Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Walk In The Woods by Bill Bryson

Rating: 8/10

Published: 1997
Number of pages: 350
ISBN: 0552997021

Started: 30 November 2007
Finished: 6 December 2007


Summary (taken from blurb):

The longest continuous footpath in the world, the Appalachian Trail stretches along the East Coast of the United States, from Georgia to Maine, through some of the most arresting and celebrated landscapes in America.

At the age of forty-four, in the company of his friend Stephen Katz (last seen in the bestselling Neither Here Nor There, Bill Bryson sets off to hike through the vast tangled woods which have been frightening sensible people for three hundred years. Ahead lay almost 2,200 miles of remote mountain wilderness filled with bears, moose, bobcats, rattlesnakes, poisonous plants, disease-bearing ticks, the occasional chuckling murderer and - perhaps most alarming of all - people whose favourite pastime is discussing the relative merits of the external-frame backpack.

Facing savage weather, merciless insects, unreliable maps and a fickle companion whose profoundest wish was to go to a motel and watch The X-Files, Bryson gamely struggled through the wilderness to achieve a lifetime's ambition - not to die outdoors.

Comments:
I started this book a couple of weeks after finishing Jack Kerouac's The Town and the City. That book fired up in me a big desire to visit the US, and this book has made it even worse! Despite the dangers that Bryson gleefully points out, he paints an irresistible picture of the Appalachian Trail and surrounding countryside.

As someone who has done a bit of bushwalking, I could empathise with the difficulties faced by Bryson and Katz, particularly at the beginning of their trip. I couldn't resist reading a couple of passages out to my Dad to show him that we haven't been alone in our difficulties. The comparisons ended there though; whereas my bushwalking experiences have been limited to a couple of days, Bryson and Katz went on for weeks. How they did it I'll never know, but I know that I would love to give just a small section of this track a go. It sounds incredible.

Once again, Bill Bryson has written a hugely entertaining travel book and A Walk in the Woods is now one of my favourites of his. My only gripe is that I always seemed to reach the funniest sections of this book while reading on the train during my daily commute. When will I learn not to read Bryson in public? It's just too hard and embarrassing trying to contain the laughter.

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan

Rating: 6/10

Published: 1915
Number of pages: 254
ISBN: 1600961940

Started: 27 November 2007
Finished: 30 November 2007


Summary (taken from blurb):

The late Lord Tweedsmuir, Governor General of Canada, better known as John Buchan, needs no introduction. As a teller of adventure stories he has few rivals, in fact he may be regarded as the inventor of the modern thriller, a breathless story of exciting and mysterious happenings following close upon one another. One of the most famous of these stories is The Thirty-Nine Steps, which, written during the last World War, is a vivid tale of the tracking down of an ingenious band of German spies. The tale has been made even better known through the screen version of Alfred Hitchcock.

Comments:
This is an enjoyable read that requires the reader to somewhat suspend their disbelief because there are so many amazing coincidences and escapes that are so conveniently timed that it becomes a little distracting. However, because this is one of the original thrillers, I can forgive all that and enjoy it for the fun read that it was - not too heavy or taxing. Recommended.

Atonement by Ian McEwan

Rating: 8/10

Published: 2001
Number of pages: 372
ISBN: 0099429799

Started: 16 November 2007
Finished: 27 November 2007



Summary (taken from blurb):

On the hottest day of the summer of 1935, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis sees her sister Cecelia strip off her clothes and plunge into the fountain in the garden of their country house. Watching her is Robbie Turner, her childhood friend who, like Cecelia, has recently come down from Cambridge.

By the end of that day the lives of all three will have been changed for ever. Robbie and Cecelia will have crossed a boundary they had not even imagined at its start, and will have become victims of the younger girl's imagination. Briony will have witnessed mysteries, and committed a crime for which she will spend the rest of her life trying to atone.

Comments:
This is the first novel of Ian McEwan's that I have read and it likely won't be the last. I found his writing style to be absolutely beautiful. And I've found that where wonderful writing is concerned, I'm much more amenable to forgiving plot holes and other irritating aspects of a novel, and this one certainly had a few of those.

I found the first part of the story very slow going. There was a lot of nice writing but not much actually happened until the very end. I thought that this section could have been made a lot shorter without actually taking anything away from the book. I enjoyed the second section a lot more. In the context of the rest of the story, it probably could also have been made shorter, but historically it was very interesting to me (not previously knowing much about this particular event).

Like others, I was a bit disappointed with the ending. I thought it was a bit of a cop-out. Highlight to view spoiler: I didn't like being tricked into thinking the story ended one way, only to find that it ended differently. I also think that if Briony was really trying to atone for her crime, then she should have told the story the way it really happened. I recall there being an explanation of this at the end, but it wasn't to my satisfaction.

The Town and the City by Jack Kerouac

Rating: 9/10

Published: 1950
Number of pages: 499
ISBN: 0141182237

Started: 19 October 2007
Finished: 14 November 2007


Summary (taken from blurb):

The town is Galloway in Massachusetts, birthplace of the five sons and three daughters of the Martin family in the early 1900s. The city is New York, the vast and heaving melting pot which lures them all in search of futures and identity.

Nearly a decade before the publication of On The Road, the story of the Martins' epic transformation in The Town and the City marked the first true literary impact of the founding father of the Beat Generation. Inspired by grief over his father's death, and his own determination to write the Great American Novel, The Town and the City is an essential prelude to Jack Kerouac's later classics.

Comments:
I thoroughly enjoyed this epic story of the Martin's lives over the decades. I don't think I've ever read a book that has so inspired in me the will to jump on the next plane to America so I can have these experiences myself. It truly is the Great American Novel. The descriptions of characters and places are vividly portrayed and the story has all you could hope for in a great novel: it's moving, irritating, amusing, heart-breaking.

I had a little trouble identifying with any of the characters. Kerouac spends a large part of the beginning of the novel describing all of the characters in detail - so much detail that the personality traits he describes in his characters start becoming contradictory. And despite there being three daughters and a mother in the story, comparatively little time was spent discussing them and their lives compared to the father and sons. This irked me a little ('typical 1950s sexism', I thought), until I realised that this is largely an autobiographical account of Kerouac's early life. Kerouac has, in effect, split his own self into three of the sons: Peter, Jim and Francis. Maybe this is why I had trouble identifying with them.

This was Kerouac's first novel, and as such is written in a much more conventional manner than his later works. However, you can start to see his own unique style coming out in this book. It's very interesting to see. Very highly recommended.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Recently Acquired Books

I bought three more Discworlds by Terry Pratchett today:

#26 Thief of Time
#33 Going Postal
#34 Thud!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Recently Acquired Books

I'm buying books too fast to read them! Help!

