Friday, 29 April 2011

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Now heres a book that's sure to divide people. Some people have been known to throw this book across the room while others will rave and defend it to the death, either way it provokes reactions.

My first experience with the characters of Wuthering Heights was through the old black and white film staring Lawrence Oliver. Me and my mum sat down to watch it (it had come free with a newspaper) thinking we were going to watch one of the 'greatest ever love stories'. Two hours later during which we experienced many WTF moments, we were left kind of disgusted/horrified/confused etc and it put me off ever reading the book.

But read it I did because heck I wanted an opinion about it and to see what all the fuss is about. Sometimes its good to read things like this because its one of those books where I thought I knew what it was all about but in-reality I didn't, much of the plot was a complete surprise (that old films left out loads.) Cathy dies surprisingly early on in the novel and most of Heathcliffs wrath is directed towards his son and Cathy's daughter. There are also other significant characters which heavily feature which again surprised me as I was expecting it to be all about Heathcliff and Cathy.

Much has been said about the general horribleness of the characters and yes as a reader I felt pushed to the limit at times with their cruelty towards each-other. But I'm not someone who has to like or connect with characters in order to enjoy a book, I guess it was the general horror at times and a kind of morbid fascination that kept me turning the pages. I couldn't look away and found it strangely absorbing. A lot of this had to do with the setting, I've read a fair few books that feature the English moors but none have had quite the desolate or foreboding atmosphere that Wuthering Heights gave to me in droves.

I can understand why it is a classic, there isn't quite another novel like it and I can also understand completely why people would hate this novel (I am sure some will say hello in the comments ;) but it isn't a classic just because of the nasty, cruel characters, there is much more to this novel in the passion, tragedy and the Gothic elements. It is a love story but just not in the conventional/normal sense.

Aside from the plot just getting downright silly towards the end I did enjoy this and I read it quite quickly. I can't say I loved it exactly but it certainly won't be one I'll ever forget. If you do decide to read this then you have to face it, you will have problems with some of the characters, as hard as it may be you kinda have to just let them get on with it and play out their own story.

I read this as part of a mini-readalong hosted by Bibliojunkie and its worth popping over for links to the other partcipants for more opinions.

Verdict 4/5

Posted by Jess

Monday, 25 April 2011

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Years ago the BBC produced a series called ‘Neverwhere’ I enjoyed it a great deal and remember most of the characters well, particularly Hunter; heroic blade for hire and the Marquis de Carabas; an enigmatic trickster, his every word dripping with sarcasm and insincerity.

Imagine my delight when, 14 years later, I discovered the original screenplay writer, Neil Gaiman, had written a full blown novel featuring the same story and characters with more depth, background and excitement than the TV show could hope to convey.

The story takes place in two different worlds; the busy, crowded everyday streets of London known as ‘London Above’ and the mysterious, magical world of ‘London Below’. The subterranean city is never seen by ordinary Londoners who are oblivious to its existence. The denizens of London Below are magical, long-lived and not always human. Richard Mayhew, our unlikely hero, lives in London Above, that is until he comes to the aid of a citizen of London Below and is unwittingly plunged headlong into a world of assassins, talking rats, warriors and monsters.

The story is very exciting, uplifting and well structured too with the perfect backdrop. I found myself effortlessly sucked into the world of London Below and Gaiman does a first rate job of transporting the reader. The characters are larger than life and loveable, particularly the roguish Marquis. All of the characters got under my skin and I do not believe there was a weak one in there. The book itself has played on my mind a great deal since reading it and I have no doubt I will be returning to it again soon.

A brilliant adventure story.

Overall rating 4/5


Tuesday, 19 April 2011

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Well after seven months I finally got through this rather weighty book and at once I gave myself a little cheer. I read this on the kindle so I didn't have the whole lugging around the book around or trying to hold it up while reading in bed that the real book would have involved (of which I was very glad) Plus the kindle made it far less intimidating I think.

