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.

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?

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...
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...

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...

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...

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

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.

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...

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!

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!

Different Seasons by Stephen King

Rating: 8/10

Published: 1982
Number of pages: 560
ISBN: 0751504335

Started: 11 June 2007
Finished: 22 June 2007

Different Seasons is comprised of four novellas, each completely different from the rest. The four stories are (with Stephen King's quotes included after the titles): Hope Springs Eternal - Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, 'about an off-beat prison break'; Summer Of Corruption - Apt Pupil, 'an old man and a young boy locked up in a gruesome relationship based on mutual parasitism'; Fall From Innocence - The Body, 'a quartet of country boys on a journey of discovery'; A Winter's Tale - The Breathing Method, 'an off-the-wall horror story about a young woman determined to give birth to her child no matter what (or maybe the story is about that odd Club that isn't a Club'.

I was mostly interested in reading this book because of Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption; The Shawshank Redemption is one of my favourite movies and I was interested in seeing how the book and the movie compared. I was surprised to find how similar they were - I had assumed that Hollywood would take a lot of liberties but a lot of the dialogue from the movie came straight out of King's story. So it's no surprise that I loved this novella. I think it's a brilliant story and a wonderful movie.

I found Apt Pupil to be really disturbing and couldn't wait to get it over with, which isn't to say it was a bad story, just that King did well to stir up my feelings of disgust and horror at these two terrible characters. I enjoyed The Body and the interrelationship between the characters. I've previously seen Stand By Me and enjoyed the movie, but didn't remember enough of the movie to interfere with the book. I liked the fact that the ending of The Breathing Method left many unanswered questions about the Club.

Overall, a really good read with some interesting and varied stories. When reading Rita Hayworth... and The Body, in particular, I had to keep reminding myself that this was Stephen King, the 'horror' writer. Highly recommended, even if you would usually avoid Stephen King, as there's next to no horror here.

Through The Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll

Rating: 8/10

Published: 1871
Number of pages: 224
ISBN: 0486408787

Started: 10 June 2007
Finished: 10 June 2007

Summary (taken from Wikipedia and slightly altered by me):
Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There is the sequel to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, although it makes no reference to its events. In it, there are many mirror themes, including opposites, time running backwards, and so on.

Whereas the first book has the deck of cards as a theme, this book is loosely based on a game of chess, played on a giant chessboard with fields for squares. Most main characters met in the story are represented by a chess piece, with Alice herself being a pawn. The looking-glass world is divided into sections by brooks, with the crossing of each brook usually signifying a notable change in the scene and action of the story.

It's a close call, but I think I enjoyed the sequel more than I did the original. Whereas in Alice's Adventures In Wonderland I found a couple of the characters to be irritating, in the sequel I found the characters to be more likeable and interesting to read.

The humour is still present, as is Carroll's wonderful play on words. I enjoyed the poetry more in this one as well - in particular, The Walrus And The Carpenter. A very good read and highly recommended if you've read (and enjoyed) Alice's Adventures In Wonderland.

The Age Of Chaos by Jonathan Wylie

Rating: 8/10

Published: 1989
Number of pages: 352
ISBN: 055213418X

Started: 4 June 2007
Finished: 10 June 2007

Summary (taken from blurb):
On the southern continent, history has reached a turning point, and the struggle for the future is reaching its climax.

Now that Gemma has at last come to terms with the powers within her, and the role she has to play, she believes that it is possible for her to change what is to come, and thus avert the terrible devastation threatened by the Age of Chaos.

With Arden at her side once more, and aided by a force that includes the meyrkats, the people of the Lightless Kingdom and the Undergound, Gemma faces her ultimate battle.

This is Book 3 of the Unbalanced Earth trilogy. Another good read. See the review of Book 2 for my comments about this trilogy.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Rating: 10/10

Published: 1962
Number of pages: 141
ISBN: 0141182605

Started: 29 May 2007
Finished: 4 June 2007

Summary (taken from blurb):

Fifteen-year-old Alex doesn't just like ultra-violence - he also enjoys rape, drugs and Beethoven's Ninth. He and his gang rampage through a dystopian future, hunting for terrible thrills. But when Alex finds himself at the mercy of the state and subject to the ministrations of Dr Brodsky, the government psychologist, he discovers that fun is no longer the order of the day...

The basis for one of the most notorious films ever made, A Clockwork Orange is both a virtuoso performance from an electrifying prose stylist and a serious exploration of the morality of free will.