Terry Pratchett: The Last Continent (Discworld #22)
EB White: Charlotte's Web/Stuart Little/The Trumpet of the Swan

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Recently Acquired Books

Been buying more books lately:

Jean M Auel: The Mammoth Hunters
Jean M Auel: The Valley of Horses
William Goldman: The Princess Bride
Kathryn Kenny: Trixie Belden and the Mystery of the Antique Doll #36
Audrey Niffenegger: The Time Traveler's Wife
Paullina Simons: Eleven Hours

Monday, October 29, 2007

Recently Acquired Books

I bought 6 brand-new books cheaply last week.

Tony Bramwell: Magical Mystery Tours: My Life With The Beatles
Aldous Huxley: The Grey Eminence
Aldous Huxley: Those Barren Leaves
Donovan Leitch: The Hurdy Gurdy Man (autobiography)
Michael Swift: Mapping The World (gorgeous big book full of reproductions of old maps)
Geoff Tibballs: No-Balls and Googlies: A Cricket Companion

Monday, October 22, 2007

Recently Acquired Books

Went into a secondhand bookshop the other day and came out with the following:

Judy Bernard-Waite: The Riddle of the Trumpalar
Ray Bradbury: I Sing the Body Electric!
Ray Bradbury: Long After Midnight
Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Scarlet Letter

I read The Riddle of the Trumpalar for school many years ago, and just recently I started thinking about it, but I couldn't for the life of me remember what it was called! I even googled it but couldn't find it (I was searching for 'templars' for starters), so I was quite excited to see it in a bookshop today! Looking forward to reading it again.

The two Bradbury novels are collections of short stories.

A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon

Rating: 7/10

Published: 2006
Number of pages: 390
ISBN: 0224080466

Started: 15 October 2007
Finished: 18 October 2007



Summary (taken from blurb):

George Hall doesn't understand the modern obsession with talking about everything. 'The secret of contentment, George felt, lay in ignoring many things completely.' Some things in life, however, cannot be ignored. At fifty-seven, George is settling down to a comfortable retirement, building a shed in his garden, reading historical novels, listening to a bit of light jazz. Then Katie, his tempestuous daughter, announces that she is getting remarried, to Ray. Her family is not pleased - as her brother Jamie observes, Ray has 'strangler's hands'. Katie can't decide if she loves Ray, or loves the wonderful way he has with her son Jacob, and her mother Jean is a bit put out by all the planning and arguing the wedding has occasioned, which get in the way of her quite fulfilling late-life affair with one of her husband's former colleagues. And the tidy and pleasant life Jamie has created crumbles when he fails to invite his lover, Tony, to the dreaded nuptials. Unnoticed in the uproar, George discovers a sinister lesion on his hip, and quietly begins to lose his mind. The way these damaged people fall apart - and come together - as a family is the true subject of Mark Haddon's disturbing yet very funny portrait of a dignified man trying to go insane politely.

Comments:
This is not usually the type of book I would go for but I quite enjoyed it, even if some parts read as something I've seen a million times on a soapie (not very original ideas). I noticed that Mark Haddon has a penchant for similes, which I found slightly irritating at one stage when he wrote two in as many sentences, but I got used to them later on (well, either I got used to them or he stopped using so many!).

I found it hard to get to know the characters properly (and I had trouble keeping all their names straight for some reason!). It's written in a slightly dry manner: rather than actual dialogue, Haddon would write a conversation as 'he said this and then she said that', which I don't think helped with my character identification.

I felt quite sorry for George and I don't understand why Ray was the least popular character through most of the book when he was clearly the nicest, most normal one of the lot! I don't think the reader is given good enough reasons why George, Jean and Jamie would dislike Ray so much, and having him throw a bin in a one-off tantrum just didn't cut it!

I enjoyed Haddon's various observations on life and overall I found it a good read. I would like to read more by Mark Haddon. Recommended.

Trixie Belden and the Marshland Mystery by Kathryn Kenny

Rating: 6/10

Published: 1962
Number of pages: 212
ISBN: 0307215784

Started: 12 October 2007
Finished: 14 October 2007


Summary (taken from blurb):

Trixie gripped Honey's arm and held her back. "Look at the window!" she said in a strange voice. Honey looked and felt a little shiver go down her spine. A bony hand was gesturing from between the curtains of the window next to the door. And, quite unmistakably, the hand was warning them to go.

Comments:
First, a bit of background on the Trixie Belden series. Trixie Belden is a 13-year-old girl detective, and this series is much in the same vein as Nancy Drew, only aimed at a slightly younger readership (which, of course, doesn't discourage me from reading them!) There were 39 books published between 1948 and 1986, and while they're all attributed to Kathryn Kenny, this is actually a pseudonym. The first 6 books were written by Julie Campbell, and the rest were written by various other writers (some unknown).

I have almost the entire series (I'm missing #19 and #35-#39 - the last five are reasonably rare and very expensive to buy). I bought quite a few books to fill some gaps last year, so I decided to start re-reading the series and incorporate the new books along the way. I read the first 9 last year and I'll try to read a couple more before the end of this year.

The books are light and enjoyable reads, following the exploits of Trixie and her friends and siblings as they solve various mysteries. I have to say, though, that this one (#10) is the first Trixie Belden book I've been a little disappointed in. The humour seemed a little forced and 'try-hard' and, in actual fact, there was no real mystery to solve at all and very little concerning the marsh. It was more about the unhappiness of a child prodigy. There were quite a few references by characters to the myth that Captain Kidd hid treasure in the marsh, but it was always dismissed quickly and nothing came of it. I think treasure in the marshland would have made for a much better story here. Oh well, it was still a good read!

Great Expectationsby Charles Dickens

Rating: 9/10

Published: 1860-1861
Number of pages: 556
ISBN: 0141023538

Started: 20 September 2007
Finished: 10 October 2007

Summary (taken from blurb):

Pip doesn't expect much from life. His sister makes it clear that her orphaned little brother is nothing but a burden on her. But suddenly things begin to change. Pip's narrow existence is blown apart when he finds an escaped criminal, is summoned to visit a mysterious old woman and meets the icy beauty Estella. Most astoundingly of all, an anonymous person gives him money to begin a new life in London.

Are these events as random as they seem? Or does Pip's fate hang on a series of coincidences he could never have expected?

Comments:
A brilliant read and another tear-jerker! This is the second work of Dickens that I have read since beginning with A Tale of Two Cities last year. I found the style of writing much easier to get into this time, and I loved it from the start. The characters and scenery are beautifully painted and very haunting (Miss Havisham and the marshes come to mind). I love Dickens' descriptive writing and the humour he imbues in his writing.

I was expecting to love the character of Pip, but I mostly ended up disappointed by him again and again, until near the very end. Of course, this is no reflection on Dickens; he wrote an unlikable character extremely well. And I thought Pip's recollections made the transition between childhood and adulthood quite smoothly. Very highly recommended.

October Reading List

Usually I do this at the beginning of the month, but better late than never!

I spent the first week and a half finishing off Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, then slotted in a Trixie Belden mystery before reading A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon for the BCF October Reading Circle. Reviews to be posted shortly.

