Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Faerie Wars by Herbie Brennan

Faerie Wars is the first of a children’s series written by Herbie Brennan. I first stumbled on this through an Audible sale. I bought The Purple Emporer in the sale, but found it difficult to get into not having read the first book. Wanting to give the book a fair chance, I bought the first one as well. Pyrgus Malvae is a faerie prince who has a tendency to get himself, and anyone around him, into a lot of trouble. He’s an animal lover who will go to any lengths to help animals in need, but often disregards the danger to himself or his friends and family. This time, in an attempt to flee his enemies, he enters the analogue world (aka our world) where he meets Henry who sets out to help Pyrgus get home again.

I’m going to review this in the light of what it is, a children’s book. To do otherwise would be unfair. It was a good story and a good read. It’s the kind of book most children would love, as I would have at the right age. It is a little young for me now, but still a fun read. Personally I’m not sure I will finish the series, but if you have young ones at home, they will love it. As a children’s book, 4/5. Not quite Harry Potter or Bartimaeus, but still pretty darn good.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Cobweb by Margaret Duffy

Duffy was a new author for me, but the book looked intriguing and I’m always happy to find new authors I like. I listened to this one rather than read it and I think that made a big difference. I really think I would have liked it better had I either read it myself or had there been a different narrator. It’s not that the narrator (Patricia Gallimore) wasn’t a good reader, just that I would have read it differently. Emphasizing certain aspects of the main character, Ingrid Langley, would have made the whole story much more fun.

As to the book itself, it wasn’t brilliant, but it was a good, light, fun read. I got the impression the author was going for more of a light hearted approach with characters who were too wise to take themselves seriously, and she achieved that. I also though her angle of using a retired MI-5 agent and his wife was an interesting one that left her more avenues open than standard police detectives have. She was able to play with the characters more that way. So, no, she’s not Ian Rankin, but she doesn’t have to be. If all crime were Ian Rankin like, life would get boring. She provides a good, fun alternative for crime enthusiasts who want something less serious for a change. That’s why I’m giving this one a 4/5.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

The Complaints by Ian Rankin

I’ve been an Ian Rankin fan ever since I discovered his Inspector Rebus series. But even outside of his most famous books, Rankin is just a really good writer. His characters are believable and likeable despite their faults and his plots are original with twists you can’t see coming from a mile away. So, it’s not surprising that I liked The Complaints. Although, maybe it is. There are other writers I’ve really liked who’ve become predictable and boring with time, but Rankin adeptly avoided this with his latest. The Complaints centres on the Internal Affairs division of the police. They’re the cops who bust cops and are not well liked for it. It takes a special kind of person to do the job. Malcolm Fox is investigating another bent cop when his world suddenly starts to shift under his feet and life becomes incredibly complicated. Who do you trust when you earn your living tattling on other cops? How do you know who will really help you and who is trying to pull you into the abyss. The Complaints is anything but a let down for those of us who were disappointed to here that Rebus was being retired. Brilliant book. A definite 5/5 for this crime novel.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

The Girl Who Kicked a Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson

This is the third and final book in the series and what a finale it is! Just when you think you’ve pretty much seen where the story is going, Larsson widens his focus to include all of the little ripples created by earlier events. Lisbeth Salander did indeed kick a hornet’s nest and is in danger of being stung in several different places. The trick is, she’s in hospital recovering from the gunshot wounds. She’s also under guard because as soon as she recovers, she’ll be arrested on several different, but serious, charges. Mikael Blomkvist is still fighting in her corner, but digging up Lisbeth’s final secrets proves to be more difficult and dangerous than he could ever have imagined.

The book is every bit as good as the first two. I can heartily recommend this one to anyone who likes crime thrillers. It’s a really good read all around. The only downside is that there will be no more by the same author. May he rest in peace. 5/5

Friday, 20 November 2009

Silas Marner by George Eliot

Silas Marner was an honest, hard-working weaver in a small, English village where all of the inhabitants were pious church goers of a rather superstitious sort. Not long into the novel, he is betrayed by his best friend, declared guilty of theft as the result of a lot drawing and as a result leaves the village and his religion along with it.

Silas finds another town where he is able to ply his trade and live in reclusive peace. His new neighbours try to be kindly and help integrate him into village life, but Silas has lost his trust in mankind. He shuns most contact with people and all contact with the church, which is the centre of village life at that time. He lives like this for many years earning money and hoarding it as his only trustworthy friend. It’s almost as if he is no longer able to stop and ask himself if he is happy and if there is anything in his life that he would like to improve. Unfortunately, Silas’ troubles are not over and he yet again falls victim to the evil of mankind and once again his life is changed forever.

Silas Marner is the study of human nature and the ways it can fail or succeed depending on the surroundings and people. It’s something like an early proponent of networking to get along in life. If you know people you can rely on and are willing to follow the social rules set up by society, your life will be much easier than if you go it your own way. Eliot explores the good and the bad of religion and of mankind. Her outlook is positive and perhaps a little idealistic, but that really makes for a good story, even if not as realistic as it might be. This one is another 5/5 for me just because I thought it was a happy, cheering story. The only negative thing I have to say is that the first half is a little depressing, but it’s necessary and not overly dramatic, so I can forgive that. I’ll be reading more of Eliot in the future.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The Bell by Iris Murdoch

Ever since having watched the movie Iris with Judy Dench and Kate Winslet (excellent film), I’ve wanted to read something by Iris Murdoch, just to get a glimpse of what went on in her mind before she fell to Alzheimer’s. Since her books aren’t available through Audible, I waited until I could get my hands on a real copy. It was worth it.

The Bell centres on a lay community adjacent to a reclusive Abbey. Imber Court is only in its beginnings as Dora Greenfield returns to her husband, who is staying at Imber for research purposes, after having fled from him a short while before. Toby Gashe, a young student wishing to experience life in such a community, also arrives at the same time as Dora. The community itself is aware that they must grow sometime, but is afraid that the new comers will disrupt the lives they have just started to live, so as the two arrive, tension is already fairly high.

The focus of the novel continually shifts from one member of the community to the other, with the narrative giving insight to the thoughts of Dora, Toby and Michael, the pseudo leader of the community, as they go about their lives. As such, the book is very introspective and examines the motives for both actions and reactions of all the characters. What becomes clear through this particular form of narrative is that things below the surface are not as they are above. This is later reflected in the lake surrounding the Court where Toby finds the old bell which had been thrown in many years ago in an attempt to save it from marauders and plunderers. The new world is above while the old world lingers below and waits to be rediscovered. The narrative reveals parts of the characters which they either hope not to ever show to the world at large, or have not yet discovered themselves.

As I think back on it, there were a lot of things I either missed or failed to make a connection with while I read the book the first time. I think it would really benefit from a second reading if you wanted to really get to know the book, which I’m certain I will do eventually, just not at the moment. I’d like to go on and read more of Murdoch before re-reading any one book. All in all, I think she’s really worth exploring as an author in general. The Bell gets a 5 out of 5 from me.

Monday, 16 November 2009

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

I was introduced to A Tale of Two Cities in high school and immediately fell in love with it. As with many of Dickens’ books, it’s just a bloody good yarn.

The book is more of a tangled web than a book with things disappearing from the plot, only to return later in a completely different context but with much dramatic effect. A good, short summary is impossible, especially without giving anything away. It begins with the Dr. Manettes “return to life” after having been a prisoner in the Bastille for 18 years. He is withdrawn and lost in his own world; it’s almost like he has been forgotten and left to sink to his own death as best he can. The only person able to bring him back from the depths is his daughter, Lucy, who does the best she can to help him and does succeed to a great degree after they bring the doctor back to England.

Meanwhile, the erstwhile servant of Dr. Manette, M. Defarge, has begun a revolutionary group to fight the injustice of the aristocracy in France. Along with his wife, Madame Defarge, he is in charge of condemning the aristocracy and recording their crimes, a record of which is knitted into Madame Defarge’s work readable only by herself, to be used as evidence when the time is right for revolution. Eventually the revolution does begin and Manettes, along with Lucy’s husband, Charles Darnay, are drawn into the dangers of France and Paris during a revolution which saw the deaths of hundreds of French aristocrats, regardless of their true guilt or innocence.

