Month: January 2016

Tom Houghton by Todd Alexander

Posted January 19, 2016 by Michael Kitto in Contemporary / 0 Comments

Tom Houghton by Todd AlexanderTitle: Tom Houghton (Goodreads)
Author: Todd Alexander
Published: Simon & Schuster, 2015
Pages: 295
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: ARC

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As a child growing up in the western suburbs of Sydney, Tom Houghton was an innocent boy with an obsession with classic cinema; an obsession that he inherited from his grandmother. His favourite actor was Katherine Hepburn. As a man who just turned 40 years old, Tom Houghton is a completely different person, bitter and jaded with the world. Tom Houghton is an exciting new coming of age story from Todd Alexander.

Told from the two different stages of life (twelve and forty) Tom Houghton offers an interesting look into this character’s life. I suspect that the book is semi-autobiographical but I found this a well-developed characterisation. I was particularly interested to see just how much Tom has changed over the years. In fact, this often felt like two different people.

As this novel progresses, events start to hint at what makes Tom the person he is today. I am always fascinated by the way the world shapes people. Particularly if society turns people evil (ever since reading Frankenstein), or in this case, making people jaded. There is so much that could be pulled out if I had a psychology background but as a novice, I just enjoyed the direction this novel took.

I was sent this book by the publisher with a note saying that they thought I would enjoy it. I am glad I listened and picked this book up because it was right up my alley. Tom Houghton reminds me a bit of the writing of Christos Tsiolkas, albeit a much tamer novel. I do hope that Todd Alexander writers more novels like this, I will be eager to pick up another.


Mini Reviews; Crime Edition

Posted January 13, 2016 by Michael Kitto in Crime, Thriller / 14 Comments

I do not know if it is the fact that I have had some big months recently or that I associate violence with the holiday period but I have felt the need to read crime fiction lately. I think after a recent review of Dexter is Dead, I have been searching from a new crime series, and hopefully I will find one soon. As crime novels are hard to review without spoilers I thought I will combine them into a mini-review.

Mini Reviews; Crime EditionTitle: Vanishing Games (Goodreads)
Author: Roger Hobbs
Series: Ghostman #2
Published: Knopf Doubleday, 2015
Pages: 304
Genres: Thriller
My Copy: Library Book

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Jack the Ghostman is backed, this time his mentor, Angela needs his help. After a heist to steal some uncut sapphires worth millions of dollars goes wrong, Angela finds herself in trouble. An unknown crime organisation seems to be after her and she is stuck in Macau without any help. She turned to her protégé in the hope to get back the sapphires and get out alive.

I remember Ghostman to be a fun, fast paced heist novel so when book two, Vanishing Games was released, I knew I would eventually read it. What worked really well in the book was the setting; Macau becomes this mysterious city full of uncertainty. A sovereign state of China, Macau is one of the richest countries in the world, thanks to housing the largest gambling district. A tourist attraction for high rollers, but still housing a seedy underbelly. I had a lot of fun with this book, it was fun and action packed, but still a typical heist novel which is not a bad thing


Mini Reviews; Crime EditionTitle: In the Woods (Goodreads)
Author: Tana French
Series: Dublin Murder Squad #1
Narrator: John McCormack
Published: Viking, 2007
Pages: 429
Genres: Crime
My Copy: Audiobook

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I have been recommended the Dublin Murder Squad by Tana French multiple times, not sure why. So I finally decided to pick up the first book In the Woods, which tells the story of Detective Rob Ryan and Detective Cassie Maddox assigned to the murder of a twelve year old girl. More than twenty years ago Ryan and two friends got lost in the same woods. He returned, but what happened to his friends remains a mystery.

This was a fresh and dark psychological suspense, which I enjoyed far more than I expected. My problem with best-seller crime novels is they tend to be very formulaic and unoriginal. Tana French managed to keep the same format but still made the book stand out. I think the chemistry between Ryan and Maddox played a big part of this. I was shipping the two and hoping they will end up together. I hear this series follows different characters in the Dublin murder squad which I am worried about, I want more from these two characters.


Mini Reviews; Crime EditionTitle: Villain (Goodreads)
Author: Shūichi Yoshida
Translator: Philip Gabriel
Published: Vintage, 2011
Pages: 295
Genres: Crime
My Copy: Library Book

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One morning in January 2006, the body of a female insurance saleswoman, Yoshino was found dead on Mitsue Pass. A young construction worker, Yuichi is arrested for her murder. Shifting perspectives, Villain tells the story of the events leading up to Yoshino’s murder and the aftermaths.

Kosaku Yoshida is often considered as one of Japan’s best crime writers and as a fan of Japanese Lit, I knew I had to check one of his books out. However I was a little disappointed; the story was interesting but I was not a fan of the execution. I thought it builds up the suspense, then shifts perspective; which felt like it kept stopping and starting and that just felt too clunky. Yoshida explores the idea of alienation, which seems to be a common theme in Japanese fiction. This worked well, however this was not enough to redeem the novel for me.


Mini Reviews; Crime EditionTitle: Hit Man (Goodreads)
Author: Lawrence Block
Series: Keller #1
Published: Harper Collins, 2002
Pages: 342
Genres: Thriller
My Copy: eBook

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Lawrence Block is a hard working pulp crime novelist, best known for his hard-boiled detective Matthew Scudder, gentleman thief Bernie Rhodenbarr and hit man John Keller. Hit Man is the first book in the Keller series, combining a collection of short stories to develop this character. This is an interesting technique and Block’s short story book One Night Stands and Lost Weekends remains one of my favourite crime collections. He manages to pack the same punch of a normal pulp novel into a stripped down story.