Before you think that this is some kind of advert for the kindle I would like to point out that mine is not working at the moment and yes I know, that would never happen to a real book, feel smug if you wish. Anyway.......

A lot of people seem to have their own guide to reading this epic and these are my thoughts, but don't worry I have not listed any spoilers.

1.Don't be put off by the sheer size of it. The novel is divided into shorter books which contain even shorter chapters. There are no huge 50 page chapters so everything's broken down into kinda bite size chunks.

I'm going to quote Thomas from his review on My Porch: One shouldn't approach War and Peace as a book. It is more like your favourite TV drama or mini-series, or, dare I say, soap opera.

That is exactly how I approached and read it (its like a big soap opera in large places anyway). Don't think of the end just go along for the ride and just enjoy all the various antics, marriages, soul searching, battles etc. that are packed in there. Read other stuff and don't worry about any time limits, the characters aren't going anywhere.

2.Don't think ahhhhh it must be really difficult and dense to read. Really its not, in fact one of the first things that stuck me was how assessable it was. My sister saw I was reading it and said 'oh isn't that a hard read' she soon changed her mind when she read a sample. In fact I had more trouble reading the Crying of Lot 49 which was less than 200 pages than I did reading this.

3.Get a family tree and a list of characters before you start. This bit is difficult, the sheer roomful (literally) of characters that the reader is completely bombarded with at the beginning makes for a confusing read. After a couple of hundred pages they were all set in my mind and I no longer needed my lists but to start with I would have been completely lost without it. The family trees are useful as characters get introduced who as it turns out is related to an character that was introduced earlier. Who was who's sibling confused the hell out of me at times.

The numbers of characters are needed in order to give the reader a view over the impacts of the War. Through the characters you get to see the War from the soldiers view right up to the people making the decisions and what its like to be hungry or captured during the War. You also see management of estates, marriage, childbirth, death, social climbing, duels, inheritance/dowry's, happy and unhappy marriages etc and how these aspects of day to day life are affected by the events going on around them. Theres a lot in there and lots of characters are needed to show them although it is only from the upper classes that you gain any insight.

4.It helps to know your history. A quick brush up on Napoleons campaign in Russia could be helpful.

5.I read the translation on the kindle and although an older translation, it suited me down to the ground. So I would recommend going into your library and book-store and sampling a few rather than just automatically going to the latest translation.

It was certainly worth reading and I'm very glad I did but I wouldn't say this was a perfect novel. I much preferred the peace bits to the war bits (mostly) and Tolstoy's mini essays which interrupted the narrative throughout began to get on my nerves towards the end when they became more and more frequent. I would say I enjoyed the middle section of the novel more than the beginning or the end and it was certainly at this point that I truly began to get into my stride. Some of the characters were far more developed and more intriguing than others but most will certainly stick in my mind (although perhaps this is because I was with them for seven months LOL)

It was a great story, I can't quite think of an epic like it and its worth having a crack at.

Posted by Jess

Sunday, 17 April 2011

The Road Home by Rose Tremain

The Road Home tells the story of Lev, a migrant worker from Eastern Europe who travels to Britain in the hope of working and earning enough money to support his mother and daughter, back in his home country. Lev is in his 40s and is grieving from the death of his wife from leukaemia but is willing to push his personal troubles aside and work hard.

This was my first Tremain novel and I liked the writing style and the way it flowed, I read this on holiday and this proved to be quite a quick read which entertained me. The parts when Lev arrives in the UK were great and it described well at first the confusion of entering a new culture before he then began to lead a rather charmed immigrant life.