One thing that struck me after this reading was how evil human beings really are. On the one hand, there are the aristocrats, who generally treat the common people with such utter contempt and disregard that it’s easy to see where the impetus for the revolution came from. However, the revolutionists, personified in the book by the Defarges, are so zealous in their attempts to stamp out the outrageous behaviour of the aristocrats, that they become just as contemptible, and just as guilty, as the aristocracy. It’s like when the political left swings so far left that they almost become the political right. What starts out as retribution becomes a blood bath for both the guilty and the innocent. The revolutionists become like misers counting their spoils, only with them, it’s heads they’re counting instead of coins.

Dickens, as always, has brilliant characters who inspire sympathy and hate in equal measures on both sides. The two sides, or cities, play off each other to strengthen the impression they give the reader. Lucy is the epitome of love and innocence while Madame Defarge is the personification of evil inspired by revenge and the desire for power. Dickens also verbally draws his characters so well that it’s quite easy to picture them. Madame Defarge is forever imprinted in my brain as a wizened little woman sneering evilly to herself as she knits her condemnation into her work, while Lucy all but has the golden halo above her head.

I could go on forever, but I’ll spare you my verbosity. I love this book and always will. I can especially recommend it to any first time Dickens readers since it is the shortest, yet one of the most powerful books he wrote. 5 out of 5 for this one.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Brontës Challenge

Interested in classics and missing the Classics Challenge? Why don't you try Laura's Brontës challenge in the new year? I know I'll be joining!

I'm thinking I'll re-read Agnes Grey, Tennant of Wildfell Hall and Jane Eyre. What are you planning on?

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Howard’s End by E.M. Forster

Set at the beginning of the 20th century, this novel revolves around the lives of the Miss Schlegels and the Wilcoxes. The Schlegels are a wealthy, although not exceedingly, but rather arty family who disregard many social prejudices and views of the upper classes. The Wilcoxes definitely belong to the upper class with all the trim and trappings, including the attitude of superiority over the rest of society. In rank, the families are much the same and therefore come into contact with one another frequently. There is also a mutual attraction among some of the family members which keeps the acquaintanceship going. However, their views being so different from one another often leads to much discussion and disagreement, especially with the elder son, Charles, who is most definitely a world class snob.

Enter in the Basts who are from the lower middle class and who struggle for a living. The Schlegels, with their liberal views, desire to help them, while the Wilcox’s would prefer them to just disappear. They feel that the existence and well being of someone on such a low rung the social ladder is of no consequence to them and therefore don’t bother much, even when their advice to the young clerk turns out to be quite disastrous. They feel no responsibility for having steered them in the wrong direction and leave them to get on as best they can. The Schlegels, on the other hand, feel so responsible that they are almost desperate to help them, whether the Basts want their help or not.

This is a book about extremes in social life. The Wilcoxes on the one end and the Basts on the other. The Schlegels are in the middle and feel the need to try and bridge the gap between the two. Unfortunately, they are a little naïve as to the ways of the world and neither realize how ill-used they are by the Wilcoxes nor how their attempts are doomed to damage the Basts.

Sadly I can’t remember who it was who reviewed this and mentioned that they didn’t care for it, but whoever it was, you were right. I had been looking forward to reading this, but was quite disappointed in the end. While the premises were good, the events taking place all seemed a bit contrived, almost like a Wooster and Jeeves adventure. It’s as if Forster said, “I want to obtain this” and then fit his story around his goals instead of writing the story as it came. As a medium for discussion about social ills, it serves its purpose, but I think the story itself got in the way of this becoming a truly great book. A little less P.G. Wodehouse would have served it better.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Classics Challenge Roundup

The Classics Challenge 2009 is sadly over, so here I am to sum up how it went.

The list I started with is as follows:

Silas Marner by George Elliot
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carol
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
The Tenent of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë
Saturday by Ian McEwan
The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens

Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

What I read was:

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier
Dune by Frank Herbert
King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard
Martin Chuzzelwit by Charles Dickens
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Saturday by Ian McEwan
Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
Middlemarch by George Elliot
I, Claudius
Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carol

So basically except for Silas Marner I got to everything on my list and then some.

Thanks much to Trish for hosting! You're brilliant!

I need to review a couple of more books, but I'm a bit short of time right now. I hope to get to it within the next couple of days.

Friday, 23 October 2009

It's Been a While

This time around I really do have a good reason for not having updated. I've just had my tonsils out, which, at my age, is not very amusing. A word to the wise, if you're over 30 and haven't had your tonsils out, keep them. OK, maybe not if they're causing you problems, but be warned, you face 10 days of hell. I'm glad they can only do that once.

So, moving swiftly along, I have a few books I should update on.

The Cruellest Month by Louise Penny - if you like Ms. Marple type mysteries, you'll like this one. The story is set in a small village in Canada. A group of neighbours in the village of Three Pines gets together to hold a seance on Good Friday, and this turns out to be the beginning of all of the troubles. You can guess that there's a death and an Inspector (Gamash) who comes to look into the death and quickly declares that it was murder. It's a Whodunit in the classic sense and well done. Seeing as how I love a good murder, I've found me a new mystery writer. I know I'll be reading more of her work. 5/5

A Personal Devil by Roberta Gellis - Another Whodunit with an interesting twist. A Personal Devil is set in the 12th century (politically tumultuous time with lots of wrangling for the throne (Steven and Maud) and little justice etc.) and has one very interesting twist: the protagonist is not just a woman, but a whoremistress. Magdalene runs a high class whore house in an old priory. It's a curious perspective to take and one I really like. Granted, if you are very religious, you'll want to avoid this one for many different reasons, but mostly because you wouldn't agree with the softening of the perspective on the rights and wrongs of prostitution. However, if that doesn't bother you, it's another good whodunit with some interesting twists in it. Again, I think I'll be reading more of these. 4/5

The Pilgrim of Hate by Ellis Peters - This is one of the Cadfael series, which is I believe, quite popular. I'd only ever read one before and it was good, but not brilliant. Good comfort reading. However, I was less impressed with this one. I can't put my finger on it, but it just didn't do anything for me. It felt a bit forced and contrived. Still, I won't judge the rest of the series on it. After all, you can't have an entire series be your favourite book. 3/5

Smiley's People by John le Carré - I read this one just because I felt it's one of those books which get a lot of mentions. Maybe it's just that it's from an era which has run out of romance since the end of the cold war, but I didn't care for it. There was too much hemming and hawing and not enough action or introspection for my taste. It all seemed a bit vague to me. It just wasn't my taste, so don't let my 3/5 rating put you off.

Watership Down by Richard Adams - Again, this is a "must read" book. It gets referred to often, so I wanted to know what the fuss was. I didn't think it was a brilliant work of literature by any means, but it was a good read. The story was good, the idea original, the adventures fantastic and the characters very palpable. I liked it and would recommend it to anyone looking for a good, light read. 4/5

Syren - Angie Sage - This is the fifth book in the Septimus Heap series which I really, really like. The series is lots of fun and I can recommend it for all ages. Having said that, this won't be my fav out of the series. It was a good read, but somehow it just didn't grab me like the others did. I think I personally would have preferred that it take place in the castle, or at least a bit closer to all the other characters, but that's my opinion. However, the story in itself was quite cleverly done with many different things coming together like the pieces of a puzzle. I'm hoping it won't take all too long for the next book to come out because I want to see how the characters develop. 4/5

Arabian Nights - Another of the "must read" books on my list, although this is just a compilation of some of the stories. Hmmmm, what to say, I'm glad to have read it because I now know the gist of a lot of cultural references, but the stories themselves aren't any great shakes. I'm sure I would have liked it better as a child though since it all leaves lots of room for the imagination. So for kids, 4/5, for adults, 3/5. I have to admit that I'm glad not to have had to read all 1001 stories.

That's it for the time being. I'm working on A Tale of Two Cities right now, which is a favourite classic of mine. I've also started The Bell by Iris Murdoch, which is proving quite good. So much to read, so little time!

