Friday, 5 December 2008


I just realized that with Oliver Twist I hit 100 books for the year. Granted, some of them were re-reads, but I still read them. That’s not bad for a year’s reading methinks. I think it might even qualify me to have finished another Challenge somewhere, but I didn’t actually join that one. Of course, without audio books, I’d never get anywhere near that sum. Nowhere. Not even close. I love audio books. They make me feel like I have a whole lot more time than I really do – and they also make cleaning the house a whole lot more enjoyable!

I also finished the Classics Challenge, maybe even twice over. Since July I’ve read:

Oliver Twist
Nickolas Nickleby
The Book Thief
The Screwtape Letters
The House of Mirth
The Time Machine
The Woodlanders
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Anna Karenina
The Invisible Man
The Time Traveller’s Wife
Robinson Carusoe
Catcher in the Rye
To Kill a Mockingbird
Moll Flanders
Far From the Madding Crowd

Am Reading:

A Christmas Carol
The Count of Monte Christo (but it might be Jan before I finish this one)

I didn’t link, but you can find them all on the left under the list of books read.

I managed Option 2 plus the Bonus Round of A Should Be/Will be Classic.

Come to think of it, I might get around to buying/reading the Dickens Christmas Stories collection, so that would clear Option 3 as well. My inner Hermione is happy now.

If anyone knows of any new challenges for the coming year, please let me know. I’d love to do this again.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Oliver Twist

It’s funny, but I had tried to read Oliver Twist before, but never got much further than the description of the workhouse and its residence. Reading it this time, however, I realized that it’s just a bloody good book. The story, although at times a little unrealistic, which we’ll forgive because it’s Dickens and he’s trying to make his point through exaggeration, is addicting. Never a dull moment, so to speak. It takes so many twists and turns that you can hardly help wondering what will happen next. It might have been quite the cliff hanger, if I hadn’t read, or rather listened to, it all the way through within a couple of days. It’s certainly a book I’ll read again.

Oliver is a boy who is born into abject poverty in a workhouse and remains a ward of the parish until the age of nine when some unfortunate circumstances lead to him being apprenticed out to a mortuary. Throughout the entire book, it seems as though his changing circumstances might night be as bad as all that for him, but for the greed of his fellow human beings. At every turn Oliver is ill-treated and ill-used, with only very few people willing to help him, and most of those are unable to do so to the full extent of their desire. As I said, it’s a little extreme, but most of Dickens works are and he uses this to highlight both the failings and the successes of society while raising up the attributes he feels people as a whole should be striving towards. Oddly enough, it’s really only the successes one finds so difficult to believe in. It’s quite obvious that no child would or could ever be as good hearted as Oliver, especially having had his start in life, but it’s quite easy to believe that the villains of the story are all as bad as Dickens describes them.

Part of what makes the book so good is that Dickens so accurately portrays the motives and interests of the characters, meaning that he seems to have given quite a bit of thought as to how each of his characters would react given the circumstances. Nancy, even when offered a much better life in exchange for allowing herself to be taken out of the gutter, refuses to grab on to her one chance because of her love for a scoundrel. It would have been to utopic for her to be grateful and to say yes. So while Dickens is willing to rely on a bit of willing suspension of disbelief, he’s not totally dependent on it. It’s his trueness to the characters themselves and not the exaggeration of their general dispositions that makes the book so intriguing a read and keeps it from becoming all together too soppy.

What I also like about Dickens in general, and in particular in this book, is that Dickens gives us a view into several different levels of society. You don’t just see the upper class, or upper middle class, but everything from the truly wealthy to wretched poverty. Not only that, but he also gives you insight into what each class thought of the other, be it by showing how Nancy reacts to Rose Maylie or though Mr. Bumble’s and the Board’s thoughts on the paupers. Granted, you do have to temper all of these scenes to get a true picture of what life was like, but reading the book with that knowledge proves very interesting.

So, truly Dickensian, excellent plot, good characters, and a good view of life in the age, in short, one really good read.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy

I got started on Thomas Hardy with Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and have since read one or two more. Hardy tells a good story and his books are worth reading simply from that perspective. I choose The Woodlanders because I like the woods and thought that might interest me in itself. However, it had little to do with the book itself except to lend the characters an occupation and a place to live.

Again, the story was a good one, but this book irritated me a little because of the moral of the story, so to speak. Hardy addresses several issues, one of which is the education of women outside of their own class level. His Heroine, Grace Melbury, is the daughter of a timber merchant who felt the need to give her a good education and spent quite a large sum of money doing so. The results were that Grace was indeed, well educated, however, that particular education hurt her chances in the world by making her too good to marry her intended, Giles Winterbourne the cider maker, and not good enough by right of birth to marry a gentleman. This puts her in a precarious situation where her wants and needs can never be met. In the end, she marries the local doctor, who really only wants to possess her and ends up breaking her heart. Grace’s ensuing trials lead her to the conclusion that she would have been better off marrying Giles, who, despite his lack of education and position, really did love her. What Hardy is saying, in effect, is that educating women outside of their class is a poor choice, which, in this day and age, is a difficult concept to swallow.

Another “lesson” that sticks in the throat is Grace’s turnaround in the end. After Giles leaves the scene, Grace happens to pick up a religious volume and chances to re-read the marriage vows. Having read them, she realizes how lightly she had taken them at the time and to just what she pledged herself. She feels she has not kept those vows, but that having made them, she should keep them. This is a decisive factor in her choices at the end of the novel. It helps lead her to make a decision, which few modern women of sense would have made.

As with most of Hardy’s novels, the ending isn’t a happy one, rather it’s realistic. It reflects life as it most likely would have happened and leaves the reader neither with an ideal to reach, nor a true tragedy. As often is with life, the ending leaves everyone not quite happy with their outlook on the rest of their lives. This kind of ending may have made Hardy a happier man, but I think it kept him from being a truly popular writer, in the likes of Jane Austen, who tells a good story and leaves the reader with a happy outlook on life. That’s not to say that his books are not of the same quality, they just won’t appeal to the masses through the ages as much as happier endings might.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

The Time Machine

I know, I know, another one already. I either seem to go through books like mad, or not at all.