A Clockwork Orange is a frightening and sad look at a future society in which gangs are rife and no one can be trusted. Not being one that can stomach much in the way of violence and rape, I was a bit wary about reading this book; but my desire to read another dystopian classic won out. There were a couple of disturbing scenes, but it wasn't too bad overall.

Burgess has done a great job with the language in this book; the narrator, Alex, and his friends ('droogies') speak a slang language referred to as 'nadsat'. If this had a been a made-up language, it probably would have detracted from the story, but Burgess, a linguist, has based a lot of these words in Russian or Cockney rhyming slang. It took a while to get used to (a bit distracting early on) but I found a good translation of nadsat on the web which I referred to when needed. By the end of the book, nadsat had become almost second nature and it was a lot of fun to read.

You would think that Alex would be a very unsympathetic character, and he certainly is, at first. By the middle of the book, however, I found myself feeling very sorry for him, which I suppose can only be understood when you read the book. This is a terrific read and quite touching in some places, and funny in others. Very highly recommended. Now to decide whether I can stomach the movie...

Of Mice And Men by John Steinbeck

Rating: 9/10

Published: 1937
Number of pages: 121
ISBN: 0141023570

Started: 28 May 2007
Finished: 28 May 2007

Summary (taken from blurb):

Streetwise George and his big, childlike friend Lennie are drifters, searching for work in the fields and valleys of California. They have nothing except the clothes on their back, and a hope that one day they'll find a place of their own and live the American dream. But dreams come at a price. Gentle giant Lennie doesn't know his own strength, and when they find work at a ranch he gets into trouble with the boss's daughter-in-law. Trouble so bad that even his protector George may not be able to save him...

I read a lot of rave reviews beforehand but still wasn't sure what to expect from such a short book. By the end I was bawling my eyes out. Steinbeck goes a great job of building up the relationship between these two characters so that by the end you come to feel very deeply for them. The rest of the characters are also portrayed very vividly. What a heartbreakenly emotional read. Highly recommended.

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Rating: 10/10

Published: 1897
Number of pages: 402
ISBN: 0141024976

Started: 16 May 2007
Finished: 27 May 2007

Summary (taken from blurb):

Count Dracula's castle is a hellish world where night is day, pleasure is pain and the blood of the innocent is prized above all. Young Jonathan Harker approaches the gloomy gates with no idea of what he is about to face...

And back in England eerie incidents are unfolding as strange puncture marks appear on a young woman's neck...Can Harker's fiancee be saved? And where is the evil Dracula?

This is a wonderfully told story and Stoker certainly knows how to build tension; I was hooked from the beginning. This novel has stood the test of time well, and it's no wonder that it's still one of the greatest horror novels ever written. The characters are lovely and the dialogue is beautifully written.

When I started reading Dracula, I realised that I never actually knew much about the story, other than that Dracula is a blood-sucking vampire. The book was quite different to what I was expecting, and in a good way. Not being much into the horror genre, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I very highly recommend it.

Anthem by Ayn Rand

Rating: 7/10

Published: 1938
Number of pages: 147
ISBN: 0452281253

Started: 11 May 2007
Finished: 12 May 2007

Summary (taken from Wikipedia):
Anthem is a dystopic science fiction story taking place at some unspecified future date. Mankind has entered another dark age as a result of what Rand saw as the weaknesses of socialistic thinking and economics. Technological advancement is now carefully planned (when it is allowed to occur at all) and the concept of individuality has been eliminated (for example, the word "I" has disappeared from the language).

Anthem is an interesting dystopian novella in which the word 'I' (and individuality, by extension) does not exist. As most dystopian novels, it gets you thinking about the future of society and humankind. My first impression was that the book could have been made full-length, but in retrospect, Rand manages to say all she needs to in a short amount of space, which I guess enables it to pack a more powerful punch than if it had been drawn out.

I don't feel like I absorbed this book as much as I could have; maybe because I was reading it on my iPod and rushing a bit to get it finished that day. I look forward to re-reading it in the future so I can analyse it a bit better. If you like dystopian novels, you should definitely read this.

Night Shift by Stephen King

Rating: 7/10

Published: 1978
Number of pages: 409
ISBN: 0450042685

Started: 5 May 2007
Finished: 10 May 2007

Summary (taken from blurb):
A collection of terrifying stories that reveal a shudderingly detailed map of the dark places that lie behind our waking, rational world.