I'm currently reading The Town and the City by Jack Kerouac, and really enjoying it, even though I've gotten off to a very slow start and have read less than 30 pages. I don't expect I'll be finished this one by the end of the month because it's quite lengthy.

I've found myself thinking lately that if I was to break my leg or something, maybe it wouldn't be such a bad thing because I could at least spend a few weeks at home catching up on some reading! Is that a bad thing to think? :)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

106 Books Most Often Unread by LibraryThing Users

Got this meme from another blog.

Books Ive read are in bold, books that I would like to read have been italicised and books in blue are on my TBR pile.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susannah Clarke
Anna Karenina
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
The Silmarillion by JRR Tolkien
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Ulysses by James Joyce
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
The Odyssey by Homer
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
The Iliad by Homer
Emma by Jane Austen
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by David Eggers
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
Middlesex by Middlesex Eugenides
Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Dracula by Bram Stoker
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
The Once and Future King by TH White
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
1984 by George Orwell
Angels & Demons by Dan Brown
The Inferno by Dante Alighieri
The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Gulliver’s travels by Jonathan Swift
Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Dune by Frank Herbert
The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
A People’s History of the United States : 1492-Present by Howard Zinn
Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Geoffrey Blainey
Dubliners by James Joyce
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Slaughterhouse-five by Kurt Vonnegut
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss
The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
The Confusion by Neal Stephenson
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Persuasion by Jane Austen
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo
Freakonomics by by Steven D Levitt
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M Pirsig
The Aeneid by Virgil
Watership Down by Richard Adams
Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
White Teeth by Zadie Smith
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Happy Birthday John Lennon! Imagine Peace

A brief departure from my usual 'bookish' posts. Today is (would have been) John Lennon's 67th Birthday. See below.

www.IMAGINEPEACE.com

Join the biggest online peace demonstration.

Put banners on your websites.
Put IMAGINE PEACE on your work computer.
Put posters in your window.
Send postcards.
Put up flyers.
Put them on your noticeboard at work or at school.
You can even make T-Shirts.
You can do it.
Do it now.
Get them all from the download section at
www.IMAGINEPEACE.com/download.html

Email us photos & tell us what you're doing.

If one billion people in the world think peace, we'll get peace.
You may think: "Well, how are we going to get one billion people in the world to think PEACE?"
Remember, each one of us has the power to change the world.
Power works in mysterious ways.
You don't have to do much.
Visualise the domino effect and just start thinking PEACE.
Thoughts are infectious.
Send it out.
The message will circulate faster than you think.
It's time for action.
The action is PEACE.
Spread the WORD.
Spread PEACE.
Remember: A dream we dream together is reality.
So stand up, speak out, and come together.
Imagine all the people living life in peace.

love
yoko


Yoko Ono MySpace
Yoko Ono MySpace IMAGINE PEACE Group
Yoko Ono Facebook
Yoko Ono Facebook IMAGINE PEACE Group
Yoko Ono Facebook IMAGINE PEACE TOWER Event
Yoko Ono YouTube

Join the biggest online peace demonstration - www.IMAGINEPEACE.com

Please forward this letter to everyone on your mailing list. thankyou. IMAGINE PEACE!


Friday, September 21, 2007

The Small Assassin by Ray Bradbury

Rating: 8/10

Published: 1976
Number of pages: 174
ISBN: 0586042288

Started: 17 September 2007
Finished: 20 September 2007

Summary (taken from blurb):
Here is a fantastic journey into a world of terror with thirteen of Bradbury's very best. A baby born with the urge to kill...the couple who leave for a honeymoon - in a cemetery...a husband and wife who have an unpleasant experience with some mummified Mexican corpses...the tombstone in the bedroom...a little boy who examines the macabre entrails of the man upstairs...

A chilling collection that will linger in the dark vaults of your mind long after you have finished reading it.

Comments:
The Small Assassin is an excellent collection of 13 horror stories. I didn't find them too gory at all, but I was very disturbed by some of them. Ray Bradbury is an excellent writer and really has the ability to put you in the situation, almost as though you're watching a movie. His descriptive writing is really something to behold.

There are a complete variety of stories here, and they generally keep you guessing right till the end. One story was written in the 2nd-person, which isn't something I've really come across before, but I thought Bradbury did it really well.

There are some things I will never look at the same way again...Highly recommended!

Matilda by Roald Dahl

Rating: 8/10

Published: 1988
Number of pages: 233
ISBN: 0141311363

Started: 13 September 2007
Finished: 14 September 2007




Summary (taken from blurb):

Matilda's parents have called her some terrible things. The truth is, she's a genius and they're the stupid ones. Find out how she gets the better of them and her spiteful headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, as well as discovering that she has a very special power.

Comments:
Matilda is another delightful read from Roald Dahl. A clever girl who loves reading uses her intelligence and powers to seek justice in her life and the life of her schoolteacher, Miss Honey.

Matilda is a favourite Roald Dahl book of mine. In fact, I'd forgotten how good it was. Sweet and funny, with lashings of books and chocolate cake throughout (what more could you want in a book?!) Highly recommended!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Recently Acquired Books

Went to a huge book fair today and came away with 38 books! Oh well, most people there were buying about the same amount as me, if not more. I got some really good bargains; most books were priced between 20c and $2, and if I had bought 2 of those books in shops, it would have cost me more than it did for all 38 books! And they're in pretty good condition. Let's see now...

Jean M Auel: The Clan of the Cave Bear
Emily Bronte: Wuthering Heights
Dan Brown: Angels and Demons (read before, but wanted my own copy)
Dan Brown: Digital Fortress
John Buchan: The Thirty-Nine Steps
Isobelle Carmody: Obernewtyn
Agatha Christie: The Secret Adversary
Arthur C Clarke: Against the Fall of Night
Arthur C Clarke: Expedition to Earth
Eoin Colfer: Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident
Roald Dahl: Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator
Roald Dahl: Fantastic Mr Fox
Iris Rainer Dart: Beaches
Ian Fleming: Casino Royale
Ian Fleming: Goldfinger
Ian Fleming: Moonraker
Ian Fleming: You Only Live Twice
Anne Frank: The Diary of Anne Frank
Kenneth Grahame: The Wind in the Willows
Thomas Hardy: The Woodlanders
Frank Herbert: Children of Dune
Carolyn Keene: Nancy Drew and the Clue of the Dancing Puppet
Robin Klein: Hating Alison Ashley
John Marsden: So Much to Tell You
Yann Martel: Life of Pi
Ann M Martin: 3 BSC Books (including the last one of the series; I haven't read any of these in ages, but I always wanted to read the last book)
Robert O'Brien: Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
Ruth Park: Playing Beatie Bow
Terry Pratchett: The Colour of Magic (Discworld #1)
Terry Pratchett: Equal Rites (Discworld #3)
Terry Pratchett: The Light Fantastic (Discworld #2)
Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman: Good Omens
JRR Tolkien: The Silmarillion
Mark Twain: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Mark Twain: Huckleberry Finn
Lew Wallace: Ben-Hur

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Twits by Roald Dahl

Rating: 8/10

Published: 1980
Number of pages: 87
ISBN: 014131138X

Started: 12 September 2007
Finished: 12 September 2007




Summary (taken from blurb):

Mr and Mrs Twit play some horrible tricks on each other. I bet you have never met two people more revolting. They never wash, they trap birds for Bird Pie and they hate children. Find out what brilliant trick the Roly-Poly Bird and the Muggle-Wump monkeys think up for them.

