Currently reading

Spam Nation: How the Demand for Cheap Prescription Drugs Is Endangering Americans, Threatening National Security and Enriching the Cybercrime Underworld
Brian Krebs
What Do You Do With a Chocolate Jesus?: An Irreverent History of Christianity
Thomas Quinn
How Music Works
David Byrne

Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose

Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose - Tony Hsieh I was looking forward to hearing the story of Zappos. While I quite enjoyed the parts of the book that covered Tony Hsieh's early business life and also the parts devoted to Zappos, the tangents the book takes into the thoughts of the author almost completely destroy the credibility of the book. I finished the book thinking less of the author than when I started.... From the pointless self indulgence of writing how much he likes Red Bull to how much he likes Rave parties, to the ridiculous part about how much he was fretting about the fate of his company hanging in the balance while he was climbing Mt Kilimanjaro, whenever the book strays away from Zappos and into the barren zone that is the authors mind, the more it seems this is a guy who got incredibly lucky rather than being gifted. If it ends up being the case that he actually is gifted, well, he has done himself a disservice by publishing his account of things in this manner. This would have been a much better book had we just heard about the company, not the man who somehow steered it towards a deal with Amazon.


December - Phil Rickman "Good story but disappointing adaptation "

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?
Not the audiobook. Narration is hamfisted and the music to add drama is embarrassing.

If you’ve listened to books by Phil Rickman before, how does this one compare?
Have read others but not listened

What didn’t you like about Seán Barrett’s performance?
It's heavy handed. Groans and screams etc are over acted.

If this book were a movie would you go see it?
Possibly if directed by right person

Any additional comments?
The first 50 minutes of the audiobook is almost unlistenable. It is a chaotic mix of visions and terrible Celtic music interruptions and I nearly gave up on it as I tried to remember why I had liked the book so much when I read it over 10 years ago. It eventually settles into a more traditional narrative but the occasional further bursts of bad Celtic music that are there to "add to the mood" are amateur and annoying.
The Deus ex machina ending to the story is disappointing and does not close all the loose ends that the plot and the final scenes build up to.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage: A novel

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage: A novel - Haruki Murakami, Philip Gabriel This was my third Murakami novel, prior to this I've read 1Q84 and The Wind Up Bird Chronicle. By the half way point I realised this book was very different from my previous experiences with Murakami, in that this is a fairly straight forward novel, where as both Wind Up Bird and 1Q84 are long, sprawling and surreal. There are still hints of the surreal here, but there is never any melding between the plot and fantasy as I've read in his other work.
The plot for Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is very simple - Tsukuru is a man nearing middle age who lives a solitary life when he starts dating a woman named Sarah. After getting together a few times, Tsukuru tells Sarah that he had once been part of a close group of 5 school friends, but as they approached adulthood, he was suddenly evicted from the group one day for no apparent reason. He becomes depressed and lives the rest of his life from this point almost friendless, working as a train station designer with a resigned acceptance of how things have turned out for him.
Sarah tells him that she doesn't want to continue the relationship until he deals with his past so she convinces him to go back and visit his old friends to find out why they had rejected him so suddenly and strongly. With this, Tsukuru sets off to talk to his old friends individually and finally learns why they had abandoned him.
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is a meditative exploration of a man's loneliness, confusion and search for a spark to re-ignite his enthusiasm for life after the hurt of being abandoned so unfairly by his friends. Having read 2 Murakami books previously, I wasn't expecting an ending where everything or at least something ends up neatly resolved, but this comes close at least, and for that reason the ending is more satisfying than both Wind Up Bird and 1Q84.
I wasn't a fan of the narration - the "Britishness" and "properness" of it was a mistake - Murakami is a writer of quirkiness, and while the words and characters in the novel express that, the narration doesn't.

Midnight's Children

Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie the most beautifully written yet thoroughly boring book I have ever read
1 star for the story, it gets to 3 stars for it's prose

The Martian

The Martian - Andy Weir This is one of the best audiobooks I've listened to in my time as an Audible member. Don't get me wrong - this is not high literature or a work of art - but it is one of the most fun listening experiences I've had with audiobooks.
The Martian is a sci-fi potboiler but with plenty of smarts and humour. Astronaut Mark Whatley is stranded on Mars after his crew, believing him to be dead, have left him behind as Nasa orders them to evacuate as a storm approaches. He is left with a damaged spacesuit, limited air, and his wits. The story is mostly told by Mark in the form of mission logs, with occasional details told from the point of view of a small group of people on Earth involved in his rescue.
Mark spends over 500 days stranded on Mars while a rescue mission is worked out and dispatched, and the poor guy has to survive many mishaps, setbacks and perhaps worst of all, has only Agatha Christie novels, 70's TV shows and disco music to keep him from going insane. Mark is a thoroughly likeable character, and the story keeps chugging along without any boring parts and I'd be surprised if someone hasn't already picked this up to make it into a movie.
The narration is excellent - the best I've heard on Audible - R C Bray nails Mark's roguish charm and wit perfectly, and for this reason this is one of those books that really might be better in audio form than print.