These are tales to invade and paralyse the mind as the safe light of day is infiltrated by the creeping, peopled shadows of night. As you read, the clutching fingers of terror brush lightly across the nape of the neck, reach round from behind to clutch and lock themselves, white-knuckled, around the throat.

This is the horror of ordinary people and everyday objects that become strangely altered; a world where nothing is ever quite what it seems, where the familiar and friendly lure and deceive. A world where madness and blind panic become the only reality.

This is a collection of King's short stories, first published in the late 70s. This is the first and only Stephen King book I have read. I borrowed it once off my brother quite a few years ago, and decided to read it again before I get started on any others (I have The Stand, and also borrowed Different Seasons from my brother).

The stories are pretty varied and some are a bit gruesome (Graveyard Shift, The Mangler), while others aren't too scary. The Children of the Corn and Trucks are two stories that I always remembered from the first time I read it. Overall, a pretty good read. I'm looking forward to reading more of his work.

Alice's Adventures In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Rating: 7/10

Published: 1865
Number of pages: 108
ISBN: 086112457X

Started: 3 May 2007
Finished: 5 May 2007

Summary (taken from blurb):
When Alice follows the White Rabbit down the rabbit-hole, she finds herself in a wonderland of amazing characters where anything can happen. There is a Mad Hatter, a March Hare and a sleepy Dormouse who hold a never-ending tea-party; a Cheshire-cat who appears and disappears at will; a sad Mock Turtle who enjoys dancing with a Gryphon; a Caterpillar who gives invaluable advice on how to shrink and grow and a Queen of Hearts whose constant command is 'Off with their heads!'

I got my edition of Alice's Adventures In Wonderland when I was quite young, and its illustrations of Alice are based on the original inspiration for the story, Alice Liddell. This is the first time in many years I've read this story - usually I just watch the Disney movie (one of my all-time favourite movies) - and I was interested to see the similarities and differences between the two.

Lewis Carroll has a wonderful way with words. I liked some parts (tea party, croquet game) more than others (Duchess and screaming baby - glad they left that out of the movie!), and the poems/songs were great. Alice is a terrific character and says some pretty amusing things; I like Carroll's play on words. I intend to read Through The Looking Glass soon, which I've never read before.

The Lightless Kindom by Jonathan Wylie

Rating: 8/10

Published: 1989
Number of pages: 351
ISBN: 055328147X

Started: 29 April 2007
Finished: 4 May 2007

Summary (taken from blurb):
After restoring the magical balance of the rocking stone, Gemma begins her search for the remarkable valley that she has saved - and longs to be reunited with Arden.

During their travels together, she had been shown the different futures which could exist for her world, and must now decide how to use her unreliable wizardry for the best. She knows that the Guild in Great Newport must be overthrown, and cannot bear to consider the alternative. But other, unforeseen forces are at play on the southern continent - and what is the Lightless Kingdom?

This is Book 2 of the Unbalanced Earth trilogy. Many years ago I randomly picked up the first book in this trilogy and was hooked from the first page. I've since re-read this trilogy many times. Outside of this author and Tolkien I've read few, if any, other fantasy novels; not because I have anything against the genre but because I wouldn't know where to start. I think it can be very hit and miss with fantasy (it irritates me when authors feel they have to use the strangest, most unpronounceable names for their characters and places - it feels like they're trying too hard).

Happily, this book is unpretentious and it's just a good, fun read - nothing too heavy. The heroine of the book is Gemma, who receives a calling to go the southern continent, where she discovers she has magical powers and must learn to use them to overthrow a powerful evil force. The characters are diverse and likeable (well, except for the evil ones of course).

I have a bit of a soft spot for these books; I guess they are 'comfort' books to me, and ones that I turn to every couple of years so I can revisit the characters and their adventures. I would recommend them if you can find them! I re-read the first book at the end of last year, and will re-read the third book shortly (probably won't have much of a review for that one - this review pretty much covers it all).

A funny anecdote regarding this story: in the first book, Gemma meets up with a tribe of meerkats who become her familiar; she can communicate with them via thought. I was about 12 when I first read this book and I had no idea that meerkats actually existed. I thought they were just a cute animal made up by the author (it is a fantasy novel after all!) Imagine my surprise when I went to Taronga Zoo one day and walked up to an enclosure to find it full of real live meerkats! I was so happy! I think that's where my love of meerkats has come from - one moment they were a mythical creature to me and the next moment they were real!