This was an interesting book from several different viewpoints. The first is that today we see what last century envisioned for our future. Wells tended towards a more idealistic, although not perfect, view of how the world would develop, whereas today, many of our futuristic visions tend to be more industrialist and doom/gloom than idealistic. His version also didn’t include space travel, which for us seems to be a given. The second is that although he could travel in time, it was still a fairly linear type of travel. The Time Traveller moved in time, but not space, so whenever he went was simply the same place in space only a different time. It’s nothing like the Tardis which goes through virtually every dimension. Finally, it was all fairly simplistic in both design and execution. There were no mentions of how the machine was powered, how it was built, the materials were nothing that weren’t widely used in the rest of life and no sort of special protection was used for the traveller himself. Since his time, we’ve moved on to make things much more complicated and realistic, which is logical considering our standpoint in relation to travel in general, space or otherwise.

Wells seemed less interested in plot in this book than in making the reader confront the future from a different standpoint. In his version of the distant future, humans have become so intelligent that they no longer needed their intelligence and therefore reverted to an almost pacifistic, childlike innocence. It’s an interesting thought. Usually we consider the future to be a place of advancement in which humans become more intelligent and more advanced, yet retain the negative sides of the human character as well. Wells assumes that humans will eventually reach the point where they become so intelligent that their baser characteristics will be abandoned, leaving humans happy and carefree, obviating the need for intellectual and material advancement thus leading humanity to a happier, but less industrial future. He does avoid making the future a utopia by introducing enemies, however, these enemies are not fought, but feared and avoided, a war being out of the question as it would render the humanistic advances null and void with its necessity of learning how to cause destruction and death.

All in all an interesting book with more thought food than plot.

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

I don’t care for American Literature, never have. Yes, that is an odd statement to begin with, considering that The House of Mirth is a very American novel, but it’s true and knowing that is important to understanding anything I say about it. American lit has never been my thing, but I keep trying to like it. After all, I am American and maybe one day I’ll find something which I truly feel is fantastic.

The House of Mirth is about a New York socialite, Lily, at the turn of the century who has the upbringing and the grace to carry herself well through society, but not the money. She becomes something of a social parasite living off her friends and relatives who are glad to have her, her social skills and her pretty face around. The story follows her path through this society. At first she does fairly well and her “friends” expect great things from her because they all assume she will marry for money and continue on in their society in the role of a married woman. Yet Lily, though she knows the rules, cannot seem to abide by them herself and her refusal to subjugate herself to society eventually leads to a downward spiral in her social status, helped along on the way by some of her “best friends”.

I spent the majority of the novel thinking “stupid woman”, which is really still true. Lily lives in and abides by all of society’s rules of restraint and moral order, playing along in order to keep her social status, but refuses to use the tools the same society gives her to help herself along. It’s something like one boxer having gloves while the other is using bare fists with knuckle rings, even though both opponents have the same equipment available to them. Lily lets herself be kicked and punched, but refuses to do the same in return. This might be her subconscious wish to be able to live outside of society while still enjoying the benefits of a luxurious life. Her greatest failing is, perhaps, that she cannot reconcile herself to living without the luxury yet also cannot pay the price for enjoying it.

The first two-thirds of the novel annoyed me to no end. Then it got better. A lot better. Not that my opinion of Lily changed much, but the sorrows she undergoes and the lessons she learns, although too late, are touching. The end itself show how sharp the contrast between the class levels really is, on all levels; monetarily, emotionally, and morally – morals and monetary status not always correlating as one would expect.

My final opinion? It is a good novel. It’s not good enough to make me a huge fan of Wharton, but this particular book throws up a lot of food for thought and it would be interesting to discuss since there are many ways in which it could be interpreted. I doubt I’ll ever read it again, but I might brave more of Wharton’s works another time, despite my general dislike of American Lit – in which since it’s a victory for Wharton.

Monday, 10 November 2008

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

OK, I know, three books in one day, but I’ve just not had the time to blog about them yet. I did start Nicholas Nickelby in Oct., but didn’t finish it until November. The Screwtape Letters isn’t long and The Book Thief was one of those you can’t put down until your finished. That makes for a lot of books at once.

The Screwtape Letters was a philosophically interesting book. It’s the kind of book that makes me want to sit down and formulate arguments, agreements and general discuss. I probably agreed with as much of it as I disagreed, or rather with the principles behind the book. It is, of course, based on Christianity, as all of C.S. Lewis’ books are, and argues the best ways of undermining Christians and their beliefs from a demonic point of view. It’s written by Screwtape, an upper level demon, in the form of letters to his nephew Wormwood. In his letters, Screwtape gives his nephew advice on how to secure a soul for the ranks of hell. Lewis’ intention was to show Christians how the enemy works as a different form of learning how he should behave and react to temptations. It’s a sort of Know Thine Enemy treaty, although he does use the same viewpoint to show weaknesses within Religion, the Church and society, which is where the letters become philosophically interesting. Some of his points are debateable, but most only from a standpoint of belief in religion.

Lewis apparently had quite a difficult time writing the letters, which perhaps explains why there aren’t more. He first found it interesting to write from the perspective of the “enemy”, but slowly that strain of thinking began to pull at his morale and he was glad to finish them. I think that was a fully understandable reaction, even from the viewpoint of a non-Christian. After all, very few humans are truly evil and trying to put yourself into the frame of mind to think as evil does over a prolonged period would depress most people.

It’s not a book for everyone, but it’s certainly interesting for anyone who cares to dwell on the merits, advantages and disadvantages of good and evil and/or Religion. In that sense, it’s food for thought.

