Sunday, 28 November 2010

The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston


The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston, was published in 1975 and is a memoir of Kingston's experiences growing up in the United States as a Chinese-American. Because Kingston's experiences are also infused with Chinese folklore and elements of non-fiction, The Woman Warrior is not your typically standard memoir.

The book is divided into five parts which mostly contain stories about the narrators family life and the cultural differences between her parents (who were born in China) and their children (first generation Americans.)

I did struggle with the first couple of stories in this book and in particular the second chapter which was titled 'The White Tiger'. It took me a while to get used to the narration which seemed to change quite suddenly from the past to the present and I had trouble getting a sense of the characters that were introduced. The White Tiger told the story of a Chinese legend (from reading it I would say this sounded like Mulan but I could be wrong) of a female warrior who takes her fathers place during battle. I struggled with this section of the book and it just seemed out of place within the family stories, I'm afraid I couldn't really see why this chapter was in there but this could be because of ignorance on my part.

The last three stories I loved. Perhaps I had gotten used to the writing style or perhaps its because the stories started to focus on her families experiences as emigrants, but I found the last three chapters flowed and I found them interesting and highly enjoyable. It interested me that the narrator is torn between Chinese culture and the culture that she was born into. Although she is torn between the two cultures, she tries to embrace both which sometimes bring her into conflict with her parents.

While there are some funny moments in the book there are also shocking moments as the narrator relays stories about the treatment of girls in China as told to her by her mother. Her mother is quite a prominent character in most of the stories and her story of how she came to America from China and what life was like back in China is often referred back to throughout.

Would I recommend this? Overall yes. I did not read this book as a overall emigrant experience or as a blueprint for every Chinese-American experience, it also has to be taken into account that this was written more than 30 years ago, but reading it as the authors own personal experiences I found it thought provoking, funny and an enjoyable read.

Verdict 4/5

Posted by Jess

Friday, 26 November 2010

The Martian Chronicles


The Martian Chronicles is a collection of brilliantly imagined short stories all of which interlink with each other to create a fantastic science fiction novel.

The stories in the book were written during the 1940s at a time when scientists were seriously discussing the possibility of intelligent life on Mars. The book works on the premise that there is not only intelligent life on Mars but they are technologically and socially more advanced than humankind.

At the beginning of the book humanity sends a series of expeditions to Mars in an attempt to make contact with the Martians and establish if they are peaceful. These fail disastrously as the expedition members (in typically human style) blunder in without any caution or understanding and are, without exception, slaughtered by the Martians.

As the story progresses humanity successfully colonises Mars, replacing the indigenous Martians with vast human cities. There are numerous moral and psychological issues raised within the book making it not just entertaining but thought provoking. The question of outsiders occupying a new place and destroying or enslaving the indigenous population is a real problem we as humans have witnessed time and time again throughout our history. What Bradbury has done is taken this ancient desire for conquest and control and shifted it so humanity is not just dominating and taking control of another continent but another planet and an intelligent alien species.

Bradbury gave his indigenous Martians a tremendous amount of thought not just creating the oft seen, stereotypical little green men with large eyes, bulbous heads and three fingers on each hand but creating several different species of Martians all of which are unique and react differently to the encroachment of the earthlings. The indigenous Martians are wonderful creations and one of the strongest aspects of the story, Bradbury’s originality knows no bounds and he really outdid himself this time.

The frightening thing is humanity is still not learning its lessons and the early pioneers live in denial truly believing they will make peace and live in harmony with the Martians. The Martians know differently which is why they react so strongly to human expeditions.

There is a strong sense of irony within the novel too, as the human invaders take control of the planet and the indigenous Martians die out the human colonists begin to refer to themselves as ‘Martians’.

By the end the story comes about full circle when, in another wonderful twist of irony, a catastrophic war breaks out on Earth destroying most of the major cities. A plea for help is sent to Mars prompting the colonists to abandon Mars and go to the aid of Earth. One or two stragglers remain and the book focuses on how each of these characters cope with their loneliness (some loving it, others hating it) and leaves us wondering if humanity will ever return.

I really enjoyed this book and strongly recommend it.

