Wings of Fire; The Dragonet Prophecy – Tui T. Sutherland

February 26, 2020 at 14:36 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
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Chillikebab junior the first turns ten years old soon. I asked her what theme she wanted for her birthday party, and she wanted it dragon themed. Specifically Wings of Fire themed. There had to be a quest, and a prophecy, and dragon eggs, and fire, and magic. I enthusiastically joined in with this, suggesting a range of cool things I could do – from making dragon eggs to creating an escape room to brewing magic potions and so on. My imagination ran wild, whilst Chillikebab jnr’s eyes grew wide and she proclaimed that it was going to be cool. (I had, at the time, consumed a fair number of alcoholic beverages, it should be noted.)

I should take this, I suppose. Once she turns ten, I doubt her dad will ever be cool again. But in the cold light of day, the scale of what I had suggested and the expectations I had set up were a little daunting. I had a lot to do… (I’ve also stopped drinking. At least for a while. Remind me not to start again until after Chillikebab junior the second’s birthday.)

Anway, I am now engaged in mounding dragon eggs out of paper mache, googling where I can buy dry ice and writing prophesies in rhyming couplets. Ho hum.

In order to ensure verisimilitude in my approach to the prophesy writing (it’s not easy being a prophet, let me tell you), I read the first book in the Wings of Fire series. They are kids books, but also popular with adults it seems. they are New York Times bestsellers, no less.

I don’t know what to say about it really. It’s non-stop violent action from start to finish. Battles, fights, sadistic torture, imprisonment, gladiatorial arenas, horrible deaths, mutilations and poisonings. There’s a sort of story about five young dragons that are going to save the world, there’s a war happening, and there’s some mysterious goings on. That’s probably all you need to know. It rattles along at a cracking pace, and I can see why my daughter likes them – they are action packed.

There’s not much scenery, however. The world the dragons inhabit is barely sketched; this is not an immersive and intriguing universe that you can visit in your head. There’s also a load of glaring inconsistencies that left me scratching my head; the dragons have rather clumsy claws but are also able to put a hand on each others’ shoulders; they move things by awkwardly pushing them around with their snouts but somehow they also have magnificent castles and complicated metalwork; their bones are stronger than diamond and can’t break, yet they do break when they fight. And so on. Perhaps I’m too much of a pedant.

Anyway, I now have a better idea of how to plan this party. Perhaps some kind of death match where the last child is left standing…

Identity Crisis – Ben Elton

February 19, 2020 at 15:00 | Posted in books | 1 Comment
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This book is very Ben Elton. You know – take a current societal conflict or controversy, dial it up to some sort of extreme, and create a satirical comedy about it that also acts as a pointed commentary on the ills of the world and our relentless slide into conflict, nihilism and catastrophe.

The topic for this book is ‘culture wars’, and the way bad actors manipulate public opinion via social media campaigns in order to sow discord and win elections, with side tours into reality TV, policing and race.

It’s OK. Elton’s books are very readable, and it rattles along in fine style, with plot twists and cliffhangers aplenty. But somehow I feel it doesn’t quite connect with its targets; many of the characters are not quite right and at times I get the distinct impression that Elton is dealing with subjects that he does not properly understand himself – and his pointed satire about how tone deaf we all are comes off as a bit, well, tone deaf.

Hey ho. If you are unaware of the link between social media, fascism and populist election wins, then you might learn something from this book. (Of you could read what actually happens – I suggest starting with Carol Cadwalladr.) But for me this wasn’t one of Elton’s best.

 

Mythos – Stephen Fry

February 8, 2020 at 20:41 | Posted in books | 1 Comment
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About thirty years ago, Mrs Chillikebab and I got married, and went to Greece on our honeymoon. We had a lovely time walking on the beach, swimming in the sea, visiting the many wonderful ancient Greek sites and drinking beer. The beer was, I recall, Mythos.

Mythos beer is now available in Australia. So the other day we ordered one, hoping to relive a little of our honeymoon. Did the taste of that fizzy golden lager bring back memories of our younger selves lying lithe on the sand? Well, not really, because Mythos beer, it turns our, is not that good when not drunk in Greece whilst on holiday. So the whole thing was a bit of a disappointment.