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

Rating: 6/10

Published: 1877
Number of pages: 176
ISBN: 014240408X

Started: 16 April 2007
Finished: 28 April 2007

Summary (taken from
This graphic novel adapts the classic children's story of a horse whose gentle nature triumphs over abuse and misfortune. Anna Sewell's original remains beloved to preteen girls in particular, not just for the adventures Black Beauty goes through, but also for Sewell's lyrical descriptions of a past era. Husband-and-wife team Brigman and Richardson do a wonderful job illustrating that period, with b&w drawings that pop off the page and give readers an excellent sense of place as well as time. Unfortunately hamstrung by having to shorten a story that spans many years, they have had to cut all of Sewell's descriptions and most of her transitions, leaving short, choppy chapters that represent information rather than tell a story. Sewell originally wrote the story to expose mistreatment of animals in her society, and the cuts leave the adaptation sounding a bit preachy and repetitive. The spirit of the author's brave horse still comes through, as Black Beauty describes his different masters and the other horses he meets in his life. This should be a hit with horse lovers still too young for the original.

Not a bad read, but I wouldn't read it again. It was very repetitive in the way that it describes Black Beauty's various encounters with humans ('horse meets bad person, horse meets good person, horse meets bad person' etc). When there were actually things happening I enjoyed it but otherwise it was a bit tedious. As an aside, I downloaded this book from Project Gutenberg and read it on my iPod.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Rating: 9/10

Published: 1959
Number of pages: 361
ISBN: 014102349X

Started: 1 April 2007
Finished: 27 April 2007

Summary (taken from blurb):

Humbert Humbert is a middle-aged, fastidious college professor. He also likes little girls. And none more so than Lolita, whom he'll do anything to possess. Is he in love or insane? A silver-tongued poet or a pervert? A tortured soul or a monster?...Or is he all of these?

It took me ages to read this book (I was too sick to read for the first week), but it was well worth it, and it's one that I think will get better and better with repeated readings. Although next time I think I'll keep a dictionary and a French translator at hand!

I love to read books that make beautiful use of the English language, and this is one of the best I've read yet. It's so well written, it's astounding This was my first Nabokov and certainly not my last - what a brilliant writer! I don't know what else to say...this a superb book and highly recommended.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Rating: 9/10

Published: 1996
Number of pages: 324
ISBN: 0099740915

Started: 24 March 2007
Finished: 1 April 2007

Summary (taken from inside front cover):
The Republic of Gilead allows Offred only one function: to breed. If she deviates, she will, like all dissenters, be hanged at the wall or sent out to die slowly of radiation sickness. But even a repressive state cannot obliterate desire - neither Offred's nor that of the two men on which her future hangs...

Brilliantly conceived and executed, this powerful evocation of 21st century America gives full rein to Margaret Atwood's devastating irony, wit and astute perception.

I'm a big fan of dystopian novels and was really looking forward to reading this one after the reviews I read on The Book Club Forum. I wasn't disappointed! The style of writing was a little different from what I was used to and I found it a bit hard to get a feeling for the personality of Offred (I guess that was intended, but still...). However, I found it to be a thoroughly enjoyable read, and one that made me think (and appreciate my life). I look forward to reading more Margaret Atwood in the future.

The Birth Of Sydney by Tim Flannery (ed)

Rating: 8/10

Published: 1999
Number of pages: 349
ISBN: 1876485450

Started: 25 February 2007
Finished: 24 March 2007

Summary (taken from blurb):
The Birth Of Sydney tells the story of the founding of one of the world's great cities. Tim Flannery's brilliant anthology reveals Sydney's strange and secret life from its unruly beginnings as a dump for convicts to its arrival as the 'queen of the south' a century later. In this compelling narrative history we hear the voices of everyone from Aboriginal women to Russian sailors, from Elizabeth Macarthur to Charles Darwin and a host of others.