Final verdict 4/5

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Mr Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt


When I read the back of this book I thought I was in for quite a light hearted and witty read but instead I discovered something much darker than the synopsis suggested.

Winston Churchill (yes, THAT Churchill) is approaching his retirement and is stalked by a big black talking dog calling himself Mr Chartwell. At the same time Esther Hammerhans, a young widowed and vulnerable women allows Mr Chartwell to move in as her lodger.

You can see why I thought at first this was going to be a surreal but funny read. I didn't know this but 'the black dog' is a metaphor for clinical depression and this is exactly what Mr Chartwell represents in the book. Mr Chartwell is sometimes funny and charismatic he is compelled to torment both Churchill and Esther until they both give up and succumb to the depression he represents.

'A vase was on the table, the flowers emptied into the sink. Mr Chartwell took a finishing swig from the vase and poured in more beer from the bottle next to him. He started to sing with a crooning tilt to his forehead. 'A bone in the fridge may be quite continental, but diamonds are a girl's best friend.'

There is a lot to like about this d├ębut novel and the quote above is an example. Mr Chartwell is a charismatic, likeable character which I believe is the author's intention. The plot devise of Mr Chartwell works quite well as it really shows how depression encroaches on the characters lives. It becomes exhausting for the characters as they are forced to put up a front to their friends and the outside world while at the same time fighting Mr Chartwell. At times you really do feel for the main characters and what they are forced to endure.

'I understand that we share a wicked union, and I know the goblin bell which summons you comes from a tomb in my heart. And I will honour my principles, labouring against the shadows you herald. I don't blench from my burden, but -' here he let out a deep breath, laying the glasses down gently - 'it's so demanding; it leaves me so very tired. It would be some small comfort to me if I could ask how long I must endure this visit. Please, when do you leave?'

Unfortunately I do think that Mr Chartwell is a bit too likeable and not sinister enough (especially towards the end) and considering the seriousness of the subject, the overall feel of the novel felt a little light. But these are minor quibbles because overall I enjoyed this highly original novel.

This is my favourite quote from Mr Chartwell which I feel demonstrates his more malevolent side;

'It's either my way or the hard way. But in truth, in time, my way is the hardest way imaginable.'

Verdict 4/5

Posted by Jess

Monday, 22 November 2010

Here There Be Tygers by Ray Bradbury



“The rocket ship sank down towards planet seven of star system eighty-four. They had travelled millions upon millions of miles. Earth was far away; her system and her sun forgotten and now the rockets of these tiny men could travel anywhere, for the speed of their rockets was the speed of a god...”

I downloaded this dramatisation of Ray Bradbury's original short story from his book 'R is for Rocket' from itunes and I was not disappointed. The title was inspired by the ancient practice of marking unexplored regions of the world with the words 'Here There Be Dragons'

The story is quite typical of Bradbury's science fiction; a team of astronauts land on a strange, previously unexplored planet. From the outset there is something very different about the place. There are no people there aside from the men themselves but the planet seems to be alive. Before long it becomes apparent to the men that whatever they day dream or fantasise about the planet makes a reality for them. By way of example one of the men muses that when he was a kid he always wanted to fly like a bird. The next thing you know he's up in the sky flying around. Another man thinks about how hungry he is and some pre-cooked fish appears in a stream for him to eat. One of the group has very negative feelings about the planet, he believes it has a sinister motive for its behaviour and he attempts to destroy it. In retaliation the planet kills him prompting the other astronauts to try to escape (albeit reluctantly) but the planet doesn't want them to leave...

Although it is only thirty minutes long the dramatisation is very entertaining and only cost a few quid. I thought it was excellent value for money and I have re-listened to it several times since.

The story is very tense and exciting not to mention original. It is very easy to get caught up in it. The voice acting is very good if a little hammy at times. Also the music and sound effects are convincing and really give the whole thing atmosphere.

I have bought a copy of 'R is for Rocket' and am expecting it any day now, I am looking forward to comparing the short story to the dramatisation.

Final verdict 4/5

Chris

Sunday, 21 November 2010

A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore


Well I have to hand it to Dunmore; she is not an author who will shy away from difficult or disturbing subjects. One of the main themes in this novel is incest between a brother and sister who grow up in a crumbling mansion with their Grandfather in the years preceding the First World War.

