is king of his Iron Islands, but not much more. And don’t forget about Daenerys, the Mother Of Dragons, making her way back to the Seven Kingdoms with her three dragons to claim back the Iron Throne…

A lot of fighting, a lot of death… It’s best not to become fond of a certain character, because nobody is safe. Valar Morghulis… All men must die. Splendid third book of the A Song Of Ice And Fire series, would recommend it within a blink of an eye. Read it and find out for yourself who lives and who dies, and what becomes of the war beyond the Wall. Watch out, because winter is coming… And so do the Others.

A Clash Of Kings – by George R.R. Martin

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Title: A Clash Of Kings
(A Song Of Ice And Fire Series #2)
Author: George R.R. Martin
First published: November 16th 1998
Finished reading: December 4th 2013
Pages: 761

Winter is coming, and the seven kingdoms are in war. The old king Robert Baratheon is dead, and suddenly there are four men claiming to be king. The old kings (bastard) son Joffrey reins Kings Landing, but Robb Stark claims to be the new King of the North. Also both Roberts brothers have their own claims to be the true king. And not to forget the Mother of Dragons, claiming the Iron throne from far away…

Clash Of Kings is a story of war, revenge and chaos, the second book of the ‘A Song Of Ice And Fire’ series. The kings and their followers are ready to claim the throne, and old friends become new enemies through betrayal. The world is becoming more dangerous… The wildlings are marching south, and the Others are rising. Great follow-up of A Game Of Thrones.

Running the Amazon – by Joe Kane

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Title: Running the Amazon
Author: Joe Kane
First published: June 17th 1989
Finished reading: November 29th 2013
Pages: 379
(Read in Spanish: ´El Descenso De Las Amazonas´)

Joe Kane tells his own personal account of the first expedition to navigate the entire river Amazon, the world´s longest river (more or less 6.300 km). Together with eight men and a woman, they try to find the beginning of the river, situated in the cold mountains of southern Peru, in the Colca Canyon. From there part of the group navigates in kayaks, and others go down by foot, since the first part is too dangerous to navigate by anything bigger. Later they join the kayaks in a raft. They encounter various problems and dangers, and only four of them were able to reach their goal: the Atlantic Ocean. A true story and amazing adventure for sure.

BOOK REVIEW: The Da Vinci Code – by Dan Brown

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Title: The Da Vinci Code
(Robert Langdon #2)
Author: Dan Brown
Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Crime
First published: April 2003
Finished reading: November 14th 2013
Pages: 489

Rating 3

“Telling someone about what a symbol means is like telling someone how music should make them feel.”

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I remember that the first time I picked up The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown as a teenager I actually really enjoyed it. I guess I was less critical back than, because when I found a copy while I was traveling and decided to reread it, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I would have thought. There is no doubt that The Da Vinci Code is a very entertaining story as long as you don’t think too much of the details. I remember enjoying the mathematical details and explanations throughout the story, although I do have to admit some of it is farfetched. But I guess that Dan Brown wasn’t exactly looking for the next historical correct masterpiece and focused more on the bestseller qualities; with millions of copies sold around the world he sure did a great job reaching a broad public. It’s not a mindblowingly good read, but if you are looking for a fast paced and entertaining read, The Da Vinci Code does fit the description.

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A phone call wakes symbologist Robert Langdon in the middle of the night after a lecture in Paris. The curator of the Louvre museum has been murdered and his body was found covered with symbols. The police found evidence supposedly incriminating Langdon, and they start a man hunt when Sophie Neveu, the curator’s granddaughter and cryptologist, forces Langdon to escape. They follow a trail of clues hidden by the curator, grand master  of the Priory of Sion, which according to the myth will lead to the Holy Grail. It is a desperate race that will lead the two main characters to cathedrals and castles throughout Europe while they try to uncover the truth… And their enemies are closer than they imagine.

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This novel by Dan Brown is without doubt an entertaining read and it shows in the millions of copies that have been sold ever since it was published. It’s not exactly the next literary masterpiece and I felt the story lacked some dept when it comes to character development and plot. Still, if you don’t focus too much on the details I’m sure you will end up enjoying The Da Vinci Code.