Another thoroughly entertaining and educational collection of accounts of the early history of Australia. It's amazing to compare the old colonial town of Sydney with what stands in its place today. A lot of stories centre around the area I work in, and I know I'll never view these streets and parks the same way again.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Rating: 8/10

Published: 1963
Number of pages: 258
ISBN: 0571081789

Started: 8 March 2007
Finished: 13 March 2007

Summary (taken from blurb):
'This terse account of an American girl's breakdown and treatment gains its considerable power from an objectivity that is extraordinary considering the nature of the material. Sylvia Plath's attention had the quality of ruthlessness and...imagery and rhetoric is disciplined by an unwinking intelligence.' Stephen Wall in the Observer.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable book and very well written. I love Plath's use of metaphor throughout. I would have enjoyed studying this book at school and probably would have been able to identify a bit more with the character when I was younger. Highly recommended.

The Explorers by Tim Flannery (ed)

Rating: 8/10

Published: 1998
Number of pages: 380
ISBN: 1876485221

Started: 21 February 2007
Finished: 7 March 2007

Summary (taken from blurb):
The explorers of Australia tell an epic story of courage and suffering, of dispossession and conquest. This bestselling anthology, brilliantly edited and introduced by Tim Flannery, documents almost four centuries of exploration and takes us beyond the frontier into a world of danger, compassion, humour, brutality and death.

The Explorers includes the work of Wills, Giles, Leichhardt, Sturt, Eyre and Mitchell, and a host of other fascinating figures. Here, in one place, is the most remarkable body of non-fiction writing every produced in Australia.

This is a collection of fascinating accounts written by early European explorers, beginning with the Dutch in 1604 and going through to 1977. It details their early encounters with the Aborigines, when the English gave them presents of tomahawks and handkerchiefs and the Aborigines willingly became their guides and helped them find water on their explorations inland.

There are chilling stories of men becoming weakened in the desert (and sometimes dying) while searching for days on end to find water. Above all, it shows the courage of the early explorers when boldly going into the unknown. It also shows a much darker side of our history, when the relations between the Europeans and Aborigines broke down and they became enemies.

This was a very thought-provoking book, and enabled me to better understand Australia's history and the events that brought us to where we are today. Humorous in some parts, scary in others, it overall left me with a sense of admiration and respect for both the original and new inhabitants of this country.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Rating: 5/10

Published: 1993
Number of pages: 177
ISBN: 0061122416

Started: 19 February 2007
Finished: 20 February 2007

Summary (taken from blurb):
Paulo Coelho's enchanting novel has inspired a devoted following around the world. This story, dazzling in its powerful simplicity and inspiring wisdom, is about an Andalusion shepherd boy named Santiago who travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure buried in the Pyramids. Along the way he meets a Gypsy woman, a man who calls himself king, and an alchemist, all of whom point Santiago in the direction of his quest. No one knows what the treasure is, or if Santiago will be able to surmount the obstacles along the way. But what starts out as a journey to find worldly goods turns into a discovery of the treasure found within. Lush, evocative, and deeply humane, the story of Santiago is an eternal testament to the transforming power of our dreams and the importance of listening to our hearts.

This book just didn't grab me. I didn't realise until too late that it was going to be a new age fable. If I'd known beforehand, maybe I wouldn't have had such high expectations. I thought the ending was hugely disappointing because it was so very, very predictable. I was really hoping the treasure wouldn't be something as mundane and obvious as it turned out to be. And it didn't really seem to me a very appropriate treasure when you take into consideration the main character.

Maybe if I'd read this book 5-10 years ago, I would have enjoyed it more, but now it just seems like another new age book that's a bit past its use-by date. This is slightly odd because, for quite a few years, I was very much into all that new age stuff. Maybe it's because I've moved on from it that I wasn't able to enjoy this book. I can understand why it was a bestseller, because I imagine for people trying to follow their dreams, they can get something out of it. I'm not, so I didn't.

I didn't think it was spectacularly written either, which is something I really look for in a book. I hate to say it, but I kind of regret spending the money on it. At least I got it in a 3 for 2 deal, so I'll just pretend this was the freebie.

In short, if you're not into all that new age 'listen to your heart' stuff, then this book isn't for you. But if you are, and you need some inspiration when trying to follow your dreams, then give it a go, by all means. Don't let me put you off!