As if this wasn't disturbing enough the novel also explores illegal abortion, murder and mental illness. This isn't going to be a book for everyone.

The main strength of this novel however is not the subject matter but the writing. The prose is fluid and easy to read and I found myself clearly seeing the mansion in desperate need of repair and the surrounding countryside. The whole setting had a Gothic and claustrophobic feel about it and in terms of the setting, the book reminded me a little of Sarah Waters The Little Stranger. The characters were all well developed and I was glad that the main characters featured in the novel were not just limited to the brother and sister.

Unfortunately sometimes the plot moved into melodrama territory and even given the unusual circumstances I cannot believe that the siblings relationship would have entered into the territory that it did. I also feel its a shame that the incest plot line seems to overshadow all the other themes in the novel as without it more pages might have been given to the mystery of why the siblings were abandoned by their mother.

Would I recommend this? Despite this being Dunmore's award winning book, I actually preferred The Siege and Talking to the Dead to this one, but this one provides a interesting enough story if you're not put off by the subject matter.

Verdict 3 1/2/5

Posted by Jess

Friday, 19 November 2010

My favourite non-fiction books


The literary blog hop hosted at The Blue Book case asks the question;

Is there such a thing as literary non-fiction? If so, how do you define it?
I have never thought about categorizing non-fiction in this way so have instead given my opinion on what I consider a good non-fiction book and what makes a bad one.

When I was younger the only kind of books I would read were non-fiction. This was probably a habit I picked up from my father, who still only reads non-fiction. I think he considers fiction silly (bah humbug!)

Over the years I've read a lot of non-fiction covering a vast variety of subjects from the Second World War to the Persian Empire from sharks to the American boyscout who built a nuclear reactor in his back yard.

What I like the most about non-fiction is that it can often be as varied, exciting and bizarre as any work of fiction with the added bonus that it actually happened. I have always had a healthy interest in subjects such as history and the natural world and books have always been the best way to learn about the world. I also believe reading non-fiction ensures that things that have happened in the past are not forgotten, we are doomed to repeat our mistakes if we don't learn from them and non-fiction books are the best way of doing this.

Of course non-fiction has its flaws. I have read several works of non-fiction that are as dry as a teetotaller, some writers believe that just because they have all the facts in front of them ready to present that they don't need to work on the presentation. This is quite incorrect as I can read two different books on the same subject but enjoy one more than the other because of the way they are written. Also sometimes a work of non fiction can appear interesting from the subject matter or product description but when you start reading you realise it was anything but.

Some of my favourite non fiction books are;

Notes From a Big Country by Bill Bryson
This book is hilarious and never fails to cheer me up when I'm down. Bill Bryson has a wickedly dry sense of humour which I really appreciate and here he applies it to America in describing his experiences after returning to the US after a long absence. Genuinely funny stuff.

Stalingrad by Anthony Beevor
When Adolf Hitler's troops arrived outside the Soviet city in July 1942 it marked the beginning of one of the most brutal and bloody battles of the entire conflict, it was also the beginning of the end for Hitler.

The book does a fantastic job of describing everything that happened during the battle. It doesn't just focus on the fighting but also describes the struggle to survive the extreme temperatures of a Russian winter with hardly any food, basic supplies or appropriate clothing and how Soviet troops felt about being shot by their own officers if they tried to retreat. It also highlights the plight of the civilians trying to survive. The book also covers the battle from the German point of view so you get a well rounded view of the whole period. The anecdotes are fascinating, as an example; the Soviet forces trained dogs to run underneath German tanks. These specially trained dogs would have high explosive mines strapped to them which would detonate, disabling the tank. This was the theory anyway, in reality if a tank was moving or firing its weapons (which they almost always were) it would scare the dogs who would run back to their handlers. This would result in the mine exploding and killing soviet troops by accident. This forced the handlers to start shooting their own dogs if they attempted to return to the Soviet lines. Do you see what I mean about the brutality of the battle? (and that's just against dogs!)