BOOK REVIEW: Plunder Of The Sun – by David Dodge

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Title: Plunder Of The Sun
(Al Colby Series #2)
Author: David Dodge
First published: 1949
Finished reading: October 27th 2013
Pages: 223

Rating 3,5

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I picked up a copy of Plunder In The Sun mostly because I was spending my vacation in Peru and since the story is partly set in this country it sounded like the perfect time to read this one. It’s the second book of the Al Colby series and even though I haven’t read the first one, it was still easy to follow the story. This novel by David Dodge uses a perfect combination of crime, adventure, betrayal and romance and is a very entertaining vacation read indeed. It has a fast pace that makes it easy to read and I would definitely recommended to those who enjoy a good adventure story about treasure hunts, Incas and Latin America in general.

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What starts as a simple smuggling job – taking a package from Chile to Peru – ends up to be a chase for Inca gold. Our main character Al Colby is offered the job by an old art and antiquities dealer, and he suspects he’s holding some kind of ancient artifact. When they start their journey by steamer, Colby soon discovers that someone else also wants the package, badly enough to kill. And when the old man dies, the hunt for the truth starts… As for the hunt for the Inca gold. With at least three different parties after the gold, it’s not easy for Colby. He soon finds out that people can’t be trusted and often aren’t what they seem to be.

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Plunder Of The Sun might not be the perfect read, but it is without doubt an entertaining one. Being in Peru when I read this novel is a huge bonus of course as part of the treasure hunt takes place in the same country. This novel is easy to read and full of action; perfect for a vacation or just a few hours of easy entertaining and imagining yourself on a treasure hunt along with the main character…

BOOK REVIEW: The King Must Die – by Mary Renault

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Title: The King Must Die
(Theseus Series #1)
Author: Mary Renault
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mythology, Fantasy
First published: 1958
Finished reading: September 19th 2013
Pages: 356

Rating 3

“A man is at his youngest when he thinks he is a man, not yet realizing that his actions must show it.”

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Mary Renault tells the story of a boy-king, Theseus, whose adventures are roughly based on the Greek Theseus legend. Various changes are made to make the story more plausible, and for me it ruins a bit the fantasy of the original myths round Theseus. The beginning of The King Must Die is a tad slow and confusing, which doesn’t encourage readers to continue… But luckily I managed to continue reading and the story did become more interesting after the initial chapters.

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The story begins in Theseus’ homeland, where he grows up to be a short but very agil young man, trying to get to know who is his real father besides Poseidon. When he discovers he is the heir of king Aigeus in Athens, he decides to travel to meet his destiny (moira). He is stopped on the way by the queen of Eleusis and becomes the year-king of this woman-dominated land. Fate decides this isn’t his final stop and he manages to make it to Athene, where he finally meets his father. This isn’t the last stop either though; for it is the island of Krete, the home of the famous Minotaur.Theseus is send with other unfortunate youngsters to Krete to participate in the famous bullfights in the Labyrinth. In groups, they ‘dance’ with the bulls and as they do, trying to survive and not end up as a sacrifice for the great Bull of the Sea, Poseidon…

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It’s an alteration of the most famous episode in the Theseus myth where he confronts the fantastical half-man half bull commonly known as the Minotaur. Mary Renault altered the story to make it more plausible, and the mythical part sadly was lost in this adaptation. But still it makes an interesting and moving story about the adventures and struggles of young Theseus to survive in the ancient Greek world.. If you can make it through the first chapters, it’s definitely worth it to try and finish the book.

Death Of A Bore – by M.C. Beaton

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Title: Death Of A Bore
(Hamish Macbeth Series #21)
Author: M.C. Beaton
First published: February 23rd 2005
Finished reading: August 20th 2013
Pages: 242

Set in a small Scottish village, M.C. Beaton tells the story about yet another murder case for constable Hamish Macbeth. This time a minor writer, John Heppel, manages to upset half the village and one night they find him murdered in his house. While others think someone within the village did it, Macbeth seems to have different ideas. He tries to focuss on the crew of the TV company, and the chase starts…

An ok but no too inspiring novel in my opinion. The setting is nice and the use of Scottish dialect is interesting for me as a philologist, but the storyline is full of cliches. Entertaining but definitely not challenging.