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Rating: 8/10

Published: 1866
Number of pages: 462
ISBN: 1840224304

Started: 29 January 2007
Finished: 18 February 2007

Summary (taken from Wordsworth blurb):
Crime and Punishment is one of the greatest and most readable novels ever written. From the beginning we are locked into the frenzied consciousness of Raskolnikov who, against his better instincts, is inexorably drawn to commit a brutal double murder. From that moment on, we share his conflicting feelings of self-loathing and pride, of contempt for and need of others, and of terrible despair and hope of redemption: and, in a remarkable transformation of the detective novel, we follow his agonised efforts to probe and confront both his own motives for, and the consequences of, his crime. The result is a tragic novel built out of a series of supremely dramatic scenes that illuminate the eternal conflicts at the heart of human existence: most especially our desire for self-expression and self-fulfillment, as against the constraints of morality and human laws; and our agonised awareness of the world's harsh injustices and of our own mortality, as against the mysteries of divine justice and immortality.

I found this book quite enjoyable, if somewhat tough going. I wouldn't call it 'one of the most readable novels ever written'. It took me a while to read because I just couldn't get into it and kept re-reading the same sentences over and over. I don't know how much of this could be attributed to the book though, and how much was a result of outside influences and distractions. I think this is a book that would get better with repeated readings, which I fully intend to do, once I've knocked quite a few more books off my TBR pile. I occasionally got confused with the Russian characters' names, with each going by different names. Luckily Wordsworth had kindly put a list of characters at the beginning of the book which I could refer to.

I know it may seem that I haven't really wrapped this book up, but I would highly recommend reading it; the thought processes and actions of Raskolnikov are fascinating to witness as he wanders around St Petersburg. I was really interested to see how it would end, and it was a book that stayed with me after I had finished it. I think, looking back on it almost a month later, that I can appreciate it much more than I probably did while reading it. I'm very glad I put in the effort.

Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson

Rating: 9/10

Published: 1972
Number of pages: 204
ISBN: 0007204493

Started: 15 January 2007
Finished: 20 January 2007

Summary (taken from blurb):
Hunter S Thompson is driving to Las Vegas with his attorney, the Samoan, to find the dark side of the American dream. Roaring down the desert highway from Los Angeles, they realise there's only one way to go about such a perilous task: getting very, very twisted. Armed with a drug arsenal of stupendous proportions, the duo engage in a manic, surreal tour of the sleaze capital of the world. Their perilous, chemically-enhanced confrontations with casino operators, police officers and assorted Middle Americans have a hallucinatory humour and nightmare terror. Riotously funny, daringly original and dead serious at its core, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a classic statement on the collapsed dream of the American sixties.

Well, it's just like the blurb says. This book is hilarious. The paranoia of Thompson and his Samoan attorney as they hoon around Las Vegas and try to act 'normal' when they find themselves in the middle of a narcotics conference surrounded by police is very, very funny. This book is a one-of-a-kind, and a fantastic read. Made into a very good movie starring Johnny Depp.

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Rating: 10/10

Published: 1960
Number of Pages: 309
ISBN: 0099419785

Started: 8 January 2007
Finished: 12 January 2007

Summary (taken from blurb):

'Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.' A lawyer's advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of this enchanting classic - a black man charged with the rape of a white girl.

Through the young eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores with exuberant humour the irrationality of adult attitudes to race and class in the Deep South of the thirties.

The conscience of a town steeped in prejudice, violence and hypocrisy is pricked by the stamina of one man's struggle for justice.

But the weight of history will only tolerate so much.

This is one of my favourite books. The characters are beautifully written and the story is funny, touching and heart-rending. The story is told from Scout's point of view, as a woman looking back on her childhood. I very highly recommend this book. The movie, starring Gregory Peck, is also wonderful.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Books I've Read In 2007

What follows is a list of books I've read so far this year. They have a rating out of 10 next to them. I've also noted which books I've borrowed and, unless otherwise noted, I've read hard copies of all books. Reviews can be accessed through the archive to the right.