Very informative, exciting and horrifying to read. A true depiction of the senselessness of war.

Berlin by Anthony Beevor
This book covers the final battle which took place in the German capital city shortly before the suicide of Hitler and the downfall of Nazi Germany. In January 1945 Berlin was surrounded by Allied troops and the Germans were fighting a desperate last stand to prevent Soviet forces from capturing the city before the Americans. During the battle of Stalingrad German troops committed terrible atrocities against Soviet soldiers and civilians alike. As a result the Russian troops had a seething hatred of the Germans and when they finally took Berlin they only had one thing in mind; revenge.

I won't list the unspeakable acts the Soviets carried out in Berlin but needless to say Hitler's stubborn refusal to allow the large scale evacuation of German civilians from Berlin meant that when the Soviet army finally broke through and took control of Berlin they found the city full of defenceless women...

I wouldn't say I enjoyed this book in any sort of entertaining sense. In fact a good deal of what I read horrified, angered and disgusted me however I think it was worthwhile and important to read as, once again, Beevor effectively demonstrates how utterly brutal, senseless and bloody war is, not just on the soldiers fighting in it but the helpless civilians caught up in the midst of it.

A poignant and crushing read which had a profound effect on me.

Duel by James Landale
This book is not widely known about or read which I think is a terrible shame because it was so good.

The book essentially gives a history of pistol duelling at a time when it was illegal, but still widely carried out by men when they felt their honour needed defending

Overall a very interesting, fun and entertaining book. Made all the more interesting by the lack of waffle and the anecdotes and first person accounts contained within. One of the most interesting aspects is that a relative of the author himself fought in a duel with a local merchant and survived.

Posted by Chris

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Literary Tattoo # 2


Those of you who have been visiting this blog for a while will know I am a fan of tattoos, particuarly typographic and literary tattoos. I have added another to my modest, but growing, collection of ink.

The quote is from William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, my favourite of his plays. Shortly after Mercutio's famous Queen Mab speech in Act I scene IV Romeo tells Mercutio "Thou talk'st of nothing" to which Mercutio replies;

"True, I talk of dreams,
Which are the children of an idle brain,
Begot of nothing but vain fantasy,
Which is as thin of substance as the air
And more inconstant than the wind, who woos
Even now the frozen bosom of the North
And, being angered, puffs away from thence,
Turning his side to the dew dropping South"

Mercutio is my favourite of Shakespeare's many characters. I love his wicked humour and sharp tongue, I also admire his courage and loyalty. The quote is very apt for me as I am a day dreamer who sometimes needs a reminder to keep his feet on the ground.

Chris

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Doctor Zhivago Part One


I am reading this book as part of a read-along hosted over at Nonsuch Books.

I'm not sure that I have ever read a book before where the film experience has influenced my reading enjoyment so much. I am a big fan of both the David Lean version of this book as well as the TV mini series staring Kera Knightly so I was fully expecting to get swept away with the romance and imagery that I found on the screen.

Overall I have found the prose slightly devoid of conversations between characters and surprisingly not that detailed. Zhivagos and Laras early life fly by in the book whereas more time was devoted to these years in the screen versions. During most of this first part I was constantly comparing the book and the film and I worried that the film had ruined my reading experience completely.

Thankfully towards the end of part one I did manage to break free from this thinking and I began to enjoy the novel just as it is. There is a wonderful chapter which details Zhivago's train journey across Russia with his family and it is here where I finally became completely immersed in the novel and is how I hope to continue into part two.

So far I love the characters and I can believe in Zhivago and Laras love, but I am unable to say if this is because my brain is filling in gaps from the film and am therefore giving the characters more feeling and background than the actual words are showing me.

Posted by Jess

Monday, 15 November 2010

The Legacy by Katherine Webb


I first found out about this book when it was featured on the TV Book Club where all the reviewers raved about the page turning plot.

The premise is a good one, two sisters in Wiltshire, England discovers a long forgotten family mystery involving a missing baby and they investigate this while at the same time they remember a day during their childhood when their cousin Henry went missing. Alternating with these chapters is the story of the sisters great grand-mother, an American who attempted to make a life in Oklahoma before marring into an English family.