This incident was brought to mind just a few days later when I picked up a book to read, titled Mythos. Written by Stephen Fry, it is a retelling of various Greek myths in a contemporary style. I think the standard term is ‘made accessible for the modern reader’ or something. I have very much enjoyed Fry’s other books, so was indeed hoping for a good dollop of accessibility, and even possibly some entertainment. (Although I do feel that I’m rapidly reaching an age where to call my self a ‘modern reader’ is a bit of a stretch…). But then again my recent disappointment with a Mythos product was in my mind too. How would this one go?

The stuff of Greek legends is, well, the stuff of legend, You know – Prometheus, Zeus, Poseidon, Aphrodite, Spartacus, Thor, and all the rest. Now, here’s a thing. I have always struggled with this kind of thing, because I have an atrocious memory for names. People who are good at remembering names like Greek myths. But people like me struggle. Opera and jazz and much the same. In fact, I reckon the Venn diagram of people who like Greek myths, jazz and opera would be a circle. They are all sort of fun, all sort of inaccessible and all seen to require a near encyclopedic recall of names. (I bet Stephen Fry likes jazz. And opera. And I bet he can name loads of singers, bandleaders and the rest.)

Anyway, Mythos was fun. Fry’s retelling are lively and easy to read. It is entertaining. The stories are quite good, as it turns out (although if I was being critical I’d say a few of them were rather same-y. I sense plagiarism was an issue amongst ancient Greek bards). But. But but but. The names thing. Oh my goodness. Chapters start with things like ‘You recall earlier how we learned that Achaeus was son of Xuthus and Creusaon, well….’.  Well no, Stephen, I don’t recall. I don’t recall at all. All those names just blur together before vanishing into the mists of forgetfulness.

I fear there is no hope for me. I enjoyed Mythos. But it has not helped one jot in making me sound more erudite at parties by being able to name drop Greek deities. They just drifted from my head minutes after finishing each chapter.

Arnott’s Shapes – Meat Pie flavour

February 1, 2020 at 12:42 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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This is the other flavour in the new Arnott’s ‘Aussie legends’ range (we looked at the Sausage Sizzle ones a little while ago), and I suppose is another iconic Australian comestible. When we moved to Australia I recall going into a pie shop and being somewhat confused by the range on offer. Sure, there was Steak and Mushroom, Steak and Cheese, Chicken and Vegetable and all the rest, but the one at the top of the list was simply called ‘Plain Pie’. Plain? What was a plain pie, I wondered. So I bought one.

It was some sort of meat (I think beef), mostly minced, in a sort of thick gravy. It was salty, and not very nice. Clearly it is this type of pie that Arnott’s set out to celebrate with this new flavour, rather than any gourmet or specialty variety.

I know this because these new Meat Pie Shapes are disgusting. They are even worse that that plain pie. They are worse than that mass-produced, been-in-the-warmer-for-hours pie you get from the servo late at night when you are hungry on a drive, and that’s all there is and you buy it even though you know it won’t be very nice (and it isn’t). They are absolutely revolting.

I suppose if Arnott’s were setting out to celebrate just how low and just how nasty the meat pie can be in Australian culture, they have succeeded admirably. When you open the packet, the first thing you notice is the smell. It is horrible. AsI opened them, my whole family (at the other end of the kitchen) called out ‘what’s the horrible smell? Smells like dog treats.’ If you touch them, the smell gets onto your fingers, and is extremely hard to wash off. I washed my hands four or five times in the end, but that disgusting smell still lingered to my fingertips, making me heave if I brought them to my nose.

The flavour is nasty. Honestly, I can’t really make a clear assessment of how closely they resemble a meat pie in taste, as I was kind of gagging as I forced a few down for this review. Just accept that they are not nice at all.

I’m not the only one who thinks this, btw.

I think they might even be worse than this abomination from a few years ago. Just No, Arnott’s. No.

 

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