Comments:
A short but very enjoyable read. There's not too much I can say about this book without giving the plot away, but what I can say is that I love the Roly-Poly Bird and the monkeys, and the ending is terrific! There are also some lovely words of wisdom imparted ('a person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly'). And what would a Roald Dahl book be without Quentin Blake's illustrations?

I believe this particular Roald Dahl story is aimed at younger readers than some of his other books (such as Matilda), but it's just as wonderful a read and has always been one of my personal favourites.

Danny The Champion Of The World by Roald Dahl

Rating: 8/10

Published: 1975
Number of pages: 214
ISBN: 0141311320

Started: 11 September 2007
Finished: 12 September 2007




Summary (taken from blurb):

Danny thinks the world of his father, but imagine his surprise when he finds out he's been breaking the law! Even grown-ups bend the rules sometimes, but Danny knows his father is still good, kind and clever and full of exciting ideas.

Join them in this thrilling adventure as they hope to pull off the most daring and dangerous plan ever.

Comments:
Danny the Champion of the World is one of the few books of Roald Dahl's that I never got around to reading when I was a kid. Something about it never really appealed to me. Happily, that terrible oversight has now been rectified (if only I had read it 20 years ago!)

The love between Danny and his father is so strong and so sweet. You don't see that very often in books nowadays. I love Dahl's imaginative writing; it's so vivid and it's easy to picture everything that's happening. I thought it was a lovely story and another piece of brilliance from Roald Dahl. (Happy Birthday for 13 September Roald Dahl!) Highly recommended!

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Rating: 7/10

Published: 2004
Number of pages: 529
ISBN: 0340822783

Started: 1 September 2007
Finished: 11 September 2007



Summary (taken from blurb):

'Souls cross ages like clouds cross skies...' Six interlocking lives - one amazing adventure. In a narrative that circles the globe and reaches from the 19th century to a post-apocalyptic future, David Mitchell erases the boundaries of time, genre and language to offer an enthralling vision of humanity's will to power, and where it will lead us.

Comments:
I don't think I fell in love with this book as a lot of other people seem to have, but it was a good read and I'm glad I read it. I definitely enjoyed some sections more than others (I guess that's always going to be a problem in a book that's made up of such completely different stories), but I enjoyed picking up on the little 'clues' linking the stories together. I also really liked the closing comments of Adam Ewing's Journal/the book.

One part I had trouble getting into was the first part of Adam Ewing's Journal. It was a difficult section to lead into the book with, but once I got past that it picked up, particularly with the second story, Letters from Zedelghem. This was the most enjoyable section for me; Robert Frobisher's character was probably the least likable but his letters were so witty and enjoyable to read that I could look past all that.

I struggled a bit with The First Luisa Rey Mystery because it was so terribly cliched. The entire thing reminded me of a bad movie. The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish didn't really affect me one way or another. I quite enjoyed The Orison of Sonmi-451. I love dystopian literature and comparing different futures. This one gave me more food for thought. I also had trouble with Sloosha's Crossing, mostly because of the colloquial style of the language, and because it was the middle section, it was unbroken so I didn't even get a break from it!

There were a few major themes running throughout all of the stories: reincarnation (the comet-shaped birthmark), betrayal, inequality, imprisonment, and the progress of mankind through the ages and the struggles of minorities to gain acceptance and freedom.

I know I've said a few bad things about this book and I think ultimately that the whole was greater than the sum of its parts, but overall it was an enjoyable experience,. It's definitely a very ambitious novel for anyone to undertake, and I think David Mitchell did really well linking the various stories together. Recommended.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Best 100 Novels

On the Book Club Forum a while ago, someone did a survey of the members' top 10 books and the results were collected together with other results to form a list of the Best 100 Novels of All Time. I thought I'd post the list here and indicate the following:

Books I've read (29 so far, with 8 of them being read this year!)
Books I've currently got on my TBR pile (20)
*Books I'd like to read one day (38)

Most of the books with an * (that I'd like to read one day), I actually already have in ebook format but didn't think it right to include in my current TBR pile.

1. 1984 by George Orwell
2. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
3. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
4. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
6. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
7. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
8. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
9. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
10. *Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
11. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
12. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
13. *Ulysses by James Joyce
14. Animal Farm by George Orwell
15. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
16. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
17. *The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
18. *Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
19. *The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
20. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
21. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
22. *Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
23. *Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
24. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
25. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
26. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
27. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
28. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
29. *Life of Pi by Yann Martel
30. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
31. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
32. *One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
33. *War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
34. *The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
35. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
36. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
37. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
38. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
39. *Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
40. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
41. *The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
42. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
43. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
44. *His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman
45. The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis
46. The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
47. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
48. *The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
49. The Stand by Stephen King
50. *A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
51. *Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
52. Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
53. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
54. *The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
55. Watership Down by Richard Adams
56. Dracula by Bram Stoker
57. Of Human Bondage by W Somerset Maugham
58. *Moby Dick by Herman Melville
59. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
60. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
61. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
62. *The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky
63. Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
64. Dune by Frank Herbert
65. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
66. Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling
67. Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery
68. Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
69. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
70. Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
71. *Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
72. The Trial by Franz Kafka
73. *I, Claudius by Robert Graves
74. *The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
75. *Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
76. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
77. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
78. *The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
79. *To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
80. Vanity Fair by William Thackeray
81. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
82. *The Stranger by Albert Camus
83. *The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
84. *The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo
85. *The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston LeRoux
86. *For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
87. *Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
88. *Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
89. *The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90. Persuasion by Jane Austen
91. Light in August by William Faulkner
92. *Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
93. Call of the Wild by Jack London
94. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
95. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
96. *Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
97. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
98. *The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
99. *The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel
100. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

Sunday, September 2, 2007

September Reading List

August was a pretty good reading month for me. Not only did I manage to get through Carmilla, Peter Pan, Lady Chatterley's Lover and Peter Pan, but I also had time to read Diary of a Nobody by George Grossmith, The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham and Emma by Jane Austen. A good month!

This month, I'll be reading Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell for the September Reading Circle at the Book Club Forum. I'm only a few pages in and having trouble committing myself to it, but I'm hoping to sit down and get a good bit of reading in today. I've read so many rave reviews about this book; I hope it lives up to the hype! Being a fairly chunky book, I expect it will take me a couple of weeks to read, so I won't have expectations for such a prolific reading month this time 'round.