Sunday, 4 October 2009

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

It's kind of pathetic that I can't remember this, but I think it was Lula O who told me she'd really been wanting to read Pillars so I should get a move on with my review already. Incidentally, I just found out that Lula's site has music on it which nearly sent me flying out of my chair because I've been on her site a million times, just never with the loud speakers on. I'm awake now Lula, thanks! ;P

So Pillars. This book is epic on so many levels. First of all, it's epically long. I listened to the audio version read by John Lee (excellent reader), or I still wouldn't be done with it. I think it took me a week and a half just to finish the audio book, which was 40 hours, so I can't imagine how long the paper version would have taken me. Secondly, it was an epic tale of the Homerian kind. It must have taken Follet year and years to work out all of the connections and order of events so that they would fit seamlessly together in the end. Reading this was kind of like riding a roller coaster in the dark with unexpected twists and turns. There were plots and sub-plots and sub-sub-plots. One thing would start and then he'd stop to take you somewhere else, but it never took more than about two seconds to stop objecting to the change of story because the new story was just as good as the old. Then, there were journey's into medieval life: peasant life, monastic life, noble life, war, peace and architecture. The details were fairly amazing and rarely slowed the book down. It almost felt like you were learning quite a lot about many different things, although I don't really now just how accurate it all was, especially the bits where he combined fiction with actual history, since my history is very weak.

Oh wait, you want to know what it's about? Ah right. Nearly forgot. The story is set in the 12th century and is essentially the tale of how the Kingsbridge Cathedral (fictional) was built. I know that sounds a bit boring and tedious, but it's not just about How it was built, but all of the personal stories that lead up to it's being built. As in real life, there is no one thing that made the whole thing up, but many things converged on one another for the building to become possible. There was Tom Builder who wanted to build a cathedral. Had he not been starving and desperate the cathedral would not have been built. There was Phillip the Monk whose faith perseverance and intelligence were crucial. There was Aliena the starving daughter of the ex-Earl who defied all odds to become a moving force in the story (rock on Aliena!). Jack and his mother and dead father's stories. Alfred, Tom's son, who I still want to smack into the middle of next week for being so bloody stupid. Then there were the bad guys who were, let me tell you, really bad. Really, really bad. Seriously. I think I would have willingly killed any or all of them had they suddenly shown up on my doorstep because the destruction of anything that evil just cannot be wrong in any sense. The story is about so much that it's hard to summarize it, especially without giving anything away, so I'll just stop there. Let's just say that by the time you've finished it, you feel like you've lived several lives and lifetimes.

In case you can't already tell, I loved this book. It really was brilliant. Follett really knows how to play with your emotions while you're reading. There were instances where I found myself cheering the characters on to the point where the Go Alienas or good one Phillips where scaring the dogs. The only negative I can come up with is that I just kept thinking that for God's sake someone, just kill bloody William outright and get rid of him for once and for all. Bejebus people! How much were you going to take from the guy. Just when you thought he'd finally given up, he'd do something else that left your jaw hanging open and made you think enough is enough already. Once again, to say more would be to give too much away, so: Brilliant characters, plot and setting = One heck of a good book. 5 out of 5.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Audible Sales are Evil

It’s bad enough that Audible just had another $5 sale from which I bought a few – fortunately they weren’t licensed to sell many of them in my region, so I bought fewer than I would have – but now they went and had a $9 classics sale and there were so many of them I wanted. Again, fortunately many were with narrators I didn’t care for, so I was curbed a bit by that, but there were no “we are not authorized to sell this book in your region” books, so that limit got lost. I am now the proud owner of:

Howard’s End by EM Forster - The story sounds good
Silas Marner by George Elliot - This is another of my “Need to Reads”
The Death of Ivan Illyich by Leo Tolstoy - I really ought to read some Russians
Bleak House by Charles Dickens - This particular version has been on my wish list for ages
The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky – See Above
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes – Another need to read
The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf – I liked “To the Lighthouse”

A Personal Devil by Roberts Gellis – Sounded good
The Cruellest Month by Louise Penny – Sounded good
The Cat Who Moved A Mountain by Lillian Jackson Braun – I’m worried about this one. He later books really have gone down hill and they were only good fluff at the best of times.
Smiley’s People by John Le Carre – Another need to have tried author
The Pilgrim of Hate by Ellis Peters – Good fluff
Eye of the Needle by Ken Follet – I liked the other two I’ve read by him, but I’m not sure this will be the same caliber
The Purple Emperor by Herbie Brennen – Light entertainment

Please don’t add that up anyone. I don’t want to know. My justification is that I’ll be laid up for the next two to three weeks and will need something to listen to. Even if I don’t feel like holding up a book, I can listen to one. Also, I’ll be saving tons of gas by not going to work or walking the dogs, and possibly by not eating, so that alone will cover it. Besides, books are good for the mind. We need to read to be happy, healthy people, yes?

PS to Trish: I’m set for the next Classics Challenge :0)

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Ok, so frankly this is cheating, but I've never actually reviewed any of JA's books in my blog, so I think I can get away with it this time.

Pride and Prejudice is one of my all-time favourite books. It really shouldn't be. I don't care much for romance, but this one is so well done that even I melt. I remember reading this for the first time and being so caught up in all the emotions of the book that I wasn't bothered about thinking about the book itself. Jane really did know how to get you going. She manipulates your feelings by drawing you into the story with her likeable characters. It's almost as if you're friends with Lizzy and Jane so you're indignant on their part when they are injured and you cringe when their family exposes themselves to such ridicule.

I think part of what makes them attractive is that they are realistic, even if some would argue that the situation might not be. Elizabeth, the heroine of P&P seems to be very sensible, practical and intelligent to the point of perfection. However, as the story progresses, you realize that she too has her failings. She judges situations much too quickly, leading to misjudgements that make her whole family's life difficult in the end. She also tends to count her chickens too quickly and is possibly too obstinate for her own good. Had JA left these failings out, Jane would have been too perfect, but as such, she feels like someone you would like to meet. The same goes for the hero, Darcy; any more perfect and he would have been odious. As it is, they make good role models, which was, I believe, ultimately her purpose.

Austen was looking to guide young women by pointing out folly and its consequences, while those who behaved properly and with honour suffered in the beginning, but were much better off in the long run. Granted, P&P is a bit heavy handed with this lesson and idealistic in the end, but it's such a good story, that it's easy to forgive any unrealisms (Ok, so it's not a word, let's just pretend it is, you know what I mean). Had it not been such a good read, it might have become pedantic and boorish with the those lessons. As it is, it's made it into one of the best loved books of all times. Re-reading it is like coming home to friends, so I'll never tire of it.

5/5 for Pride and Prejudice. Love it.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

Not long ago I read Rebecca by du Maurier and loved it so much that I decided I needed to look into more of her works, ergo, Jamaica Inn. I really didn’t know much about it and by the time I got around to listening to it, I’d forgotten anything that was written in the sales blurb, so the whole book was a complete surprise for me.

As du Maurier delved into Mary Yellen’s circumstances and life, I suddenly began to worry that this would be a very dreary, slow read, but as it turns out, it’s not. Even though she is really looking into the dark, unseemly side of life, the plot doesn’t dwell on it, but focuses on the mystery surrounding Jamaica Inn and its occupants. Mary’s mother dies, so Mary, as it was her mother’s wish, goes to live with her Aunt Patience at Jamaica Inn. Even before Mary arrives, she cottons onto there being something unseemly about the place from the attitude of the coach driver who seems reluctant to take her there. Mary, however, is used to hardship, loneliness and poverty and also wants to honour her mother’s wish, so she goes anyway.

From the onset it’s clear that life there is not happy. The Inn is a dirty mess, most of which is unused and looks neglected. There are no customers, indeed, customers are not welcome unless by express wish of the landlord, her uncle Joss. Joss is a hard man who tries to frighten and break Mary from the first, but quickly comes to realize that that won’t be quite so easy as it was with Patience. Far from being afraid, Mary is defiant and stands up to him leading him to leave her in relative peace as long as she stays out of his secretive and highly probably illegal business. Carts and people come and go in the night at Jamaica Inn, even though it is deserted during the day. There’s also a locked room into which only Joss is allowed. Mary would flee but for not wanting to desert her aunt whom she feels needs her.

Because of the situation, Mary finds herself in continual emotional turmoil. She’s afraid for her aunt, loathes her uncle, fears she will hang as an accomplice should Joss’ activities be found out and finally, she meets Jem, Joss’ brother who is a self-professed horse thief, but attracts Mary all the same. She has only one confidant, the Vicar of a near-by town, yet even that connection brings her no peace.