The Book Thief

Excellent book. Really, really good. This is the story of a little girl in Nazi Germany who has little in the way of material goods, but learns to recognize the power of words, for good or for bad and becomes a “book thief”. The novel itself is narrated by Death, who is neither good, nor evil, human nor inhuman, but who cannot help but be moved by the story of this girl. He remains aloof during the telling, but the fact that it’s Death telling it at all means the story stands out from the many he sees. He follows Lisle’s progress through life during the war noting her friends, her enemies and telling the story of how she learns to see through the things that seem to be to what is behind the façade. She lives in a world which is increasingly falling apart by the seams, but still manages to find room to be a child while learning how to survive and how to make the most of what she has or hasn’t got.

Saying more would give the story away, but I will mention that the book is a good introduction to both World War II and the Holocaust. It’s sad, but not overly scary, even for youngish children, although there is a bit of non-gratuitous language in it. It also has its happy moments that the reader realizes will never be fully erased, even in the wake of such massive destruction and loss.

Again, it’s a great book which I can recommend to anyone. It might not be a "Classic" yet, but I'm sure it will be with time.

Nicholas Nickelby

This was a really fun book. There are heroes, heroines, villains, and unsavoury characters aplenty throughout the story and the twist and turns it takes before coming to it’s conclusion are enough to keep you wondering just what was going to happen next. The book was originally released as series released on a monthly bases for which even the Americans were clamouring for the next instalment. It’s easy to imagine them waiting for the next episode to reach them and then sitting around together reading, discussing and conjecturing about what would happen next. In some respects, it’s quite like a popular soap opera in which the viewer can’t wait to see what dastardly plans the villain will come up with next and just how the hero(ine) will get themselves out of a seemingly impossible situation.

Despite all of the hardships they suffer, the Nickelbys remain cheerful and are ready to do what they must to survive, which keeps the reader rooting for them. Their kind heartedness and refusal to discriminate against people who aren’t in the same class as themselves are not only pleasant to read about, but are also the reason they are able to elevate themselves in the end. Without the help of people who are either as or more down trodden than themselves, they would have remained penniless and unable to thwart their evil uncle’s plans. In general, it’s Dicken’s usual style of pointing out human and social faults while showing the reader the means to remedy them, or at least make them bearable. I found myself thinking as I was reading that Dickens must have been a very kind hearted man, otherwise he could not have praised the advantages of kind heartedness and generosity and make convivial company seem so inviting.

The other thought that kept crossing my mind as I read, was that Ralph Nickelby could have been Scrooge for all of this evilness, hatred and greed. I wonder just how long his chain was when he finally died and if he was ever able to stop roaming the earth, or if he’s still there, trying to escape his heavy burden of sin.

All in all a good book which I can recommend to anyone.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

A family is murdered, a small boy escapes, his would-be murderer chases him into a graveyard and the scene is set. Bod, short for Nobody Owens, grows up in the graveyarnd protected by its otherworldly inhabitants. Just like other children, Bod grows up loved and protected, learning the things he’ll need to know to survive the world, only Bod’s world isn’t like a normal boy’s world. He has other lessons he must learn in order to protect himself from some unusual threats.

This is an engaging story, despite being meant for children. The characters are interesting and the story line keeps you wondering what will happen next. The ending was a bit vague, but not unrealistic since life isn’t always decisive. All in all it’s a good book and if you’re looking for a bit of light reading, it’s just the thing.

Friday, 10 October 2008

A Meme

Gacked from Marireads

What was the last book you bought?
I just bought The Book Thief by Markus Zusak last night on Mariread’s recommendation and The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.

Name a book you have read MORE than once
Pride and Prejudice. I re-read books all the time, mostly classics, but sometimes Pratchett or Christie when I’m in the mood. I’ve also waited years and then gone back and reread mystery series when I can’t remember whodunit. Rereads are always good for when I can’t afford new books (there are no easily accessible English Libraries here) I think I’ve read most of my books more than once.

Has a book ever fundamentally changed the way you see life? If yes, what was it?
I wouldn’t necessarily say that a single book has fundamentally changed the way I see life, but I think books as a whole do. I’m happier overall when I have time to read, which is always life changing, and each book leaves its own little impression on me. All of the little things add up to make the whole different than it was.

How do you choose a book? eg. by cover design and summary, recommendations or reviews
All of the above, but often recommendations from friends.

Do you prefer Fiction or Non-Fiction?Fiction!
I don’t really care for non-fiction unless it’s really entertaining. I get enough of reality as it is. I don’t need more of it in my fun time.

What’s more important in a novel - beautiful writing or a gripping plot?
I would say that both are an integral part of any book. Beautiful writing without a plot is boring and a great plot with horrible writing is unreadable. A really great book is well written, good plot, and all good books have a good dollop of plot and writing as well.

Most loved/memorable character (character/book)
Frodo from The Lord of the Rings, or Miss Marple from Agatha Christie, or Laura Ingalls Wilder; how do you choose? They all feel like old friends.

Which book or books can be found on your nightstand at the moment?
I’ve put a few away because it was getting a little crowded, so at the moment, I only have Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy, Wyrd Sisters and The Dark Side of the Sun by Terry Pratchett.

What was the last book you’ve read, and when was it?
I finished The Host by Stephanie Meyer the day before yesterday.

Have you ever given up on a book half way in?
Oh yes. Lots of times. Wuthering Heights is one I often only manage half of. I’m also having trouble with The Dark Side of the Sun. I can’t always make myself finish something just because I should.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

The Host - Stephanie Meyer

I just finished reading this book and while it’s not quite as brain eating as the Twilight series, it’s technically better written and it’s still a good read. What I particularly like about all Stephanie Meyer’s books is that they tell a good story without all of the suspense and violence that seems to permeate most of today’s society. Actually telling a good story is becoming a bit of a lost art nowadays as everything becomes Hollywoodised, yet she manages to keep you reading without a car crash or murder every 5 pages.