After Cloud Atlas, I intend reading Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods (something tells me I'll need a light read after Cloud Atlas), and then I may follow it up with either The Small Assassin by Ray Bradbury, or Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (or both if I have time!).

Update 9 September: I recently found out that September 13 is Roald Dahl Day, so I have decided to honour his birthday and his life by reading one of his books on that day. I'll probably go for Danny, The Champion Of The World. I have this on my shelf but have never read it before! Maybe I'll try to squeeze in The Twits or George's Marvellous Medicine before that. Then again, I haven't read Matilda or The BFG in ages. So many wonderful books to choose from!

Friday, August 31, 2007

Emma by Jane Austen

Rating: 9/10

Published: 1815
Number of pages: 508
ISBN: 0141028092

Started: 24 August 2007
Finished: 31 August 2007




Summary (taken from blurb):

She's beautiful, rich and clever, and has decided she's perfectly happy with the single life. What Emma does love, however, is interfering in other people's business (and she is always convinced she's right). When she ignores the advice of her friend Mr Knightley and insists on matchmaking for her friend Harriet, her carefully laid plans go disastrously wrong.

Is Emma so wrapped up in other people's love lives that she fails to spot happiness when it's right under her nose? Perhaps, when it comes to affairs of the heart, she can't control everything after all...

Comments:
I read my first Jane Austen last year, Pride and Prejudice, which immediately became one of my favourite novels. Today I finished my second Austen, Emma, and I'm pleased to say that Jane Austen has now cemented her position as my favourite author. Her style of writing is delightful to behold and I thoroughly enjoy every single sentence I read of hers. Even though not much appears to be happening, I find that I'm hooked from beginning to end.

I think Jane Austen builds up her characters and situations beautifully, and if I've learned anything from reading her novels, it's that deep down I'm a hopeless romantic. I'm usually pretty good at resisting flicking forward through a book to see what happens, but I'm a lost cause when it comes to Austen. Even though I may guess early on in the novel what's going to happen, I just have to flick through to see the manner in which the most important events take place between the characters.

Emma is an exquisitely crafted piece of writing. A lot of the characters are annoying in some degree, but that's how they're supposed to be. I thought I would find it difficult to like Emma, but I think, for all her faults, she is quite a decent person and she tried so very hard to avoid making the same mistakes twice. I could see her growing and maturing throughout the novel and I came to like her quite a lot. There is the same sense of humour here as there is in Pride and Prejudice, but not quite as much.

I suspect that Jane Austen's novels have their faults, but it's as though I'm looking at them through a haze (or, more likely, rose-coloured glasses). I know they're there, but for me they get lost in everything else. I've given a rating of 9 to Emma, only because I loved Pride and Prejudice a bit more This is why I love to read. And just think, I have four more of her books on my shelf that I still have the honour of reading for the first time!

The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham

Rating: 7/10

Published: 1957
Number of pages: 220
ISBN: 0140014403

Started: 22 August 2007
Finished: 25 August 2007

Summary (taken from blurb):
Cuckoos lay eggs in other birds' nests. The clutch that was fathered on the quiet little village of Midwich, one night in September, proved to possess a monstrous will of its own. It promised to make the human race look as dated as the dinosaur.

Comments:
An enjoyable book, though I didn't think it was anywhere near as good as The Day of the Triffids. I felt like it could have been fleshed out a lot more; it is a fascinating concept and could have been more exciting than it was. Still, it was interesting as a reader to keep coming back after intervals of time to see how things had advanced in regards to the Children, and the ending was pretty good!

Overall, a slightly disturbing book which provided food for thought, especially in terms of the place of humans in the world. Recommended.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Diary Of A Nobody by George Grossmith

Rating: 10/10

Published: 1892
Number of pages: 174
ISBN: 0792833278

Started: 21 August 2007
Finished: 21 August 2007




Summary (taken from amazon.com):

'Why should I not publish my diary? I have often seen reminiscences of people I have never even heard of, and I fail to see - because I do not happen to be a `Somebody' - why my diary should not be interesting.' The Diary of a Nobody created a cultural icon, an English archetype. Anxious, accident-prone, occasionally waspish, Charles Pooter has come to be seen as the epitome of English suburban life. His diary chronicles encounters with difficult tradesmen, the delights of home improvements, small parties, minor embarrassments, and problems with his troublesome son. The suburban world he inhabits is hilariously and painfully familiar in its small-mindedness and its essential decency.

Comments:
This is an excellent, light and amusing read. I wouldn't say it's laugh-out-loud funny, but it certainly had me smiling a lot, which is quite a feat.

Charles Pooter is a loveable and slightly old-fashioned, bumbling character, whose diary chronicles his life over the period of a year or so. He's a middle-class man who enjoys a pun (while the puns themselves are not uproariously funny, his reactions and elatedness at thinking them up are pretty amusing).

He (usually) enjoys the company of his friends, Gowing and Cummings (the objects of one of the best puns in the story), but is sometimes indignant at their behaviour, as well as at the behaviour of certain other characters and visitors to the household.

Even the short summaries of the diary entries at the beginning of each chapter are entertaining: 'Make the acquaintance of a Mr Padge. Don't care for him. Mr Burwin-Fosselton becomes a nuisance.'

This is such a good read, and one that I think I'll re-read quite often. I was originally going to give this a rating of 8, but it crept up to 9, and then 10, while I was writing this review and remembering how thoroughly enjoyable it was. Very highly recommended!

Lady Chatterley's Lover by DH Lawrence

Rating: 6/10

Published: 1928
Number of pages: 400
ISBN: 0143039617

Started: 13 August 2007
Finished: 20 August 2007



Summary (taken from BCF's Reading Circle blurb):

Constance Chatterley feels trapped in her sexless marriage to the invalid Sir Clifford. Unable to fulfill his wife emotionally or physically, Clifford encourages her to have a liaison with a man of their own class. But Connie is attracted instead to her husband's gamekeeper and embarks on a passionate affair that brings new life to her stifled existence. Can she find a true equality with Mellors, despite the vast gulf between their positions in society? One of the most controversial novels in English literature, Lady Chatterley's Lover is an erotically charged and psychologically powerful depiction of adult relationships.

Comments:
I was a bit disappointed in this book for a few reasons. The first being that I never really got a clear picture of any of the characters. It was probably just me, but I felt there were contradictions all over the place when they were being described (and it was throughout the whole book, not just the beginning). One moment Clifford seemed to be strong and the next moment weak (physically, not mentally). If the physical description of him was supposed to be symbolic of his mental strength, I didn't find it to be very effective. I couldn't like Connie at all; Mellors was perhaps the only character I had any real understanding and liking of.