It’s not for nothing that Hitchcock based a film on this book. It has all the Gothic secrecy and excitement Hitchcock could have wished for. The only thing I didn’t care for in this book was that the du Maurier’s superb use of language gets lost a bit in the subject matter. That may, of course, only be down to the reader being caught up in it in the first reading and trying to figure out what is going on. I’ll have to read it a second time to see if my assertion holds true or not.

All in all, not as good as Rebecca, but still a mighty good read. 4/5

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Ptolemy’s Gate by Jonathan Stroud and a Meme

Ptolemy’s Gate is the last in the Bartimaeus Trilogy. Picture London, somewhere in time, with a lot of magicians running around telling everyone else what to do without regard to anyone but themselves and you have the setting for this book.

Nathaniel, the young magician the trilogy follows, has now been promoted within the ministry and is well on his way to making his career. Yet he is becoming frustrated with politics and the way things are run. He has begun to tire of the back-biting world of politics where appearance is everything and careers are made and broken on connections and power. He also still has that niggling guilt about a certain girl who died saving his life. Normally this shouldn’t bother Nathaniel as she was only a commoner, but somehow he cannot quite quash the feeling that it wasn’t right.

Once again, life won’t be simple for Nathaniel. There are those still plotting the overthrow of the government and the end of the magician’s rule. The greatest difficulty is that it’s still not quite clear who these people are. The government is blaming commoner insurgents for all of the trouble, but cannot explain the odd use of magic involved in many of the attacks. Nathaniel becomes embroiled in plots and counter plots while trying to save both his career and his life.

Ptolemy’s Gate is every bit as exciting as the first two, with large dollops of Bartimaeus’ sarkiness thrown in for extra entertainment value. There are all the moral and physical conflicts you could wish for in a book. All in all a very good read.

Bone of contention you ask? Why yes, I do have one. The ending. I won’t tell you how it ends, but I wasn’t a happy bunny. I wanted a different one. I wanted, I wanted, well, I wanted something else. OK, OK, it was a good ending, it just wasn’t what I wanted. Wasn’t there a book somewhere about someone who kidnapped an author and made them rewrite the ending of one of their books? Think that would be an option? No? Oh, alright then. I’ll just content myself with what Stroud plunked down. Sheesh! You’d have thought he would have asked me first. Honestly! ;P

Another 5/5 for being a great kids story which adults will like too.

BBAW MEME - Taken from several bloggers

Do you snack while you read? Unfortunately yes. It’s a really bad habit and not one I would encourage others to indulge in, especially not if there are Jelly Bellies in the vicinity.

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea ofwriting in books horrify you? I used to write in all of my books at uni, but now it seems like sacrilege. I stick to post its if I need notes.

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears?Laying the book flat open? Bookmarks or I note the page and try to remember it.
Fiction, Non-fiction, or both? Fiction. I get enough of reality as it is.

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of chapters, or are youable to put a book down at any point? I do prefer to read to the end of the chapter, but I will put it down earlier if necessary.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away? Not unless I can’t understand the meaning from the context.

What are you currently reading? Audio Book: Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier, Paper Book: The White Dragon by Anne McCaffrey

What is the last book you bought? Syren by Angie Sage

Are you the type of person that only reads one book at a time or can you read more than one at a time? Usually only one paper and one audio at a time.

Do you have a favorite time of day and/or place to read? Not really. I do love to read on my couch on Sunday mornings though. During the week I’m limited to a few minutes before I go to bed.

Do you prefer series books or stand alone books? I’m rather partial to series. I always want more of what I really like.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Inkspell by Cornelia Funke

After having seen the film from the first in this trilogy, I decided I would read the second of the books to see how the story continues. Thinking back, I decided not to buy the first because I’d already seen the film and this in itself should have told me all I needed to know about purchasing the books.

Meggie is the daughter of Mo, also known as Silvertongue. Both Mo and Meggie have the power to bring characters from books into their world just by reading. After their adventures in the Inkheart, Meggie gets a hankering to see the Inkworld for herself and decides to try and send herself there. However, a somewhat dubious storyteller has already set much evil in motion when he, under orders from Basta, sends Dustfinger back into the Inkworld and so sets a whole train of events in motion. Meggie, in conjunction with the author of the fictional Inkheart book which created the Inkworld, tries to set the story right by steering the story in the direction they think it ought to go. Unfortunately, as things like this often have, there are many unintentional effects which thwart their attempts to force a happy ending.

I was disappointed in the book. I found the characters and setting rather two dimensional and a bit clichéd. At times it was almost like the author was trying too hard to create a world people would fall in love with. In the end, it took me quite a while to finish the book because I just wasn’t motivated to read it. In truth, I should have put it down, but it was expensive (I bought it in a bookshop here, which will break the bank every time) and I don’t believe in not finishing books. It’s silly, I know, but not finishing a book makes me feel like a quitter, so I persevered. Frankly, had I known how this one ended, I would have built a bridge and gotten over my compulsion to read the whole thing. Not that the ending is bad, it’s just not an ending, in that it left the conclusion up to the third and last book of the trilogy – fair play really.

Now we get to my “having said that” phase of my review. Having said all of that, this is a children/young teens book, so I’m not exactly the target audience. I think the target audience would enjoy it much more than I did. Also, I didn’t realize that the original was in German when I bought in English (even though the author’s name did make me wonder a bit), which miffed me because I always prefer to read the original if I can. Although it was well translated as far as I can tell without having read the original, everything always loses something in the translation, so I can’t help but think it would have been better in the original.

I give this one a 3/5 for adults and a 4/5 for its target audience.

Friday, 11 September 2009

The Golem’s Eye by Jonathan Stroud

This is the second book in the Bartimaeus Trilogy. The young magician John Mandrake, aka Nathaniel, has grown up a bit since his first adventure with the demon Bartimaeus. He has since moved in with a more competent magician and has risen in status and power. He’s well on his way to a successful career in the ministry. That is until the Resistance starts wreaking havoc in London and Nathaniel is forced to call up Bartimaeus to help him solve his latest problems.

Stroud does something a little unexpected with his characters in these books. You start reading them thinking that it will be the same as per usual, as in the kind of thing we all like. You’re expecting the underdog little magician to become your favourite character and you want to root for him the whole way. With Nate, you really just wind up feeling a bit like he’s an old friend who’s gone really wrong and you either want to save him, or, if that’s not possible, distance yourself from him as fast as possible. His new role in the ministry, his obvious talent and his fame have all gone to his head. He’s become pure ambition and all thoughts of altruism or morality have basically left him. Time and time again you hope he’ll do the Right thing, but he disappoints every time. You slowly start to feel like he’s a sticky bit of candy you’ve got stuck to your shoe and would dearly like to get rid of.

On the other hand, Stroud re-introduces the minor characters of Kitty, Stanley and Fred in this novel and delves into the Resistance. He shows the flip side to the wizards rule and you wind up rooting for the “enemy”. This reinforces the hope that Nate will finally get a grip on himself and realize how wrong the world has gone and do something about it.

Stuck between these two worlds is Bartimaeus. He, too, would like to like Nate and has hopes for him, but his sympathies, when he can scrape himself together enough to think about having sympathies for anyone but himself, are with Kitty and the Resistance. Still, Nathaniel manages to force him into another bargain and he must hold to his end of the deal.

I really liked this book. Again, yes, it’s a children’s book, but I think it looks at things from a fresher angle and I’m interested to see where Stroud goes with it. I’m still holding out hope for Nate, although less and less as time goes on. Still, nothing has been decided and there’s still time. Plus, Bartimaeus and his sarcasm are just really good, plus Kitty turns out to be a very likeable character.

This one gets a 5 out of 5 for me. What makes it a 5 and not a 4? I think what really kicks it up there for me is not only that it’s a good story with lots of action, excitement and interesting themes, but Stroud didn’t dumb down the vocabulary just because it’s aimed at children and young teens. I want to high five him for that alone. The best way for kids to learn is when they’re having fun and we could use more of that and not less. Go Stroud.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Dune by Frank Herbert

This is another one of those books I choose to read simply because you run into it, and/or references to it everywhere. I wanted to see for myself what the fuss is about.