I also like that the both the general theme and the actions within the story throw up interesting points of view and give the reader something to think about. The Host takes place at the end of an alien invasion of Earth which the aliens have effectively already won. The aliens themselves are small creatures, called Souls, inserted into humans who then take over the human body as their own. Normally, the human mind/soul is extinguished in the process, but some of the humans fight back and refuse to let themselves be vanquished from their own minds. The story follows one such alien/human combination in which the Soul who cannot vanquish her human host begins to see things from a human standpoint with human emotions. The situation is neither comfortable nor desirable for either Host or Body. This puts both of them in a precarious situation as it’s impossible for them to exist in such a manner, yet seeking help is just as impossible. On the one hand, the aliens would remove the Soul and insert it into a more pliant body while killing off the old body, which goes against the Soul’s own beliefs. On the other hand, the few true humans left (who have not undergone the insertion and are in hiding) wouldn’t believe the Soul’s story and would most likely kill both human and Soul in the interest of self preservation. This increases the alliance and reliance of both human and Soul on each other and causes their relationship to take on new dimensions.

Each change in situation forces the characters to re-examine things they have in the past considered a given. Just as the characters, and the reader, become comfortable with the situation, Meyer shifts the viewpoint and causes another re-evaluation of beliefs on all sides. The characters start to see things from different viewpoints instead of just their own and their lives become more and more entangled in a web which is seemingly impossible to unravel. Some of the solutions are obvious and some are not, but all of them force the reader to reconsider his feelings just as the characters do. At the end of the book, you find yourself looking back and wondering whatever happened to what you believed was right at the beginning of the book.

Frankly I think it would do a lot of people good to read this book. Not because the subject matter is real, obviously, but because it challenges you to think about preconceptions, their origins and how right and wrong they may or may not be, yet does so without haranguing.

However, if you don’t like fantasy / sci fi, you might find the story a little difficult to get through. Also, like her other books, Meyer tends to spend a lot of time on detail and emotions, which could put readers off. Normally this would be a big negative in my book, but she still managed to keep me interested, so thumbs up for the book anyway.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

The Invisible Man by H.D. Wells

I think I read this book for the first time in the 5th grade. The idea intrigued me and I expected it to be a little more spectacular than it really is. Not that it isn’t a good book, but it’s not what a child would expect. It certainly isn’t the comic book version that a child would expect. It’s much too realistic for that. His character, Griffen, an albino scientist, manages to create a process by which he can cause the light to refract off objects in a way which renders the object invisible. Griffen performs this operation on himself before he realizes all the disadvantages to being invisible. Once in that state, he finds that he must either walk around naked, problematic in winter, or he must cover himself from head to toe all of the time, which is nigh on impossible. He can no longer stay in his home nor hold down a job due to this and is forced to wander the countryside looking for the means to get by, by either honest or mostly dishonest means. After creating havoc in one small town, he moves on and finds an old friend, who might have been able to help him. However, by this time, Griffen is already half mad and has begun to plan to create a reign of terror, with which he sees no moral problem. Kemp, his friend, decides he needs to be stopped and eventually succeeds.

Wells must have put quite a lot of thought into what it would be like to be invisible before writing this book. He brings up things like the dirty feet and eating food, which would remain visible as long as it was undigested, that I wouldn’t have thought of. Although he could have carried it all a bit further than he did by pointing out that dirt clinging to the feet alone would have made the feet, or the outline thereof, visible.

Still, he manages to make the situation real and bring home the terrible loneliness that being invisible would cause. The only question I have at the end of the book is if Griffen really did go mad from being invisible or was he already mad by the time he created the process. He frankly didn’t seem very stable from the beginning and I think that being invisible just tipped him over the edge.

Interesting read.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Anna Karenina

I’ve re-named this book Gone With the Windski in my mind. It probably sounds quite odd, but it’s because Anna so strongly reminds me of Scarlet O’Hara. Both women are caught up in situations which neither suit their wants, needs, nor temperaments, yet they cannot escape due to the social restrictions placed upon them. However, both women are very selfish and manipulative and for the large part, bring their own misery down upon themselves by either going about things the wrong way, or trying to make their surroundings bend to their wants. Instead of making the best of their situations as they are and looking for happiness where they would have a chance of finding it, they look for it where they want to find it, and that is what ultimately brings about their own destruction. Granted, Scarlet is neither completely destroyed nor does she capitulate at the end of the book, but she did lose everything she was striving for and will have to start all over again. Anna, on the other hand, watches as she destroys her own life and not being able to face reality, completes her own, and her lover Vronski’s, destruction.

Anna Karenina does have another interesting facet: Kitty. Kitty is the antithesis of Anna. She shows the reader what Anna should have been and how Anna should have acted. Not having gotten what she wanted, Kitty was able to regain her life by looking towards things she should want and which were attainable instead of reaching out for things she could and would never have. It’s quite interesting the way that Tolstoy plays the two women’s stories against each other. Their lives are intertwined by the people they know, yet they go two completely different ways which almost seem to mirror each other the way that a picture negative mirrors a picture. They are the same, yet completely different.

I suppose that reader is meant to sympathize with Anna, but I can’t. I find her horribly arrogant, selfish and manipulative to the point in which these traits overshadow any of her good points. The only thing I do sympathize with is that she was damned by her own nature. I doubt she could have changed had she wanted to, so ultimately, there was really nothing she could do about it. Still, that doesn’t make me like her any better. Every time she made another choice, all I could think was “stupid woman”. The things she chose were so obviously wrong that she was either stupid or blind. Either way, it made no difference. She chose the wrong things and had to pay for her decisions in the end.

Tolstoy also managed to wind in two other themes into his story. The first is the Russian nobility of the nineteenth century. They glimpse Tolstoy gives of them makes them seem to be some of the most extravagant, decadent and thoughtless people in the world. Viewing them with the knowledge of what happens in Russia during the following century, it becomes easier to see why communism seemed appealing to many of the Russian people. An overthrow of the system must have seemed the best way to eradicate the Russian people of the ultimately destructive element of their nobility; seeing as how the nobles controlled politics at the time, there really way no other way. The second is philosophy. Tolstoy introduces Levin, Kitty’s future husband, at the beginning of the book. Levin epitomizes the Russian spirit of the 19th century with his depressing and dark outlook on life. Always trying to make sense of the world as he saw it, Levin goes through many different phases of both personal and political philosophy, changing it according to the people he meets and the experiences he has. Again though, like Kitty, Levin doesn’t try and strive for things beyond his reach, but eventually realizes that to be truly happy, he must reach for things that are attainable and be happy with what he has. On the whole, both his and Kitty’s stories are what make this an uplifting novel.