I also found the text a bit too repetitive for my liking. I'm not referring to the parts where a single phrase or word was repeated - I could handle that. My problem was where whole ideas were repeated and ruminated over ad nauseum. I like a bit of deep conversation in a book, particularly when it concerns the state of humanity, but the long passages of dialogue and thoughts bored me to tears in this book.

The beginning was very drawn out and not particularly interesting, however, it seemed to pick up a little around the time that Connie and Mellors were first meeting, before becoming boring again. It then seemed to be in a big damn hurry to finish.

There were a couple of redeeming points: the descriptions of the woods were nice, although it would have helped the ol' imagination if I'd actually heard of any of those particular plants before! I mostly enjoyed the scenes between Connie and Mellors (not just the sex scenes!), except when Connie was being clingy and demanding over and over that Mellors tell her they'd be together and that he loved her.

At least the ending was somewhat of a surprise to me. I've seen a movie adaptation of this and I'm sure it ended differently (Connie staying with Clifford while Mellors went to work at the pits).

I'm glad I read the book, if only so I can better understand its importance in the history of literature, but I'll not be reading it again.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Anne Of Green Gables by LM Montgomery

Rating: 8/10

Published: 1908
Number of pages: 320
ISBN: 0451528824

Started: 8 August 2007
Finished: 10 August 2007





Summary (taken from librarything.com):

Anne, a mischievous, red-haired, eleven-year-old orphan, is sent by mistake to live with a lonely, middle-aged brother and sister on a Prince Edward Island farm and proceeds to make an indelible impression on everyone around her.

Comments:
I once saw a mini-series of Anne... but didn't remember much of what it was about, which was good because it didn't spoil my enjoyment of the book.

I found Anne to be a simply enchanting character, and wise beyond her years. I love her way of looking at things, and the pleasure that she takes in everyday things that other people would take for granted. I especially like that she didn't lose that aspect of herself whenever bad things happened.

I'll definitely be reading the following novels (and re-watching the mini-series). I can't wait to see what Anne gets up to next!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Peter Pan by JM Barrie

Rating: 8/10

Published: 1911
Number of pages: 230
ISBN: 1566197139

Started: 7 August 2007
Finished: 8 August 2007

Summary (taken from wikipedia):
It is a story of a mischievous little boy who won't grow up. Peter Pan, a fierce swordfighter, spends his never-ending childhood adventuring on the island of Neverland as leader of the Lost Boys. The story features some fantastical elements, one of them being that Peter has the ability to fly, and his friends include a fairy named Tinker Bell. In addition, a crocodile that has swallowed a ticking clock stalks the pirate leader, Captain Hook, Peter's nemesis.

Comments:
This is an utterly magical tale of young boy without a mother who is the leader of the lost boys and lives in Neverland. He convinces three children to fly from their nursery and join him so that the girl, Wendy, can be mother to the lost boys.

Putting aside the sexism, which I guess I have to make allowances for seeing the time it was written, (Wendy does nothing but cook, clean and sew), it's a very enjoyable and imaginative romp. There are a lot of little touches that I loved, such as Mrs Darling tidying up her children's minds, and Peter losing his shadow.

All I knew of Peter Pan before I read the book was what I'd seen in a movie called Hook. I had no idea Peter was so arrogant or violent (all those little kids murdering people!) and I was expecting Tinkerbell to be a sweet little thing. Some rude shocks there! Highly enjoyable and recommended. Now to watch the Disney version.

Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Rating: 8/10

Published: 1872
Number of pages: 152
ISBN: 1587155958

Started: 4 August 2007
Finished: 6 August 2007




Summary (taken from Amazon.com):

A chilling tale of the un-dead, Carmilla is a beautifully written example of the gothic genre. The story takes the reader into the dark, mysterious world of a girl and her family tormented by visitations and nightmares. While the continual reoccurrence of a beautiful woman, unknown, yet familiar, meanders through the lives of the characters, to the very heart of the story, the precise use of language emphasises and heightens the images that the book presents and sends the reader spiralling towards its bloody conclusion. Said to be the inspiration for Bram Stoker's gothic masterpiece 'Dracula', Carmilla stands out as a classic horror masterpiece.

Comments:
I thought this was a wonderful book and can easily see why it was the inspiration for Dracula. It's beautifully written and the descriptions of the 'schloss' and the surrounding countryside are simply mouth-watering. Having said that, I did struggle a little with the style of writing at times - I like to be challenged though!

It was always going to be interesting to read this book because Dracula became an immediate favourite of mine the first time I read it. This one stood up well, although it was perhaps lacking in some respects; because it is so much shorter than Dracula, I feel that the story and characters weren't developed as fully and I was left with some unanswered questions at the end.

One thing that surprised me a little was the graphic nature of Laura and Carmilla's relationship - I didn't expect the writing to be so risque coming from that time period! I think in this respect Carmilla was more graphic than Dracula.

I would highly recommend reading Carmilla, particularly if you have read and liked Dracula. The differences and similarities are interesting to note.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

Rating: 10/10

Published: 1962
Number of pages: 393
ISBN: 0141024879

Started: 26 July 2007
Finished: 3 August 2007




Summary (taken from blurb):

Tyrannical Nurse Ratched rules her ward in an Oregon State mental hospital with a strict, unbending routine. Her patients, cowed by mind-numbing medication and the threat of electric shock therapy, dare not oppose her. But everything changes with the arrival of McMurphy - the swaggering, fun-loving trickster with a devilish grin. McMurphy battles Nurse Ratched and the ward regime, challenging everyone's beliefs about madness...who, of them all, is really insane?

Comments:
Beware! Contains possible spoilers!

This is a brilliant book - every bit as good as everyone says it is. The ending was a bit of a surprise to me, and heart-breaking. It reminded me a bit of Of Mice and Men, which I read a couple of months ago (I cried at the end of both books).

McMurphy is a wonderful character, probably one of my favourites in literature, and I loved his relationship with the Chief. He made such a wonderful impact on the lives of the other patients, which Kesey portrayed beautifully in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. I loved seeing the Chief change and become more aware of his surroundings (with the lifting of the fog) and, of course, when he began speaking again.

I watched the movie immediately afterwards and thoroughly enjoyed it, although I think the book is much better. Both book and movie very highly recommended.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

August Reading List

Having polished off 6 books during July, I thought I'd make a list of the books I intend reading during August. I don't expect to get through so many books now that the rush to get through Harry Potter has passed. After I finish my current book I'll be dedicating the rest of the month to catching up with various books for the Book Club Forum's reading circles.

First up will be Carmilla, by J Sheridan LeFanu. This is one of the books to be read for the Comparative Reading Circle we're doing; the other book is Dracula, which I read a couple of months ago. It looks like a relatively short read so it shouldn't take me too long to get through.

Following that will be Anne of Green Gables, by LM Montgomery. This has been chosen as the August book for the 'normal' reading circle. I've been wanting to read this for ages and I'm quite looking forward to it.