Overall I found this novel very disappointing which did not live up to its premise. Many of the plot elements were far fetched or did not add up and I solved the 'mystery' of what happened to Henry very early on.

Perhaps its because I am currently reading the excellent Lonesome Dove which is set during a similar period in the west, but I did not find the speech that the characters used during the American chapters very realistic. I felt that the author was going for a 'PC Award' at times when a character spoke about the Native Americans in the area and I didn't find the descriptions of this time period or landscape sufficient enough to give me a sense of place.

It wasn't all bad as I did find myself finishing it and this was purely because I liked the characters of the two sisters and because I wanted to see if I had solved the mystery and guessed right.

Would I recommend this? I would recommend this if your after an easy read with a mystery. I read this on holiday and although large parts of it annoyed me it was what I would describe as a good holiday read.

Verdict 2/5

Posted by Jess

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises


Fiesta is divided into two books with the same characters featuring in each. Book one is set in Paris where we meet our characters who are all, without exception, wealthy ex-patriots living on money sent from home who do little but socialise in Parisian cafes and bars drinking copious amounts of alcohol. At the beginning of book two the characters head to a small Spanish community to take part in the upcoming fiesta. In the second book we get to see a little more of their personalities and the nature of their relationships which change drastically from amiable drunkenness and slurred promises to jealousy and violence.

Fiesta is somewhat of an enigma to me. On the surface it seems straightforward enough but I can’t help feeling it has a depth of meaning which is certainly beyond me on a first reading. At the beginning I found the main characters to be largely unlikable. None of them seem to contribute anything useful to society; they drift from one party to another getting drunk and generally wasting their lives. Despite first appearances there are complex relationships within the group which become more obvious and in-depth as the story progresses. As is typical of Hemingway’s unique style he gives you the bare minimum to go on and allows you to build a lot of the detail up for yourself once you get to know the characters which happens surprisingly quickly.


By the second half of the book the characters arrive in Spain to enjoy the bullfighting and non-stop partying which form part of the fiesta celebrations. The main female protagonist, Lady Brett Ashley, has slept with most of the group and would certainly have slept with the main character, Jake Barnes, if he didn’t suffer with impotency issues. They tell each other numerous times they are in love yet Brett is not interested in a relationship with Jake because he cannot satisfy her sexually. Brett appears to have no emotional attachment to the men she beds and views the sex as merely casual, this has far reaching affects when one of the group sleeps with Brett and believes it to be more than a fling which results in him being ostracised by the rest and treated as an outcast.

There was a rather unpleasant thread of racism within the story which cropped up from time to time mainly, but not exclusively, anti-Semitic in nature and after carrying out some research I was interested to note that critics at the time of the book’s release even accused Hemingway openly of being anti-Semitic himself. Make of that what you will.

Ultimately I was left satisfied with how the book ended. There were very few surprises and once you got to know the characters their actions were quite predictable and I saw the ending coming a mile away. Despite my largely negative feelings towards the characters I found them fascinating and towards the end the book was quite difficult to put down. I was surprised to find my attitude towards the characters changing. At first I was quite appalled by their lifestyle but then by the end of the second book I found myself pitying them. Their empty lives made me grateful to have a family. I suppose if a book makes you grateful to live the life you do it can’t be a bad book.

Since finishing the book I find I think of the characters and their fate quite often. Overall a very interesting, intriguing book I would definitely recommend and will read again someday.

Final verdict 4/5

Chris

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Off we go...


Well it's that time of year again when we say goodbye to the 21st century for a week and rough it in a cottage somewhere. We're going on a trip to the west of England for a brief holiday and to celebrate our son's second birthday. Unfortunately there is no internet access whatsoever so we won't be posting anything on the blog during our absence.

The good news is we are taking plenty of books with us so there will be lots of activity here when we return (try not to miss us too much!)

Chris & Jess

Friday, 5 November 2010

Literary Blog Hop


We haven't participated in a blog-hop for months now but we couldn't resist taking part in The Blue Bookcases literary hop. Even if you have no interest in participating its worth checking out the other links just to look at other blogs which come under this category.