Paul Atreides is a young nobleman in an interstellar empire belonging to the house of Atreides. His father is a duke, his mother belongs to the Bene Gesserits (a religious/mystical order of women who have certain powers over other) who facilitated the match between Duke Leto and Lady Jessica in order to further their goal towards the perfect DNA sequence. The world, or empire, they live in is a fairly gruesome, honourless society where everything goes, including crawling over the dead bodies of people you just killed, when climbing the social ladder. It’s all about power, who has it and if they can keep it.

Paul moves with his parents to the planet of Arrakis when he is 15 so that his father can rule and control the valuable spice mines of the planet. They go in the knowledge that the move is a trap, but are hoping to be able to avoid getting caught since they know to be on their guard. Unfortunately, they aren’t able to stop events which have already been set in motion and Paul finds himself thrust into a harsh world where existence is difficult on many different levels.

It’s a good story, but all in all, I’m not exactly sure why this book ever reached the cult status it seems to have. There are some interesting and controversial themes which you could spend quite a lot of time discussing, but not much more than most other books. I often found the events exaggerated and overblown and personally think it would have benefitted by more subtlety within the plot, although that might have made it a really epic sized book since events probably would have taken more time.

Despite finding it a bit too much larger than life like, I do admire Herbert for the complexity of the novel. It’s impossible to read the book without realizing how much research and work he must have put into it. The research on ecology alone must have taken years, then there’s the whole socio-economic aspect of the book, especially in regards to the native Fremen and their struggles to gain back their own planet while just trying to survive all that the planet itself throws at them.

Finally, I feel I have to mention the gender roles Herbert uses within the novel. I’m not overly sensitive about gender roles because I think everything is a give and take and every person should be shown respect for their work, regardless of their tasks. E.g. if someone is happy being a housewife in the 1950’s sense, then good for them. They’re happy, so why should I stand in their way. A good housewife and/or mother deserves as much praise as the CEO of a large company in my opinion and I admire both parties for being able to do something I can’t. However, even I had trouble with the more than obvious separation of women/men roles in the book. I’ll give Herbert the benefit of the doubt and assume he wasn’t actually trying to put women in their place, but at times it really felt quite sexist and began to irritate me. Still, it didn’t feel as if he was doing it to make a point. It was more as if he was a 1950’s kind of guy who still strongly believed in old-fashioned values when he wrote the book (it was still 1965 after all). I have to forgive him for that since they were the times he lived in.

4 out of 5. It’s a good story, interesting food for thought, it just lacks that certain something that makes me wild about it.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009


Hey! Something seldom happened to me. I just received a Literary Blogging Award from Laura at Laura's Reviews. I'm flattered that someone thinks my blog worth reading, especially as I tend to be a bit dry and don't have much time for fun stuff.

Here is what the award signifies:

The Literary Blogger Award acknowledges bloggers who energize & inspire reading by going the extra mile. These amazing bloggers make reading fun & enhance the delight of reading!

I pass it on to:

Trish's Reading Nook Who sponsors the Classics Challenge and provides us with motivation to read old books
Lula at Strictly Letters who has a good balance of lit and good looking guys
Mari at Marireads Who I've known long and adore for her taste in books and knitting
Sequestered Nooks where I lurk

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard

This is another one of those books I read a while ago and forgot to blog about. After having seen The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, I wanted to know who exactly Alan Quartermain was and why he was included in that particular cast, so I looked him up and voilà, King Solomon's Mines.

After having read it, I still can't quite understand why they included him in The League, because frankly the man was a coward (he even admits to being one in the book). Basically, Quartermain is a hunter in Africa and Sir Henry Curtis asks him to go along with him to look for his brother who disappeared looking for King Solomon's Mines. After making sure his son would be provided for in the event of his death, off they go into the heart of Africa looking for said mines.

It's an adventure story and I love a good adventure story, but this particular one was a bit too old fashioned for my taste. Boys of past ages would have loved it because it's full of hunting big game, dangerous situations and hearty men beating the odds in the desert, etc. etc. The reason I say past age and old fashioned is because of the manner these things were done in. I haven't got a problem with hunting, but this was the kind where they went out and were thrilled to kill a whole herd of elephants just for their tusks. In today's society that's unacceptable and frankly I felt a little sick just reading about it, especially knowing that that's really just what happened. I think if I had a boy, I would let him read the book, but not without listening to my opinions on the subject (my unborn children thank me daily for their unborn state). Anyway, it was all very, very old-fashioned as to views and manners and treatment of the natives etc. Not the thing for me, but my brother would have loved it as a kid.

I'm not going to rate this one because it's just too difficult. Judging it by this age, it should be condemned, but you really can't do that. It would be unfair. After all, most of the action would have been considered commendable at the end of the 19th century. Suffice it to say that it's an adventure story of the old English guard and must be read as such.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson

This is the first book I’ve read from Kate Atkinson so I was uncertain what to expect. True to what I’d heard, it is a really good book, although I will add the caveat that you probably shouldn’t read it if you’re depressed. It might tip you over the edge.

The story itself is wound around Ruby Lennox, a girl born to a middle class family in the early 1950s. However, it’s not restricted to Ruby, but bounces around between the generations of her family, from her great grandmother’s time, to her. Each episode is followed, not by its sequel, but sometimes its prequel or another event entirely. The style reminds me of Virginia Woolf or Daphne du Maurier, only more modern. Most of the book is simple narration and all of it is written from the perspective of a third person omniscient narrator. It’s as though you’re sitting on the porch listening to an ageless person who watched all the happenings of each generation as they happened tell you about them as they occur to them instead of in a linear fashion. The descriptions are vivid and very realistic. You feel as though you’re there as you listen to the stories.

I found the story a very sad one from beginning to end, perhaps because it is so very close to the truth for most people. You see generation after generation enter the world with high hopes and wind up something completely different than they expected. Only rarely do they come anywhere close to meeting the hopes and dreams they had for themselves. Life gets in the way of their dreams at every twist and turn, partially due to uncontrollable outside influences, but even more sadly, partially because the characters make so many decisions without really knowing what they want and cannot see the consequences of the decisions they make, even though they’ve watched their parents suffer from the same mistakes all their lives. The novel really drives home the feeling we all have that “that just can’t happen to me”. We all think we’ll be so different from our parents, but are we really? Is it because we’re human and human’s are just like that, or is it because our parents teach us to become like them? Or, do we make the same mistakes because we’re afraid of making new ones which might be worse?

The other thing the book drives home is the sadness and the real cost of war. Ruby’s family has lived through both WW I and WW II and has watched many of their family and friends die fighting. Again, you see the young men with all of their potential and hopes lose them to war. The longer they survive, the more they are aware that their luck must be running out and they reconcile themselves to death instead of hoping for the future. Again the descriptions are vivid and make the reader feel as though they are there watching the fate of these young men. It’s all terribly, terribly sad.

Despite all of the sadness and depressing thematics, the novel is very human in the sense that hope reigns throughout. There’s always the hope that things will get better as they change. There is always the hope that things will turn around. I don’t want to give the impression that the book is terribly heavy and depressing, because it is, but it isn’t. Atkinson breaks the novel up by flitting about from childhood memories to scenes later in life and the sometimes quite sarky comments her characters make give the book an element of humour that lightens it up. She keeps some of the family secrets back and only lets them out one by one as the novel goes by, lending an air of secrecy and things left unsaid to the whole of the family. You always know there’s more to come, you just have to be patient and wait for it to show itself when the time is right.

All in all, I give this one a 5 out of 5 for being a poignant, well written, very human story.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Martin Chuzzelwit by Charles Dickens

Having heard that Dickens considered this book one of his best works, I was quite looking forward to reading it. It’s always interesting to see what an author likes best out of his own works as it gives a bit of insight into his own personality, only in this instance, I can’t quite put my finger on what he must have liked about it, or not for certain anyway.

The book is actually not just about Martin Chuzzelwit, but about the extended Chuzzelwit family. Martin Chuzzelwit the Senior is simply the head of the family who sets events in motion. Much of the book is about the how the characters deal with what Martin Sr. has put into motion. The whole story becomes very complicated with all of the characters who are involved. It can be a bit difficult to remember who is related to whom and how and if not related, how are they involved in the story. As much as I’d love to go into all of the characters and who is who and related to whom how, it would take an age to do so, so I’ll just refer anyone who’s interested to the Wiki page (Spoiler warning! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Life_and_Adventures_of_Martin_Chuzzlewit) where there’s already a good list.