Atwood, Margaret: The Handmaid's Tale 8/10
Austen, Jane: Emma 9/10
Barrie, JM: Peter Pan (ebook on iPod) 8/10
Bradbury, Ray: The Small Assassin 8/10
Bryson, Bill: A Walk in the Woods 8/10
Buchan, John: The Thirty-Nine Steps 6/10
Burgess, Anthony: A Clockwork Orange 10/10
Carroll, Lewis: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland 8/10
Carroll, Lewis: Through the Looking-Glass (ebook on iPod) 8/10
Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner, Rob Sitch: Molvania 8/10
Coelho, Paulo: The Alchemist 4/10
Dahl, Roald: Danny the Champion of the World 8/10
Diane: Into My Life (Beatles fan fiction)
(ebook on iPod) 8/10
Dickens, Charles: A Christmas Carol 9/10
Dickens, Charles: Great Expectations 9/10
Dostoevsky, Fyodor: Crime and Punishment 8/10
Flannery, Tim (ed): The Birth of Sydney 8/10
Flannery, Tim (ed): The Explorers 8/10
Grossmith, George: Diary of a Nobody (ebook on iPod) 9/10
Haddon, Mark: A Spot of Bother 7/10
Kenny, Kathryn: Trixie Belden and the Marshland Mystery (#10) 10/10
Kerouac, Jack: The Town and the City 9/10
Kesey, Ken: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest 10/10
King, Stephen: Different Seasons (borrowed from brother) 8/10
King, Stephen: Night Shift (borrowed from brother) 7/10
Lawrence, DH: Lady Chatterley's Lover (ebook on iPod) 6/10
Le Fanu, Joseph Sheridan: Carmilla (ebook on iPod) 8/10
Lee, Harper: To Kill a Mockingbird 10/10
McEwan, Ian: Atonement 8/10
Mitchell, David: Cloud Atlas 6/10
Montgomery, Lucy Maud: Anne of Green Gables (ebook on iPod) 8/10
Nabokov, Vladimir: Lolita 9/10
Plath, Sylvia: The Bell Jar 8/10
Rand, Ayn: Anthem (ebook on iPod) 7/10
Rowling, JK: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 10/10
Sewell, Anna: Black Beauty (ebook on iPod) 4/10
Steinbeck, John: Of Mice and Men 9/10
Stoker, Bram: Dracula 10/10
Thompson, Hunter S: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas 9/10
Vonnegut, Kurt: Slaughterhouse-Five 9/10
Wells, HG: The Time Machine (ebook on iPod) 8/10
Wyndham, John: The Midwich Cuckoos 7/10

Books I've Re-read:
Dahl, Roald: Matilda 8/10
Dahl, Roald: The Twits 8/10
Rowling, JK: Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone 8/10
Rowling, JK: Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets 8/10
Rowling, JK: Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban 8/10
Rowling, JK: Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire 9/10
Rowling, JK: Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix 8/10
Rowling, JK: Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince 8/10
Wylie, Jonathan: The Lightless Kingdom (Book 2, Unbalanced Earth) 8/10
Wylie, Jonathan: The Age Of Chaos (Book 3, Unbalanced Earth) 8/10

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Books on My TBR Pile

This is a selection of books on my TBR pile. Books that I'm currently reading are noted in blue. The listed will be updated whenever I buy new books.

I'll do a brief review of each book when I finish it - nothing fancy or worthy of the New York Times - just a few thoughts.