Autobiography - Morrisey I came to this audiobook not knowing very much about Morrissey except what I had interpreted from his music.
The first section of the book was fascinating, his childhood, schooldays and I particularly enjoyed the story of how Morrissey began to fall in love with music and the music that inspired him to become a singer. The writing is heartfelt, warm and leads you into a possibly premature fondness for the guy.
The Story of the Smiths formation and career though is terribly underdone. You would imagine The Smiths period of his life would take quite some time to detail but it is almost casually slapped down - a collection of random anecdotes which make no linear sense and give improper credit to the legacy of the band and its place as a stepping stone into his solo work. At this point in the book, Morrissey does goes to some effort to almost fondly credit the other members of the Smiths for their various contributions to the music, despite the acrimonious issues that were to follow after the breakup of the band.
What follows after the "story of the Smiths" is confusing though. The book continues as a random collection of anecdotes and characters weaving in and out of and between his long lines of solo albums. That's not to say there is nothing of value in the content, but again there does not seem to be any linear sense to things - he will start talking about people who weren't introduced to the reader properly and random events take on an importance which they shouldn't have. e.g a long and completely unnecessary ghost story!
After this there is a long, long section detailing Morrissey's side of the famous court case brought about by the Smith's drummer. This was actually quite fascinating (as is Morrissey's view from inside the insidious world of the business of music) and as a musician myself, I can certainly sympathise with his despair at how horrible the people in the music business can be.
While the book up to this point had certainly had its faults, it was nevertheless an entertaining and sometimes fascinating listen. Despite Morrissey's notoriety, I discovered nothing that had made me think less of him.
It is the final part of the book however that will have Morrissey haters licking their lips, and I have to say he gives them plenty of ammunition! The final section of this book seems to be written by someone either blissfully unaware or uncaring of how he comes across. Written almost as a travelogue, the book becomes quite literally a long and boring list of cities he performs in and how he, the apparently magnificent and heroic artist journeys the world in a rapturous travelling communion with his fans. It goes on for so long and just becomes so absurd in its world weary grandioseness that you find the words "what a twat" unconsciously leave your mouth several times through the telling.
Its an odd feeling to end the book with as it is really hard to erase the bad taste in your mouth from the final section of the book. Of course, it wouldn't be Morrissey without the melodrama, but for this reviewer, I'll settle for the melodrama in his songs - its more palatable.


Robopocalypse - Daniel H. Wilson The digital age has been a boon for many would-be authors and self publishing has allowed many authors to find an audience they might not have gained in previous eras. Unfortunately, while this has allowed some great authors a chance to have their work published and to make a living from writing, it has also allowed many truly terrible writers to have their work published and to also somehow make a living from writing.
While I appreciate the author of Robopocalypse has every right to benefit from this, his novel is just so, so bad. I'm left lamenting the $13.99 I could have used on something more worthwhile - coffee, beer, another book.... So the author earns at least one bravo from me - the ability to extract a premium price for a book that truly would be struggling to justify a 99c price tag.
A computer gains sentience and takes over the world, using all the worlds robots to wage war on the human race. Insert cookie cutter hero, use World War Z Style narration, add some boring characters who all die anyway and conclude with a grim but "happy" ending for humans as the "good" robots discover what it is to be human and the humans learn tolerance for the objects they fear and distrust. Use your tissue to either cry into or vomit, depending on whether you liked the book or not.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams So many great lines in this book.
Completely silly and completely perfect. Have read this many times, but just finished audio book version read by Stephen Fry, which is a lot like having a bowl of the the best ice cream in the world and adding lots of yummy freckles and chic chips!

