Weekly Reading List #1 – Brain Surgery, Demons, And Poems

Previously I’ve been mini-reviewing books in the reading list section at the end of my weekly round-ups, but they’ve been getting a bit long and unwieldy of late so I thought I’d move them to their own separate post.

Sometimes a book will merit a post all of its own, or I’ll be given a book by a publisher in exchange for a full review, in which case they’ll be reviewed separately. But I do like to keep track of the books I’ve read and what I liked / disliked about them, and I read so much that I don’t have time to write full reviews of everything. So here we go: the first of the weekly book review lists.

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Windows 10 Live Online Training From AccessData – A Review

From the 1st to the 3rd of November 2016, AccessData ran a live online training course to help forensic investigators understand the specific challenges presented by Windows 10, and how they can be overcome.

The course was aimed at people who already had a level of familiarity with both forensic investigation generally and with AccessData’s products, and took participants through all aspects of investigating a Windows 10 system.

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The Conscious Mind by David J. Chalmers

I do like a book that raises questions. And while The Conscious Mind by David J. Chalmers wasn’t the most compelling book I’ve ever read about the philosophy of mind, it nonetheless had some interesting questions to ask.

If you’re just starting to read about philosophy of mind, this is probably a good one to read. It ties together the psychology, neuroscience and philosophy quite nicely, without going into too much depth about any of them.

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Book Review: Rooms

Rooms(Not to be confused with Room, which is also good.)

The other day I hopped on a bus and went to meet a friend for dinner. Unfortunately she texted at the last minute to say she couldn’t make it, but being a true introvert this didn’t particularly bother me.

This meant that I had both (a) spare time and (b) spare money, which I’d budgeted for dinner. What did I do? Naturally, I took myself along to Waterstones.

I spent an hour and a half browsing the shelves, telling myself I was only allowed two books (the price of books these days almost equals the price of dinner, but books > food, so it’s fine). I went through several, starting with Eco’s The Prague Cemetery and Joanne Harris’ The Lollipop Shoes, both of which I inexplicably still haven’t read.

I realised whilst wandering though that Eco and Harris are both authors whose books seem to drop into my life of their own accord from time to time, and therefore maybe I should buy something I wouldn’t normally read. Something from an author I hadn’t heard of, for example, I thought as I absent-mindedly turned all the copies of The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect to face forwards so that people would buy them (do it. They’re great.).

My eyes flicked over the shelves and alighted on Rooms. It had an intriguing cover, nice and dark, so I wandered over and read the blurb.

A compulsive and dazzling novel narrated by two ghosts that inhabit the walls of an old house. This isn’t your traditional ghost story, though. It’s about the living as much as the dead – and the secrets that haunt them both.

Hmm. Interesting. But it didn’t really give much away. It sounded good, though, or at least unusual; I often think that the ‘story told by someone who’s dead’ trope is a bit overdone, but this one seemed like it might be a bit different. And it was.

The Story 

Wealthy Richard Walker has just died, leaving behind his country house full of rooms packed with the belongings of a lifetime. His estranged family – bitter ex-wife Caroline, troubled teenage son Trenton and unforgiving daughter Minna – have arrived for their inheritance.

But the Walkers are not alone. Prim Alice and the cynical Sandra, long dead former residents bound to the house, linger within its claustrophobic walls. Jostling for space, memory and supremacy, they observe the family, trading barbs and reminiscences about their past lives. Though their voices cannot be heard, Alice and Sandra speak through the house itself – in the hiss of the radiator, a creak in the stairs, the dimming of a light bulb.

The Review 

I like any book that opens with a poem. This one opens with two: a good start.

There were lots of things I liked about it and I’m not quite sure where to begin. I suppose one of the main things was that it didn’t try to be more than it was. It could have gone down the flouncy-writing route (not necessarily a bad thing) and been all descriptive and haunting, but it didn’t. It remained as down-to-earth as a ghost story can be: telling the reader about the family who’d come to collect their inheritance, running through a fairly generic family-in-a-novel plot. Ex-wife who’s angry that ex-husband slept with other women, career-minded nymphomaniac daughter whose sexual escapades ruin her professional life, troubled teenage son who has no friends and wants to end it all. And of course, there’s Amy, the granddaughter, who watches everything that’s going on and applies to it her childish logic.