But while Lev was slightly unpredictable in places, the characters surrounding him were nearly all stereotypes, like Christy the Irish heavy drinker or Sophie the Brit girl who is fun loving and easy to bed. Large parts of the plot did not ring true for me either but I am unable to give any big examples without spoiling the plot (ah Lev going from only knowing a few phases in English to reading Hamlet in a few months for one)

The more the novel went on the more far fetched it became until I was forced to suspend all belief in order to carry on to the even more unbelievable ending. I also had trouble believing the descriptions of (the unspecified)Eastern European country that Lev was from. I am just left with a image of everyone in this country drinking Vodka from dawn until dusk, children playing with goats during their lunch breaks and where £20 is a fortune.

I am quite torn on this one as despite my grievances I did read it quickly and I enjoyed large parts of it. This isn't one I would recommend but I would read another book by Tremain.

Posted by Jess

Friday, 15 April 2011

Confessions of a GP by Benjamin Daniels

This is one that frequently shows up on the kindle top 100 best sellers but it wasn't until I read TinyLibrarys review that I finally forked out the £3 to download it (yeah, big spender)

“Dr Benjamin Daniels" (real identity protected) writes about his day-to-day life of being a GP. Humorous anecdotes involving more of his eccentric patients are in abundance here as well as tales of the pressures of working under a constantly target driven NHS.

I have read a few of these types of books (mostly of the policeman category) and this, like the others is humorous, addictive and thought provoking. Sometimes books like these can become an outlet for the authors rants about their chosen profession but thankfully Dr Daniels manages to talk about his day job without whining. The chapters are short making this an easy read and I enjoyed reading Dr Daniels's thoughts on death, targets, and people asking for sick notes.

Dr Daniels is very forthright in his opinions ranging in quite a few more controversial topics including the MMR jab, patients that smoke or are over weight and GP salary's. Although these aspects of the book are more serious, it was these sections which I enjoyed the most and lifted it from just being a collection of anecdotes.

Recommended for anyone after a lighter read or is interested in the NHS.

Posted by Jess

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Congo by Michael Crichton

I was seriously disappointed with this book for numerous reasons. I will go into some of them here but, ultimately, if I was to list all the reasons it would take an hour to read.

The story could, and should, have been a straightforward and entertaining killer-gorilla related romp with lots of frightened scientists and mercenaries fighting for survival against the odds. Instead what we got was poorly written, erratic, nonsense-riddled, technology-obsessed trash.

An American research team in the Congolese jungle is savagely murdered in mysterious circumstances. The Earth Resources Technology Services (a stereotypical shadowy corporation which answers to no-one with powerful government ties *yawn*) quickly sends in another team of highly trained, yet clearly expendable, white specialists; a collection of engineers, scientists and one hard-boiled mercenary. Also along for the ride are half a dozen black African porters who are, very predictably, there for cannon-fodder purposes.

The way the book is written is messy. The story weaves left and right, constantly on the go and it wasn't long before I was forced to skip back a few pages to re-read sections due to confusion. At every conceivable opportunity Crichton drowns the reader in completely unnecessary and unbelievable techno-babble, often going off on a complete tangent about technology or the natural world for pages before returning to the actual story by which point I was totally bewildered and more than a little annoyed. At times it was more like reading a textbook than a novel, it is literally FULL of passages like this:

“The first generation of electronic computers, ENIAC and UNIAC, built in the wartime secrecy of the 1940s, employed vacuum tubes. Vacuum tubes had an average life span of twenty hours, but with thousands of glowing hot tubes in a single machine, some computers shut down even seven to twelve minutes. Vacuum tube technology imposed a limit on the size and power of planned second- generation computers. But the second generation never used vacuum tubes. In 1947, the invention of the transistor – a thumbnail sized sandwich of solid material which performed all the functions of a vacuum tube...”

The blogger on 'Books I done read' reviewed this book and said it perfectly when she wrote “it's very White Man Goes Into the Jungle, WITH TECHNOLOGY!”

The savage, murderous gorillas themselves appear right at the beginning of the book to kill off the first research team but don't make a significant reappearance until page 280. Even then they are not frightening in the least which is a massive anti-climax considering they are the main draw of the book. They spend a few pages butchering the unfortunate black porters before the white researchers escape completely unharmed (what a shocker)

The characters are two dimensional and poorly developed. It is difficult to imagine how Crichton could have done a worse job of it. The best thing I can say about this book is that the spelling is more or less correct most of the time.