Beatrice and Virgil: A Novel

Beatrice and Virgil: A Novel - Yann Martel Before buying this book, I was intrigued by the many angry reviews claiming that Beatrice And Virgil was offensive and "tricked" the reader. I couldn't disagree more with those opinions.
There is nothing offensive in this book - there are some dark and disturbing scenes, but offensive? No, not unless many other supposedly "classic" novels throughout history covering man's darkest deeds are offensive too.
And trickery? While the reveal at the end of the book is very sudden, the author and main protagonist hint many times during the story that all is not as it seems, many times openly voicing questions about the undercurrents of the story involving Virgil, a howler monkey, and Beatrice, a donkey.
Beatrice & Virgil begins with a successful author, named Henry who coincidentally? has written a successful novel with animals as the characters. His next novel is rejected by his publishers and he takes a break from writing to reassess things. He receives a letter from a reader asking for help, along with highlighted passages from a story by Flaubert, and a scene from a play he assumes is written by the sender of the letter. Realising the address was not far from his, he decides to write back and hand deliver the letter to the reader's postbox.
When he arrives to deliver the letter he discovers the address is a taxidermy shop and he enters and ends up meeting the man who had written to him.
The taxidermist says he has spent his life writing a play and needs Henry's help with some problems he has finishing it. The taxidermist is a very odd and cold man but has written a play in which the two main characters, Beatrice & Virgil, are animals living on a shirt. Yes, a shirt. In contrast to the taxidermist's cold demeanour, Beatrice and Virgil engage in heartfelt conversations about events they can only bring themselves to call "the horrors".
Over the course of the novel, the taxidermist reads extracts of his play to Henry, who has trouble matching the author's gruff and cold aloofness to the animated and passionate animals in the story. Henry visits the taxidermist several times, trying to understand what his play is about and what message the taxidermist is trying to express with his story, all the while unable to put his finger on the dark undercurrents in the story.
At the final meeting of Henry and the taxidermist, the truth behind the story is revealed, and quite suddenly and shockingly. In fact, the entire story twists within just one sentence. With this, the story continues on very briefly, coming to an end, which while macabre, deeply sobering and dark, is far more satisfying than the ending of Martel's previous book, "Life of Pi".
For me, the mark of a great book is that you are still mulling it over in the days after you finish it, and that has been the case for me after finishing Beatrice & Virgil.

Invisible Monsters

Invisible Monsters - Chuck Palahniuk Up until the half way point of this book, I was wondering whether I should just abandon it. Invisible Monsters begins with a scene involving a shooting at a wedding and the rest of the book is devoted to telling you how we got there. The book jumps around in time constantly, a gleeful mess that refuses to make sense until its good and ready to.
So there I was at the half way point, deciding if I wanted to take the rest of the ride. Then Chuck throws you a bone. A hilarious scene in which the protagonist (a model who has had her face shot off) has thanksgiving with her parents drew me back in. After this, the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle of the story begin to thunk into place and you begin to see where the story is headed. And you smile. The second half of the book is a darkly comic tale of how all the strands of the story and the characters come together into the final train wreck of a WTF climax.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle - Jay Rubin, Haruki Murakami I really enjoyed this surreal and charming novel. After just finishing reading it, my initial thought is that the charm of the story will be the thing I will end up remembering it for. As an actual story, not a lot actually happens - like an episode of Seinfeld set in the Twilight Zone. Haruki Murakami takes a lost cat, an unemployed man, a series of strange phone calls, a marital split and offbeat characters, adds some seemingly irrelevant subplots involving a Japanese WW2 survivor and psychics and weaves a tale that goes everywhere yet nowhere. I was also amazed at how well a novel translated from Japanese can hold up as literature when read in English.
This is the second Murakami novel I have read and like the first (1Q84), the book dissolves into a vague ending where you are left wondering how all the various strands related to each other. That is sure to frustrate a lot of readers' but Murakami's magic seems to me to be the charm of the world you are entering when you begin reading his novels and the journey he takes you on.

Childhood's End

Childhood's End - Arthur C. Clarke For fans of the human race, this book may have a depressing end.
Like a lot of science fiction, the strength of Childhood's End is not in its characters but in the ideas it explores.
The more you learn about the universe the more you realise how inconsequential Life on Earth can seem. In Childhoods's End, life on Earth evolves to the point it outgrows itself and mystically leaves to become part of the greater cosmos.
Humanity dies out, with the last human issuing a running commentary as the Earth unravels into the fabric of space.
Ironically, the alien race that comes to Earth to guide humanity through this final phase has reached its evolutionary peak, and is unable to move to the higher state of being that humanity is being ushered towards. While you are left pondering the prospect of humanity being swallowed up into a "higher purpose" and losing its own place in the universe as a consequence, you begin to feel an affinity with the aliens who are left to search for their own significance in the grand scheme of things and their determination to not die out as meaningless bystanders.

Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why

Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why - Greta Christina This book is a good example of why a successful blogger and a good writer are not the same thing.
While I'm philosophically on the same page as the author, this book is written like it"s a low level high school essay and would never have been published in the pre-internet age.