Following that, I'll try to get through Lady Chatterley's Lover by DH Lawrence. This one was July's reading circle choice, but because I was so caught up with Harry Potter I never got around to it. Luckily the circle is always open so I can read it whenever and post comments later. I could just let it pass by, but then I know I won't get around to reading it for years, so it's best that I read it while I have the motivation to do so!

I haven't been doing so well with the audio book of Peter Pan. I find it so much more difficult to listen to an audio book than to read a hard copy; I get too easily distracted. I'm thinking I might give up on the audio version and try reading the actual book later in the month (providing I get through the others I've listed above!)

Monday, July 30, 2007

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Rating: 9/10

Published: 1969
Number of pages: 157
ISBN: 0099800209

Started: 22 July 2007
Finished: 26 July 2007

Summary (taken from blurb):
Prisoner of war, optometrist, time-traveller - these are the life roles of Billy Pilgrim, hero of this latter-day Pilgrim's Progress, a miraculously moving, bitter and funny story of innocence faced with apocalypse, in the most original anti-war novel since Catch-22.

Comments:
A great book, with some interesting and thought-provoking ideas. Before I read it, I heard some people say that this book changed their lives and others have said it's not the same when re-read after a long period of time; I think where you are in your life may determine how much you get out of this book. For me personally, I think it's one that needs repeated readings in order to fully appreciate it.

One thing I didn't particularly like: I couldn't quite figure Billy out; throughout the whole book he seemed to be in a daze, which can't be what he was like all the time because he was clearly still able to function normally most of the time.

The book is amusing in parts (dark humour) and cleverly written, but mostly it's terribly sad as you see what the horrors of war have done to Billy, and the parallels between his memories of the war and the hallucinations that occur thereafter. It's a great anti-war novel (but not as great as Catch-22, in my opinion!)

Not everyone will enjoy this book, and I can understand why, but I would highly recommend it nevertheless. There aren't too many books that I feel should be read; this is one of them.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling

Rating: 10/10

Published: 2007
Number of pages: 607
ISBN: 0747591054

Started: 21 July 2007
Finished: 22 July 2007




Summary (taken from blurb):

Harry Potter is waiting in Privet Drive. The Order of the Phoenix is coming to escort him safely away without Voldemort and his supporters knowing - if they can. But what will Harry do then? How can he fulfil the momentous and seemingly impossible task that Professor Dumbledore has left him?

Comments:
Wow! What a phenomenal end to a great series! I won't put any spoilers here so don't worry about me ruining it for you. I absolutely bawled my eyes out at so many different parts. The book is full of action and excitement and terrible tragedy. What a ride!

There is very little I would have liked done differently, which says a lot, because there are so many things about this book that could have been unsatisfactory. Possibly the only thing I would have changed (that is, left out altogether) was the epilogue: it just wasn't necessary, I felt.

I'm still slightly overwhelmed with the whole thing, and therefore can't think of much else to say except that this is one brilliant book and has now overtaken Goblet of Fire as my favourite HP book!

As far as my predictions go (SPOILERS COMING UP - DON'T READ IF YOU HAVEN'T READ THE BOOK!) I did OK on some and not so well on others. I was right about Snape of course! Hooray! I had read theories that he was in love with Lily, but never really believed them. I was also right about Dumbledore and Sirius being gone for good, although I'm glad they both made appearances. Man! That scene when Harry was walking to his death was incredible! I wasn't quite right about whether or not he would die. If you had read my earlier post, you'll remember that I was leaning one way slightly more than the other - the wrong way as it turns out!

Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince by JK Rowling

Rating: 8/10

Published: 2005
Number of pages: 607
ISBN: 0747581088

Started: 14 July 2007
Finished: 20 July 2007




Summary (taken from blurb):

It is the middle of the summer, but there is an unseasonal mist pressing against the windowpanes. Harry Potter is waiting nervously in his bedroom at the Dursley's house in Privet Drive for a visit from Professor Dumbledore himself. One of the last times he saw the Headmaster was in a fierce one-to-one duel with Lord Voldemort, and Harry can't quite believe that Professor Dumbledore will actually appear at the Dursley's of all places. Why is the Professor coming to visit him now? What is it that cannot wait until Harry returns to Hogwarts in a few weeks' time? Harry's sixth year at Hogwarts has already got off to an unusual start, as the worlds of Muggle and magic start to intertwine...
Comments:
The 6th book sees the revelation of the Horcruxes and the mission that Harry and Dumbledore must complete to destroy Voldemort once and for all. This book is very much all about setting up the 7th book and giving the reader information that will be important or become clear in the final book.

Another enjoyable installment and immensely sad at the end, where there is a showdown between two of my favourite characters, culminating in the death of one of them.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Harry Potter Theories

The big day draws ever nearer! It's now less than 2 days until the 7th and final Harry Potter book is released. I've spent the past 3 and a half weeks re-reading the series from the beginning and I'll be done with the 6th book tomorrow. Between reading HP non-stop and watching the first 4 movies again before I saw the 5th one earlier this week, I feel like I've been living in another world for the past month. It'll be a mighty strange feeling when I finish the 7th book.

I've been trying not to speculate too much on how the series might end, but, of course, that's impossible, so I thought I'd put my thoughts down here and maybe I won't dwell on it so much.

Obviously Voldemort's going to die, otherwise there'd be no end of his reign of terror and the series wouldn't really end at all (then again, that's what people would least expect - maybe we're all in for a big shock!).

As to the question of Harry dying, I'm really not fussed one way or the other. If pressed, I would probably lean a little towards him dying, not that I can think of a decent reason why he would/should. Then again, Harry does have a knack for getting himself out of sticky situations through sheer dumb luck. Will his luck hold out one last time? Ultimately though, doesn't there have to be a happy ending where the underdog wins (let's not forget that this is a kids book after all)? I guess that means I'm a fence-sitter then; I really can't make up my mind one way or the other. Just when I think I've got it sorted, I start seeing arguments for the other side. Let's move on...

There is one thing I'm interested in finding out above all else (way more than whether or not Harry dies), and that is to find out what role Snape will play in the final book. He and Dumbledore have always been my favourite characters so of course the ending of the 6th book intrigued me. Do I think Snape is evil? Hell no! I didn't buy the lame excuse in Book 6 about Snape switching to the good side because he was so remorseful over his betrayal of Harry's parents. That's not to say that I don't think it's true. I believe he does feel very badly about that, but there's definitely something else going on there.

Just today, I read the following passage in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. After Dumbledore tells Harry that he 'believes it to be the greatest regret of his [Snape's] life', Harry asks him once again how he can be sure Snape's on their side. The next couple of sentences read: 'Dumbledore did not speak for a moment; he looked as though he was trying to make up his mind about something. At last he said, 'I am sure. I trust Severus Snape completely.' I think that shows that there's still something more to this that he hasn't told Harry, and this is the thing I'm desperate to find out about in the last book.