Considering this book came from the acclaimed author of 'Jurassic Park' (which is a very good book) I was shocked that such a talent was capable of churning out such amateurish crap. A big let down.

Overall rating 1/5

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Intruder in the Dust by William Faulkner

The main story in this novel involves a black man called Lucas Beauchamp who is wrongly accused of the murder of a white man. The story is told through the eyes of Charles Mallison, a sixteen-year-old who Beauchamp rescued from drowning four years earlier. Charles sets out to prove that Beauchamp did not fire the fatal shot and must prove this before a mob breaks into the jail-house and lynches Beauchamp. Together with his black friend Aleck and Miss Habersham, an elderly spinster they go on a mission to exhume the body of the murdered man- and make an unexpected discovery.

The above sounds like the plot of a thriller and indeed there are thrilling almost noir-ish elements which Faulkner uses to explore race relations in the south (and boy does Faulkner sometimes bash his message on the heads of the reader.)

This was my first Faulkner novel and it was not nearly as difficult as I imagined it would be, I struggled far more with reading Sam Bellow than I did with this one. Yes the writing is unusual (stream of consciousness involving page long sentences for a start) but I was able to easily let myself flow with the prose and see where it took me.

I enjoyed lots about this novel, the plot is a great one, the characters well drawn and the sense of the South as a place and culture are very prominent. While this is not considered to be Faulkner's best (and I didn't particularly like some of the preachy aspects in this novel) I look forward to reading more of his work.

Posted by Jess

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck

It has been my firm belief for quite some time that John Steinbeck is the greatest writer of the 20th century. I love his books and this one did not disappoint.

Sweet Thursday is the sequel to the brilliant 'Cannery Row' and picks up again a few years after the events of the first book. A few of the characters have died or moved on and have been replaced with others every bit as interesting and colourful (sometimes more so) The Second World War has happened in between the two books and has taken its toll on the people living in the row.

Some old favourites such as Doc and Mack return and I'm delighted to say there is every bit as much mischief and mayhem as the first book and just as much human feeling goes into it. Steinbeck has a way of really bringing his characters to life, you feel like you know these men and women and that they could be as real as anyone else.

Love, happiness and loneliness are central themes with great highs and lows included. There is more humour here than the first book and, perhaps because it is longer, I felt the story was more substantial in some ways, less in others.

The ending is brilliant and just what i'd hoped it would be. I strongly recommend reading both 'Cannery Row' and 'Sweet Thursday' as it is some of the very best Steinbeck has to offer.

Final verdict 5/5


Friday, 1 April 2011

Herzog by Saul Bellow

Hertzog is a highly educated man that has reached middle age and is on the edge of a mental breakdown. He is going through his second (and rather messy) divorce and everything in general seems to be falling apart. In order to help himself get back on track he continuously writes letters to people (sometimes written out, and sometimes just done mentally) with no intent to send them. The novel is not made up entirely of these letters but they do interrupt the narrative throughout.

This is my first Bellow novel and I would describe it as challenging. The writing itself is very good but quite dense so if your mind wanders even for a second while reading, you immediately lose track of what’s going on and have to re-read parts. Added to the denseness of the writing are Hertzog's letters containing subjects which range from modern philosophy to general rants and reflections. These letters only made this more of a difficult read for me and I ended up becoming quite lost.

I did very much enjoy the last 50 pages but I am not sure if this is because the plot suddenly starts to move and become clearer or if because I had just gotten used to the writing? Hertzog hasn’t completely put me off Bellow as I did like the more positive message towards the end that the novel was trying to convey. So while my first Bellow novel was not entirely successful, I will read another of his books before I make my mind up about him.

Posted by Jess