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.