All in all it was a good read. It’s the first Russian classic I’ve ever managed to get through. Up until now the Russians have always been too heavy for my taste. Anna Karenina is a lighter, although not totally frivolous novel, and I can recommend it to anyone.

Monday, 8 September 2008


This book was originally entitled Sanctum and was changed to Deception for the American market. After having read it, this is one of the few times when I think the name change was warranted. Deception wound its way through the entire book from all sides. Nothing was as it seemed and the viewpoint of the reader changed almost page by page as new information was revealed.

Lachlan Harriott’s wife was convicted of the brutal murder of a serial killer and his wife. Lachlan, who loves his wife deeply, is shocked and devastated at the conviction and sets out to provide all of the information possible to sway the case in their favour at an appeal. He doesn’t seem to realize that the only person who believes an appeal will ever take place is he. However, the very act of trying to prove that his wife is completely innocent sends him on a roller coaster ride of emotions very nearly ending in his own destruction. From the beginning, the reader has the feeling that Lachlan is deluding himself, which the evidence he begins to find seems to support. It isn’t long before he begins to realize that there is more to the whole situation than his wife being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Yet, the story line isn’t a classic one. Mina creates unforeseeable twists and turns of a plot which has already happened as the story unfolds. Lachlan uncovers both intentional and unintentional deception on just about every level during his investigation and the resulting emotional turmoil very nearly destroys his own soul as he tries to untangle the strands of the story and make sense of them.

He eventually does untangle them, but the outcome is surprising and the results equally so. It’s a demonstration of how love can easily turn to hate and hate to love, how humans can deceive themselves as a form of self-protection and how well that protection works unless and until cracks appear in the shell. Once those cracks are there, breakdown isn’t far away and the resulting pain can be almost unbearable.

All in all a good read. It’s a good depiction of the realistic dark side of human nature.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

I’m afraid this has ceased to be in order of my reading, but I can’t blog as fast as I read, so I tend to forget what I’ve reviewed and what I haven’t.

This one was a curiously simple, but interesting read. Christopher John Francis Boone is a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome who finds the body of his neighbour’s dog with a pitchfork through it. He sets out to find the culprit, but his search is more a manner of revealing his mind and thought processes to the reader during a particularly difficult time in his life. As mentioned, the book is fairly simple to read, but the simplicity almost seems to be there to hide difficult concepts Christopher isn’t yet ready to deal with. It’s as though he is arriving at obvious and necessary conclusions by the roundabout route of searching for the dog’s killer. He can’t look at life directly, so he does it in a way which allows him time to come to terms with a problem almost before he realizes what the problem actually is.

I get the feeling the book itself only touches on the many problems of living life with Asperger’s. I imagine that it would be much more difficult for all parties in long term reality than it was in this short tale. Christopher seems to find ways to deal with things, but sometimes his coping mechanisms cause the people around him to experience the same stress he is experiencing, only caused by his reactions to what most people would consider normal. It’s almost like he’s caught up in a vicious circle over which he has little control. Having said that, left to himself he has an astounding ability to deal with things that not many people with a less challenging life would not have. He can overcome obstacles if left to do it in his own way, as unconventional as those ways may be, like when he hides in the luggage rack on the way to London. He arrives in London in relative comfort despite acting in a manner which most people would consider unusual at best and inhuman at worst. Stuffing a child in a luggage rack would seem like mistreatment under normal circumstances, yet Christopher is happier that way than he would have been in a first class carriage. All in all it’s a strange world to consider, from a non-Asperger’s point of view. It’s odd to think how differently one person can view things from another, which is why this book seems to turn the world upside down and leaves you wondering who is actually normal.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Anne of Green Gables

I’ve just read several books in the series and they are just as enjoyable now as they were when I read them years ago. I suppose form an adults point of view, you have less sympathy with Anne and more with Marilla, but the stories are cute just the same. The books themselves are the kind of wholesome books I would recommend for any child. Yes, they are old-fashioned, but I can’t help but feeling that if children were still brought up that way, that society would be a better place. Of course, the books themselves are fairly idyllic and certainly don’t reflect the reality of the time everywhere in the world, but they do present an ideal which gives the reader something to strive for instead of presenting them with a bleak picture of the way it really was/is as so often happens today. I suppose they are the Leave it to Beaver of an earlier era, although they don’t have quite the same contrived feeling.

Anyway, they’re cute books and I can recommend them to anyone as a good, simple read.

In Cold Blood - Truman Capote

This is another one of those books that leaves me lost for words. The whole story and the feelings it arouses are so complex that it’s impossible to say it’s a great book or horrible or disturbing. It’s really all of those combined. It is a good book. It’s extremely well written. It must be or it wouldn’t be so incredibly provoking.

The books itself is a dramatization of the brutal murders of 4 members of a quiet and respectable Kansas family which took place in 1959. Capote starts out by describing the family members and their last day on earth, which creates an eerie atmosphere. He forces you to like the family, because it’s just impossible not to like them, even though you know what is to come and you’re desperately trying to distance yourself from them in order to soften the blow when it does happen. He then goes on to tell the tale of the town after the murders, the tale of the FBI and other law officers who are looking for the killers and the tale of the murderers themselves. The result is an odd mixture of understanding for the town and it’s inhabitants, wanting the FBI to find the killers despite the difficulties they face and an odd sort of sympathy with at least one of the two men who cold bloodedly killed the family.

The murders cause an understandable mistrust amongst the town’s inhabitants because they all assume there must be a reason for the murders other than simply robbery. Mr. Clutter was well known as a man in the town and everyone knew he didn’t carry cash, so robbery couldn’t have been a motive. Therefore it must have been something else and it must, or at least might, be someone who knew him well and committed the crimes for a personal reason. However, while they are busy mistrusting each other, they also show an incredible amount of compassion for the FBI agents, the journalists and even the unknown murderers. The people who live there are so nice to the bone that they are incapable of feeling hate even though evil has invaded them in such a horrendous manner. Even once the killers are captured, they show an incredible amount of compassion, understanding and kindness for them. Most of the town are even against dealing out the death penalty on the grounds that such a penalty would leave the killers too little time to reflect, repent and come to God before their deaths. That amount of compassion and understanding is incredible, especially as seen from this day and age where there is precious little of it, at least on that level, less.