The short version is that Martin and Anthony Chuzzelwit are two wealthy brothers who both lose their trust in humankind as they assume that everyone is out after their money. Such is Martin’s fear that he hires a young girl, Mary, as a servant and pays her well with the understanding that as soon as he dies, she will get no more out of him. This is supposed to ensure that she puts all her efforts into making sure that he lives as long as possible. He trusts none of his relatives because he “knows” that they want him dead so they can inherit his money. Unfortunately, Martin Sr.’s grandson, Martin the younger, falls in love with Mary and intends to marry her. That would, of course, destroy Mary’s disinterestedness in Martin Sr.’s will, so he disinherits Martin the younger who must then go off and seek his fortune alone, ultimately leading him to abandon England for the United States to try his fortune there.

The story’s villain is Mr. Pecksniff, a cousin of the Chuzzelwits who uses their mistrust of others and the absence of Martin to insinuate himself into a place of importance in old Martin’s life. He sucks up and brown noses Martin Sr. to the point of becoming an emetic. Both Pecksniff and his two daughters are a cause of outrage to the reader as he goes about promoting himself, especially by defaming honest people, whenever he feels it will be to his advantage. His is literally prepared to do anything to secure his own comfort, and is introduced into the story as a “teacher” of architecture who actually passes off his pupil’s work as his own and gleans both credit and money for the work. His character becomes more and more devious and audacious as time passes and he feels himself more secure in receiving an inheritance from Martin Sr.

There are many, many side and sub plots in the novel and it eventually begins to bounce back and forth between the US and England. The US does not come out smelling of roses, however, Dickens was very careful about printing his own comments about the American episodes with the novels. He begs his audience to take the book as fiction and to forgive him for his rather exaggerated portrayal of the more negative traits of the Americans. He was actually quite fond of the country and it’s people, but it did serve his purpose in making certain points about Martin the Younger’s personality and character development. My only qualm with this was that he should have put it at the beginning of the novel and not at the end, at least in all printings of the book which took place after completion of the series (This was another of Dickens’ serial works. He didn’t intend to send Martin to America from the outset, but changed his mind after the first parts had been published.).

Did I like the book? Yes and no. I found that some parts dragged and some were really suspenseful. Many of his larger than life characters really got on my nerves, specifically I would have liked to smack the Americans for being so annoying and Martin the Younger for being so stupid and gullible. Pecksniff really gets up your nose on occasion too. Still, it’s a good work and I’m not sorry to have read it. I’m giving it a 3 out of 5 rating, 2 points lost of annoying characters and occasionally dragging bits.

In my bid to finish all of Dickens’ works I still have the following to read:

The Old Curiosity Shop
Dombey & Son
Hard Times
Our Mutual Friend
The Mystery of Edwin Drood

I’m curious how I’ll like these in comparison. I’ll be sure to let you know when I’m done with them :0)

Sunday, 23 August 2009

The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud

The Amulet of Samarkand is the first book in the Bartimaeous Trilogy. It's a children's/early teens book, but was really imaginative and a lot of fun. I just finished it and loved it. It's one of those books I would classify as the candy of reading. OK, maybe the fruit of reading. Candy isn't good for you, but reading always is, no matter how fun and quick a read.

The main character is Nathaniel, a young boy who was given up to the magicians at the age of 6 to become a magician's apprentice. Unfortunately for Nathaniel, his new master is at best a mediocre wizard and isn't really very keen on taking him on. Arthur Underwood would much prefer to live a quiet life and concentrate on climbing the ministry ladder than to bring up someone else's child and to teach him magic. Nathaniel, feeling cheated, neglected and alone, finally decides to take his education into his own hands, which ultimately leads him on a hectic and dangerous chase around London when his plans backfire on him.

The London Nathaniel lives in is not like the London we all know, or a Muggle London, if you will. It's something like a parallel world, like the England Lara of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials. Some things are the same, but not all. The first major difference is that magic is an integral part of life in Nathaniel's London, where the Magicians are the aristocracy of society. They hold most powerful positions in the ministry and the look down on commoners as, well, common. The reasoning is that magicians are powerful, they protect the people from foreign magicians and they are better educated than the commoners, therefore they are better. Nathaniel is learning to be just like them as he grows up in this world, only there are still notable differences in his attitude. He still has a sense of honour and decency that the older magicians seem to have lost completely. However, he has still lived in that world all his life and knows he must play by it's rules to save his own skin.

The books starts off with Nathaniel, age 12, summoning up a djinn, Bartimaeous, to help him with his plans of revenge against a magician who humiliated him. Bartimaeous provides a lot of comic relief in the book. He's sarcastic, scornful, haughty, and although he portrays himself as being rather on the evil side, he's soft-hearted all the same. He's not pleased at being summoned up to serve a magician, and least of all a magician of such tender years. However, Nathaniel proves himself to be more knowledgeable than anyone would have thought and the two become bound together for better or for worse, literally. The only thing they can do in the end is help each other, or perish trying. This leads them running across London and Southern England trying to halt an evil plot which Nathaniel's original plan unwittingly uncovered.

Like I said, I was tempted to call this book reading candy because it was so fun and exciting, however, on reflection, there really is a lot of food for thought in it. First of all there's the whole subject of social superiority, which is blatant and rampant in Nathaniel's world. Usually in books of this type, there would be one person of exceptional moral standing guiding the young hero down the right path, but here, there just is no such person. All magicians are for themselves. There is no greater good or right path except the Machiavellian one. So basically Nathaniel's development into a hopefully morally upstanding person is left up to himself and his innate sense of right and wrong. Also, as magicians look upon djinns, imps and all creatures from "the other world" as their own personal slaves to be summoned up and bound at will, there is point of slavery. Will Nathaniel grow up thinking this is fine as it is or will he ultimately try and change it? The first book leaves these questions open and it will be interesting to see how he turns out. Finally, Stroud didn't dumb down the vocabulary for children, which impressed me. All in all, I think kids could learn a lot from this book while having fun at the same time. I know I'd recommend it to anyone with kids between the ages of 11 up.

For it's outstanding merits all around, this one gets a clear 5 out of 5 rating.

Friday, 21 August 2009

100 Books + a Meme

Well, I reached 100 books for the year. I was kind of hoping to finish 150, but I'm not sure I'll make it, inasmuch as I'm not likely to read much in December when I go home an visit my family. Somehow they take it ill when you've got your ear buds in or your nose in a book when you only see them once a year. Funny that...

Trish put up the Honest Scrap meme on her blog and “tagged” everyone. According to Trish and Lisa, who originally tagged Trish, "The "Honest Scrap" award requires me to tell my readers 10 true things about me and then pass it on to 10 more blogs."

10 Things:

1. I make a pot of tea in the morning at work and it usually lasts me most of the day in summer. It goes cold and I still drink it. In winter I usually manage the first pot hot and then go on to make a second pot which eventually goes cold.

2. I would love to have a really clean house all the time. I used to clean every day so that it would stay clean and I wouldn’t be embarrassed if someone dropped by. I can’t be bothered anymore. I clean at the weekends and maybe do the floors a second time in the middle of the week if the weather has been nasty and the animals brought in more than the usual amount of dirt/hair.

3. I used to iron my bed sheets. It’s a lovely feeling, but somewhere along the line I became too tired to deal with it and haven’t ironed anything in 6 months. I find I can live with this.

5. I can be really quite, but also really obnoxious. I’m surprised my friends put up with either.

6. I don’t actually own a sofa like normal people. I have a single bed with pillows on it. It’s one of my most favourite pleasures at the weekend to lie down and read until I fall asleep, then nap for a couple of hours. This does not help motivate me to actually purchase a real couch.

7. I have the world’s worst body temperature regulation. Actually, I don’t think I have one at all. I’m either too cold, or too hot, but rarely just fine.

8. I keep swearing I will not get more dogs once the current ones are no longer. No one believes me, but I really hope I can stick to it this time. I love my dogs, but between work and walking the dogs, I no longer have a life.

9. Even though I know they are seriously ugly, I wear Crocs 95% of the time because they are comfortable and don’t make my feet hurt. I have tendon problems in my feet so it’s difficult to find shoes I can wear long term.

