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)