Interspersed with the town’s tale is the story of the two killers, both before and after the crime. He creates an odd view of them by showing them going about their lives. They seem to be more or less regular guys who aren’t really notable in anyway, except on the odd occasion and even then only if you’re looking for it. He tells about their childhoods and teenage years and how their characters developed into men who are capable of murder. As the story continues, the reader is more or less forced to continually reconsider their opinion of the men. In the end, however, it doesn’t really matter how sorry you felt for them or not, both were mentally disturbed in one manner or another and even if you are against the death penalty, there wasn’t much choice according to Kansas law at the time. They either got life with the possibility of parole or the death penalty. Since neither of the two should ever have been let loose in public again, the death penalty was really the only sensible option in regards to the public good.

Frankly, I was glad to finish the book. The death of the family made me infinitely sad and the conflict the book caused between my sense of the death penalty being basically wrong, but the knowledge that these men were truly dangerous and had to be kept for re-entering society was depressing. I was glad to no longer have to deal with the killers and their psyches and to not have to think about the Clutter family and the unfairness of it all. Still, it was a good book and worth the read.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

This was a fabulous book. Yes, it’s a children’s book and was an easy read, but I loved it. Not in the same sense as I love Anne of Green Gables because it was happy, but because it touched on sensitive issues while conveying the atmosphere of the South from a child’s point of view. Jem and Scout live a fairly good and normal life with their father, Atticus, in a sleepy town in Alabama. There are only two things that separate them from other people in their town. The first is that they live next to a mysterious neighbour who never appears outside and of whom the town’s children have painted themselves a rather ghoulish picture. The other is that their father is a lawyer who is given the job of defending a black man, Tom Robinson, accused of raping a white woman. Jem and Scout’s father is a liberal man who has, as much as you could expect from the era, taught his children that all men are created equal and that racism is wrong. What other people say and do doesn’t really affect them until their family becomes a target for their abuse. They are non-plussed to find that people can be so unfair and hateful when they were taught so much differently. In this respect, I, and probably most people, can sympathize with them. We all believe that what we are taught at home is right and are surprised to find that the world outside often looks a lot different than it is presented to us at home. It is, in a sense, the end of their innocence.

Atticus does his homework and destroys the case against Tom by basically proving that he is innocent. However, this was in a time when a simple baseless accusation against a black person was a sentence of guilt and Tom is convicted despite the incontrovertible proof that he could not possibly have done it. The (adult) reader knows this, but Jem and Scout are crushed with the sudden weight of knowing that a terrible injustice has been done. Every nerve cell in their brain is crying out that it was all so unfair, yet there was nothing they could do about it. It’s sad to watch the children learn the lesson that there are things in life you cannot change and you just have to go on living your life despite it all. It’s even sadder to realize that this is all a part of our history and is still part of society today even if to a lesser degree. Poor Tom never had a chance and it makes me wonder how often this still happens today. The only justice Tom received was that the whole town knew the truth after the trial, even if they were to cowardly to legally recognize it. They knew that the girl’s father, Bob Ewell made the story up to hide his own depravity.

I found myself wondering if Tom’s chances would have been better if the trial had taken place sooner. By the time the trial did take place, the whole town had basically taken their stance and to turn around and admit that they were wrong in a moment was asking them to loose face which is something their pride wouldn’t allow. They took the easy way out and convicted him anyway even though they knew it was an injustice. That just doesn’t say much for the humanity of man. It leaves you wondering if humans are really as advanced as we think we are.

The conclusion of the book was well done. Harper Lee managed to slip in another lesson to the children in the form of their reclusive neighbour Boo. The man they had made ghoulish and had treated badly with their taunts and tricks was the man who saved them from an attack by Bob Ewell who tried to take revenge on Atticus for destroying what was left of his name in the town by killing his children. Once again the children realized that the prevailing opinion wasn’t always the right one and that imposing characteristics onto other people often obscures the truth. They learned that there are many different shade of grey in between the black and white polar opposites.

All in all the book was a good read and gave me a lot to think about. It’s not hard to see why it is an American classic.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

This is one of those books that everyone talks about but I never read because it wasn’t on my list for school. Now that I’ve read it, I’m afraid I just couldn’t really see the point of it, other than to show what it was like for a teenager who is going insane. Just reading it nearly made me go insane. It’s not that nothing really happens that bothered me, but the endless repetitions of the main character Holden drove me crazy. He’d repeat things three or four times before moving on to the next odd subject. I felt like I was watching someone with OCD who needed to wash their hands five times before they are satisfied that they are clean. If he didn’t repeat something at least four times, he was not going to be able to move on.

I suppose Holden just really didn’t like himself, but couldn’t face it, so he shunted the brunt of his dislike onto other people. This is especially true when you take into consideration that everything he disliked about other people were things he did himself. Most of the time I spent reading this book were accompanied by thoughts that the boy really needed to see a psychologist and the whole “you need to hitch up your trousers and get serious” attitude take by the adults just wasn’t going to cut it with that guy. That’s kind of like saying that he needed some sense smacked into him. That might make the smacker feel better, but it won’t do the senseless person one iota of good.

I’m afraid I just personally didn’t care for this book and I don’t quite see what the fuss is about.

Friday, 8 August 2008

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Niel Gaimen

I LOVE this book. Love it. Not that I expect the rest of the world to love it, or even like it, but I do. It’s just my kind of humour. It’s not laugh until you fall off your chair humour, it’s really dry and sometimes quite subtle and I adore it.