Storm Cloud

Storm Cloud - Paul Kennedy A very balanced account of the Melbourne Storm salary cap scandal. What makes this book interesting though is not that it tells the story of what happened, but that it tells why it happened. I have always thought of the Storm as a manufactured football team, with no other reason for existing other than to expand a sporting business, and this book shows what can happen when a winning at all costs mentality and pressure for an organisation to succeed and gain exposure forces people into pushing the boundaries. It also is a good business lesson - an example of why businesses should sometimes "stick to their knitting" rather than try to expand too quickly or into areas that don't make sense. Melbourne as a city was never crying out for a Rugby League team, and should the team ever fold, there's not going to be too many people who care. One cannot imagine rallies of supporters like those supporting South Sydney demanding to be reinstated into the NRL!
The book is not heavy reading - with just the right amount of detail - some books of this type can get bogged down in over-long back stories and too many facts and figures, but this book gets the mix right - I read it in one sitting over an evening.
The one thing I believe the book could have been improved with was a final chapter about the future of the salary cap - perhaps a collection of thoughts from players, coaches, CEO's and officials on what needs to be done to improve the cap. There is no doubt Melbourne cheated, and benefited from this as other teams shed both marquee and long serving players to stay within the rules - no greater example of this exists than the Grand Final they lost when Cameron Smith was suspended. Take their most important player out of the side, who was of course one of the players caught at the centre of the scandal, and Melbourne came back to the rest of the field.
The salary cap is a necessary evil - we surely don't want an NRL that is dominated in the same way a few rich teams with open chequebooks dominate the English Premier League, but the Storm scandal should have been the tipping point for a genuine re-boot of the salary cap. Until the NRL addresses the way in which the salary cap in the long term punishes clubs for successful local junior development and also one-club long serving players then the balance is wrong.

Joseph Anton. A Memoir

Joseph Anton. A Memoir - Salman Rushdie Really the only thing I'd really known about Salman Rushdie prior to purchasing this book was of course that he was the author of the Satanic Verses. This book chronicles his life up until the time of the release of that novel, and through that time in detail.
As a listener, I found the third person narrative off putting at times - 1. there are instances where more than one person are being discussed, and you often realise that the "he" who the author is talking about is now the writer, where as ten seconds earlier, the "he" in question was someone else, and 2. the third person style can come across as pompous. I am sure the author had his reason for choosing this style, most likely because the events in this memoir are indeed important, and perhaps he wished to distance himself somewhat from their importance, in other words, an attempt at humility.
The narrator insists on inserting accents for all the other people in the book, and these accents all fall into cliche. In addition to this, he also adds accents when he is simply quoting people - one of the most ridiculous instances when he quotes lyrics from Michael Jackson's song "Black & White" in a hilariously bad American accent - I nearly crashed my car laughing.....
The story however rescues this audiobook from the off putting performance.
I found myself to have a rather schizophrenic reaction to Salman Rushdie's story as I listened. There were times I found myself wondering why sometimes he needs so many words to simply say it was morning, but other times where he charmed me as he faced a horribly unfair sentence on both his life and character.
This poor man suffered through a long barrage of mindless religious zealotry and sentences of condemnation on both his life and his character, and was used countless times as a political pawn, and had no option but to roll with the punches. The revelations he makes in this book describing the cowardly way his government, the publishing industry, some fellow writers, and of course the media are an indictment on our society's bizarre views on religious tolerance. On top of this, the poor man had to deal with an undoubtedly psychopathic wife during this time. This was no man sealed off in an ivory tower - he was a man with no control over where he lived, where he went and how he lived for a very long time.
The memoir seems fairly balanced - Salman Rushdie seems quite prepared to admit his shortcomings and mistakes, and he describes his crazy and manipulative wife with far more grace than she deserved. He takes plenty of pot shots at politicians, religious clerics and others whose behaviour was abominable, but you can't blame him, and I certainly felt like he used an admirable amount of restraint. I finished the book with admiration for him and a hope that he goes on to write without the need to look over his shoulder or second guess his motives.
This is a story that needed to be told. Unfortunately, religious fanaticism is still a powerful force in these time, as we all saw only 10 years ago in New York. Somewhere down the line, I have a feeling a similar story will sadly need to be told by some other poor unfortunate victim who inadvertently offends the barbaric and superstitious.

The Transhumanist Wager

The Transhumanist Wager - Zoltan Istvan This book would stand up much better had the author not attempted to colour the philosophy with a storyline. As a work of "fiction" is high school level at best.
The premise of transhumanism is interesting, but I find it horribly cold and depressing.
The protagonist, Jethro Knights, is a one dimensional and crude character, while the storyline is absurdly far-fetched, and mundane. An elite group of scientists, who have formed the nation of (insert cringe here) Transhumania defeat the combined might of the world's military in just a few days, and humanity (with the exception of small pockets of resistance) embraces transhumanism and before long cures for cancer and cryogenic rebirth become the norm and everyone appears to go on and live happily ever after.
Really, this book would have so much more credibility if it had just been presented as a treatise on the philosophy of transhumanism.
As for the philosophy, it offers some thoughtful arguments, but it also strips away the nobler concepts of humanity. It is not evolution but devolution, where the greatest humans would be technologically advanced and cultured.......animals.