I think Snape's goodness will be revealed in the last book and he will come to Harry's aid, possibly saving his life (and maybe giving his own life in the process?). Unlike some people, I don't think it will be revealed that Dumbledore and/or Sirius are still alive. They ain't coming back from where they've gone! As for other characters dying, I haven't given it much thought. Maybe a couple of minor characters will die (if there's going to be a big battle, it seems unreasonable to suggest that everyone will come through unscathed), but I don't really believe that Ron or Hermione will die.

Well, there you have it. They're my predictions for the upcoming book. Make of them what you will! I'll probably come back after I've read the book and change my predictions so it looks like I was right all along. Hehehe.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix by JK Rowling

Rating: 8/10

Published: 2003
Number of pages: 766
ISBN: 0747551006

Started: 7 July 2007
Finished: 13 July 2007




Summary (taken from blurb):

Dumbledore lowered his hands and surveyed Harry through his half-moon glasses. 'It is time,' he said, 'for me to tell you what I should have told you five years ago, Harry. Please sit down. I am going to tell you everything.'

Harry Potter is due to start his fifth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He is desperate to get back to school and find out why his friends Ron and Hermione have been so secretive all summer. However, what Harry is about to discover in his new year at Hogwarts will turn his world upside down...

Comments:
Another stunning chapter in Harry's life. This book loses points, however, for a few reasons. Harry is, for the most part, really irritating in this book. He spends most of his time shouting at the people that care about him the most. He redeems himself slightly in the DA classes, which are enjoyable sections to read - I think JK Rowling could have devoted more time to the DA classes and a bit less time on other parts (like the somewhat long-winded start of the book). It probably could have been trimmed a bit in other places too; this is one long book. Maybe Rowling was trying to make up for the earlier, shorter books. Dolores Umbridge also irritates me; it was a bit of overkill I think.

The scenes that take place at the end in the Ministry of Magic are done well and are very exciting (also very sad). We also finally receive some answers to questions that have plagued the reader since the first book - namely, why did Voldemort try to kill Harry? An enjoyable, if long, read.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire by JK Rowling

Rating: 9/10

Published: 2000
Number of pages: 636
ISBN: 0747550999

Started: 2 July 2007
Finished: 6 July 2007


Summary (taken from blurb):

It is the summer holidays and soon Harry Potter will be starting his fourth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry is counting the days: there are new spells to be learnt, more Quidditch to be played, and Hogwarts castle to continue exploring. But Harry needs to be careful - there are unexpected dangers lurking...

Comments:
This is probably my favourite Harry Potter book. It's a fair bit longer than the first three, but not too long. Harry also hasn't gotten too irritating yet. I wish there wasn't so much about house-elves though; Dobby, Winky and Kreacher (in the next book) are all really annoying characters.

The Triwizard Tournament, and everything that comes about as a result of it, is entertaining reading. The novel is much darker and more scary than the previous books and there's never a dull moment.

Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban by JK Rowling

Rating: 8/10

Published: 1999
Number of pages: 317
ISBN: 0747546290

Started: 29 June 2007
Finished: 2 July 2007


Summary (taken from blurb):

Harry Potter, along with his best friends, Ron and Hermione, is about to start his third year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry can't wait to get back to school after the summer holidays. (Who wouldn't if they lived with the horrible Dursleys?) But when Harry gets to Hogwarts, the atmosphere is tense. There's an escaped mass murderer on the loose, and the sinister prison guards of Azkaban have been called in to guard the school...

Comments:
I like this book slightly more than the first two, particularly the whole time-turning part at the end (which I thought was done really well in the movie too). This book introduces Professor Lupin, a very likeable character, and also the hippogriffs, which will play an important role in an upcoming book. A jolly good read.

The Time Machine by HG Wells

Rating: 9/10

Published: 1895
Number of pages: 128
ISBN: 0141439971

Started: 26 June 2007
Finished: 30 June 2007


Summary (taken from amazon.com):

When a Victorian scientist propels himself into the year a.d. 802,701, he is initially delighted to find that suffering has been replaced by beauty, contentment, and peace. Entranced at first by the Eloi, an elfin species descended from man, he soon realizes that these beautiful people are simply remnants of a once-great culture - now weak and childishly afraid of the dark. They have every reason to be afraid: in deep tunnels beneath their paradise lurks another race descended from humanity - the sinister Morlocks. And when the scientist’s time machine vanishes, it becomes clear he must search these tunnels if he is ever to return to his own era.

Comments:
An enjoyable story about a nameless time-traveller's journey into the future and his search for the truth about humanity's fate. I liked Wells' interpretation of mankind's future rise and fall and I particularly liked the description of the earth as it appeared millions of years into the future. The Time Machine is also one of my favourite sci-fi movies (the 1960 version); very nicely done. I'm glad to have finally read this (short) book and would definitely recommend it to others. I read this on my iPod.

Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets by JK Rowling

Rating: 8/10

Published: 1998
Number of pages: 251
ISBN: 0747538484

Started: 26 June 2007
Finished: 29 June 2007


Summary (taken from blurb):
Harry Potter is a wizard. He is in his second year at Hogwart School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Little does he know that this year will be just as eventful as the last...

Comments:
Another thoroughly enjoyable Harry Potter book. Slightly longer and slightly dark than the first, this book sees Harry trying to find out who is behind the attacks on mudbloods, while most people suspect him.

I always enjoy Harry's chats with Professor Dumbledore at the end of the books - there's a pretty special relationship there. Incidentally, my favourite character is Professor Snape; I always enjoy his scenes with Harry too, especially in the later books (book 5, where Harry is studying Occlumency, and book 6 as well). I think he's going to figure prominently in the last book (hooray!).

I want to re-watch the movies before the next one comes out as well. As I recall, the kids seem to grow up a lot before the first and second movies, and their acting improved too!

Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone by JK Rowling

Rating: 8/10

Published: 1997
Number of pages: 223
ISBN: 0747532745

Started: 22 June 2007
Finished: 26 June 2007


Summary (taken from blurb):

Harry Potter thinks he is an ordinary boy - until he is rescued by a beetle-eyed giant of a man, enrols at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, learns to play Quidditch and does battle in a deadly duel. The reason: HARRY POTTER IS A WIZARD!

Comments:
There's probably not much left to say about the Harry Potter books, so I'll keep it short and sweet. This is the first novel in the series and it's much shorter than the following novels, which is a bit strange considering this is our introduction to the world of Harry and his friends.

These books are great light reads and I think it's a shame that some people avoid them simply because they're so popular. The fourth book had been out for a couple of years before I finally read them and I'm so glad I did. It's not often you can get excited about the release of a book, and I love to see footage of kids and adults on TV all dressed up and waiting in line to get the next book. I don't think that's something we'll see again for a long time, if ever.

If you've been even mildly interested in reading these books but have refused to because you don't want to be like everyone else, well, it's your loss! Highly recommended!