The question for the blog hop is;

Please highlight one of your favourite books and why you would consider it "literary."

Of course this question only brings up the further question of what is literary. My source of all knowledge Wikipedia classifies literary as 'focusing more on style, psychological depth, and character, the plot may or may not be important. Mainstream commercial fiction focuses more on narrative and plot'.

That sounds about right although I did like someone's answer on yahoo answers who said 'a book is classed as literary when its on the spark-notes website'. Chris even joked that he classifies something as literary when he finds it hard to read.

On that note we have both listed our most hardest book that we liked. A book that despite being sometimes difficult was in fact worth it in the end.

Jess's choice

The Turn of the Screw




The hardest book I have read is actually Moby Dick but I couldn't finish it (and not did I like it) so this is my choice. Ok so this one is a stupidly short one but believe me it felt as times like I was taking on a 500 page epic. The writing I found flowery and heavy and was not what I would consider an easy read. After saying that, I found parts of it quite creepy and I enjoyed the overall story of the governess as she looks after two slightly odd and possibly demonic children.

Chris's Choice

Lord of the Rings




Technically this is cheating since the book is, in fact, a trilogy; The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King all written by J.R Tolkien. To be fair my copy is all together in one book so I guess it's not cheating too badly.

I found the book challenging for numerous reasons but the most obvious would be its sheer size. At 1216 pages it isn't exactly short and took me some months to drag myself through. The depth of the story and the characters in it are breathtaking. I'm sure there is no book like it in the world. Unfortunately there are a lot of characters and it became quite difficult to remember them all, particularly as none of them are found in the English language. At points it felt like entire chapters were dedicated to describing a landscape or a castle which isn't the kind of writing I appreciate. I stuck with it because it is such a wonderful and exciting book and Tolkien really did have the ability to transport the reader to another place. I loved 'The Hobbit' (a much shorter book) and had to know how the adventure would end. Hopefully some day my son will allow me to read it to him at bedtime but until then I doubt I'll have the courage to attempt it again.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison


After reading and very much enjoying Beloved I decided to read Toni Morrison's first novel The Bluest Eye.

The Bluest Eye is a heartbreaking read about an eleven year old black girl Pecola who believes that if she was beautiful then all her other problems will go away. This belief is quite common amongst little girls but the problem is that in Pecola's world (1960's America) the 'standard' beauty that Pecola aspires to is to have the blue eyes and beauty of Shirley Temple.

Surprisingly the novel does not focus on Pecola (who turns out to be the least developed character in the book) but instead gives a voice to some of the characters who live the community in which Pecola lives and it follows their lives up to and after the shocking events that happens to Pecola.

The characters were all troubling and thought provoking (especially Pecola's mother) and at times the narrative changes from the third person to the first in order to give a certain character a chance to speak for themselves. For such a short novel there are a lot of different events and themes but I didn't feel as though anything was irrelevant and some of the various back-stories proved to give insight to later events.

I thought the image of beauty that Pecola has in the novel an interesting one. If Pecola did have blue eyes then she would look more freaky than beautiful which just goes to illustrate how she has not found her own idea of beauty because she is unable to see it in her own world.

When I first finished this book, I did have one or two small criticisms but now I'm writing this review I honestly can't remember what they were, the overall theme and the heartbreak has stayed with me rather than the negative.

Would I recommend this? Well I think you can guess that this isn't exactly a book filled with poops and giggles and is not considered Morrison's best but overall I found it very thought provoking and I can recommend it.

For those who are interested in reading Toni Morrison's 'Beloved' I will compare the two in quick summary;

I didn't find The Bluest Eye as rewarding or as thought provoking as Morrison's Beloved (which won her the 'Pulitzer Prize') but it is a much easier read than Beloved in terms of the prose style.

Verdict 4/5

Posted by Jess

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

When your opinion goes against the masses....


When I reviewed The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon in my previous post I was certain of one thing; that the comments would be filled with people declaring their love for the book in response to my rather less than glowing review.

Sometimes it's like that with this blog lark; Chris and I have always been willing to post negative reviews here, if we feel they are deserved, but sometimes we read a book which has had rave reviews everywhere else but for one reason or another it comes up short for us. We are sometimes left wondering if perhaps we missed something.