Crowley and Aziraphale are friends (even if they would never admit it); the only problem being that Crowley is an angel of hell and Aziraphale an angel of heaven. You’d think they would be at loggerheads with each other, the only problem being that after several thousand centuries of being on earth with each other, they’ve become accustom to having each other around. They seem to have a sort of live and let live relationship and even when discussing their differences over a plate of pasta or cup of coffee, each understands that the other must think the way he does as it is in his nature by definition; in short, they don’t take things personally.

Then a problem pops up. The powers that be decide that the time for Armageaddon has come and has sent the anti-christ, in the form of an 11 year old boy, to begin proceedings.

By now, both Crowely and Aziraphale have decided that they really kind of like their life on earth and really don’t want it to end since humans are a lot more interesting than angels of any sort, since angels are either intrinsically good or intrinsically bad and are therefore boring. You always know what to expect from an angel and the sameness of harps and clouds or fire and brimstones, while it might be nice for a while, isn’t really interesting in the long run. Unfortunately, there really isn’t much they can do about it since they must both follow their orders.

Saying more would give the plot away, but the charcters that pop up in the book are all very well done. From “Dog” the hound from hell to Agnes Nutter the prophet who foresaw the events, to the four horsemen of the Apocolypse, they’re all fun. You do have to realize that this book doesn’t take it seriously in any respect. I don’t honestly believe that the authors are trying to disrespect religion, although they would like to see it take itself less seriously. Although if you do opt to really think about the philosophical side of things, they raise some interesting questions. However, they leave it up to you as to whether you want to read for fun or want to get more out of it than that, which is a nice change to being preached at.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Robinson Crusoe

The actual book Robinson Crusoe was OK as far as stories go. Robinson defies his father’s wishes and goes off travelling. Because he defied his father, God punishes him by making all of his journeys difficult and dangerous but he survives with the help of kind people. Wherever he settles, he prospers, the first time being in the Brazils where he sets up a plantation, with the help of said kind people, that prospers and grows. Unfortunately for Rob, he feels like travelling and goes off again on an expedition to Africa to pick up slaves. It all goes wrong again and he winds up, as the only person to survive the voyage, on an island where he lives for the next 28 years before being rescued.

The tale itself is not bad, but the religious theme to it is overly dramatic and overly done. Defoe makes his point time and time and time again and it gets a little annoying after a while. There are also several incidents which, at least by today’s standards, directly contradict the moral of the story. The references to slavery are at best stomach churning as is the assumption that the white man is superior to the “savages” in every sense.

This gets worse in the stories following the first volume. The version I read tacked on his further adventures as if it were all one book. Robinson eventually leaves his island and the people who subsequently joined him and helped him to defeat the cannibals who occasionally came from the other islands to devour their victims. The further stories reveal that he makes no attempt to send help or ships to rescue them. They are basically left to themselves there, although life on the island is portrayed as being fairly good. When he eventually returns over 9 years later, he does bring provisions, but goes with no intention of getting the people off the island. Rather he brings more to help populate it, among them a priest who eventually stays there to Christianize the colony. His reception on the island is all rather sickening. Everyone seems to look up to him, the righteous Christian, as some sort of demi-God even though he left them there to their fate without sending help.

At this point the “story” starts to slide into a long religious dialogue between himself, the priest and the islanders, which frankly becomes quite boring. Between that and the continued references to Robinson as some sort of hero, the assumption that white man is obviously better than the “savages” and it’s references to slavery as an assumed right, I wasn’t able to stomach it any longer and gave it up. Had the tale been at least engaging, I would have continued, but I really had to force myself to stick with it even though I know the book simply reflects the views of the day. It’s almost odd how the book and its intentions are almost turned on their head in today’s society. Much of what Robinson says and does in the book would only serve to teach about ignorance today where it was actually meant to be a model to people at the time when it was written; the great exception to this being the core of religion, which is still widely followed in today’s society.

All in all, I wouldn’t recommend this as a good read, unless you look at it as a lesson in society of the time.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

I’m finding this an incredibly difficult book to write about. Somehow the lack of any single dramatic event and the dilution of shock by direct reference to events which have not yet taken place seems to, on the one hand, remove suspense while heightening it on the other. Because of the nature of Henry’s condition, the reader often knows what’s going to happen before it actually does which in effect removes the suspense. It is the lack of details, such as specific time, place or exactly how it will happen is exactly what keeps the reader interested without rendering it necessary to anchor the story on one specific event, time or place. It could have happened anywhere, anytime, any place and still been as interesting as it was set in the modern world. It’s almost presented like a jigsaw puzzle. The pieces are all sorted onto a table, turned right side up and then wait until the puzzler puts them together in the right order. Once they are there, the story becomes whole, despite not delivering any surprises as to composition.

The structure of the story is basically the structure of Henry’s life as he knows it. Yes, he is living a linear life, yet much of his present is taken up with pieces of his past and future. He too is assembling the puzzle of his life. As he goes through it and more and more pieces are added, it makes more sense to his present self. It’s as though he is working the bits of his life into a whole person.

Claire is Henry’s support during his journey to puzzle himself together. Without her, his life would have lacked purpose and hold. He allowed himself to be wild in his youth because he already knew that Claire would be there for him at the right time. Had there not been a Claire, he probably would have continued on in a disjointed manner for the rest of his life. Claire is like the glue that will hold the puzzle together in the end. She keeps the pieces from flying apart as Henry manages to sort them into meaning. She holds the fort and picks up the pieces and puts them back on the table when they fall off. Without her, Henry would never have managed, or possibly even bothered to try and put the pieces together.

Unfortunately for Claire, once the puzzle is complete, she is shut out. Only one piece remained open for a very long time. It was like Claire was hanging on to that last piece of Henry’s puzzle so she wouldn’t ever have to clear the puzzle up and put it back in its box. That would have been letting go and she could never have done that. Only once her own life was virtually over could she accept that she had that one bit of unfinished business that she needed to take care of. The moment she had anticipated for so long had come at last and she saw Henry one last time. Even though it doesn’t seem like much of one, that was her reward for dealing with all she had gone through with both Henry and her daughter. It was her reward for being left behind time and time again and for helping pick up the pieces when they returned. She got to see Henry again. It wasn’t much and it wasn’t a life time, but it was more than many a widow ever receives even though she would heartily wish for it.