10. I’ve been on a classics book binge for the last couple of years. I got tired of not understanding casual references to books and decided to remedy it. I have to admit that I would not have made it through many of them had they not been in audio format. Having said that, I’ve also found some great books that I will love forever.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

The Girl Who Played with Fire by Steig Larsson

Fabulous book. Fabulous. Loved it. The only negative thing I have to say about it is that it's very intense and intense and probably not a good book to read if you're otherwise stressed. That's not actually a negative though, just an observation.

The book is a continuation of the Mikael Blomkvist's and Lisbeth Salander's relationship/adventures/lives after the Wennerström Affair and their historic investigation into the Vanger family and the disappearance of Herriet Vanger in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Lisbeth, a slightly odd person with possible Asperger's Syndrome and/or other psychological and social difficulties, distances herself from her friend Blomkvist and vanishes into thin air. Blomkvist doesn't give up trying to contact her despite her obvious desire never to see him again. Suddenly, two of Blomkvist's friends and business parters are murder and Salander is implicated and it become more important than ever for Blomkquist to find his anti-social hacker friend.

Larsson does such a good job at making Salander so very likeable despite her obvious dislike of people in general, that you really become quite afraid for her. I found myself quite emotionally involved in this book, rooting for Salander and Blomkvist all the way. There are so many twists and turns in the story that it's impossible to see how things will develop, which keeps you constantly on the edge of your seat. It only took me two or three days to read this, despite being quite a long book. It's one of those where you've just got to know what happens next, so you can't put it down. This one gets 5 out of 5 for plot, likeable characters and readability.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

This book scared me witless and I sort of formed a love-hate relationship with it. I loved it because of the points it made, but hated it because it forced me to contemplate things which are, to me, unthinkable.

Montag is a fireman, but not like the firemen we know. His job is not to stop fires, but to start them. He burns books for a living. The setting is Earth in the future and books have been banned. All books. There are hints that there are technicalities governing the ownership of books, but practically speaking, all books are considered illegal and must be burned. The premise is that books and being well read inspire people to think they are better than others, in turn making those with lesser education feel bad about themselves. Negative feelings of self-worth are no longer tolerated in a society who wants to feel happy, happy, happy all the time. Therefore, anything that contributes to someone else feeling bad, must be done away with.

The scary part about this is that the way Bradbury set it up, and the way that society has developed since he wrote the book, it is actually a conceivable situation. As I was reading, I was constantly trying to reassure myself that neither I, nor my fellow book lovers, would allow such a sacrilege: we would fight to the death to retain our books and the right to read them. The question is, would there be enough of us to stop them from doing it? Are there really enough readers? I know that many, many people love to read, but what about all of those who don’t? There are probably more people out there than we know who haven’t picked up a book since they got out of school.

Comforting is the thought that so many people’s livelihoods are dependant on the publishing industry. To forbid the written word would decimate the economy, even in this day and age. Publishers, book shops, librarians, universities, shipping agents, printing houses, editors, certain web-cites would all be out of business if we were to ban books. That’s a lot of people if you think about it. Financially I think it would be impossible. Despite this being a comfort to those who love books, I can’t help but think there’s still something fundamentally wrong about a society who uses financial viability to validate the importance of the written word. It’s a fact of life, but it still seems quite oxymoronic to me.

Even better than the book was Bradbury’s afterward where he tells of many people’s (publisher’s) attempts to edit his books so that they would be acceptable to everyone, i.e. removing all references of God or minorities so that no one would be upset by the content. I hope he asked them if they had actually READ his book, although even if they did, they obviously didn’t get the point. Bradbury points out that the constant editing and re-editing of books is exactly the sort of thing that would facilitate a society as Bradbury describes in Fahrenheit 451. He points out that “blacks don’t like Twain and whites don’t like Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (paraphrasing there). What’s the answer? Do we get rid of both so everyone is happy, or do we keep both and teach from them so that everyone can learn why someone else would have a different point of view? Would we even be happy if we were always “happy”, i.e. if nothing ever upset us, or would our happiness disappear through lack of contrast?

There’s a lot of material in this book for discussion and I came away feeling like I’d like to make it compulsory reading for all schools. There’s much that can be learned from looking at the consequences, albeit fictional, of well-meaning but ill informed intentions based on short term results.
Loved the books and thus, 5 out of 5.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Once again, there are other books I should be reviewing first, but I just finished this on Sat. and want to get my thoughts down before they disappear.

Plot: The unnamed heroine of the novel is a companion to an older American lady in Monte Carlo when she meets and falls in love with Mr. de Winter. I refuse to say anymore about the plot since I really think it would spoil the book for others. I read it cold and am glad I did. Actually, if you haven’t read it, but plan to, stop after the first three sentences of the next paragraph and go read the book. It’s better that way, trust me.

I loved this book. It’s brilliant. Du Maurier is a genius. I don’t just say that because she writes a great story, which it was, but because she is a master at language. Her writing style is similar to Virginia Woolf, only with much more structure. As I was reading this book, the language, always so soft, floating, diaphanous, made me feel pleasant and happy, even though I knew there was disaster must be coming. It was a bit like being a leaf which is gently blown along the path by a late summer breeze, lazy and content, yet with the knowledge that disaster will and must strike sometime in the future. It could come in the form of an early winter, or linger on until late November before the catastrophe happens, yet all the time you know it will. You’re not quite sure if you should sit back and enjoy the ride and the lovely breeze, or try and prepare yourself for the coming evil.

For me it was the direct contrast between the oh so beautiful language and the not so beautiful actions of some of the characters that heightened the sense of impending doom -throughout the book really, but especially upon the return to Mandalay. Mrs. Danvers, for example, is never overtly evil, yet she is one of the most innately evil characters I’ve ever come across. Du Maurier’s contrast between the language and the actions rather heightens than dampens Mrs. Danvers subtle hostility and vicious menace. The evil is there, weaving its way between the lines as if poisoning the book while the reader is pleasantly carried onwards through the story.

Granted, I did often feel like slapping the heroine and telling her to grow a backbone. However, after having finished the book, I’m not so sure that would have done her any good. More intelligence and less naïveté, on the other hand, would have helped. It was painstakingly obvious that De Winter and his wife needed to have a serious conversation about Rebecca, yet they both, to their own detriment, avoided doing so. However it was this undercurrent of things unsaid and things unknown that kept the book from becoming solely a beautifully written narrative and turned it into a fascinating mystery.

Overall, 5 out of 5 for this one. Loved it and will surely read it again.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

As Trish said in her review, this book isn't easy to write about. Heck, I'm tempted to just say, hey, if you want to know about this book, go read Trish's review, but I'm going to try and stick it out and write about it anyway.

The only reason I read this is frankly because I confused it with Fahrenheit 451, which I wanted to read. Oh, and it was also on sale on Audible and I'm a sucker for a sale. Anyway, I was a little surprised to suddenly find I was reading about WWII and not about book burning, but knowing that this is one of those "must read" books, I stuck with it. The first two or three hours of the book I found quite intriguing. The writing style is simplistic, but the composition is quite clever, so easy to understand on the surface, but confusing and complicated below.

The first difficulty is overcoming the non-linear plot. The story bounces around from place to place and time to time and it can be quite difficult to keep up with it. The shifts are also not always very pronounced, and that adds to the confusion. Once I got to grips with all of the shifting, I realized how clever the book really is. Not only are the circular arguments - all logical enough in bits and pieces, but maddeningly insane as a whole - thought provoking, but the constant time shifts are really well knit together. Heller must have either had a very good plan or was a fantastic strategist, because otherwise the book would have fallen apart. Just when you thought something was over and you’d heard the last of it, the scene pops up again from another perspective, giving you more insight into the situation as a whole. This would be a good book to read two or three times and then discuss in a group. There are so many different facets that it’s difficult to get to grips with them after just one reading.

Now, did I like the book? I’m afraid not. After the first few hours, the repetitiveness of the arguments and constant return to situations already described annoyed me greatly. It seemed to me that Heller beat his themes to death when I was ready to move on to something new. It made me feel like I was going about as insane as some of the characters were and couldn’t wait for the book to finish. The style also reminded me of Catcher in the Rye, which I didn’t care for either. That said, I think that had I read Catch-22 when I was younger, I would have liked it better. The contemplation of such conundrums and analysis of inner turmoil appealed more to me then than it does not. I might just be too old and too lazy for both of these books.