Adams, Richard: Watership Down
Asimov, Isaac: I, Robot
Austen, Jane: Mansfield Park
Austen, Jane: Northanger Abbey
Austen, Jane: Persuasion
Austen, Jane: Sense And Sensibility
Atwood, Margaret: Oryx And Crake
Boulle, Pierre: Planet Of The Apes
Bradbury, Ray: Dandelion Wine
Bradbury, Ray: The Golden Apples Of The Sun
Bradbury, Ray: S Is For Space
Bradbury, Ray: Something Wicked This Way Comes
Bronte, Charlotte: Jane Eyre
Capote, Truman: In Cold Blood
Carter, Angela: The Bloody Chamber And Other Stories
Chabon, Michael (ed): All New McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber Of Astonishing Stories
Chesterton, GK: The Complete Father Brown Stories
Collette: The Claudine Novels
Collins, Tom: Such Is Life
Collins, Wilkie: The Moonstone
Collins, Wilkie: The Woman In White
Dickens, Charles: Bleak House
Dickens, Charles: Nicholas Nickleby
du Maurier, Daphne: The Birds And Other Stories
du Maurier, Daphne: Jamaica Inn
du Maurier, Daphne: My Cousin Rachel
du Maurier, Daphne: Rebecca
Edwards, Kim: The Memory Keeper's Daughter
Ellison, Ralph: Invisible Man
Facey, AB: A Fortunate Life
Fielding, Helen: Bridget Jones' Diary
Fforde, Jasper: The Eyre Affair
Fforde, Jasper: Lost In A Good Book
Fforde, Jasper: The Well Of Lost Plots
Fforde, Jasper: Something Rotten
Fforde, Jasper: The Big Over Easy
Fforde, Jasper: The Fourth Bear
Fitzgerald, F Scott: The Beautiful And Damned
Fleming, Ian: Diamonds Are Forever
Franklin, Miles: My Brilliant Career
Gray, Julia: Fire Music
Gray, Julia: Ice Mage
Gray, Julia: Isle Of The Dead
Gray, Julia: The Guardian Cycle 1: The Dark Moon
Gray, Julia: The Guardian Cycle 2: The Jasper Forest
Gray, Julia: The Guardian Cycle 3: The Crystal Desert
Gray, Julia: The Guardian Cycle 4: The Red Glacier
Gray, Julia: The Guardian Cycle 5: Alyssa's Ring
Hanff, Helene: 84 Charing Cross Road
Hardy, Thomas: Far From The Madding Crowd
Hardy, Thomas: Tess Of The D'urbervilles
Hawthorne, Nathaniel: The House Of The Seven Gables
Hesse, Hermann: The Glass Bead Game
Hesse, Hermann: Steppenwolf
Holm, Ann: I Am David
Hughes, Robert: The Fatal Shore
Huxley, Aldous: Crome Yellow
Huxley, Aldous: Point Counter Point
Jones, James: From Here To Eternity
King, Stephen: The Stand
Kipling, Rudyard: The Jungle Book
Lewis, CS: The Complete Chronicles Of Narnia
Lindsay, Joan: Picnic At Hanging Rock
McEwan, Ian: Enduring Love
Mitchell, Elyne: The Man From Snowy River
Mitchell, Margaret: Gone With The Wind
Morgan, Sally: My Place
Mosse, Kate: Labyrinth
Nabokov, Vladimir: Pale Fire
O'Brien, Robert: Z For Zachariah
O'Farrell, Maggie: After You'd Gone
Orwell, George: Animal Farm
Paternak, Boris: Doctor Zhivago
Picoult, Jodi: Vanishing Acts
Puzo, Mario: The Godfather
Rand, Ayn: Atlas Shrugged
Shelley, Mary: Frankenstein
Shute, Nevil: A Town Like Alice
Smith, Betty: A Tree Grows In Brooklyn
Sparks, Nicholas: A Walk To Remember
Steinbeck, John: East Of Eden
Steinbeck, John: The Grapes Of Wrath
Steinbeck, John: The Winter Of Our Discontent
Swift, Jonathan: Gulliver's Travels
Tartt, Donna: The Little Friend
Tartt, Donna: The Secret History
Thackeray, William Makepeace: Barry Lyndon
Thackeray, William Makepeace: Vanity Fair
Thompson, Hunter S: The Rum Diary
Toole, John Kennedy: A Confederacy Of Dunces
Verne, Jules: 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea
Vonnegut, Kurt: Timequake
Webb, Charles: The Graduate
West, Nathaniel: The Day Of The Locust
Williams, Tennessee: A Streetcard Named Desire And Other Plays
Winton, Tim: Cloudstreet
Wharton, Edith: The House Of Mirth
Wylie, Jonathan: Across The Flame
Wylie, Jonathan: Island And Empire 1: The Dark Fire
Wylie, Jonathan: Island And Empire 2: The Last Augury
Wylie, Jonathan: Island And Empire 3: Echoes Of Flame
Wylie, Jonathan: Other Lands
Wylie, Jonathan: Shadow Maze
Wyndham, John: The Kraken Wakes
Wyndham, John: Stowaway To Mars
Zola, Emile: Nana

A selection of books on my To Be Re-read list:
Clarke, Arthur C: The City And The Stars
Tolkien, JRR: The Hobbit

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Hello World!

Well, I've finally decided to jump on the bandwagon that is 'blogging' (oh, how I loathe the word 'blog' - what moron came up with that term?). I figure there's already so many you-know-whats out there, no one will notice or care if I add my voice to the rabble. And that suits me just fine - I've never liked being the centre of attention.

On this little page of mine, I plan on keeping track of all the books I've read, all the books I have yet to read (a number that currently stands at around 150 and is climbing steadily), all the books I want, and pretty much any other bookish ramblings I feel like sharing with everybody (or, as is more likely the case, nobody). If you have found your way here (perhaps through a cleverly disguised link in a signature on a forum), say 'hello', won't you?

And if you have any suggestions for books you think I might like, let me know! One can never have too many books. As Thomas Carlyle would say: 'the greatest university of all is a collection of books'. Amen brother!