I enjoy Lawrence Block’s style; it is nice to know someone is trying to keep the pulp crime genre alive. However Hit Man is more of a thriller series, which develops the complexities of this character with short intervals for an assassination. I like the way the stories interlock as a way to introduce John Keller, I have never seen this technique and think it worked well. Having said that, I think this is a fun book but I am not sure if I will continue the series. I am looking for something darker and do not think the Keller series will give me what I desire.


Iron Curtain by Anne Applebaum

Posted January 8, 2016 by Michael Kitto in Non-Fiction / 2 Comments

Iron Curtain by Anne ApplebaumTitle: Iron Curtain : The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-56 (Goodreads)
Author: Anne Applebaum
Published: Penguin, 2013
Pages: 613
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

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When the Second World War ended, the political landscape of Europe changed drastically. More so, for Eastern Europe, and from 1945 to about 1956, it was controlled by Josef Stalin and the Soviet Union. However after the war, the Red Army were not really the enemy, helping to liberate a lot of countries from the Nazis. It was the mismanagement of the Eastern European countries that became the problem. The Iron Curtain is a history book focused on the events that happened in these countries.

First of all, I would like to say, as a fan of the Soviet Union I do have a bias view point. I do not agree with Stalinism but I thought Lenin had some very good ideas. The Soviet Union was a political experiment that did not turn out the way it should have. I have a decent understanding of the history of the Soviet Union (though I am continuing to learn), I did not know much about the effects the USSR had on countries like Poland, Hungary and East Germany.  This is where The Iron Curtain came in to fill in that knowledge gap.

I was a little worried going into this book, Anne Applebaum is an American author and there was a concern that this would turn into a propaganda piece. Applebaum does not pull any punches, she reports every gruesome detail but never in a way that felt anti-Soviet. In fact I was pleased to find out that a lot of the research came from the Moscow libraries. Having said this, I have not read anything else on this exact topic so I cannot compare or judge the accuracy of the information. But this is turned into a good overview of what turned into the rape and pillaging of these countries.

I am fascinated but the Soviet Union and its history and The Iron Curtain was a nice addition to add to my collection on the topic. I feel I have so much more to learn and am looking forward to dive in further. I do not think I can review this book well enough because I have no way to compare it. I did enjoy the book as I am interested in the topic but it often felt very dense.


The Possessed by Elif Batuman

Posted January 6, 2016 by Michael Kitto in Non-Fiction / 2 Comments

The Possessed by Elif BatumanTitle: The Possessed (Goodreads)
Author: Elif Batuman
Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010
Pages: 296
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

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Taken from the articles found in journals like n+1, The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, and the London Review of Books, Elif Batuman combines them into this memoir. The Possessed may be a collection journal articles, but combined together it forms more of a memoir of Batuman’s academic life. Starting with a conference she was involved with at Stanford University about Isaac Babel in the first article “Babel in California”.

I mention the first article “Babel in California” because I think it represented everything I did not like about this book. On the surface this book sounds right up my alley. The misleading subtitle for this book is “Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them” and that is the expectation I had when going into this book. However going by the first article about one conference, I got a very padded book with no real structure. It seems like Elif Batuman has edited her articles in a way to fit into a book, but she turned articles into sixty page chapters that are so drawn out that it is boring.

There is some interesting sections within this book but I feel the major problem is this book has no structure. If this was a collection of essays, I would expect a theme. If this was a memoir, I would expect more focus on her life. The Possessed sits somewhere in the middle, each chapter is very different; about a conference, her travels, her studies or just reading Russian lit. Each chapter does not seem to connect to the previous chapter, which just made it too clunky.

I wanted a book about Russian literature, but The Possessed did not give me that. In fact any literary criticism was never explained properly, so made it hard to understand how she draw her conclusions. I am looking for a good book about Russian literature, like a literary exploration or a journey into these books. If you know of a book like this that you would recommend, please let me know.


Learning about Sociology

Posted January 1, 2016 by Michael Kitto in Sociology / 0 Comments

sociologyI have spent so much time playing catch up on my book reviewing, I have been neglecting some of my other post types. I created Knowledge Lost as a way to document my interests in learning. While literature is a big part of my life and my journey, I do not want book reviews to be the primary focus of this blog, more a side effect. I have done posts in the past about art, literature, philosophy and psychology but there is a topic I am interested in that has not be discussed on this blog until now; that topic is sociology.

I have been interested in the topic of sociology for a very long time, but I do not think I understand it completely. I know it is the study of social effects of various influences like religion, politics, cultural movements and so on. However this is a very broad and limited definition of this very broad social science. There is a lot of other elements, theories and logistics that play a big part in influencing sociology. I am interested to learn this topic in a lot more detail; I do not think I will focus on it in great detail but a better understanding would be useful.

Some of the people I will have to learn about, include Auguste Comte, Herbert Spencer, Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim and Max Weber. Auguste Comte is considered the “father of sociology” (although some give this title to Emile Durkheim) and often cited as the one who started this field of study. Herbert Spencer did a lot of research in family, education, government, industry, and religion comprise. Karl Marx is known for The Communist Manifesto, but his research focused on social classes. Emile Durkheim thought it was important to study social facts and the patterns of behaviour characteristics. Finally Max Weber believed that sociologists must consider people’s interpretations of events, as well as looking at economy and religious influences.

fathers of sociology

There is so many more people to research, plus looking at theories and other studies. I think one of my first posts in sociology would be a comparison between socialism and communism. I hope some posts into sociology will be a good fit with my blog. Although this is a place to document my autodidactic journey so I do not see why it would not fit. If anyone has some recommended reading on this topic, please let me know. I honestly do not know where to start.