Then there were the ghosts. Again, these were nicely written because they were more like people than spirits; getting angry with each other, trying to keep secrets but also wanting to let them into the open. What I particularly liked, though, was the description of how being a ghost worked. They weren’t corporeal in any sense of the word, and some of the passages about how they drifted through the house, in some ways becoming it briefly before scattering again, were really well done. It’s how I’d imagine ghosts would actually be, if they existed.

On the whole, it’s a good solid novel that’s somehow more than the sum of its parts. I think because it’s sensitively written without being cloying, and Lauren Oliver spends just enough time on descriptions to make them interesting, but not so much time that you end up skipping pages of text (*ahem* Victor Hugo *ahem*).

Definitely recommended; dinner budget money well spent!

 

Book Review: The Twilight Hour

twilight2014 is proving to be a really good year for books. This is exciting, because the past couple of years haven’t been so great (or maybe I just haven’t been buying the right books). Last year, of course, there was The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, which was my Book of the Year,  but that was pretty much the only one that bowled me over. This year, along with The Rosie Effect (TRP’s sequel), there have been several novels competing for the “No, that one was my favourite” accolade.

The Twilight Hour by Nicci Gerrard is one of those. It is, in a word, beautiful.

The Storyline

To any passer-by, Eleanor Lee might be almost invisible – just another elderly lady – but beneath the surface lies a powerful secret she has kept hidden for decades…

At the dawn of the Second World War, Eleanor is a fiercely independent young woman, determined to write her own future, rejecting marriage for passion, security for adventure. But now, seventy years later, alone in her big old house, she is anxious to erase the past.

Peter Mistley, a young man escaping his own ghosts, is employed to help Eleanor sort though her lifetime of possessions. For amongst them are things that her children and grandchildren must never find. Together, Eleanor and Peter uncover traces of another life – words and photographs revealing a story of forbidden love, betrayal, guilt and self-sacrifice.

But by releasing her memories at last, can Eleanor still protect those who must never know the truth?

The Review 

I can’t remember if I’ve ever read anything else by Nicci Gerard, but after reading this one I’m pretty sure I’m going to buy some others. It’s a lovely story, beautifully told, and does something I absolutely love: treats old people like they’re humans.

Some of my favourite people are (were, have been) in their 80s and 90s – filled with life and stories and tidbits of information that those of us who haven’t been around for so long aren’t yet privy to. But the elderly aren’t just story machines; they’re humans too, with wants and desires and needs just like the rest of us. A lot of books (and people) forget this, I think, and treat them like they’re either superhuman wise-old-ancients, or fun little pets.

The Twilight Hour doesn’t do that. Eleanor Lee is a complex character, down to earth and filled with the same stuff as her co-protagonist, Peter Mistley. Yes, she’s lived a lot already, but that doesn’t mean she’s not still living. Her story’s drawing to a close, but it’s still happening at the same time. And she is an active part of it, not a passive passenger.

It’s a novel about two people who are stumbling in the world, and who find each other. A story of what loneliness can do to a person, and how people can be lonely in different ways. How sometimes all we have to do is give another person a chance.

And it hits one of my other favourite points as well: it’s realistic. There are no wildly unlikely plot-saves, nothing particularly ground-breakingly unusual happens. I thought the ending was going to go a certain way, which in my mind would have been the perfect literary ending; but it didn’t. It went the realistic way, and that made me love it more.

It’s one of those books you’ll read in one sitting, curled up on the sofa with a mug of tea, and when you finish it and put it down, you’ll be very still for a few moments while the ghosts of the characters curl around your mind and take up their positions there. ‘Cause those guys won’t be leaving anytime soon.

The Twilight Hour will stick with you in the best possible way; remind you that people are people, we’re all struggling through the world in our own way; and might just make you a better person after you’ve read it.

An excellent story, beautifully told.

Shorts On Tap: Two Become One

Last week I was invited to go along to Shorts On Tap’s Two Become One film night. There were ten films shown, and three other judges – Sebastian, Mujden and Michael – and I had to choose three winners for the evening.

Below are the trailers for the films, in the order in which they were shown on the night, followed by a brief commentary about each one.

Short Love Story

My initial thought at the opening of this film was ‘Well, this has been done before’. And it’s true: using plastic models and miniature sets certainly isn’t something new. But the full-length feature was nicely arranged, and made you think about its themes: something about being removed from the scene not only by viewing it through a camera lens, but also by it being created completely from inanimate objects, worked really well. It was a touching sequence with a predictable yet still poignant ending.