Friday, 24 July 2009

To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

This is the first book I’ve ever read by Virginia Woolf, so I was unsure what to expect. To the Lighthouse centres around the Ramsay family and their summer home on an island with a lighthouse just off of it. The lighthouse is a thing of wonder for their son James, who dearly wants to go visit it, but is thwarted by his father’s negative reaction and by the weather. The second focal point of the novel is Mrs. Ramsay who is one of those goodhearted but ethereal women who are loved by all for one reason or the other. All of the other characters seem to vie for her love in one way or the other and the conflict of selfish love rears its head in several instances, especially between father and son.

There isn’t actually much of a plot to the book as its intention was to focus on the inner thoughts of the characters and their reaction to small events in the beginning and larger events later on, all of which are only mentioned in a casual manner and only serve to give direction to the thoughts of Woolf’s characters. Because they are so secondary, they seem to swirl around in the story almost unrealistically instead of being the solid, important events they really are. Even the lighthouse is more of a symbol than of a reality, even though it is an unmistakeable landmark which draws the attention of everyone near it.

It’s easy to think that it would be difficult to continue reading a book with so little plot and so much introspection, but the characters give enough away to keep the story coherent, even though they are focusing on themselves. It’s interesting to see the way their thoughts develop in reaction to the other characters as they interact with each other. Not only do they reveal the beauty of humans, but also their innate selfishness and their bent to protect themselves from becoming weighed down by others, for example when Lilly knows she should be sympathetic to Mr. Ramsay, yet cannot bring herself to show him any kindness at all, but strives to protect herself from being backed into a corner by his overwhelming misery. Woolf shows her mastery of writing by intertwining the romanticism of the age with the realism of human nature without overdoing either side. They seem balanced in this book and it seems natural that they are.

Had I read this book for the first time when I was 20, I would have fallen in love with it and it would have become one of my most favourite works I’m sure. Its introspectiveness and disregard for momentous occasions would have really appealed to me. Being slightly older now, I feel as if I’ve passed through the phase. Still, the language used is undisputedly beautiful and pulls the reader in. It’s a pleasure to read just for the richness of the language even if one isn’t as interested in the particular style or subject of the writing. One thing I should add is that because most of it is so beautiful, several of the points Woolf makes, especially about the treatment and standing of women in society, are all the more poignant for the sudden switch to a slightly harsher tone when Woolfe glosses upon the subject. She uses fewer words and never states anything outright, but the point is made beautifully all the same. For this and for her general mastery of language, To the Lighthouse gets a five out of five. This should be a standard read in school, which is when I wish I had read it.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Shadow, a large man with a good heart, is summoned to the prison warden a few days prior to his release, only to be told that they are letting him out early because his wife died in an accident. On his way home, he is offered a job by a man called Wednesday, which he, at first, refuses. Shadow has sworn never to do anything illegal again in his life and Wednesday’s offer sounds a bit too dodgy. After having buried his wife and realizing that his life is now quite empty, he rethinks his decision and takes the job. Wednesday is an old god; a god brought over to America by previous generations and still exists because a few people still believe in him. He knows a fight between the old gods and the new American gods (of IT, Media, Technology and the like) is coming and so he hires Shadow to drive him around so that he can persuade all of the old Gods to join his fight.

Shadow is lead on a journey which is at times bizarre and unseemly. The lines between reality and what he has hitherto thought of as fiction are blurred quite a lot. His life also gets a whole lot more complicated when a special coin, the wrong coin, is given to him by a worn out leprechaun. Shadow puts the coin on his wife’s grave with rather odd consequences.

After having read Neverwhere and The Graveyard Book, which were both really good reads, I was quite looking forward to reading American Gods and was thrilled when a friend gave it to me for my birthday. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy this one as much. It seemed to me to be neither here nor there, neither fantasy nor reality nor horror. It also seemed rather dry, dusty and depressing to me and I was glad to have finally finished the book. That’s not to say that it’s not a good book. After all, I don’t care for a lot of things that other people rave about, but it wasn’t my kind of book and I prefer Gaiman’s more fantastic and fun works. Having said that, there are some quite interesting subjects for discussion in the books, like old vs. new, the New American Way of Life, conspiracies and the perception of spirit worlds. If you like fantasy and American Literature, you might like this one quite a bit more than I did. However, for me, it gets a three out of five.

Monday, 20 July 2009

The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens wrote some very good stories in his time, but I have to admit that this particular work isn't going to make it onto my favourites list. The Pickwick Papers is basically a collection of short stories involving the same characters, Gentlemen all belonging to The Pickwick Club, which tell the tale of their humorous travels and trials around England.

Mr. Pickwick is a like-able fellow who starts up a club with his name and then starts off on adventures of his own with a couple of the club members. As the stories continue, characters come and go and come again, which can be slightly confusing with time. The stories themselves are amusing for the most part. Dickens is obviously taking the micky out of life in England at the time. The Law, social customs and courtship all feature heavily and are all made fun of in their turn. As I was reading (or listening as the case was), I couldn't help but think that they would have been hugely entertaining for people living in the day. However, I'm fairly certain there were many little hints a references I missed simply because I don't know enough about the era. Even though this obviously isn't Dickens' fault, it did detract from my enjoyment of the book.

This all makes it rather hard to rate The Pickwick Papers. I think for anyone who has a better grasp of history and the mid to late 19th century, this would be a great read. Alas, since I don't, it only rates a 3 out of 5 for me personally. Worth a read, but it's not something I'll read again any time soon. I prefer the novels with more cohesive, direct stories.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Yay! and Eats, Shoots and Leaves

Hilarie from Never Not Reading has honored me by nominating me for the Kreative Blogger award! Thanks Hilarie!

Rules for accepting the Kreative Blogger Award require me to list seven of my favorite things, and nominate seven other fabulous blogs.

Seven of My Favorite Things
1. Family
2. Friends
3. My Dogs and cats
4. Reading
5. Knitting
6. Sleeping
7. Chocolate

Seven Amazing Blogs I would like to nominate:
1. Mari at Marireads
2. The Yarnerinas
3. Karoline at Karoline Knits
6. Jeane at Dog Ear Diary
7. Holly at ProseKnitic

I read all of these blogs as often as possible and hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Eat, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss

I've probably just violated one of Mrs. Truss' rules (and that apostrophe may be the second violation, but I don't like the look of Truss's and Perdue is telling me Truss' is acceptable) by italicizing the title, but I don't like bolding titles because it looks silly, kind of like you're shouting at someone, ergo the italicization. After all, she does say that we all have our preferences and should use them, so I'm going to. That was the first good thing I got out of this book. My punctuation may not be quite as poor as I thought (although I may be wrong there too...). A lot of my more questionable grammer and punctuation is simply a matter of taste, so yay!

The second good thing is that aside from making me much more aware of punctuation and it's usage, this book cleared up a few things for me, like the usage of semi colons, which have always driven me crazy.

The fact that she's discussing punctuation in a prose form, as opposed to text book form (snore), makes it a lot easier to stick to listening to someone go on a bit about punctuation, the reasons for it and the decline of what is a really useful tool. Her examples make that point. It was quite often fun to study how the meaning of a sentence could be completely altered by adding or removing a comma, as in the book's title.

Although she is a self-professed punctuation stickler, her self-deprecating tone coupled with her admission that some punctuation is down to taste and style and her short histories of punctuation, which demonstrate the changeable nature of languages, prevented the book from reading like a rant from some punctuation stickler with a stick, um, clutched firmly in their hand. I quite enjoyed reading this book and wish more people would, if not because they love punctuation, but simply to increase their awareness of it and how helpful it can be.

Totally unrelated to this, of course, is that I realized work was becoming too demanding for me to concentrate on serious books in my free time, so after finishing Eats, Shoots and Leaves, I "re-read" (audio books) the Twilight series. They're not very well written and there's way too much angsty teenage romance, vampire or no, for my taste, but still somehow a good story (if you don't get it, don't ask, because I can't even explain it to myself, let alone anyone else). It was great not having to concentrate or think for a while. Now I'm back to "the Grind" and am finishing off The Pickwick Papers.