The story was an extremely sad one, yet it doesn’t leave the reader without hope. That hope comes in the form of Henry’s daughter, who, afflicted with the same disjointed life, seems to have improved and refined the art of time travelling to the point where it became endurable and nearly enjoyable. Where Henry certainly would have wished to be cured, Alba doesn’t seem to mind. It seems possible that every generation of traveller might improve to the point where they can control their travels completely and to where they are accepted into society and understood instead of being chased and condemned at every turn.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Emma By Jane Austen

I just finished reading Emma (actually listening in this case) for about the third time. I like this book. I think some of the reason I like it so well is that I watched the Gweneth Paltrow version of Emma before reading the book. Although the movie is pretty inaccurate in itself, it’s a happy film and I always got a good feeling watching it. I have a sneaking suspicion that this has coloured my view of the book.

What I like about Auten books in general is that she has such a good variety of characters. Just when you’ve had quite enough of Mrs. Elton, Mrs. Bates comes along to entertain you. Both characters on their own are maddening, but are quite amusing when taken in turns. Although I really would like to slap Mrs. Elton into the middle of next month on more than one occasion in the course of the novel. She is horrifically annoying, which just serves to illustrate Austen’s talents. Austen’s characters all inspire emotion in the reader, lots of emotion. You usually either love or hate them and the aversion you feel for those you hate is usually quite strong – to the point of wanting to slap them into the middle of next month (Mrs. Bennett, Mrs. Elton, Mrs. Norris – slapfest anyone?). She uses the feeling she creates for the characters to make her point. No one in their right mind would actually want to emulate a Mrs. Elton or Mrs. Norris, rather you would probably go a great deal out of your way not to. She uses the same method to illustrate points with her “good” characters as well. Nothing makes you cringe so much as Emma’s blunder on Box Hill when she insulted to good Mrs. Bates so distinctly in front of half of the party. The more you like Emma, the more you cringe at her insolence. Austen uses this to point out that even the rich have both material and moral obligations towards those less fortunate than themselves.

Finally, I like that all of her messages in the book are as applicable today as they were then. The settings may have changed, but the implications are the same. No one is going to like you if you are constantly putting people down, scheming in other people’s lives is never a good idea, we have obligations to others less fortunate than ourselves etc. etc.

Oh yes, and the romantic bit is good too. Nothing like a good romance.

Far From the Madding Crowd

I liked this book. Even though it was the same no-frills style of Tess of the D’Urbervilles, it was a lot cheerier. The characters still had a difficult time of it, but they didn’t suffer quite the hardships as Tess and also didn’t suffer the moral anguish Tess made herself suffer. I think Hardy’s point of success in life through hard work, sense and morals was better made in Far From a Madding Crowd. The characters were likeable, at least those who were supposed to be, and Hardy built up a good picture of what life might have been like in rural areas at the time. It was interesting to see how the social structure of farms worked, especially the labour markets that took place once a year.

All in all it’s a good book and one I would recommend for anyone who likes the literature of the time. Hardy is less romantic than many of the century’s earlier authors, but is still engaging and a good story teller.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Book Meme

1) One book that made you laugh: The Yarn Harlot by Stephanie Pearl McPhee
2) One book that made you cry: The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
3) ---------you have read more than once: The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
4) ---------you have loved but were embarrassed to admit it: The Twilight Series by Stephanie Meyer
5)----------you have hated: The Da Vinci Code by the infamous Dan Brown. What a waste of time.
6)---------one book you have loved as a child: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (YES!)
7)--------one that has scared you: Dracula by Bram Stoker – bejeebies that man can create atmosphere!
8)--------that has bored you: The Milagro Beanfield War – soooooooooooooooooo pointless and boring, OMG, I thought I’d never get through it. I quite literally had to drink POTS of coffee whilst trying to read.
9)-----that has made you happy: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bontë
10)--------that has made you miserable: Night by Elie Wiesel and all of the other books I read for my Holocaust class. Gave me nightmares.
11)----that you were not brave enough to read: Anything by Stephen King
12)-----book character you have fallen in love with: Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre. OK, there. I said it.
13) last book you have read: To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee) and Emma (Jane Austen) One was an audio book and one a real book and I finished them on the same day.

Moll Flanders

My first book was Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe. I have to admit I was a bit shocked at the seemingly cavalier attitude of the main character towards both criminality and immorality. Yes Moll would have preferred to be able to live a respectable life, but seemed to think it a matter of course to change her morals to fit her situation. She almost seems like a cross between the Marquis de Sade and Jane Austen or perhaps Thomas Hardy: wanting to life the moral life propounded by Jane Austen, but realizing that her morality would get her nowhere fast when it came down to it. She fared much better for herself by adjusting her morals accordingly than by staying on the steady, moral path she would have preferred. I suppose her literary opposite would be Tess of the D’Urbervilles who basically ruined her mortal life by striving to maintain a high moral standard in an attempt to save her mortal soul. The Marquis de Sade would have been thrilled to see Tess die an early death by law where Moll lived out the rest of her long life in comfort and ease.

As for the book itself, it was fairly easy to read. The story was simple and straightforward yet still gives glimpses of life from many different perspectives. It also shows how quickly fortunes could be made or lost during the times which helps the reader understand why the characters act and react as they do. Moll’s ups and downs, poor and rich times and the shock of some of her actions kept me engaged. It’s a difficult book to reconcile to oneself to because Moll is a likeable character on the one hand, but on the other does not act as one would wish her to. Her repentance becomes questionable as time goes on because she shows again and again that she will always return to “her evil ways” without much prompting as soon as her circumstances change for the worse. She looks on it as a requirement and as no other alternative is offered to her in the book, the reader gets sucked along in the belief that Moll is doing what she must to survive. This may be so in context of the times, but the author leaves it up to the reader to judge for himself instead of making a judgement within the book.

All in all, and interesting and engaging read that provides plenty of food for thought.