This is meant to be quite a light hearted post BTW, a mere musing. People who disagree with our posts are always very polite when they say so and there are no issues with that whatsoever. I say that in-case your wondering if something sparked this post!

So just for fun we have listed here some other books which we have really not liked but everyone else seems to have loved;

From Jess

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

I could just about put up with the needlessly gory details of what happens to a human being when they burn alive and I could put up with the ENDLESS descriptions of food which went on in this book but what I could not put up with was the ending which explained bugger all.

The World According to Garp by John Irving

I hated Garp and this was my main problem with this book. I hated him so much that when his wife had an affair I thought 'good on you girl, that'll show him'.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

I didn't hate this one, in fact I liked it but for the life of me I can't understand why people love it, for me it was just alright.

From Chris

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

My God but didn't everyone make a fuss over this book. Even Jessica succumbed to the hype. When I declared to her that I didn't like the book she looked at me as if I had told her I was pregnant then said indignantly “Well, you're the only person in the world who doesn't like it”(A statement which I have since discovered is untrue)

I found 'The Road' to be largely boring, bleak, depressing, almost utterly without hope and suffering from a severe case of poor character development. Overall I found the story to be a meandering mess which was always going to end badly.

Don't lend this to someone with depression, you'll drive them over the edge.

I'm Not Scared by Niccolo Ammaniti

I reviewed this book recently and found the comments I received were mainly from fans or people that had heard positive things about it. I couldn't (and still can't) see what the fuss was about with that book. The characters, without exception, were unlikeable. The plot was nonsensical and the overall ending deeply unsatisfying.

Slaughterhouse 5

Ah, one of my most hated books. I could easily write a ten page review on how naff this book is but I will just highlight a few of my biggest bugbears. The main character was infuriating and completely mad, the story was ridiculous, the phrase 'So it goes' is repeated over and over and over until you want to burn the book (it appears 116 times in 150 pages) the story is disjointed and difficult to follow. Then the author beings to bash the allies for bombing Dresden during the Second World War before falsifying the numbers of casualties the Germans suffered during the raid and calling the bombing “the greatest massacre in European history” Vonnegut was a fool. Even the man himself branded Slaughterhouse 5 a “Failure” he was right about that at least.

For every one hundred people that loved The Time Travelors Wife, there is always someone else (my mum being one of them) who couldn't finish it. A book on Amazon could have three hundred five star ratings and yet still have thirty one star ratings. We hope that anyone reading our reviews will always check out other opinions (unless the reader knows our tastes quite well) because when it all boils down to it, this blog is just our opinion, plain and simple.

Monday, 1 November 2010

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon


I read this as part of a read-along organised by English Major's Junk Food and was a great excuse for me to read this one which was on my TBR list.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay won the Pulitzer prize in 2001 and at over 600 pages (with quite small writing) in which themes of sexuality, death and the holocaust feature this is a book I was looking forward to reading and getting stuck into.

There are two main protagonists, Jewish cousins, Sam Clayman and Joe Kavalier. The novel starts when Sam is woken in the middle of the night by his mother who introduces Joe who has escaped from Prague just before the start WWII. Together they end up taking the comic book world in New York by storm with their character the escapist used to wage their own personal war on the Nazis.

There characterisation of the two protagonists is wonderful who throughout the novel become rounded figures complete with their own likeable and more dislikeable traits. The pain that Kavaliers feel as his family including his young brother are left back in Prague is heartbreaking and Claymans confusion over his sexuality is nicely played out.

While the novel started off promising and which included a daring escape from Prague, from about page 100 it became (and I hate to say this) a bit of a chore to read. There was nothing wrong with the writing or plot exactly but for a few hundred pages the novel just seemed to ‘plod’, it was laboured and it felt too long. It did pick up again about 150 pages from the end and I did find the ending quite touching but by that point I think the author lost me abit.

Would I recommend this? This is certainly a highly original book and aside from the middle section I quite enjoyed it. I think its best to check out other reviews like this one as perhaps this is one which just didn't fully work for me.

Verdict 3/5

Posted by Jess