Scar’s notes on the night: 

shortlovestorynotes

Strong Heart 

It was unanimously decided by all the judges that this was the worst film of the night, which is a shame because I love Glastonbury and I like folky music. This sort of killed them both. A vapid, vacuous video in which a woman sings what is essentially a throwback to Wonderwall, the most overdone busking song of all time, but calls it Wonderman instead. Another woman walks around Glastonbury and keeps seeing those irritating “Don’t-worry-bee-happy” type quotes staring up at her in ugly fonts from the backs of buses, the windows of shops, etc. And then a bird shits on her hand and she takes ages to wipe it off because she’s in such a dreamy state that her brain’s been sucked into a vacuum of hippy crap.

Ahem. Sorry. Didn’t like it though. Can you tell? 😉

Scar’s notes on the night: 

strongheartnotes

In Berlin We Die Alone

I don’t have a trailer for this one unfortunately; it was, however, a reasonable film about going out and partying hard as a young gay man. I didn’t feel much during it, but I thought it could have potential if the storyline had been more developed.

Scar’s notes on the night: 

inberlinnotes

Sugar Cane

You get the whole film for this one, not just a trailer. I thought it was passable, but it looked like a coffee ad, and I felt like the ending was trying to add meaning to something that ultimately wasn’t very interesting. Having said that, one of my friends whom I brought along for the evening loved it, so it can’t be all bad.

Scar’s notes on the night: 

sugarcanenotes

Crave

Another full video – a music video, this time. I felt like this one was a shame. The director obviously has a way with the camera, he knows how to make a good film. I asked him why he’d shot it in black & white, and he replied that he wanted to make sure he understood black & white before he moved on to trying to understand colour. I do like a perfectionist.

However, the guy singing makes me want to punch him in the face, which doesn’t help, and he horrendously overacts throughout. I felt like the director knew this – he kept saying that the singer had had a lot of input into the video, and that he’d made some decisions that the director didn’t really agree with.

I wanted to like the song – one of my friends loved it – but the guy’s voice had that overly-educated vibrato going on. He’s studying music at Oxford, and you can kind of tell. Personally, I prefer my music a bit more raw and gutteral. But, you know, A+ for effort.

Scar’s notes on the night: 

cravenotes

Beyond Darkness

Another one where  you get the whole thing. In this case, though, the whole thing was quite short. I asked the director why this was, and he replied that it was an entry for a film competition and there was a limit on the length. I felt like it would have benefitted from being longer, and also from having better actors, but it was a lovely concept and the execution was ultimately pretty good.

Scar’s notes on the night: 

beyonddarknessnotes

The Neighbours

And here is the whole of this one as well. I didn’t actually make any notes on the night, other than giving it 8/10, because I was just enjoying watching the film, which is always a good sign. I thought it was a funny, poignant take on how a relationship can become routine, and the weird things which can end up reminding you why you love the person you’re with.

The Station Master 

Just a trailer for this one. I didn’t love it as much as the other judges did, but I thought it was good. A bit overblown, and a bit of an overdone concept, but good.

Scar’s notes on the night: 

stationmasternotes

How To Date 

This was alright – an accurate take on the awkwardness of dating – but it was so short, and not particularly well-acted. I’m not a huge fan of shaky-cam either.

Scar’s notes on the night: 

howtodatenotes

Honey Pie

Full video above. I thought it was interesting – definitely a change from all the other videos of the night – and I didn’t take any notes, beyond giving it 6/10, because I was too busy watching it. Definite shades of Lars & the Real Girl, but in documentary format. I liked it. I learned something, and I enjoy doing that.

The Winners

We put our heads together and judged all the films – there wasn’t total agreement, but we came to a compromise.

© Oscar Tornincasa
© Oscar Tornincasa

Ultimately, the three winning films of the night were Short Love Story, The Neighbours and The Station Master. We also gave an honourable mention to Beyond Darkness for having a great concept, and Honey Pie for being interesting. We all hated Strong Heart. The rest of the films fell somewhere in between love and hate for most of us, though one judge also liked In Berlin We Die Alone.

Shorts On Tap is a fun film event that’s definitely worth a look – I took three friends along and they all seemed to enjoy themselves as well. You can find out more by following them on Facebook, and if you’re a director, send them your short film to be featured. Most of the judges probably aren’t quite as harsh as I am…